Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How My Brain Works








Friday, July 27, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part One

Howdy, Road-Tripperz!

While mired in my last creatively bankrupt, spiritually crippling job I used to count down the days until my next vacation.  But ever since I began my writing "career", trying to get me to take a break is harder then dragging Mr. Scott out of the engine room of the Enterprise to go on shore leave.

Still, when it came time for my better half to take vacation, I really wanted to reward her diligence by getting out of Dodge and exploring some uncharted territory.  After much hand-wringing and debate we finally struck upon the idea for a good, old-fashioned road trip.  But where to go?

We were quite keen on the idea of exploring the New England states but we didn't want to spend a lot of time in the city.  We looked at potential destinations in and around Boston and suddenly hit upon a place that both of us were fascinated with:


Why Salem?  Well, both of us have an acute interest in history and "the occult", for lack of a better term.   And, yes, it probably would have been more appropriate to go there in the Fall but we really didn't want to compete with a slew of like-minded yahoos.  

We literally made our accommodations the day before and then procured a GPS device to insure that we found it.  Then, at 8 AM the next morning, we hit the road and drove seven hours straight to Bangor, Maine.  

After checking into out hotel, our first stop was the home of renowned author Stephen King:

King lives in a surprisingly modest house in an absolutely idyllic neighborhood.  The only indication that one of the world's most talented fright-meisters resides inside is the batwing-n'-spider-web wrought iron gates that have been constructed to keep stalkerish weirdos like from getting in.  Curiously enough, though, the gate to the driveway was wide open when got there.  

"Well, clearly he saw us pull up and he's inviting us inside," I sez to the missus.

"If you take so much as one step towards that driveway, I'll call the cops myself," she replied, stone-faced.

"Look, it's okay!" I maintained.  "We'll just go inside, stroll around the grounds for a bit, dress up in some of his clothes and, hey, if we just so happen to run into him, well, that's just gravy.  As long we don't refer to ourselves as 'his greatest fans' we should be okay."

Yeah, she still wouldn't go for it.  Honestly, what a trespassing prude...             

Later that evening we enjoyed a lovely repast at The Olive Garden.  During the next two-hours of sinful caloric gluttony I couldn't help but take stock of our fellow diners.  A disproportionate amount of them were heavy-set folks who just kinda sat there, ignoring their table-mates and cramming an unlimited parade of bread sticks and pasta into their maws while staring off into the distance.  

Although it certainly wasn't like this everywhere, I did get the distinct impression that America is kinda feelin' a bit blue right now.  This is really sad to me because in the Forties and Fifties the United States was the new global Camelot.  It was a nation of brave, prosperous, bold, innovative people who were the envy by the world, even for green-eyed Europeans.  

After working closely with Americans over the years I know for a fact that their Middle Class (or whatever's left of it) is ridiculously overworked and criminally underpaid.  I think a lot of them hate their jobs and are clinically depressed.  This makes people sedentary and, as a result, they probably eat out quite a bit.  Honestly, compared to Halifax, I barely saw any dedicated grocery stores the whole time I was down there.

To paraphrase Yoda: "Eating out leads to obesity, obesity leads to depression, depression leads back to  being sedentary."  And trust me, I'm not just whistlin' Dixie when it comes to this vicious cycle.  Hell, I lived it for longer then I care to admit.  

I'll give you another example: we ate at Denny's the following morning for the first time ever.  The scene for our rite of passage was absolutely perfect.  The restaurant itself turned out to be a giant, chrome-hued, double-wide Airstream trailer with a red pick-up truck parked out front:

I mean, c'mon!  How effin' awesome is that?!
The tableau inside was even more Rockwellian.  There were kids sneaking peaks at State Troopers as if they were Jedi Knights, workaday folks planning their carpool logistics and seniors with mesh-backed, flair-encrusted baseball caps perched precariously atop their bald pates.  All of this, of course, was presided over by a waitress appropriately named "Sunny".

Thanks to Denny's human beings never again need make that soul-rending decision: 'Do I want a sweet breakfast or a savory breakfast?'  Are you leanin' towards scrambled eggs and hash browns?  Well, here's a side of pancakes.  Got a hankerin' for snausenges?  Okay, fine, but I'm throwin' in some pancakes.  Got an EMT-level craving for bacon?  Oh, you better believe you're gettin' pancakes all up in that bee-yotch.  

(OMG...I would totally eat the f#@k right outta this now...)            


This is all well and good but it also means that you're ingesting half of your daily allowance of calories even before you have "Elevenses".

After breakfast we went back to the hotel to check out.  As we were loading up the car, an intense-looking jackrabbit stopped by to see us off:

"I'll swallow your soul." 

Before heading on to Salem we made a point of exploring downtown Bangor.  One of the coolest shops I found was Top Shelf Comics on Central Street:

Although the shop-keep was a tad overprotective of his wares (everything, and I mean everything, was bagged), he did provide some pivotal clues which helped me track some of the first comic book I ever owned.  Despite the fact that we didn't quite zero in on what I was looking for (see next week's post), I still rewarded his diligence by picking up Swamp Thing Volume Five "Earth To Earth".  This is a tremendous collection of Alan Moore brilliance which features Swampy's legendary clash with a certain Gotham-based chiroptera-themed detective.

Anyone who thinks that Bangor is aesthetically bankrupt really needs to take a second look.  There's plenty of orderly streets, town pride, classic architecture and vintage Americana on display there...

Now, I don't want to make it sound as if the first leg of our trip was all cute bunnies, Ol' Glory and dollops of whipped cream.  When we pulled over for lunch at the West Gardiner Service Plaza we had a harrowing close encounter with some volatile wildlife.

On the way back to the car I noticed a moose hanging out close to the parking lot.  Since all of us Canadians are blessed with the inborn ability to psychically communicate with these noble animals (think Aquaman but with elk), I attempted to befriend the beast.  But as soon as I closed to within ten paces I realized, all too late, that this wasn't the sort of moose I was familiar with.  As fate would have it...we weren't the only creature on vacation.

It was that most rambunctious of creatures: the notorious Bostonian moose, who we all know are considerably more aggressive then their Canadian counterparts.  Needless to say, I was lucky to escape with my life.            

"Not in the crotch!!!   NOT IN THE CROTCH!!!"

Gotta love how my better half just stood there snapping pictures instead of maybe...oh...I dunno, RUNNING TO GET HELP.  Thanks, babe.

Well, after that near-death experience, we decided to keep our limbs (and the rest of our extremities) within the confines of the Ninjamobile as we made a bee-line straight for Salem.   

But that's a tale for another time...

EPIC   Seriously, I love this guy.  IMHO, the "rebuttal" video included by King is immediately  rendered moot due to the fact that it was made by a douche-nozzle.  Er, I mean...lobbyist.

E-PIC   Just a sneak preview for the awesomeness headed yer way next week...

FAIL  Duz this meen i kant hav nun moar gran slamz?   OK, sad now...  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

(Not) Just Another Day

Joyous Annum, Birthday Boys n' Girls!

Remember how you used to count down the days leading up to your birthday?  You just couldn't wait to grow up.

Eventually your big day would arrive and a cadre of your closest friends would come over to your house to eat hotdogs and chips, wear pointy hats and play party games.  Then you'd make a wish, blow out your candles and divvy-up a lard-based cake shaped conspicuously like Batman.  Then you'd open up all your gifts.  Mebbe you'd get a new Star Wars action figure ("OoooOooo, Lobot!") or an Atari video game cartridge ("Wow, Yar's Revenge!  Coooooool!).

It was a glorious day.  You were one step closer to independence.  One step closer to adulthood.  

Another year, another candle.  By the time your cake started to resemble a Cenobite and it was officially proclaimed a "fire hazard" by some wiseass who thought that this was an original joke, the novelty had already started to wear off.  Eventually you found yourself tip-toeing through the days leading up to your birthday, hoping not to hand your "friends" an opportunity to rave about how old and decrepit you've become.  Somewhere along the way, your birthday went from being a special occasion to representing how another year had slipped by without your childhood dreams coming true.

But I'm here to tell you in no uncertain terms: this isn't the right attitude.  Honestly, if you managed to muddle your way through yet another year on this giant, weird, confusing rock with your heart, mind and soul reasonably intact, then you've achieved something that's worth celebrating.

Recognize your birthday, people.  Even if you take yourself out to dinner.   Proclaim your special day from the rooftops.

Because the novelty shouldn't wear off something that's finite.

EPIC TUNE  Bjork: weird as f#@k but gifted with an absolutely amazing voice and a metric shit-ton of passion...


EPIC GAME  Play this on yer birthday to make it considerably less crappy:

FAIL  Notwithstanding the "artistry" of making poo look that real, I'm pretty sure the recipient felt compelled to drown themselves in a real commode not long after...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How To Make A Nerd

Greetings Gangly Types!

As I detailed in my last post, up until I was about nine or ten years old I was an active kid who was always outside knocking around with my posse of friends.  But when we moved from Sydney, Cape Breton to Stephenville, Newfoundland around 1979, the transition really messed me up badly.

I had a devil of a time making new friends.  I hung out with a neighborhood kid named Brad for a bit until he moved across town and we lost track of one another.  Then I started to pal around with a guy named Glen until his dad moved the family all the way to St. John's.      

At that point in time it was almost as if I made a conscious decision not to make any new friends.  What was the point?  My half-baked brain told me that as soon as I met someone new, either I'd move, or they'd move or perhaps they'd spontaneously combust like a Spinal Tap drummer.  Why risk the grief?

It certainly didn't help that around this same time puberty decided to throw me a few curve balls.  Accent on the word balls there, BTW. 

First off, my eyesight decided to konk out.  The first time I can remember experiencing a vision problem was when I was sitting in the car at the Sydney Shopping Center and I couldn't read the KFC sign from the far end of the parking lot.  Actually, in my defense, that wasn't as easy as it sounds since it was actually called "Kentucky Fried Chicken" back then.

To this day, I have no idea why my eyesight went south since both of my parents were blessed with  20/20 vision.  My mom suspects that it had something to do with a near-lethal fever that I sustained when I was about seven or eight.  Hey, kids, guess what one of the side effects of measles can be?

Just after the move to Stephenville, I started to have a hard time reading the chalkboard in school from my preferred vantage point (I.E. the back of  the class) and my mom resolved to get me into a pair of glasses post haste.  I don't know if you're old enough to remember this, Dear Reader, but glasses back then looked like salvaged portholes from the goddamned Lusitania.
Then things got worse.  As if to signal the end of the 70's, my perfectly straight helmet of Shaun Cassidy hair went dark and curly, almost overnight.  From that point on I couldn't do a damned thing with it.  I vainly tried to straighten it, but every time I did it looked as if I had a crow's wing stapled to the front of my head.  

Finally, a crooked dentist in Stephenville managed to convince my Dad that if I didn't get a set of braces pronto I'd end up looking like Lisa Simpson sans orthodontic intervention:

Too bad this guy was a greedy con artist who just wanted to deck his house out in my Dad's artwork, which he graciously offered to take in lieu of cash.  Sonovabitch put braces on me even before my teeth stopped moving around.  Thanks for exploiting my parent's fear and ruining my delicate formative years, you asshole.  I hope you die in a fire.

So there I was: coke-bottle glasses, greasy black shock of Hitler hair and olde skool braces that would make members of the Spanish Inquisition wince.  I used to joke with my parents and tell them: "Why don't you just finish me off with some orthopedic shoes and a hearing aid?"  What an awesome time to be the new kid in class!

As you can well imagine the parade of kids hammering down my door asking to be my friend was incessant.  It's a wonder my parents didn't have to move again just to get away from the constant harassment.

I became increasingly paranoid about my appearance.  I was rake-thin with prematurely wrinkly-looking hands, chronic dry skin and bullet-deflecting knees.  Even during the hottest days of the summer I'd always wear long sleeve shirts and avoid shorts like the plague.

In Elementary School they made us take mandatory swimming lessons.  I was so terrified of changing in front of people that I begged my parents to give me an exemption.  Well, I didn't get that free pass, just some sage advice from my Dad:

"Fer Crissakes, just wrap a friggin' towel around yer middle bits, whip yer drawers off, pull yer swimtrunks on and then take the towel off.  Or leave the towel on, what odds?"

I followed his advice and this seemed to work pretty well until it came time to reverse the process.  Since I was too scared to take a shower, I spent the rest of the day reeking of chlorine.  On more then one afternoon, I squirmed in my seat as the harsh chemicals slowly ate away at my already-dehydrated flesh.

Class Picture of Me in Grade Six.
I became increasingly insular, shy and withdrawn, like a tween-aged Howard Hugues but without the Kleenex boxes for shoes.  If anyone said anything to me that could vaguely be interpreted as an insult, I'd be traumatized for days.  If not for various types of games (video, RPG, board) I would have spent my early teens living like a hermit.  Thank Nyarlathotep that the lure to play with other equally awkward kids gave me some semblance of a social life back then.

When it came time to go to university I was still paralysed by my crippling fear of strangers.  But after taking a year off and slowly going mad from boredom, I decided to attempt a form of shock therapy and move into residence at Saint Mary's.  Despite how effective this was in staving off my social retardation, it did precious little for my confidence.      
For that, I have to credit my amazing wife.  Bless her heart, she saw something in me that I always knew was there but I rarely had an opportunity to exhibit.  Thanks to her, all of my awkwardness, anxiety and self-doubt finally melted away.  In fact, nowadays she'd probably argue that I've gone too far in the opposite direction and don't give a damn about what people think of me at all.

If anyone out there reads this and is currently struggling with self-esteem issues, I apologise for not sounding more self-reliant.  Despite a constant diet of positive affirmation from my doting parents (and nominally, myself), I found it virtually impossible to crawl out of my spider hole of self hatred all alone.  Sometimes it takes a certain person to validate what you've been trying to tell yourself all along.

Now I'm not saying that every nerd you encounter deserves sympathy.  I've met some dorky, socially maladjusted human beings who are also mean, spiteful, nasty creatures who legitimately deserve to be shunned.  But more often then not, that shy person who barely speaks above a whisper and sometimes says odd things in a misguided effort to fit in might be the product of a vicious circle of perceived (or sometimes real) physical awkwardness, self-loathing and isolation.

To these sad, lonely, desperate souls I can only say: trust me, it will get better.   

EPIC  Yep, I totally woulda done her...

FAIL  Although I've destroyed most of the photographic evidence of myself at that awkward age, some records still exist.  For example, here's my own deceptively angelic before pic...

And here I am after the ravages of puberty.  Cripes, dude, eat a friggin' sammich already...