Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Crisis? What Crisis?

The members of the Justice League looked around their satellite warily. Dozens of other super characters were crowded in to the place, spilling out of the central meeting hall, packed into the various access corridors, milling around in the trophy room, eating canapes and swilling non-alcoholic margaritas.

"How are we fitting this many people in here?" the ever logical Batman wondered aloud.

"And where the hell is the chow coming from?" the ever pragmatic Green Arrow muttered, munching on a Ritz cracker.

"That Monitor guy took care of it," the Atom said, waving vaguely. "The food, I mean. The time and space thing I think is magic, or something."

Superman took his chin off his fist and sat upright abruptly. "Okay, I'm outta here," he declared, starting to get up.

"Don't be such a BABY, Clark," Wonder Woman advised him dryly. "This whole mess is going to turn out MUCH worse for me than for you."

Green Lantern shuddered. "I don't want to hear a word from either of you," he warned.

At the edge of the observation platform, a humanoid heap of rotting moss and muck appeared, alongside a dapper, trenchcoated fellow with upswept blond hair.

"Isn't that Sting?" Hawkman said, peering through the crowd at the new arrivals.

"No, that's Swamp Thing," Green Arrow said dryly. "Sting has a little less fungus on his chest."

Hawkman glared at the Emerald Archer. "I meant the one in the trenchcoat. Isn't HE Sting?"

"Indeed not," came a deep, enigmatic voice from the shadows nearest the Leaguers. The Phantom Stranger stepped forward, adjusting his fedora. "That is John Constantine, and oh, is his life going to suck as soon as he gets his own title."

Hawkman folded his arms stubbornly. "I think he looks like Sting, " he said, to no one in particular.

Supergirl made her way through the crowd, waving hi absently to most of the Leaguers. Upon reaching Superman, she bent down and gave him a very affectionate kiss hello on the mouth.

After a minute or so, Batman cleared his throat. "Hellooooo... Earth to Krypton... even 23,000 miles over Star City, I think that sort of thing is still illegal..."

Superman looked around, eyes somewhat glazed. "What? WHAT? It's... it's a House of El thing. Jeez. You guys have dirty minds." He paused. "Look, don't tell Lois, she'd, like, freak."

Supergirl folded her arms and regarded the rest of the heroes coolly, one miniskirted hip perched possessively on her cousin's broad right shoulder.

"Hi, Uncle Bruce, and by the way," the Girl of Steel asked sweetly, "just which one of you Gene Police was going to actually, you know... arrest us?"

"Damn you guys got cocky after that 'kryptonite turns into iron' thing," Green Arrow muttered.

"It's just WRONG," Batman said flatly, teeth clenched. "Alien chromosomes or NOT."

Overhearing this, the Wonder Twins surreptitiously disentwined their fingers. Jade and Obsidian quietly moved a few inches apart. Jan and Jase, after stealing a glance at Space Ghost, slipped off into the empty power plant chamber. After loitering for a moment to seem inconspicuous, Blip quietly followed them.

"I wouldn't be too judgmental there if I were you," the Atom squeaked. "I mean, you know, Mr. I Adopt Ten Year Old Acrobats And Dress Them Up In Scaly Green Swim Trunks."

"Hey!" Green Arrow, Aquaman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman all chimed in at once.

"NO sidekick cracks, Palmer," Wonder Woman snapped. "Just because kids don't like YOU..."

"Your teen partner certainly seems to like YOU," the Atom retorted in his high, piping voice. "And I've got the videotape to prove it."

"Tiptoeing around in people's air conditioning shafts," the Princess of the Amazons muttered darkly. "Sneaky little CREEP..."

Abruptly, a cheerful voice broke in above the babble. "All right, everybody. My name is the Monitor. If we could just get started..."

Five subjective minutes later...

"Kara is dead," wept a heartbroken, inconsolable Man of Steel. "Oh, my cousin, my COUSIN..."

"You'll get over it," Green Lantern sighed, patting the Last Son of Krypton on one massive shoulder.

"Are you kidding?" demanded the sobbing Man of Tomorrow. "For God's SAKE, Hal, I blow the back of Earth women's HEADS OFF when I..."

"Oh GROSS." GL clamped his hands over his ears. "I can't HEEEAR you Mary had a little lamb little lamb little lamb..."

Ignoring her sex crazed teammates, Wonder Woman regarded herself in the mirror. "Well, I look about fifteen years younger, that can't be BAD," she mused.

Green Arrow regarded a boxing glove arrow he had just drawn out of his quiver with distaste. "How in the name of God do these things even FIT in there?" he muttered. "Nope, nope, I'm just gonna start using barbed hunting heads. Screw 'em if they can't take a joke."

"Didn't I used to have some kind of... I don't know... Canary cry thing?" Black Canary mused to herself, clearing her throat and once more giving a high little chirp, to no discernable effect at all. "This is going to SUCK if I get kidnapped and tortured in a warehouse or something..."

"Come on, what are the odds?" the Atom said cheerfully, sharpening his sword as he looked around. "Right, Hawkman?"

The Thanagarian quickly put his miniaturized spy camera back into his belt. "Right, little buddy! I'm the son of the Golden Age Hawkman, you know! Not any sort of Thanagarian spy sent to ferret out the secrets of Earth's super community! Oh no! Not at all!"

"Right," the Atom said, looking at Hawkman in puzzlement. "Are you... feeling okay there, pal?"

Superman looked up. "Um... say, everybody... I was wondering... who's Kara?"

Green Lantern folded his arms. "TOLD you you'd get over it."

Wonder Woman chewed her much younger looking lip thoughtfully. "Um... you know, doesn't the Golden Age Hawkman HAVE a son? In Infinity Inc? I'm pretty sure?"

"Ixnay on the ommonkay ensay," Green Lantern said to her quietly. " Just, you know, smile and nod."

Batman looked around grimly. "Well, at least I haven't changed," he said. "Although... didn't I used to be able to figure things... I mean... out? Whaddya call that... analysis, and such like? Something that starts with a 'd'. Didactive? Something..."

Red Tornado walked up, beaming amiably. "Say, Batman, there are some looters in the trophy room stealing everything, and I was not certain if it would be appropriate..."

"GOONS!" the former Darknight Detective howled. "COOL!" Whirling, he hurled himself down the hall and into the trophy room in two or three incredibly above Olympian level bounds. Awful sounds of carnage immediately ensued.

"Those 'goons' are, I believe, all escaped Phantom Zone prisoners," Red Tornado said worriedly. "Perhaps we.... er... that is... some of you.... should assist the Gotham Guardian."

"Nah," Aquaman said apathetically from where he had his feet up on the conference table, regarding the harpoon that had somehow replaced his right hand morosely. "No need."

"You see," Green Lantern explained, "this is the new post Crisis, Frank Miller inspired, scary as hell bad ass psycho Batman. Couldn't detect who farted while trapped in an elevator with the Kingpin eating bean dip and four skeletons."

"BUT," Green Arrow added, "leave him off panel for five minutes, maybe throw in a few gruesome sound effects..."

From down the hall: THUD! "BY RAO, NOOOO!" KRUNCH! "Help us help us HELP US -" WHAM! "AUUUUUUUuuuugggghhhh...."

"...and then, bingo," Green Arrow finished, "You walk in the room and find, like, Galactus, beaten unconscious and hanging from the rafters in handcuffs."

"Wow," Red Tornado said, seeming impressed. "Is that true, Flash?"

Everyone looked around. "Ah, Barry?" the Atom asked tentatively.

There was no answer.

"Oh, THIS sucks," Green Lantern groaned.

"What sucks?" a cheerful voice said from off panel. Looking over, the League saw a maniacally grinning guy in a blue on blue costume walking up.

"Nice goggles," Aquaman said. "Who are you? Oh, wait. Let me read your mind." The King of the Seven Seas furrowed his brow. "Blue Beetle? What kind of dorky name is that?"

"Oh, get used to the dorky names," Green Lantern murmured, too quietly for anyone else to hear. "Listen everybody, I'm taking off. My new alien girlfriend should be just about legal by now, and God knows I should enjoy something before my life goes in the toilet." With a wave, GL turned himself intangible with his ring and flew off through the satellite wall.

The Atom turned back to Hawkman. "Well, at least someone has a healthy..." The Tiny Titan stopped, regarding the leather-clad figure before him dubiously. "Katar? You weren't, like, just wearing that, were you?"

Hawkman looked around through his yellowish eye-shields. "Okay, this place is weird," he muttered. "What the hell am I doing here?"

"Lot of that going around," Black Canary remarked dryly. Green Arrow, busy shaving his head, looked up at her in puzzlement. "Hmmmm?"

Batman wandered back out, a contented expression on his face. "You know, those guys in there were Daxamites? Apparently, everyone in the Phantom Zone is a Daxamite now. It's kinda nice because, you know, Kryptonite is hard to find, but LEAD..."

A lithe, athletic young adult male in a strange looking black, blue and yellow costume strode up to Batman. "Quick, Batman, the H.I.V.E is invading Gotham City..."

Batman regarded him owlishly. "Do I know you?"

The young man stared at Batman incredulously. "I'm Nightwing. Formerly your sidekick, Robin. Leader of the New Teen Titans. Remember me?"

Batman scratched his head. "Um... oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Right. I remember now. This time travel stuff sucks."

The Atom sighed. "It's not the time travel, it's the oversight free revisions and reboots that are killin' me." He promptly stabbed himself in the foot as he tried to sheathe his sword and missed.

Superman frowned. "Nightwing... Jimmy was Nightwing. I was Flamebird! We were the Batman and Robin of Kandor!"

Batman regarded Superman doubtfully and slipped an arm around Nightwing's waist. "You'd have blown the back of Olsen's head off, Clark." Nightwing smiled in fond reminiscence.

"Not in Kandor!" Superman cried. "In Kandor I had no superpowers! In Kandor all the women looked like Lois Lane, and worshipped me as a GOD! In Kandor Jimmy could... could... Oh RAO! I was... so... HAPPY... in Kandor...." Burying his head in his arms, the pre MAN OF STEEL, post Crisis Superman wept for everything that a cruelly revised universe had robbed him of.

Wonder Woman leaned over to Green Lantern and whispered behind her hand, "Taking a while for the Byrne reboot to hit him, isn't it? I mean, wasn't he the FIRST to go?"

Hal shrugged. "He's pretty tough, Di. He might hold out for a few more minutes before he goes under."

"HE'll get over it," the young, teenage Green Arrow said in a spritely fashion. "I'VE been rebooted two or three times and I'm just fine!"

The Martian Manhunter regarded Batman and Nightwing doubtfully. "If you adopted Dick when he was 10, Bruce... and he's... 21 now... and you're... 29... that means that when you adopted him, you were..."

"Ixnay on the ogiclay," Wonder Woman whispered. "Just smile and nod."

Still weeping, Superman looked up again, then stood up "Everybody wants a piece of me," he whimpered. "They ALL want a piece of me, Ma..." Turning, he fled down the hall.

"His cape wasn't ALWAYS that torn up, was it?" Aquaman wondered aloud, watching the Metropolis Marvel retreat.

"Once he rides out the rough spots and gets to the Roger Stern run, he'll be fine," Green Arrow reassured everyone.

Wonder Woman frowned. "So the part where he gets a split personality, becomes a sociopathic vigilante by night, and exiles himself from Earth for a year... these aren't rough spots?"

Green Arrow shrugged. "Compared to being temporarily beaten to death by a mindless spiked alien that, on a day when Superman's frontal lobes weren't utterly paralyzed by marketing scheme necessity, he would have just picked up by the brow ridges and booted back into space... nah, I wouldn't call them rough spots."

"Good point," a near seven foot tall Hawkman said. "I myself wonder why I won't suggest, at that point, that we assemble a teleportation screen directly in front of the big purple goon... Whichever me I am at that point, I mean..." He trailed off, looking confused.

At the conference table, Vibe, Gypsy, and Steel were deep in conversation with the Elongated Man.

"Who the hell are you three freaks?" the Atom demanded, drawing his sword again.

"Don't ask," a nervous looking Green Lantern asked, apparently having returned when no one was looking. "They'll be gone in a minute or two."

"We're the NEW JUSTICE LEAGUE!" the Elongated Man shouted.

"Jesus wept," Batman said, appalled.

"It gets worse," Green Lantern said with a long suffering sigh.

"Impossible," Batman snapped grimly.

"Please, Bruce," GL said as he massaged his temples wearily with his hands. "Never say that. NEVER SAY THAT."

Batman got up. "Well, I'll have NO part of it," he announced. "Anything worse than THAT... no way."

"That's what YOU think," Hal said. "Still, you can consider your appearances over the next couple of years out of continuity if you like."

Batman scowled. "What the HELL are you talking about?" Abruptly, he was hit in the face by a pie thrown from off panel. He turned. "Why youse guys! I'll moiderize youse!" He leapt away.

From off panel: "BWA HA HA!"

"Nyuck nyuck nyuck! Hey Batman! Lookit this!"

Things came and went. At some point when Green Lantern wasn't watching, the Atom got a new costume and modified powers, then vanished again. Hawkman disappeared completely and was apparently forgotten by everyone. Over in one corner, Animal Man, Captain Atom, Guy Gardner, a fat Blue Beetle, the Crimson Fox, Fire, Ice, and Metamorpho were eating popcorn and watching the movie INDEPENDENCE DAY, which they all seemed to agree was the most comprehensively intelligent science fiction film that had ever been made.

Batman stumbled up to Hal's chair, weeping. "Hal... Hal! Superman is DEAD! Kal El, the Man of Steel, last survivor of Krypton... is DEAD! Not a hoax, not a dream, not an Imaginary Story!" The Dark Knight broke down and sobbed on GL's shoulder.

Green Lantern patted Batman's back absently. "It's okay, Bruce. He'll get better."

After a while, Batman wandered off again. To Green Lantern's bemusement, the room below seemed to fill with various weird humanoids in Superman-variant costumes. "It's a veritable RAIN of the Supermen," Hal mused to himself.

After a while, they faded away, and Batman came over once more. "Hal, Superman is alive again! He's alive!"

Hal sighed. "Told you."

Batman looked puzzled. "But... he needs a haircut."

Wonder Woman came over and sat down at the table with them. "Hal, are you still up here? You have you own title, you know. Plots and storylines. People are depending on you. You should get back down there... out there... whatever."

Green Lantern shuddered. "Oh, PLEASE, Diana. You know who's writing me right now? Mr. 'Hank Pym Was Only Interesting When He Was Beating His Wife'. Captain 'Let's Turn Wonder Man into a superpowerful psychopath'. Senator 'The Zenith of Good Melodrama Is A Pie In Batman's Face'. Prince 'Let's write a history of comics and give more space to THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS than we give to Steve Engelhart, Steve Gerber, Cary Bates, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, and John Buscema COMBINED'. HIM. That... JONES... freak." Hal shuddered again. "No thank you VERY much, I'll just stay right here and watch the reboots roll out."

Wonder Woman squinted at him doubtfully. "My GOD, Hal, are you AFRAID?"

Green Lantern jumped to his feet and roared "Of COURSE I'm afraid! The first thing Peter David DID to me post-Crisis - besides forcing me to make out with a Rich Howell drawn Arisia -"

There Wonder Woman and Batman shuddered, as well.

"- was make me AFRAID! Ohhhhhh, a person without FEAR is sociopathic, Hal! Ohhhhh, it's the Guardians messing with your HEAD, Hal! Oh, let's give you a normal survival instinct, Hal! CHRIST!" The Emerald Gladiator was tugging his hair and rolling his eyes frantically now. "Well, guess what, Skippy? I've GOT a damned survival instinct now and it's telling me to STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY IN THIS RIDICULOUS UNIVERSE!"

Batman frowned. "You were a lot cooler... before, Hal," he said.

"DUH!" Hal practically shrieked. "Not that YOU should talk, Mr. Couldn't Deduce Who Bane Was With His Rap Sheet, Lexcorp Personnel File, and 14 Page Playboy Interview In Front Of Me!"

Wonder Woman got up. "Well, Hal, all I can say is, I'd trade you Gerard Jones for John Byrne any day." She shivered. "He's going to replace me with my mother. I mean, please."

Batman got up as well. "Seems like... we ALL used to be kind of cooler," he muttered, and moved away.

Green Lantern sat forgotten at the table, chin resting on his hands, mind numb.

Finally, after a long, seemingly timeless interval, he looked around.

"You know your life sucks," he mused, "when you're just sitting around WAITING for..."

Someone tapped on his shoulder. He turned and saw a little blue Guardian standing there, along side an apparent male model, with black hair, a good build, and an utterly vacant look in his eyes. "Dude," the extremely good looking black haired fellow said. "Hey, dude, like this bald guy says you have to give, like, a power ring to me. Like, kewl, huh?"

Hal regarded the two numbly. "It's like that McDonald's commercial with the little Mongoloid kid," he muttered. "Oa institutes a hire the handicapped program."

The Guardian sighed testily. "Well, if you're going to sit up here and mope, Hal Jordan of Earth, then... he'll have to do."

Hal stood up and surrendered the ring in disgust. "Take it," he said. "I'm just about fed up with this post Crisis crap anyway."

Super Christmas with SuperGirlfriend

Who's the luckiest man alive? I'll give you a hint; it isn't you. No, it's me, the only man privileged to live with the greatest girlfriend in the world, as well as the SuperKids.

The pic to the left is an unfortunately blurry image of what awaited me last night when SuperGirlfriend brought me home from work... an early Christmas present, in the form of a Christmas tree set up in the section of the apartment where my comics bookshelves and HeroClix case are. As you can see, the tree is entirely bedecked with superhero themed decorations, from an amazing looking running Flash through Wonder Woman, Clark Kent in a phone booth, Spider Man, the Green Goblin, a few X-Men (including my favorite, Cyclops, and my least favorite, Wolverine, with an 'ehhhhh who cares' Storm rounding out the set), Hellboy, a miniature SuperFriends lunch box, Captain America, and a string of Hulk-head Christmas lights!

What's weird is that just the other day, while we were decorating a small tree in the two older SuperKids' room (which is otherwise given over to a superhero theme, and is in fact exactly the room I wanted when I was a kid, and now I can't have it, wahhhh), I said something like "You know, we should totally decorate this tree in a superhero motif". SuperGirlfriend laughed maniacally, and then promptly had to run off and email Mike Norton about some secret Christmas surprise she'd been working on for me (whenever I asked her about it, she'd shake her fist at me and tell me I'd better "dummy up"), and she just chortled non stop about it all weekend. So, finally I know what's so funny.

It's an amazing present, and if you look hard at that pic, you'll realize that at probably something averaging $5 an ornament, a pretty expensive one, too.

There are no words for how delighted I was when I saw the tree, or how big and dopey a grin I get on my face every time I walk past it.

I can't wait 'til Christmas when I can see what else I got! :)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bane bulletin

As SuperGirlfriend alluded to in the comments threads of I've got your number on the wall, down below, I got hold of Bane's mother briefly at work today. Bane was, at that moment, getting ready to head off to the doctor's and couldn't get to the phone.

According to Bane's mother, they never answer the phone if they don't recognize the name in the caller ID box. This would be fine if they had voicemail or an answering machine, but as they don't, I'm thinking their system lacks vision. Or something.

Bane's a pretty sharp guy; I'm coming to be of the opinion that his intelligence is the result of a mutation.

Anyway, apparently the big lug was okay this afternoon. I'll try and call him again tomorrow and see what happened with the doc today.

I hope he gets his ass back to work soon. Nobody else there appreciates the HeroClix I have on top of my monitor.

"Tenser!" said the Tensor

Can't be held responsible
she was touching her face
I won't be held respondible
she fell in love in the first place
For the love of me
I cannot remember why
we thought that we were wise
and we'd never compromise
for the love of me
we did not believe
we'd ever die for these sins
we were merely freshmen

That damn song has been in my head since Saturday. SuperGirlfriend and I were out driving around and it played on one of the local stations. I hadn't heard it, or given it a moment's thought, since whatever summer it was big back in the 1990s... and now I can't get it out of my skull.

Usually I can exorcise these things by going out on the 'net and finding out who recorded it, what album it was on, and when it came out. However, when I do a Google search on the lyrics I remember (see above) all that comes up are a couple of sites where other people have also written down the same lyrics, apparently without having any more information than I do as to who actually recorded the song or when it came out.


I mean, I like the song, pretentious though it is. I'd just like getting it the hell out of my head more.

Well, shit

(modified late Monday night, after work)

I keep sitting down to do this post, and I've had this constant string of two, three, five minute time wasters keep popping up to drag me away from the keyboard again. It's aggravating because, of course, I'm running under the whip; while my shift at work doesn't start until 11:30, the vagueries of the local mass transit system require me to catch my bus in less than half an hour. So those two, three, five minute time stealers are just PISSING ME OFF.

The last one -- I'd just gone into Blogger to log on when I heard this huge racketing crash come from somewhere behind the apartment.
So I got up, cursing, and went out to the kitchen. Didn't see anything at first, so I laboriously unlocked the back door (it has two locks; opening them from inside is a pain, from outside is nearly impossible, and it's all futile, since the back door is half glass and anyone who wants inside badly enough can do it fairly easily, so we're just frustrating ourselves, but I digress) and stepped out onto our tiny phone booth sized back porch... and still didn't see anything... until I noticed that a large piece of plywood we've had propped up against the left wall was now lying prostrate on the porch floor itself. Well, there's the crash, I thought to myself... and then noticed that the far left panel of SuperGirlfriend's big grill (which hasn't worked for a while now) was smashed into tiny little plastic fragments, apparently by the downward passage of the top edge of the plywood.

The gas tank for the grill is right under that panel. It didn't look damaged. I did what I could to check and see if it might be leaking, but I couldn't hear or smell anything. I guess it's okay.

8:36 am and I have about fifteen minutes...

Mostly, what I wanted to do with this entry was draw attention to the restored link scroll on the right side of this page. When I first jumped from my previous blog A Brown Eyed Handsome Man to this one's first incarnation, I did it specifically to shed a couple of trolls who were aggravating the crap out of me over there. And at first I put up the links scroll, but within a few days one or two people who had been lurking at the old blog without posting showed up and proclaimed how easy it had been to find the new page, simply by using a search engine to look for links I'd had posted to the old one. So, I ditched that link scroll.

I'm on better terms with one of my former trolls now, and the other one recently sent me a note saying he was resigning from the troll business, so I figure, what the hell. It's not like anyone pays a lot of attention to this thing anyway, but I may as well maximize my chances.

If you're a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fan, I've got some stuff for you. Slayer's Handbook Part I and Part II are specifically designed for fans who, like me, may have wondered exactly how it is that Spike and Angel can both declare they don't breathe while lighting up cigarettes, or why vampires who can see perfectly in total darkness nonetheless light their underground lairs with torches.

On the other hand, BUFFY fans who believe the seventh and last season was brilliant, flawless and in all ways wonderful should check out my review of that particular season to receive the bitch slapping they so richly deserve.

If you're just looking for a quick laugh, I recommend scrolling all the way down on the right to MISERABLE CARTOONS OF THE EARTH, and checking out the links there. My stuff is always badly drawn, but usually pretty hysterical, especially if you're a superhero comics fan like me.

Anyone interested in seeing any of the stuff I've worked up over the years to try and break into comics writing (back in those heady days before an old college buddy turned pro comics writer libeled me all over the Internet, pretty much torpedoing even the dim, tenebrous, all but nonexistent chances I might have had at one point) should scroll down to Miserable Comics Scripts and Proposals of the Earth, where you can feast your brain on such gems as my Fantastic Four 2099 proposal, which was rejected unread by an editorial staff that had begged its readership for ideas for more 2099 books... apparently, they just didn't want any they might have to pay someone for.

Silver Age superhero fans may well enjoy 16 pages of script for Team Venture, a concept that Mike Norton and I collaborated on long ago and far away.

For grim n' gritty Modern Age fans, here's 7 pages of Amazonia, a concept I created specifically for Nancy Champion and I to work on long ago. There's also a few pages of an alternate draft, , a few more pages of yet another alternate draft, and finally, the Amazonia timeline. Unfortunately, I don't have any of Nancy's lovely pencil sketches or page layouts to share, which would be much more fun to look at than a lot of typing.

Finally, the grimmest, grittiest thing I've ever worked on, Seraphim 66, including not only links to the central timeline and character descriptions, but also ten pages of really badly drawn stick figure page layouts!

And if that hasn't tired you out yet, well, there's MORE. Robert A. Heinlein fans can check out Robert A. Heinlein, Mark Evanier, and Me, or the more straightforwardHeinlein: The Man, The Myth, The Whackjob, or even go straight to Bill of Goods to watch me get the crap smacked out of me by a very articulate Heinlein fan who took great issue with the thesis of the previously mentioned article.

And on the subject of watching people beat the baby jesus out of me in semi-public, you'll rarely find a more unintentionally hilarious comment thread than the one where a bunch of Warren Ellis fans take me to task (behind my back, of course) for dissing their favorite comics stories, and I respond in kind. It's all in JOHN JONES: THREAT OR MENACE, and honestly, it's one of the funniest things I've ever written.

And, on the subject of funny stuff, if you like your humor decidely politically incorrect, you could do worse than read Ask A Bastard, where I make up idiotic questions and then answer them even more so. And, on the other hand, if you're high as a kite on goofballs, or just want to dress that way, you really should check out The Adventures of Father O'Brannigan, an indescribable textual round robin between Yr. Humble Narrator and the Late Great Jeff Webb, guest starring a great many fictional characters we had no right to abuse so strenuously, as well as a certain Eisner Award winning comics writer, who at the time we slapped out this thing was sitting at a computer four feet away from us working on a precis of his own and ignoring our demented chortling, much to his later chagrin.

I'm pleased with everything I wrote under my John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon, IL pseud a few years back. But only a few pieces there make me actually proud. Probably the best of those is Across The Fourth Dimension: The Evolution of the Superhero and the Superheroic Continuum.

And my time for this morning is up; gotta motor.

It's occurring to me that the title for this blog entry may be unfortunately apt...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I've got your number on the wall

Let's see. Briefly, while I wait to see if I'm going to be lucky enough to get the Bucs/Chicago game on my home set today, saving me a trip in the chilly autumn drizzle up to the local sports bar...

SuperGirlfriend's ex father in law died last night. It's a single down note in what has otherwise been an excellent weekend for us. Her former in-laws have little time for her these days, but apparently her ex father in law was a very sweet man who was widely beloved. His death has been coming for a long time, but still, it's hit SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids hard. So she made some food for the SuperKids so her ex won't have to cook for them today, and took over a large home made fruit & cheese tray, along with some suitable clothes for the SuperKids to wear to the funeral. Leaving me here to blog, without really having anything meaningful at all to say. But what else is new?

The one friend I've made to date in Louisville outside SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids is my buddy Bane, from work. He's seven feet tall and has all the normal problems that accompany giantism, including an overstressed heart and an ulcerated spine. Friday before last he slipped on the ice on a friend's porch and went down hard, and whenever he takes a fall he has to take it very slowly for several days to make sure he hasn't done himself a terminal injury. Last time I spoke with him was a call to his house from work on Wednesday. He said he still was flat on his back and if he didn't get better by Friday, his parents were taking him to the hospital for X-rays, to see if anything more critical was needed. I advised him I'd call him again that night when I got home from work. I've called him every day since and no one is picking up the phone... so that can't be good, since, as stated, last I heard he was flat on his back and his parents weren't leaving his side.

I'm very much hoping not to get another bit of bad news this weekend. I don't know Bane well, but he's a very kind, pleasant, smart, funny, warm hearted guy, who also happens to be a fellow comics fan and HeroClix player, and he deeply admires my HeroClix House Rules. I'd hate to lose him. He's only in his early 20s. People as big as he is tend not to last long on this earth, I know. Still, there are few enough people around whose company I enjoy, and most of them refuse to move to River City.

Let's see... since I'm no longer trying to dodge anyone, I've reinstated the old links scroll from my previous blogs. So if you're hankering to check out any of my many many articles on geek nonsense, or my ineptly drawn but still hilarious cartoons, or my unpublished short stories or novels, or even my fan fic (which Julian Perez has described as being "gold plated bat guano"; hey, reviews don't get much betta dan dat), then eyes slideways, spud... it's all on the link bar.

Eventually I'll probably be putting up links to all the blogs I like the best, whether they link to me or not (stuck up bastards).

Oh, at this point, I suspect the Angelfire version of this blog is pretty much dead. I just like this one better. I keep meaning to get over to that one and post a notice of that there. Maybe later today...

ADDENDUM: Sitting here watching the Bucs play from my couch is an odd feeling... one I haven't had since I cleared out of Florida. I can't get used to it, of course... next week we'll doubtless be back up at the sports bar... but it's a nice way to end what has mostly been a lovely four day weekend, full of good food, some early Christmas decorating...


Christly goddam sonofaBITCH.


Well, I was also going to mention that in addition to whipping up an awesome Thanksgiving dinner, and several wonderful breakfasts since then, this morning Tammy made me 'monkey bread'... a dish I'd never previously heard of, in which she cuts up pre made biscuit dough into hunks, dips the hunks in butter, brown sugar, and cinammon, then tosses them all into a Bundt pan and bakes them into a kind of mosaic-cake that you pull pieces off with your fingers and eat. Delicious stuff. And now the whole house smells like cinammon rolls, which is lovely, too.

Now, if the Bucs could just win this damn game, and Bane would just call me and tell me he's okay, life would be pretty sweet.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Yesterday, briefly, as I was getting out of the car with SuperGirlfriend over at a nearby grocery store, she pointed to a few sparkling flakes in the air and said "Look... snow!"

It was the first time I'd seen snow since 1997, and she knew what it meant to me.

As it turned out, 1997's winter was the last one I was to spend in Syracuse, NY. I'd gone to Syracuse in 1979 to attend the University there, and nearly instantly fallen in love with it. Syracuse is a city that alternates between the strange and the shabby; one of the four mid New York State cities that lie along the Rte 81 corridor, closely paralleling the one time track of the Erie Canal. Where Buffalo is much like Gotham City writ small in its hulking grey concrete facade, and Rochester and Albany are both oddly grimy and small town seeming for all their mid sized city bulk, Syracuse is a weird conglomeration of architectural styles and an even stranger stew of politics, with the far right wing conservative dairy farmers and blue collar workers of central New York mixing headily with the far left wing influence of the dozen or more colleges and campuses that make up so much of the cityscape.

Syracuse had a decent if not thriving economy for the first several decades after WWII; both GM and Chrysler built large auto plants there, and that brought in a pretty solid array of satellite businesses. In the late 80s, though, GM's first wave of plant closings hit Syracuse hard, and Chrysler substantially downsized its operations there as well. Syracuse's economy, for the most part, went belly up and to this day hasn't recovered. The local labor market collapsed, and by the mid 80s, anyone still employed in Central New York was doing their own work, as well as the jobs of two other people no longer with the company... and counting themselves as lucky that they'd survived the cutbacks.

I dropped out of college in 1984, filled with idiocy and ignorance as to exactly what conditions were like in the real world at that point. I'd just been spinning my wheels for the previous two years at SU, and finally reached my nadir of despair one day when I showed up for a Public Affairs class taught by a professor I knew passed out easy A's, and after looking the syllabus over doubtfully, realized I'd taken (and easily passed) the same class in my sophomore year. That nightmarish moment, as I fully realized I really was just going in circles which were gradually becoming narrower, bleaker, and more desolate as all my college friends and acquainances graduated and moved on, while I just stayed and stayed, hit me like a hammer.

So I dropped out and went looking for a job.

With no job search skills, what I ended up with was a position bagging groceries at a local supermarket named Peter's. Stephen King has written eloquently in his wonderful novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" about how there are only very young bag boys or very old bag boys with nothing in between; for much of 1984, I proved him wrong. I was the only bag boy at Peter's, or, I suspect, any grocery store anywhere, in my early 20s, and it was only the fact that I was still living largely within the confines of a college's student's economy that let me get along on the miserable pittance I was making doing it.

Eventually despair, and a very cunning National Guard recruiter, saw me enlisting and heading off to Basic Training in March of 1985. When I got back from that, I got hired at my favorite campus eatery, Hungry Charlie's, for a brief period, before I pissed off one the one manager there that no one else could stand either and got fired. I then landed a gig selling newspaper subscriptions over the phone... something I started out very good at, impressing my new boss inordinately with natural talent for talking people into trying the paper for six weeks free. Over the course of a few months, though, my effectiveness at the job abraded in direct inverse proportion to my growing empathy for the people whose home phones I was abusing and whose privacy I was intruding on every time I placed one of those calls. Eventually I got fired, which was okay because I hadn't been making much money doing it for a while anyway, and I started the temp agency rounds.

I did a lot of lousy stuff at that point... washing dishes in campus dining halls, packing boxes on an assembly line at a local pharmaceuticals warehouse, tossing newspaper bundles onto pallets in the press room of the Syracuse Herald Journal... until it finally dawned on me that I knew how to type, and was actually pretty fast at it. That upgraded the level of temp work I was able to get, and my life became nearly livable... for a brief time, until GM shut down its local plant, and the Syracuse economy pretty much imploded.

After that, it was back to blue collar work for a while. A job agency found me a permanent position at a place called Sunburst Optics, where I started out running a bank of machines that polished plastic lenses, and eventually, over the next three years, worked my way up to running the glass generator, arguably the most difficult and demanding of all jobs in the optics lab. Over the course of that three years I met my second girlfriend, Kristy, and although I hated the blue collar environment I was working in, and loathed most of my co-workers, still, life wasn't all that bad.

In 1989 Sunbust Optics finally laid me off. One of the managers there had taken two good hard swings at getting rid of me prior to that -- I wasn't getting along well with his brother in law, whom everyone else in the lab cordially loathed as well, but I've never been as good at hiding politically incorrect feelings as others are -- and eventually, despite all my efforts to do what turned out to be a pretty excellent job at whatever position he stuck me in hoping for conspicuous failure, he just said 'fuck it' and pink slipped me. Having given up on finding real grounds to term me, he finally just told me he was reorganizing and he just didn't have a place for me any more.

From there I collected Unemployment until the same agency that found me the Sunburst gig managed to place me at Sandy's Secretarial Service, out in East Syracuse. It was a long bus ride to work and back, but it paid better than any job I'd had to date. Unfortunately, times were still hard, and the owner of the company was a fairly loathsome bitch who didn't seem particularly comfortable employing anyone with a penis, so about a year later she laid me off, too. She was wilier in the ways of Unemployment than I was, also, and she managed to fairly effortlessly disqualify me of my benefits a few weeks after she kicked me to the curb. So times were pretty desperate for me and Kristy.

I went back to temping, and for the most part, my ability to type, along with Kristy's part time paycheck from Burlington Coat Factory, kept food on the table and a roof over our heads for the next couple of years. Around 1995, though, things went south for very nearly the final time for me in Syracuse... work dried up even further, and Kristy dumped me for a good friend of mine who had a steady job that made far more money than I'd ever even dreamed about making.

My last two years in Syracuse were an exercise in steadily mounting depression and futility. Had I not had an understanding landlord, I'd have most likely been out on the street very soon after Kristy broke up with me. Intermittent toting and hauling gigs from the lowest day labor temp agencies interspersed with occasional Unemployment checks gave way, over the last spring and early summer I spent in Syracuse, to me simply living off infrequent sales of Magic cards at local tournaments and whatever left overs remained in the fridge from the food my players ordered at our weekly roleplaying sessions. If I hadn't had a computer with an Internet connection and a few good friends (Nate, Kenny, Scott, and, at a distance, Mike Norton) I'd most likely have given up in despair.

Finally, in early July, my landlord kicked me off the cliff I'd been clinging to so precariously for years at that point. He'd made the disastrous mistake of letting the son of a previous tenant move into the building as a personal favor to her, since the kid needed to be able to post a permanent address or he couldn't get parole. I'd thought it was a big red flag that this kid apparently couldn't move back in with his mom, who had so successfully foisted him off on my building instead, but my landlord didn't want to hear that.

This kid had turned out to be as bad as I expected him to be and far worse than our mutual landlord had thought was possible; not only did he instantly resume the same dope slinging lifestyle that had gotten him thrown in the pokey in the first place, but, much more damning in my elderly Italian landlord's eyes, his primary customers/buddies were 20 and 30ish black ghetto hoods... and teenage white girls.

My landlord Mike shrugged off my complaints for several weeks, but when he finally rolled up one mid-week evening and saw the nightly curbside party in full swing in front of his building, with dozens of bling-laden black guys pimpin it up with an even larger number of very scantily clad white high school girls, and his new tenant in the thick of it, he went ballistic. Next day, he papered the doors in the building with eviction notices. I guess he figured, as long as he was down at the Sheriff's office filling out the forms, he might as well get rid of me, too, since I hadn't given him anything like a full rent payment in over a year at that point.

Years before that, as part of my family's never ending campaign to get me to relocate to Florida, my brother Pat had solemnly promised that if I ever decided to migrate southward, he would come up and get me and all my stuff and drive me down himself. So I made a phone call, and a week and a half later, he and my brother Sean showed up in a rented mini van. We crammed it full of books, videotapes, and electronics, left my comic book collection that wouldn't fit to be stored by my buddy Kenny, abandoned several years worth of furniture rescued from various street corners, along with a lovely bookshelf Kristy had given me for our first Christmas together, and the big queen sized wood framed bed she and I had bought together, and headed south.

I'm skipping over a lot of stuff, of course. Kristy's marriage to Gary had come in the months preceding my final exile, and I'm not going into how badly I had to twist their arm to get them to take in Cassie, the adult cat we'd adopted as a kitten based on Kristy's solemn promise that if I ever had to leave Syracuse, she'd take care of her. (I still miss Cassie; raised from a kitten in that second floor apartment, she must have been terrified at being uprooted and taken elsewhere. Kristy finally wound up farming her out to some home for cats out in the country, and my poor kitten is almost certainly dead by now, probably never understanding what had happened to her home or why I let it go down that way. Poor baby.)

I'm also going into no detail on how acrimonious things became between my landlord and myself over that last ten days in Syracuse. Having put the eviction notice on my door, he wanted me out that goddam minute and no later, and wasn't in the mood to wait another week and a half until my ride showed up. We went to court about it, where I learned that under New York State law it is illegal to pile up back rent and hold it over someone's head for longer than two months, among other interesting things. The judge in our case wound up ruling in my favor once he found out that all I wanted was ten days in the place until my brothers showed up to collect me; I doubt my landlord has forgiven me for that to this day.

My involuntary exile to Florida was hard on me. Being near my family was a mixed blessing, and the first four months I spent in Florida, living in my mom's spare bedroom, were a pretty fair facsimile of hell, since my mom had only recently remarried and my new stepfather deeply resented having another male under his roof who had a better relationship with his wife than he did. Once I found a job and moved into Tampa, things got better. Tampa is a pretty city and in many ways a good place to live, and I think it could be an excellent city indeed if it were just not irredeemably mired in the hellish swamp that is Florida, but unfortunately it is. The state of Florida itself is a hateful place for nearly any thinking being, especially one of Yankee stock. Southern accents sound charming on most women (but deeply retarded on most men) and living in a place where the default music in every restaurant is country, and there's a TV or radio tuned to a NASCAR race in nearly every public gathering place, is tough on anyone who has a functional cerebrum.

And I missed snow. Not all the time, but... okay, yeah, all the time, just especially around Christmas. I'm not deluded, and even back then I fully remembered what a pain in the ass the white shit can be, but still... there's something fundamentally unnatural about a place where it never snows, where the shifting of the seasons is mostly marked by a browning of pine needles and a curling at the tips of palm leaves. Celebrating Halloween in a place where most Halloween costumes are too bulky to wear in the 80 degree heat is disorienting and sad; Thanksgiving at 80 degrees is exasperating, and trying to get into the Christmas spirit when there are palm trees everywhere is just too goddam hard for me. It does get cold in Florida, and it often gets cold around Christmas, but a solid hard cold, even when it's down to 20 degrees, even at Christmas, just seems like an uncomfortable hardship if you can't get any damn snow to go with it.

So I missed snow, a lot, nearly always. And SuperGirlfriend understands that, just as she understood that back when we first started talking about me moving to Louisville, a large part of my reluctance was my inability to believe that it could actually snow in any place as Southern seeming as Kentucky.

But yesterday I saw snow in the air for the first time in eight years, and SuperGirlfriend assures me that I'll see more before I see spring again, and, well, I can't wait.

We were planning to break out the Christmas decorations tomorrow. Prior to this year I've always had an easy, casual contempt for those who decorate for Christmas before it's even December, but I've lately realized that Christmas is the best time of the year, and we get too little of it anyway. I still curl my upper lip at those who decorate for it before Thanksgiving is over, but I'm now on board with moving into Christmas as soon as possible after the turkey has been carved. And since we get the SuperKids back for a few hours tonight, we're going to let them help us decorate.

So Christmas starts early this year in the Highlander household, and I can't wait.

Let it snow.

Looking around

Having done the very hard work of sleeping in this morning, taking a shower, and getting dressed, I've rolled up my sleeves to tackle some hard, sweaty blogging while SuperGirlfriend loafs idly out in the kitchen preparing a 12 pound bird and about eight other courses of Thanksgiving goodies. Christ, I spoil that woman.

A scattering of stuff, just from the microscopic section of the blogosphere I normally patrol:

Tom Tomorrow tells us Katrina isn't over by a long shot, despite the fact that the rest of the world seems to have shrugged its shoulders and moved on. Read it all. Remind yourself. Do what you can.

Billmon is one of the best liberal poli-bloggers we have, so it's very disappointing that he's been blogging lightly for the last month. Maybe he's depressed. God knows it's easy to get that way when you try and keep your finger on the American political pulse these days.

Alicublog is always worth checking out.

Bitch Ph.D. has a thread going discussing the best and worst movies of all time, and her lead off entry awards the title of Worst to Howard the Duck. I think she's nuts; the Duck movie is way better than most people give it credit for, or maybe I just think so because it was one of the Late Great Jeff Webb's favorite movies and it always reminds me of him. Whatever the case, you can join the debate over at her blog, if you like. I'm just trying not to get depressed by how many goddam comments she gets.

From Bitch Ph.d I also found this contest. You have to read a brief introduction, after which you can suggest names for an upcoming book studying the bureacracy underlying the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. I threw a few at him, but I doubt any of mine will win. He's offering a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card to the winner, although I'd be happy with a notation in his acknowledgements. Attention is everything, after all.

Bottle of Blog is, according to The Poor Man, the best blog nobody is reading. I think that's patently false, THIS blog is the best blog nobody is reading. But since nobody is reading it, I can hardly expect anyone to call it that.

Kung Fu Monkey is a blog I found recently and generally enjoy, although it's pretty clear that the blogger there, and his regular coterie of sycophants, don't enjoy my comments much, since I seem to be the equivalent of a large can of RAID in any thread I post to. I don't post there any more but I continue to check the place out, as not only can John Rogers write well, but he's an ongoing example to me of how I don't want to start behaving, if I should ever be lucky enough to manage to break into professional writing. Stuck up, self absorbed, whiney, defensive, unwilling to tolerate anything but the most abject toadying from all around me, gloating over my own successes while jeering at everyone who still has their nose pressed against the glass from the out side... I can see those seeds inside me, too, waiting to germinate the minute someone actually buys something I've written. I'd love to be a professional writer, I just hope I don't instantly turn into this big a load should it ever happen. Still, he's a funny and entertaining read.

Mike Norton's blog Miraclo Miles is always a fun and often enlightening read. He can't update it often enough for me, but that's just because I check for new stuff about eighty times a day.

Unqualified Offerings is always a good read, too, although I hate his color scheme. I found a link to a registry site for gamers there last night (you'll have to scroll down if you're looking for it) and will probably use it when SuperGirlfriend and I get seroius about recruiting some other grown ups to play in my RPG. Right now, with the holidays, that's definitely on the back burner, but we'll be looking at that more urgently when 2006 rolls around.

Tom Peyer is one of comic's best writers, and his blog Super Frankenstein is one of the gems of the Internet.

I try not to get depressed as I slip-slide around these various blogs. Wishing for more attention is always at least somewhat childish, if supremely human. Still, it would be nice to wake up one morning and find, like, 15 comments in a thread here from 15 different people. 72, on the other hand, would be a little much... that's TOO much attention. Can't keep up with that.

The secret of contentment is to be fine with what you have, and the secret of happiness is to somehow get SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids to love you. So nobody's got it better than me... and I'm going to go help SuperGirlfriend in the kitchen and stop bitching.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Judge me by my size, do you?

How cool would it be if I could use the Force in day to day life? Well, it would be this cool:

ME: Thank you for calling Monkey Boy’s Call Center From Hell. How can I help you?
CALLER: Well, I sent you a claim two weeks ago and today I got a denial letter and…
ME: No, you didn’t.
CALLER: I… didn’t?
ME: No, you didn’t get anything in the mail today about this account. You are not in any way concerned about this account. You can be about your business.
CALLER: I am not in any way concerned about this account. I can be about my business.
ME: Thank you for calling, have a great day.

Of course, then my phone would immediately ring, and it would be the hateful bitch over in Quality who listens to every call I take because she just loves to catch me doing something bad. That would go like this:

ME: Hello?
HATEFUL QUALITY BITCH: What the hell are you doing? I don’t even know where to begin with that call. That was so terrible! You can’t just…
ME: It was the most wonderful call you have ever monitored.
HATEFUL QUALITY BITCH: It was the most wonderful call I have ever monitored.
ME: It was so wonderful you now realize you will never need to monitor any of my calls again.
HATEFUL QUALITY BITCH: You are correct, I will never need to monitor any of your calls again.
ME: Good. Now go get me a Pepsi.

Then there would be those aggravating feedback meetings with my supervisors.

RHONDA: Well, your adherence isn’t all that great, and your hold time is poor. Plus, you’ve been giving out incorrect information a lot. Honestly, I don’t see how we can hire you permanently.
ME: Your lack of faith… disturbs me. ::making a throttling gesture with one hand::
RHONDA: ::eyes popping out:: ACKK glllggggg URRRGGGG glllkkkkkkk

It would come in handy other times, too. Like when you’re at Wal-mart:

CASHIER: I’m sorry sir, we can’t give you a cash refund for this Season 1 DEADWOOD DVD set.
ME: Why not?
CASHIER: Well, because this is an empty paper bag that someone has scribbled DEADWOOD SEASON 1 on in crayon.
ME: Well, what do you want from me?
CASHIER: Well, sir, we need the actual product you are seeking a refund for.
ME: No, you don't. In fact, this is in such perfect condition you should give me a bonus.
CASHIER: Yes sir these are in such perfect condition I will give you a bonus. Thank you for shopping at Wal-mart.
ME: Oh no, thank YOU.

It would be useful on occasion at home, too.

SUPERGIRLFRIEND: Were you surfing porn sites again after I left this morning? There was a lot of porn URLs in the buffer.
ME: There are no porn URLs in the buffer.
SUPERGIRLFRIEND: What are you talking about, look at this, www.blondeonblonde.com, www.hothousewivesdoingeachother.com, www.soccermomsgonewild.com....
SUPER DRAMA TEEN: Huuh huuh huuh. He’s trying to use an old Jedi mind trick on you, mom.
ME: Quiet! No! I wouldn’t! Never! Search your feelings, Luke! You know it’s true!
SUPERGIRLFRIEND: I know it’s true I’m going to totally kick your ass if you leave porn URLs in the buffer while the kids are here again, mister.

So, okay, when you’re living with four females who are definitely not weak minded, the old Jedi mind trick isn’t going to do you much good. But still, the rest of the time it would be really cool.

Birthday wrap

Well, it's over, and it's been the best birthday of all. Every one who came and wished me a Happy Birthday was a significant part of that, as were all of you who sent me separate email. And then, of course, there's SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids, without whom my life would be an empty, barren thing... the kind of thing it was just over a year ago, actually.

This particular birthday is the best I've ever had, thanks to Tammy, and the kids, and every one of you who took the time to send me your good wishes. So thanks for that.

In addition to all the various gifts already enumerated, there are a few others --

* SuperGirlfriend asked me a month ago what my favorite cake was. I took the question perhaps more seriously than it warranted, and after searching my memories, I said that the fudge macaroon Bundt cakes my mom had used to make when I was a kid, back in the early 70s when every housewife in America had a Bundt pan hanging from a nail or a peg somewhere in her kitchen, were my all time favorite. So, of course, SuperGirlfriend went out and somewhere found a chocolate macaroon recipe and a Bundt cake pan and made me one for my birthday. And it's delicious, too.

* Each of the SuperKids gave me hand made birthday cards this year. Those cards, barring disaster, will be somewhere in my personal effects the day I die.

* Tony Collett and Mike Norton were both kind enough to mention my birthday on their blogs, gestures I deeply appreciate.

* Super Adorable Toddler called me up last night and sang "Happy Birthday" to me, which was one of the better moments in my life to date... and I've had some fine ones, this last year.

There have been lovely, near perfect moments in my life prior to this last year. A couple of childhood Christmases, and one with my college clique in the dorm room shared by me and the Late Great Jeff Webb, back in December 1980, and a couple more with Kristy, before things went sour... a ride at Crystal Beach with a couple of good friends back in 1979... a trip to Toronto with my mom and my baby brother Paul so long ago I can't remember just when it was... summer visits to my much missed great Aunts Hazel and Helen... tubing on the Cazenovia Creek with Mike Mahiques and Gary Stroh... a half hour bubble snatched out of hell with a guy named Bill Gilgallon in Basic Training, when we snuck away from the training company and raided an unsecured candy machine for illicit spoils... a long ago Halloween hay ride... my first con ever, which I attended with Rich Gruender and Dick Pero, and where I met a girl named Kim Kofmel for the first and only time... Valentine's Day with my first girlfriend Laurie.

But none of it shines as lustrously as the days I've spent with SuperGirlfriend and her kids, and none of it can measure up to this birthday.

Yeah, yeah, I'll shut up now.

For a while.

Monday, November 21, 2005

And we'd like you to dance

ADDENDUM: My shameless blogwhoring seems to have paid off, as several generous folks have come over here and wished me a Happy Birthday in response to my 'pity me it's my birthday' pleading on a lot of other blogs. I am deeply grateful to and appreciative of all of you, especially whoever it was who posted a comment this morning wishing me a happy birthday that, somehow or other, although I hit 'publish', ended up shooting off to Internet heaven... or, at least, it never showed up in the threads.

To all of you, thanks. To whoever it was whose comment I lost, I did not censor or reject it, it just... vanished. Sorry. Thanks anyway.

Back into the original entry...

Today it's my birthday.

While I've already listed below all the cool stuff SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids have given me this weekend for my birthday, this morning SuperGirlfriend added two final gifts to the pile o' loot. First, she gave me a truly wonderful present: a copy of Zylpha Keatley Snyder's wonderful, amazing, and unfortunately long out of print children's fantasy Black And Blue Magic, which I loved as a kid and have wanted a copy of for thirty years, at least. The copy she found for me is the same edition as the one I'd enjoyed at my local library when I was around 11, and I'm just overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness, as always.

The second gift she took me over to www.bewilderingstories.com to see. Bewildering Stories has published a lot of my stuff over the past couple of years, so SuperGirlfriend took it on herself to get them to publish a story I wrote just for her. It was her birthday present this year from me, and to see it published on the Internet for all to see really made me feel wonderful and special. (Of course, she edited out the sex scene, but, you know, that was just for her to read, anyway.)

I should also mention that she fixed me a wonderful birthday breakfast of scrambled eggs, link sausages, biscuits, and orange slices. And even before we got out of bed this morning, she (sex scene edited out).

I'm the luckiest man in the world. I am, I am, I am. Although this goddam left shift key that keeps sticking is driving me fucking bugshit, it is, it is, it is.

And, hey, God gave me a birthday present this weekend too -- the Bucs beat Atlanta in a division game, and the Panthers got tromped by da Bears! My Bucs are now tied for first place in the NFC South! If Chris Simms can just keep throwing the deep ball, and Cadillac can just keep running for 100+ yards per game, we may have a shot this year. Thanks, God!

I've also shared the birthday love by dropping around a few blogs I frequent and posting shameless attention getting birthday announcements, inviting people to drop by here and wish me a Happy Birthday. Bear in mind, comments are moderated, so whatever you post won't show up until I have a chance to check my email and approve it. (With me out there blogwhoring all morning, it seems especially important to keep this feature up now, as otherwise there's just no telling what might end up in these threads.)

On that subject, let me say this -- yeah, going onto someone else's blog and posting a shameless commercial for your own blog, along with a birthday plea for attention, is pretty pitiful, and probably quite obnoxious. However, as I have noted at length on precursor blogs, it's all about attention.

Beyond that, all I'm trying to do is get people to actually look at this page. Whether they like it or not, whether they post comments, whether they come back... that is entirely dependent on my content, which is to say, on my talent and my skill. I'm not begging people to love me, I'm just asking that they check out something I am reasonably confident at least some of them will enjoy and appreciate, given the chance. I don't think that's really all that bad... but of course, your mileage may vary.

Oh, yeah, one more thing before I sign off...

Thanks, Tammy. I adore you.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

All jets ablaze!

My first ARMOR WARS experience came even before I'd gotten the plastic wrapping off my 12 booster 'brick'. Looking at the back of the boxes while sitting in the car with SuperGirlfriend, I ruefully read aloud what I thought I saw in big bold comic book letters at the top of the back of each box:

"SHUT UP, CITIZEN! The ARMOR WARS have begun!"

SuperGirlfriend did a double take, then sensibly pointed out to me that it actually said "SUIT UP", not "SHUT UP".

And here I'd been thinking Dick Cheney had had a hand in the copy writing process...

Anyway, here's what I got:

Firebrand, r - a good looking, if ultimately useless, fig at every level; naturally, I only got one, at the most useless of them all

Paladin, rr v - aggravatingly, missing out on the Experienced level, with the coveted Spider Man Ally TA

Lorelei, rr v - a nice looking fig, and another addition to the Asgardian contingent of HeroClix, and someone else to hang around with Loki and the Enchantress. Interestingly, her Vet level has both Outwit and Perplex, qualifying her to be a Brilliant Tactician, which just seems wrong... however, since her Perplex doesn't come up until her 6th and 7th slots, it's probably a waste of points to put the card on her. Naturally, her most useful overall REV is the Experienced one, where she picks up several slots of Super Strength. I didn't get any of that one.

Diamond Lil ee - another piece of fodder for my Alpha Flight team, and one I honestly couldn't care less about at any level; given the theme of this expansion, I'd have much rather seen a Box fig or even a Windshear to this one

Echo rev - one of three figs I got a full REV of, and probably the fig in the set I care the least about... well, okay, she's tied with Diamond Lil and the Sentry for that distinction

Killer Shrike r - Cheesy looking Jim Shooter creation who could see some play along with the Experienced Moon Knight for those looking for the cheapest possible Super Strength figs. Under my House Rules, he'd be a useful taxi if I hadn't enacted No Action After Taxi or Telekinesis

Thunderbird rrr - nice looking fig to add to my X-Men mob. Pretty damn useless at every level; even his Vet -- who isn't him, it's his younger brother -- doesn't get up past a 9 attack. Still, the rookie does get a few interesting clicks down at the end of this dial, when his attack is too low for them to be at all effective... had I gotten stuck with the entirely generic Experienced version with the Brotherhood TA, I'd have been very exasperated, so this is okay.

Banshee - skippin' over the ocean like a stone, i.e., not a single Lucky Charms eatin, pipe smokin', brother to Black Tom was to be found in my brick

Spymaster r e - critics have hailed Armor Wars for bringing back cheap figs to be used as fodder -- Spymaster's vet is only 29 points. I'm happy to see some of Iron Man's older, more cerebral villains given plastic incarnations, but the new game designer at WizKids seems extremely reluctant to give us anything particularly useful regardless of how many points we get charged for a fig. Spymaster's dials are all over the place, with the Rookie having the most Exploit Weakness... but late in his dial, where he's unlikely to get to use it much. One has to assume that Seth simply assumes everyone is going to trick this cheap piece out with Armor Piercing, and yes, assuming one does that, one might get in a few shots at range before Spymaster simply gets blown to pieces by whoever he's annoying. A nice looking fig, and one I may see more uses for as time goes on. The rookie gets a big boost upwards under my House Rules, since my redefinition of Combat Reflexes makes it add 2 to Defense Value against close combat attacks, which is a much handier effect than WK's version.

Ghost v - If I could only get one Ghost, it's a nice surprise that it's the really good looking transparent plastic veteran figure. However, the fig is difficult to see much use for. With a starting defensive AV of 17 and Super Senses, I suppose one can use him as a gadfly, and if you stick both Passenger and Double Time on him, you could have him carry a more useful fig around the board for a few turns until you burn him out... but once again, I tend to curl my upper lip at any fig whose VETERAN level doesn't get at least a 10 attack, and Ghost's vet has an 8. Hard to see him as anything but handsome rubbish.

Magma rr - yet more X-Mob fodder. Yay.

Aurora rrr - a necessary figure to fill out my Alpha Flight roster. The most interesting version of Aurora is the Vet, with strange mystic powers, but she doesn't have the Avengers/Alpha Flight TA. The Experienced would be a bit nicer than the rookie, as she has a click of Running Shot, which is much more useful in my game than in WK's, a higher AV, and a range strike. Still, I'm happy to have the fig at all, and it's not like I'm ever likely to actually PLAY Alpha Flight...

Thunderball rr - getting only the rookie version of this fig is one of the bigger disappointments to this brick for me.

Cannonball - zip. I don't care.

Wendigo - zip. I'd like to have one to put up against a Hulk fig somewhere on my display shelves, but I doubt I'd ever use it.

Shaman ee - gorgeous fig to add to my Alpha Flight team. Also a very useful support fig, adding Barrier, Perplex, Incapacitate, Psychic Blast, and Support to any team you want to slot him into. I got lucky here, as the Experienced version is arguably the best -- with Perplex front loaded, you get the most out of a Brilliant Tactician card, and with Psionic Blast up front as well, you can get right to work knocking the stuffing out of the other guy's powerhouse if you need to. Combine this fig's Avengers TA on every rev with a Thunderbolts Feat Card allowing a choice of any TA in the game and you can get one very very useful piece indeed. While I doubt I'd ever actually field an Alpha Flight team, putting together a group of sorcerers as a theme team is looking more and more likely.

Quicksilver v - well, if I could only get one, at least I got the best one. I am going to need an Experienced version, though, to put into my Avengers roster. Still, this is one of the coveted pieces from this set; I'm happy I got one.

Psylocke - clean whiff. I don't care. The earlier version is better anyway.

Sunfire - r ee v I wanted an experienced for my X-Mob and didn't much care about the others, so naturally I pulled a full REV and then some. Yay. He's pretty much useless at all levels, from what I can see, unless you're looking for a cheap distraction. Under my House Rules, the Vet's Leadership could make him more formidable, I suppose.

Dazzler - reev - another complete REV of a character I couldn't care less about, although I'm with Mike Norton here... WK has done the near impossible by making me yearn for a Classic Dazzler fig, now that they have given us the Ultimates version. Which also makes me need to state this, now, for the record: if WK ever puts any of the Ultimates Defenders into plastic form, someone is going to die. Slowly. Having said all that, this figure has a potentially useful dial, especially under my House Rules, where Pulse Wave and Ranged Combat Expert won't be mutually exclusive, and Pulse Wave is nearly an auto-hit on everyone within range. The rookie version, with two clicks of Pulse Wave up front augmented by two clicks of Running Shot, could be a terror under my rules.

Executioner v - well, once again, if I could only get one, at least I got the vet. A long awaited and necessary fig to add to my Masters of Evil roster, and another Asgardian. I don't know how useful he'll be -- he and the Enchantress may be neck and neck for 'figs most screwed by bad dials in HeroClix' -- but I'll certainly have to play him, Zemo, the Enchantress, and Wonder Man at some point. I should try to tweak the Masters of Evil TA a little bit before I do, though...

War Machine - whole lotta nothin'. Don't much care. If Tony Stark really really needs a helicopter pilot, he can always hire that guy from Suicide Squad.

Crimson Dynamo r - the Critical Mass version is the Crimson Dynamo I like, anyway.

Titanium Man r v - goofy looking sculpt, and not the Titanium Man we all wanted to see, certainly. Still, a bizarrely useful dial, maybe.

Iron Man vv - Tony Stark makes you feel like he's a cool exec with a heart of steel -- he's Iron Man, all jets ablaze! As he fights and fights with repulsor rays! I still say this dial is a terrible disappointment; we didn't want something less complex than the Critical Mass fig, we just wanted better stats and a few clicks of Impervious. This dial strikes me as something you'd set up for a Guardsman suit. Still, the sculpt looks nice.

Captain America - nothin'. This is a bummer.

Ultron - nothin'. I only want the Vet version, but I want him BAD, and I'm sure he's going to be as hard to get as the Vet Dr. Strange and Power Man from Fantastic Forces were.

As to Uniques, I got three -- Golden Armor Iron Man, Iron Monger, and Shathra. The first is cool, the second is pointless to me, the third I don't know anything about (but she looks really cool, too). The Uniques I realy want from this set are, in order, CRYSTAL, Jocasta, and the House of M Spider-Man fig. I wouldn't sneer at a Magneto, either.

I may or may not send away for the grey armor Iron Man fig. I mean, suddenly I have a great many Iron Man figs, I'm not sure I need that one. Maybe if WizKids comes out with some generic Commie Gook soldier figs for me to put him up against...

In cards, I got no pogs (yay!) and only one Battlefield Condition (Assembled, which I like). The rest were Feat Cards as follows:

Armor Piercing, 2 -- always good to have more of these. The SuperKids and I tended to fight over the 2 I had previous to this, especially when we all have superspeedsters in our teams.

Life Model Decoy, 2 - a good card, and one I'm looking forward to slapping on Iron Man or Nick Fury in some game soon.

Alpha Flight, 1 - WK really bit the bag with this card. We can already use Thunderbolts to give Alpha Flight members any TA in the game, so this card, which allows us to give them one specific TA already available through that method, is just idiotic. If WK had come up with some cool new TA for Alpha Flight, this could have been major. As it is, it's just a waste of cardboard.

Homing Device, 1 -- a useful card under WizKids rules, where it will mostly allow Chargers and HSSers to run up to Stealthed characters and whack them one, making them vulnerable to ranged attacks for the rest of the turn. It will have more limited utility under my House Rules, where Stealth is more effective. However, Super Senses can see Stealthed characters, so this will still have some effectiveness if deployed right.

Saboteur, 1 -- an anti Siphon Power card. I guess.

Protected, 1 -- a useful 8 point one off feat that will help to counter teams that rely on one big hit to take someone out.

Nanobots, 1 - probably the most useful new Feat Card in the game. Gimme a dozen.

Repulsor Shield, 1 - now, for an additional 50 points, you can make your favorite figure immune to Outwit, Exploit Weakness, Force Blast, Psychic Blast, and Ranged Combat Expert. This will make Armor Piercing even more vital in this game, especially under my House Rules, where Invulnerability and Impervious protect 3 and 4 instead of 2. If you want your Ares or your Count Nefaria to be as tough as they actually are in the comics, WizKids has now given you the tools.

Extended Range, 1 - under WK's rules, a way to trade off damage for range. Under my new Pulse Wave definition, a way to make a Pulse Wave attack into a mass Incapacitate that will nearly always hit, by dropping your Pulse Wave damage to 0... which is exactly the way most radiating multitarget range attacks work, in comics. Yet more proof that WizKids badly needs to hire me as a game designer, or at least, steal my House Rules.

Overall, a good brick. 3 Uniques seems slightly over the odds, given that a brick is 1/4 of a case. I still want several figs, and I think the best way to get them will be to wait until after Christmas and look for a cheap case of Armor Wars on Ebay, which will leave me a lot of extras to give to the SuperKids, as well.

Judge not, lest ye be judged

Got this from The Poor Man and thought it was worth passing on:

The Southern California-based sponsors of the Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (JAIL) have taken aim at what they call “black-collar crime” across the country. They already have their sights set on the 2006 ballot in Nevada, and they report related efforts in Idaho and New Mexico.

They hope to start the ball rolling on a path that will lead to California.

The South Dakota initiative would create a special grand jury to hear complaints against judges based on an open-ended list of possible grievances. The list specifically includes not only crimes such as graft but certain flaws in reasoning, such as ignoring evidence and “sophistry.”

The grand jury would have power to set aside judges’ immunity from civil suits by the people they rule against. It also could levy fines or hand down indictments, subjecting judges to criminal proceedings before special trial juries with the power to sentence as well as convict. After three missteps, a judge would be disqualified from holding office.

The initiative author is Ron Branson, a Baptist minister, a former minor Republican party official in Los Angeles County and a frequent unsuccessful litigator in the state and federal courts.

The original link is www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/13870095p-14709539c.html . However, if you click on that you are taken to one of those truly aggravating registration pages, so my quote is pulled from The Poor Man's page instead.

Obviously, given the origination of this, it's a move intended to reign in so called liberal activist judges. There are, however, quite a few conservative activist judges out there as well, passing down boneheaded sentences in which some kind of consensual but unconventional sexual offense is given more jail time than murder, or Wiccan parents are prohibited from raising their child in their chosen religion. So I'm thinking that even if this does get some traction, it could end up backfiring badly against its initiators. It will mostly depend on who ends up prosecuting in front of these 'special grand juries' and, of course, the make up of the 'special grand juries' themselves.

Still, it's certainly a big swing at removing the general independence of the judiciary and bringing them firmly under the thumb of King Mob. But on the flip side of that, it's also a very large sign of just how desperate the right is becoming, with more and more of their poster boys starting to fall afoul of the legal system as the Republican machine's rampant corruption and cronyism finally starts to take its toll.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Easing in to 44

Okay. Last night SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids gave me several birthday presents a few days early, along with a small family party, as the SuperKids went back to their decidedly non Kryptonian dad today for two weeks. So I was very grateful to receive a non-fogging shaving mirror (I do all my morning ablutions, including teeth-polishing and face-scraping, in the shower), a pair of very slick wooden bookends with miniature globes in them (that actually revolve), a pair of Simpsons pajama pants, and copies of the new black and white DC SHOWCASE editions of early Superman and Green Lantern stories. (I started to type 'early Silver Age', but while that would necessarily be true for early Hal Jordan material -- the character's coming into being is very nearly synonymous with the birth of the Silver Age at DC -- it might not necessarily be true for Superman, who has an uninterrupted run of adventures going back to the very dawn of superhero comics. As it turns out, though, I'd have been correct; the Superman SHOWCASE starts with a reprint from ACTION COMICS #241, dated June 1958.)

Then today SuperGirlfriend continued with the early gift giving by driving me over to Comic Book World and putting an Armor War clix brick on her plastic for me.

I'll be discussing the Armor Wars brick in detail, and when I do it will be posted up above, but let me get down the rest of today as well...
SuperGirlfriend and I are always a little depressed when the ex comes by to snatch the kids back for his two weeks with them, so we fought that off as best we could by keeping busy. A couple of tables, coffee and end, got brought up from the cellar storage room in hopes of being transported over to the new house belonging to SuperGirlfriend's buddy Patricia. However, the coffee table wouldn't fit into the back of the car, so they wound up on our tiny back porch, where Patricia can grab them when and if she stops by sometime later this weekend.

After that we ran some errands, came home and opened my boosters o' clix, then headed off to watch Good night and Good Luck at the Baxter Avenue Cinema. I'd been looking forward to it a lot, but unfortunately, it was kind of disappointing for reasons I haven't yet fully mulled (unlike the mug of steaming hot cider SuperGirlfriend just brought in for me, which is thoroughly mulled, and expertly, as well, because SuperGirlfriend really is all that and a bag of chips, baby). All I know at this point is, I'm a bit disappointed at the lack of depth to the film. I realize that Edward R. Murrow vs. Joseph McCarthy would seem to be a pretty straightforward good vs. evil tale, but I don't think history is ever simple, and I was hoping for something with at least a little subtlety and complexity to it... something like, say, Quiz Show. It was enjoyable, mind... good dialogue, excellent cast, good performances, competent direction of what was there... but it seemed very lightweight given the material.

Then we did our Thanksgiving shopping. I enjoy grocery shopping with SuperGirlfriend (and, when occasion permits, the SuperKids, too) as it makes me feel very domestic.

SuperGirlfriend has one more, as she puts it, 'tiny little' gift to give me Monday, which is my actual birthday, and she's put together some kind of scheme she won't tell me much about for Monday as well, involving getting other people to mass email me birthday greetings, or something. So we'll see what's up with that when the time rolls around.

I can't close this without giving a tip of the ancient katana to Miraclo Mike Norton, whose blog everyone should read and hang comments on, for providing me with invaluable guidance in how to set up the entries on this blog so that only the first paragraph or so is visible on the main page. Given how long winded I am this is absolutely vital; otherwise my top one or two entries at any given time tend to seem to go on and on forever.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sweet dreams are made of this

This entry started as a post to a comment thread at a blog I enjoy called Things They Don't Tell You In Film School. I enjoyed writing the comment, although it's long and the blogger there may well not enjoy reading it. Since no one is reading this blog, and SuperGirlfriend is going to drive me to work today so I have plenty of time to fritter away this morning before I get dressed, I figured what the hell, might as well edit it somewhat and stick it up here.

See, in her latest entry, the woman over at TTDTYIFS was talking about dreams she had had recently, especially one in which her teeth steadily get looser and looser and then fall out.

Now, I've had the tooth-loosening dream, too, fairly often. As I understand it, it's a fairly common stress dream, and means no more than that we are currently stuck in some situation where we feel badly out of control and utterly at the mercy of generally malign and incomprehensible Powers That Be.

Similar common "powerless" nightmares are ones where you are staring into the mirror and gradually notice some kind of disfiguring mark on your face, which then becomes larger and more disfiguring as you watch in horror, helpless to do anything about it. Or those ones where people are chasing you around and they won't stop and you can't get away and it's all very existential and you don't know WHY they're chasing you but they clearly hate you and if they catch you it's going to be really bad.

Sometimes... not very often lately, but I used to do this a lot when I was younger... I become more self aware while immersed in a dream and can then affect it more directly, because I realize that I am dreaming and somehow this gives me some modicum of control over the goings on there.

It's always very unsatisfying. When this happens, I can then kinda-sorta fly, but not very high or very fast, and it never really lets me escape from my pursuers, it just allows me to get a little further ahead of them for a brief period.

Other times, I can sort of turn invisible... which is to say, I can tell myself "I'm going to turn invisible". Then my pursuers will all run up to me and I say "No, I'm invisible, you can't see me" and instead of doing whatever horrible thing they are going to do to me, they will stop and argue with me about it.

"I'm invisible!" I will insist. "You can't see me at all. In fact, you are sure you see me running off in that direction even as we speak. Quick! I'm getting away! Be off with you!"

And they will stare at me as if I'm demented and say "Well, I don't know, you don't look very invisible to us..."

But, if I'm insistent enough, they will sometimes humor me and leave me alone for a little while, running on lackadaisically in the direction I indicated that I ran off to, but their hearts clearly aren't in it and they generally look back at me doubtfully and, after one or two halfhearted attempts to comply with my clearly deranged directives, they visibly shrug it off, say to hell with it, and start chasing me around again.

And they're usually even more pissed than they were before, too.

I went on the worst date of my life once with this completely toxic psychobitch named Anne and over dinner at a much nicer restaurant than I could afford (she was a very good looking female comics and science fiction fan; how often do you meet one of THOSE?) she listened to me relate my dream experiences as above and then pronounced, in tones of irrefutable expertise, that I was a 'dream weaver' and clearly had vast untapped psychic powers.

Now, by the end of that date I never wanted to see Anne again regardless of how good looking she was, because she was a truly mindbogglingly annoying person, but I suspect if we'd had a second date, she'd have worked around to telling me she had a must read series of books for me that would let me harness my vast psychic powers for only $59.99. Or perhaps she was genuinely as batshit as she seemed. (I mostly believe that she was just one of these dreadful people who has to seem like an absolute expert at everything and anything, and she totally made that shit up on the spot so I'd think she was very wise.)

But whatever the case, my point here (see, I do have one) is that I really do believe the dream where we lose our teeth is a dream about powerlessness, because I am a dream weaver with vast untapped psychic powers (so don't mess with me, punk) and even though I can fly and kinda turn invisible in those horrible chase dreams, sometimes, I have never in my life managed to keep my teeth in my head in those goddam tooth-falling-out dreams.

I will say this; those are the dreams I am really grateful to wake up from. Well, those and the ones where I'm trapped back in high school or Basic Training (or some weird amalgam of both, where my old art teacher has a Smokey the Bear hat and an M16 while my drill sergeant is constantly giving me my book reports back with a big red F on them and demanding that I drop and give him 50).

And, of course, the ones where everyone in the world is a vampire but me. I really hate those.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

May I help you?

Let’s face it, at some point in your life, whoever ‘you’ may be, you are going to have to call customer service. And, given that I have worked at three different call centers to date and seem doomed to retire from some call center or other at some nebulous point in the future, you may very well talk to me. But even if you don’t, my experience would seem to qualify me to offer you some advice as to how to maximize your customer service call center experience. So, a small list of tips on Just How To Get The Best Service When You Dial That 800 Number:

1. Try to speak in a heavy and all but incomprehensible accent. Working at a call center, regardless of who you are actually working there for, basically boils down to one thing: telling putative adults of all age ranges, cultures, religions, and general social strata over and over again, “I’m sorry sir/madam, but you are not the Monarch of the Universe just yet, and therefore, things do not work to your maximum convenience at this juncture. You will have to do the same things everyone else has to do and comply with the same restrictions and physical laws as the rest of us.”

Details, of course, vary. Sometimes you may be being told that yes, whether you like it or not, you will have to pay your phone bill and you will have to pay the exorbitant rates for your international calls that you get charged when you do not want an international plan because the international plan has a higher monthly fee and you only talk to your sister who lives in Berlin once or twice a year so that’s ridiculous. Other times you may be being subjected to the unwelcome knowledge that you do have to actually fill out a claim form and attach an honest to god itemized receipt for the services you are seeking reimbursement for, instead of simply scrawling ‘gimme $600 I bot a Waterpik’ on the back of a Hershey’s candy bar wrapper and faxing it in to our processing department. Whatever the case may be, the essential message – “the universe is not at this point being run to your specific convenience” – remains the same.

Now, those of us who work at the other end of that 800 number love a challenge, of course, of course, and while communicating to our callers that we do not have the ability or even the authority to deform the laws of God or man in their favor is often a difficult and demanding task, there is nothing we like more than making such a process even more arduous and grueling. So, by all means, when you talk to us, try to torture the English language as much as you possibly can. Whether it is because you are Southern, urban, hail from New Jersey, or you just finished the arduous journey from Shang Hai or New Delhi and can't wait to get started on your new life as an American, your heavy, nearly indecipherable accent will immediately endear you to those of us forced to attempt to decipher your labored attempts at communication and convey complex information in response to you.

Because we love that. And you will definitely get our best effort that way.

2. Be very confused when you call us. Starting out the call with “I’m very confused” is actually optional, but if you want to get the best out of us, make sure you are the biggest, most spastically disorganized clusterfuck imaginable before you call. Be drunk. Be wasted. Or just really really stupid. Optimally, if you can manage to be all three at once, you're golden. If you have documents you want to question us regarding, make sure that you left them somewhere else that you do not have access to from the place at which you are calling us. If you saw something on our website that puzzled you, by all means, do not be looking at our website when you actually decide to talk to us about it. Rely on your memory, because relying on your memory of something you don’t understand anyway is always a great idea. If you think you actually remember whatever it is you want to ask us about, then for God’s sake hit yourself in the head with a hammer several times before you dial that phone. In fact, this last tip is such a wonderful one I cannot stress or repeat it enough; the next time you decide to pick up your phone and call customer service, by all means hit yourself in the head with a hammer several times first.

3. Make an effort to find out when the call center you want to reach closes. Then call five minutes before that time. This is an especially useful tip, because there is nothing we customer service agents love more than getting a call in the last five minutes of our shift. It guarantees that you will get our absolute optimal service, especially if you call within that time frame and say something like “On February 12 I called Bangladesh and you charged me $3.17 a minute so I called you guys and you put me on an international plan and said you would back date the charges which was fine but on March 27 I called New Guinea and spoke to my uncle the headhunter for 117 minutes. Now I asked when you put me on the international rate what that call would cost me and you told me 27 cents a minute but you actually charged me 29 cents a minute and I don’t know why plus on May 11 I called and said to take me off the international plan and I am still being charged for it plus I think you charged me wrong for all my calls to my boyfriend who lives just across the river in Queens which is supposed to be in my free dialing area.”

We love that. Honest, we do. We can’t get enough of calls like that, even in the middle of our shift. Coming two or three minutes before quitting time, let me tell you, they just light up any customer service representative’s life.

4. Open your call with “I just have one quick question”. Ask that question. Then, after we answer it, think of another question. Say, “oh, I just thought of something else, while I have you on the phone…” Keep doing this. Forever. This is a great way to make sure you get a quality customer service experience. There is absolutely nothing we love better than someone who calls up, promises us a quick bit of the ol’ in/out, and then turns the whole thing into a marathon b.s. session that eventually devolves into a discussion of metaphysical quandaries that have haunted mankind since the dawn of time and that even the Gods Themselves couldn’t lucidly answer, like “Did you know your 800 number spells out SATAN SAYS HI?” or "Don't you think it's innately biased that you do not offer the option of receiving bills written in Tagalog?"

5. Yell at me for asking you for your Social Security number. This is especially fun. Because, you know, all we do all day long is write down your Social Security number along with your name, address, home phone number, and email addy in great big notebooks that we then take home and sell to professional international identity thieves for gigantic amounts of money. It is this lucrative side line that makes working in a call center worthwhile. Please never once consider the concept that maybe we ask for your Social Security number because, you know, we are told to by our bosses, because all of our programs work using that one specific unique number, and if we don’t ask for it then we can’t find your file or do our jobs and then authority figures drag us into little rooms and berate us at great length, which you honestly wouldn't think would bother us given our insouciant natures and the fact that we know our bosses are all hapless miserable tools of The Man, but which still, nonetheless, considerably harshes our buzz.

None of this could possibly be the reason we ask for your Social Security number, and it’s not like we aren’t forbidden by company policy and actual law to write your Social Security number down anywhere other than on Post It notes we have to shred at the end of the day. Oh, no. It’s all about identity theft at our call centers, so by all means, give us ten or twenty minute lectures on the illegality and inherent fascism of us demanding your Social Security number over the phone. Because that's endlessly fascinating to us, and we really, really appreciate it.

6. Require endless repetition of the same fairly simple facts before you begin to vaguely comprehend what we are talking about. When you ask us for our mailing address or fax number, continually read them back incorrectly. Confuse "PO Box" for "BO spots", assume we are insulting your personal hygiene, and become shrilly defensive. Insist on transposing digits, or putting extra digits into, the fax numbers or zip codes we provide you. When you finally get the information straight, marvel over whatever city our call center is located in. If we are in the south, or the southwest, put on a fake southern accent and say "Shore thing, pardnuh!" This is all great fun for us, and will really enliven our day.

7. Always call customer service when you are really really pissed off. This is the best idea ever. This way, no matter how we open our phone call to you, we are wrong, and you will be able to easily discern any number of things in our greeting that were clearly intended to do nothing except annoy you. Open with "it's about goddam time a real person picked up the phone". When we say "how can I help you?", respond belligerently that we can "tell you what the hell is wrong with your account". Surlily contradict anything we say from that point forward with wonderfully eloquent phrases like "No, that ain't right" and "your computer is completely fucked up" and "that isn't what I remember" and "look I don't even know anybody in Tibet so how could I have placed that call" and "you people have been screwing me ever since I started doing business with you and I'm sick of this". Demand that we tell you our names. Get pissy when we only give you our first names, because honest to God, what we want more than anything is people like you being able to do Google searches and find our home phone numbers and addresses. Tell us that your time is valuable and someone should be paying you to waste so much of it getting this straightened out. Whine because you highlighted the receipt you faxed in and it came through our fax machine as a solid black scribble we couldn't read and now you'll have to mail in a legible copy and that's very inconvenient.

After pissing and moaning and bitching and being insulting and offensive and using invective and implying that we are all retarded and we hate you and there is some sort of conspiracy against you for ten or fifteen minutes, sigh heavily and say "I'm sorry, I know this isn't your fault, it's just you happened to be the one who picked up the phone, I'm really sorry, I'm just frustrated". Because that really helps, and maybe if you're lucky, we will then be able to get back into the system and cancel the disconnect orders, or pull out the denial commands we have coded onto all your accessible claims, or even pull out the "this customer is an asshole give them NOTHING" notes we have hung all over your account for future csr's to read.

8. Wait until the very last minute and then get really aggravated with us when things don't go perfectly for you because, you know, you waited until the last possible minute and somehow that's our fault. If it's open enrollment and it's been open enrollment for the past month, by all means don't call up and enroll until the very last day, and then have a set of questions like "If I have a chronic bone condition and I have to take a $200 vitamin pack every month and vitamins are normally ineligible and these aren't covered by insurance, can I claim mine anyway on my reimbursement account, because it's my money, dammit?" And then when we tell you that the only way it would possibly be reimbursable is if you submitted a letter of medical necessity from Dr. Nick Riviera and even that might be rejected, get very upset with us and demand a more specific answer than that and say it's not fair, you don't have time to submit a letter and Dr. Nick Riviera is just a cartoon character anyway and besides you need an answer because it's a lot of money to put into your flex spending account if you're not going to be able to use it for your vitamins, and somehow, again, this is all our fault.

Even better than this: wait until the very last day of your three and a half month close out period. Then mail us a 43 page claim. Then wait seven months before you begin to dimly realize you never got a check. Start sending us emails at that point saying things like "I just wanted to enquire if you had ever sent me reimbursement for plan year 2004 because I am not sure I have any record of receiving it". When no one responds in any kind of meaningful detail to this, finally call us up and say "This is about the 2004 plan year. I've been emailing you and emailing you and all I get are these vague replies. Now my wife and I are fairly sure we mailed out our claim for 2004 towards the end of February or March this year. That's the time we always mail our claims out. And neither of us remember you sending us a reimbursement check. Also, I'm looking at your website and I can't be sure but it's possible that we sent our claim to a different address than the one I am seeing there. Can you help me with this?"

Because, honest to God, we live to answer questions like that; the sheer transcendant joy of taking a call and hearing someone like you asking a question like that on the other end of the line is enough to send shivers of bliss throughout the entire call center and transport us all into a whirling Buddhist loop of euphoria.

Because, more than anything else in the world, we love having to restrain ourselves by actual physical force (usually with our mute button pressed while we bang our heads over and over again on our desks whimpering no no no for the love of christ no please someone just kill me now repeatedly and shrilly, like some mantra of the damned, until we can regain some shredded, tattered semblance of self control) from saying stuff like "You know, you frickin' retard, if you wait until not only the very end of your plan year, but the very end of the 105 day close out period following your plan year, and then you mail off every claim you have for an entire year in one package, and you don't bother to call first and make sure you have the right address, well, there is a discernible chance things are going to go badly, badly south with that unbelievably fucked up plan, and when they do, guess what? Not only is it not our fault, it should by no conceivable stretch of rationality or justice be our problem, either. YOUR CLOSE OUT DATE IS LONG PAST, DUCKIE. YOU BLEW IT. GET THE CHRIST OFF MY PHONE LINE."

Of course, when you work in customer service you never, ever get to say the stuff you actually would LIKE to say to a customer, and perhaps at some point I will entertain you further by providing you with examples of the things we hear over and over and over again every day, and what we would really LIKE to say in response, as opposed to what we in fact choose to say because, you know, while we hate our jobs, we prefer working in this absolute hell of a customer service call center to, say, fighting with Laundrybag Joe for the last bunk at the Salvation Army shelter on a really cold night, and then having to sleep with one eye half open in case Aqualung wakes up early and decides to steal our torn plastic garbage bag full of recyclable cans.

So, by all means, let's all look forward to that.