19 November 2012

The Boy In My Heart

11/19/2008, 4:20 am: I see the head first. Misshapen from the trip down the birth canal, covered in a cap of black hair, matted with blood and placental goo, features squashed and smooshed and squinted and yet identifiably family, somehow. My heart leaps in my chest. I can hardly breathe. I tell my wife it's almost over, the rough labor she's been in (and lord has it ever been rough on her; I will tell you that tale sometime--but not now, as this is someone else's story) will be done soon. We're in the home stretch. Stef grabs my hand with a grip I will be feeling in my knuckles for hours hence, and at the obstetrician's urging she bears down.

The shoulders emerge: bloody, thin, fragile. So tiny, my child is. I worry, not for the first or last time, about how small the baby is, how fragile--and how clumsy I can be. It is part of the endless list of father-fears I keep tucked away in a safe corner of my mind, where I leave it and try not to obsess with it overmuch. (Once, when there was a TV story about the vaccine-autism nonsense, my wife turned to me and said, "Do you worry about autism?" My response: "I worry about everything.")

"One last push," the OB says. My wife bears down and the hips, then the legs, slip free. And I see my son for the first time. I have a perfect snapshot of the moment in my mind: The OB holding him by the head with one hand, cradling his tiny backside with the other. I see that he is a boy and I tell my wife, joy in my voice--Stef tells me that this is the moment locked in her memory, her own auditory snapshot, the sound of amazed, dazed, ecstatic wonder in my words as I shout "It's a boy!"

Then comes the messy business of cleaning up--collecting the afterbirth, wrapping the child and placing him in the warmer, stitching up my wife's partial episiotomy, shooing me out of the way as I snap photos of him in the warmer. At some point they bring him over to Stephanie, who holds him, and sings to him in a shaky, tired voice that brings me to the point of tears.

And then they bring him to me, and I hold my son for the first time. And the tears come. And I hold him close and call him my little man, and he cries, oh he cries, in a good strong voice my son cries and wails and says hello in the only wise he understands. And I never want to stop holding him. And I never want to stop feeling the way I feel in this strange, surreal sliver of time: holding a screaming infant with blood in his hair, my heart overflowing with love, my eyes overspilling with tears. And even then I know that this moment is as fleeting as any other in life and will not last, cannot last, that soon it will be past and the next moment will arrive (and disappear as well). And so I commit every detail I can to memory in the hopes of preserving some small portion of it in my heart, to return to when I need it, to sample its emotional flavor and its immediacy and above all, that wonder. That wonder I have rarely felt as strongly since I was a boy myself. That wonder I hope my son feels all through his childhood, and in some form or other all of his life.

That is the bequest I hope to give him, above money, above property, above all other things that men sometimes mistakenly value:

Wonder.

***

11/19/12, 1:21 PM:






That's me, holding my son on the day he was born. Not sure if you can see the tears, but I guarantee you they are there.  

He turns four today. this is what he looks like now:


The black hair fell out and has been replaced by the straight brown locks you see above. I am proud to say that, clumsy as I am, I never once dropped him. I hope I never do. 

He's in preschool now, and is getting good marks--I will allow myself a small amount of fatherly pride and say that my kid is smart as a whip and thoroughly awesome.Also, he loves the Beatles, as his Halloween costume clearly demonstrates:


... clearly, we must be doing something right.

It's been a long, interesting four years that have gone by in an eyeblink. Liam has grown into an intelligent, quick-witted, occasionally stubborn and willful boy. I have held him when he cried, and sung him to sleep, and bought him books he still reads, and toys he still plays with. Today he's getting (and this is just from me) L. Frank Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz, a velcro dartboard for his room, and a plush Yellow Submarine that he can play with during his endless viewings of his favorite movie. His mom is getting him a bunch of things too, including a rug for his room with a street map screen-printed onto it, so he can drive his cars on the rug. That plus the stuff he got from his grandmother yesterday equals a happy boy.  

Right now as I write this he's at school, probably getting ready for his day to the end. He'll have passed out the treats Stef sent with him (a mini-applesauce and a "fun size" chocolate), and is probably playing or drawing or singing a song right now. Soon the sitter will walk him home, his baby sister Ella in the stroller next to him, as he gushes about his day. And I wish I could be there to hear him do that, and listen as he tells me what his friend Brandon said, and maybe shows me the stamp the teacher put on the back of his hand for being well-behaved and showing good manners (he gets one of these just about every day)--but the sad reality is that I have to be at work, blogging about it and imagining it instead of experiencing it. I will have my chances to walk him to and from school in the coming months, and I know that; I just wish I could do it today, because today is his birthday, and I want to share every minute of it that I can with him. 

Tonight he will get a special dinner--French Toast, his favorite food, and we will watch Yellow Submarine and he will open his presents, and I will think about the last four years of staying up with him when he was sick, and walking with him to the store, and bitching at him to stop chasing the damn cats already, and together we'll tack another year onto the board. And I will keep treasuring every fleeting moment that goes by, and committing it to memory so I will have it in my dotage, to take out as a fondly remembered souvenir. Something to talk to him about when he is a grown man, with children of his own who frustrate him, and fill him with joy, and keep him up late at night with worry, and make him want to be better than the man he is. . . just as he does now, with me. And who will remind him of the wonders of his youth, just as he now reminds me of the wonders of mine. 

I hope he keeps that wonder in his heart forever, just as I know I will keep him--and his sister--in mine. Because it is for all time, this feeling of joy, if we so choose to preserve it. And I so choose. 

I choose for myself what I chose for him, four years ago: Wonder.

Happy Birthday, Liam. Your daddy loves you. And always will.


13 November 2012

And now for something completely the same old shit

Oh for fuck's sake:




I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap.I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male. Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff ( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake) but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I
 know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics.So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE: "Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl, you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC. But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis. But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? You are what I refer to as "CON-HOT". Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate. After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION. And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.



I really was hoping we could move past this nonsense. I really was. Fandom and the cons have had more than enough of this misogynist crap, and the galloping gobshites who spout it. But clearly we are not fated to be so lucky. And so, since the author of the post seems to have some trouble expressing what he really means, here is a translation of the above tripe:


"I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap".

Read: "Holy shirt am I drunk."

"I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male."

This is the misogynist's equivalent of "I have black friends!"

"Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff" 

"HUURRR I LIKE TEH PORNS HURRDEDURRDURR"

"( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake)" 

Because the wimmin folks need to be pwotected from big stwong me and my wangwage. Sowwy for oo's widdle ears burning!

"but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics."

Tokens, in other words. Just the way you like 'em, right?

"So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE:"


THE RULE THAT I JUST MADE UP BECAUSE I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD AND EVERYONE MUST DOOOOOOOOOOO WHAT I SAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY

"Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl,"

In my opinion, and you can tell just looking at me that I know what's hot and what's not. You can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man, no time to talk!

"you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC."

... yeeeaaaahhhhh, can't imagine why anyone would think that about YOU, hoss. You're on cruise control for cool wit' dat caps lock, bro. WHOOOO *fist bump*

"But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis."

OH DEAR SWEET LORD OF CUPCAKES NO THERE ARE AVERAGE PEOPLE AROUND MEEEEEE

"But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public," 

Which don't get me wrong, is awesome and everything, as long as I can shame you for it at my leisure . . .

"and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are )" 

HAY LESS ALL STAND AROUND THE GURLS AND CHANT "FATTY FATTY FATT FATT"

"or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies?" 

Because your boobies must pass a special test that I just made up, now place them here so I can administer it because BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC

"You are what I refer to as "CON-HOT". Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls."

Because as long as I'm being an offensive asshole, I might as well be one to everybody!

"Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU."

Well, actually, you're just trying to earn a living, they're actually being preyed upon by the people who create and sell the characters you dress up as, but hey what's a strawman argument between friends amirite?

"You have this really awful need for attention,"

Unlike the rest of us, who are just here to put on "The Student Prince" . . .

"for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate."

Because BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC

"After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION." 

AND WE WILL POSSESS YOU no wait. WE WILL BE THE OOONNNNEEE, KIISSS YOU SOOO HAAARRRDD ahh dammit I did it again. My bad.

"And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS," 

Hey, welcome to San Diego Comic-Con! Need a press badge?

"BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER."

Which Greg Land has NEVER, EVER done. EVER!

"And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day." 

And neither would a lot of the girls they liked in junior high and high school, which is where all this deep seated resentment and misogyny comes from. Not that I would know ANYTHING ABOUT THAT! *looks around all shifty-eyed*

"Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face."

NEENER NEENER NEENER YOU'RE A STOOPID DOODY HEAD NYAAAAHHHHHH THPPFFFTTTTT

"Yer not Comics." 


Clearly it has been established that you are girls! With boobies! Because BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC

"Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up."

And draw things that prey on the geeks in exactly the same way only we didn't think to hire you ourselves and capitalize on it first so WE ARE JEALOUS AARRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH *eats keyboard*

***

Dude. Why don't you just call them "whores," get it out of your system, and MOVE THE FUCK ON. Because honestly, this is getting vaguely absurd at this point.

Seriously--we need to move on from this shit, folks. We should be better than this. We need to be better than this. The alternative is crypto-chowderhead He-Man Woman-Haters club nonsense screeds like this. And honestly, most of us who are adults and have achieved some level of actual maturity in our emotional lives are tired of this kind of crap. THIS is what is giving geek culture a bad name, not hired-gun cosplayers. Maybe if Tony "Effing" (and that's a hell of a middle name there, d00d) Harris and everyone who agreed with him grew the fuck up a little, we could all move past this shit. 

Just a thought. Your mileage may vary. But in times like these, I fall back on the words of one Wil Wheaton: Don't be a dick. 

It's really not that hard if you work at it a little. Try it sometime, you may be surprised.

(Note: "BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC is a direct steal from john Scalzi. Gotta credit the sources of my thievery.)

11 November 2012

There's something in my eye, you know this happens every time

I posted this on Facebook this morning:




And I went back and found some thoughts I wrote about Jim Croce, which I wanted to share:



Thoughts on "Operator":

He was 30 when he died. His music had just started to hit big the year before, after a brief career that included two albums recorded with his wife, Ingrid. “Operator,” recorded and released on the first album he made without Ingrid, shows just exactly what we lost when we lost him.

It always surprises me how many people are Jim Croce fans, and how many of them are fans because of this one song. Yet none of them love just this one song. Once you hear it, you buy Photographs and Memories or one of the albums he released in his all-too-short career, and you realize listening to it just how goddamn good it is. Sure, there’s some filler on those albums, but Croce’s best filler is still a hundred times better than what most of his contemporaries were doing.

Unlike say, Harry Chapin, who often let his sentimentalism get the better of him, usually to the detriment of his songwriting, Croce had an innate ability to use sentiment without making the listener feel like he or she was being used. You can listen to Chapin’s “A Better Place to Be” and feel it’s overwrought and maybe a bit soppy, and then listen to “Operator” and sit there stunned and think, holy shit this guy’s a genius. It’s more than Croce being a better songwriter than Chapin—Harry had his moments too, though not as many or as tightly packed into a short career as Croce did—there’s just something profoundly human in Croce’s songs, something that captures the myriad contradictions and heartbreaks and the thousand little shocks that flesh is heir to, and compresses and condenses them into this:

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s livin’ in L.A.
With my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
‘Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eye
You know it happens every time
I think about the love that I thought would save me

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

No no no no
Thats not the way it feels
Operator oh let’s forget about this call
There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to
Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
And you can keep the dime

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels


That’s damned good songwriting. Economy of thought, expressed in well-chosen words that reveal as much in what they don’t say as in what they do say, and an instantly hummable melody, with Croce’s simple yet heartfelt vocal driving every word home, putting you in the moment right there with him—you can hear the sad little smile in his voice when he sings “And you can keep the dime,” and it makes the song.

For all that it’s been played and played and played again on the radio, “Operator,” just like the rest of Croce’s catalog, does not get old. That’s a hell of a thing. Not a lot of songwriters have accomplished that in their careers. And for Croce to have done it not once but several times over the course of just seven years says volumes about what we lost.

He wasn’t even thirty years old when he wrote it. That’s what gets me. There are songwriters twice that age who can’t write a song half this good. Not everything Croce did subsequently was as great as this, but I think Croce knew it didn’t have to be--he'd already done this. “Operator” is to this day one of the high water marks in modern American song.

09 November 2012

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good studio at your side, kid.


I have to admit it: When the news broke last week, I didn't really care. In a way I still don't, partly because I'm forty-two years old and my tastes have moved on from the Star Wars universe. I can't even remember the last time I watched any of the movies. I imagine I'll see them again some time in the next year or so, as my son is now four and will soon be old enough to handle them without getting too freaked out. But for the time being I have no interest in going there, and I think any pleasure I derive from the movies will be of the vicarious sort, as I watch Liam experience the thrill of the Death Star trench battle for the first time. This is because I am getting old and boring, and should not be taken as a commentary about the quality of the movies themselves, as they are great mental bubblegum and are mightily entertaining.

Another reason the news about Disney buying Lucasfilm didn't faze me much is simply because, honestly? It was bound to happen sooner or later. Not because Disney is a monolithic absorber and amalgamator of popular culture (which it sometimes is, but no less so than other media giants such as the Turner networks or Viacom), but because I never expected Star Wars to stay in George Lucas' back pocket forever, anyway. Let's face it, gang: Intellectual properties get bought and sold all the time, and there is nothing out there anymore that is not unfuckwithable. DC has in the past bought entire stables of comics characters from other companies, notably Fawcett and Charlton, and has messed with many of them to such a degree as to make them almost unrecognizable. Case in point: Steve Ditko's Blue Beetle, himself a 1960s "modernizing" of an older Charlton character, who was unceremoniously bumped off in meaningless Tasha Yar fashion several years ago. (Comics fans are still stinging about that too, believe me--though I don't recall anyone screaming that they ruined Ditko's creation. It was just another raw deal from DC, and fans and creators alike have had plenty of those.)

Similarly, Marvel just bought the rights to the vaunted Miracleman series (though whether they'll actually do anything with it is anybody's guess)--and the Doyle estate has gone shit of bat in the last couple of years, allowing both the BBC and CBS to bring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the modern day, to varying degrees of qualitative success. And let's not even start on the Thursday Next novels, or the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies nonsense. So really, Lucas booting the Adventures of Luke Skywalker over to the House of Mouse is just another example of the modern notion that a popular story is also a popular commodity, which can be traded and bought and sold and priced just like gasoline or peanuts or hog futures, and if people want it enough they will pay for it.

Too, it's worth noting that we as the movie-going, TV-watching, "expanded universe"-reading public are complicit in this commodification of pop culture. We keep lapping this stuff up, and if we didn't it wouldn't be sold to us. Note that Star Wars is still going strong, whereas Disney's indifferently met Narnia adaptations are dead in the water. That's market forces at work, folks. In fact, it's not outside the realm of possibility to speculate that Disney went after the Lucasfilm properties precisely because its own presumptive epic went nowhere, and they were hungry to get more of that market, especially in the wake of The Avengers. (And I'll get to that in a minute.) Simply put, Disney saw how people are still hungry for new Star Wars content, and not being stupid, decided that four billion was not too steep a price given the potential returns in merchandising, sequels, TV shows, books, sequels to the sequels, and so on and so on and scooby dooby doo. We want more and better Star Wars content--in fact, in the wake of the three prequels most of fandom has been demanding exactly that--and Disney is willing to gamble that they're the ones who can give it to us. And Lucas, by all accounts tired and ready to retire from the front lines of movie-making, has given them the go-ahead. And I for one say more power to them.

There's been a lot of bitching and a lot of jokes, just as there were when Disney bought Marvel, and all of it has just been as off-base as the guff about Marvel was--though some of it has been pretty funny. The image at the top of this post is my favorite of the lot. (It's inaccurate, but still hilarious.) Fans are carping that Disney will ruin the franchise, but honestly? Disney isn't in the habit of ruining things. It wouldn't be a successful multimedia conglomerate if it was. The truth is that since the 1990s, Disney has been in the midst of a renaissance that, barring a few missteps, has been pretty awesome to watch. Pixar of course had a hand in that, but even after Disney bought Pixar out from under John Lasseter, the string of good-to-damn-good-to-great stuff has been ongoing--to the point where Wall-E and Up have become two of the finest animated films ever made. And the spillover has enabled Disney to make wonderful films like Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph--and early word of mouth on the latter is that it's one of Disney's best movies in years.

The Muppets were a bit of a conundrum for Disney, but after flailing around with the property for a few years Disney found a solution in Jason Segel, who injected new blood into Henson's felt-skinned offspring with The Muppets, an occasionally-uneven but heartfelt love letter to Kermit and co. And here is where Disney took the lessons of Pixar to heart, and remembered that the quality of the product is every bit as important as the product itself. There have been markedly fewer of the direct to video "classic" Disney sequels in recent years (which is all for the better as they were bad and Disney should feel bad for making them), and more and better original content as Disney has realized that if they want a hit, all they need is to find the people with the best ideas, turn them loose with minimal interference, and sing "Hakuna Matata" all the way to the bank.

Case in point: Joss Whedon.

To be fair, Marvel has been meticulously building its Avengers property brick by brick for years now, to varying degrees of success: The two Iron Man films went from awesome to muddled, Thor was deliciously overblown, the two Hulk movies were problematic in their treatment of the characters though each had its merits and drawbacks, and though I still haven't seen the Captain America movie I really, really want to (this weekend, probably), and the reviews were pretty outstanding. So Marvel was on a roll. Even so, The Avengers was a pretty ballsy move. And Whedon took all those meticulously set-up pieces and turned in one of the best, most badassed, exciting, and above all fun movies in recent memory . . . possibly since the original Star Wars. Not a hint of Disney-ification to be found. They turned Joss loose and trusted him, and it worked like gangbusters.

Now: Imagine that attitude applied to the Star Wars franchise. A good story, not beholden to Lucas' whims and overbearing, overwhelming control-freak-ism. And imagine what Brad Bird could do with it. Or Alfonso Cuaron. Or Whedon. Or Joe Johnston.

Like I said, I didn't care much about the news, when I first heard it. Now, though? The more I think about it, the more I thing that a Disney-owned Star Wars movie could be the best thing to happen to the franchise in decades.