He Had the Eyes

He had the eyes, right? That sadness. That depth of pain that rang out across all the nervous laughter, across all the incessant prattling from accent to joke and back again. That manic energy helped to contain a nonstop darkness that twisted the light and ached to be set free.

None of us will ever know where it came from or how it chose to be seen. We only saw the bits we wanted to, the parts that brought a smile or a laugh, the parts that made us roll our eyes and change the channel. “He’s doing it again.” The parts that made us think the ride was over, all the stories had been told. “Why is he always like this?” The parts that even the biggest fans grew weary of. “He is so annoying.”

He was so annoying. He took our need to be entertained and he crushed it. He was relentless with the constant need to be ON. We didn’t know. Sure, we’d heard the stories. He told them himself. Always at ease when the lights were on, when the sweat was rolling over and between the creases, the weary lines. But obviously what we thought was ON was more often OFF. He was clinging to the punchlines for salvation.

Then he turned it upside down on us. He let out bits of the shadows, let them curl up through the screen and reach into us. The person we knew as funny could also be human. He could be kind. He could be attentive. He felt what we felt because he was just like us. Life is falling upon all of us. Sometimes it’s difficult to catch your breath, to find your way, to even open your eyes.

The best humor comes from sadness, from looking at the worst and finding the best. You scramble for a spark to hold on to, to cling to, to squeeze the fire of life from with every beat of your heart. Yet sometimes it simply isn’t enough.

Sometimes you can tell. Ignore the smile. Look at the eyes.

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My Amazon Addiction – 2013

Saw a post on Gawker this weekend where someone detailed all the things they had purchased off Amazon in the past year and thought it might be an interesting experiment for me. There was a point where I was spending $40-50 every two weeks or so on books and DVDs and things that mostly went unread and unwatched as they piled up at an alarming rate.

The wife and I made a trip to IKEA (our third in the past month) so we could buy some more shelves and it finally hit me that I’m an idiot. Well, I mean, I already KNEW that, but still.

I actually stopped buying things, other than gifts and Kindle apps for the kids, sometime around Labor Day. Granted, this coincided with a necessary shift in funding towards beer for the college football season, but it also had to do with the fact that there was a stack of a dozen books on my nightstand with a quarter inch of dust accumulated on them. I’m fairly certain my 3 year-old scrawled “REDRUM” on top of them with her strawberry jelly tipped fingers.

Anyway, here’s a list of all the things I bought for myself on Amazon in 2013, with appropriately sad commentary…

JANUARY

Busy Monsters – William Giraldi
Gun Machine – Warren Ellis
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
Truth in Advertising – John Kenney

Yep…right off the bat, the unread pile of novels begins. I was so excited for each of these books, in its own right, yet haven’t managed to even crack the cover on any of them.

One Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts HC – Paul Pope

I’m a HUGE, like, completely GIANT-SIZED Paul Pope fan, so this was a no-brainer. However, it just sits on the shelf, unread. I’m a Pope completist to the point of spending hundreds on old posters and dealing with Mr. Pope himself to secure some things I couldn’t track down otherwise. I have a bit of Batman Year 100 preliminary artwork and the pre-press digital proofs of his Pulphope book. Hell, I even named my cat after him.

The Prince of Cats – Ron Wimberley

Speaking of cats, I heard this was a pretty cool comic book hip-hop retelling of Romeo & Juliet. Maybe one day I’ll actually read it.

I also bought the Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection on Blu-Ray, because it was on sale and also because…DIE HARD.

And I bought a book that I already owned, but this was partly Amazon misleading me in the description and partly me being lazy. Luckily, my dad was more than willing to take the copy off my hands.

FEBRUARY

The Rules of Attraction [Blu-ray]

I have this instant gratification slash nostalgia thing where I have to have something that I just watched on TV because it reminds me that I watched it at some other point in my life on TV and I need to be able to relive that experience whenever I want (even though I just relived it and I’ve never thought about reliving it prior to that…nor will I think about it again now that I own it on Blu-Ray).

We Live in Water: Stories – Jess Walter
The Miniature Wife and Other Stories – Manuel Gonzales

I decided, prior to writing my third novel, that I was going to get into short stories, little bursts of fiction that I could sate myself with while I tried to squeeze out my own scribblings. The Jess Walter book was beyond amazing (leading me to buy Beautiful Ruins…and, subsequently, not read it yet). Oh, and lest it remain unsaid, I haven’t read The Miniature Wife either.

MARCH

Imperial Bedrooms – Bret Easton Ellis
Lunar Park – Bret Easton Ellis

Obviously, seeing Rules of Attraction made me think about my past love of Ellis and how I was missing a few of his books. Of course, the reason for this is that I had outgrown his writing (both content and style). But I never let that stop me when I’m bored at work and trolling Amazon. I still haven’t read these either.

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon TPB

Read it as soon as I took it out of the box. Love me some Hawkeye.

The Shade TPB

Loved James Robinson’s Starman…or at least what I read of it. I have all 7 hardcovers, but trailed off reading them somewhere around four or five. I was very excited when this Shade project was announced. So excited, in fact, that I took this out of the box when it arrived and promptly shoved it atop my bookshelves for 10 months. I moved it last week when I put the new bookshelf together. I like to think of the dust as a protective cover, like Gorilla Glass.

Great Pacific Volume 1: Trashed! TPB
The Unwritten, Vol. 7: The Wound TPB
The Massive Vol. 1: Black Pacific TPB

I read two out of three. Finally stopped collecting The Unwritten after purchasing but not reading the last 5 trades. It’s a good thing Scalped ended with 10 volumes, otherwise I’d still be buying those.

Numb – Sean Farrell
Battleborn – Claire Vaye Watkins

If ever there was a book that made me hate myself for even pretending to be a writer, this is it. Simply put, it’s a beautiful, effortless collection of stories that had me alternately chuckling and cursing its uniqueness.

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors – Andrew Shaffer

Pretty good bathroom reading. Writers are a mess.

Samsung BD-E5400 Wi-Fi Blu-ray Player (Black)

Is there any other color? I think I bought this while we were on vacation at Disney World. No idea why. Was it on sale?

APRIL

Slow month. That Disney trip really fucked with our bank account.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation – Michael Pollan

Absolutely LOVED In Defense of Food and enjoyed most of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Saw him on a speaking tour too (as well as Anthony Bourdain). I got really into food politics and cooking for a while when I was writing my first novel. Still enjoy cooking, but reading about food has fallen down my priority list. Haven’t read this one.

SUPERMAG – Jim Rugg

Street Angel is an amazing comic. Jim is a super nice guy. We met when I owned my comic book store. This book is sitting in a drawer in my nightstand, paged through but never really read.

The Rockford Files: Season One DVDs

Blame Matt Fraction. He kept comparing his early Hawkeye run to the Rockford Files. I was aware of the show from growing up in the 70s and 80s, but never really watched it. Decided to buckle down and watched the whole season in one weekend. Totally hooked.

MAY

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

People still buy CDs?

The Paleo Slow Cooker: Healthy, Gluten-free Meals the Easy Way
You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack: Cartoons – Tom Gauld
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: A Christmas For Shacktown
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret

Two volumes of Fantagraphics’ amazing Carl Barks Library. I bought an Uncle Scrooge volume when I was in New York in 2012 to meet with my agent. I love me some ducks.

The Rockford Files: Season Two DVDs

Yeah, that’s right…

JUNE

The History of Vegas – Jodi Angel

Another short story collection. Gave up on it about three stories in. Didn’t like the voice.

This Is Portland: The City You’ve Heard You Should Like – Alexander Barrett

My wife and I took a trip to Portland at the end of July. This cute little book actually helped us out quite a bit.

The Rockford Files: Seasons Three through Five DVDs

The ‘rents gave me an Amazon gift card for Father’s Day. These box sets are still in the original wrapping. I never finished Season Two.

JULY

Soludos Men’s Dali Shoes, Color: Charcoal, Size: 44

I bought espadrilles for the Portland trip. Comfiest shoes EVER.

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon  – Chuck Palahniuk
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains – Chuck Klosterman

Unwritten rule: I never fly anywhere without taking at least one book of essays by a person named Chuck.

AUGUST

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe – Tim Leong
The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air DVDs
Wonder Boys DVD
Get Shorty Blu-Ray

Nostalgia, pure and simple. Dennis Farina had just passed away. The Get Shorty Blu-Ray was less than eight bucks (Unrelated to Farina, I think the Wonder Boys DVD was six).

SEPTEMBER

The Iron Giant (Special Edition) DVD
WWE: Legends of Mid-South Wrestling [Blu-ray]
WWE Presents: The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA DVD
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling DVD

Decided I needed to do some research for Book #4. Can you tell it may have something to do with professional wrestling? My dad and I just watched the WCCW DVD on New Year’s Eve (only 3 months after buying it!). The others? Unwatched to date.

Oh, I also finally bought an HDMI cable for that “new” Blu-Ray player I got in March. I’m on top of things.

OCTOBER

Nothing! See? Beer money.

NOVEMBER

I got some birthday cash, so…

Cards Against Humanity

I have no friends, but if I did, this would be a fun game to play with them.

The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling – David Shoemaker

Excellent book about mostly dead people. “Memory/All alone in the moonlight/I can smile at the old days/I was beautiful then…”

Redken Clean Brew Extra Cleansing Shampoo for Men, 8.5 Ounce

Beer shampoo!

Motorola Moto X, Black

New smartphone!

DECEMBER

Nothing (for me personally).

And that’s that.

I’ve made a conscious effort to try to catch up on those dusty bedside books, while also reclaiming some sort of workout regimen, cooking more, caring for my three children, satisfying my wife, and (somehow, somewhere, at some time) returning to a regular writing schedule.

I figure, with enough distractions (and illegal internet downloads), I’ll stop buying everything forever!

Writer’s Block – The Game!

Don’t worry! The title doesn’t mean I’m talking about ME having writer’s block. No one would want to hear that horror story. Of course, no one really wants to hear me ramble on about anything, but I digress.

I was listening to NPR on my way to work this morning and they ran a story about a guy in San Francisco who quit his desk job to become a poet-on-demand. This guy takes a typewriter to a park and sets up a little stand like a caricature artist. Folks come by, tell him three things they want in a poem, and then he types it up on a little scrap of paper. He says he makes $5 to $20 per poem. And, evidently, he makes enough to pay his bills…in San Fran.

Wow.

The concept got me thinking about a post I started 3 years ago (after having one of my deep thought moments while mowing the grass) and never finished, but it holds a lot more relevance now with the preponderance of reality shows that make up the daily TV schedule. I try to avoid them as best I can, having been burned out by The Real World and Survivor many years ago. However, there seems to be a resurgence in job-related reality shows now. My wife used to watch that Project Runway show. We catch as many cooking competition shows as we can. Deadliest Catch. Storage Wars. So what if there was a reality show competition about writers?

Look, I know it’s not the most exciting job to WATCH, but the results can be fascinating. The way different people handle the process might be fun to peek in on. And the cast of characters, with their pretension, lack of social skills and unearned air of superiority, would be the perfectly stereotypical group of reality show contestants.

I’m envisioning a gathering of different kinds of writers…poets, rappers, novelists, investigative journalists, technical manual editors, magazine critics, bloggers, etc. Every week they get an assignment and every week someone gets “blocked” (with a zippy catchphrase like “This is The End” or something about your last page) and voted off the show. At the end, the winner gets some sort of publishing contract or something.

I’ve already got a nicely comprehensive list of challenges:

  • Work with a hip-hop producer to write lyrics for a pre-produced track.
  • Go to a shopping mall and write a biography of someone you see.
  • Work with creative director to come up with a slogan for a product.
  • Write a scene for a movie.
  • Visit a museum and tell the story behind a piece of art.
  • Interview a businessperson and write a press release for them.
  • Rewrite the lyrics to a pre-existing song.
  • Write a children’s book on short notice.
  • Limerick about yourself (easy first challenge).
  • Haiku about a piece of clothing (crossover appeal!).
  • Poem (on-demand from a stranger on the street).
  • Go to restaurant and write a story about a menu item.
  • Tell a story to a bartender without writing it down first.
  • Finish a conversation based on one piece of provided dialogue.

The ideas are endless, which is saying something for multiple-season reality show competitions. So anyone know any TV programmers or producers?

Is Green Screen The New Black?

I used to bemoan the rise of reality programming on television. In my all-important opinion, “reality” should be limited to game shows and the news (with a crucial nod of the head to The Daily Show). When I turn on my television at the end of a long day, I want to be entertained by clever situations, interesting characters and compelling dialogue. Transport me to different eras. Show me the future. Or at the very least, give me a good fart joke and some canned laughter.

However, there’s a new phenomenon that has arisen from the incestual orgy of reality television. And that mostly unnecessary invention is: the commentary clip show. You know the ones I’m talking about, the “host stands in front of green screen and gets snarky over clips of other shows” shows.

Modern scholars of television will tell you that the “look at how stupid people can be” shows have been around for a long time. Classics include Candid Camera with Alan Funt, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, and anything on Fox News that involved Geraldo Rivera’s mustache. And here’s where I make the crucial distinctions between those shows and the plague that is consuming my cable provider’s on-screen guide.

See, Candid Camera took ordinary innocent people off the street and made fools of them for the twisted pleasure of the home audience. This wonderfully unique television breakthrough was, of course, all douched up by Ashton Kutcher when he appropriated it for his celebutard retelling in Punk’d. The pretense with Punk’d was that it relied on celebrities to act as normal people, which they invariably never do. It was like one big televised inside joke amongst the LA elite, but instead of surprising a run-of-the-mill civilian who was just trying to put a quarter in a parking meter, Punk’d displayed such classics as Zach Braff vulgarly berating and threatening bodily violence on a 10 year-old for spray painting his $100,000 Porsche. What a dick.

You may say: But Mr. DeadbeatJONES, didn’t Dick Clark and Ed McMahon pull similar stunts on unwitting celebrities during their TV’s Bloopers run? Yes,dear reader. Yes, they did. However, that was in the 80’s when celebrities weren’t such fame-obsessed asshats. Pulling a practical joke on the chick from Remington Steele never ended in a fistfight. And the majority of that program was dedicated to revealing bloopers from television shows. It was fun to watch your favorite actors screw up their lines or act up on set. Plus, Misters Clark and McMahon were always cordial in their commentary. And the Sergio Aragones cartoons were cute.

Geraldo Rivera’s mustache has no excuses.

But let’s get back to the current crop of green screen marvels. The granddaddy of them all is E!’s The Soup. First appearing as Talk Soup back in 1991, The Soup is best known for making fun of the weird things that happen on television from the most obvious sources. They delve into daytime talk shows, game shows, home shopping, public access, entertainment news shows and all kinds of reality programming. The show is also known for its very funny hosts, including the Oscar-nominated Greg Kinnear and the current comic genius Joel McHale.

I don’t begrudge The Soup its success. I watch it every week. It’s consistently one of the funniest things on television. And, with the horribly misguided things that get airtime these days, The Soup has a very large pool from which to fish for funny.

No, my problem (and finally the reason for this rambling post) is with all the Soup spin-offs and clones that continue to pop up. First we had Sports Soup, hosted by the relatively unfunny Matt Iseman.

You may be surprised to learn that the basis of this show is greed. Let me explain. See, cable giant Comcast owns E! and they also own Versus (network home of Sports Soup). I imagine a big staff meeting full of suit-clad older gentlemen took place in a giant glass-lined conference room on the top floor of a large building in downtown Philadelphia where one gentleman said “The Soup is quite popular” and another gentleman replied “We should put a version of that show on every other channel we own.” And thus, Sports Soup was born. Sports Soup, as the title suggests, shows sports-related bloopers. Yawn.

By extension, The Dish is the female version of The Soup. It is also pinned to a Comcast-owned channel, in this case the Style network. The show is hosted by Topanga from Boy Meets World. She’s cute and all, but the writers on the show must drink a lot of decaf coffee because I was yawning through most of the segments I forced myself to watch. They seemed to focus more on shopping and dating, topics that make me cringe. They also shake up the accepted norms by being the only green screen show that positions the host on the left side of the screen. Crazy women!

Web Soup is the newest stepchild of the Comcast empire, making its home on G4. The host, Chris Hardwick, is best remembered as the guy who no one remembers as the cohost of Singled Out, the seminal MTV dating show. I say he isn’t remembered not because he’s unfunny (I find him humorous but geekily awkward) but rather because anyone who watched that program only did so to either gawk at Jenny McCarthy’s rack or watch in horror as she finally decided to sate her hunger for human flesh and tear into the cheek muscles of a hapless contestant with her animalistic fury (and oddly alluring burping and farting). Web Soup covers the snarky commentary of online videos and poorly planned internet stunts.

Oddly enough, Web Soup debuted a few weeks after Comedy Central’s version of the green screen phenomenon, Tosh.0…which also exists to skewer online tropes, but is hosted by the much funnier Daniel Tosh. Sadly, the show isn’t all that original in the first place and seems to be scheduled whenever Comedy Central has a hole to fill in their lineup.

So what’s my complaint? Just laziness really. I will not criticize The Soup, like I said previously. Its home is subtitled “Entertainment Television,” so it makes sense for the show to exist. The other ones? Not so much.

And, honestly, I don’t begrudge Comcast their short-sighted programming solutions. You work with what you have, right? No, the one that really irks me is the Comedy Central thing. Aside from The Daily Show, the last relevant thing Comedy Central actually contributed to comedy was the endless reruns of Office Space back in 2002.

At first I thought that Viacom (Comedy Central’s owner) was going to launch a plan similar to Comcast…a green screen on every channel! I mean, VH1 used to have their own version of Web Soup with the clip show Web Junk 20 and the green screen snark has invaded a good portion of their lineup, from I Love the 80s to Best Week Ever.

But could Viacom stretch the green screen magic to all of their channels? Would a clip show work on Nickelodeon? I don’t think the kids would get it. We already know that MTV hasn’t produced anything watchable since Remote Control (for the young’uns, that was a hilarious game show that helped launch the careers of Denis Leary and Adam Sandler). Hell, half of The Soup‘s humor comes from poking fun at The Hills and The Real World. Although, I have to admit that a green screen show on BET could be hilarious.

But with sports clip shows and female-oriented clip shows and web-based clip shows, why not exploit other niche channels? Let’s throw a green screen and a host in front of Food Network and make hilarious jokes about recipes and beating eggs. Slap someone in front of a screen on Travel Channel and make fun of foreigners. Build a green screen on HGTV and have a host make fun of people’s horrible design sense. Better yet, give Bravo a green screen show to accommodate all those Housewives, pretentious fashion designers and reruns of Will & Grace.

You know what, I just had an epiphany! I’m off to scribble down my idea for a green screen show that exclusively shows clips of other green screen shows. Yes, my program will make fun of the shows making fun of the shows. How meta is that?

See you in Hollywood, suckers!

Seven Deadly Spots on the Human Body

Here’s a weird one that I was thinking about the other day. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to watch professional wrestling together. Went to some live shows. Even had one of them spit on my shoe.

But this isn’t about that. I’ve outgrown wrestling. Seriously. I haven’t had a friend put me in a figure-four leglock in at least 24 years.

See, back in the day, USA Network used to have Sunday programming that featured a show called All American Wrestling at 11am Eastern time. And that was triumphantly followed by the totally awesome Kung Fu Theatre at noon.

Kung Fu Theatre was usually on in the background as I acted out the wrestling moves I had just seen on my dad. I do remember one or two of the movies though. There was that one with the brothers with the really long ponytails that they used as weapons. And there was one with a girl and a fan (or was that just from the videogame Yie Ar Kung Fu?).

Anyway, the movie I want to focus on featured a crazy old man who was teaching some sort of orphaned dude the secrets of Kung Fu so that he could exact revenge on the evil warlord who murdered his family. Pretty typical plot for those movies.

The cool part was the old man detailing the “Seven Deadly Spots” on the human body and showing the kid how you could immobilize someone by utilizing these body locations. I’m not sure if I remember them all correctly, but I know at least four of them are from the film. My dad and I still laugh about this list…

  1. Temple
  2. Philtrum
  3. Armpit
  4. Liver
  5. Solarplexus
  6. Groin
  7. Big Toe

Look, I can understand the temple. The skull is thinnest at that point, right? And punching someone in the philtrum can jam their nose cartilage up into their brain (urban legend?). The armpit has lymphnodes that I guess can cause a lot of pain. Maybe? A liver shot actually can lead to internal bleeding. A fist to the solarplexus is gonna knock the wind out of you. And the groin shot is a much-loved tradition of Home Video Submission Shows. Plus, it makes a man cry.

But the Big Toe? Really? What’s a punch to the toe gonna do? Make you bend over, grab your foot, and do that “heavy breathing through clenched teeth” move that you orchestrate when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and accidentally stub your toe on the cat?

We all know that hurting the knee will just make your opponent go into that hilarious Crane pose from Karate Kid. I guess the guys from Cobra Kai should’ve aimed a bit lower to take out Daniel-san.

The Big Toe. Protect it or die.

As a brief aside, if anyone knows the name of the movie I’m talking about, PLEASE let me know. I’ve been looking online but can’t find anything.