So, as my mind is focused on completing the next book by spring, I'm going to set this blog aside for awhile. I'll resume the posts once the manuscript is finished.
About a week ago, I called in sick to work. It was Christmas Eve, I was scheduled to open at 7am, but I cried uncle after three increasingly-difficult days of fighting the flu, and washed down a Sominex with Nyquil. I awoke at 10:30 that morning in silk pajamas, warm flannel sheets, with a purring cat and snow falling in the windows. I had everything I needed on the nightstand: apple juice, hot tea maker, Kleenex, phone, iPad, and remote controls ... so I was set. I restacked the pillows, brewed a cup of tea, then browsed On Demand until I found the perfect binge watch: the original three Star Wars films. John Williams' orchestra filled my bedroom as I filled a tissue with what looked like taun taun guts. Despite the snot (and disapproving looks from my cat), the Sunday turned out to the best ... sick day ... ever.
I've often joked that the Star Wars movies are the original software that came with my imagination. I know the films backwards and forwards, and I still have - and add to - my 1970s/80s era sci fi toy collection, proudly on display in my home. For a lonely kid growing up in 1970s Illinois, the world of Star Wars was the perfect place to escape in my head, and clearly marked the beginning of an imagination that's lasted a lifetime. In addition to the obvious - Star Wars is fucking cool - I loved the "pageantry" of the first three films, with grand sets, grander ships, and grandiose civilizations thriving on far off worlds. Everything in Star Wars is "big," like technology made things larger, not smaller. No one uses iPhones or compact tablet computers, and the electronics on the Death Star - as sizable as IBM mainframes - fill entire rooms with buttons, lights, and levers the size of rat traps. Machines are huge, with relays and pipes, miles of wire, cable, and conduit, and enough forged metal to reconstruct Isaac Asimov's Tranitor, with scraps left over to hammer out a couple dinette sets. Even the robots are big and bulky, with a few rolling around on tires. When Han Solo rescues Luke on Hoth (at the start of The Empire Strikes Back), he pulls out a "portable" radio to communicate with the local rebel base. The radio is ridiculously large, with silver antennas that resemble rabbit ears.
Chuckling ... its nice that that science of the future has allowed us space travel, but it's still a little heavy on vacuum tubes.
Back on Earth, one of the biggest technology stories of 2017 involved the emergence of driverless cars. It's clear these vehicles are almost here; every major auto manufacturer has been testing autonomous prototypes for years, with pretty decent results. It's hard to imagine cars as a whole are nearing the end of gas-powered engines, after over a century. But V-8's are almost exclusively reserved for trucks now, with V-6's becoming a high-end luxury for passenger vehicles, and V-4's the standard for everything else. It's predicted that gas-only engines will be gone within a decade, with hybrids the norm as technology improves and prices go down. I recently saw an episode of Black Mirror, where the female lead drove a 65' Thunderbird through the American southwest. She stopped at a gas station, but rather than filling the tank, she "recharged" the engine with a solar device (as it had been retrofitted to run on electricity). I've actually often thought about that - what happens to all the Chevys, Buicks, and Fords currently on the road? When I'm finally able to start collecting cars myself, I have a list of 70s/80s Cadillacs I want to purchase (from the days when the original Star Wars was new), but if cars go electric, where will I find gas to power the old ones? I can't imagine rolling up in an 80' Eldorado with an engine that doesn't make a sound.
It's also hard to imagine "trusting" a driverless car to safely navigate a highway. "What if the car gets hacked?" I think. "Hell, what if EVERY car gets hacked?" I've previously written about how dependent we've become on technology, and how I genuinely believe the next big 9-11 style attack will involve an EMP, or a cyber strike that temporarily disables the flow of goods/services. I received an iWatch for Christmas this year, and it took three separate trips to the Apple store to make it pair with my phone. Our technology is good, but it's definitely not infallible, and I fear that when I finally RELAX in a driverless car, the network's gonna fail and turn the Eisenhower into high-speed bumper cars. Hopefully, the driverless ambulances will run on a different server. Hopefully, my iPhone will find my iWatch after my arm is ripped from my torso on impact, and thrown - watch and all - onto the pavement 40 yards from my vehicle's burning wreckage. Sigh ... at least I'll complete my exercise circle for that day.
I guess that's why I like the original Star Wars films so much, forty years after their release. They portray a world of technology that hasn't been absorbed by technology; people still eat, drink, fight, and laugh ... all while kicking their robots, in the same way we hit our TV's growing up. Star Wars is a universe of interplanetary travel that's completely void of Facebook, Recon, and Twitter. It's a place of big machines, big robots, and big ships ... and you'll never see a "FlexFuel" insignia on the Millennium Falcon's hyper drive. I always see a movie over the holidays, and I opted for The Disaster Artist last night, rather than the The Last Jedi. It's nice that Disney retooled the series for a modern audience, but nothing will ever top seeing A New Hope in a Springfield Illinois drive in, in 1977 ... watching from the back seat of a 76' Coupe DeVille.
Good memories, and a great way to end 2016.
So, I've been watching Supernatural again - season 12 this time around. I followed the first six or seven seasons pretty faithfully as they aired, but lost interest when the show got stale and started recycling/repackaging the same old plots, like the original Hardy Boys books. The show still has its moments though, and I grin at every geeky/meta reference the writers manage to slip into the episodes. But Supernatural still suffers from Murder, She Wrote syndrome in that like two serial killers, Sam & Dean leave a body count with every town they visit. We all know that back in the 80s, Jessica Fletcher innocently stumbled onto a different homicide every Sunday evening (while Jonathon/Jennifer Hart did the same on Thursdays). Even without the Internet, you'd have thought that SOME detective SOMEWHERE would have thought, "You know what, Earl? Have ya ever noticed that every time someone in Cabot Cove is found dead in a pool of blood, shit, and piss, that ollllllld Ms. Fletcher is always standing nearby hummin' that song from Sweeney Todd?" And to my knowledge, unlike Sam & Dean, Jessica Fletcher never left a pile of charred, blackened corpses burning in a Costco parking lot, like I saw this morning while ironing and watching TV. And today isn't even Black Friday.
Speaking of Black Friday, I've been thinking a lot about retail shopping lately, and how much the Internet has changed the way we buy things. In my 15th year at Barnes & Noble, each day is a battle to convince customers to purchase books within the store, rather than on our website or Amazon.com. Like many old retailers, BN is frantically modernizing to stay viable in the modern world. As I look at my own store - as well as other retailers around me - I can't help but wonder what the world is going to look like in ten years.
I had a serious dose of nostalgia last week when I stopped at Fox Valley Mall in Naperville Il on my way to work; I had to get a watch repaired, and the mall had the only local fix-it-while-you-wait repair shop. While the watch was being fixed, I killed time by walking the corridors and remembering growing up in the 80s, when going to the mall was a pretty big thing. Unlike many indoor shopping centers, Fox Valley hasn't made YouTube's Retail Archeology channel ... yet; it's kept itself relevant since 1975, and even its Sears has somehow stayed open. But I didn't buy any merchandise during my visit. If something caught my attention, I used my iPhone to research the product (and prices) online. I grabbed a quick sandwich in a very expensive food court, and wondered how much the mall's stores must pay in rent and how hard it must be to keep customers engaged in a shopping center that hasn't been cool since Tiffany Darwish sang covers in front of Sam Goody, back in 87'. Even Sam & Dean are getting old, I thought, as I tossed my trash and checked my social apps for messages before heading to work. And I'm getting old, too ...
It's hard not to be just a little melancholy as a man pushing 50 in the world right now. I like to think I'm up to speed on technology and trends, but "awareness" of such things isn't the same as enjoying them - and I often feel curmudgeonly as I search the car radio for songs from Tiffany's era to which I know the words to by heart. It's eerie that he culture of my youth is now considered nostalgic, and shows like Supernatural & Stranger Things unintentionally hammer that home. I still have my old Star Wars toys on display (the same ones that Eleven levitated on Netflix) and the older I get, the more fondly I revere them, searching Ebay for good prices to add to add to my collection. Chuckling ... regarding shopping for old pop culture, I'm actually a little afraid of going into an antique store because I might find the watch that I just had repaired in the mall.
Slightly off topic, I recently watched the movie Valerian, a mess of a story from the folks who gave us The Fifth Element (my all time favorite film, though sadly the new movie wasn't as strong as the old). In Valerian, we saw a glimpse of a future that's become common in recent stories: the galaxy is teeming with friendly life, but humanity keeps fucking things up. Valerian's "City of a Thousand Planets" was like a giant shopping mall in space, where aliens & humans coexist in a world of computers & social apps (sort of like what Babylon 5 might have looked like, had the show been produced by Apple). It was a story of forced harmony, a world that like our own is struggling with growing pains - and technology that keeps us apart, rather than bringing us together. I hate films that make humans the bad guys, the invaders of worlds that shit on Avatars' trees. But I do find it interesting that almost all of these stories romanticize a simpler way of life, as our own world gets more complicated by the day ... with technology that continues to reduce the need for human connection. And you don't have to be a curmudgeon to see the truth in that.
Btw, at risk of sounding like an old fart, as I look at my watch, after 14 seasons of Supernatural, I reeeeeally think it's time for Sam & Dean to go. I mean, they didn't even have iPhones when the show got started ...
You know, having watched Octavia Spencer bake a shit-pie in The Help, it's reeeeeally hard to take her seriously baking bread as God in The Shack.
My morning started in a funk, waking up at 4am to the sound of rain on the window. I got up in the dark, grabbed my robe, cat, and iPhone, then went downstairs to put the coffee on early and settle on the couch to watch news. Once I was confident North Korea hadn't nuked the west coast overnight, I flipped through On-Demand looking for something lighter to watch ... Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, or even this season's laughable American Horror Story. As I was caught up on all my favorites, I ended up scrolling the HBO listings. I noticed that the film adaptation of The Shack was now available, and like I did with Twilight a few years back I thought, "What the hell? The book was a bestseller, so how bad could the movie be?" Also like Twilight, I had my answer quickly. I sipped hot coffee and checked my Recon messages as I sat in the dark, silhouetted against TV's unfolding drama. Working through grief I learned, is just like kneading dough ... and once the bread is made, you get to open your mouth and eat it. Shit-pie, hot bread, it's all the same big steaming mouthful ... only in the case of Papi, that mouthful was prepared in a kitchen that looked a lot like Martha Stewart's TV show.
To be fair I have to say that I'm not bashing Christian fiction; I've read many titles myself, including the first eight Left Behind books, The Celestine Prophecy, and a good chunk of The Harbinger. I particularly enjoyed Joel Rosenberg's stories (fast-paced religious thrillers that rival Preston/Child novels), and for as large as Christian readership is, I'm surprised most bookstores don't have bigger sections. (Some of the stuff is pretty good, and deserves the same promotional attention as the If-You-Liked-Fifty-Shades books.) I'll admit I never read The Shack myself, but I'm familiar with the story of "how" the book came to be published. Like EL James, William James is literally a rags-to-riches story, a small author with a small book that ended up becoming a very big movie (thankfully, without Nicolas Cage as Captain Steele). I'll also admit that once I researched The Shack's content, I chose not to read it because it really doesn't fit my belief system. Grief isn't as colorful as Robin Williams' What Dreams May Come, and when you finally find a place in your mind to face it, the setting is rarely as nice as the shack's.
The shit-pie tastes the same, however ...
On the complete and total opposite end of The Shack, I recently found a copy of Ian Schrager's coffee-table-sized coffee table book, Studio 54. The book is so large, I couldn't even reduce it to thumbnail size; the image to the left is as literally as small as it gets. Chuckling ... this book, like Papi's Bible, has heft.
By now, everyone knows the story of Studio 54, the legendary disco that defined 1970s New York. The 1998 Mike Meyer movie barely scratched the surface, and the club's heyday lasted just over two years, surprisingly short considering the stories that are still remembered today. Having come of age in the 1990s myself - and partied many nights away in Champaign IL's Chester Street (and the long-defunct clubs of 90s' Halsted Street) - I can't even imagine what Studio 54 must have been like. To my knowledge The Club Peorian never covered its dance floor in glitter, though I do remember it hiding the walls in black plastic for Halloween - then keeping the plastic up past Christmas, because the plastic looked so much better than what was underneath. I also remember rumors of someone getting crabs from the barstools.
I have a collection of scrapbooks from the 90s, filled with mementos from hitting the Chicago clubs. With Army of Lovers as their soundtrack, my scrapbooks' pages are packed with flyers, drink coupons, logo'd matchbooks, a micro cassette tape, and long-disconnected phone numbers gathered in the days before text & email. There are no pictures of myself from back then because I always went out alone, hoping to find a hookup. Unlike the glitterati photos in the 54 collection, I have no glossy snapshots to capture what happened in 1990s Illinois; we may have partied like the 70s, but we weren't as cool as we thought. I doubt that Halston ever stopped at White Castle off I-55, on his way home from Touche.
I mention Schrager's book because I found it as sad as The Shack. Both books tell the story of people lost in the past, with two totally different views of heaven - one, from a religious perspective, and the second from those too hungover to get up for Sunday church. I've known a few people over the years who've given up the club scene for quieter lives. I never officially gave up the life myself, though age and a mortgage did cause me to slow down ... along with a couple DUI's. Rather than an official "I'm done with this; I'm ready to settle down," I've been slowly retreating into my head, taking solace within imagination and modern social apps. It's not a pretty thought I know, but as I see more and more William Shatner in the bathroom mirror, it is ... realistic. Or, at least a little more so than finding Octavia Spencer making crescent rolls in the kitchen.
A few years ago, I announced that I wouldn't be writing about depression in my blog anymore, primarily because the topic scared the hell out of people - and Google Analytics showed that clicks on the topic nosedived. I've decided to change that policy. Depression seems to be everywhere now, coming out of the closet within pop culture in shows like Bojack Horseman, This is Us, and surprising films like The Babadook. I've also deleted the "Shh, No Talking" tab on this website's toolbar, which was for almost four years, a private blog where I wrote about alcoholism and living with mental illness. There is no longer a need to keep those topics hidden. They're a part of who I am, and a big part of both When People Go Away and The Casual Cafe.
I've also decided to shelve When People Go Away for the time being, and refocus my efforts on finishing The Casual Cafe. WPGA hits too close to home right now, and I'm not going to tackle it until I have a second book under my belt. No, I didn't have a "Christ in the Kitchen" moment, but I am coming out of a verrrrrry long depression, and it's time to tell a story that's fun - and not weighted down by the sadness of the past. I'll tackle WPGA a few years from now, when the idea is as polished as a coffee table book.
So, that's the plan.
So, I just watched Game Of Thrones S7 E4 (again) this morning, and with what has now become my Monday routine I also caught several episode recaps from channels I follow on YouTube. Sunday's GOT was one of the best this season, but the video commentary only made it that much better. I used to think I was clever, that I was adept at noticing the little nods, Easter eggs, and nuances that directors insert to give core fans a hard-on. But I have to admit, after subscribing to some of the big YouTube fan channels, I'm not even on the radar when compared to the current bunch of fan-bloggers. It seems like only yesterday, we were all swapping MST3K episodes on VHS mix tapes.
YouTube has become ... amazing. It's light years beyond just video clips of cats. A solid YouTube channel can be as important as a resume (or a website), and I've found myself watching it as often as Netflix or cable TV. I'm constantly impressed by YouTube's creativity, and how ordinary people have developed massive followings just by posting short, simply-edited videos on topics mainstream media would never give the time of day. Sure, the fan-blogs are fascinating, but I what I really enjoy are the growing number of channels that take mundane subjects (such as struggling retail stores like Sears) and give them the treatment of a good documentary. (Search YouTube for a channel called "Retail Archeology.") I've mentioned a few of these in this blog over the years, with one of my favorites being "Jaka Parker" and his hidden-camera videos showing daily life in North Korea. Another new favorite is "Star Trek Continues," a crowd-funded fan-fiction channel that's continued the original Star Trek series with different actors and dead-on production values. Forget Jenna Marbles & Miranda Sings, I enjoy falling asleep to Mr. Nightmare & Creepy Pasta. Chuckling ... I'm sometimes tempted to start a YouTube channel of of my own, but when I think about things that I like to film, I'm probably better off on XTube.
I'm not sure where this came from, but I got onto a "Barrow, Alaska" kick last week - and spent a good two days searching the topic on YouTube. Barrow is a fascinating place; it's the northern most city within in the United States, and it sits on the shore of the Arctic Ocean - one of the coldest places on earth. Barrow is so far north, the sun doesn't set for a month at a time each year ... and then six months later, the cycle reverses and the sun doesn't rise for thirty straight days. To see the northern lights from Barrow, you actually have to look south.
The town is completely isolated from the world; there are no roads connecting it to the rest of Alaska. The only way in/out is is by combi plane, or a once-a-year ferry that brings big supplies like cars, lumber, and Tauntauns (during the brief summer window when the ocean's ice thaws). Barrow relies on Alaskan Airways to supply food, dry goods, and antidepressants - making everything purchased within the city hideously expensive. (In May 2017 for example, milk was $16 a gallon.) Of course, the cost of living is offset by an average household income of 80k a year, but still you've got to wonder ... unless you're on the lam, why chose to live there? I mean, the place looks as desolate as the moon, the houses resemble FEMA trailers, and the only bar in town doesn't serve alcohol. (Seriously. Due to the long nights and dangerous cold, the town is dry.) Can you imagine what Barrow's TINDER selection must be like? When someone local describes himself as a "bear," he's totally not kidding.
That being said, I reeeeeeeally want to visit Barrow - and it's all because of YouTube. I want to see the place where the White Walkers live, and I want to catch a Pokemon on the beach of the Arctic Ocean. I also want to experience how our modern world allows a place like Barrow to exist in the first place, then jump on a plane and return to civilization. YouTube has shown me glimpses of some of the planet's most amazing places ... and I've been making a list. Barrow is on that list. So is Jaka Parker's Pyongyang, after the regime falls. So is Area 51, though I suspect that Barrow might be a little more accessible.
Actually, disregard what I said above about not knowing where my Barrow kick came from. I know exactly where it came from: Barrow, for some reason, popped up on my YouTube's "suggestions" feed. If you liked watching Nerd Soup David, then you'll definitely enjoy this video on Barrow. Or perhaps this episode of the Golden Girls. Or maybe this Hitler documentary. We're a Google subsidiary you know, so we've been collecting data on you for years; now that you're 48, how about this clip of Bobcat Goldthwait during his first appearance on the David Letterman show? Our algorithms suggest that you're likely to have fond memories of late 1980s comedians. And I'm not kidding, btw. Every single one of those suggestions have appeared on my youTube homepage today. How'd YouTube know that Barrow made me think of Blanche, Bobcat, and Hitler?
No matter what crazy suggestions YouTube has, I'm sure it will keep me busy until next week's Game of Thrones. In the meantime, I'll enjoy my regular assortment of topics which include North Korea, Creepypasta, Star Trek fan fiction, quantum computing, Trump rallies, documentaries/biographies, and of course the Holy Grail: the approaching disclosure of extraterrestrial life. On that last subject, I don't often recommend ET videos, but I just watched this one today - and it's really good:
I'd like to watch Nerd Soup's analysis of that!
A few weeks back I was watching video of Donald Trump boarding Air Force One, on his way to give the commencement speech at Virginia's Liberty University. I saw him leave the motorcade, climb the airplane's exterior staircase, and pause at the top before entering the fuselage. As usual, he turned to wave at the cameras, and I was struck by the "loneliness" of the entire image. There was no one visible waiting inside the cabin and unlike most recent flights, no First Lady at his side. The President was alone, completely alone, and the visual became the perfect metaphor of his Presidency so far. And I don't mean that as a bad thing. As I've said many times, I really like President Donald Trump.
SNL pulled out all the stops in its season finale before the POTUS left the country for his first overseas trip. Alec Baldwin donned his yellow wig & orange makeup, the Rock & Tom Hanks announced their 2020 candidacy, and anti-Trump politics fueled the following sketches, inserting politics into everything possible. I was reminded of something I'd read about a week ago, and please forgive me but I can't remember the source. It was a news story that described how SNL has crossed the line between comedy and "ridicule," and it focused on Sean Spicer - and Melissa McCarthy's increasingly-cruel portrayal of him. It's one thing to "mock" a public figure, like Kate Mckinnon's dead-on Clinton impression (the way she moves her hands like claws is spit-out-your-coffee brilliant). But unlike Darrell Hammond's equally dead-on Trump ("a-ba-ba-baaaah"), Baldwin's impersonation is as offensive as black-face ... and I'm completely baffled that the PC-movement allows it to happen. And as a gay Trump supporter, whenever I watch comedians like Baldwin ridicule the President, it's hard not to feel like they're ridiculing me.
With the exception of Trump's recent overseas trip (..."Let's hear it for the rainbow tour, it's been an incredible success"...), the media has declared all-out-war against our President, singling him out for ridicule/destruction with the same subtlety as Kim Jong Un threatening the West. It's gone beyond "respectful dissent," and the anger the left displays towards Trump reminds me of childhood bullies, shouting "faggot" through fences during lunchtime recess. I...just...don't...understand...how this behavior has become acceptable. Can anyone see how wrong this is? Does anyone realize how discriminatory this is? I mean, we protect people for being ostracized because of race, gender, gender identity, age, handicaps, physical/mental illness, and almost every combination in between ... yet its *okay* to gang up on Trump supporters like whites on blacks in 1960s Mississippi? Jesus fuckin' Christ, it literally took Kathy Griffin holding a bloody orange head for liberals to say, "welllllll, maybe that's a little too far." Can you imagine the shitstorm had a conservative comedian done the same thing with an Obama head? Or how about a redneck holding a (insert ANY group with a protected status HERE) head? See where I'm going with this? Again, this is coming from a GAY guy. And specifically as a guy who's finding it increasingly difficult to separate the art from the artist, the news from the source, and the intolerance from people who claim to be the most tolerant of all. That being said...
With all the garbage competing for headlines yesterday, it was easy to miss the most important story of the day, in The Washington Post: "This millionaire has a promising idea for space exploration. But he says aliens are already here." The story involved Robert Bigelow's 60 Minutes interview, his company's involvement with the International Space Station, and his pursuit of private space travel. Most importantly though, Bigelow revealed his firsthand knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life - and described the millions he'd spent so far, investigating the subject. Mr. Bigelow is the latest in a long line of major public figures - from world leaders/US Presidents to the Vatican's chief astronomer - who've gone on record to acknowledge ET existence. Ironically, like the ridicule of Trump supporters, CBS framed Bigelow's ET belief with disbelief before showing that part of the conversation: But on this canyon road just outside Las Vegas, Robert Bigelow's story takes a turn that some may find, to put it lightly, improbable. He told us this is where his grandparents had a close encounter with a UFO. But that still couldn't shake Robert's "I don't give a damn - I don't care" attitude towards viewers who dismissed him as a crackpot: CBS: You don't worry that some people will say, "Did you hear that guy, he sounds like he's crazy"? Bigelow: I don't care.
It would be one thing if Robert Bigelow were a conspiracy blogger, or a snowflake celebrity who's read every David Icke book. But this is the man who founded Bigelow Aerospace, one of four private multi-million dollar companies driving the space race in the exact same way that Henry Ford once drove the automotive industry. Space travel is as inevitable to the 21st century as cars were to the 20th, and in less than a hundred years, we went from horse & buggy to men on the moon. Dismissing this successful businessman is no different than dismissing another successful businessman who happens to hold the current Oval Office ... and less we forget the exciting foreshadowing he gave us in his inauguration speech: We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. The world is about to change in a very big way, so it's important we stop ridiculing that change's messengers.
My next novel - When People Go Away - is set against the backdrop of Donald Trump's election, and the change in the social fabric that his Presidency represents. Trump's victory was more than just conservatives fighting back liberals; it was the Brexit-like beginning of a shift in the way we understand our world - and the fear that's resulting as we start to grasp our place in the cosmos. Hundreds of years ago, we were frightened once we realized that the Earth might not be flat, and that the sun was one of many in heavens too vast to imagine. Now, today, we're aware of other planets, other galaxies, and even other dimensions that exist beside - and within - our own. It's human nature to get lost in that fear, and to hide by retreating into familiar, angry places - to avoid being overwhelmed.
Speaking of harnessing new energies/industries/technologies, earlier this week I came across an article about the Ford Motor Company, and how the corporation now realizes that gas-powered engines are approaching obsolescence, and must be replaced by new/cleaner ideas. Yesterday I read a story explaining that within a few years, up to 50% of the current retail workforce will also be eliminated, again by new technology - and as a 15-year Barnes & Noble vet, that one hit close to home. (Did you know there are YouTube channels devoted to exploring dead malls?) It's hard not to feel caught in an invisible tsunami as wave after wave of new ideas, technologies, and evolving social trends hit us like trucks, making us wonder if anything we learned in college applies to the modern world. Such change makes us insecure, so we lash out at those we feel are the reasons for our frustration, but when we ridicule the messenger, we're just showing others how scared we really are -
And when we've got that much fear in our faces, no amount of orange makeup can hide it.
So, I've been on an Bette Davis movie kick ever since the conclusion of "Feud: Bette and Joan." I'm pretty familiar with Joan Crawford's films, but with the exception of All About Eve, I realized I hadn't seen any of Davis's earlier pictures from the time when she was a star on the scale of a Kardashian. A film buff friend gave me a stack of DVDs, so I've been plowing through the 1930s - with classics like Jezebel, The Virgin Queen, and Now, Voyager. I think my favorite so far is Dark Victory, a story of a socialite diagnosed with a brain tumor. Nineteen thirties medical technology must have been absolutely amazing, as Bette's doctor was able to diagnose malignancy with a few short questions, a couple reflex tests, and a Chesterfield. He was incredibly accurate, too; he was able to predict Bette's impending death to within 30 minutes. When struck with sudden blindness (a final symptom that triggered a half hour death-countdown), Bette was able to effortlessly scamper down porch stairs (blind, in her gardening heels), wish her soon-to-be-widowed hubby adios, pet her dogs, chat with her maid, and collapse into her bed's satin sheets in time for closing credits. Such a realistic portrayal of death! No hospice, no tears, not an eyelash out of place. Of course, I couldn't help but wonder what those 2,000 thread count sheets would look like once Bette's pretty corpse unclenches its bowels. Maybe that's why the victory was "dark..."
There are some really incredible videos you can watch for free on YouTube, videos that show Ms. Davis in her final years of life. She had bounced back from a stroke, written This n' That (a memoir), and was making the rounds in the 1980s talk show circuit - with a voice so raspy, it sounded like Harvey Fierstein. Her appearance on Letterman was funny (she accidentally spilled a drink on his pants), though the real video to watch is her 1987 interview on the old Phil Donahue program. Donahue actually let her SMOKE in the studio, so Davis sat onstage obscured within a swirling cloud of white, in front of an audience who clearly considered her royalty. The interview was surreal. Davis - impeccably dressed - barely weighed 80lbs. She talked about old Hollywood, her relationship with Joan Crawford, and what life had become in her twilight years - knowing death was around the corner. With the possible exception of England's Queen, I can't think of a single person today who commands that kind of respect. Maybe the Pope. Or the President in some circles. Definitely not O'Reilly anymore, which is sad because I was really looking forward to whomever he ends up killing in his next book. Chuckling...can you imagine if he kills Bruce Jenner?
Speaking of cinema's golden age, this week marked the return of Mystery Science Theater on Netflix - a reboot to one of my all time favorite shows, more exciting than TNT's return to the Ewing's Dallas. I can still remember the day in 1992 when I friend called to tell me - excitedly - about a crazy new program on Comedy Channel during one of their first-ever weekend marathons. "Its incredible, David," she said. "It's like Rocky Horror, but for bad movies." I was a little preoccupied with X-Files at the time, so I'll admit that it took me a few months to really pay attention. But once I did, holy fucking shit! MST3K was a show designed for nerdy-geeks like me, guys who liked to analyze Star Trek episodes with the passion of a straight man discussing a weekend football game. As far as "life-changing moments of the 1990s" went, stumbling onto Joel, Crow, and Servo was second only to finding my first Bound & Gagged magazine, in Peoria, in my early 20s.
Twenty-five years ago MST3K filled a hole in my brain, like discovering a long-lost piece of software that had originally came with my imagination. With two-hour episodes, it took all week to binge watch the Netflix reboot, and I have to admit: the online streaming service nailed it. The reboot is the perfect homage to the original series, while bringing the show into the modern Facebook/Twitter/Netflix era. The cameos by Joel, Mary Jo, and Brain Guy/BoBo were obviously appreciated in a nostalgia sort of way, though I genuinely felt they only underlined how well Jonah Ray had done in stepping into Mike/Joel's jumpsuit. I'm giving the reboot a solid "A-," with the full expectation of an "A+++" with season two. Don't forget, it took the original MST3K two full seasons to really hit its stride - and that doesn't count the KTMA year, when Joel had a mullet.
"In the US, good customer service on airlines means timely departures, wide comfy seats, and no blackout dates for your frequent flier miles. In Russia, however..."
Once again, I really enjoy Pravda - Russia's Soviet-era propaganda-paper that's recently evolved into a cross between the UK's Daily Mail and the American National Enquirer. Pravda is one of those cold war relics that, like a 1960s Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62, has somehow survived into the modern world, albeit with a fresh coat of paint (and a smiley face sticker placed over the old sickle & hammers). I've written about Pravda before; it's a hysterical (and chilling) glimpse into the Russian mindset, and how much that part of the world differs from American values. Pravda openly bashes the LBGT community, calls women "sluts," ridicules US policy with the fervor of North Korea, and has said that victims of spousal abuse should be proud of the bruises inflicted by their husbands. No, there definitely wouldn't be any fires at the Moscow Berkeley Campus if Breitbart were to speak. And if there were, they'd be jailed as fast as Pussy Riot - with a front page story, littered with unnecessary adjectives. Chuckling...and people say Trump is a bully.
On a recent Pravda visit, I stumbled on the story above - "Russian Pilots Will Not Be Allowed to Fly Drunk" - which made me do a double-take. Is this for real, I thought, or is this a link to The Onion? I clicked on the story to find that it was, indeed, a genuine news article. Apparently, there really IS a problem with Russian pilots hitting the vodka before the cockpit, enough to call attention to the issue. I thought that drunk-flying was limited to Denzel Washington or Patrick Swayze crashing a Cessna in an Arizona construction site, but apparently it's pretty common in the skies above St. Petersburg ... and if it doesn't stop, Boeing will have to install Bade devices. Now, in addition to gluten free pretzels I appreciate that Aeroflot's customer service now includes sober pilots, but imagine how Russian culture even got to accept drunk pilots to begin with. Not only is the east different from the west, the west is different from almost every other culture in the world with regards to tolerance and political correctness. Think about that for a second.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the students of Berkeley were kind enough last week to remind us of why Russian machismo exists in the first place. As a Breitbart speaker prepared to take the stage, the Berkeley Borg Collective quickly intervened, breaking windows, setting fires, and spraying the anarchist symbol on campus walls and buildings - all in the spirit of free speech (so long as it agreed with them). Anyone with an IQ higher than pudding stared at the news footage with the same dead-eyed glaze of Kristen Stewart in Twilight. In addition to the obvious - Berkeley students are FAR more intolerant than anything they claim of the right - the kiddos vandalized their own damn campus, without ever even considering that they're the ones who have to pay for the damage they caused. That's like setting fire to your house because you don't like your neighbor's lawn, or intentionally crashing your car into a tree because you don't like the song on the radio. Granted, I really hate Adele's "River Lea" (it reminds me of 30 Rock's "Rural Juror"), but I'd never take a sledge to my radio because of it. Even after she won the Grammy.
I mention the Berkeley rioting because it wasn't really a "riot." A genuine riot is what happened at the 1968 Democratic convention, or in LA following the Rodney King verdict. Berkley's "riots" were more like Black Friday shoppers fighting over Hatchimals. Their perceived free-speech issue warranted picket signs rather than broken glass, and it was embarrassing to watch Americans behave like spoiled children in front of the world's cameras. (I can only imagine how much fun Pravda had with the story!) The behavior at Berkeley really made us look bad to other countries, and that's a dangerous thing to happen so early in a new Presidency.
You know, I remember all the protests surrounding W's first election, and how global perception emboldened China to capture a US military plane on Hainan Island in 2001. (Google it, in case you've forgotten.) Modern China was only just starting to flex its muscles back then, and their actions were more than just "testing" George W Bush, they were testing...us. And with all the saber rattling that's been happening since 10/9, it's only a matter of time before such a test will happen again. Don't forget that Iran/ North Korea have nukes now, and even if they can't hit our mainland, a single EMP blast could be devastating. If that were to happen, I'd imagine Berkeley's students would have wished they'd saved their fires for cooking, rather than to avoid studying for the next day's political science exam. It's hard to organize a flash-mob to protest a power grid failure when your cell phones, computers, and cars stop working. It's hard to use your Starbucks points, too.
There's a story on Pravda today entitled "The USA Will Collapse in Eight Years," and if you read nothing but the title, you'd think it was a hit piece. But it's not, surprisingly; it addresses the unfolding US "civil war" - a war of opinions, rather than armies, a threat that even Limbaugh has started discussing on his program recently. The Pravda piece has a reasonable premise: it discusses the growing divide between whites, blacks, and Hispanics in the US - and how that divide has been highlighted by the recent election. It also mentions the potential collapse of the dollar, a scenario that - like the failure of CA's Oroville Dam - has been predicted (and ignored) for years. Pravda also suggests a sensational scenario that by 2025, the US will have split into three factions - a concept that seems a real possibility, considering the harsh debate/backlash that's happened as Trump pushes to implement his agenda.
You have to admire Russia, though: they're a culture unafraid to speak their mind. They're a flawed country for sure - their treatment of women/gays is particularly appalling - but at least they admit to being exactly who they are, drunk pilots and all ... and they also make sure to act in a unified manner for all the world to see. I hope that America gets to that point. It's important to have healthy political debate, but it's even more important to stand behind our President, whether we like him/her or not. And though I didn't vote for him, I accepted Obama as our Commander & Chief ... and I was fully expecting to do the same with Clinton, when I went to bed on election night before the results came in.
I just did a search on The Onion's website, and I couldn't find anything about Berkeley. Oddly enough, after doing the same search on Pravda, I couldn't find anything there either. (I'm surprised.) Maybe it's a sign that like Joy Villa's Grammy dress, the masses who "get it" are finally coming out - and making themselves known in a world that's been hostile to them. I hope that's the case. As a reasonable gay Republican, I'm tired of biting my tongue while Berkeley-types march through the news cycle like a Pyongyang parade.
Let's show the world our good customer service.
So, there's this gentleman named "Jaka Parker" who's been posting some amazing YouTube videos that show daily life in Pyongyang from the perspective of an average Joe who lives/works in the city. And Parker's really got some balls; he explores the capitol with a hidden camera that records all surroundings like Google Glass, or James Bond's can of shaving cream. Considering how secretive DPRK society is, I'm surprised the local thought-police haven't retraced Jaka's steps, busted down his door, and thrown him into Camp 14. In North Korea you see, it's a crime to secretly record anything about daily life, especially events that show the NK regime in a negative light. One example of negative light would be the public executions of people who've secretly recorded daily life.
Anyway, with camera recording, the viewer follows Jaka Parker down streets, through urban pedestrian tunnels, across intersections with more bikes than cars, and down miles and miles of colorless boulevards lined with bleak, identical, Orwellian apartment buildings. Unlike footage of soldiers marching though the People's Square, Jaka's videos capture the monotony of North Korean life - a world void of joy. There are no corner coffee shops or breakfast diners with neon-trimmed windows. There are no 7-Elevens, and certainly no 24-hour superstores with parking lots full of cars. There are no glowing Coke/Pepsi machines, no twinkling LED advertisements, no lines outside the Taco Bell drive-thru. There is no "entertainment" of any kind - in the windows of buildings, or anywhere on the street - unless you count the billboards of Kim, Kim, and Kim painted within images of Soviet bounty above empty shops and grocery stores. Jaka Parker has captured the "genuine" North Korea, cold & comfortless, repetitive & gray. It's like the world's most depressing virtual-reality trip. And it's a haunting omen of what's likely to come during the first four years of Trump's presidency -
Hold that thought.
A friend of mine recently said, "ENOUGH with the political blogs already." I told him I agree, and look forward to returning to my favorite topics. It's hard not write political stuff though; the anger surrounding the Trump Presidency is extreme, especially within the gay community. With so much focus on cabinet picks, executive orders, and immigration, no one even noticed this amazing passage from the President's inauguration speech - with a message directed to the millions of people who believe that full extraterrestrial disclosure will happen at any moment: "We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions." When I heard that, a chill shot up my spine. "Does anyone realize the importance of what Trump just said?" I wondered. "That's language straight from Alex Jones, Steven Greer, and even - in theme - Micheo Kaku."
Almost a year ago, I remember watching an InfoWars video where Alex Jones first connected Donald Trump to potential ET disclosure. I can't recall Jones' exact words, but they involved Trump being in the know, a billionaire who understood how the world really "works" - alluding to big business actively repressing new energy technologies that would reduce (and ultimately eliminate) our dependance on oil. This concept is the holy grail of the disclosure movement, and I'll admit I used to think it was all a bunch of conspiratorial nonsense. But I don't think that anymore. There are too many high-profile politicians and world leaders who have flat-out admitted that not only are extraterrestrials real, but they've likely been involved with humanity since the dawn of time. And with both world powers like China & Russia - and private companies like Space-X, Virgin Galactic, and Bigelow Aerospace - all pushing full steam ahead to return to the moon and launch missions to explore the solar system, our government can't keep the ET secret for much longer: we're gonna find out. So, they'd better fess up now.
It's no secret that since the 1970s, the White House press corps has been forbidden to ask any question regarding our government's knowledge of extraterrestrial intelligence. To ask such a question would result in removal from the press room, with possible repercussions for the reporter's parent news organization. But the Trump White House is breaking with status quo, allowing reporters from "non traditional" organizations to sit/Skype side by side with CNN, Fox, and the New York Times. For the first time ever, bloggers, aggregation sites, e-zines, and people like Alex Jones are being taken just as seriously as venerable networks & papers that have monopolized the news cycle for almost a century. And it makes perfect sense. Far more people (myself included) now get their news from places like Drudge or the Fox iPhone app than reading a paper or even watching a news channel. We no longer need to read "All The News That's Fit To Print," we can read what we want to read, and go to sites, shows, podcasts, and YouTube channels that specialize in the topics that interest us. And right now I'm very interested in what Donald Trump might share about "the mysteries of space." Don't forget John Podesta's final tweet, before joining Hillary's campaign in 2015:
If Jaka Parker can smuggle footage out of Pyongyang, you know damn well that someone in government will do the same with ET disclosure. I suspect it's already happened; the internet is filled with chillingly-real video & audio recordings that share what was said on private "medical channels" (during the Apollo missions), or live NASA feeds that were suddenly cut off when something unexplainable entered camera view. I've said this before in previous blogs: these days every kid, soccer mom, airplane passenger, or even military officer has an Android or an IPhone in their pocket, with a quality HD camera. It's impossible to repress any news story, because there are just too many people with instant access to all information - and the ability to share it all with the tap of a touch screen. And like we saw with the recent election, if enough people get behind an idea, that idea becomes a movement that will force its way to the news cycle's center.
My prediction is that the disclosure movement will make itself heard before the next Presidential election.
Check this out: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/nasa-cuts-live-feed-international-9695537
It's funny how Clinton supporters aren't afraid to share their disappointment, but Trump supporters won't share their joy out of fear of having cars scratched, windows shattered, or noses broken.
Please bare with me, as I clean up a few post-election issues.
So, my employer has an unauthorized FaceBook page - and I've participated in it for years. As many of you know, I work for one of the last big bookstores standing - and I've watched the page evolve from a generic what-are-you-reading forum to a place where employees discuss genuine issues that reflect our changing industry. This particular FB page is notoriously left-leaning, and actually banned all political posts (about four months ago) because those discussions made some unhappy. But on the morning following the 11/8 election, that ban was lifted - and booksellers were allowed to speak their minds.
Throughout 11/9, this forum was commandeered by an avalanche of post-election grief - and employees who understandably hated the results. From the day I joined three years ago, I've watched this group closely...and admittedly used it for multiple reasons, including gauging the book world's "temperature," learning to participate in similar online forums, and teaching myself the art of "social media outreach" to promote both upcoming writing and drawing projects. As a gay Republican, this page has often proved hostile to me, especially when sharing views that aren't always popular with the mainstream. But, I've played along. The forum continues to generate many contacts, FB friends, and LinkedIn requests - all of which have have helped build my online resume, so to speak. Social media is a crucial part of the modern age, and as a 47-year-old Gen-Xer, it's been a challenge to get good at it.
Throughout the day following the election, I watched my employer's forum erupt in angry, demeaning, and insulting posts - all directed at Trump voters, and people like myself. The discussion grew heated, and I was shocked that the room's moderators were allowing it to continue; again, as mentioned, the forum had a strict rule about political topics, including the following pinned post: "I noticed there might be some kind of election happening - here's everyone's obligatory friendly reminder that you're always more than welcome to post all about it on your own timeline." By the time I got home - after following the forum all day, I'd had it. MOD's clearly had no intention of stopping the insults, so I responded with this:
I'm an out/proud gay man...and not only did I vote for Donald Trump, I really LIKE him. The GOP is NOT going to cancel GLBT rights/marriages. The GOP is NOT going to make customers attack cashiers. The GOP is NOT going to hold anyone hostage, and force them to conform to outdated ideas. Seriously...so many claim that Trump is intolerant, but can anyone see their hypocrisy to us who respect conservatism? I get that folks need to vent, but this world is made of all kinds of people. As Obama said, "the sun will rise tomorrow"...and I definitely continued, lived, and thrived in my life when he was re-elected. No, I'm not happy with the recent campaign, but I AM happy with its result. And I know I'm not the only one." (NOTE: This isn't an exact quote, because my comments were removed so fast, I couldn't record my post - or those of others. This was the basic draft that I jotted on my iPad on the way home.)
My response lasted twenty minutes max, and was removed almost immediately - along with every other election-related post in the group. I've had a rapport with one of the room's moderators for years, and when I asked her why, she claimed that she had only just noticed everyone's comments - and had decided to take everything down, to avoid a "flame war." Funny how she - nor any other MOD - had not made that decision in the twelve hours earlier, before I tried to defend myself after a day's worth of attacks. From a previous blog: "It's funny how people who preach intolerance are often the most intolerant of all." Sadly, that sums up this election in a nutshell.
On a personal note, my response - though only allowed to stand briefly - generated a stunning number of new FB friend requests (and several private messages, thanking me for what I'd said). I wonder how many followers I would have added, had I not held my tongue - and joined the discussion, earlier in the day.
Secondly, it was not FBI Director Comey's fault that Clinton closed her campaign on the defensive. If you really want to blame a single "turning point," it was the person who caused Comey to reopen Hillary's email case to begin with...and a single photograph that was splashed across the world's headlines. Be careful who you sext, Mr. Weiner. That picture of your abs, bulge, and swaddled papoose was the epicenter for the hurricane that swept up your wife's laptop - which led to the FBI finding over 600,000 emails. Personally, I think it's fitting that for as adept as the Clinton machine was at navigating scandal, it couldn't avoid a weiner-shaped iceberg that came (ahem) out of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Good thing smart phones weren't around during Monica's days.
Finally, though I'm pleased with Trump's election, I do support Hillary's "globalist" outlook - and I regret that Mr. T doesn't appear to share the same. As discussed in previous blogs, I believe humanity's on the verge of it's greatest adventure: exploring the cosmos, and learning what's really out there, beyond our planet's confines. In order to achieve this, we must start acting as a "species," a unified planet - not a bunch of foreign countries who are constantly fighting with each other. Admittedly, Trump's election might seem to go against that idea - but I firmly believe that we must get our country "in order" to lead in humanity's next step. And I don't mean that the US should lead in exploring space, itself. Rather, it's crucial to partner with other countries. China intends to explore space. So does India, as well as the contributors to the ISS. Chuckling...I'm sure I'll talk about a hell a lot more about this, in future blogs.
I firmly believe in the Star Trek view of Earth's future: no war, no poverty, everyone gets along. But even The Enterprise has photon torpedoes, and humanity's future isn't portrayed as some kumbaya drum-circle. The military is as important as affordable housing/health care, but again, we're not quite there yet. We still have one last round of "fighting" to go, a third world war so to speak, in an effort to get Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics - everyone - on the same page. It ain't gonna' be easy folks, and there will be more than just hurt feelings from having one's post deleted from a FaceBook forum. But it will happen. Humanity is almost there. And I for one am pleased to be alive, in time to see the beginnings of all of it starting to happen. We need "nationalism" for the moment, but once ISIS stops beheading jihadists (and North Korea & Iran stop threatening with nukes), we must think bigger. It's the only way humanity survives.
Can you just imagine how exciting it will be when everyone looks UP for the very first time?
How petty our election will look when that finally happens.
A Gay Man's Life in the Suburbs - and Beyond.