Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Am Car Owner, Hear Me Whine

I have a love/hate relationship with automobiles.

Where am I coming from with this? I just got socked with an $800 car repair bill today. Wow, it hurt just to type that.

I love the way they get us to where we're going, and provide heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Otherwise I hate them. I hate how they won't run forever and forever and forever unless you take care of them. What kind of world is this? If I didn't have to own a car, I wouldn't.

I don't have that much-vaunted American "love affair" with automobiles. It's just not in my genetic makeup, I guess. I don't care about the makes, and styles, and models, and all that. I don't care about how much horsepower they have or what kind of engine's under the hood or if they have sun roofs or any of that jazz. I need a car to run, run well, and to have a way to lock them. That's about it.

Here's what I've learned today: never, ever take your car into the shop for anything. Because, you know what? They'll need something repaired. Something other than what you took them in for. I went in for an oil change and a tire rotation, and oh, did I get rotated. Still spinning, in fact.

So, there goes my monthly bonus from work, my freelance writing check, and a sizable chunk of my tax refund. Its as if somebody somewhere said "Hey, Jim's got some money! He doesn't need that! Somebody else needs it more!" Don't laugh; you know its true.

So, that's my whine. It only hurts when I sit.

I hope my car doesn't read this. I wouldn't want to hurt its feelings.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ohio Beard & the Crystal-Clear Yet Annoying Reminders

This was an odd week, one in which I got a few hard-core reminders that I’m getting older. Which kind of sucks, you know. Not overly complaining, mind you, just sayin’.

On Tuesday I got the biopsy report on a spot on my eyebrow that I had removed a week and a half ago: basal cell skin cancer. It’s a topical variety, nothing that gets bad unless you do nothing about it. I had it cut off so I guess that counts as doing something. Doc told me there’s a very small chance of it coming back and from here on out I just get regular look-overs. My mother and sister both have forms of skin cancer so I took this very seriously. I feel good about what the steps I took but as I was told this was a result of a sun-event that probably took place about thirty-five years ago, it made me feel old.

Thursday I went in for an eye exam, first one in at least ten years (I know, I know) and yes, as I guessed, I need bifocals. If Tuesday made me feel old, Thursday made me feel ancient – and the capper was yet to come.

After my eye exam I went to see “Indiana Jones and the Incredibly Long Title of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” and it’s sixty-something star. That made me reflect on the first three Indy movies and that made me feel oldly-old-ancienty-old. Then Karen Allen appeared on-screen and my mortality flew out the window and into a nearby trash can.

I liked the film a lot, though, and got a big kick out of it. I wouldn’t want to see them try it again but I appreciated everything that went into it and would gladly give it another screening. It should be viewed simply as another Indiana Jones film, albeit one made in and made for the 21st century. Looking at in any other way would be foolish, I think. Its not Tolstoy or Shakespeare or even McCartney and Lennon; its Indiana Jones and its one heckuva fun way to spend a few hours.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Sleeper Awakens...

Just finished reading THE SOMNAMBULIST, the debut novel from Jonathan Barnes. It's a very good book, not great, but very good.

It's a Victorian-era mystery/thriller/fantasy, full of weird characters and even weirder events. The main character is an aging stage magician who moonlights as a private investigator. His "sidekick" is a golem-like being known only as, you guessed it, the Somnambulist. This is barely the tip of the iceberg.

What keeps it from being great is, to me, a sort-of schizophrenia. The author doesn't seem to sure exactly what tone he wants to set here or what exactly he wants the novel to be. I'm all for way-out stuff, no problem there, but there are many moments in the narrative that are unsettling when compared to other parts. There are scenes of such hideous violence and rather strong language alongside much milder set pieces - the result is bumpy. I also never quite "believed" the setting, i.e., I wasn't get the full feeling of being in London of the time period. If that was on purpose, it didn't work.

On the upshot, there are a few characters that I loved, namely the sister of our protagonist, a crusading proto-feminist, and a pair of weirdos that you simply will have to read of to believe. By the end you will miss them yet also be glad they are no longer at your side. They're that weird. And there's a revelation towards the end which was an honest surprise for me and livened up the action.

Unfortunately, Edward Moon, the lead, isn't that gripping of a protagonist and is more pitiable than anything. His housekeeper pulls more sympathy and emotion from you than he.

All in all, I'm glad I read it. It's plot, that of struggling against an unknown faction desiring to change London to its own vision, is one that I suspect the author sees much similarity in a certain organization of today. If you read it as I did, and you agree with the satire or lampooning, it can be rewarding.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Down the Bat Pole to WallyWorld: A Geek's Tale

So I stopped by WalMart today on my way from one of my work locations to another - the only reason I go there is to look for toys. For some reason I've found that its the retailer I have the most luck with, (home of McQuarrie Concept Star Wars action figures!) and this particular 'Mart is kind of away from scalping eyes. Anyway, I had heard that the new 1/50 wave of Bat-vehicles from the fine folk at Hot Wheels/Mattelwere hitting the Wally shelves and I felt lucky today -- turns out the ol' Spidey-sense was hitting the high notes as I stumbled upon the aforementioned Bat-vehicles. First I espied an empty cardboard dump/display for them, then saw a down-on-one-knee employee unpacking in another aisle, then the plastic and metal crack themselves over by the action figures (not the Hot Wheels section). Checking myself and realizing I had little to no shame or scruples left in me, I approached the employee, sheepishly, sheepishly.

"Excuse me," say I, head bowed, reverential. "I hate to be a geek about it -- but do you have any more of these?" I held up the 1/50 Bat-cycle from the 1966 Batman show, it clearly being cool but not the 1/50 Batmobile I was really looking for.

The employee smiled up at me, knowingly, judging me for geek-ness. Was I only funning him or was I truly a geek? So many had approached His Holiness, but never admitting said geek-ness in such an up-front manner.

"No," he said. "That's all that's left."

I stammered that there was an empty dump, seemingly just unpacked, and, and, and... Alas, he was a wall. A brick wall. Another Wally soldier, a bulwark against middle-aged geeks such as myself, admitted or otherwise. The sacred wafers-with-wheels had long been unpacked and rifled through by other pilgrims. Hosannah.

I grasped my Bat-cycle to my bosom, happy that I had at least something to show for my digression to the holy playing fields of Elysium - known here on Midgard as WalMart.

I am richer for it.