Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Temptation to Chase the Dragon of the SDCC

I knew that things were going to get bad before they got better, but this week a twist was thrown my way for the forthcoming San Diego Comic Con.  This year's SDCC 4-Day passes sold out way back in November of 2009, but my wife and I were not really planning to go this year anyways.  This is not to say that I was not watching the website on a daily basis to see if there were any updates.

Donisssssssst, come join ussssssssss....

As of today, the schedule of programming has still not been announced for the show, but the guest list continues to be updated periodically and there are people that I would like to meet again, or for the first time, such as Matt Fraction, J.M. Straczynski, Sean Phillips, Brian Michael Bendis and Charlaine Harris, but that is currently all.  I have scoured through the exclusive toys that are to be offered, and nothing stands out as a must own item, so why am I so tortured over not going?  It probably has something to do with all of the fun of attending, finding the hidden gems at the multitude of booths, watching the premiere of a show before anyone else and relaxing by the pool for the brief moments of rest.

Dang...Jim Starlin, writer of Warlock

Regardless, it really does not matter what I want, since the event sold out eight months ago, at least that is what I thought up until this past Monday.  I had just put in a request for vacation time that was approved, when I came across a notice on one of the many comic book related sites that I enjoy and there it was: "You can still go to comic-con next month".

Teela and Evil-Lyn together...purrrrrrrrrrrr

Essentially, there are still plenty of hotels in the four miles or farther range that still have availability at the discounted Comic-Con pricing, and with a reservation you also get a 4-Day Membership pass included in the price.  I broke out in a sweat, and my hands began to shake uncontrollably, thoughts of doing what I should have been doing drifted away like fluffy clouds on a soft breeze.  I called Amy in a mad tizzy to relay the good news, but she was already booked for that time and the cost of my going alone was in the $800 range for hotel, pass, and roundtrip train tickets, plus the fact that as far as I know, not much is going on.

I totally had STBX with them 

If I were to go, I would most likely spend my time wading through the masses of tightly packed shambling mounds and getting annoyed that I would not be able to get from one end of the building to the other in a reasonable fashion.  I would be baking hot due to the hot summer air outside coupled with the 100,000+ attendees, and I would be forced to deal with throngs of people that look at a stick of deodorant as a mysterious and unnecessary luxury and a daily shower as a mind-boggling cultural practice.  Good food needs to be sought out and is nowhere to be found near the convention center, and finding someplace quiet and chill is next to impossible.

Okay damn it...which one of you a-holes forgot to put deodorant on!?  Oh, that many?

Then again, I met amazing people, listened to impressive talks (thank you again Straczynski for starting me on the road to writing), saw cool screeners of television shows and movies, and saw Suicide Girls walking around.  Last year, my wife and I went to the San Diego Zoo, a few museums and the Comic Con over the course of a week and stayed at a cool hotel with a nice pool and gym and went for a couple of runs while we were there.  We had a blast, but this year it is just not in the cards.

Hello Mr. Robert Kirkman.  Thank god that weirdo before me left.

Sorry San Diego Comic Con, I will remain strong, I will remain diligent and I am just going to say, "No!"  At least until I flip the fuck out, and make the reservation at the last minute and buy the train tickets.  "Be strong,'re better than can do it."

Take us to your Comic-Con


Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Last night I read my previous entry "Dreams" to Amy and she, of course, told me that she didn't like it, because it was about dreams and that dreams were boring.  Okay, goddamnit.  How about nightmares?  I have had a few doozies in my time and I wrote a short story about one of the recurring ones that I had for years that I might post someday, but I am mostly concerned about my reaction to one of my brother's all-time best evenings of terror.

Jeff--my brother--and I were around the ages of 9 and 13 respectively and it was a particularly cold winter...well, cold by Santa Barbara standards.  We shared a room that was joined to our mother's room and we had a rickety bunk bed with me on the top bunk and Jeff on the bottom.  Since the weather was colder than usual and our room was always the coldest of any other in the house, Jeff and I slept with sleeping bags on top of the blankets for added warmth.

On a particularly bone-chillingly night, it was early in the morning and I was in a state of half-waking and half-sleeping on account of a disturbance coming from the bunk below.  A frantic muttering was steadily pushing me towards being more and more awake, and as I began to fully awaken, all I could hear was my brother's steadily rising panic beneath me.  "Duuuurrr,," is what I heard, along with slight whimpers of fear, and it occurred to me that he was absolutely terrified and it was infectious.  I became increasingly frightened as I pulled myself from sleep to alertness to scared for my life.  I wanted to look down and make sure that everything was okay, but I was incapacitated with fear.

At this point, Jeff began to breath quickly and heavily, like a dog panting in the oppressive heat of the sun.  He whimpered more and more, "*pant, pant, pant*...don't, don't, dont, no," he whispered in a high pitched voice, as my heart beat quickened and my body turned to cement, sinking ever deeper into the top bunk and my eyes bulging in fright. "No, no, no," he continued, and I could hear him begin to thrash below me and images of Dracula, the Wolf-Man and Michael Myers attacking my little brother swirled in my wildly spinning mind, and Jeff began to hyperventilate.  "No...*pant, pant, pant, pant*," and then he took a sharp intake of air, followed by a moment of silence, and then he screamed for everything that he was worth.

My eyes widened, my frantically pounding heart stopped and I began to sweat despite the cold of the room.  I clutched my heart.  Thankfully, I heard our mother jump out of bed and run to our room, so with a new found bravado, I swung my head down to look at what I expected to be a massacre site, but there was Jeff, sitting upright in bed, with his sleeping bag pulled down over the top half of his body and he was panting wildly.  My mom ran in and saw my brother looking like a giant caterpillar and bobbing his head up and down, while he panted in fear.  "Oh for heaven's sake," she said as she pulled the sleeping bag off of him and pushed him back down, before stomping back to her room and trying to recover from her own near heart failure.  Jeff was instantly asleep and calm.  Not me, though.  I did not sleep for the remainder of the night.

The next morning Jeff told me that he dreamt that he was being abducted by Cobra.  You know Cobra...the bad guys from GI Joe, who get shot at all the time, but now one seems to die.  Yup, that Cobra.  Jeff also said that when they finally caught him, they shoved him and our cousin into separate oil barrels on the back of a cargo truck and were in the process of sealing them in for transport.  I of course wanted to know where they intended to transport two young children and why Cobra wanted them in the first place, but he had no idea, only that they wanted them for some sort of evil plan.  Huh.

So, this least for not what I would call boring.  Even if I was not in the bunk above him, fearing for my pitiful little life, I would still love to hear this nightmare, but the fact that I was forced to suffer through Jeff's psychological maelstrom makes the whole experience that much cooler.  C'mon, who doesn't want to dream about being kidnapped by Destro or Serpentor or Snake-Donger or whoever?  That is fucking cool.  Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Monday, June 28, 2010


"Oh my god, too boring,"is what Amy says whenever I tell her that I have had an f_ed-the-hell-up dream that I want to share.  She is of the firm belief that no one wants to hear about someone else's dream, but that cannot possibly be true.  I can't get enough of them.

Over the years, I have had friends tell me about their crazy dreams and I am starved to hear their tales.  One time, a friend told me that he dreamt that he was playing keyboards for Prince, only to end up in a bitter argument with the diminutive man, because my friend decided to eat a ham sandwich, while playing the keyboard during a massive concert.  Another friend recently told me how she and her Boston Terrier, Obie, were having to escape and fight an evil evil EVIL FUCKING DUCK.  Now, please tell me that the idea of a woman and her small dog escaping from and ultimately forced to take down a "evil duck" is boring.  Holy shit, that got me frothing at the mouth.  When exactly did the duck turn evil, or was it just born that way, as is common with all water fowl?  Did the duck talk?  Why did it have it in for her and Obie?  I could have gone off on this one for ages, but unfortunately I was laughing way too hard to ask any other questions.

My own dreams, when I remember them, tend to be on the insane side as well.  When I am not having anxiety-filled work dreams--such as being forced to return to KFC after 20+ years and attempting to remember the combination of the floor safe--my dreams lean towards random acts of heroism that I have never come close to performing in actual real life situations.  If I am not storming up a rain-soaked hillside to combat an alien infestation, I could be found running through a nearly abandoned Santa Barbara saving people from the zombies that have overrun the city.

One of my all time favorites has to be the one from about fifteen years ago.  In the dream, I possessed the super powers of flight, strength and invulnerability, and I had a major beef with an evil multinational corporation that was set to destroy the American way of life and only I stood in its path; the company happened to be the very music store chain that I was currently working for.  Now, I am nearly certain that the music store was nowhere near a multinational level, and although some of their pathetic employee codes of conduct were ridiculous and their mission statement was surely a joke and a half, I doubt that it was a threat to my country and the only way of life at risk there was the one in my own dumb-ass possession.

That said, in the dream, I had come across information that the corporation had recently created a space station that possessed a weapon of terrible importance, but of a nature unknown.  It was up to me to determine the exact nature of this weapon and either take it or destroy it.  Either way, the space station had to be destroyed and I was the only one who could do it.  The general populace had no idea what the music company was up to, or what they were capable of and it was probably better that was best not to spread undue panic.

With that thought and the full realization of just how high of stakes I was playing with, I gazed to the heavens, made sure that no one was around and launched myself into the sky, and on my way into outer space with my course set to the evil music store corporation's orbiting space station.  It took me a while to escape earth's atmosphere, and the cold of space was harsh, but to one like me it was refreshing.  I hovered there for a moment, taking in the full beauty of the planet that I loved, grim determination setting in.  There to my left it was, the space station.  I flew over it surveying the metal monstrosity.  It was shaped like a giant "X" with row upon row of what looked like washing machines covering its surface.  I knew not what nefarious purpose the machines served, I only knew that they spelled E-V-I-L and had to be destroyed, but not quite yet.  I had another job to do.

I found a hatch that allowed me entry, and discovered that the station was serviced entirely by robots, none of whom paid me any notice, as the thought of an intruder was nonexistent.  A quick search of the oddly beautiful and silent vessel, lead me to the weapon.  It was a very small ship with seating for two, but a ship none the less, and it was now mine.  I considered launching an energy blast at the station to wipe it from existence, but instead decided to see what my new toy could do and climbed in.  I reached what I judged to be a safe distance and launched a pulse bomb, completely incinerating the station and destroying the threat to the good old U.S. of A...for the time being.

The dream continued with me flying around outer space in the ship that was much faster than I could ever fly on my own and I knew that I would be forced to take on the evil music corporation and their evil machinations that spread out to other galaxies, but that was for another day.  I then flew back to earth, hid the ship in my secret hideout and arrived at Acapulco's restaurant in time for Margarita Monday Madness with my girlfriend and brother.

Now, wife-of-mine, tell me that shit is boring.  That dream ruled so much that I wished I could have slept for hours more, just to see how far the music corporation's tendrils spread.  If anything, the dream told me what I already suspected of my employer.

Here's another dream for you.  I walked into a completely black room, void of all light, but oddly enough, there was a very large and modern looking couch, a downy-soft rug in front of it, a couple of tall plants, a couple of candles and two incredibly beautiful brunette women with the look of 1940's film noir goddesses.  They looked my direction, smirked, and began to kiss one another passionately, every so often making sure that I was watching.  They stood as I approached and I saw the shapes of elaborate tattoos beneath the lace of one of the women's robes, but not enough to tell what the tattoos actually were.  They each kissed me in turn, and I lifted one to sit at the top of the couch, while the other woman's blood-red finger nails began to trace along....

Sorry, never mind.  That one was probably a bit boring, too.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Skipping the San Diego Comic Con This Year...Again

The time is drawing closer my friends and I feel the shakes beginning to come upon me, and that cold tingle set into my cold, so very, very cold.  The San Diego Comic Con is set for July 21-25 and like last year, I will not be in attendance and the anxiety and regret is steadily building and can no longer be adequately contained.

Last year, I missed the comic con as well, after going for two years in a row--my first two times--but I was okay with missing out, as I had just picked up eight-week-old Tulip and had her for two weeks before I headed off to Spain for two weeks to meet up with Amy.  Even then, I feverishly tried to find a way to swing a day or two at the sold out convention and still make my flight to Spain, but it was not meant to be. This was fine as the line up of events had nothing that I had not seen before and the crowds were said to be much worse than previous years; most of my time would have been spent waiting countless hours in various lines and contracting god-only-knows what nasty little viruses that happened to be floating around.

Back in late February, I found out about the amazing lineup of guests that were scheduled to appear at the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle and I was a hair's width from pulling the trigger and buying a plane ticket and crossing my fingers that I could still buy a ticket, but reality, time off from f_ing work, f_ing money and a flash of sanity prevented me from doing it.  I am still left to wonder what might have been if only I had....

This year, however, the San Diego Comic Con sold out in record time, and there are scheduled to be even more rooms and events than ever before, but as anyone who has attended this Con will tell you, the crowds are going to be obnoxiously severe.  Why is this?  Should I really be upset that one of my most beloved mediums has taken off to such an extent that throngs of people have gained interest?  Yes and no, I guess.  It is great that more and more people are being exposed to the world of comic books, whether it is through movies, television, video games or through the actual comics themselves, but then again, having things like Twilight bringing in the masses that would normally have not attended, means a higher probability of getting bumped from something that I am very interested in.  But, again, these newcomers may branch out and pick up The Sandman, or Y the Last Man, or The Stuff of Legend and put more money into the pockets of the creators and their respective companies, which spurs even more great creative endeavors.  Then again, those newcomers are the ones that will one day camp out all day to get into a Dr. Horrible 2 screening and discussion that fills to capacity and I am left to listen to a discussion of comics for six-year olds.

Oh well, each day brings the SDCC closer and I will be forced to sedate myself with copious amounts of beer and Caipirinhas, and be forced to hang out with friends and family or experience this thing called sunlight, which is okay.  I do know that I will be checking all of my favorite websites for any and all SDCC information while pretending to pay attention to what is going on around me.  "Um...yeah, get right on that, Boss Man.  I just need to verify relevant website.  YES!  Finally!  New Superhero Squad action figures and Alan Moore has a new comic!  Um...yes, getting those reports right now."

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Ultimates by Mark Millar (W) and Bryan Hitch (A)

The Ultimates Vol. 1: Super-HumanFor the umpteenth time, I have finished rereading Marvel Comics's The Ultimates written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Old Man Logan, Wanted, The Authority) with incredible art by Bryan Hitch (The Authority, Fantastic Four).  Millar and Hitch's run on this book spans over four TPBs with The Ultimates storyline being broken up into two books and The Ultimates 2 being broken up into two books as well.

Marvel created the Ultimate Marvel imprint line of books as a re-imagining of the current Marvel universe, beginning with Ultimate Spiderman by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagley, which spanned 130+ issues and has been said to be a consistently great comic book...unfortunately, I have not yet read it, since it is a bit much for me to dive into at this point. There was also an Ultimate X-Men book of which I read the first two TPB's, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up neither of which I ever read.

The Ultimates, however, I did read and hungrily anticipated the release of each comic as it was released, or rather delayed for eons between each issue, but more on that later.  The Ultimates is a re-vamp of The Avengers team book with some fairly crazy character tweaks and a more up-to-date real world setting, including the use of President "W" Bush speaking with the team at various points.  The Ultimates is comprised of:

The Ultimate-verse Captain America was indeed frozen in a block of ice after World War II, but in this series he was essentially thawed out around 2002 and is very much a man displaced in time; to him, yesterday was a period of Coca Cola bottles, manners, and more modestly dressed citizens.  He is also much more of a hard-assed tough guy from his extensive military training and backs down from no one.  He is not one to be messed with, even by those with immense powers.

Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, is much the same as he has been represented in the past, although his suit is now based a bit more in the real world and requires massive amounts of power and a full tech crew to get him up and running.   Tony also has a terrible secret that has spurred him to use the vast monetary resources available to him to change the world for the better.  Much of The Ultimates book influenced the first Iron Man movie, which is very apparent in the depiction of...

Nick Fury, the man who runs S.H.I.E.L.D. and also leads the team, is no longer the eye-patched white super spy from the 60's, but now bears a striking resemblance to Samuel Jackson, which the character openly jokes about at various points throughout the book.  Otherwise, he is fairly similar to the regular Marvel Universe character with the intrigue, partial truths and borderline deception.

Jan and Hank Pym are the scientific couple known as the Wasp and Giant Man.  To the team, they seem to be fun loving and the happiest of couples, but that is during the good times.  When the bad times come, a completely different side of the couple surfaces that no one expected, one which Captain America will not sit back and allow to go unaccounted for.

Then there is Thor, my favorite re-imagined character of the bunch.  This version of the Norse god, had him committed to an insane asylum for a period of time, but now the incredibly tall, muscular, yet not bulky man has come to grips with the fact that he is indeed the God of Thunder and he will fix the earth either through his vast powers or the staged protests that he organizes around the world.  He seeks to help the environment, stop attrocities from occuring and fights against US right-wing agendas; oil anyone.

The Ultimates black operations team is comprised of the not so popular and much too close and intimate siblings, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who none of the members like.  They are joined by the Black Widow and Hawkeye.  The first three are fairly similar to their regular Marvel Universe versions--with the exception of the creepy brother and sister dynamic--but Hawkeye is much different in that he is now an expert killer with no qualms about following the most lethal of assignments; he does not wear an overly silly outfit.

Finally, and the main antagonist of the first story arc, is Dr. Bruce Banner, The Hulk.  Banner is invited to the team to redevelop the super soldier serum that gave Captain America his powers, but was long thought lost with the supposedly dead hero.  Before the Cap is found in a block of ice, and very much alive and well, Dr. Banner injects himself with his version of the serum and turns into the Hulk before embarking on a mindlessly murderous rampage.  Barely being defeated, Nick Fury puts together the Ulitmates as a deterrant to superhuman threats and Banner struggles to keep the Hulk, who is now very much a part of him, at bay.  He does not succeed for long.

The Ultimates is a highly addictive and engaging read with beautiful artwork from Hitch that continues to sing the praises of his work from The Authority.  The dialog reflects the early 2000's political environment perfectly and the state of the world at that time is accurately shown.  Each character is given their moment to shine or appall, and when moments seem most dire, Millar brilliantly introduces an unexpected twist that leaves the reader hungry for more.

I collected the individual comics and was left eagerly awaiting the next issue, which was the main problem with the series; I was forced to wait through very long delays.  For the final issue of Ultimates 2, there was about a year and a half delay, but in the end it was all worth the wait...especially now that we have them collected in TPB form.  Thankfully, now that Millar and Hitch's run has finished and been compiled, the books are available to read in one very long sitting, which I strongly suggest that fans of intense superhero comics should do.  Another of my all-time favorite books.

* Warning - Only buy The Ultimates 1 and The Ultimates 2.  Not wanting to knock a creator, but Ultimates 3, to vastly understate my feelings on the matter, was not one of my favorites in any sense  of the word.  Just pretend that The Ultimates 1 and The Ultimates 2 were the only books released or you risk being angered, and anger makes Hulk horny!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poison Oak

Damnit!  Shit.  Now I am freaking out.  I just finished up my whining about the wedding that we went to this past weekend and I noticed that the inside of my forearms suddenly feel warm and there is a single red dot on my left arm.  I pray that I do not have poison oak.

Fuck you, weed of the devil!

For most people, poison oak is not that big of a deal and if anything is a minor annoyance, unless that person has rolled in it.  However, for The Donist, poison oak is a nightmare from hell that never least not without a visit to the doctor ($25 co-pay) and a follow up to the pharmacy ($20 co-pay) for some Prednisone.  When I come into contact with this weed of the devil, I have all of the normal reactions that a person may experience (itching, red rash, oozing sores, discomfort), but it is the very abnormal secondary effects that are by far the worst.

I hate you with every fiber of my being.

For me, once the rash begins to disappear, after weeks of torment and without medication, a secondary rash occurs under the skin of my knuckles and under the skin on the palms of my hands.  It all starts as a little dot here and a little dot there, but others quickly sprout up to the point that my hands throb with pain and I have difficulty bending them.  This painful effect is reluctant to leave my body without the aid of prednisone and will continue until I begin to take the pills.  I remember with horror the time that I did not have health insurance and suffered for about a month as poison oak ravaged my body and the secondary effect crippled my hands until I coughed up the cash to go to the emergency room and was prescribed the pills; the following day after taking my first round of pills things were already better.  The funny (not really) thing about this incident was that I had not even gone hiking, but I had used the phone after my roommate, who had gone on a hike, and hugged his dog, who must have been covered in the toxic oil, because it f_ed me up something fierce.

Don't hug me, bro.

Another side note about hiking that begs to be mentioned is that if you are male and have been in the woods and suspect that you have come in contact with poison oak, then by all that is sacred and good, do not pee in the woods, unless you can do it hands free.  DON'T DO IT.  If you don't know what I am talking about, just think about it for a second.  Consider the ramifications.  I have had poison oak on the royal Donist pee-pee on about four occasions in my lifetime and for those torturous weeks questioned my will to live.  Trust me, the shit is unpleasant to degrees that someone who has not suffered through it will ever understand.  Also, imagine having to go to work in the hot summer, wearing long pants and helping customers at the music store all day...I must have been very unpleasant to be around.  Just thinking about the last time four years ago and I can feel ice coursing through my veins and extreme shrinkage setting in.  Ghastly.

So, today at work, I will sit in my cubicle and stare at my arms every five minutes whispering to myself, "Please don't let it be poison oak.  Please don't let it be poison oak.  Fucking-A please do not let it be poison oak."  If I do not have it by Friday, I should be in the clear.  48 hours and counting down.

Psycho Weekend

Our weekend was a bit...complex and not one conducive to working on my book, my screenplay, blog (one entry) or anything else.  I used two of my more-precious-than-gold PTO days so that Amy, Tulip and I could drive almost five hours, while desperately trying to not fall asleep, up to Saratoga, drop the puppy off at Amy's Dad's house only to hop back in the car and were on our way to San Jose for a dinner party for my cousin's wedding.

The dinner was held at the Saint Claire Hotel and was very beautifully handled from the wine and cocktails--which I desperately needed--hor d'oeurvres, and dinner.  It was good to see my mom, grandma, aunt, uncle, cousins and my brother and his wife, but we were walking and talking with lead boots, barely able to stay awake throughout the entire event, but we somehow got through it.  I later found out that my brother and cousins were able to sneak out of the insanity of the ruthlessly scheduled planning and overly crushing family obligations for some downtime at what sounded like a rather cool bar, The Single Barrel.   Unfortunately, Amy and I darted out at the end of the dinner to race home and try to get some sleep.  I wish we had known about the hastily put together plan for after party drinks, because it would have been nice to catch up with my cousins outside of the repressive force of wedding madness, but we needed rest and they were barely able to escape from the hotel themselves.  Next time.

Saturday, we were able to sleep in some and Amy's family made us breakfast, and truly went beyond anything that they needed to do to make us comfortable, and they were kind enough to agree to watch Tulip while we prepared for...the wedding.  I am going to spoil the ending of this story right now.  We left their house at 1:15 PM and returned at 10:15 PM.  For those of a non-mathematically inclined nature, that is nine f_ing hours.  Eight hours of actual wedding stuff and one hour of driving, parking and walking.  Nine hours.  We could have watched Siegfried...twice, or the majority of the entire extended Lord of the Rings trilogy, or driven from Santa Barbara to Saratoga and back...again.  Yup, it was long.

This is not to say that the wedding was not beautiful or that the ceremony and the traditional clothing were not visually stunning, or that the food was not so very, very good (bacon wrapped scallops and mango sorbet served in edible white chocolate bowls...hells yes!), but eight hours is a long time.  Included in that eight hours were about four and a half hours of hair gel melting sun, which sent bead after bead of sweat trailing down my back, followed by three and a half hours of bone-chilling freezing cold wind with no heat lamps.  After about an hour and a half of the cold weather and giving up my suit coat to my wife, I swallowed my pride and went to the car to fetch the dog blanket so that I could wrap it around Amy, myself and my brother's wife; I was thankful that I did.

My mom, her husband and my grandma all left around 8:00 PM, because of my grandma's problems with her back and legs, but Amy and I stuck it out until about 9:45 PM and with a hasty goodbye to my other cousin snuck out of the party.  Things were starting to get hopping on the dance floor, and were not winding down any time soon, so Amy and I stole down the stairs of the Villa Montalvo with chattering teeth and shivering bones for the glorious warm embrace of the car.

The next day, Sunday, was Father's Day and we spent the morning having breakfast with Amy's dad and his wife, who are always very hospitable, and we went for a difficult run in the hills of their ranch.  We also took them to see The A-Team, which I absolutely loved in all of its ridiculous wackiness--tank flying rules--and went back to the house for bourbon, wine, steak and the first two episodes of True Blood's third season.  We were thankful for the day of non-events, dressing comfortably and not gorging ourselves, and Tulip was happy to have us around for most of the day, too.

Moday, we were back in the car for the four and a half hour drive back to Santa Barbara with a nice stop in San Luis Obispo for lunch and a walk with the puppy.  After an incredibly hectic few days, we finally returned to one of the best feelings in the world...walking into the comfort of our own home.   We quickly exercised and made our way to Hollister Brewing Company for some more unhealthy food and beer and a sigh-of-relief-filled return to normalcy and the company of our friends.  The trip was over.

*retrospective bullshit:  Now that we are back and I have returned to my work cubicle, I am left wondering if a four and a half hour drive and nine hours of wedding craziness, complete with scorching/freezing weather, are not preferable to the reality of being back to normal.  Oh well.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Buggly Tree

The past few days have been a whirlwind of work, guests from out of town, struggling to find me clothes for a wedding that won't embarrass my wife in public, driving five hours up north for a pre-wedding dinner, and then today there is a 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM wedding.  Sooooo, I have not been able to keep to my schedule of Monday to Friday rambling and will make it up today and tomorrow.

During the 70's, I was living in Ohio and my family would travel out to Santa Barbara on a fairly regular basis to visit both sets of grandparents; we usually stayed with my mother's parents, Grandma and Grandpa.  Although my brother and I loved our Grammie and Grandaddy, we especially enjoyed going to Grandma and Grandpa's, because they strongly embraced and encouraged the weirdness that makes a kid a kid.

For the entire cigarette smoke-filled six hour flight from Cleveland to Santa Barbara--plus layover--I anticipated the strong floral smell that assaulted my senses from the moment the plane door opened and I saw my grandparents waiting at the gate for us.  We would all pack into the Chevy Nova, also cigarette smoke-filled, and began the long drive into town.  The moment we arrived, my brother and I would pour out of the car and run immediately to the Buggly Tree.

The Buggly Tree looked something like this.

Grandpa called anything and everything that was a horrific looking rubber toy monster a buggly, and the actual Buggly Tree was a dead tree stump that was located on the back patio, and it was covered in bugglies.  Rubber snakes, gorillas, devils, semi-melted Batmans, spaceage dinosaurs and about a dozen floppy bats were strewn about the dark gnarled branches, and to top off the whole bizarre display was a rather large Troll doll with the hair that stood straight up sitting at the top like a twisted Christmas tree star. The thing about the this particular Troll doll was that it was fairly large, completely sun scorched, and did not have the trademark happy smile, but an angry tooth-filled grin that made it horrific.  I was honestly scared of the Troll and refused to look at if for very long, but I still loved the idea of the horrible monster guarding the bounty of creatures dwelling amongst the branches.  My brother also refused to touch the evil Troll doll.

Every morning consisted of the routine of cartoons (Scooby Doo, Gumby) and roller derby, if it was Saturday, followed by breakfast and then out to the Buggly Tree to get a new monster to play with.  Each year that we came out to visit, new critters awaited us, but the Troll remained the same until my Grandmother had decided that the Buggly Tree needed to go and one year it was gone.  We still had bugglies stashed away in a container, just no beatup and dead tree to drape them from and definitely no angry Trolls to guard them.  I really miss that tree.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Beach Cleanup Day and a Random Weirdo

As much as I have griped throughout the years about big corporations and how working for them is just making someone else ridiculously wealthy, there are at times, benefits other than a paycheck and insurance that make me think it is all okay.  My current job, which I will not talk about other than to say has some pretty decent perks, offers a paid volunteer day to go and do something that benefits the community, which is pretty cool.  

I have done a beach cleanup and a nature preserve restoration project over the past few years and this year I volunteered to help do a cleanup at Goleta Beach, which is but two and a half miles away from my home.  Even on a beautiful Friday morning at 9:00 AM, there are hardly any people milling about, with the exception of a few winos down the way at a picnic table and some wealthy retirees out for a walk, and not much in between.  

Surfrider made a brief presentation along with SB Parks on their plans for Goleta Beach, which sounded very encouraging, and a group of ten of us set forth with our rubber gloves and earth-friendly bags to pick up some trash.  I have never doubted the disgusting and oblivious nature of the human race, but the sheer volume of cigarette butts and what I can only guess are juicebox straw wrappers covering the lawn and the sand was distressing--thanks Arnold Schwarzenegger for vetoing the cigarette ban on public beaches, goddammit.  

Angry and disappointed, Donist pressed on, filling his bag with a few pounds of garbage, while enjoying the bright sun and the sound of the gently crashing surf.  The very cool part of the volunteer day was that our group had finished scouring the beach and were done by 11:30 AM and we had the rest of the day to ourselves and I was able to run home and take my puppy out to the park.  Yay.  Overall, the cleanup was a very positive experience and one that everyone should help with...possibly at the elementary and secondary school level to teach kids not to destroy or befoul what little nature remains in the world.  I also want to see some laws created for the approved corporal punishment of litterbugs and cigarette smokers who are too moronic to take their butts away with their lazy asses.  Hmmm...Major Hide and Seek for all offenders, unless they enjoy that sort of thing.

Finally, the promised weirdo.  Towards the end of the cleanup when things were beginning to wind down, I noticed a car pull up near the poorly placed restroom building.  A man get out of the car, laid down a towel, a yoga mat and proceeded to strip down to a speedo.  He was very tan, obviously comfortable with wearing a speedo as often as possible in the sun, balding except for the circle of grayed hair on the sides of his head, and he was all about stretching.  

I suppose that this sort of behavior is acceptable, and that speedos can be a possible cultural thing that should be accepted, despite my wanting to have them banned and wrapped into my proposed corporal punishment for litterbugs and beach smokers--definitely no Major Hide and Seek for this dude though, he would probably love it.  The truly weird part of this whole display was in the details and the man's choice of venue.  For example:
1) The man was stretching for about half an hour.  Not doing yoga, only stretching.
2) He setup two feet from his car on the grass and right next to the restrooms.
3) He setup near our group.  
4) There was PLENTY of space not near the parking lot, not near the repulsive restroom and not near us.
5) There were far better views available other than that of the restroom, say for instance the beautiful ocean that could be seen if one were to go on the other side of the building, or better yet away from the restroom altogether.
6) Plenty of open grass and sand that provided space and gave the feeling of being one with nature.

Apparently the dude wanted us to notice him and liked the aroma of festering lavatories mixed with the fresh ocean air.  What a weirdo.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Siegfried at the LA Opera Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

This past Sunday, Donist, The Brother of the Donist and The Friend of the Donist went to Los Angeles to attend the opera Siegfried.  Normally, I consider being cultured adding tabasco sauce to the ranch dressing that I dip my french fries into, but not Sunday; Sunday was mad culture.

We left Santa Barbara at 9:00 AM for the drive down to LA, which went smoothly enough with no traffic headaches and we even had enough time to stop for a bagel before continuing our journey.  It was pretty damn hot in the car, but luckily the drive went quick and it gave us all an opportunity to catch up with one another.  We arrived with plenty of time to spare and were able to hang around outside for a while and talk about the Beatles/David Lee Roth mashup on youtube and various other topics devoid of culture, but soon enough it was noon and Siegfried was on bitches.

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is a beautiful theatre with great sound and acoustics, and blissfully roomy seating that did not require me to stand every time someone walked by.  Seating space for Siegfried is very important given that this third installment in The Ring Cycle finished at roughly 5:30 PM.  That is correct.  Five and a half hours of operatic culture for your ass and I do mean ass, because it is going to be a good month before the feeling in your ass returns.  Thankfully, there was a 45 minute break after the very long first act and a 25 minute break after the praise-be-given shorter second act.  After the third and final act, which was also so long that my culture meter was set to burst, was an hour and a half car ride home.

Come to me, my young Jedi

It might be difficult to tell, but The Donist doesn't know dick about opera, and my levels of appreciation may not be up to par with the rest of my upper-crust tabasco and ranch eating brethren, but even I could notice that the performance was visually stunning, as was the lovely orchestral music and the powerful singing...all four-plus hours of it.  If I had to describe this rendition of Siegfried, I would describe it as Xanadu meets Tron meets Beetlejuice with light sabers and set to opera music.  The stage was at a 45 degree incline with a circular disc in the center that could be rotated around and the various multicolored light saber tracks were rigged to move, change colors and be picked up and carried around for very striking effects.  Giant eyeballs were affixed to the ceiling, random objects came from the sky and from beneath the stage and again, it was all visually striking for four plus hours.

Take my head...please

I don't know what Wagner was thinking on taking so long to tell this story, but Return of the King had way more going on in its story, and even the extended version was not as long as Siegfried.  Here is the story of Siegfried:  One young beefy and brash young boy misses the mommy and daddy he never knew and has teenage rebellion issues with his adopted daddy the dwarf, Mime.  Siegfried wears wolf footy-pajamas, and thinks killing a dragon will teach him fear.  Mime, wants Siegfried to kill the dragon to get him the one ring to rule them all, and bets his head with Wotan--a god; bad move Mime.  Siegfried kills the cute little dragon, but still does not know fear and kills Mime, because he sent his ass to get killed by the dragon (he knows this because he wears a magic hat after killing the dragon).  Siegfried then finds out that there is a hot Valkyrie chick in a rock surrounded by a ring of fire that is not the one that Johnny Cash sang about.  Siegfried falls in love with the as yet unseen Brunnhilde, defeats Wotan and his glowy spear that I want for my home, and frees Brunnhilde.  From here there is a bit of back and forth and Brunnhilde eventually gets in the sack with Siegfried.  Boom.  Done.

Siegfried not want smash hot Valkyrie lady

One thing that I learned from watching Siegfried is that the audience needs to not be douchy and have their cell phone randomly go off with video news coverage discussing Colonel Sanders and liberals, and then take approximately two minutes to tear the back off of the phone and yank the battery from it; jerk.  Overall, I was glad I went and that I was able to spend some time with my brother and my friend, and I am glad to count Siegfried as my first, and possibly only, opera.  A 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM trip, with a $107 ticket, and a revolting sandwich at one of the intermissions later and I am happy that we did it.  Off to work and to eat some soup with my fork and dip some fried picklechips into some ranch dressing with a swirl of tabasco.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Brawlin' Betties vs. SLO Slammers

This past SATURDAY, SATURDAY, SATURDAY!  At the Earl Warren Showgrounds' circular arena, Santa Barbara's own Mission City Brawlin' Betties squared off against visitors Central Coast Roller Derby's SLO Slammers. It was a fight to remember with nearly every seat in the house taken, leaving standing room only, which was the only way to go if you wanted to take in all of the action and were too late to get a front row seat.

It had been years since I had last seen a roller derby, possibly thirty.  I was visiting Santa Barbara from Akron, Ohio and on Saturday morning television following Gumby and followed by monster Kung-Fu movies roller derby was on.  From what I can remember, there was a steeply inclined ring, possibly men were on some of the teams, and definitely a late seventies vibe to the look of all of the participants and audience members.  I loved it.  I also had no fricking idea what the hell was going on, but all that mattered was that I loved rollerskating and enjoyed the madness.

Fast forward thirty years and I am actually attending a roller derby in my hometown, with friends and a pricey cold beer.  I had no idea of what to expect and even before the bout had begun, there was a whirling chaos of different colored jerseys, people who I believe were officials, and others doing who knows what.  When the game finally started, that is when the confusion completely set in, but a quick reading of the program explained about 85% of what was happening.

*Skip this paragraph, if you don't care how roller derby works.*  From what I could gather, each team consists of five players in the ring at a time.  There is one pivot, who sets the pace for the blockers, who cannot pass her.  Each team has three blockers, who combined with the pivot and the other team's blocker and pivot form the pack.  Behind the pack is a jammer, and the goal is for the each jammer to break past the pack on the first time through, with the first jammer to do so becoming the lead jammer, who controls the action for up to two minutes.  Both jammers then struggle to speed ahead of the pack to lap them and it is on the second time through that the jammers score a point for each of the opposing team's passed pivot and blockers. kind of have to be there to see it in action to get the hang of it, but once you!  Sort of.

Some other crazy stuff goes down that I need to actually consult with someone about, since I am still kind of unsure as to what happened.  I know that there is no intentional elbowing, tripping or falling in front of a skater, and there is  the existence of a penalty box, but at one point, the entire team was in the ring and the next the Slammers only had two blockers.  What the what?  I think their jammer, their pivot, and a blocker were all thrown in the penalty box and it was open season for the Betties' own Bacon and Legs to rack up the points, but therein lies another point of confusion.  I think that there is a way for a jammer to take the stars off of her helmet, put them on the pivot and the pivot becomes the jammer.  I have no proof of this, other than Wikipedia saying that this happens, so maybe that is when Vino Noir or Dita de los Muertos took over to rain down the points.

Rain down the points is probably not the best way to phrase the Brawlin' Betties' defeat of the Slammers,  with deluge of points being a far more accurate description.  The Betties won 195 to 71.  Yeah, there are no typos, 195 to 71.  Ouch.  I have to also mention that he first half of the bout began with strategic and planned tactics to score points and play the game by the book, but something happened in the second half, when women were falling, getting knocked every which way but loose and tempers were rising on both teams and brawling and slamming became more than just their namesakes.

The next Santa Barbara bout does not happen until some time in October, as the Brawlin' Betties are on the road until then.  Everyone needs to attend  a roller derby at some point in their life, and if the roller bug bites, you might be hooked.  I am.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sidekicks That Should Have Been Kicked to the Side

Writing about my current favorite animated show The Venture Brothers yesterday got me to thinking about all the old time cartoons that I used to love.  There were so many shows that my brother and I watched religiously that it is almost too numerous to keep track of, but there was always a common element that used to piss me off to no end...the sidekick.

Why did so many cartoons of the seventies and eighties include at least one utterly worthless character that filled everyone's lives with even more peril than was already present?  Take for instance Orko from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  What did this character ever do to further the plot, short of getting captured, failing catastrophically at some sort of magic trick and detracting the heroes of Eternia from defeating the evil terrorist, Skeletor, once and for all.  Confused little Donist that I was would sit on the couch in utter bewilderment, wondering why they did not just lock the guy in prison until Skeletor, Beastman, MerMan and the ever scrumptious Evil-Lyn (who one could only hope could be reformed from her oh-so-bad girl ways) had been defeated.  I wanted to see conflict and loss, hope and despair and the overcoming of extraordinary odds, but instead we got Orko falling into a well, or accidentally teleporting Teela (another hottie) into Beastman's grip (Ewww gross).
"Awwww...shucks guys.  I don't suck that bad."

He-Man was not the only offender in the use of the sidekick as comedic relief--there was also the Thundercats' Snarf.  This rollypolly life-wrecking menace was a cross between an alligator and a cat, who consistently screwed things up in the day to day battles between the Thundercats and the evil Mumm-Ra.  Nearly every week, it was like, "Don't pull that lever Snarf, we don't know what might...Snarf...why did you pull the lever?  It clearly said 'pull for evil'."  Lion-O, Panthro, Tigra, and the delicious Cheetara may as well have put themselves on the endangered species list by allowing that little snot to consistently put their lives into jeopardy.  Even the kidtens (get it?  Kids...Kittens?  Forget it), Wilykit and Wilykat, could handle themselves and could actually whup some ass when needed, but Snarf...not so much.
"This is my reaction to everything.  Snarf...snarf."

Of course this is only the beginning of a long list of annoying sidekicks, who were meant to provide comic relief for the kids who could not handle too much realism or suspense.  Total nonsense.  If a child cannot handle the scary Skeletor or the horrific Mumm-Ra, then their parents should have had them stick to The Monchichis, The Smurfs, The Snorks or The damn Carebears.  I know, I know, demographics, target audiences, toy merchandising and syndication are the reasons behind trying to pull as many viewers in as possible, but as a twelve year old, I was insulted.

Just because I was a child did not mean that I was incapable of handling intense well told stories, in fact quite the opposite.  The Snarfs and Orkos could have been downplayed and still utilized within the story, but not to the point of nearly taking on the roll of the protagonist.  If they were removed all together, I still would have bought just as many toys, if not more.

What I really found myself enjoying the most was Robotech.  Characters were well developed, I cared about them and occasionally they even died in the line of duty, which was heart-wrenching.  There was love, loss, and an overpowering sense of impending doom.  It was intense and engaging and made no attempt to capture every possible age group...the only thing working against the show was that the other cartoons had cooler looking action figures.

Some other shows that could have done without their sidekicks:
1) The Fantastic Four - Herbie the Robot.  They chose to replace the Human Torch with a goofy robot?  Wow.  Holy calamity, scream insanity.
2) Superfriends - Gleek.  Hmmm, a purple monkey that does not do anything except hangout with the dude who can turn into water and a groovy girl that can turn into a dinosaur.  Ditch the monkey.
I was being spanked all while I was being created.

3) Blackstar - Trobbits...all of the little bastards.  A ripoff of the idea of hobbits to such an extent that the creators even rhymed their bothersome troublemakers after them.
4) Dungeons and Dragons - Uni the Unicorn.  This one could have been a cool idea and actually had some redeeming value in possibly two or three episodes of the entire run.  Otherwise, dog food.
5) He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Cringer.  Not only did He-Man have Orko, the creators thought that they did not go far enough and decided to have two characters for comic relief, thus Cringer the cowardly green tiger.
"Why does Donist hate my ass so much?  I turn into Battle Cat...*sniffle"

6) She-Ra: Princess of Power - Madame Razz, Broom, Imp and Kowl.  A female witchy version of Orko, a talking broom, a purple little demon, and the spawn of Gizmo the Gremlin and Woodsy the Owl, respectively.  Where He-Man had two sidekicks, She-Ra had at least four.  Damn.
I just don't know what to say.

7) Godzilla - Godzooky.  For the love of god, why?  I loved the live-action campy Japanese Godzilla, and this is what America comes up with for a cartoon.  Oh the humanity.
You have got to be shitting me.  This is the son of Godzilla!?

I am sure there are a ton of others out there, but I think you get the point--I'm also starting to get angry, just like I did when I was a kid.  Now that I am an adult, if it were up to me, I would...I would...well...probably have a crossover that starred Cheetara, Evil-Lyn, Wonder Woman and She-Ra, and it would be very hot outside and they would have to put aside their differences to go for a swim in the nice, quiet and very private lake...ummm, this is a separate topic all together.