Sunday, August 16, 2015

Remembering a Fallen Nemesis: The Columbia House Record Club

Welp, the time has come to bid farewell to another great institution of the lost American cultural landscape.

Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to the Columbia House Record Club.

Actually, Columbia House Record Club ceased to exist ten years ago, when it merged with BMG. And they stopped selling mail-order music in 2009, so the ‘Record’ part of the club has been gone for some six years now.

Still, the announcement earlier this month made me wistful.

How I wish I could go back to a time when I could buy my record albums through the mail. You know, wait for one of those bimonthly club catalogs to come, make my selection, buy a stamp, send the order back, and then pay fifteen bucks for the privilege of waiting three weeks for the record to arrive. So much better than the way things are now, when you have to go online, choose your album from Amazon, pay for it with one click, and listen to it now.

Actually, I learned a lot from The Columbia House Record Club. A lot about business. A lot about life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Repaying the Debt #4: David Letterman

So tomorrow is David Letterman’s last show. It’s a remarkable thing. Some call it the end of an era. For me, the era of which Dave was part has been over for awhile now. But then again, I don’t even feel like I’m a part of the era in which I find myself.

I first met Dave sometime in 1984. I was fifteen or so, and I had recently talked my parents into letting me have a TV in my room under the pretext that I needed one for my TI-994A (if you don’t know what that is, google it). The TV was a little 13” black and white job. Offbrand, of course. Paid for it with my paper route money, or maybe I had started working at Lionel Playworld by then. The thing was, I was only supposed to use the TV as a monitor. And for the most part, I abided by my parents’ wishes. But late one night, I dared to turn it on. In the course of flipping through the six or seven available channels, I suddenly found myself confronted by the image of a pudgy, bespectacled man. His odd, distorted face completely filled the screen. I don’t remember what he was doing, or why he was so close to the camera. It didn’t matter. All I knew was that on my television was a man who looked like a Gary Larson cartoon come to life. It’s all I needed to see. I was hooked.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Brain Drool

Work continues apace on the novel (that pace being glacial (and not of the global warming variety, but of the older, proverbial kind)). In addition to consuming vast quantities of time, it is also absorbing nearly all my mental energy (you try drinking orange juice in your coffee instead of milk!). All I have room for anymore are the occasional oddball thoughts that will manifest in my brain, and then melt away through the voluminous gaps (the human brain is, after all, 90% air*). For some reason, today I have a few still clinging to my gray matter. I'm going to share them, if only so I can clear space for still more thoughts on Greek mythology, the many intractable problems of narrative writing, and how many ways I can come up with to describe rocks.

Parenthood: that glorious state of existence where the days pass like weeks, and the years pass like months.

Conventional wisdom isn't just an oxymoron; it's an impossibility.

Does this happen to anyone else? Listening to John Lennon's Imagine, and he sings the line: Imagine all the people/Livin' for today... I always have the same reaction. What is he thinking? Six billion people living for today? That's my definition of a nightmare. Knowing that we all have to come back again tomorrow is the only thing that keeps the social order going. Without it, we'd have sheer chaos. I think I must be missing the point...

* I have no idea if that is true.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
Yes, kids, that’s how the old song starts. Of course, we all know that Rudolph had (and continues to have) a red nose, but most people don’t how just how shiny it really was.

And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
You could say it glows. You could also say that a searchlight glows, or a five-alarm fire glows, or the sun glows. Take it from me, kids, glows doesn’t begin to cover it.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
I’m sorry to say, things did come to a point where most of the other reindeer teased him mercilessly. But the truth is, Rudolph’s nose shone so brightly that it was physically difficult to be around the little guy. His nose wasn’t just a nuisance to the other reindeer, it was downright hazardous. Why, his own mother and father had to wear welding masks just to put him to bed at night. The others couldn’t even get close enough to talk to him without risking permanent damage to their eyes. No one could understand how a reindeer’s nose could be so infernally bright, and some of them thought it was just plain unnatural. A few were afraid of him.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Come Dancing

Most days, I listen to Van Halen, Foo Fighters, or Green Day to help me through my “Thirty Minutes of Hell” workout, you know, something high energy and especially loud, which helps drown out the sounds of me panting and the occasional groan. Today, though, their brand of accompaniment doesn’t strike me right, and so I go with something else: The Kinks’ Live - The Road. As the title suggests, it is a mostly live album, a collection of songs recorded in concert by that most English of English bands circa 1987.

It seems an unlikely choice, I know, but it works surprisingly well. The Kinks happen to be my all-time favorite band, and they flat out know how to rock in concert. I crank through the first three songs, and before I know it, I’ve already whittled twelve minutes off today’s timed descent into suffering. The fourth song begins. It’s “Come Dancing.”

If you were around in the eighties, you might remember “Come Dancing.” It was the last big hit The Kinks ever had. It’s a bright, breezy song with a wistful, melancholy message, the kind that Ray Davies is so adept at writing. It’s the kind of song that seems crafted specifically to be remembered fondly. It’s the kind of song that you could easily imagine being sung in an English pub during the wee hours of the morning a hundred and fifty years from now.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elliptical Batman

So I was on the elliptical this morning, slogging my way through “thirty minutes of hell,” an accurate – if not quite affectionate – name for my workout. At some point, I catch a glance of an old lunchbox on the shelf nearby. It’s a childhood relic recaptured through the magic of ebay, an old metal lunchbox with Marvel superheroes adorning every side. The side that’s facing out shows Spiderman, Thor and Captain America. They are showing off, their athletic muscularity on bountiful display in powerful, iconic poses. I cannot see myself, but I know what I must look like in comparison as I sweat and strain and groan: a pale reflection filtered through a funhouse mirror.

Suddenly, I hate these guys.

As I struggle to cultivate (or even hang on to) the comparatively small amount of muscle mass I possess, as I grapple with this stupid machine in an increasingly tenuous battle to fend off the excess weight that seems determined to envelop me, as I endure these thirty minutes of hell each day just so I can continue to keep some degree of fitness part of my identity, it dawns on me that those guys over there on the shelf have it easy. They always have, and they always will. None of them had to earn their muscle, or fight off the insidious advance of middle age obesity. Spiderman spontaneously sprouted muscles after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Thor was born a god. Gods never have to throw themselves in the path of an oncoming exercise machine. Sure, Steve Rogers started life as a scrawny runt – he and I had at least that much in common – but then he went and got injected by a super-secret super-soldier serum (which conveniently went missing long before I got my turn) and then, WHAM!, next thing you know he’s Captain America. He’s set for life. He might retain some vague recollection of what it was like to be a scrawny runt, but he’s never going to have to deal with the twin scourges of visceral and subcutaneous belly fat.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Adventures of Heracles Mendoza - Sneak peak!

After months of revising and rewriting and polishing, I finally have a chunk of the novel ready to read that stands a decent chance of not embarrassing me. Just to be clear, I said a decent chance. I have written a prologue, which I am currently undecided about using, mostly because the tone and style of it is so very different from the book itself. Still, I'm posting it here because it does introduce the character in what I hope is a charming manner, plus it serves the additional purpose of raising the question as to who exactly the narrator of this story really is, and that, it seems to me, is a very fair question.

After the prologue, there are links to a PDF version of Chapters 1-4 as well as a link to a Word document that readers can complete and return to me if they wish to send me feedback. Or feel free to comment directly on the blog. Thanks for reading!


Where to begin?

Many writers like to start their stories with a bang, jumping right into the middle of some hot mess, trying to hook the reader with a shocking dose of tense, dizzying commotion. Others take the slow, methodical approach, carefully setting the scene, and then zooming in slowly like a camera until the main character is front and center.
But, really, a story can start any old way. I suspect that deciding just where to begin a story is a problem that drives writers crazy. Or maybe it’s just me. I wish I knew for sure. I don’t know too many writers.
Take this story, for example. This one begins on a sunny morning in the city of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, which is a large metropolis in the state of California, in the country of The United States, in the Year of Our Lord 2009. It begins with a fourteen-year-old (almost fifteen) boy by the name of Les Mendoza, as he plays basketball with a couple of friends on Monday, June 10th, the first real day of summer break (because everyone knows that weekends don’t count…).

But is that the best place for the story to start?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bull-leaping lives!

Ever since setting to work on my novel, I’ve been digging deep into the mythology and ancient history of the Greeks. One unexpected (but cool) side effect is that some otherwise random news story or fragment of ephemera will catch my attention because it recalls or connects with something from that time. A great example of this is the following photo, which chanced across my computer’s homepage a week or so ago:

This is a picture of a man sailing over a charging bull, looking much like an Acapulco cliff diver, only sideways. One thing we can say for sure about this guy is that when he landed, it wasn’t in water. Hopefully, it was just sawdust, or sand, or something equally inoffensive. Anyway, it makes for a compelling image, and instantly raises the question: What is this man doing, and where did he get those nifty socks?

I’ve had no luck with the socks yet, but it only took a few clicks to learn that the man is called a recortador, a professional bull-leaper. That’s right, he leaps over bulls for a living. The sport is called recortes, and the premise is to avoid being gored and trampled by a stampeding bull while still picking up points for style. To do this, the recortador relies on courage, preternatural agility, and an uncanny knack for knowing where the bull is going to go. The only weapons he takes into the arena are his wits and an unlimited supply of hair product.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Throwing the Penalty Flag on Muppets Most Wanted

I am already on record as being a huge fan of the Muppets, going back to the early days of The Muppet Show. And I wasn’t shy about professing my love for the recent Muppets reboot (2011) starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams, because it resurrected so much of the pure whimsy, joyful exuberance and gently caring spirit of the first and best Muppet film, 1979’s The Muppet Movie.

So how does the new film, Muppets Most Wanted, fare in comparison? Well, let’s just say that it’s a frog of a different color. Not a completely different color. Just a few shades off. After the opening number, MMW never quite rises to the level of its predecessor. It’s not that it can’t quite hit the high notes; it’s more like it’s not clear that they’re trying. Generally speaking though, it does meet the Muppet standard for entertainment value, and that means kids and adults alike will enjoy the film, in their own ways. Grown-ups will guffaw at the moments of parody, the playful pop-culture references and the quick one-liners, while kids will have fun watching the silly and colorful antics of the characters. It may not be the Muppets at their best, but it is them in their most familiar habitat.

One thing I confess I don’t understand about Muppets Most Wanted is the intentional decision by the filmmakers to loosely shadow the storyline of The Great Muppet Caper (1981). In The Muppets, the theme of reviving past greatness by getting the group back together again naturally lent itself to multiple parallels to the original, which was the story of Kermit and how he gathered the group together in the first place. MMW does something similar with its call-back film. Both are predicated on the Muppets venturing overseas and getting entangled in a major heist.

But why? The Muppets had something to say about reinvention and facing the future that actually builds upon the original, but that is not the case for this newest film. Both Muppets Most Wanted and The Great Muppet Caper are varieties of caper film, but there is no necessary link between them. So what’s the point? Why not set off in some new, different direction with MMW? The Great Muppet Caper wasn’t that great to begin with. Why use it as a model? And does this mean the next film is going to be The Muppets Take New Jersey?