Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Avett Brothers and the Art of Being a Super-Fan

EmotionalismI am operating on very little sleep, got up later than usual and started writing this while half awake.  Let's see what.........shit.  Sorry, I'm back.  Caffeine is kicking in and I am somewhat ready to go.

I have to preface this by saying that I am not a Avett Brothers fan.  They are an immensely talented and important band for the times, and their originality is very welcome in a musical world currently filled with Autotuning, purity rings and Justin Bieber.  From what I could tell, the band consisted of the Avett Brothers (Scott and Seth) the bass player (Bob Crawford) and a Cellist (Joe Kwon).  There was also a drummer who played on about half of the songs, who looked remarkably like my wife's brother...if it was him, he could have at least called to let us know that he was going to be in town.  The musical abilities of each performer was something to be deeply burning-flame-of-envy-consume-my-soul jealousy.  The brothers constantly switched from guitar to banjo to piano to harmonica and banjo, to banjo and kickdrum and harmonica throughout every song and at times during songs.

For the entire show, they were constantly moving and dancing and jumping around, never once missing a  guitar strum, a bass pluck or a cello...ummmm...bowing(???).  In short, their music was infectious.  Where my response to their albums is luke warm, their live show had me singing, clapping and attempting to mouth the lyrics to songs I had never heard before.  The Avett Brothers are predominately a band that begs to be seen live.  Much in the way of someone who loves The Flaming Lips yet has not attended one of their shows, you are missing out on more than half of the experience.  It is no wonder that the band has so many diehard fans, which brings me to the main part of the review...the super-fan.  Before I get started on these...people(?)...I just need to stress that if the Avett Brothers ever come to your town, buy tickets immediately and go to their show, even if you have never heard a lick of their music.  They are the most honest, fun-loving and appreciative-of-their-audience bands that I have ever seen or heard.  Their joy and love of music is apparent from the first song to the last, and my opinion of the band has completely changed.  Hell, I might just play one of their songs right now....

Back to it.  The super-fan.  Goddamnit, where do these a-holes come from and why is there always at least one at every single show that I attend.  Seriously.  Every single show that I have attended in the past twenty plus years has, to varying degrees, had the experience diminished by someone else's love of the show...or love of the massive amounts of drugs and alcohol they were on.

For the Avett Brothers' show, our group of eight people had great seats that were slightly off to the left and spread over the second, third and fourth rows.  Unfortunately, we were immediately surrounded from behind and to the right by the local chapter of the Irritating Coalition of Desperate Avett Brothers Attention Seekers...aka...Did I Mention We Love the Avett Brothers More Than You fan club?  These people, primarily the one douche immediately behind me, screamed and sang off key and said the stupidest shit I have ever heard in my life, and that is truly saying something.

Now, someone reading my little rants might say, "Well Donist, who are you to criticize someone for having a good time?  Just because you are an old fuddy-duddy does not mean everyone else needs to be."  Okay, that is true...although at times the world would be a better place if they were, but that is another matter.  I dare someone to defend anyone who shouts at the top of their lungs, "This shit is fucking awesome!   Yeahhhhhhhh!  Damn, I am going to crap my fucking pants!  Fucking amazing!"  This exchange was shouted often, including during a slower and more mellow paced song as well.  Not enough for you?  How about this outburst: Off key screaming/singing...more off key screaming/singing and then, "Yeah!  Suck my dick!"

No, I am not joking.  At three points in the show, this guy yelled out very loud, "Suck my dick!"  I found this very confusing.  Whereas past experience has led me to believe this command to have both a negative connotation, often ending in a fist fight, or if you were very, very lucky, something else infinitely more pleasurable, but tonight the idiot behind me must have meant something else entirely.  Why not just scream, "Go team!  Yay!" during the almost classical music inspired piece with the beautiful cello and standup bass?  Why choose, "Yeah!  Suck my dick!  This is fucking amazing!" to express your joy and admiration for the band during one of the quieter moments?  I am probably just behind the times and not up on the new lingo that kids these days are throwing around.  I guess I will have to start using that expression more often.  If this is the hot new slang, then maybe at today's end of quarter summary meeting I should try it out.

Please believe me when I say that this type and level of douchebaggery was a constant for the entirety of the show.  It simply did not let up.  My wife vacillated between switching on the teacher mode and telling them to settle down, and cracking up.  I even cracked up at one point when the band was winding down and the idiot exclaimed, "Aww shit man.  All four of them are going to hit it at the same time.  Aww shit.  Watch it, watch it.... Damn!   Yeah!   Killed it."

Have to head off to work to try out some of my new expressions.  I can't wait to show everyone how hip and cool I am with my brand spankin' new lingo.  I can't wait to continue this fabulous day, walk into Mexican Fresh and yell, "Yeah!  This burrito is fucking awesome.  You guys can suck my dick!"

Avett Brothers rated absolutely great and a must see show...A-.  Douchebag super-fan, who hopefully has no voice for the remainder of his stupid little life...F+.  What a tool.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Still Thinking About Up in the Air...part 6.75

One thing that I neglected to mention was that during the incredibly painful interview at the tech company, I stressed that I wanted to work for a stable company and one that would not relocate.  The ever wide-eyed CEO, told me that the company was founded in Santa Barbara, by people from Santa Barbara and that was where it was going to stay.  This commitment lasted for about a year and a half, when it was announced that the company was going to begin scouting for new locations somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego.

Damnit.  I had not been working at this job all that long and here it was going to up and move, again I was to eventually be out of a job.  I had no desire to move at all, not to mention we couldn't.  Not too long prior to the announcement, my girlfriend became my wife, and we had bought a condo in between Goleta and Santa Barbara; we were not going anywhere for a while.  What the hell happened to "We are a Santa Barbara company?"  Thankfully, I knew that I had some time for the company to pick a location, secure the location, announce the move and to make the move down south.  We were told that the move was to put us closer to more of our customers and to operate somewhere less expensive and with a low cost of living so that people had a chance of owning a home; funny, I already owned a home and it was not all that cheaper down south at the time.

It was also right around that time that the tech company had hired a new sales rep who I will call Teddy Tongs.  Teddy Tongs was the oddest, most clueless individual I had ever met, but he became a key earner.  He was Asian, and the other Asian workers at the company constantly joked that Teddy Tongs was the whitest Asian guy they had ever met.  Teddy quickly learned that through the use of "odd"...oh fuck it, let's call it what it was...shady business practices, he could maximize the amount of gross profit in each deal and make a killing on his commission, which increased with the more money he brought in.  The problem with this scenario was that these deals involved orders first coming to the Goleta office and eventually needing to be shipped back out...all by me.  The process also called for a computer tech to put everything together before I could ship anything out, and Teddy Tong's deals were growing in size and scope with each deal he brought in.  I remember one day I was outside hauling around a ton (literally) of computer tech to bring into the filled-to-capacity storeroom where I had opperated the "light" shipping and receiving portion of my job and once I had it all inside and locked away, I walked to my office to perform my main job and there was Teddy Tongs at his desk and playing computer backgammon.  He then became top earner for the month and went on a "President's Club" spa trip.  No one else was recognized for the large and very shady deal.  Not the computer tech who had to open and tinker with every single package, not the accounting department who had to juggle chainsaws to get all of the invoices paid properly and billing sent out, and, most importantly, not Donist, the ultra-sweaty never-been-in-a-frat and going-way-above-his-job-description purchasing guy.

I know, I know.  I sound like a whiny baby bitch, but I could not understand how the guy who made his commission in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single month and who sat on his ass playing video games, while everyone else busted their humps to make sure that he was paid his lofty commission on his exceedingly questionable deal, could not even sport for pizzas for those that made his success possible.  I did not get it.  It was right around this time the CTO, who was actually a very cool person and one that I regret not keeping in contact with, approached me to ask me about the deals that Teddy Tongs was putting together.  I told him what they entailed and although at the time I was not completely certain of why the deals were shady, I quickly figured it all out and learned that the CTO did not approve of the deals either.  He stormed off to talk to CEO.  The shady deals were halted for all of about three months, but I did have a slight moment of victory when the CTO saw me hauling around loads of boxes for Teddy Tong, and the CTO went inside, brought out Teddy Tongs, told him to finish moving and taping up the order, and told me to go ahead and take my break.

The move eventually did come, and a bit more quickly than I had anticipated, but luckily the company leased a smaller satellite office for the people that could not move down south or could not move right away.  This situation was great for me and although the days for the satellite office were numbered, I was able to continue working for the company and with my boss, the marketing guy, the A/R guy, the CEO sometimes...he jumped between both offices..., and of course Teddy Tongs, who had gone full force back into the the very shady deals.

So many shady deals were coming through, that the company rented out a shipping container to temporarily store the product and Teddy Tongs had also discovered that even more money was to be made shipping things overseas.  I finally reached my breaking point after personally moving three and a half tons of equipment by myself and discovering that Teddy Tongs could possibly break the six-figure commission barrier for a single month because of the deal.  I constructed a letter to the CEO.

The CEO had always stated that he had an "open door policy" for the company's employees and after consulting with my boss on the matter of Teddy Tongs' exponentially elaborate and shady deals, she read my letter and agreed that it was fine to submit it to the CEO directly.  The letter was simple.  I did not mention anything about the deals being shady, but instead focused on the large commissions that were being paid to Teddy Tongs and the fact that these deals were incredibly time consuming for myself, the computer tech and the accounting department, with all of us coming in on weekends to make sure everything went smoothly.  I suggested a profit sharing program of 1% that would be put into a general pool on all deals above a certain dollar value and that would be paid out at the end of the month to all non-outside sales reps.  The percentage would have little effect on the rep's commission check and everyone would be happy to be included in the company's success, not just the rep that sat back waiting for the large check to come in.  My request did not go over well.

A day or so later, I came into the office to see that my boss had been crying and the two of us were called into a conference room to discuss my letter.  Apparently the "open door policy" no longer existed and my letter should have first gone to my boss, who would have then brought it to the attention of the CEO.  He had apparently blasted my boss for my overstepping of boundaries and told me that my request would never happen.  I asked why and explained that these deals were so complex and so time consuming and that Teddy Tongs played video games while everyone else slaved away for him.  I pointed out that no one else shared in the success of the company, especially when they had to go far above and beyond their duties in order to make this one particular reps deals actually happen.  With the ever wide-eyed businessman's stare he asked, "Is this a matter of reassessing your job and adjusting your pay upwards?  If that is what this is about, we can do that."  I thanked him for offering me more money, but explained again that I felt that ALL of the employees should be rewarded, even if it was only a little.  I stated that we both knew that I would not be moving down south for the company, but if I would love to work remotely.  Whether or not that was possible, I thought the profit sharing would be a nice touch for those that did stay with the company.  The meeting ended with nothing resolved, and with a definite "no" to my request on profit sharing for all employees.  Mysteriously, Teddy Tongs bought pizza for the first time for the five satellite office employees.

I felt like shit over the verbal beating that my boss had received, and I felt that the company had become even more corporate than ever it was destined to end for me.  That night, I checked the papers found two jobs of interest, updated my resume and sent it off.  A week later, I interviewed for both positions and was accepted by...surprise, surprise...the apparel company that had strung me along for so long before I was hired at the tech company.  I put in my two weeks notice, which unfortunately was right before the CEO's wedding, and he even went so far as to call the apparel company and beg them to give me three weeks before I started. 

Funny how things work out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Still Thinking About Up in the Air...part 6.5

After seven very long months, I was employed once again, and I actually had the long-thought-lost feeling of hope.  With any luck, I was now working at a job similar to the game company with cool, fun people--minus the screaming siblings--and an opportunity to learn and grow and actually have some fun while doing something I could be proud of.  

My first day on the job was filled with the normal paperwork, introductions to people around the office and training, but I was relieved to see someone that I knew working there.  This guy, Miles, was someone I knew from my days of going downtown often, and living it up.  He was not necessarily someone I would call a friend, and probably not someone that I would want to classify as such, but at least he was a familiar face.  He was fired and gone within the first week that I was there.

Life at this tech reseller appeared to be fairly tough for the outside sales reps if they did not perform, and I counted my blessings that I would hopefully never be in their position.  All that I needed to do was my job and make sure that I was on top the tracking and the closing of open orders in the system and I would be fine, and I was.  I quickly realized that this job would never be like the game job, but it seemed fairly stable, I felt needed and valued by my direct boss and even by the CEO, and there were opportunities to learn from the CTO, who kindly taught my boss and I about various technologies in one-on-two trainings.  Things seemed okay.

I even got along well with some of the sales guys, who would invite me along on many of their downtown drinking festivities, and I was even invited along when various vendors came rolling into town for parties that they were sponsoring.  I liked the job okay, my boss was great (and is still a friend of mine), and there seemed to be promise with the job, but it was after I had been there for over six months that people began to confide that the place was "really starting to go know, go corporate."  I was told that before I came on board...always before I came on board...that the company was a lot of fun and that every Friday the three owners would buy beer and everyone would have a good time. The company was smaller then and was doing well, but now various people felt that the owners were trying to grow the company too fast so that they could ultimately sell the business.

After hearing on multiple occasions that the company was becoming more corporate, I slowly began to notice a change in the atmosphere of the workplace.  Strict rules on timeliness were imposed, I heard a lot of micromanaging of the outside sales reps happening...they were nowhere near as bad as the sales people from the cable advertising company...and access to websites was now being blocked for "security reasons."  No one understood what was going on or why these changes were being implemented and nothing was divulged to us either.  One of my friends at the office, an inside sales person who happened to be much more talented in the ways of computers than anyone could possibly know, discovered that the sales managers were given the capability to spy on the reps computers at any time and see what they were doing.  I could not understand why.  Sure sales were down at that point, at least according to the company powerpoint presentation that was given in the lobby, but spying was just...extreme.  The CEO also appeared to become more short and secretive with everyone at that point and the "company culture" (god I hate corporate buzzwords more than anything) had changed.  From that point to ninety days later, more than 1/3 of the company had quit, including two people getting up pronouncing they were "outta here"and walking out never to return.

To say that things changed quickly would be an understatement.  The internet site blocking was lifted for email services like hotmail and yahoo, supposedly the spying was ended and an emergency meeting was held in the lobby.  The owners, primarily the CEO who always led the meetings, had put together a powerpoint presentation where they basically admitted to making some errors in their goal to increase the size of the business and make the company more attractive to investors, and that something had been lost along the way...the close camaraderie and appreciation of the employees.  We were then individually given stock options in the company so that we all had a stake in the company's success and if it happened to ever be sold....well, things would have been really nice.  Pizzas were brought in.

Things then went back roughly to the way they were before the meltdown, and I had taken on the additional responsibility of shipping and receiving for the company, which was to be a minimal task, that ended up growing to fairly psychotic levels.  It was right around this time that a new batch of sales reps had come in to replace the old, and certain types of "odd" deals were happening that mysteriously made a lot of money.

One night near quarter end, the CEO and a few of the sales reps were waiting on UPS to drop off a part that we could then throw into a box and ship to a customer.  There were a bunch of us manically taping and boxing the shipment, and as I was wheeling out some of the items to the curb for UPS pickup, the CEO came outside and pulled me aside.  He was looking at me with what I can only describe as the wide-eyed business man stare.  A stare reminiscent of the excited/intense look of the the men in the movie Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room.  "Hey Donist...I just noticed that we are short some of the widgets in the stockroom.  They were there yesterday.  Do you know anything about that?" he said head quickly bobbing up and down, lips pulled tight in a accusatory smirk.  I, of course, did not, but he was clearly implying that I had something to do with the missing items, which both shocked and deeply offended me.  We went back inside and reopened one of the boxes and found what was supposedly missing, but he never apologized, merely saying, "Oh good, they are there," and he walked off without a word.

However, it was determined that some units of a different "odd" widget were missing and a week later, one of the more weird glassy-eyed sales reps was packing up a box, and was out the door with some sort of investigation going on into him. The problem was that the CEO had accused me first, before the guy that was obviously on drugs, and I took this deeply to heart.  I was told a while later, after the job had fizzled out, that the CEO was reluctant to even hire me because although I graduated from the same college and with the same degree as most of the employees, I had not been in a fraternity, and that made me weird.  I guess it is not weird and more acceptable to be a UCSB Business Economics major in a fraternity and with a drug problem, than just a UCSB Business Economics major.

Wow...this went on way longer than I thought that it would...I will finish this up tomorrow.  Funny though, writing about my old jobs is fairly therapeutic.  I should charge myself for this shit.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Still Thinking About Up in the Air...part 6

The last time I talked about jobby-jobs, I had been unemployed for seven months and it was wholeheartedly not a repeat of the prior time that I had been without a job.  There was no bank of severance payments, vacation or sick time that had accrued to coincide with the unemployment payments, which were all that was keeping me afloat...barely.  There were no parties, no holding tables for incredible happy hours and definitely no mini-vacations. Thankfully the job call finally happened, and although it was not the apparel company that had been stringing me along for months, it was a job.

I had left the placement agency, made the thirteen block walk back to our apartment and received a call from them that same day saying that I had a my first possible match.  I was told that the company was a tech company and that it was located out in Goleta...way out in Goleta, but at that point I did not care where the job was located.  I hung up the phone and was beginning to look up the company on the internet so that I would at least know who they were for when they called me for the screening interview.  No more than twenty minutes later, the tech company was calling me and asking me questions about the company itself.

Immediately, the HR person for the company was not only asking me questions about me and my work background, but detailed questions about his company.  The HR guy was somewhat taken aback by the fact that I had not done any research, and I had to quickly explain that I had just gone to do the screening with the placement agency and that I had just got off the phone with them only to be called by the tech company less than a half an hour later.  There was simply no time.  This seemed to placate the man, and an interview was setup for a couple of days later.

I am not what would be known as a great interviewer, and with so much depending on my finding a job immediately, I was more nervous than usual.  My anxiety, however, lessened when I walked into the slightly drab offices and was greeted by the HR man.  Where I was dressed in the button up shirt, tie, slacks and nice shoes, he was dressed in a Big Dog--you know, "If you can't run with the Big Dogs, stay on the porch" sort of deal--t-shirt with a couple of holes in it, faded jeans and Reeboks.  Clearly the better dressed, but very hopeful for the relaxed feel of the office, I went and had a great interview with the guy and a followup was scheduled for the following week.  My girlfriend laughed when I relayed the events to her, and we were both very hopeful and went out to get burritos for dinner to celebrate.

At the followup interview, I was led through the building to the smaller office of the woman who would come to be my boss.  She quickly gaged that I was less of a moron than anyone else that she had spoken to; at least that is how I hope she saw things.  But joking aside, the interview went well and I could tell that I would get along with her and that she would not end up being like my last boss, which was pretty much all I needed to know about the job.  I would be tracking shipments and placing orders and reporting the information back to everyone, since this small company depended so heavily starting the billing process as soon as possible.

After my interview with the woman who would be my boss, the CEO of the company came to her office to interview me.  The interview with the woman had gone very well and I was somewhat at ease and thinking that I was ready for the next one.  I had spent the past few days rehearsing possible interview questions and my responses with the much appreciated aid of my girlfriend.  I thought that I had covered my bases, but from the moment the man walked into the tiny little office and sat down, to the moment afterwards that I was sitting stunned in my car, I was not prepared for his interview.  The CEO was a wide-eyed and intense individual, and under the rapid-fire barrage of detailed questions, the interview changed from a relaxed chat to a damn near interrogation.  The whole event was traumatic and mind spinning.  I have blocked most of it out of my memory and into a dark, sealed region of my mind to haunt me some day in the distant future.  All that I can remember was at one point saying, "No, no, no.  I am not a recluse.  I work very well with others.  That is not what I meant," and also, "I always finish the tasks assigned to me.  Really...I do."

There I was.  Completely disoriented and not knowing where the hell I was, or what the hell was going on.  I am sure that I had begun to sweat profusely and that my voice register had gone an octave higher; I was possibly red in the face.  But, it was the final question in the interview that ultimately kicked my ass.  I expected to be asked, "What would you say is your greatest weakness?" for which I was prepared to answer, but instead I was asked, "What would others say is your greatest weakness."  Shit.  I went blank.  I was prepared to say that I had difficulty letting go of projects and that I in the past had operated on a if-you-want-something-done-right-do-it-yourself basis, but "what would others say?" I had not prepared for.  Hell, I didn't know and I wanted nothing more than to dive out of the nearest window and run for the hills.  Hmmmm...I don't take the trash out often enough...I care TOO much...I avoid time commitments...I can't run a mile...I can't dunk despite being 6' 2"...I'm bad in bed?  Fuck, I don't know.  What the hell would others say?

I believe I ended up stumbling through a version of the "reluctance to let things go" that I am sure I butchered, but I do remember the CEO smiling at me brightly as he shook my hand and led me out the door.  I staggered to the car, got in and just sat there for about ten minutes trying to bring my elevated heart rate down, to stop sweating and to get the blood circulating back into my icy-cold fingers.  I was in shock and felt that I had been taken down a dark alley and soundly beaten.  What would others say is my greatest weakness?  Let's see: The music store - dislike of psychopaths, the bar - dislike of getting my ass kicked by drunken a-holes, the music label - inability to accept not being paid, the payroll company - not shaving often enough, the cable advertising company - dislike of being sexually harassed and of intense boredom, advertising agency - lack of a psychiatry degree.  After the interview I had just gone through, maybe others would say my greatest weakness was sitting in the car and nearly crying after a tough interview with a certain tech reseller CEO.

Oddly enough, I was call back in for a final interview with the CFO, who was a really nice guy.  A definite cakewalk after what I had been put through at the previous interview.  A couple of days later, I received a call that I had got the job.

...continued tomorrow morning.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collin's book The Hunger Games, the first book in The Hunger Games Trilogy, is classified as a young adult book, but the subject matter is bleak, dark and fatalistic, and one that I wish had been in print when I was a young adult.

The Hunger Games is the story of a 1984 inspired world, where the ruling power keeps the various districts under its iron heel by isolating them from one another and keeping them on the brink of starvation and poverty.  To keep control, the Capitol organizes an annual event in each district to pick what it calls "tributes" through an elaborate lottery system called The Reaping.  A boy and a girl tribute are pulled from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, where they will fight to the death in an outdoors arena that is as deadly as the children competing in the games.  Everything from the drawing of the participants, to the moment that one victorious tribute emerges from the game is broadcast to all of the districts, and to the exceptionally rich and lazy living in the Capitol.  The children are assigned personal assistants consisting of past Hunger Game victors, stylists, fashion coordinators and are lavished with gifts, food and drink like they have never had before.  Winners are rewarded with a home, some degree of wealth and the promise that their family and friends will never again go hungry so long as they live.  Some of the slightly wealthier districts even go so far as to train children at a very young age to prepare them for survival in the games, giving them a distinct advantage over those from the poorer districts, such as the mining District 12, where the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives.

Katniss is a brunette 16-year-old girl, who through many hard years of near starvation, has learned how to survive.  With the loss of her father and having to care both for her little sister, Prim, and her mother, who has nearly given up on life, Katniss has become a surviver and mastered the art of hunting.  The community of District 12 respects the young woman's ability to bring in the rich and rare game from outside of the District's walls despite knowing that going beyond District 12's borders is strictly forbidden.  When Katniss' sister is chosen to attend The Hunger Games, Katniss steps forward to take her place and the tragedy of her choice is cheered and admired by the rich.  Katniss reluctantly joins in an alliance with her male co-tribute, the well-spoken baker Peeta, and forms a shaky alliance with the boy who she will eventually have to kill if she is to become the 74th winner of The Hunger Games.

To say that I loved this book is an understatement.  At times a mixture of Running Man, Battle Royale, American Idol, Survivor and Seasame Street, this brutal tale is not too far a leap from the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the controlled powerless, and people's voracious desire to constantly be entertained.  Ratings and viewer sympathy are a key component of winning the game, and with the appropriate backstory--oftentimes fabricated for dramatic effect--, elaborate costuming, heartwarming televised interviews, and compelling actions during the game itself, the children will hopefully attract the rich sponsors who can deliver needed items to their favorite tributes during the course of the event.  Who would not be able to sympathize with the girl in the costume of flames, who took the place of her sister during the time of The Reaping, who has had to fight to live for the entirety of her life, and who is supposedly in love with the baker boy from her district, but will inevitably have to kill him?

I could almost see Paris Hilton glued to the television with her equally atrocious friends, sipping her cocktail and eating her decadent appetizers, cheering on the "Girl on Fire," while the less fortunate starve and their children kill one another for her entertainment.   Would Paris cry when another of her favorite tributes died?  Would she send a flask of much treasured water into the battle?  When the games ended and one child lived, would she cheer and comment on how excited she was for the next years games?  Probably, and that is where the true horror of this incredibly well-written and absorbing book lies.

The final book in The Hunger Game Trilogy by Suzanne Collins will be released on August 24, 2010 and I am counting the days to its release.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Planetary by Warren Ellis (W) and John Cassaday (A)

Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories
Planetary (Wildstorm / DC Comics) written by Warren Ellis with art by John Cassaday is another one of my theoretical "If you were stuck on a desert island, what books would you bring?" type of books.  Twenty seven issues of the series were published over the course of 1999 to 2009, which averages out to not quite three issues per year, but that was not the release schedule.  The series started out strong with its releases, but as a result of multiple delays towards the tail end of this incredible comic book,  I was lucky to get two issues per year--I do not even want to talk about the three year delay between issue number twenty six and the final issue, number twenty seven.  Now that the entire run of Planetary has completed, this is one that every comic lover should enjoy.

Planetary Vol. 1: All Over the World and Other Stories is the story of Elijah Snow, another century baby--born January 01, 1900 like Jenny Sparks from the Authority--who has been twiddling away the time in the middle of a desert eating terrible diner food for an untold number of years.  His existence of mediocrity is interrupted when a striking young woman named Jakita Wagner shows up at the diner knowing more about Elijah than he is comfortable with, and with a job offer that he cannot refuse.  Elijah agrees to join Planetary, a group of archaeologist that investigate the secret history of the world, the fantastic, the unexplainable and the weird.  Elijah learns that Planetary is run by the enigmatic Fourth Man who finances everything, and that he will be joining the three-person team with the nigh-invulnerable and superhumanly strong Jakita, and the borderline insane yet highly intelligent The Drummer (no real name), who talks to machinery.

The team then sets out on their journey to uncover the secrets that others attempt to hide from the world beginning with a World War II supercomputer that should not exist and is still guarded by withered science hero from the past.  They travel to Monster Island to uncover a land of giant monsters that have all died, yet are under military guard.  A Japanese spirit of vengeance terrorizes the seedy underworld and Planetary needs to understand why.  They also meet a man, who was recently empowered by a mysterious unearthed relic, and is in need of their help.  But, it is the disastrous meeting with William Leather, one of Planetary's archnemesis The Four, that things begin to change.  Elijah discovers that his new teammates are not telling him everything that they know, and he begins to feel that the underpinnings of Planetary are not as strong as he first thought.

Every issue of the series is in some way an homage to a classic type of story, whether it is the pulpy adventures of Doc Savage, or the gothic horror of Frankenstein, or the modern incarnations of Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman.   Planetary twists those stories as part of the secret history that Elijah, Jakita and The Drummer need to uncover in hopes of making the world a better place.  The main story slowly unwinds through each nearly standalone issue, but this book needs to be read chronologically to appreciate all of the subtle hints as to who the The Four really are, why The Fourth Man opposes them, and the mystery Elijah's predecessor.  Planetary is yet another grand entry from Warren Ellis deserving of a spot on people's must-read list, and one that is firmly set as one of my all time favorite comics.

Also more than worthy of attention is the artwork of John Cassaday, who is one of the most important modern masters of comic book art alive today.  Each cover in the series could be a movie poster from the time period in which the story is set, and the interior art tells Ellis' story beautifully.  The variety of emotions for every character is felt through each illustration and the details in his designs exactly convey the wonder and mystery of the world of Planetary.  Very highly recommended and I will be rereading it yet again in the coming months.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Donist and the Babysitter Go To Hell

When I was around the age of 9 and my brother was at the age of 5, we were living in Ohio and choices for a babysitter back then were pretty slim.  If my parents were lucky, Lucy would be available to watch us, but if she was not available, then it was her brother Chris who would be the one to come over.  To be honest, I cannot say which teen I preferred.

Lucy was the older of the two.   She was responsible, nice, calm and fun in a nice, wholesome sort of way.  We played hide and seek, she would have drawing time with us while she worked on her own school art projects and her school books were always nearby for after we had gone to bed.

Chris on the other hand brought a completely different type of experience to the house.  There was running around and sliding on the hardwood floors, no bedtimes, inappropriate TV time with Benny Hill, and nothing even resembling drawing time.  Although Lucy and Chris were sister and brother, that is where the similarities ended.

We really enjoyed Lucy and her kind and fair ways, but Chris brought with him a sense of chaos that was at one time fun, yet I knew that some of his activities were bad and that our parents would not approve.  There were many instances that would have made their hearts stop if they had known what we were being taught, but I kept quiet and by some miracle so did my brother.  Take for instance the night that Chris announced that he needed to make some phone calls, and after randomly picking out a name from the phone book, dialed someone and within thirty seconds had the person on the other line screaming obscenities at him while he attempted to hold back his own laughter.  

There was also the time that he told us the very sad...and very detailed...story about his younger brother John.   John, he told us, had dared to trespass on the lawn of the one house in our neighborhood that strictly forbade trespassing.  Having disobeyed the rather large sign, the owner of the home a grizzled, toothless, angry man, chased Chris' brother into the forest and taking slow steady aim, shot his poor brother's penis off.  Over the course of twenty minutes, Chris explained in graphic detail how John now had to pee out of a hole in his leg, and that what he had just divulged to us was a family secret.  We were to tell no one, especially John.  He explained that the event was a dark chapter in his family's life and that for the sanity and privacy of his brother we should never repeat the story.  He also warned about taking short cuts through that one particular neighbor's field.  From that point forth, my brother and I always walked on the opposite side of the street from the house.

Then there was the time that Chris showed us how to fix our Spider-Man car launcher so that it would shoot legos out of it.  My brother and I had what I can only describe as a huge yellow bazooka-type gun that we loaded six inch long Spider-Man cars, first into a plastic shell and then locked and loaded into the gun, much like a rifle.  We then had to place the tip of the gun on the ground and push a couple of buttons down before pulling the trigger and sending the cars skating at lightning speed across the floor.  Chris, not liking the safety features of the toy, showed us how to fix the safety buttons into place with a couple of bent paperclips and you could then stand and shoot the cars as projectiles through the air.  We loved this.  He went even further when he asked us to bring the gun to his parents Christmas party so that he could show us some other ideas that he had in mind.  We did as asked and the moment he had a chance, he took my brother and I to his room to show us what he meant.  He told us that he had been thinking about the bazooka gun and thought that the cars were too heavy to launch very far and he pulled out a hand-full of the 4x4 square legos that he quickly stacked on top of each other in a small tower and loaded those into the gun.  He then put on a dark blazer, shades and like an assassin snuck down the hallway, threw open John's bedroom door, and amidst John's angry shouts, blasted him with the legos.  The three of us ran laughing back to Chris' room to shut and lock the door until dinner time.  My brother and I never used the car launcher in its intended use ever again.

The most memorable of our babysitting times was the night that Chris came over and the moment the door closed behind my parents, he turned to us and asked, "Does your Dad have any Playboys."

I told him that he did.  "Lots of them," I said.

"Yeah," chimed in my brother, "they're upstairs in the closet.  We can't reach them."

We waited around for a while to make sure that our parents were actually gone and Chris ran up to my parents bedroom.  He pushed open the door to the large walk-in closet and saw the stacks of Playboys on the top shelf.  "Holy shit!  You weren't kidding."  He reached up brought down a stack and promptly shut the door, leaving my brother on the outside, and sat down on the floor, pushing his outstretched feet against the door to prevent my brother from getting in.

"Hey.  Hey!  C'mon you guys.  Let me in.  Please!" my brother shouted.

We were both quickly flipping through the pages of our respective magazines as my brothers thumping on the door became more frantic.  "Sorry Donist's little brother...I can't let you in," Chris shouted back.

"Why not?" he shouted, throwing the entirety of his body against the door.

I was laughing uncontrollably, not even looking at the beautiful naked women at this point.  "Yeah, you can't come in here.  It's too dangerous."

"Why not?" he shouted again, a slight sob escaping from the other side of the door.

"Because we're going to hell, Donist's little brother!  We're going to HELL!   Aghhhhhhhh," he yelled back, also not even looking at the magazines.

"C'mon...I WANT TO GO TO HELL, TOO!" he screamed, now fully crying and repeating in a sob, "I want to go to hell, too."

Chris and I were laughing so hard we were almost crying, I nearly whizzed my Winnie the Pooh footie pajamas, and after putting the magazines back on the shelf, we opened the door to see my red-faced, tear-drenched brother smiling and looking around the closet trying to see what hell was all about.

That was how our babysitting nights generally progressed with Chris.  It was fun, but stressful in that we always knew nothing good was going to come of it.  Lucy was fun too, but in a way that did not leave me feeling guilty or that I was going to get grounded later on.  It was no wonder that the last time we saw Chris was after he talked my brother into taking a swig of Tobasco Sauce.  Kids...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Where To Find the Time...part 2 and Writing

So, I have been doing this getting up early thing and I have to say I like my new routine with a few caveats that I will explain momentarily.  About three weeks ago, I had read an article at about how this engineering kid was finding that he was essentially waking up, going to work, exercising and then was too tired to do anything that he found fulfilling.  He then turned his time table upside down and began to wake up at 5 AM, worked on the projects that mattered to him, exercised, THEN went to work and went to bed earlier.  His story really affected me, and I decided to apply his idea to my own life.

I can not yet even fathom getting up at 5 AM, but I currently have the alarm go off at 5:30 AM, and I was at first diligent about hopping out of bed and bouncing into the shower and at my computer at 5:50 AM, happily typing away.  The problem that I am finding is that I need to adjust the other portion of my sleeping schedule, the one where if I am getting up earlier, then I need to be going to sleep earlier, which at times I was not doing...although I am getting better at it.

Before my time shifting, if I was able to force myself to sit at the desk and write, I would be doing the head bobbing that I had not done since my school days and what came out of my skull was noticeably sleepy. Oftentimes, I would skip writing all together.  Last year, to get around the problem, I began working on my novel during my lunch period, but then I only had one hour, which included finding somewhere quiet that was not baking in the sun, turning on the incredibly long booting netbook and pulling my thoughts together enough to get cracking; this was pre-puppy.

Now, getting up earlier has been working wonders for me, but it does takes work and some preparation.  I try to make sure that the kitchen is free of clutter, that I have shaved, that I have my tea waiting by the stove so that I only need to heat the water, and that any and all distractions have been dealt with the night before so that I am not wasting time on menial tasks.  Then there are the times I wake up in a bad yesterday.

Did I have a bad case of the Mondays yesterday?  Fuck yes I did.  The moment my eyes opened I was pissed off.  I have no idea why, although I have a strong suspicion that it had something to do with the ever looming idea of heading off to work.  I got seven and a half hours of sleep and I was still grouchy.  I was cursing the shower, the fact that the tea kettle was sitting on the counter and not on the stove and of course having only two and half hours before the job started.  It was ridiculous...redonkuless, actually.  I did not even want to write.  But, I sat down, cursing to myself the whole way, and wrote the little Kick-Ass movie review.  I actually felt better about the day and was marginally happier, at least until I had to get in the car and then I did not cheer up until about 2 PM, but that is another matter.

So, I realize that there will be those days where I just do not feel like doing anything, but I will do the writing, whether on the blog or on my novel, because whether I like it or not this is all for me and I will feel better about the day after I have done something worthwhile.  For far too long now, time has been my enemy, but I am changing that and making time my friend....or at the very least my bitch.

I have slipped a little and have been doing one snooze before getting up, but that is going to stop and I will think about inching forward the time when I awaken so that I can not just write on this blog, but maybe do some editing or reading before trudging to the car to begin the second part of my day.  Anyhow, I may not love getting up early everyday, but I do love the end results and the added productivity that benefits me.  I am overall very happy about the change.  Wooo-Haaa.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kick-Ass the Movie

shut_up_kick-ass_poster.jpgI mentioned in my earlier mini-review of Kick-Ass the comic book from Marvel Comics and created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., that I was jealous of everyone that had seen the film version of Kick-Ass over the past two months.  I suppose that Santa Barbara does not exactly ring high on the hipness scale to draw advance screenings, except for the occasional film made by someone who lives here.  I am also assuming that if there was a special event that I would have actually been invited.

So, I created my own mini event.  My wife and three of our friends met up at the nearby Hollister Brewing company for fried pickle chips, duck-fat fries, sandwiches and a pints of beer and then we were off to see the movie that tons of people had already seen and from what I had read, really enjoyed.

The movie stars Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski, who is the teen destined to become Kick-Ass.  Johnson is great in his role as an awkward teenage comic book fanboy, who is tired of his mediocre life of obscurity and of getting shaken down on a regular basis for his money, his cellphone and at times his treasured comic books.  Having reached his breaking point, he buys a gaudy scuba suit from ebay and Kick-Ass is born.  Johnson captures the uncomfortable uncertainty of being young and slightly out of touch with reality perfectly, but it is his co-star Chloe Grace Moretz, who at times steals the show as Mindy Macready and her alter ego Hit-Girl.

Moretz had the audience divided among those who roared with laughter and those who laughed, but felt guilty doing so.  Hit-Girl is a quick, witty, foul-mouthed, lethal, 12-years-old assassin, who's action sequences were so quick and fluid that I was often left wondering if I had actually just seen what I had thought that I had just seen.  Her scenes with Nicolas Cage, who portrays Hit-Girl's father, Big Daddy, were touching and at the same time unnerving as the little girls jumps for joy over the twin set of butterfly knives that she has just received for her birthday and will soon be plunged into the heart of a bad guy.  Nicolas Cage is also a crackup with his best Adam West impersonation whenever he donned the mantle of Big Daddy.

The movie is different in many key parts from the actual comic book, but the changes worked, and in most instances for the better.  The scenes involving Kick-Ass' love interest were changed, Big Daddy's origin was very different, and the finale was something not even hinted at in the book.  But, as I mentioned, the changes worked and I have to say that I actually enjoyed the film better than...gasp...the comic book.

The pacing of the movie was quick with action scenes not carrying on for half the movie and dialogue not seeming forced or overly drawn out.  The violence...which is going to be the main point of criticism, especially from those who should not bother seeing the jarring and at the beginning it is disturbing due to the realism involved, but once the costumes are on the theater was at ease and cheering and laughing through some of the most gruesome acts, especially the ones committed by the 12-year-old Hit Girl.

The movie soundtrack also fit perfectly and left me wanting to pick up some CD's from the Dickies, Joan Jett and the New York Dolls.  Some of the scoring included a few Ennio Morricone tracks and I also at one point picked up the haunting music from 28 Days Later that was at first distracting, but ultimately fit the mood fine.

The movie was a lot of fun and everyone in my little party enjoyed it immensely, even my wife, who said that she loved it...despite at two points putting her sweater over her face to avoid seeing a couple of the more realistic violent scenes.  Kick-Ass is definitely worth the price of the overly expensive ticket and is a movie that I will be buying on blu-ray as soon as it is released.  See it.

*sidenote*  I just remembered to mention that Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the Red Mist, who I thought would forever be known as "McLovin" from Superbad, was great as well and will hopefully be seen in the followup Kick-Ass 2!  Goodbye McLovin, hello Red Mist.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chew Volume 1: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory

Chew Volume 1: Taster's ChoiceI was initially hesitant to pick up Chew when it was first released.  I had read many reviews about how great the first issue was and that it was the comic to watch, but I still resisted.  The same was true for issue number two and the two or three reprints of the first issue.  The third was released to even more praise, the first issue, now on it's fourth printing, was included in black and white at the end of a The Walking Dead issue, and that was fucking it.  Fine a-holes.  I will read your damn funny book, just enough with the bombardment.  I read it, and it was everything people said that it was.

As luck would have it, my local comic book store was out...massive hype and I found a comic store online that had the first three issues, and ordered them with a couple of other items.  I waited.  I kept waiting.  I double checked the tracking number from the postal service and supposedly the package had delivered two weeks prior.  I contacted the comic store, who refused to return my emails and in turn I will never order anything from them ever again and the USPS was not helpful at all.

I was then lucky enough to find the fourth printing of the first issue, my comic shop received the third issue again and the fourth had been released so I picked them up and found another retailer that happened to have the second issue and I was finally set.  *Check out .  It has tons of crazy items for very low prices.  I have placed three or four orders with them and they are very reliable.*  At that point, the first TPB was already up for pre-order and the final fifth issue in the Taster's Choice story arc had not even been released yet, but I did not want to trade-wait this series, and I am happy that I didn't.

Chew from Image Comics, written by John Layman and illustrated by Rob Guillory, is the story of Tony Chu who begins as a police detective and later becomes an FDA Special Crimes Division agent.  Tony has an incredible ability; he is a Cibopath.  Tony is able to receive a psychic impression from everything that he eats, meaning that he sees the path of the bees that have carried honey, an apple gives the impression of pesticides used and when it was picked, and meat...meat is another story that people do not want to generally know about.  His impressions from food work on everything except for beets, and Tony eats a lot of beets.

In Detective Chu's world, the onset of the bird flu pandemic has made all forms of poultry illegal and the FDA has become one of the most powerful branches of law enforcement.  Speakeasies have sprung up around the US, but instead of serving alcohol, these specialize in chicken dinners, chicken soup and other fowl dishes.  Illegal egg sales have replaced drugs as the lead money making trade on seedy street corners and it is up to Tony Chu and his impulsive partner John Colby to bring in all who break the law.

Tony and John eventually come across Special Agent Savoy of the FDA, who like Tony, is a Cibopath and through Savoy's cooperative intel, the detectives infiltrate an illegal chicken establishment where they are given permission to order a poultry dish, finish it and then follow through with the bust.  Once inside, Tony orders the chicken soup and with only one sip, he discovers that the chef had cut his finger slightly and through the miniscule amount of blood that made it into the soup, he determines that the chef is a serial killer who has killed eleven people.  Through the course of the story, John is severely injured and Tony ends up with Savoy at the FDA, where, consequently, his new boss Mike Applebee absolutely despises him.

Tony's new partner Savoy is an eccentric, well-spoken, monocled, very large man with extensive martial arts skills and seems to be the best of partners, but he has his own agenda that even Tony will not be allowed to impede.  The story hints at interplanetary grandeur and the slow realization that perhaps the US government had lied about the bird flu being the cause of the death of millions of people around the world.  There is the possible love interest, food critic Amelia Mintz, who is a saboscrivner or someone who can write so accurately about what she has eaten that those who read her column experience the actual sensation of taste...her writing allows Tony to experience the taste of food without the extreme psychic impressions.

Chew is so vastly different from anything that I have ever read, that I thought it would be much too silly for me and I honestly assumed the story would quickly fall apart.  That is not the case.  Well told, well thought out and as the grand story slowly unravels through the pages of the smaller arcs, I was hooked in a very good way.  It took me a while to come around to Rob Guillory's unique style of art, but now that I have become addicted to this book, I cannot see anyone else drawing this story.  Guillory's attention to detail can be missed through a quick read, but upon a more thorough look, the exaggerated proportions of the characters make sense and the level of visual storytelling is wonderful.

This book is obviously not for the feint of heart.  The story is about a man who receives psychic impressions from what he eats, and he works in the special crimes division of the can see where his abilities will inevitably take Tony Chu.  Still, an amazing book worthy of all of it's praise and for $9.99 for the first trade paperback, you can't go wrong.  The second collection is already up for pre-order at Amazon with an April 28, 2010 release date.  A very fun and infectious read.  I'm off to pick up issue number ten!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Let the Right One In

I have always been a fan of horror and science fiction films, even since the age of about six.  Christopher Lee was my Mr. Rogers, Ray Harryhausen created my Sesame Street, and Godzilla was my New Zoo Review.  I was thrilled every time my mother told me that something scary was going to be on, and on those rainy days, I would be glued to the television thrilled to see bug-eyed monsters, vicious aliens, dinosaurs and of course the staples of early horror films...Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Now that I am older--much fricking older--I still love those treasured favorites, but my tastes have evolved to include horror films that don't always have an outrageous looking monster, and the scares don't always involve a creature jumping out from behind a dark corner.  Now, I also enjoy the subtle, the unseen and the suggested. Story and lore and characters are what draw my attention, with setting and mood contributing heavily to my favorite movies.
Let the Right One In [Blu-ray]


Let the Right One In is set in Stockholm, Sweden and centers around 12-year-old Oskar, a shy, quiet boy who is being systematically bullied at school.  He lives in a small apartment with his single mother and has begun to notice the new neighbors, Hakan and the young appearing girl, Eli.  During their first meeting outside of their apartment in the cold dark snowy night, Eli informs Oskar that they cannot be friends and to forget about her, leaving the young boy bewildered and wondering how she can wander around in the snow in a shortsleeved sweater and not be cold.  The self-imposed wall dividing them eventually vanishes and the two slowly become friends over a Rubik's cube and the revelation to Eli that Oskar is being bullied.

Meanwhile, one of the local residents has disappeared as a result of Eli's watchdog, Hakan, killing them so that Eli can survive off of his blood.  He attempts to conceal the body in a lake, but it is found on one of Oskar's school field trips, and the hunt for the murderer begins.  Hakan is discovered and attempting to conceal his identity and to further protect Eli, pours acid over his face, ending up in the hospital.  Eli goes to her familiar and effortlessly scales the side of the hospital building to see him, where she ultimately refuses to feed on Hakan and the distraut man falls from the window to his death.

Eli, now alone, begins to form a closer bond with Oskar, who discovers that Eli is actually a vampire, and as a result of her need to feed and without the aid of Hakan, problems escalate between the townfolk and the vampire, and between Eli and Oskar. Conflict with the husband of a botched murder attempt and worsening trouble at the school threatens to destroy the pair's friendship and a subtle, yet startling ending delivers one of the best scenes that I have ever seen, and despite the horror, I found it necessary...gruesome, but necessary.

The cold darkness of Sweden is the perfect setting for this moody movie and perfectly reflects Oskar's loneliness and the loneliness felt by the ages old vampire, Eli.  This is by no means a typical vampire movie and the fact that Eli is a vampire is only one piece of the story.  Horror is another loosely filled genre for Let the Right One In, with the movie more adequately being classified as a drama or even a suspense.

I initially watched this movie with a group of five people and we were silent throughout, except for the ending, which we had to rewind to rewatch again just to be sure that we had accurately seen what had happened.  We also sat through most of the short making of feature, which was interesting.  Not a movie to watch if you are in the mood for jumping out of your seat, but one that you want to watch when you are in the mood for a great story and characters that you can empathize with.  Very highly recommended.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Still Thinking About Up in the Air...part 5

With the embarrassing and somewhat humiliating events from the meltdown at the advertising agency, I was once again freshly unemployed.  The primary difference between this bout and the one after the game company had imploded was that I did not get the hefty severance, nor the sick pay, nor the vacation pay, but only the unemployment.  On top of the lack of funds and a lack of general savings on my part, I also had the $300 cell phone bill that only existed due to the astronomical amount of time that I had spent on the phone talking down my now ex-boss.

I would be lying if I did not admit to having a slight feeling of relief over no longer being at the advertising agency and the ever descending roller-coaster ride that summed up the entirety of those short seven months of employment there.  Now I was on my second layoff, and where the previous time of joblessness was a nonstop fun-filled party, this time was different.  Every morning I would wake up and occasionally do some sort of pseudo exercises, have breakfast and begin the slow trudge through the various internet sites for possible job openings.  Every site that I visited was looking for the usual array of engineers, senior accountants, food service, retail or the worst of the lot...telemarketing.  That was it.  Those were my choices and the tail end of the dot com recession was still working its way throughout Santa Barbara and Goleta.

During the entire seven months of unemployment, my days progressed in pretty much the same way, with the exception of one bright point of light, which succeeded in crushing my self esteem even further.  At the one month mark of life without a job, I came across a posting for a local apparel company and two positions were being offered that sounded very appealing to me.  My old housemate worked for the company and from the tales that he told, there was travel, glamor, excitement, and very lucrative options for advancement.  I wanted this.  Within two days of submitting my resume, I had my first interview, which went very well and then the follow up interviews went even better than the previous one.  As I mentioned, there were two positions that had not yet been created and although one was better suited for me than the other, I would not have cared either way which one was to be offered to me.  My interviewers stressed the point that the positions had not yet been created and that they expected a couple of weeks before someone would be asked to start.  That was fine with me and I explained that I was exceedingly interested and to keep me posted, but I would still be looking until a I heard back.  I practically skipped the whole walk home, but I knew that I was in for a bit of a waiting game.

Two weeks went by and I had not heard a word from the apparel company.  No other jobs had reared up to grab my attention and I really wanted to be hired for one of the positions that I had applied for.  I assumed that the details of the positions were still being ironed out and that I would receive a call soon, but I was wanting to know and I was excited by the notion of working for the company; hell, I had even sent a thank you card to everyone.  I eventually broke down and called to check in on the progress of the positions and was transferred to the human resources voicemail.  A few days later, I received a call back and was told that I was still a very strong candidate, but they were still solidifying the details internally and that I would definitely be receiving a call very soon.  Again, hope filled me completely and with the perceived good news treated myself to a lunch downtown with the nearly nonexistent funds that I had.  I told my girlfriend about the call and how excited I was and that it looked like I was going to get the job...well, one of them at least.  We were both optimistic.

A couple weeks went by and I came home to find a voicemail on my phone from the apparel company asking me to call them back at my earliest convenience.  Chills, the good kind of chills, coursed through my entire body as I dialed in the number for the HR department.  I was physically shaking with anticipation.  After the usual kicking around and waiting to be transferred to the correct department, I finally made it through and the HR person told me that she just wanted to be sure that I was still available for the positions, and that they were still being worked on.  They would get back to me.  I hung up confused, deflated, yet still hopeful.  I never heard back from them again.

For the remaining four and a half to five months, I existed in this weird bubble of ineffectual routine and depression with slight spikes of hope that were always beat back down into the ground.  Life with my girlfriend was becoming strained due to my lack of income outside of the unemployment checks that were barely managing to keep us afloat.  I felt utterly defeated.  Worthless at times.  I did not want to see friends or family and I could not join in any of the fun or festivities that would occur from time to time due to the lack of money.

Times were bleak, but then came the day that I found an advertisement for a placement agency.  I submitted the resume, went in and went through their little testing program to determine that I had some semblance of a working brain in my skull and the personality test determined that I did not enjoy boiling live animals or murdering old employees and within a week I had an interview.  I was ecstatic, and sadly terrified from all of the emotional beat downs from the previous seven months and with the fear of this new opportunity to show that I was once again a failure--that was the state of my mind during those times.

I got the job, but it was definitely not my dream come true.  More on that one in part 6 next week.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"This Is How I Check Out Books..."

At times, it seems that I have an unending supply of weird stories from when I was working at the music store, which is a fairly accurate statement.  I was well into my kick of avoiding and hiding from all of the nutty-buddies that paraded around downtown and as I mentioned before, the time spent not at work was my time.  If I was not being paid to deal with mean and crazy, then by golly I was not going to accept or be pulled into mean and crazy situations...if only the mean and crazy felt the same way.

On this slightly overcast but nice day off, I had planned to go downtown for a couple of hours so that I could go to the comic book store, buy my week's comics and find somewhere quiet to read them in peace.  "Heck, I might as well make an event of it and pick up lunch as well," I thought as I ducked and dived, twisted and turned on the perilous walk downtown, doing the utmost to avoid anyone that I saw at the music store on a regular basis.  On the walk, I had the bright idea to buy my comics and then take them to the public library.  I remembered that on the roof was a tiny alcove, with one somewhat uncomfortable chair, but it guaranteed that no one could sit next to me or loom around behind me tearing apart and burning ragdolls or something equally insane.

I bought my comics, packed them away into my weathered backpack and headed for the library, immediately making my way to the upstairs outside area and I was in luck, no one was there and no one had seen me head up the stairs.  I fully realized that the library is a beacon for some fairly odd shit, but I felt that no one really knew about the upstairs area and that I would be allowed to leisurely work my way through my comic books uninterrupted and in peace.

I considered reading my books tucked deep inside the belly of a warm coffee shop, but I was single and fretted having coffee shop girls think less of me for my reading choices--looking back, I should have been more concerned with my long frizzy hair and odd manner of dress.

*note-Special thanks goes out to my wife for taking a chance on me despite my bad, bad, bad fashion and style choices.*

My plan had worked.  I had made it downtown without running into anyone, I had found a pleasant, quiet place to read, and was deciding to head downtown to get lunch and then maybe off to a coffee shop to read a book and hopefully meet a nice girl.  I was set.  Pleased as punch.

Of course it did not last.  I was halfway through my first comic book when I heard a gravely smoker's voice from the now open library door say, "Well lookee here...nice day ain't it."

Standing in the doorway was a leathered, scruffy man who appeared to be in his forties and somewhat the worse for wear.  Oblivious to my lack of response and my refusal to look up from my book, the man stepped out onto the balcony and I knew that my peace was over.  "Goddammit!" I thought, thoroughly irritated, but not wanting to acknowledge the man.  I was going to have to start staying home, locked away in my room if I want to have any sort of alone time.

"Watcha readin' there?" he rumbled inching closer to me almost reaching the three stairs that lead up to my reading area.

"Comic books," I said void of all emotion and fully intending to show that I did not want to be bothered and that he should go away.

This confused the man for a moment.  "Comic books?" He bit the inside of his cheek, screwing up his face slightly unsure of what to make of me.  "Well...I thought you were readin' books.  You know...library books."

I sighed.  "Nope.  Just comic books."  Why was he not leaving?  Can't he take the fucking hint?

"Huh.  If they were library books, I was goin' to say, why don't you just check them out?"  He swaggered a bit, causing me to wonder if he was drunk and I noticed that he had a stack of four books under one of his arms.  "Do you want to know how I check out library books?"

I began packing up my comics and belongings at this point as I felt it was time to move on or else I would be hanging out with my new friend for the remainder of the day.  "No, not really, I..."

But before I could finish, the man walked over to the edge of the balcony held the books in one hand over the edge, and being mindful to maintain eye contact with me, released the books, where I heard them crash into the bushes two stories below.  "There you go.  Checked out!" He pretended to dust off his hands, clearly proud of himself.  "This is how I check out books."

I was already making my way past the man to head for the exit, but I could not resist taking a closing shot at the guy.  "You know that you can check books out for free, right?"

I did not wait for his answer, but he responded anyway and I heard him say, "And give the government my information?!" The door shut before I could hear anything else and I quickly left the building to get lunch somewhere, resolving to wait until I was home to continue reading my comics.

Epilogue:  After lunch, I went to the 24 hour coffee shop that was located closer to the beach and was sitting outside reading a vampire book, sipping my bottomless coffee and eating a cookie on this day that I had set aside as a treat for myself.  Paying little attention to everything except my book and the occasional cute girl that walked by, I heard a voice ring out, "Hey.  Hey!  Whatcha readin'?"

I nearly slammed my book down in complete aggravation, and looked up thinking it was the library guy, but it was an older, more grizzled man standing and wavering a few feet away from me.  "What?!" I replied angrily.

"Is that Crichton?  You reading Crichton?" He yelled at me, despite the short distance.

I could not tell him that I was reading a lesbian vampire book, so I just said, "A vampire book."

He waved this off as if swatting away an annoying gnat, "If it's not Crichton, it's CRAP!" he yelled, staggering off on his way.  Completely defeated I packed up my stuff and headed home where I could shut and lock the door and read in quiet.  So much for my day off.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

Kick-AssI did not pick up the series Kick-Ass written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr. as stand alone issues and instead waited for the Marvel Comics hardcover release.  I had read many of the reviews during my wait and I was hooked by the premise of what it would be like if ordinary folks began to prowl the streets at night dressed as super heroic vigilantes.  What I found was violent, offensive and shocking.  In short, I fricking loved it.

Kick-Ass, the title of the book and the name of the superhero, centers on Dave Lizewski, a normal teenager trying to get by in high school and living with his single father.  He has his small circle of friends, who share his love of comic books, but generally he is fairly invisible in his life and is not pleased with what the future holds for him; more obscurity.  Thus he creates a costume and becomes a superhero, roaming around the neighborhood at night to get the feel for what it is to be like his favorite heroes.  He even goes so far as to wear his costume under his clothes to school and seems bursting with pride over the feeling of empowerment that he has in his belief that he is indeed a superhero.  Unfortunately for Dave, he has not actually done anything in his new role and that is about to change.

While on patrol one night, Dave comes across a group of street punks vandalizing a wall and upon being spotted by the group decides that now is the time to start making a difference.  Having no fighting skills, or powers or street smarts, Dave gets his ass handed to him.  He is stabbed, beaten within an inch of his life and hit by a car.  Super hero life is tough.

After he awakens, he claims to have been mugged and after months in the hospital with plenty of physical rehabilitation, Dave does what most intelligent human beings would never do...he once again dons the costume and hits the streets.  Dave's feet barely touch the pavement before he is being harassed by a bunch of little girls calling him a pervert, when out of nowhere a man comes crashing into him, knocking them both to the ground.  In pursuit of the man is a gang of three very hardened street thugs wishing to beat the man to death.  Dave, unable to stand by and let the beating happen, jumps into the fray and begins to fight off the gang.  The fight is gruesome and incredibly bloody, but at the end Dave is the only one left standing.  A large audience had gathered to watch the fight and cheer Dave on, but it was the one person with the video phone, who recorded the fight and posted it to YouTube that changed Dave's life forever and Kick-Ass was born.

The video goes viral and people now cheer when they see Kick-Ass patrolling the streets.  He brims with confidence at school and even begins to talk to the girl he has had a crush on and they become very close...although she thinks Dave is her new gay best friend.  Dave starts a Kick-Ass mySpace page and begins receiving requests for help, which he takes into consideration.  On one such assignment, right when it looks like he is about to lose his life, a little girl strolls into the room, also wearing a costume, and proceeds to kill every thug in the building with her twin katanas.  She is Hit Girl and along with her partner and father, Big Daddy, they have set their sites on the mob and they intend to purge the city of its evil.  Copycat superheroes begin popping up everywhere and Kick-Ass has a team up with The Red Mist, the hero with his own superhero car, and shortly after Big Daddy and Hit Girl include the heroes in their grand plan.

From this point through to the finale, more and more heapings of violence are unleashed for the reader, which is not my usual cup of tea, but the writing and characterization made me care about Dave and Hit Girl and I honestly wanted them to win.  Behind my wincing with practically every turn of the page, I was hooked and loving every moment of the book.  I could see a bit of myself in Dave, and to be honest, who doesn't want to be a superhero?  I least if it was not for all of the pain and death and such.  Kick-Ass is a great, fun read that is not for the faint of heart, but an incredibly fun adventure for the mature reader.

*The movie is released this Friday and I absolutely cannot wait to see it.  Somehow, people all over the US have seen advance screeners of this movie and all of the reviews from people of like mind have been stellar.  I need to get on the advance screening list somehow.

Other books by Mark Millar that I love and will one day review: Wolverine: Old Man Logan, The Ultimates (one of my all time favorite superhero books), The Authority (half of this TPB is the end of Warren Ellis' run and the other the beginning of Millar's run...start with Ellis' though), Wanted, Fantastic Four