Saturday, December 31, 2005

Lucky, Conclusion (?): The Ancient Wisdom of the Orient

(Listening to: Windows Media Player on random. My "4- and 5-star tracks" playlist is 77 hours long. Yeah.)

So when we last left off, I was pondering the existence of good and bad luck -- wondering whether they actually existed, or if perhaps it was merely a matter of perspective, a question of where and when you stopped looking at the pattern.

Check out today's events. You tell me what you see.

I woke up at around noon. I thought about getting up and doing, ya know, stuff, but I was feeling lazy. (Big surprise there, I'm sure.) Instead, I stayed in my room and read (Al Franken's The Truth (with jokes), which is absolutely fantastic). I tried to write a little. That went nowhere.

A friend of mine arrived at around 2:00. (I'd say his name, but he's actually asked me not to in the past. I have no idea why, and it's entirely possible he doesn't care anymore, but I will honor his wishes as I last remember them. But I have to call him something, so instead of writing his name, I'll call him...Trebor. Yeah, that's sufficiently vague.) Anyway, Trebor demanded -- in that way Trebor has -- that we go to lunch. Since Szechuan Garden is right next door (close enough for me to open the door to check my spelling), we opted to walk there for Chinese.

On my way over there, I noticed a folded sheet of yellow paper under my windshield wiper. I grabbed it, unfolded it, and suffered a very brief myocardial infarction. See, the note was from my aunt. She either knocked on my door and got no answer or simply didn't bother trying -- so she left a note where she knew I'd see it. But she didn't sign it. And my aunt's handwriting looks exactly like my mom's handwriting. (It's like they're related or something.) Since my mom hasn't written anything in over...holy fuck, three years?...every time I see one of these notes from my aunt, it scares the shit out of me for a second, until my rational brain catches up with the hyperactive eight-year-old that runs the irrational side.

The note instructed me to call the agent I'd dealt in the collections department at the credit union I mentioned in the last post. I had to do this by 5:00 p.m. -- this was stressed in the note with three underlines.

Okay, pop quiz: on a scale of 1 to 10, how much panic do you think this caused in me? If you guessed 10, congratulations -- score yourself five bonus points. If you guessed 9 or lower, e-mail me and introduce yourself -- I don't believe we've met.

Now, I can already see some of that "luck" going on -- I'm always late to work (as Trebor and I later discussed at length in the parking lot at around 5:05, as I was trying to leave), so the odds are very good that, had Trebor not arrived and ordered me to march with him to China, I wouldn't have seen the note until the triple-underlined deadline had passed.

So, I put my apocalyptic panic on hold while we had lunch. We each had the same dishes we always get -- creatures of habit, the two of us are.

And then came the fortune cookies.

I love fortune cookies. I especially love sickly ironic ones. So you can imagine the backflip my diseased brain did when I cracked the cookie open and removed a slip of paper that proudly declared The current year will bring you luck and happiness.

Yes. "The current year," said the cookie. On the thirtieth of December. HA HA HA HA. Ha ha ha. Ha. ...Eh.

Wanna know something even funnier? I've actually received that same fortune before. In the same situation -- close to the end of the year, bam, here's your philosophical middle finger, courtesy of the Ancient Wisdom of the Orient. Happy New Year, asshole!

So what are the odds? The same fortune, in the same darkly funny context, twice? The stodgy voice of probability agrees that the odds are, indeed, quite low. The younger, hipper voice of quantum mechanics, meanwhile, argues that the fortunes did not, in fact, even exist until I opened the cookies. The odds are incalcuable.

(A voice rises from the back: "Actually, jackass, considering how much Chinese food you eat, I'd say the odds of you getting the same fortune twice are pretty fucking good! Hahaha!" Thank you, sir. Thank you. Security!)


So, content in the knowledge that the current year -- all of the remaining 33 hours of it -- would bring me good luck, we left the restaurant to find my apartment beseiged by several men and women of Hispanic descent loading our television and stereo equipment into the back of their truck.

Bam! Gotcha there, didn't I?

Now, I'm sure you assumed they were stealing it, but that's just you succumbing to racial stereotypes -- they were actually very nice people, they spoke very good English, and had actual jobs and everything. In this case, they worked for our landlords. And they were taking our things as a landlord lein because -- wait for it -- Tommy (who has yet to ask me to stop mentioning him by name) didn't pay his share of the rent.


Not that Tommy blew his money on coke and whores -- he is, in fact, at this moment working offshore to make it all back. And before he left, he worked out a deal with the office whereby he'd pay whatever he could when he got paid, and pay the remainder when he returned. (That's what I was doing when I got pulled over by the Pig of Destiny, remember? Dropping off Tommy's rent payment.) But, as it happens -- as it happens every goddamn time -- the office decided their agreement with Tommy was worth about the same as the paper it was laser-printed on, and staged the Sixth (or Seventh) Siege of Apartment 7F to take some stuff.

Ready for the good luck? They only took Tommy's things, with the exception of my PlayStation2. Trebor's GameCube and Nintendo64 were right there, but they ignored them. We happened to catch them in time to make sure the geniuses also took the cases along with the musical instruments they were taking. I'd left my computer in my room, or they would have taken it, too. And -- this is the important part -- I didn't lock the door when I left, but they locked the door when they it's a great thing we caught them as they were leaving, because for some reason I'd forgotten my keys.

The wheels of probability spin, spin, spin.

After doing some cathartic screaming on my couch (which I'm sure Trebor found amusing), I called about my car. I expected some really apocalyptic bad news -- "We're coming to take your car from you right now, just as soon as we finish murdering your sister, setting fire to all of your friends' houses, cancelling House, and putting the finishing touches on The Passion of the Christ 0: The Extraordinarily Bloody Birth of Jesus!" Something around a 10 on the bad news scale.

Instead, it was something approaching a 3. Or a 2. Nothing severe. Trebor felt this made it qualify as "good news." I disagreed, but that's a whole other thing I'm not getting into. The point is, it probably would have really upset me and put me into panic mode...if I hadn't just come home to find the living room kidnapped and held for ransom. Something that doesn't really effect me personally at all. I took my own awful twist of fate by saying -- seriously -- "That's it?"

Events transpired in such a way that the blow was dulled.

So? Good luck? Bad luck? No luck? What?

Actually, I don't want to know the answer anymore. Fuck it. Fuck probability, and luck, and quantum mechanics.

This entire post -- and the one before it -- have been brought to you by the small animals trying to burrow their way out of my brain.

(Oh, and here's a random broadside: when I told this story to someone else, I structured it just the way I did here, only without the reference to the race of the people taking our stuff. Before I could explain who they were and that they weren't burglars, I was asked, "Were they Mexican?" Since apparently the audience wants to know, I thought I'd go ahead and tell you before you asked.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005


(Listening to: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King..., Fiona Apple)

I'm on a roll
I'm on a roll this time
And I feel my luck could change

I often refer to myself as unlucky. This is generally supported by the facts. Bad things out of my control frequently happen to me. Little good occurs in my life without some dark spot tarnishing everything, screwing it up, spoiling even the best things. I think you know what I'm talking about: I finally get to see Metallica live for the first time, and James Hetfield throws his back out and misses the show. That crap. My life is riddled with flat tires and power outages and cable cut-offs and illnesses and traffic jams and all sorts of shit that always pops up at the very worst time.

But I've reading a couple of books in the last few days that have sent my brain wandering into different waters than usual. Neither of them have anything to do with good or bad luck, really -- but they both encourage the reader to think about the world around them in vastly different ways.

The first is Freakonomics, a wonderful little tome by a reporter and a world-renowed economist that seeks to reveal the "hidden side of everything." Essentially, they seek to answer a few questions that, on the surface, seem trivial -- like, "Is sumo wrestling corrupt?" and "If dealing crack is so profitable, why do most drug dealers still live with their moms?" The answers are interesting, but it's their methodology that's so mind-opening: they just look at the numbers. That's it. By examining the data carefully, and asking the right questions of it, they prove that yes, sumo wrestling is riddled with corruption, and most crack dealers would earn more money working at McDonald's. Using little more than a computer algorithm and mountains of data, they determined that scores of teachers in the Chicago Public School system were cheating to get better test scores for their students. They claim the book has no "unifying theme," but I think it does -- that anything and everything can be properly understood by divorcing oneself from emotion and simply looking at the facts, calmly and logically, and asking the proper questions.

The other book is The Religion War by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. It's a sequel to God's Debris, which was really a unique book -- described by the author as a "thought experiment," it was basically just a conversation between the two characters. Their discussion was about Everything -- the nature of the universe, the nature of God, our purpose, the nature of probability. The point wasn't to change the mind of the reader -- the answers the old man gives to those big questions are riddled with illogic, fallacies, and completely made-up science, as Adams admits. The reader's task is to attempt to figure out the problems with the old man's theories. It was an entertaining, even energizing read (and if you'd like to read it yourself, Adams is giving it away for free). The Religion War is an actual novel -- an extremely short one, yes, but it has a plot and everything. But the goal is the same -- to present a viewpoint radically different than one you would normally encounter, to challenge your own beliefs. To try to make you think differently.

So what does this have to do with my bad luck?

I was pulled over tonight by a police officer -- oddly enough, I attracted the cop's attention for driving too slowly, or as he put it, "impeding traffic." (Considering how oddly proud I am of the fact that I've never been pulled over for speeding, this may or may not be ironic.) Intrigued by my driving, he ran my plates and discovered my registration is expired. On went the flashers. He pulled me over, ran my license, and wrote me a citation for the expired registration.

I was on my way to pay the electric bill and drop off the rent -- I could have done those things earlier in the day, but didn't; I overslept. I could have done them immediately after work, but didn't; I ate dinner first. I could have messed with the envelope for the electric bill and stuff when I got to the drop box, but didn't; I decided to do that before I left my apartment. I could have gone inside to change clothes, I could have gone inside to use the bathroom, I could have stayed at the restaurant reading a few minutes more, I could have spent a few minutes deciding on what CD to listen to, anything -- when I pulled out of my parking lot, I pulled out right in front of the police officer. Which is how he saw me. If I had left even twenty seconds later, or a minute earlier, I would have avoided the citation.

All those variables, all those tiny things, like butterfly wings, all of them effecting the laws of probability, those little choices and random happenings that led to the traffic citation. Just my luck. Right?

On the way home, I was cursing my luck, as usual. But those books were still heavily on my mind. So I started thinking about things in a slightly different way.

As you may remember, a few months ago, my wallet was stolen. Though I got my license back, I still haven't replaced my wallet...which means I generally just carry my license around in my pocket. Which means that it's increasingly common for me to forget to grab it before I leave the house. Tonight, I had it with me. Good luck?

Last month, I was brought to my knees by the credit union I lease my car from -- I'd missed a few payments, and they were pissed. I worked out a deal that cost me a great big chunk of money...but it also forced me to renew my car insurance, which had, to my embarrassment, run out. (Long story.) I thought that was all bad luck at the time...but if that hadn't happened, I would have had no proof of insurance to hand to the very polite police officer who pulled me over. Good luck?

Last week, I brought those insurance papers upstairs during a phone call with that credit union. Usually, a single piece of paper like that would easily get set down and then lost in the wasteland of my apartment...but I managed, at some point, to remember to take it back to my car. Plus, my car is pretty wasteland-ish, too, but I was able to find it in the dark with a police officer standing over me. Good luck?

And if that wasn't enough, consider this.

You may or may not know this, but my rear turn signals don't work. After I pulled out, I quickly changed lanes. The cop was behind me, so from his angle, I didn't signal. He either didn't notice this or didn't care when writing me a ticket. Two of my brake lights don't work. This, as well, he either didn't notice or didn't care when filling out his forms.

My inspection sticker? Expired. In June.

Of 2004.

Either he didn't notice. Or didn't care.

Here's the thing -- I'm going to renew my registration tomorrow. Have to, to get the citation dismissed. And in my honest moments, I'll admit to myself that, without that citation, I never would have renewed the damn thing. I don't know, it's just the way my brain works. I don't start working on something until long after the due date. Never been able to figure out why. Until a gun (or a traffic citation) is pointed at me, forcing me into action, I'm a slave to inertia. It's probably my worst characteristic. (That, and my crippling lack of self-esteem. Yeah.)

My point is this: I would have been pulled over eventually. Some cop, somewhere, sometime, would have spotted the sticker and hauled me to the side of the road. This was a certainty.

Was it bad luck I was pulled over tonight? Or was it good luck? That I was pulled over at night, instead of the day, by a police officer who was either extremely forgiving or plainly incompetent? Maybe he really didn't notice my inspection sticker -- it was dark. (Another possible good thing -- I pulled over into a parking lot that had no lights. More difficult to see.) And he had already run my registration through his computer before he pulled me over, so there was no need to look at the sticker. I guess he just didn't notice. And changing lanes without signalling? Maybe he doesn't care. (Or maybe that's not actually against the law. Somehow I doubt it.) The brake lights? Maybe as long as one of them works, it doesn't matter. Maybe he didn't notice. Maybe he didn't care. Who knows.

Since it was guaranteed I would be ticketed for this eventually, is it perhaps a stroke of good luck it happened in this place, at this time, by this officer?

Your call.

Man. Thinking about things in a different way could be hell on my pessimism.

(Oh, and another thing. Last month, Tommy forgot to pay the cable bill on time, so they cut it off for about half day. It wasn't long...but it was just long enough for us to miss an episode of Lost -- an actual quality episode, the first one in a long while.

They reran the episode tonight. I got to see it after all.

So was that even really bad luck to begin with?


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

(Listening to: "Faint," Linkin Park)

My Christmas:
  • Slept until 3:30.
  • Got some Jack-in-the-Box.
  • Installed Myst V on my new computer. It works beautifully.
  • Installed Bloodlines on my new computer. It doesn't work at all.
  • Wrote some of the next Revolver episode.
  • Watched House.
  • Wrote this blog entry.
And that's about it.

In other words: just like every single other day. Absolutely nothing happened. Though, I suppose I should be grateful -- I had the day off. No waking up at 10:00 to slog my way through ten hours of Pizza Inn. Which is good. But I also won't get paid for it, either. Which is bad. So yeah.

Christmas is boring.

I hope yours was better.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Year in Music: 2005

(Listening to: Late Registration, Kanye West)

We'll get to the movies of this year in a while -- I was looking over my list of films seen last night, and it's pretty slim (gaze ye upon it, and despair). So in the meantime, let's talk about music.

I did this last year, as you may recall, but it was really just kind of a time-filler deal. The five albums I listed as albums of the year, while good, weren't really indicative of a true perspective -- I think I'd only bought eight CDs the whole year, so you can guess how valid my top five was. This year, though, I bought a lot of CDs. I listened to a lot of music. The album of the year list has been expanded to ten. And this year's battle for Album of the Year is indeed tight -- unlike 2004, when it was Green Day's monumental American Idiot and everyone else, 2005 found itself without a definitive leader leaping to the top of the pile.

So let's do this.


10. Songs for Silverman, Ben Folds
If you wrote me off, I'd understand it
Sure, his solo albums haven't quite lived up to his stuff with the Five (their self-titled debut is still one of the greatest underappreciated records of the nineties), but Ben Folds remains one of our best pop songwriters. "Landed" easily ranks among the best songs of his career, and its failure to become a world-smashing hit speaks to a considerable lack of taste on the part of the listening audience. It's a shame.

9. Guero, Beck
Fax machine anthems, get your damn hands up
Sea Change was a beautiful album, but I'll trade that lugubrious disc for this energized fun one any day. The groovy "Hell Yes" and "Que Onda Guero?" alone are worth the price of admission, but the whole thing is a great romp. Beck hasn't been this much fun in years.

8. Stand Up, Dave Matthews Band
Remember the words of a misguided fool
Ignore the histrionics of iron-footed Daveheads -- this album represents a huge step forward for the group after the apologetic release of Busted Stuff and the disaster of Everyday. Mark Batson's slick production may shock the DMB faithful (and just about every one of these songs sounds much better live), but the undeniable talent of the band shines through. Listen to the combo of "Hello Again" and "Louisiana Bayou," and then tell me this group has lost anything over the years.

7. Mezmerize, System of a Down
Welcome to the soldier side...
This group literally gets better with each release. Toxicity was wildly uneven. Steal This Album! was an improvement, but still had a tendency to get bogged down in its own goofiness. But Mezmerize finally reaches a landmark as their first truly great album. Sure, I have no idea what the hell they're babbling about most of the time ("Old school Hollywood baseball/Jack Gilardi's ten feet tall"?), and the Use Your Illusion tactic of releasing the double album Mezmerize/Hypnotize as two seperate records was a little annoying, but who cares? "B.Y.O.B." might just be the single best track of their career to date, and the balladry of "Lost in Hollywood" shows a depth to their songwriting that had previously lacked. The only question left was how Hypnotize could possibly follow it.

6. Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple
Here it comes: a better version of me
She's back! Yes, Mike Elizondo deleted the strings and gutted "Not About Love," my favorite track from the bootlegs. Aside from that, his reconstruction of the lost Fiona record is top-notch (though, apparently, not even he could get anything useful out of the dull "Red Red Red"). Fiona's voice has never sounded better, especially on the Jon Brion-produced title track, and her lyrics have rarely been sharper. It's good to have you back, Fiona.

5. Late Registration, Kanye West
Can I talk my shit again?
There hasn't been a hip-hop album that surprised me this much, that captivated me this much, since The Marshall Mathers LP. Chalk it up to the classic lyrics, a thunderous yet finely detailed sound (largely the work of co-producer Jon Brion, a musical genius if I've ever heard one), and the most fantastic sampling I've ever heard -- most perfect, the use of Otis Redding's mournful "It's Too Late," one of the great soul ballads, as the backbone for the rich and booming "Gone." The only thing lame on this record are the skits.

4. Frances the Mute, The Mars Volta
L' Via, te quieren matar, dientes de machete, cabezas de gallo
Hoo-boy, are these a weird bunch of guys. Six members, two languages, instrumental breaks that stretch out into infinity, ambient noise played like an orchestra, and a bunch of squeaking frogs acting as an intermission -- yeah, this disc is a tad on the strange side. But if you have the patience to sit through it, Frances the Mute is one of the most rewarding musical experiences of the year. Just the final suite alone, "Cassandra Geminni" (which clocks in at over half an hour and was split into eight tracks at the record company's insistence), is brilliant enough to make it to this list. Oh, and there's supposedly a story lurking somewhere in all of those Byzantine lyrics (both the ones in English and Spanish), but I wouldn't go looking for it, if I were you -- only darkness will you find there.

3. X&Y, Coldplay
Everything you ever wanted, in a permanent state
Coldplay is every music enthusiast's favorite popular group to hate these days (challenged only by Nickelback, I suppose), but screw them. Now, finally, all of those comparisons to U2 and early Radiohead pay off -- Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head were perfectly good records, but X&Y is Coldplay's first classic album. Combined with Chris Martin's increasing skill as a vocalist (see the perfect falsetto breaks on, well, pretty much every song, but especially on the searing "Speed of Sound" and "The Hardest Part"), and the band's newly discovered talent for writing actual honest-to-goodness choruses most of the time, the album is a gigantic step forward. I'm eager to hear what they do next. Screw the music enthusiasts.

2. Hypnotize, System of a Down
...where there's no one here but me
That's how Hypnotize can follow Mezmerize: by being flat-out better in virtually every way. Better melodies, more confident time changes, better lyrics -- even the trademark SOAD "goofy" tracks (I'm looking at you, "Vicinity of Obscenity") are superior. Mezmerize and Hypnotize may be two halves of the same coin, but this side is fantastic all by itself -- if you only buy one System of a Down album, make it this one.

And finally...

The Best Album of 2005: Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes
You got a reaction, didn't you?
Some of the great musicians play so smoothly their instruments seem like extensions of their own bodies. Jack and Meg White, on the other hand, are locked into an epic wrestling contest with theirs. Take "Instinct Blues" -- it builds on a typical blues riff, but Jack's biblical struggle with his guitar sends the track kicking and screaming from the speakers, accompanied by (as always) Meg's overloud drums and cymbal crashes. There's really no way the Stripes' music should work at all, let alone to the fantastic degree Get Behind Me Satan does, but it's undeniable -- this record is flat-out fantastic, from the full-throttle breathtaking rock of "Blue Orchid" to the old-fashioned blues dirge "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)." Even though these two have made a career of making awe-inspiring music, Satan stands out as their best work yet: even with the added emphasis on the piano and reduced explosive guitars, these songs represent the best in rock today. And it all shines with a degree of playfulness that makes everything even better -- who else could have created the bouncy, childlike "My Doorbell," or had the nerve to use the silly panning effects found on "Take, Take, Take," or written a bluegrass-style love song to a ghost ("Little Ghost")? Only the White Stripes. And that's why Get Behind Me Satan is the album of 2005.


10. "Passive," A Perfect Circle
Allegedly, Tool is releasing a new album sometime in 2006. I'll believe it when I see it, but thanks to Maynard for this placeholder with his other band.

9. "Perfect Situation," Weezer
The album was a letdown. This track sure wasn't, though. Bonus points for the witty video, too.

8. "Do You Want To," Franz Ferdinand
A song constructed from the ground up to embed itself in your brain and stay there for weeks. I dare you to listen to it and not hum it to yourself for fours afterward. Luckily ("lucky, lucky, you're so lucky!"), the song is great.

7. "B.Y.O.B.," System of a Down
Schizophrenic, manic, and completely crazy in all the right ways, this represents the best of what modern "nu-metal" can accomplish.

6. "When I'm Gone," Eminem
It lacks the massive punch of last year's "Mosh," but I love Em's lyrics here, the nightmarish quality as both his voice and his rhymes as he opens his soul again. And I especially love the way he examines the irony of ignoring his daughter to go record a song about how much he loves her. Fantastic.

5. "Blue Orchid," The White Stripes
One of the flat-out coolest songs ever recorded: Jack's wailing falsetto, the throbbing drums, the scorching guitar riff. Perfect.

4. "Gold Digger," Kanye West f. Jamie Foxx
Hands down, the funniest track of the year. It's a great hip-hop song, too -- I can't help but crack up every time I hear the line "You will see him on TV, any given Sunday/Win the Super Bowl, drive off in a Hyundai." The Jamie-Foxx-as-Ray-Charles intro is classic, too.

3. "Speed of Sound," Coldplay
So good it single-handedly made me a Coldplay fan. Chris Martin's voice is absolutely perfect here.

2. "All These Things That I've Done," The Killers
Last year, my biggest error was forgetting to mention the Killers, whose "Mr. Brightside" was one of the best singles of 2004. But just as well, because "All These Things That I've Done" is immensely better. It's brilliant enough even before it gets to its centerpiece, the magnificent "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier" bridge, which lifts it to the stratosphere and makes it a masterpiece.

1. "Landed," Ben Folds
In a just universe, Ben Folds is a multi-platinum Grammy winner, and Ashlee Simpson is working at a Wal-Mart somewhere. Unfortuntely, in this one, Ben can't give copies of his records away. Which is too bad, considering how wonderful this song is. Easily the best song he's recorded without the Five (and better than a lot of those songs, too), "Landed" is exactly the kind of track that should be a huge hit. Like I said: it's a shame.

And now for a few more pithy awards, just to round things out...

Best Cover Song: "Bitches Ain't Shit," Ben Folds
Speaking of Ben. Now, this Dr. Dre cover is kinda hard to find -- it was only released on the vinyl version of Songs for Silverman. But if you can, you should totally hear this. Not only for the initally comic idea of the very white Ben Folds singing Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg rhymes ("Yo, Dre, pass the glock"), but because it's actually really, really good. No, really: this piano-led arrangment highlights actual heartbreak and pain buried beneath the boasting lyrics. A true wonder.

Best Album Cover: Late Registration, Kanye West
That giant teddy bear is the best artist mascot since...ever.

Best Attempt at a Comeback: Depeche Mode
Hey, you tried. At least that's something.

Band That Really, Really Should Have Released an Album This Year: Evanescence
Did they break up and someone forgot to tell me? 'Cause otherwise, they really should be releasing a followup any day now, unless they're waiting to not be famous anymore.

The 2005 Pants Around Your Feet Award for the Hit Song with the Most Insipid Lyrics: "Doesn't Remind Me," Audioslave
As previously discussed.

Most Disappointing Album of the Year: With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails
Man oh man, did that one suck. You wouldn't think it could fail -- Trent had five years to work on it, after all, and Dave Grohl guesting on drums -- and you would be wrong. With the exception of a track or two, the whole thing is a sloppy, underwhelming piece of crap. And I didn't think I'd ever say that about a NIN album. (David Fincher's video for "Only" is pretty good, though.)

Which just about does it for 2005. Thoughts?

Friday, December 16, 2005

RIP: John Spencer

(Listening to: Songs for Silverman, Ben Folds)

John Spencer, who portrayed Leo McGarry on The West Wing, died this morning of a heart attack. He was 58.


This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, "Hey, Pal, it's me! Can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out."

--Leo to Josh, in "Noel"

"We aren't what you would call...human."

(Listening to: Achtung Baby, U2)

Anyone else remember the end of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? During one of the several feature-length cutscenes near the conclusion, the evil Patriots (or a computer virus) (or a crazy AI) (or aliens) (or whatever) are explaining to you why they're doing what they're doing -- unleashing a program called GW onto the internet. It will allow them to censor information all across the world. Not to prevent information harmful to them from getting to the public, no -- to prevent useless information from enduring in the public mind.

See, back in the old days, when humans depended on actual tangible things for record-keeping, like paper or tapes or even (gasp) their memories, the useless information -- like in-depth dissertations on the fan-written backgrounds of Shakespeare characters -- would naturally be lost over time, while the important stuff -- the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, Shakespeare's actual plays -- would naturally perservere. Sort of an informational survival of the fittest.

But now, as GW (robots? talking plants?) explains to you, with the proliferation of the internet, information just stays there. There's no natural process, no sorting of the needed from the pointless. Everything is given equal weight, and with no one there to tell us what's important and what's not, humanity will become bogged down by the sheer bulk of our culture's useless knowledge.

Does it sound to anyone else that GW is talking about...Wikipedia?

Now, I've been thinking about this for awhile, so it's much to my dismay that today's Penny Arcade concerns this very topic and now it looks like I'm copying them. But whatever.

Wikipedia, to me, represents simultaneously the best and worst of the potential of the internet. The best, because it's a communal gathering of information, which is what the internet is supposed to be. But the worst, because it seems all people have to share is Star Wars.

But is that the fault of Wikipedia? If I set up a place where people can have serious discussions about whatever they like, and they all decide they want to play Heads Up, Seven-Up, that's not my fault. And it wouldn't be right of me to force them to do something else.

And after all -- GW (the reincarnated souls of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Cylons?) is the villain of MGS2. You have to stop him (them?) (it?) before the program can be activated. The conclusion is that humans are smart enough to separate information for themselves. We don't need GW or anyone else to do it for us. And then you chop Solidus Snake in half with a sword.

I agree with the game's conclusion.

In theory.

But considering how much time I spend on Wikipedia...

...maybe GW is right.

Damn those aliens.

Or computer programs.

Or whatever.

It's a confusing game.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

We missed House for this?

(Listening to: Hypnotize, System of a Down)

So the Billboard Music Awards were tonight, like anyone gives a shit. How many music award shows do we need, anyway? Hey, I'm all for award shows -- I love the Oscars, you know this. But this idiotic garbage was just an excuse to trot crappy pop stars across the stage and get some cheap heat for Fox shows. (Including, of course, House, which was preempted so they could air the damn show. But I digress.)

I won't blame them for the fact that I haven't heard of most of these people -- I will blame them, however, for the fact that I couldn't understand a damn word that any of them said. You have a damn microphone, shouting isn't necessary. This goes double for the host, LL Cool J (LL Cool J? What, was Kool Moe Dee busy?), who looked like he'd prepared about five minutes for this gig. But hey, it's the Billboard Music Awards, can you blame him?

Billie Joe Armstrong presented a lifetime achievement award to a zombie-looking Tom Petty, and read his speech from a scrap of paper -- apparently, teleprompters aren't where it's at or whatever the kidz are saying these days. They read the nominees for some country music award, the winner of which was Toby Keith...who just happened to be the next performer. How convenient. Especially considering how completely fucking drunk he looked -- but, again, it's the Billboard Music Awards, can you blame him? R. Kelly performed a song "live" from a different location entirely, in a pool surrounded by attractive women in bikinis who looked extremely well medicated -- LL announced the segment by saying, "Up next, R. Kelly finds himself in hot water with some young ladies," and the jokes just write themselves, don't they?

For some reason, everyone who won one of these awards was handed at least two trophies. The closest I can come to an answer is when Green Day won for...uh...something -- the announcer said they'd won six awards, and, sure enough, they were handed six trophies. Now, if the announcer meant six awards tonight, then it seems that the BMAs decide to just hand everyone whatever winnings they receive whenever they wander onstage, which is certainly an interesting idea -- it would sure make the Oscars a lot shorter, if anti-climactic. Though it does make me wonder what the point of the whole show is to begin with, if it's the awards-handing-out that they're cutting short. If you want two hours of prime time to allow Gwen Stefani to sing with some random rapper guy who lumbers about like a mescaline addict, fine, but don't insult my intelligence by calling it an awards show.

All this bitching and moaning about the BMAs is really bitching and moaning about the lack of a new episode of House, which has overtaken Lost to become my new favorite show. We all know my feelings on the second season of that island show (and, of course, I missed last week's episode, where things happened and everything), but House has been razor-sharp all year. Hugh Laurie's performance is one of the most interesting on television, and his crass indifference for basic decency is absolutely hilarious. Yes, the show is rather formulaic (and the brilliant writers even have House mention this in a wonderful meta moment), but who cares? So is Law and Order, and it's a great show, too.

If I had the money, I'd buy the first season of House. I so want that. Man.

Damn you, Tommy. I was free of this television addiction. Free, I tell you! For three years, I watched little to no television at all. And now...well, you see me now. House. Lost. The West Wing again (though it's certainly quite a different show nowadays). Family Guy. The Daily Show. The Colbert Report. Arrested Development, while it's still on the air. 24, when it comes back. Monk. And HBO is even rerunning the fifth season of The Sopranos, just to rub it in my face, I guess. Plus the daily reruns of Next Gen, Deep Space Nine, and The X-Files, plus Firefly on Fridays.

And most of it in beautiful high-definition.


(By the way, I'm working on a review of the first season of DS9, which I recently acquired on eBay. Look for it in the next few days.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Here, at the end of all things

(Listening to: "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," Pink Floyd)

"We are just a voice, screaming in the darkness. It's up to you to listen."

So, it finally ended: last night, I ran "Funerals Are For The Living," the final episode in The Voice, the Vampire: The Requiem chronicle we began over a year ago. As much as I tried to avoid it, the conclusion did feel a little rushed -- and it wasn't the ending I had originally planned. After all, two of the players were no longer present. But last October, I put together a vague projection of where I wanted the chronicle to go...and no one is more shocked than me to discover that, more or less, it actually went there. I'm almost proud of myself.

And the ending? It was almost a happy ending. No, really -- Mr. Doesn't Have Hope in His Vocabulary actually managed to bring to a story to a mostly pleasant conclusion. Not all of it, of course -- there was the absolutely gut-wrenching scene where Benjamin and Alice destroyed Doll, a heinous, psychotic creature in the form of a seven-year-old girl, made from wood, glass, and (shudder) real organs from real dead children. Eww. (Big-ass props to the Antagonists book, by the way, which is where Doll came from.)

This chronicle was pretty weird. I mean, even weird compared to my other games. I said at the beginning that this would be a very different story indeed, and it was, especially at the end. See, it started a lot like my other games -- the stereotypical battle for political power was just reaching its peak when, unfortunately, the group sort of dissolved and the game fell apart. The worst part is that this was just before the game was to spin on its axis and reveal its extraordinarily strange dark side.

And it got strange, friends. A mage hiring Benjamin to steal uniform? Ravens becoming the winged black messaging service of the 21st century. Evil Asian street gangs acting very possessive about their motorcycles. Benjamin finally meets his long-lost daughter, Janice (or is it Irene?), only he doesn't tell her who he is and she thinks he's hitting on her. And then, of course, the parallel reality -- Ben finds a mystical artifact that sends he and Penelope into, yes, an alternate dimension, just like on Star Trek (as everyone says when Ben tell the story). And the body count was quite high, too -- a brief list of the dead:
  • Ashley
  • Vladimir
  • Doll (thankfully -- shudder)
  • The Weasel
  • Marguerite
  • The Angry Asian Man (aka, the Contingency Plan).
  • All of Dr. Farubis's mages (though that happened "off-camera")
  • The alternate Natasha
  • The alternate Sahra
  • The alternate Penelope
  • The alternate Wilkins
  • The real Wilkins (thrown from his window)
  • Albert Green (thrown from the same window)
  • Liam (thrown from -- yes -- the same window)
  • Willem
  • Preston
  • Claude
  • Probably more I can't remember...though I s'pose everyone in the alternate dimension died, technically

If I had the time, I'd write out a synopsis of the whole thing -- like I said, I'm actually pretty proud of the story. Especially the out-there second half. I managed to pull off some closure with a few bookends: Alice's arc started with "Alice's Restaurant," and it ended with it, too; Ben and Ashley met at the Four Winds bar, and had their final from-beyond-the-grave conversation there, too.

And Darrell made a joke. Darrell. Yeah.

It was fun. You shoulda been there.

Next, comes Mage. I only hope it can be as much fun as this one.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Things I Hate, Part 2348

(Listening to: Parachutes, Coldplay)

You know what I hate? When I really, really hate something. And I go out of my way to let everyone know about my hatred -- as I'm sure you're aware by now, I don't keep my disdain for...well, anything secret for very long. So I trumpet my loathing for whatever it is I loathe, and everyone knows I hate it. Usually, I get some people who agree with me. And we're all joined together in our Cabal of Hatred: "Yeah, fuck [whatever]! It sucks!" But then a little time passes. And somehow I'm exposed to [whatever] again. And I discover -- to my shock and horror -- that I don't hate it like I used to. In fact, I like it. In fact, I like it a lot.

I hate that.

When I got Windows95, back when it first came out, the disc came with a few music videos -- namely, Weezer's "Buddy Holly." I hated that song when it was first released. Really, I did. And I thought the music video -- you remember it, the one where Spike Jonze used digital technology to splice the band into clips of Happy Days -- was goofy and stupid.

But it's on the disc, so my mom and I watch. And as she starts it, I mumble, "I hate that song." And she knew, and said she did. But the song starts, and I realize...hey, this isn't as bad as I remember. In fact...yeah. Shit. I actually kinda like it.

What I actually hate isn't the wonderful discovery that I can now enjoy something I despised in the past. Actually, that's pretty cool. What I don't like is that look I get from the rest of the Cabal of Hatred.

"Hey, I thought you hated this song."

Yeah. So did I.

And my neurotic rat brain -- somehow, don't ask me why -- feels strangely guilty. Like I've let my friends down. Like I've betrayed them or something. Isn't that fucking stupid?

Now you know why I hate it so much.

What brought this on? Coldplay's "Yellow." Sweet fancy Moses, I hated that song with a passion. And I continued to voice my hatred of it, even though I hadn't heard it in years, because I've found myself talking about Coldplay a lot recently -- X&Y is an awesome album, one of the best of the year, and you should totally buy it if you haven't already. But in my various defenses of Coldplay, I've always struck common ground with my enemy over "Yellow": "Oh yeah, fuck that song. That song is crap."

But then, for no reason I can discern, out of nowhere, they played it on the radio the other day. And guess what.


I'm sorry I've betrayed you.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lost in space

(Listening to: Hot Fuss, The Killers)

(If you don't watch Lost, the following will probably be boring and/or incomprehensible to you. So be it.)

So, is anything gonna, like, ya know, happen this season on Lost? I realize that some progress as been made this year as far as the overall plots go, but jeez -- the show has been moving at a pace that makes M. Night Shyamalan look like Michael Bay.

Far too many episodes have been devoted to circular plots that advance nothing at all -- Sun loses her ring, then finds it. Michael runs into the jungle to find Walt, but then gives up and comes back. And Hurley gets so worked up over guarding the food stash in the hatch that he wires up the friggin' dynamite and gets set to blow it all up...but then is talked out of it.

And when the stories haven't been chasing their own tails, they've been focused on the caustic tail section survivors, led by everyone's new least favorite character, Ana Lucia. "Collision," last week's episode, did some good as far as making her a little more human, but it almost feels like the damage is done. Contrast this with the treatment of Sawyer in the first season -- he was King Douchebag until his flashbacks revealed an awesome layer of depth that rounded out his character and, somehow, made him one of the most sympathetic people on the island. Ana Lucia's flashbacks, on the other hand, didn't seem to provide that same resonance. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's not.

See, the problem is, the writers decided to devote at least half of every episode this season to the tail section. Which would have been fine, except the tail section people aren't that interesting. We've got a sweet spot for Bernard, because we knew his wife was waiting for him on the other side (and that moment, when we realized who he was, was indeed glorious and one of the best of the season thus far), and Mr. Eko -- portrayed by the fantastic Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a.k.a. Adebesi -- is certainly intriguing, but then there's Ana Lucia. And the rest, who apparently have (or had) names, but they made little to no impresion on me. Sawyer, Jin, and Michael were there, too, of course, but pretty much every scene with the tail section coterie broke down like this:

1. Ana Lucia says something rude/demands something incovenient.
2. Someone -- usually Michael -- announces they will do something else.
3. Ana Lucia says that such action will cause the Others to swarm down and eat them all like Lucky Charms.
4. They do it anyway.
5. Everyone survives.
6. Repeat after next commerical break.

And naturally, the most interesting of the bunch, Sawyer, has spent the entire season suffering from the effects of an infected gunshot wound, handicapping their story that much more.

The revelation that Ana Lucia is a cop with a tragic past certainly goes a part of the distance explaining why she's such a Queen Bitch, but what it doesn't do is explain why I should give a shit. See the problem?

Hey, remember Claire? And her baby? And Charlie? And Locke? And Jack? I do. Those characters are interesting. The writers don't, it seems. And they practically forgot about Shannon, too, until it was time to kill her. All of the stuff with the tail section people -- and I mean all of it -- could have been collapsed into about half the time, which would have increased the suspense (since we wouldn't have been sitting through every sweaty, whiny second of their trek) and would have allowed for more time exploring the characters and mysteries we already knew: the hatch, the numbers, Black Rock, Dharma Inc., the monster (hey, remember the monster? the writers don't).

My problem isn't that they brought in new characters, or that a bunch of time was devoted to integrating them into the cast. My problem is that it was done badly. The promos and synopsis of this week's episode, "What Kate Did," certainly look to be a gigantic step in the right direction -- we'll see.

Oh, and what the hell happened to Desmond? Shacked up with Danielle? Assimilated by the Others? Eaten by a polar bear? Picked up by a rescue plane and forgot about everyone else? Your guess is as good as the writers'.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Movie quiz #2: Fill-in-the-blanks

(Listening to: Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple)

So, here we are, Sunday night/Monday morning. I'm dead tired, and WordPerfect's blinking cursor is practically laughing at me and my feeble attempts to get some actual writing done. Instead, I give you some filler movie-related goofiness. I'm sure you recall my frame grab quiz; this is a little different. This time, a simple fill-in-the-blanks test. I supply quotes from ten various films, only with the titles deleted. You must provide the title for each one. And no using IMDB, either, 'cause that would be cheating. And you're not a cheater, are you?

Simple, no? I thought so. Most of these are pretty easy, so you shouldn't need much help, but I will give a single hint: I kinda-sorta cheated on one these. The blank is actually the subtitle of the film in question -- it's a sequel, see, and the proper title is never spoken. And, also, each blank is the same length no matter how long the title, so don't think that can used as a clue. I'm sure you can figure out the rest.

You can provide me with your answers however you wish. E-mail, comments, AIM. First person to correctly name all then films will receive a fantastic, one-of-a-kind no-prize.

"_________________, by S. Morgenstern. Chapter One...."

*phone rings*
"Hello, _________________." *pause* "Yes, of course they're serious."

"We _________________ be stealin' the gold--"
"Shut up, Conrad."

"A guy who came to _________________ for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a weeks, he was carved out of wood."

"Find the _________________."
"How do I even know which one has it?"
"It's always the more gifted of the three."

"I offer a toast: _________________." *blank stares* "The future."
All: "_________________!"
"Hamlet, act three, scene one."

Doin' _________________,
Breaking my heart into a million pieces,
Like you always do.
And you,
Don't mean to be cruel.
You never even knew about the heartache
I've been going through.
Well, I try and try to forget you girl,
But it's just so hard to do
Every time you do _________________!"

"What in heaven's name brought you to _________________?"
"My health. I came to _________________ for the waters."
"The waters? What waters? We're in the desert!"
"I was misinformed."

"Look, pal, there never was any money. _________________ gave me an empty briefcase, so take it up with him, man."

"Come on, what? What?"
"Always _________________."
"That's it?"
"That's it."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pilot vs. Pilot

(Listening to: X&Y, Coldplay)

"I can't believe how bad this gorram script is, can you?"

So an interesting thing happened last night on cable television. The Sci-Fi Channel aired part one of "Serenity," the pilot episode of Joss Whedon's wonderous Firefly...and a few hours later, SpikeTV saw fit to air both parts of "Encounter at Farpoint," the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an equally great series. So, thanks to the magic of DVR, I was able to watch them both.

To put it rather mildly: some shows get their feet beneath them earlier than others.

It's pretty much accepted that the entirety of the first two seasons of Next Gen are ruthlessly bad when not entirely unwatchable, but "Farpoint" is something special. Cheesy. Stupid. Preposterous. Badly acted. Poorly directed. Yikes.

Now, sure, one should give them a little bit of leeway, some breathing room. After all, it was 1987. And it was just the pilot episode. But holy Q, how did a script as horrendous as "Encounter at Farpoint" get past a first draft, let alone produced and aired on national TV? Maybe if I weren't so familiar with the rest of the series, it wouldn't be so bad, but it's patently obvious the show's writers (and actors, for that matter) had no real idea of where their characters were going. No thoughts into their pasts, their futures. Each and everything in the episode seems based on one concept: "Hey, wouldn't this be a cool idea?"

An enormous net of energy appears from nowhere in the middle of space. An all-powerful race of beings, called the Q, claims responsibility. Humanity, put on trial for being a "dangerous, savage child-race." They must prove themselves, by solving an extraordinarily simplistic mystery about Farpoint Station.

Now, the whole humanity-on-trial bit makes no friggin' sense whatsoever. Why is Q picking on the Enterprise and Picard, anyway? It's not entirely peopled by humans, after all. And why is he stopping the Enterprise from venturing further into space? Remember, they're on their way to Farpoint Station to pick up half their command crew, mostly made up of humans. Why didn't the Q stop them? Beats me. Maybe he felt it would be easier to make Picard surrender. He is French, after all.

In addition to the dumb plot, the episode also has that unshakable "first episode" smell: characters do everything short of flashing a driver's license at the camera to try to get the audience to remember who they are. Examples of this kind of clunky writing are everywhere, but here's a good one:

YAR: Sir, as Chief of Security, it is my job to make sure that--
PICARD: You have your orders, Lieutenant Yar!


PICARD: Lieutenant Worf, you will command the saucer section.
WORF: Sir, as a Klingon, for me to run away while my captain goes into battle--
PICARD: You have your orders, Lieutenant!

Oh, this is a good one, you'll like this...

LA FORGE: Commander, I was just in contact with the...
RIKER: A little informal, aren't we, Lieutenant?
LA FORGE: Oh. [clears throat] Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, reporting as ordered, sir.

So, the episode is badly written, which is its biggest flaw, but even the actors -- with the possible exception of Patrick Stewart -- are weak when they're not embarassing. Especially Brent Spiner -- apparently, the "Data has no emotions" thing either hadn't been entirely decided on or he forgot, because Data stands around grinning half the damn episode. He's also a lot less human: Picard treats him like a damn computer, and it's practically justified. (Data also uses contractions, it should be noted. This wouldn't be a big deal, really, except that the writers would later bend over backwards to make sure we understood that Data can't use contractions -- in fact, the plots of episodes like "Datalore" and "The Offspring" would hinge on his inability to say "couldn't". So.)

And don't get me started on Counselor Troi's blubbering. Weep, weep, weep, all the time. Thankfully, the directors would soon learn to put a leash on her. Damn.

Now, "Farpoint" has a lot of value for a Trekkie like myself, despite its low quality. There's the historical merit of this being the pilot. And it's a shock to look at it now and see how young everyone is -- it's most jarring for Beverly Crusher, whose hair looks four or five shades darker and makes her look like an entirely new person. And there's the goofy pajama-like uniforms they wore back in the first two seasons. And the cheesy effects. It's fun.

"Serenity," on the other hand, is a perfect example of a show that hit the ground running. Not only does it feel like Joss Whedon has already completely developed the entire 'verse in which Firefly exists, but he doesn't feel the need to have his actors stand around and spell it out for the audience. Sure, there are a few lines of dialogue hanging around that are clearly written in to make sure the people watching understand what's going on -- Wash has a line where he comes out and says he's Zoe's husband, for example -- but they're integrated with far more skill and subtlety than in "Farpoint." There's certainly none of that "Kaylee, Engineer, reporting as ordered, Cap'n!" nonsense.

The actors already, even at this early stage, embody their characters perfectly. And the story the episode tells isn't completely idiotic, like the one in "Farpoint." It's really one of the better pilot episodes I think I've ever seen.

The final irony: "Encounter at Farpoint" was aired, in all its crappy entirety, to a national television audience. It led to the show running for seven seasons and becoming a great series.

"Serenity" wasn't aired until after the show was cancelled. Fox couldn't stop screwing with the series. It never really picked up an audience. They ran less than a dozen episodes.

Funny, huh?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Out, damn spot

(Listening to: Hit, Peter Gabriel)

In case I haven't told you, I'm writing a novel. Ghost Runners, it's called. It's the obligatory semi-autobiographical tripe you'd expect, only with enough supernatural bizarreness to spice things up and make you question my sanity. Expect a finished first draft sometime in the next few months. (Considering both the rate of fire I've achieved in my first week of writing it and my general track record as pertains to deadlines, you may take "the next few months" to mean whenever you like. I'm betting on December 22, 2012.)

So, in the last episode of That's When I Reach for My Revolver, I revealed that Jason suffers from a condition called muscae volitantes, or "floaters." Little black specks in the eyeball, little spots that drift in one's field of vision. There are four or five possible causes, and no effective treatment. For some people, the problem is minor. For others, it's a major nuisance. Depends on your luck, I s'pose. You just have to get used to it and hope they go away.

I've got 'em. Have as long as I could remember. In the episode, Rebecca relates a story about Jason receiving merciless teasing as a child because he saw little "imaginary insect friends" in the sky. That never happened to me -- I didn't go around advertising I was any more different than I already appeared to be -- but the description of Jason's symptoms came right from my own experience. My floaters are numerous, mostly in my right eye. I can see them almost all the time, especially during the day, and they are always a major pain the ass. I spent so much time in Algebra class in junior high trying to get a good look at these little spots that I didn't pay much attention to the teacher. I failed the class.

Before I finished writing the episode, I found myself in a discussion with someone concerning floaters. They didn't believe me when I described the condition. They thought I was making it up. They'd never heard of it. "No way," they said. So, in an attempt to prove I knew what the fuck I was talking about, I added a disclaimer to the end of the episode that linked to a Wikipedia article that gave all the appropriate information. There. I'm not making it up. Fucker.

But then a funny thing happened. People read the episode. They talked to me afterward. They left comments.

I've always dealt with these things with apprehension. They were annoying, and before I knew what they were, they made me very, very nervous and afraid. And I certainly felt no one else around me dealt with them.

But as it turns out, you know who else has these fucking things? Everyone I know.

With varying degrees of seriousness, of course. But every single person that has spoken to me after reading "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" has said to me, "Hey, I have those things, too."

Now, considering that I had never heard of these things ever once before I looked them up to figure out why my eyes seemed to be deteriorating in their sockets, and I've never heard of them outside of that research, and indeed was greeted with disbelief when I attempted to spread the knowledge, I am now confused. I know the article says these things are common, but...come on. Am I right in thinking this is just a tad unlikely? If floaters are this common, how have I never heard of them before? (And in fact, no one else seems to have heard of them before, either.) Have I just happened to have befriended a number of people who share this condition? Or this destiny? Is this an example of that nefarious intelligent design I've heard so much about?

And, most importantly, why are mine worse than yours?

In other news, my Vampire 2025 chronicle is now officially the strangest game I've ever run, ever. Alternate dimensions are kewl.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

I scream for baseball

(Listening to: Guns N' Roses, GN'R Lies)

So here I am. Been a while. If you didn't already know, the next episode of That's When I Reach For My Revolver, "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing," has been finished and uploaded. Go ahead and read it, if you'd like.

I don't really want to go in depth regarding the Astros game tonight. I'm so frickin' irritated I could scream. Instead, a few random general queries that popped into my head during Game 2:

1. Is the stunning epidemic of asinine calls from umpires this postseason actually a result of a wave of mass stupidity on the part of the umps, or merely a result of advanced video technology and Fox's fourteen thousand cameras in the stadium (and their willingness to replay each and every play as seen from all of them)? In other words, are these umpires just having a bad month, or have they always been this stupid and science is now allowing us to see it for the first time?

2. Along that train of thought: how many of these bullshit calls have to go in favor of the Chicago White Sox before it's no longer crazy to infer a conspiracy on the part of Major League Baseball? Six? Ten? Fourteen thousand?

3. Is Scott Podsednik's last name pronounced "Pod-sed-nik" or "Poe-sed-nik"? I always thought that first D was silent -- and, indeed, Milo and Ashby pronounce it that way, and I seem to recall hearing someone tell a story about Podsednik's family writing a letter or something to the Milwaukee broadcasters (when he still played there) about saying his name properly. But the Fox guys have been saying "Pod-sed-nik" all throughout the playoffs, and while I've been extremely vocal about my irritation at this (much to the dismay of everyone around me), I'm starting to doubt myself. Maybe I'm wrong? ...Nah.

4. Every time someone hits a dramatic home run in one of these playoff games --like Podsednik, or Konerko -- they always get the same question from the on-the-field reporter during the postgame show: "Were you thinking 'home run' up there?" And the player always gives a variation on the same answer: "Not really, I was just hoping to get something to hit, just to get some wood on the ball and drive it somewhere." You know what I'd like to hear, just once? "Yes. All the way. It was raining, it was late, and it was fucking cold. I wanted to go home." Manny Ramirez might say that. But not white-bread Scott Podsednik.

5. Baseball in high definition is absolutely awesome. Really, it's incredible. But you know what needs to go, Fox? You can keep your fourteen thousand cameras (even the dumb ant's-eye-view looking up at the pitcher), but lose the stupid microphones in the bases. Seriously, what the fuck? Not only are they pointless, we occasionally get a nice, robust BOOM BOOM BOOM when someone spikes their cleats on the bag.

6. At one point, Fox displayed the temperature at the stadium, which was somewhere in the mid-40s. But they also felt it necessary to display the current temperature in Houston. Um, what? Who cares? (And before you think that it's designed to illustrate the differences between playing in Chicago and Houston, I'll remind you that the Houston games will be played indoors. The outside temperature is irrelevant.)

That's it for baseball. I'm gonna talk about Lost, Serenity, Vampire, and some other stuff tomorrow.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

DVD Frame Grab Quiz #1

(Listening to: The Mars Volta, Frances the Mute)

The next episode of Revolver, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," is under construction and will be ready within the next few days. I promise.

Now, some of you may have been wondering what happened to my List of the Week feature. I haven't done one in a while. There were a few problems: I was really tired on Sundays when it came time to write it; I didn't have my computer (and still don't -- I'm still banging away on a loaner); but most importantly, it was really hard to come up with lists.

So: a change of plan. I'll be doing lists every other week now -- that'll give me plenty of time to come up with ideas. And on the off-weeks, I'll steal an idea from film critic Bryant Frazer and present the DVD Frame Grab Quiz.

This one's really simple. I select -- completely at random -- three DVDs from my collection. I then proceed to capture a frame from each one, and it's your job to guess from whence they came. Easy, no? I'll make it as hard as I can without cheating and capturing a shot of someone's rear tire or something. (And no snagging clips from special features or anything like that. I play fair.)

Since it's a random choice which discs are chosen, there's no overriding least, not intentionally. And for each quiz, I'll provide one hint -- how helpful it is may vary.

If you need help, you can find a link to my DVD collection over on the right. You can e-mail or IM your guesses to me, or feel free to leave them in the comments.

So here we go. Your hint this time: only two of the three frames are from movies.

Good luck. Larger versions of the images can be found here -- don't click on the images themselves.

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Fair enough

You are Captain Malcolm Reynolds, aka. Mal or
Captain Tightpants. You saw most of your men
die in a war you lost and now you seek solitude
with a small crew that you are fiercely devoted
to. You have no problems being naked.

Which Firefly character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

I still don't have my computer back -- no word yet on when I will.

But I am having cable installed on Tuesday. So that's cool.

I have also ruled myself forbidden from listening to, reading, or watching any news for the next two days. Because I was getting so increasingly angry last week that I was starting to feel sick. So I've cut myself off. We'll see how long my self-imposed exile lasts -- since I usually read a lot of news and political blogs, I'll have to distract myself somehow.

Ooh, cookies.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Our finest hour arrives

(Listening to: Dave Matthews Band, Stand Up)

Tonight's setlist:

The Stone. (!!!!!)
One Sweet World.
Louisiana Bayou. (An unspeakably awesome version, too.)
Everybody Wake Up (Our Finest Hour Arrives). (!!)
Crash Into Me.
Say Goodbye. (!!!!)
Hunger for the Great Light.
Lie in Our Graves. (Which clocked in somewhere around 15 minutes, and was unspeakably awesome.)
What Would You Say.
American Baby Intro. (Which was so awesome it gave me chills.)
You Might Die Trying.
Smooth Rider. (Which was so good that I hate the truncated album version even more now.)
All Along the Watchtower. (See AB Intro.)

American Baby.
What You Are. (See Watchtower.)

Holy shit, dude.


I thought I didn't want to hear "Crash Into Me." Steve and I were talking about that beforehand.

But they started playing it. And everyone -- everyone -- was singing along. A massive sea of people all locked into the same wavelength. Everyone even knew the "Dixie chicken/Tennessee lamb" part that's not on the album.

It was almost hypnotic.

And Boyd Tinsley -- yo, someone ate their Wheaties this morning. He was crazy tonight. On the DVDs, I've seen him wander his side of the stage during his solos...but tonight, he was racing around everywhere, even over in Leroi's face. Damn!

At one point -- it was after "Louisiana Bayou," I think -- Dave said to the crowd, "Thank you, everybody." I immediately responded with, "No, thank you." The people around me seconded that.

Sorry, Metallica -- this was the greatest concert I've ever seen. More emotion, more virtuoso solos, more "The Stone" (as an opener, holy crap), and far less Fred Durst. (Though DMB's opening act, Victor Wooten, did jump all over the stage like a spaz just like Freddie, he was playing the most incredible bass I've ever heard while he was doing so. When he wasn't swinging the instrument around his body like a hula-hoop, that is.)

I couldn't afford to buy a t-shirt, but I did buy a Firedancer sticker. That's going on my car tomorrow.

And next up: Carlin.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Victory! (sorta!)

(Listening to: the Astros game. And weeping.)

You may or may not remember, but a few months ago I made a couple of posts concerning the lost Fiona Apple album, Extraordinary Machine. Now comes the news that the record will indeed finally be released to the general public on October 4.

Now, here's the weird part. The songs I heard back in March were recordings produced by musical genius Jon Brion, whose work as a composer you may know from Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, or I Heart Huckabees. Brion also produced Fiona's masterwork, When the Pawn.... But according to the press release -- which makes no reference to the leaked tracks or the "Free Fiona" campaign -- this album is produced by Mike Elizondo, who's worked mostly in hip-hop, with Dr. Dre and Eminem. (I recognized his name, though, primarily because he played bass and co-wrote a few tracks on Poe's spectacular album Haunted. As it turns out, he also played bass on When the Pawn....)

So, clearly, Madam Apple went back into the studio and rerecorded the whole album. And she clearly decided to do this very recently -- after all, if she was working on it when the big mess happened last winter, someone would have mentioned it to quell the protests, wouldn't they? And I wonder why the very good work with Brion was discarded, though I'm reading that everyone -- Sony, Epic, even Fiona -- was unhappy with the original production. I'll grant that it was certainly bizarre and non-commercial.

I don't know whether the new producer thing is good or bad, and can't know until I hear it. But there's apparently a new track, called "Parting Gift," and any Fiona is generally good Fiona.

Syntho-techno-compu-speak...of the FUTURE!

(Listening to: Dave Matthews Band, Crash)

(No list this week. I was too wiped out on either Saturday or Sunday to write anything coherent; believe me, I tried. I promise one for this week.)

So I've been watching a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 recently. More specifically, I've watched the episode Overdrawn at the Memory Bank a few times. If you haven't seen this one, you should -- it's easily one of the funniest. And the best part is how much Mike and the 'bots share my loathing for that idiotic "futuristic" dialogue that infects so many bad science fiction screenplays. You know what I mean: suddenly everything has a bizarre hyphenated prefix, like "compu-" or "syntho-", that kind of thing. (And one point in Overdrawn, Tom Servo gets fed up with it and starts angrily mocking it at every possible opportunity -- "Oh, they opened the syntho-flavo-door!" And a man and a woman are shown in bed together, he sings, "And then I sing you off to syntho-sleep after the techno-love....")

The worst part about this crap is how fake it is. Who the hell talks like this? I'll give you an example. If, in 1985, someone had written a screenplay which posited the future appearance of AOL's instant messenger program, allowing distant people to chat through their computers, everyone would have referred to the process as something stupid: "I'm going to compu-speak with Mike tonight." "We were micro-texting about that yesterday."

All this complaining about futuristic dialogue is actually a very roundabout way of plugging Simon of Space, the online novel I've been reading. It takes several thousand years from now, so characters don't speak like we do...but their dialogue still feels natural, not clumsy and stupid. (My favorite is the profanity. The euphemisms we have as curse words are scaled back to the actual words themselves: "shit" is now "faeces;" "fuck" is now "coitus" or "fornicate," depending on the context; and "sucks" is now "fellates." It's hilarious when someone roars, "What is this coital faeces?" in a completely serious context.)

If you're not reading Simon, you should be. Really. It's absolutely brilliant. Go forth and do so now. Though you should probably start at the beginning if you'd like to understand what's going on.

Friday, August 19, 2005

It reminds *me* of something

(Listening to: Rage Against the Machine, Evil Empire)

Have you guys heard the new Audioslave single, "Doesn't Remind Me"? It has to be considered a strong front runner for the 2005 Pants Around Your Feet Award for the hit song with the most idiotic lyrics. (Named, of course, in honor of "Figured You Out," that repugnant Nickelback piece of shit that was a huge hit last year.) Most frustrating is that "Doesn't Remind Me" is almost a really great song -- I like the melody and chord changes an' stuff, and Chris Cornell still has one of the best voices in rock. But...c'mon, the guy who wrote the complex, symbolically rich "The Day I Tried to Live," "Like Suicide," and "Limo Wreck" wrote this?

I like gypsy moths and radio talk
'Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like gospel music and canned applause
'Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like colorful clothing in the sun
'Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like hammering nails, and speaking in tongues
'Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
What the hell does any of that mean? Canned applause? Gypsy moths? Those lyrics are like cigarette smoke: thick, impenetrable, yet completely lacking in substance of any kind. And leaving a foul odor everywhere. They seem to want to mean something, but there's just nothing there. They're like shadow puppets.

My mom had a phrase for songs like this: she called them "toilet songs." The implication being that the singer wrote the lyrics in three minutes while sitting on the toilet, simply jotting down the first thing that came to mind, no matter how insipid. (The first time I remember my mom saying this was in reference to Warrant's "Cherry Pie," which is a toilet song for more than one reason.)

After their lackluster debut, and the first few singles from Out of Exile, I am prepared to hail Audioslave as the most disappointing band since...ever. I mean, Chris Cornell with Rage Against the Machine as his backing band? There was no way this could go wrong, so of course it has. Rage has lost their massive attack energy and turned into an only-slightly-nuanced post-grunge band, while Chris Cornell is either in the midst of a huge artistic decline or a some kind of deliberate pop commerical sellout phase.

Somewhere, Zack de la Rocha is laughing his fucking ass off.

The rest of us have to suffer.

(And hey, how's about this: "Doesn't Remind Me" is being nominated, by me, for an award named after a song by Nickelback. Nickelback, you may remember, achieved substantial success in the modern rock/post-grunge arena with their first hit, "Leader of Men," but became the ubiquitous crossover pop sludge factory they are today thanks to their follow-up album and its worldbusting first single, "How You Remind Me." I have no idea what this means.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

List of the week, 8/14: Music videos

(Listening to: System of a Down, Mezmerize)

Yeah, the original goal was do one of these every Saturday, but it seems that early Sunday morning is more convenient for me. So we'll go with that. We're also changing format a bit these week, as I couldn't think of five truly atrocious videos to make into a list -- we'll go with a top ten, instead.

Dave Matthews Band is going to debut their new video, for "Dreamgirl," on Monday. In honor of that, I give you my ten favorite music videos.

  1. "Just," Radiohead.
  2. A man lies on the sidewalk and won't move. Others ask why. He refuses to tell them. A crowd gathers. He still refuses. They yell and scream. Finally, he reluctantly gives them the answer. But not us: the subtitles that have displayed all the dialogue vanish. And when the man is done, his audience, stunned and horrified, lies beside him. The video is a brilliant little short film that shows how much you can do with the medium, even without big budgets and special celebrity guests.
  3. "Everybody Hurts," R.E.M.
  4. Profound and moving -- it lifts the song to another plateau. And the final images are truly haunting. To this day, whenever I'm stuck in traffic, I visualize Michael Stipe walking on top of the cars. "They just...they just got out and walked!"
  5. "Criminal," Fiona Apple.
  6. Director Mark Romanek has Fiona prance around in her underwear for the camera -- typical music video stuff -- but films it in such a greasy, voyeuristic fashion that one can't help but feel dirty for enjoying it. A wonderful way to toy with the cliches of music video.
  7. "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson.
  8. "Thriller" is the one that gets the press, but this is far better. Sure, it seems pretty dated now, and it's hard to feel sympathy for Michael Jackson, but the video captures his plight with flawless visual metaphors -- alone, dancing through a (fake) street, everything he touches glowing with light, hounded by a evil man taking pictures who just won't leave him alone.
  9. "In Bloom," Nirvana.
  10. Speaking of flawless visual metaphors. Contrasting their image as heroin-using, instrument-smashing hooligans who made angry noise, this clip features Kurt and crew in perfect white suits and performing on what looks like the Ed Sullivan Show, confronted by an adoring, shrieking fanbase they can't understand. And by the end, they're wearing dresses and smashing the stage, but the cheers only grow louder.
  11. "Closer," Nine Inch Nails.
  12. Probably the most disturbing video ever created...and again by director Mark Romanek. A lot of stuff was cut from his one for air; to preserve continuity, Romanek replaced it with silent film-style "scene missing" cards. I've seen both versions, and I actually think it's creepier in the edited version.
  13. "Hurt," Johnny Cash.
  14. Romanek again. An emotionally devasting trip through Cash's psyche as he looked back on his life. Again, a triumph of the artform. (Romanek, by the way, is probably my favorite video director. I don't know if you can tell.)
  15. "Enid," Barenaked Ladies
  16. The early BNL videos, as the band puts it, basically consisted of them "running around and mugging for the camera." Too true, but "Enid" manages to capture the band's manic energy in a way that I love. There's also some creative editing. Okay, I really don't know why I like this one so much.
  17. "I Want Love," Elton John.
  18. So sometimes celebrity guests work out: this one features Robert Downey, Jr., wandering alone in an empty mansion singing along with the song. And that's it -- just one long shot that follows him all throughout the house. The terribly lonely image adds greatly to the song.
  19. "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," Cake
  20. One of the funniest videos I've seen -- it's almost a MST3K-style riffing on the song, as we see a number of random pedestrians listening to the track on headphones and offering their opinions. Some of them like it, some of them don't -- but it's all hilarious.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

St. Anger

(Listening to: Barenaked Ladies, Born on a Pirate Ship)

There was a time in my life -- around 1999, to be specific -- where I would have described myself as "full of rage." I was angry all the time, about everything. School, my friends, my family: all kept a steady stream of fury flowing around my house. Anything and everything pissed me off, and it took great effort not to show that anger to those around me.

There have been other times since then where I've felt that kind of white-hot emotion for sustained periods. (During one of them, I wrote the extremely angry "The Outlet," a rewrite of which is next on my to-do list, after the next episode of Revolver.) And I used that same phrase -- "full of rage" -- to describe my mental condition. I thought it an apt description.

But I had nothing on the Neighbors Downstairs.

Yes, the same ones who were (possibly) behind the theft of my wallet. I said earlier that they fought "all the time," but I'm not sure if you understood me. I mean all the time. They fought yesterday. They fought the night before that. And they're fighting right now.

And calling the police to stop them won't work. It's been tried. They're still here.

What the hell can a small group of people possibly disagree on so fervently -- and so often -- that they argue and scream about it once or twice a day? I mean, my friends and I have our conflicts, too -- some of which are genuine, some of which are created simply to annoy me, and some of which exist only in the paranoid, insecure recesses of my own mind (those are fun) -- but we only rarely have what I would term a fight. And we certainly don't fight every day. I dare say that if we did, we wouldn't be friends. And we certainly wouldn't be living together.

I can only assume alcohol and/or drugs are involved in this mess. It would explain a great many things. But here's the kicker -- the truly weird part of the story, the one I don't understand.

An old man lives in that apartment. He's confined to a wheelchair. If I'm up early enough in the day, I can see him leaving sometimes. We have to make sure not to park in the narrow strip of asphalt he needs to wheel out of his door into the parking lot.

Where is he during all of this COPS-episode-waiting-to-happen stuff? Is he sleeping? Is he hiding? Or does he open those vocal throttles and rage with the rest of them? Perhaps he acts as a referee?

I'd go to bed and forget about it, but I'm too experienced with the pattern for that: the second that happens, somebody go out their back door and the fight continues outside. Directly underneath my window.

Perhaps they need Dr. Phil Towle. Hey, it worked for Metallica.

All within your hands, baby.

Kill kill kill kill kill.

Friday, August 12, 2005

There are no innocent victims

(Listening to: Dave Matthews Band, Live in Chicago 12-19-98)

So I had an odd experience yesterday.

For those who don't already know, my wallet was stolen out of my car on Monday. It was totally my fault -- not only did I leave my wallet in my car (already a stupid thing to do) but I left the door unlocked. These were accidents -- it was gushing rain when I got out of the car, I was carrying food that had to be protected against the harsh elements, and my shoes have huge holes on the bottom, so running in water is bad bad bad -- but I screwed up and paid the price. Frankly, I'm lucky they only took my wallet and not all of my CDs. Or my stereo.

So my wallet was nicked. I lost thirty bucks, a Horizon Games discount card that I'm pretty sure they no longer accept, and my driver's license. This, of course, was the motherfucker -- I went to DPS on Wednesday and replaced it for ten bucks.

I had pretty much written the wallet off, you know? I mean, it's gone.

But yesterday, as I'm leaving for work, I pass the Neighbors Downstairs in the parking lot. The Neighbors Downstairs, for those who don't know, are my sworn enemy here in the land of Southern Pine Forest. They're loud, they're obnoxious, they get into fights constantly, and they always seem to want to do this crap outside in the parking lot so everyone can hear. (And when they're keeping it inside, I can still hear their voices echoing up through the pipes in the bathroom. It's fucked up.)

One of them asks me if I've "lost" my wallet.

I'm unsure of how to respond.

I go with "...Yyyyes...."

He tells me his girlfriend found it. I ask where. He doesn't know. He tells me that she isn't home right now, but he'll get it and get it to me.

When I get home from work last night, he's in the parking lot. He says, "Hey, let's go get your wallet."

But, alas, his girlfriend isn't there -- or she's in the shower, or something. She doesn't answer. He says we'll try again later.

And so it's today. And I'm puzzled.

As I see it, there are three possiblities.

  1. My wallet wasn't stolen, I actually dropped it. I know this to be false, but it is still, technically, possible.
  2. This jackasses stole my wallet, took my money, but have no use for my license (and Horizon Games card) and want to get on my good side by being nice and "finding" it for me.
  3. Someone else stole it, threw it away, and the Neighbors downstairs actually did find it.
Which do you think?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Missing the point entirely

(Listening to: Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger)

"Why is everything here completely pointless?" -- Mike Teavee to Willy Wonka

It's a question I'd like answered.

I saw the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Monday, and holy god what a horrible disaster. The buzz was that the film would be more faithful to the book than the previous adaptation, and it several ways it is -- the squirrels were back as the cause of Veruca's demise, for example, rather than the golden egg machine.

But apparently the copies of the novel Tim Burton and screenwriter John August have are missing the final chapter or two, because they swerve from the original and tack on their own cheesy ending. And believe me when I say this stuff is pulled directly out their ass: Wonka suddenly has big issues with his father, a subplot left unexplored (and unmentioned) in the book. So the entire point of the story -- the bad children being punished for their vices and Charlie getting rewarded for his kind and humble nature -- is thrown into the chocolate river, and instead becomes a lecture about the importance of family, a message which is delivered with surprisingly hamfisted clumsiness.

Now, the story has never been subtle -- even as a kid, I understood the point Dahl was trying to make with his book. But at least his original message was supported by the rest of the story. In the new version, though, the other children who accompany Charlie into serve no purpose other than to fill screen time. Really, you could have deleted those four kids, skipped from Charlie entering the factory right to the last twenty minutes, and the only thing you'd miss would be a lot of awful songs by the Oompa Loompas (Danny Elfman wrote the songs, taking lyrics from the book, but that didn't matter because you couldn't understand a word they said anyway). We also would have missed Depp's odd, awkward performance as Wonka -- certainly not one of the miracles we've come to expect from Cap'n Sparrow. His Wonka -- and the whole movie -- just aren't any fun. At all.

I guess there's another question we need answered: "Why is the rum gone?"

Sunday, August 07, 2005

List of the Week, 8/6: World of Darkness NPCs

(Listening to: The Essential Bob Dylan)

So, I play role-playing games. The table-top RPGs, I mean: you know -- sit around a table, roll some dice, act out imaginary characters. Such behavior is generally shunned by popular society, of course, and you can just imagine how much I care about that.

Even though I play these games, I don't swing with that Dungeons & Dragons crowd -- too much math, not enough fun in my experience. (Yes: not only do I play the games, I'm a snob about them, too. Discuss.) I've played a lot of games, but the finest, without question, have been those published by White Wolf in their World of Darkness series. Vampire: The Masquerade, Hunter: The Reckoning, Mage: The Ascension. Last year, they ended that series and started anew with Vampire: The Requiem, which has been just has fun as the old stuff.

And since Mage: The Awakening comes out this month, we celebrate my RPG experiences with our list of the week: My Favorite (and Least-Favorite) Non-Player Characters. See, when I've played, I've been the Storyteller almost exclusively -- no player characters for me. And while I know my players have their own personal favorites, I don't think I've ever shared mine. Not to mention those NPCs I've dreaded playing.

So let's get started.

(But before we do, I should point out that several of these characters came in groups and pairs, so they're obviously listed together. You may see this as cheating, to stick more than five characters into a top-five list. I can't disagree. And while I'm in this parenthetical, thanks to Rene for helping me come up with an idea for this week's list.)

The Best

1. Duncan Forrest. (Vampire: The Masquerade; Vampire: The Requiem) Never has one of my characters displayed quite the frantic arc as this poor Ventrue did in En Prise, my final V:tM chronicle. From smug businessman, to ostracized villain, to avenging angel behind a shotgun, to caretaker for a sire-less young vampire, Duncan remained a blast for me. (Hehe: shotgun. Blast. Ha! ...Ahem.) Of course, the arc wasn't just all over the place for no reason: the unlucky bastard had ghosts haunting him and screwing with this mind. And the guilt he carried around with him for his evil deeds -- both those at the urging of the spirits and those he committed of his own volition -- rounded him out and prevented from being just an unpredictable wacko. (Though he was that, at times.) But the most gratifying moment came when I tried to finish him off: I set up the events that would lead to his demise, only to watch as the players ruined everything with a desperate (and successful) attempt to save his life. "There's no way we were going to let Duncan die," I was told. I can't believe I tried it, either.

And surprisingly enough, Duncan didn't lose much in his transition to the world of Vampire: The Requiem -- a sometimes frustrating mix of the political schemer and the guilt-ridden saint, Duncan led the charge against the corrupt vampiric government of Bazemore. Of course, his methods of leadership put him at odds with almost everyone he attempted to lead, but he stayed the course and kept up the fight until the most unlikely possible thing happened: he won. (And they say I don't know the meaning of the word "hope.") But the ghosts still won't leave him alone.

Speaking of ghosts....

2. Alice Johnson. (V:tR) Talk about having it bad. At age eighteen, Alice was brutally murdered in her sleep by a crazed vampire (for reasons too complex to get into here). But instead of passing on, she found herself stuck in our world as a ghost...and unable to leave her apartment. She remained there for nearly two decades -- she was eventually discovered by another vampire, Natasha, but this Kindred was unable (or unwilling) to help her escape. Instead, Alice became a weapon in Natasha's schemes: the ghost somehow caught occasional brief glimpses of the future. Still stuck, Alice contented herself with flexing her supernatural muscles, learning other "powers" and such over the years; she became fascinated with her limited ability to alter the temperature in her apartment (a habit which resulted in the space staying vacant for all those years). But Alice wasn't without hope: help came in the form of Natasha's childe, Benjamin. Unlike Natasha, who saw her as a tool, Ben helped her not only to develop those powers of hers, but eventually found a way to get her out of her apartment and allow her to roam the world as a free spirit.

Man, Alice is just plain fun to play -- she's been eighteen for about forty years now, and even as her power increases, she still straddles that teenaged line between invulnerable cockiness and tormented insecurity. Stubbornly sticking by Benjamin through his own personal travesties, she alternately assists him on his quests and prods him with shiny verbal spears. (Ben once described their feuding relationship as "hate-hate." Alice's response: "Hey, fuck you!") She generally carries herself with a "Who, me?" kind of laid-back attitude...until the shit hits the fan. And what's not to like about a character who is blasting zombies with telekinesis one minute and practically blushing at the clumsy advances of a naive college boy the next? (Another fun aspect to Alice: putting on cleats and stomping all over White Wolf's canon as regards ghosts. I've never taken their it's-your-game-do-what-you-want ethos as far as I have with her.) Add in her fascination/loathing with modern society, her big-sister relationship with Ben's son, her snobbish appreciation/disdain for popular music, and the vast expanse of unspoken emotional territory between Ben and herself, and I could practically write a book about her.

Speaking of practically writing books...

3. Mr. Clarke and Jenkins. (Hunter: the Reckoning) Sure, most mages would want to keep as far away as possible from supernaturally-imbued demon-slayers, especially those as well-armed as the ones in this game. But Mr. Clarke and his vigilant assistant, Jenkins, were not most mages. These two fit into a pretty typical NPC mold -- the questgiver -- but it was their priceless interaction with each other and with the hunters that made them memorable. Mr. Clarke's habit of falling in love with the sound of his voice (talking forever without seeming to say anything) went perfectly with Jenkins, whose main job seemed to be taking notes -- of everything. Jenkins was never armed without his handy notepad, and his pen never stopped moving. It wasn't quite sure what these notes would ever be used for, but that didn't stop Jenkins from writing, nor did it stop Clarke from frequently imploring Jenkins: "Write this down!" I've never enjoyed the obligatory here-is-your-mission scenes as much as I did with these two clowns. Our Hunter game went to shit (literally, and you do not want to hear that story, trust me), but I loved these two guys.

Speaking, fuck it:

4. Harry and Tom. (Mage: The Ascension) Man oh man: the fucking cats.

Harry -- the black one -- was the familiar for adolescent mage Jack Flagg; his nemesis, Tom -- the white one -- hounded Jack as a pesky gremlin. Jack was a good guy, though, so he took care of both cats. Even when Tom was displaying his evil side by...breaking his potted plants?

Credit where credit is due: these guys weren't my idea. But they were some kind of awesome when they got going. The best part, really, was that despite being ancient spirits with a eternal grudge against one another, they were still cats -- talking cats, mystical cats, but cats nevertheless. It's hard to torment your mortal enemy when there's so much napping to do, after all. And I can't forget the hilarious image of Harry, tucked in Jack's pocket, getting a buzz at the local Node. And the good news: they're coming back for our next Mage game. Yeah!

5. Steve, the Drunken Redneck. (Everywhere) Sometimes, you can't plan what will work. And Steve-o started life as nothing more than a random victim: a vampire needed a car, and fast, so Steve got carjacked. But something about him was somehow intriguing, and so Steve showed up again. And again. Traumatized by his experiences, Steve has popped up in every game I've run since, getting more and more wigged out (and more and more drunk) with each appearance. His best moments were probably those in V:tM, with his paranoid ramblings about the secret war between vampires and aliens from outer space. But he never stops being funny. And Steve will never go away.

Tied for sixth: every single other NPC I've used in Vampire: The Requiem. Every single one. Even Malice the dog. Especially Malice the dog. I love that city.

The Worst

1. Jan Pieterzoon. (V:tM) I've never been good at working with other people's creations (the cats notwithstanding). And it was probably a bad idea to trot out this White Wolf signature character for little reason other than, "Hey, he's cool." (Really, his presence was ridiculous.) I'm pretty sure he didn't show up more than once or twice...but someone like Pieterzoon should emanate dignity, should ooze it from the very bottom of his silk suit, and he was nothing more than empty space in my hands. Easily the most disappointing NPC I've ever used. (I later used him again when I ran a Gehenna chronicle, and while it was an improvement, I still never quite got a handle on him. Oh, well. Live and learn.)

2. Fortunado. (V:tM) Dammit: he was made to be interesting. One of the aforementioned ghosts that was mucking with Duncan's brain, Fortunado was a brash, joyous guy that was dead and loved every second of least, when he was in my head. In the game, though, he never seemed to take off. He was supposed to be used for a Wraith chronicle, but when that game went nowhere, I brought him into Vampire with lackluster results. And it didn't help that his arc by that point was as a pretty obvious shock villain -- his "surprise" evil turn was greeted with no reaction at all by the players, and they later selected this as the worst plot twist in the otherwise magnificent En Prise. I'm much better at ghosts nowadays, but this one haunts me. (Hehe: haunts. Ghost. Ha! ...Ahem.)

3. Augustus Giovanni. (V:tM) See entry 1 as far as using White Wolf signature characters. I've had my share of anticlimactic moments in my games, but none can rival this dramatic battle from my Gehenna chronicle. Augustus Giovanni, third-generation progenitor of the Giovanni clan, super-powerful master of Necromancy, slain in a matter of moments by a handful of Kindred far, far weaker than he. That was embarrassing.

4. The other Antediluvians in that same Gehenna game. (V:tM) See entry 3, only multiply by six and replace the embarrassing fighting with lots of talking. Lots of talking. The most dreadful ending to any game I've ever run. Ever. (Of course, it wasn't entirely my fault -- I as running that game right out of the book. But I should have at least tried to make those bastards interesting. I failed to do so.)

5. The entire cast of the infamous "Green Goo" game. (V:tM) Honestly, I can't remember a single character from this mess, the worst chronicle I've ever run. But I can remember how awkward they felt, how they felt like crude cut-outs or imitations of earlier, more successful characters. Actually, I take that back: I remember the idiotic Tremere interrogator with his syringe full of that awful green goo. I was watching way too much X-Files back then, and didn't use any of that influence in a good way. Though I've tried to put this horrible game behind me (thankfully, it ground itself to a shuddering, screeching halt after only three or four sessions), my friends will never let me forget it. Ever.

That's that. You may comment below -- suggestions for next week's list are welcome.