Thursday, December 26, 2013

More Than Meets The Mind: Robot Therapist -- Episode 8: Various (Autobots, Decepticons)


ONSLAUGHT: Ultimately, the responsibility for the escalation of the Charon incident from skirmish to debacle rests on my shoulders.

I should never have sent Blast Off to deal with the Autobot Cosmos. I should have anticipated the possibility of a casualty among the Constructicons that would leave them unable to combine.

It was a regrettable tactical error.



COSMOS: Charon was all my fault.

I got there a little after the shuttle I called in. I was still assessing the situation when Blast-Off Came at me.

I panicked.

I thought there were hordes of Decepticons when there was only that first wave and then the Combaticons arriving as support.

Instead of calling in enough people to deal with the situation, I called in everybody.

That's when things started to get out of hand. That's when everything started to go wrong.

And I have no one to blame but myself.




BLAST-OFF: It pains me to admit that Charon was my fault.

I...underestimated Cosmos abilities. Who would have thought such a laughable creature to be so capable of combat and evasion.

I should not have given him the opportunity I did.

He humiliated me. The next time I see him, he won't be so fortunate.



TRAILBREAKER: Charon was all my fault.

If I'd been faster, they wouldn't have been able to call for back-up. We'd never have had to deal with anything beyond Soundwave and his unit, the Seekers and the Constructicons.

I should have been faster getting my shield up. Instead, Skywarp came out of nowhere and took me out before I could jam Soundwaves call to the Combaticons.

I keep replaying that moment, over and over. I can't get away from it.

Can't get away from knowing that everything that happened after was all on me.



SKYWARP: It was all Thundercracker's fault.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sleeping Dogs & Pleasing People

"You want to be a dog, asleep in the sun?" - Peggy Jiyu-Kennett, Roar of the Tigress

"One of his students asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”
“No”, answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No”, Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake”, Buddha replied"
-Fake Buddha Quotes

The moment that most defines Sleeping Dogs for me is a single minor side mission that also is also one of the most uncomfortable missions in the game.

Your character, an undercover police officer named Wei Shen has learned that one of the women seeing him might be dating someone else. You spend the mission creepily stalking her and bugging her telephone. When you confront her, she brings up the other women in Wei Shens life and breaks up with him.

Good for her.

Wei Shen is one busy boy. In addition to dating multiple women, y ou spend most of the game alternating between missions for the police, missions for the Hong Kong Triads, and helping out citizens of the city.

 Like most games, youre being constantly sent out to do tasks for other people. What really stands out in Sleeping Dogs though is you arent doing things for one particular team. Youre doing things for everyone.

 Drive here. Beat up this guy. Deliver this stuff there. Bust this drug dealer for the cops. Beat this guy up for the crooks. Take pictures of the sunset to inspire a t-shirt designer. It feels like Wei Shen is constantly running around doing everything for everybody who asks.
You aren't just helping the crooks against the cops and the cops against the crooks. There are sub-factions within both the police and the Triads. You help one police officer at the expense of another, then turn around and help the second cop in a way that causes problems for the first. You do a good turn for one Triad member, then turn around and start working for another.
In between all that, Wei Shen is babysitting gangsters' girlfriends, participating in street races, helping merchants with insurance problems, t-shirt designers find inspiration, singing karaoke, and playing chauffeur.

Wei Shen, for all his toughness and kung fu skills, is a guy who cant say no.

And that one woman in that one mission is the only character in the game to call him on it.

I never meant to hurt you, Wei Shen tells her.

 Which is weird, because Wei Shen has been doing nothing but hurt people through the whole game. Ramming cops off the road. Kung fu kicking gangsters and smashing them into rotating fans. Due to his many allegiances, there is not a single character in the game whose trust Wei Shen doesn't betray in some form or another.

 Thats the curse of the people-pleaser. Youre so busy focused on the individual tasks, you lose sight of the confusion youre causing for yourself and others in the big picture.

Some still might find it hard to believe that people-pleasing is something that can affect criminals and gangsters. My experience is that it more common than you might think, especially those who came from a background of poverty.
Because when you don't have money or the social supports available to the more fortunate, the people around you seem like all you have. So you grow up willing to do anything to keep them happy with you. You make decisions to keep them happy in the present even if it means undermining your own future.

Consider the case of Mark C. 
Mark C. (not his real name) and I became friends through our mutual love of pro wrestling. I was a skinny, soft-spoken  nerd. He was a loud, brawling tattoo artist. Id like to say despite our differences, or perhaps because of them, we bonded. The truth is, we didnt bond because of our differences or similarities. We bonded because Mark C. bonded with everyone.

 He was the most generous guy Ive ever met. I dont think I paid for a single drink, meal, or cover charge in the time I knew him.

 Mark C. was also involved with People and Things that Do Not Like To Be Talked About On The Internet. Eventually those things caught up with him. Mark C. died a few years ago in a confrontation with the police.

 When the news article came out on the internet, a lot of people who didnt know Mark C. left comments accusing him of being a gangster, a drug addict, and an antisocial thug who deserved what he got.

 And I thought, anti-social? Mark C. was the most social guy I knew. The bonds of friendship, family, and loyalty meant more to him than any person Ive ever known. If anything, he was too social. From what I could see, his whole life was spent doing favours for people. Most of our friendship was spent in his truck, spending hours driving from one end of the city to another. Picking up his kids when their mom was unavailable. Dropping off equipment for a friend. Helping a third person move some crap into their garage.

 Mark C. spent a lot of time helping people. He helped me. And I feel guilty about it. Because I dont feel I ever did much to help him back.

Towards the end, Mark C. was going downhill quickly. When youre being pulled in all directions by all people, there is the temptation to take refuge in something that will take you away and never ask for anything back. Yes that something might be slowly destroying you, but when all you want to do is to Get Away

 maybe the trade-off doesn`t seem so bad.

 Once I went over to Mark C.`s house to help with some writing for his business and I found him hallucinating and rambling. His pupils were like pinpricks and his words were incoherent, grandiose fantasies.

I didnt know what to do. I felt totally helpless. I stayed with him until I was pretty sure he wasnt going to die and then went home.

That was one of the last times I saw him.

 Not every people pleaser goes the way of Mark C. But theres a lot in his story that I see in others, even if those others stories are quieter and less colourful. Cops and criminals are not immune, but neither is anyone else. Teachers, nurses, and social workers are who we think of primarily, but many of us have the gene whether we're plumbers or politicians, hockey players or housewives. Some of us are fine professionally, only to go home and find our personal lives unmanageable.

We care so much about helping that we feel helpless without someone to rescue. We define ourselves by the things we do for others whether its in our jobs, our families, and our friendships. Without something to do and someone to do it for we dont know who we are.

Instead of looking for people who want us, we cling to the ones that need us.

It becomes a cycle: the more we do, the more we see ourselves only in relation to what we do for others. And the more time we spend on others, the blurrier around the edges we become and the harder becomes to see ourselves. The harder it becomes to look at ourselves, the more we look to what we do to others to define us until we get to the point where without someone to tell us what to do or who to be, we feel like we arent anyone at all.

Were open-world videogame characters without a mission. We can buy new cars, new clothes, or drive around listening to the radio, but ultimately were nothing. Sometimes--just as many of us do in those video game worlds--when there is nothing to do, we start wreaking havoc, not out of malice, but just to have something to do. Just to be noticed. Just to escape ourselves.

Just to feel something.

 Towards the end of Sleeping Dogs, as the various storylines start coming together, Wei Shen starts acting from his own wants instead of those of other people. He decides what is important to him and lives by it. That`s when the game starts to feel focused and purposeful--our sleeping dog wakes up at last.

 May we all find it in us to do the same.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The WrestleFest Challenge

When I was booked to do a comedy show in a heavy metal club, I didn't know what to expect, but I sure wasn't expecting the surprise that awaited me in a dusty corner of the room.

There, squatting opposite the pool tables, Golden Tee, and Big Buck Hunter was a piece of my childhood.

The WrestleFest arcade game.

WrestleFest was a staple of my first two years of my post-secondary life. My friend and I used to play it at the Reddi-Mart across the street from the college. It was our way of de-stressing after classes...or between classes...or sometimes even DURING classes.

Hey, music school is tough.

We would play in Royal Rumble mode-me and my best friend taking on all comers. Usually it was fun.

Sometimes it would be frustrating as when your health got low the AI computer would send guys after you while you were trying to escape the carnage to rest. Hulk Hogan and Jake the Snake Roberts were the worst offenders. Jake could be excused-he was a snake after all-but for the champion of prayer-saying, training, and vitamin-eating to engage in such underhanded chicanery was an outrage.

Once, after a particularly tough exam, I went for my daily stress relief and plugged my very last quarter into the machine. Seconds into the match, the Hulkster threw me out of the ring eliminating me, even though I had full health.

I couldn't believe it. I spend the whole walk back to school complaining about the outrage of it all.

"I go to this place to relax, and Hulk F***ing Hogan eliminates me. My very last quarter."

I was furious at the time, but looking back on it now, those were some of the best times of my life.

And here it was: WrestleFest.

And now I got a chance to play it again.

I plugged in a quarter. I selected DiBiase as my wrestler. I eliminated two guys before getting pinned by Bossman. Some things never change.

Except they do. Looking at the console, I realized something. Five of the twelve wrestlers featured in the game are dead.

Hawk. Crush. Earthquake. Big Bossman. Mr. Perfect.

There are lots of articles on pro-wrestling deaths. This isn't one of them, although it seems like a lot of guys in the business leave the earth too soon. This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I learned Ripper, the color commentator from the first promotion I worked for passed away a month before his thirty-ninth birthday.

Here's the thing though. Everybody dies.

It's like playing WrestleFest. Either you're thrown out of the ring or pinned or the time expires or you finish the game or you have to go back to classes.

One way or another, the game always ends.

The fun part is the playing.

And wrestlers play harder than most. In fact, I remember sitting at a table with three veterans of our promotion when one of the bar staff brought over a tray with thirty or forty shooters on it.

"Is that ALL for you guys?" I asked.

Rivers said, "It sure is."

"J**** *****!" I blurted out. "No wonder you guys all die early!"

They laughed, but no one disagreed with me.

But maybe they know the secret. Life is like wrestling. No matter how good a run you have, it ends with you on your back looking up.

It doesn't matter if you're a wrestler, a stand-up comic in a heavy metal bar packed with a whopping four people, or a night manager at Arby's. All you can do is live life to the fullest.

I didn't get that from a book on philosophy.

I got it from WrestleFest.

And, you know what? I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Diary of a Compassionate Degenerate: Rolling With Heartache

(originally published at The Gateway Boyfriend, April 2, 2013)

I’m used to grappling in pain. In my short career in jiu jitsu, I bruised my shoulder, pulled my thumb, stretched my groin. As I struggle to defend against the triangle choke my partner is closing around my neck, all of those body parts are making their discomfort known.

But the real pain, the one I can’t ignore, is in my heart.

My posture is broken. My head is down. Legs come around my neck; one arm gets pulled across my body. I wedge my free hand between my neck and his thigh, not much, just a crack of space barely a finger wide. I do the only thing left to me both for my position and for my broken heart.

I breathe.

And wait for the situation to change.

What else can I do?

Unlike other martial arts, I rarely hear my instructors talk about the ‘philosophy’ of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They are practical people with practical concerns: the foot goes here; the hips move this way; the arm pulls now. Yet that very lack of philosophy makes BJJ the truest metaphor for life. Instead of focusing on lofty ideals or spiritual principles, jiu jitsu deals in reality.

And reality--as many of the competitors in the first few UFCs can attest--can be a hard thing to face.

Rolling Doesn’t Lie

Rolling doesn’t lie. The position you are in is the position you are in. I could pretend I’m not in a triangle choke right now. I can make all the excuses in the world--I didn’t eat breakfast, it would be different had we started standing, I’m distracted by heartache--but none of that changes where I am.

I could say the same thing about my relationship. If only I’d tried harder or less hard. I should have paid attention to those voices inside my heart. Everything would have worked had she been more open or less of a perfectionist or been anybody but the person she actually is.

But rolling doesn’t lie. The position I’m in is the position I’m in.

Little things become big things

A hand holding onto the sleeve of my gi or gripping my collar while I’m in somebody’s guard. Not a big thing, a little thing. I’m still on top, I’m still keeping my balance. Now there’s a foot in my bicep or hip. Again, a small thing. And then I go to stand and then I’m falling and now my partner is on top of me and all these little things have turned into a big, big problem.

A problem that could have been avoided by paying attention to that grip. That little thing.

I remember little things in our relationship. I remember the first little thing.

It comes back to me in a split second flash as I’m being swept. In the fragment of time before I hit the mat, I feel her in my arms, lying on the couch together. I hear the words she said to me, and I hear the words I said back, offering comfort. But I also hear the words I didn‘t say, the fear I kept inside.

It was the first time I kept something from her, the first time I decided not to trust her. It was the first brick in a wall we built together, brick by brick standing on opposite sides, until finally it was so high we couldn’t see each other anymore.

I wish I could go back and strip that first grip.

I wish I could go back and undo that first little thing.

There is no winning or losing. Only learning

I’ve been tapped out dozens of times. Sometimes it happened quickly, before I even knew what happened. Other times it was slow but inevitable; I could see what was coming, but with no way of stopping it, the goal became to prolong the outcome as long as possible.

But defeat was never personal, and I learned something--sometimes several things--each time.

It’s a hard lesson to apply to the end of a relationship, especially one I’ve worked at for a long time.

I feel like a failure, like I‘ve given everything I had and have nothing to show for it. It feels personal.

But it isn’t personal. It’s never personal. It’s just the way things happened.

That’s the last, and perhaps most important lesson, I learned from jiu jitsu.

A triangle choke isn’t personal. Nor is an armbar. My partner and I got together and thanks to our combined experience, attributes, choices, and maybe just plain dumb luck the situation became what it was. Sometimes things don’t go our way. We take time to learn, to look at our decisions, to seek help when necessary, and recover from our injuries.

Then we find our next partner, put the past behind us, slap hands, and try again.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Had A Good Day: Cloverfield Revisited

The very first post on this blog was about the things I find uplifting about the movie Cloverfield.

Today Im going to talk about how that same movie breaks my heart.
It begins, oddly enough, at the end, with the very last line of the movie, when Beth, in flashback, looks into the video camera, smiles, and says: I had a good day.

I had a good day.
Those five words kill me every time.

Rob and Beth’s good day happened several weeks earlier when the two long-time friends hooked up and spent a romantic day at Coney Island. Unfortunately, their  budding romance is complicated by the fact Rob is scheduled to leave for Japan in a few weeks to start his new job. Torn between his affection for Beth and his dream job and also not wanting to lead on the woman he loves by getting involved too deeply with her when he knows he’ll be leaving, Rob takes it upon himself to come up with a solution: He avoids Beth at every opportunity and refuses to return her calls—essentially the Exact Opposite of what he should be doing, though as a fellow member of the If-There-Was-A -Problem-Yo-I’ll-Solve-it (And I’ll do it without your help or input, Other Person, Thank You very much) Club, I get where he’s coming from.
Things come to a head at Rob’s going away party when Beth shows up…with a date. An argument ensues and Beth storms out to return to her apartment. Then a Giant Fucking Monster attacks New York. The rest of the movie is Rob trying to find and rescue Beth.

Cloverfield is an interesting movie because of the way it presents the past. Its a found-footage movie which means everything we see is through the eyes of a home video camera. Most of what we see is the night of the monster attack. But we also see older footage from Rob and Beths good day--pieces of the date that werent taped over.
Movies deal with personal history in different ways. In The Hangover the past is something we piece together using clues from the present. Memento takes the approach that we construct our histories in our own minds, that there is really no way to know what really happened. Looper takes the more Buddhist approach that the past, present, and future happen simultaneously. The threads of today, yesterday, and tomorrow are intricately woven together. Pull one thread and the vibrations are felt through all the others.

In Cloverfield, the future overwrites the past, the horror of the present night erasing the shine of the past leaving nothing but fragments. A few seconds here or there of happier times that push through the curtain. But instead of being comforting, theyre torturous, haunting you with a world that once belonged to you but to which you can never return.
 In other words, its exactly like a wounded or dying relationship.

Being enmeshed in the gears of a failing relationship is a special kind of hell. Its not just that youre struggling to make something work that once seemed effortless. It isnt just that every choice you make seems to be the wrong one. It’s that while you’re trying to do these things, your brain is conjuring up memories of happier times, forcing you to compare them to where you are now.
You find yourself looking to your partner for reassurance: Yeah, were having a bad day, but there was a time when we had a good day, right? There was a time you wanted to be with me. We used to be good together.

You used to like me.
And this person looks back like a total stranger. They remember things differently. Or they can’t believe you’re looking to them to keep you from drowning when it’s taking everything they have to stay afloat themselves. Or they’re just sick and tired of going round and round with no end in sight and they just want to somehow, some way move on with their lives.

The result is, you find yourself mistrusting your own memories. Was that even REAL?  Or wrestling with a profound sense of injustice: What about those good times? Shouldn’t they count for SOMETHING? It isn’t FAIR.
It’s hard to accept the present when we’re clinging to the past. Often, even when we’re fighting for the relationship, we don’t actually want the relationship we’re in. We want the relationship we USED to have.

But relationship is gone and worse, it seems to be disappearing more by the day, the pain of the present overwriting the joys of the past like a recorded-over videotape.
Its especially hard when we feel, like Rob, that we done fucked up. Its not just that things have gone bad, its that its something we caused. We did something wrong, and everything that is happening now is all our fault.

And because we believe we caused it, we cling the idea that we can fix it. We can put the genie back in the bottle (the monster back in the ocean?) if were loving or attentive enough. We can make it all right if we just Try Harder or Work At It even if we don’t know what we’re working at, the whole time clinging to the memories of those good times, torturing ourselves with how things used to be, those flashes of joy when every discovery you made about each other was something new and wonderful.

Back when she used to like you.
(I had a good day. I had a good day. I had a good day. I had a good--)

The memory of that voice, those words will drive you crazy if you let it.
So don’t let it.
The Bad Things happening now do not erase the good moments of the past. Those things were real and they might seem far away right now, but hopefully with the passage of time you will remember and cherish them. They still count, even if only in your own heart.
But we cant live our lives trying to get the past back. Its impossible. Before we can get to the future, we must accept where we are.

This brings us back to Cloverfield and the example of Rob.
From the moment he gets the garbled phone call from Beth, Rob changes. He is no longer trying to manipulate the future as he was when he stopped calling Beth so that things wouldn’t get too involved. He is not trying to return to the past as he was when he realizes the videotape Hud is using to document the evening is the one with the footage of his date with Beth.
The moment he decides he is going to find Beth instead of evacuate with the others, Rob relaxes into the present. He doesn’t worry about how things turn out. He stops trying to atone for the past. He decides what is important to him in this moment, lets go of the results, and does the best he can.
The past doesn’t matter. The future doesn’t matter. Neither do monsters big and small, military installations, and falling buildings. All that matters is staying true to the direction he’s chosen and dealing with things as they come up.
In the end, Rob and Beth are reunited. Their victory isn’t that they make it out of New York City alive—their ultimate fate is uncertain. Their triumph isn’t that they still love each other, although that’s a wonderful thing. To me the real moment for Rob and Beth, as they lie beneath the footbridge with the sounds of bombs and monsters around them, is their ability to accept where they are together.
Because things are most definitely not fixed…or even fix-able. We’re stuck under a bridge and bombs are falling and monsters are roaring and rubble is coming down and this is as far from that day at the amusement park than we can imagine. But you’re here and I’m here, and while we are most definitely Not Having A Good Day it’s the day we have and no matter how bad it gets, we’re facing it together.
And for me--in its own fashion--that is the best day of all.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Diary of a Compassionate Degenerate: Dear Nephew

(This article was originally posted at my Dan Brodribb blog, May 7, 2013)

Dear Nephew,

Right now Im watching two of the people in my life I admire most--Slammer and the Middle-Aged Madman Vince Austin--exchange punches to the head while standing on top of a badly-dented aluminum ladder.

A lot of people dont get this.

I dont expect your mother to let me introduce you to professional wrestling for a while (the couch game notwithstanding). At twenty-one months, youre probably too young and besides, knowing you the way I do, youd probably be more fascinated by the shiny silver ladder than the two men risking life and limb on top of it.

But when youre old enough, I hope to take you to your first wrestling show. You probably wont get it then either, but youll still be a kid and whether or not you get things is for adults to worry about. I just hope you have a good time cheering for the wrestler with the coolest mask. Ill even buy you his picture. Hell sign it for you if you ask nicely.

If youre old enough to read this letter, you might ask yourself: Its pro wrestling. Whats to get?

Well. Ill let you in on a secret. Pro wrestling is a lot like life. There is more to it than the things you think you see. The deeper you look, the more lessons youll learn.

Well start with this one: Your worst enemy is your best friend.

Wrestlings most memorable moments are based on rivalries: Hogan vs. Andre. Steamboat vs. Flair. Raven vs. Dreamer.  DOA vs. Los Boriquas. Tonight its Slammer vs. Vince Austin. A wrestler is only as good as his opponents. The people that threaten his safety, push him to his limits, and thwart him at every turn also make him the most money, secure his legacy, and make him the best he can be.

Mankind couldnt be Mankind without an Undertaker to throw him off the top of a steel cage. Steve Austin needed first Jake Roberts, then Bret Hart, and finally Vince MacMahon before he crossed the threshold from wrestler to household name.

This applies to life too.

Now your enemies wont look like pro wrestling enemies. It is highly unlikely--though not impossible, I suppose--that an Elvis impersonator will smash a guitar over your head. But youll face your share of adversity. Sometimes it will be in the forms of specific people. Other times adversity will come in the form of social pressure to either turn away from or embrace a way of life that you know in your heart is for you. Sometimes it will even come from inside you in the form of self-doubts, fears, and anger. Those are the really sneaky ones, and well talk at length about them later.

Youll react to your enemies in different ways over the years. Some days youll fight. Some days youll run. Some days youll learn that there are more options than just fighting and running and those will bring you to new places. And other times--and Im sad to say this--your enemies will beat you.

Believe it or not, none of that matters in the long run. Life is also like wrestling in that winning and losing matters, but not as much as you might think and certainly not  for the reasons you might think. Results can be chapters in a greater story but they arent the story. Thats for you to write.

Your enemies will be ruthless. Theyll hit you at your lowest point in your weakest spots. Theyll run from you when youre strong and then sneak attack you when you least expect it. Theyll cheat and play games with your mind.

You enemies will show you who you really are. They will show you where you need to grow. And in facing them down, youll see where youre already strong and youll discover reserves in yourself you didnt know existed.

Theyll give you your most memorable stories. Theyll be the fuel for your most improbable victories. If you let them, theyll help you reach new heights, whether its the top of the world or the top of an unsteady, aluminum ladder in a three-quarters full community hall.

You can like them or not like them, but learn to love them. In their own way, theyre going to be behind your greatest moments.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Watch Your Tongue, Boy, If You Like This Job!": Young Punks, Old Men, and the Living Dead

It's no surprise to me, that the protagonists of Return of the Living Dead are young punks and old men.

The zombie genre has experienced a renaissance over the last few years. Who ever thought the walking dead would be the new vampires? I think a lot of it isn't the zombies themselves that fascinates us, but the fall of civilization. We're so worried about how dependent we are on our technology, we wonder how we would cope if it failed.

Civilization doesn't fall in Return of the Living Dead. The action is confined to a few blocks of Louisville, Kentucky. Nearly all of what we see happens in a graveyard, a funeral home, and a medical supply warehouse. Vehicles work fine. There is nothing wrong with the telephones. Emergency responders--police, paramedics, and the military are in plentiful supply. They're a phone call away, and they show up promptly when called.

What kind of zombie movie is this?

It’s a damn interesting one. It reverses one of the conventions of the genre in a way that isn‘t often repeated. Most zombie movies make the collapse of society part of the problem. The zombies are often a secondary problem to the loss of social order.  There are no police to keep order or paramedics to take care of us or military to fight back the scourge. Telephones don’t work; vehicles run out of gas; bullets are in short supply.

In Return of the Living Dead, society becomes part of the problem--every attempt by the existing social structures to re-establish order makes the problem worse . The police and paramedics are not only incapable of handling things, they end up being used as bait to lure in more victims. The military's 'surgical' attempt to solve the problem not only kills the patient, it spreads the contagion far and wide. 

The failure of technology is similarly subverted in Return of the Living Dead. The humans in most zombie movies are plagued with gasoline and ammunition shortages, insufficient medical supplies, and inadequate communications. In Return of the Living Dead, technology works exactly as intended. Unfortunately, it ends up working in the zombies favour. Not only does every phone call the protagonists make lead to more victims for the living dead, the zombies themselves--many of whom are capable of speech--use police and ambulance radios to lure in more emergency responders.

The zombies in Return of the Living Dead are much more human than we‘re used to seeing. They run. They talk. They use technology. They have individual self-awareness. Like us, they move away from pain, in this case, the pain of being dead.

Oddly enough, they even look to kill humans the way humans typically kill zombies. Most movies kill zombies by attacking the head. The Return of the Living Dead zombies cannot be killed this way. They do, however, have an unquenchable hunger for human brains which means they frequently attack people by going after their heads.

In other words, they kill us the way we usually kill them.

An impartial observer could be forgiven for asking: so what’s the difference between the humans and the Return of the Living Dead zombies?

Maybe there isn’t one. And maybe that’s why the movie has the protagonists it does: teenage punk rockers and middle-aged to old men. Neither demographic buys into the existing social order. Punks like Suicide refuse to conform to or be indoctrinated into the status quo. Middle-aged men like Frank have seen themselves betrayed by the status quo (“typical army fuckup,“ Frank grouses), and older folks like Ernie--whose choice in music and World War II era pistol hint at what he may have lived through--have seen enough status quos come and go that they don't buy into the bullshit.

Monster movies work best when the humans are isolated. Typically, it's a physical isolations like the the cabin in Dog Soliders (or Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods, and countless others), Anatarctic research station in The Thing, or even a spaceship or deserted planet (Alien and Aliens, or Pitch Black).

There's another way to isolate a monster's victims, and that's socially. The young gang members in Attack the Block are not cut off from civilization physically--the movie happens in the middle of the city--but their social status makes them outcasts. Sweater-clad dream-slasher notwithstanding, the heart of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series is the unbridgeable gap between parents and their children, the way neither can ever truly see into the other's world.

In Return of the Living Dead, the protagonists are united by their skepticism of authority. The military could have been involved much earlier had it not been for Franks mistrust of them and refusal to phone the number on the side of the gas cannisters. In the end it is Burt, the man closest to a societal authority figure, the type of person who trusts in the protection of the social order that makes the call.

The results aresub-optimal.

Watching Return of the Living Dead reminds me of how much we need our skeptics. They are not separate from society; rather, they are an essential part of it.

We need our young men in studded black denim who arent afraid to point out the hypocrisy of the adult world. We need our quirky girls who read much and see even more.  We need our old men who spout inappropriate truths at wedding receptions.

Or as Robert Charles Wilson puts it in his short story The Perseids:

We're social animals, basically, but the group is more versatile if you have maybe a couple of hyperthymic types for cheerleaders, some dysthymics to sit home and mumble, and the one guy--you--who edges away from the crowd, who sits up when everyone else is asleep, who basically keeps the watches of the night.  The one who sees the lions coming.  Good night vision and lousy social skills.  Every tribe should have one.
I dont remember a thing about the short story, but Ive never forgotten that quote.

Praise be to those who keep the watches of the night. The stand-up comics and the pro wrestlers, the burlesque dancers and the heavy metal musicians, the young punks and old monks.  Circus acrobats, mixed martial artists, and mountain climbers. Political activists and Anonymous computer hackers.

They keep us adaptable, spearhead change, and force us to question what our culture tells us is important. They see the zombies coming, yes, but more importantly, they recognize where they come from.

They recognize that all too often, the zombies are us.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Being Like Mike

Im about to write about two athletes whose names you would never expect to see in the same breath. Theyre two different races doing two different jobs in two different eras. One is a household name; the other is not even that well-known within his own specialty--only a fraction of fans would recognize his name.

Lets start with the one almost everybody knows. Lets start with Michael Jordan.

Michael Fucking Jordan. Mr. Be Like Mike.

I never wanted to Be Like Mike. Truthfully, I never much liked Mike. I resented Mike.

He was the man who killed my dreams of seeing John Stockton with an NBA ring.


Jordan and his Bulls were always front runners, and Ive never been a guy who cared much for the favorites. Thats why Stockton was my favorite basketball player. He was short, relatively unathletic, and visually unimpressive. Yet by working hard, playing smart, and making the people around him better carved a place for himself in the game that might never be matched.

But lets be honest. He was no Michael Jordan.

Nobody was.

I dont think its possible to describe just how dominant Michael Jordan was at his peak both on the court and in the public imagination. Im not even going to try. But you know those articles making a case for why LeBron James (and before him, Kobe Bryant) should be considered all time greats and that you should appreciate them, goddamn it?

Nobody wrote those kinds of articles about Michael Jordan.

Why? Because nobody needed to.

Nigel McGuiness on the other hand

There was a time--a period of six months to a year, maybe--when Nigel McGuiness was arguably putting on some of the best professional wrestling matches around. Notice I used the words arguably and some in that last sentence. Nigel was never the Michael Jordan of pro wrestling. He was, however, very very good. Two of his notable opponents included Bryan Danielson and Kurt Angle, both former WWE champions who are also in the arguably among the greatest category. None of his matches happened on wrestlings largest stage, the WWE, so he never  entered the public consciousness.

Nigel McGuiness and Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan and Nigel McGuiness. Two names that would never be put together except for two articles that came out on the same week. This one on McGuiness and this one on Jordan.

Theyre good, I promise. Ill wait while you read them.


See what I mean? Of course you do. Except for you, you fucker, who couldnt be bothered to click on the link.

Jordan and McGuiness lived different lives, and yet both of them are in the same place, retired and struggling beneath the weight of their pasts. Jordan lives in the shadows of the things he achieved; McGuiness under the shadow of the things he didn

Your career doesnt have to be over to struggle with these issues. In his book, Countdown to Lockdown, another pro wrestler, Mick Foley, grapples with the same problem. Once one of the most popular wrestlers in the world who was renowned for taking death defying risks, a broken down Foley finds himself trying to put together a match for a smaller company, a match which will be forgotten about in less than a week, assuming anyone sees it at all. Foley is trying to find satisfaction doing a job--one that a) doesnt matter that much and b) that he is not physically capable of doing to his former standards.

Of course, you dont necessarily have to get worse as you get older. Some get better at their job, only do discover the world has moved on. Bands like Warrant, Winger, and W.A.S.P., for example, put out some of their best music long after people stopped listening to bands like Warrant, Winger, and W.A.S.P.

In fairness, these bands didnt get a lot of respect outside their fanbases when they WERE doing well. Winger in particular got a lot of hate based on their look which is too bad because musically, they were a lot better than people gave them credit for. Ive seen many a bar band shipwrecked on the rocks of Seventeen”’s post-solo breakdown, the singer looking around for his cue as he slipped below the waves.

The point is, whether youre ready or not, whether youve accomplished what you want to or not, things come to an end. Youll shoot your final jump shot or sell your last body slam. Youll run your last marathon. Youll fuck your last supermodel.

Weve mostly been talking sports and music here, but its true of everything. No matter what you do, one day, you wont be able to do it anymore. There will be a last time for everything. The last time you do your job. The last time you see your parents. Your last child learning to walk, talk, and--eventually--graduate and move out.

When those things are gone, what do you have left? Where will you find your meaning when you are no longer needed or able to fill those roles that once defined you? What do you about the questions in your mind--the if onlys and what would have happened if I knew what I know now?  What do we do about the realization that it isnt just the things in our life that will end? Seeing these things come and go brings us to the realization that it isnt just our accomplishments that will eventually cease. One day we will kiss our last loved one; well breathe our last breath; our heart will deliver its final beat.

These arent rhetorical questions. Id really like to know the answer. Because at thirty-nine years of age, Im finding myself facing similar questions.

King Osric in Conan the Barbarian had an answer. Speaking to a younger, brawnier Austrian-accented barbarain he said: "There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father's love for his child. "

I dont have a daughter. But I do know something about love.

I may never reach the heights I hoped for as a writer or stand-up comic, but I love writing comedy now more than I ever have.

Heres a better example: Right now, Im learning the choreography for NSYNCs Its Gonna Be Me off Youtube videos. If you asked me why, I couldnt tell you. Its a great song with fun choreography, but its not the greatest single achievement of the late 90s/early 200s boy band craze--that particular honor, goes to the Backstreet Boys music video The Call, which sums up centuries of Buddhist doctrine on karma and rebirth in less than four minutes while simultaneously providing an awesome visual mash-up combining Fatal Attraction, The Matrix, the pharmacy scene in Natural Born Killers, The Shining ,The Game, and The Blair Witch Project.

Theres nothing special about Its Gonna Be Me. Theres also nothing special about me learning the choreography. Im not even learning it very completely or very welljust puttering around with bits and pieces here and there, skipping the parts I think look either too stupid, too hard, or I just cant figure out.

Theres no reason to do it other than the love of doing it. And as for the parts I cant dowell, I do them as best I can. Or I dont do them. And I love that too. So if you ever see me dancing publicly--and you might--dont expect to see the worlds greatest dancer. But if youre looking to find someone who loves what he does..?

Guess what? Its gonna be me.

But the truth is, it doesnt matter what works for me. Or Mike. Or Nigel. Or Mick Foley, Kip Winger, Lance Bass or anybody else. Its realization enough to know that all of us find ourselves facing these questions in some form or another. We often face them by ourselves, but we never face them alone because those questions in our heart echo in the hearts of others from the biggest superstar to the ordinariest of ordinarypersons.

We dont have to do anything to Be Like Mike.

We already are like Mike.

And Mike, the record-setting, six time NBA champion who twice cockblocked John Stockton out of a championship ring with a little help from those goddamned officials who gave him EVERY SINGLE FUCKING CALLultimately, hes just like us.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More Than Meets The Mind: Robot Therapist -- Episode 7: Red Alert (Autobot)

I can't give you that information.

RED ALERT: What can you give me?

Nothing, I'm afraid. I operate outside your authority.

RED ALERT: You are seeing both Autobots and Decepticons. You are privy to potentially sensitive information. As Security Director that falls directly under my authority.

I am an indepedent counsel. I have been appointed precisely BECAUSE I am independent. Your war has been causing great damage--both to your civilization and ones that have been drawn into your conflict. And while I will do everything to reassure you, there are some steps I simply cannot take.

RED ALERT: I want to know the names of the Transformers you're seeing. I am willing to allow you to keep the transcripts confidential, but I would prefer to know who they are. I would also like access to anything an Autobot says so that I know there are no breaches.

I can't give you that information.

RED ALERT: What can you give me?


RED ALERT: That's what I thought.

I have been nothing but forthcoming with you about the security precautions I have taken to ensure utmost confidentiality for all my clients.

RED ALERT: It's not enough. I need more than that.

I want more too. Some Autobots, even some of those who have been mandated to see me, are being reluctant. It would assist me greatly to have more than limited access to their files. I could help them better.

RED ALERT: I bet you would.

It's no secret. I want any information that will help me do my job better. But of course, for obvious reasons, those files must remain closed. I understand, and I accept it. But you, Red Alert, how good are you at accepting things beyond your control?

RED ALERT: This isn't about me.

You're not the first to have said that. It is my contention that statement is wrong. We all want to believe we are cogs in a greater machine, that we have no choice but to be swept along by events. It is about our ideals, our manifest destiny, or belief that freedom is the right of all sentient beings. It's none of those things. The war between the Autobots and Decepticons continues because individual Transformers choose to fight.

RED ALERT: Then what about you? What's YOUR motivation? Why are YOU choosing to stand between us? What is it that you want?

You're suspicious of my motives.

RED ALERT: Answer the questions.

Very well, then. In order: Your first question is too vague to answer. My motivation is to do my job to the best of my abilities. I stand here because I have been contracted to do so...a contract that was agreed upon by both Autobot AND Decepticon high command as well as by an independent body. And I want your conflict to end, as do races througout the galaxies. Your war has brought them millennia of pain. But ultimately, it is not up to me. It is up to you. Does that satisfy you?

RED ALERT: I won't be satisfied until I'm satisfied. I want to know everything about you. I want to know what's in those files. I also want to inspect and approve your security procedures. You may think they're secure, but the Decepticons are called Decepticons for a reason. Many have underestimated their abilities to their sorrow.

I'll take my chances.

RED ALERT: Not with the safety of my people and the beings we're sworn to protect. I'll get my answers. One way or another.

Friday, February 22, 2013

More Than Meets The Mind: Robot Therapist -- Episode 6: Ratbat (Decepticon)

RATBAT: Do you know what this war is all about?


It’s not good and evil. It’s not protection versus conquest. It's not about peace through tyranny or the rights of sentient beings or any of the pretty philosophical justifications that make blowing our fellow Transformers to pieces feel more palatable.

It’s all about energy. Lack of energon is the only thing that can stop Transformers. We do not pass on from old age. We do not suffer from illness. Even in combat, we are difficult to destroy permanently. We can be revived as long as we have sufficient energy.

We should not be engaging in pointless battles. And Charon was a pointless battle. It was a strategically unimportant mudhole, yet we let it escalate into a wasteful expenditure of precious resources.

We should be bleeding the Autobots dry, forcing them to use energy while saving our own. This is a war of attrition, not of grand battles. We should be fighting it as such. But of course, that would not be the Decepticon way.

You sound unconvinced of the Decepticons current course.

RATBAT: The Decepticons are inefficient. There is a different between winning and victory. Winning requires brute force. Victory requires forethought, planning, assessing situations and setting objectives. Victory requires a plan, something our current leadership doesn’t have.

You have a plan?

RATBAT: Of course.

Do you think you should lead the Decepticons?

There is no leadership for the Decepticons. Our leadership structure is flawed. Our tradition has always been the strongest rules until displaced by someone even more powerful. That’s not leadership--it’s bullying. It’s irrational. And if it continues, it will be our downfall.

Do you think these feelings may be connected with the fact that you are one of the smallest, slowest, and least combat-capable of the Decepticons?

RATBAT: Absolutely not. These are not FEELINGS. These are facts. This is simply rational analysis. It has nothing to do with me.

You sound angry.

RATBAT: I am not angry. But I am starting to doubt your capabilities. You seem to believe that our feelings are somehow relevant. How do I feel about my lack of stature? How does Laserbeak feel about Soundwave’s disappearance? How does Megatron feel about being a megalomaniac who won’t listen?

If you want damaged psyches to poke through, save it for the Stunticons. I am about finding the most efficient and effective way to win victory for the Decepticons. My personal feelings have nothing to do with anything.

Nothing at all.