That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘things that are not awesome’

When I said we needed a ship, I should have been more specific.

Posted by kozemp on August 20, 2018

I got Battlefront 2 on sale last week. I played it over the weekend.

This has greatly angered me.

I’m not talking about gameplay here – it’s a Star Wars game, the gameplay is bad, ’twas ever thus. I DO want to talk about it as a Star Wars story, because that’s what pissed me off about it.

The GOTY pack I bought presents the main game and Resurrection (the DLC) as basically of a piece, but I can recognize what was supposed to be the end of the original game thanks to the 65 point cheevo that pops during the last cutscene. But whether they’re presented together or separately my reaction to both the end of the main campaign and the end of Resurrection is the same:

WHAT THE FUCK?!

I am fine with main characters dying. I am fine with main characters dying in Star Wars. I am not saying this is something that can’t be done and done well – Rogue One may be my favorite Star Wars movie and everyone dies in that.

My issue is not that “the main characters die.”

I had said to a friend of mine as I was playing it that the Inferno Squad face turn happens very, very quickly. I sort of get why this happens. I tried to read the Inferno Squad book and I was really put off by how gung-ho Iden was about the awesomeness of being an Imperial soldier. (The first chapter of the book is her inner monologue about how great the destruction of Alderaan was, and that was not a voice I wanted in my head for however many hours.) I like to think LSG, or whoever was ultimately responsible for the story of the game, recognized that there might have been a limit to how much people wanted to actively advance the Empire’s agenda. So I get why they change sides so fast in terms of the timeline of the game.

The Inferno Squad face turn happens very quickly both in terms of how early in the game it comes and the speed with which it happens when it does. Del meets Luke for 20 minutes and suddenly is willing to renounce everything he’s known his entire life – he literally says at one point “I was raised to believe the Jedi were monsters.” (Whatever the actual line is, I’m paraphrasing.) Iden is a super-SUPER Imperial zealot until Operation Cinder targets her homeworld and she makes the “fuck all THIS” choice in about four seconds flat.

And still I’m fine with those choices. It’s narrative. It’s drama. And we clearly don’t want an RPG-length game here (the campaign, like most shooter campaigns, is criminally short) so we compress things. Okay, fine. Del and Iden join the Rebellion and are instantly welcomed and become a crucial part of post-Endor operations within what the game explicitly tells us is a few weeks. They more or less single-handedly win the Battle of Jakku, crush the Empire, and finally get together (I’d been waiting for that since like the third mission) and enjoy their peaceful life forever.

That last cutscene on Jakku happened and I was like “hey, alright, that’s a solid ending to this good but very short game.”

Then we jump to “decades later” and I’m like “okay, well, an epilogue. Sure.”

This epilogue turns out to be the actual end of the game, which from a pure storytelling perspective is really annoying since the game has clearly already ended. So by about ten minutes into this scene I’m already a little wary because we are getting Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’d. The game is long over. Yet we are still playing. But Kylo Ren is kinda fun, so we go with it.

Then Hask shows up again and I kinda mutter “uh…” Then Hask kills Del and I mutter “you’ve gotta be kidding me” as the notification for that 65-pointer pops and I realize I have reached the end of the original game.

I texted my friend Shawn, the biggest Star Wars fan I know, “I am NOT happy about this.”

But I know there’s still the DLC to come. I roll right into it, relishing the thought of spending a few missions directing what I am certain will be Iden Versio’s bloody and glorious revenge against Gideon Hask.

Then at the end of that Iden dies and I throw my controller into the couch and shout “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!” to my empty living room.

I was not pissed that Del and Iden died, that characters I had grown to like and whose ending together I was satisfied with, died. I was pissed because Del and Iden die for ABSOLUTELY NO GODDAMN REASON. If the point of the story had been that Inferno Squad were bad, and even though they joined the Rebellion they still could never live down what they had done for the Empire, then their deaths might have meant something. Then we have a story about how you can’t escape your past. That isn’t what this story does, though. Inferno Squad joins the Rebellion and are instantly treated as welcome brethren. There is never so much as a passing mention of their past misdeeds. Once Iden and Del defect they are The Good Guys, end of.

Then, at the end of the story, they just die. They don’t even die FOR anything. Del dies because he gets randomly caught by Hask. Iden dies because Hask gets off a lucky shot before he falls off a walkway. (Seriously. First Order. RAILINGS.) Del doesn’t die trying to protect Lor San Tekka. Iden doesn’t die trying to save Zay. They just die.

Compare this with Rogue One, a story about a group of people each deciding to find something worth dying for – and each one of them chooses where and when they’re going to die for it. Hell, compare it with the great “no one is safe” narrative of our time, A Song of Ice and Fire. For however shocking they are in a reading sense, everyone there dies because of something in the story. Ned dies because he’s too stuck in his ways. Robb dies because he trusts the wrong people. Tywin dies because he rejected his son. The list goes on.

Del and Iden just die, which leaves us a story that is about… what, exactly? I’m honestly not even sure. The closest I can come up with is something like “be good, be evil, whatever, it doesn’t matter, we’re all going to get it in the end” and while I suppose you could create a story about that – actually now that I think about it that is sort of what The Departed is about – that isn’t Star Wars. That isn’t close to Star Wars. I’m not saying Star Wars has to be one specific thing but there are definitely things Star Wars is NOT and “eh, <moral relativism>, <shrug>” is definitely one of those things Star Wars isn’t.

So there you have it. Battlefront 2. A not-very-good game that also turned out to have a not-very-good story. At least I didn’t pay full price for it.

JLK

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And I dance with your ghost, oh but that ain’t the way.

Posted by kozemp on February 10, 2018

I came late to the Gaslight Anthem. I don’t mean late in life – although I suppose by the strictest definition I sort of do – but late in the band’s career. I showed up late to the game. I missed the first period.

I can’t recall exactly how it happened, but one day four or five years ago I somehow fell down a wiki-hole and ended up googling “jersey shore sound.” This led me to links to a bunch of different acts, five or six if I recall, that were meant to be emblematic of that Jersey Shore sound.

I know for a fact that I listened to all of them, but the only one that stuck with me was The Gaslight Anthem. I loved these guys. The Gaslight Anthem are the foremost group who grew up listening to Springsteen, but something happened to them and instead of just another poetic roots-rocker the music got pushed into this odd place, a melange of that Jersey Shore calliope sound and something harder and rougher – punk, more or less, but it’s more than that.

If – getting broad here – the core question of Bruce Springsteen’s music is how we live with each other, the core of Brian Fallon and TGA is the question of how we live with ourselves. I used to joke that I wanted to make a jukebox musical from Gaslight Anthem songs, and it would be about the guy with the worst luck with women who ever lived, coming to realize that he was the problem all along. There’s a pretty clear line you can trace through their work, I think, and it’s not insignificant the album about Brian’s divorce was the band’s last.

It’s also not insignificant that of all the bands I listened to that week the Gaslight Anthem, whose throughline is “his problems with women were his fault all along” is the only one that stuck with me longer than a minute, but that’s another show.

So, like I do with a lot of things I fell immediately and head over heels in love with their music and spent weeks and months listening to it almost nonstop.

***

I don’t remember where we were going – I want to say I was driving him to a train someplace – but I picked my friend Danny up one day and as we were driving away I fired up the album Handwritten on my phone and “45” started playing.

“The Gaslight Anthem, John?” he looked at me. “Really?”

“What?” I said. “I just found these guys. I love this shit. You don’t like it?”

“No,” he said. “They’re fine. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.”

“I like that sort of thing.”

“This song is on the loading screen for NHL 13,” Dan said. “I like the band but I’ve heard this song like a million times.”

This was literally the worst possible thing Danny could have said to me.

I spent the next three years tormenting him with “45” every chance I could get. It started out simple, just posting the video of the song to his Facebook or texting him the Youtube link directly. Nothing even remotely subtle. Just sending him the link, trying to make him watch it. Le Chiffre-esque, I eschewed exotic tortures and just went for blunt force trauma.

When that stopped working I moved on to more esoteric measures. First came straight-up rickrolling him. I would send him a text with some tease like “hey did you see this Hazard goal?” and the accompanying video would be “45.” I would do similar things on Facebook and utilize the “hide preview” button so that he wouldn’t be able to tell it was TGA without clicking through. Eventually he told me he just wouldn’t look at any videos from me anymore without knowing exactly what they were. I started using bit.ly and got informed for my trouble that he wouldn’t look at any links period.

I would have to work harder.

At this point – I’d been at this for more than a year by now – I realized I couldn’t just try to get him to watch the music video any more. I had to make him FEEL the song. So I would randomly cut and paste lyrics onto his Facebook page. When we were at the pub or on the train to the Rock I would idly hum the melody during breaks in conversation. This drove him nuts. It was great.

Finally, one day I unleashed my pièce de résistance on him.

I spent the better part of an entire morning at the pub describing a fictional woman I had met, and the fictional tribulations we’d been through, leading up to a fictional date that was an absolute fictional disaster. It was a classic tale of my woe and ineptitude with the fairer sex (or Brian Fallon’s) that he had heard many similar versions of over the years, but I sprinkled fairy dust throughout so at the denouement, summarizing how hopeful I had been at the start and how crushed I was at the end by the terrible fictional things that had transpired with this fictional woman, I could look at my friend, offer a mighty heaving sigh and say, “really, buddy, have you seen my heart? Have you seen how it bleeds?”

Danny stared at me for a solid ten seconds, a glare that would have made a Gorgon look away in terror, before he said, “I fucking hate you, John.”

It was one of the best moments of my life.

We went on watching the game. I drove him home afterward and played a different Gaslight Anthem album in the car. Danny sat there in silence the whole ride, trying to look angry and to not laugh. When I was really on he made that face a lot. God, I miss it.

***

Danny and I used to go to one or two Devils games a year together. Those were great times, always. Sometimes big groups of folks would join us, other times just him and I. At one stretch we went to Devils-Sabres at the Rock three years in a row and I got to heckle Ryan Miller with the classic “HEY RYAN YOUR SKATES ARE UNTIED!” (Dan’s response: “you’re better than that, John.”) We were there for Game 7 when the Hurricanes scored 2 goals in 87 seconds to end the season. Goddamn Eric Staal. Okay, actually, that time was not great, but still.

It was that Game 7 when I start when I started buying these collectible coffee cups every time we went to a game. At first I was on one of my occasional no-soda binges and needing something to drink at the arena I saw “ooh! A black plastic cup with a big red Devils logo on it!” and got one. I must have still been soda-free the next game we went to because I got another. And then another and another until it snowballed into one of those things I “had” to do. I have about half a dozen lying around here different places. At least two of them are currently holding paintbrushes. (Those don’t get used for coffee again.)

After his daughter was born we never managed to make it work so we could all get up there. Those were rough seasons anyway, and I didn’t feel too bad about missing out on games when they weren’t very good. It’s not like popping on the El to head down to a Phillies game, which I’ll still do usually at least once a season, even through the nigh-constant rebuilding years. It’s 80 solid miles from here to the Prudential Center; not exactly something you can decide to take in on the last minute, and it’s not an appetizing prospect to spend two-plus hours each way driving back and forth to Hamilton and riding NJT to watch the Devils lose 5-2 to the Capitals. Again.

So there was a gap there of about two years or so where I didn’t make it to a game in person. But I had found NHLTV by then and gotten their subscription package and I could very easily watch the Devils lose 5-2 to the Caps (again) in the comfort of my own home. Danny and I would text back and forth when he knew I was watching the game. Dan knew hockey, I mean really KNEW it. He wrote about the game for a bunch of different newspapers and websites, appeared on podcasts, the whole works. He knew hockey in a way I don’t really know any sport, but we would still maintain almost constant text conversations throughout games. Usually his texts were about some high-level hockey strategy that went completely over my head and my texts were either a) baiting him into messages like that with purposefully boneheaded analysis, or b) taunting him about poor goalie play.

We argued about goalies all the time. He’d always say “not every goal is on the goalie.” I would counter with something like “so all five goals were the defensemen’s fault?” We would usually have this argument on nights when the Devils were egregiously bad. We would usually have this argument on those nights because I would instigate it. At one point, in the pub a few mornings after one of these arguments, I asked “can you hear me cackling when I text that?” He assured me he could.

The last text Danny ever sent me wasn’t during a hockey game. It was a question about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on a random Thursday night last winter. I didn’t answer. I read it, thought about it, realized the answer was fairly complex, and resolved to talk about it with him at length later. The call from his wife Steph came that Sunday morning and now I still go back and look at that text on my phone and kick myself for not saying SOMETHING that night. The one time in my life I declined the invitation to pontificate about Indiana Jones. I can’t make up stuff that sad. I’ve tried.

***

In the aftermath of Danny’s death I wrote that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to a Devils game ever again. I didn’t watch a single minute of a game for the rest of last season after that weekend, putting hockey out of my head for a few months. Even on television it hurt too much to think about. I kept something of an eye out, mainly through the Devils subreddit – I knew they were still pretty bad, that Taylor Hall was having trouble fitting in, that, as Danny would always tell me, Cory Schneider was playing great but the defense in front of him was terrible. I read the headlines and occasionally dove into the comments but never participated. I didn’t want to be part of it.

I recognize now that was the exact wrong reaction, in no small way because when it comes to the Devils being part of it is the whole point. I’ve talked before about how in my experience Devils fans as a group are slightly nicer than other hockey fans because everyone is coming to the team from a distance. It’s not like the Flyers or the Rangers or whoever where you go to work and then pop right down to the arena for the game afterward, where the team is always right there next to you. Even local Devils fans are coming from someplace far away. (I mean, I assume there are SOME fans in Newark, but not many, and nobody lived in the Meadowlands.) Everyone is coming that distance, everyone is going out of their way, and instead of being cranky and mean about it there’s a sort of shared camaraderie of “well, we came all this way, let’s not spoil it.” I’m not saying there aren’t jerks and louts – there are anyplace large numbers of people gather – but my experiences with other Devils fans have always been positive.

My experiences have always been positive and when being part of something positive would have helped the most I was purposefully shutting it out. I was shutting it out because I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was shutting it out because, like Jim Kirk in Wrath of Khan, I’d never even considered dealing with it.

Make no mistake – when Kirk says he’s never faced death, this is what he (and David) meant. Not that he’s never faced his own death. No one ever really can. That’s the genius of Kirk’s solution to the Kobayashi Maru; not that he cheated, but that he recognized the whole test is bullshit to begin with. Your own death is incomprehensible. What Kirk had never considered – and nether had I – was the possibility of someone he cared about dying, someone really close to him, and when it finally came it blindsided him the way it blindsided me.

The difference is that Kirk knew enough to lean on the folks around him to get through it. Me, I didn’t know even that, so I shut out a lot of what probably would have been a very useful support system and decided, like I’d done with so many things before, to go it on my own. If I’d had my estranged son around to tell me not to be so hard on myself I might have tried something different, but if my estranged son is out there he hasn’t shown himself yet. I dated my own Carol Marcus enough times that it’s certainly possible.

***

When the start of the season rolled around I saw something on r/Devils that intrigued me – the Devils finally had a podcast.

I had railed for years that the team needed one, that (for a while there) the only fan podcast we had was a dour, unfunny slog – such nabobs of negativity that Danny had actually stopped appearing on it – and that other teams were starting up their own in-house shows and goddammit, we should do that.

I had been reluctantly toying with the idea of watching a hockey game since the end of the preseason a few weeks before, in no small part because I had forgotten to turn off my recurring billing for NHLTV and they had already charged me for the first month of the season. I was about as far from hockey as I had ever been in my adult life. I vaguely knew the Devils had gotten the #1 pick in the draft, but on that day in October I couldn’t have told you Nico Hischier’s name if my life depended on it. I didn’t know if I wanted to watch a game or not. I certainly didn’t want to go to one.

But a podcast! I love podcasts. I’m a veteran of three of them – my first, in fact, was a Chelsea podcast I did with Danny and our friend Tim. And the Devils podcast I’d been demanding for years to boot. I couldn’t very well not give it a cursory listen, at the very least.

I was sitting at my dining room table working, with my phone connected to the Bluetooth speaker on the kitchen counter. I tapped through the menus on Downcast until I found it – the New Jersey Devils All-Access Podcast – and started streaming the most recent episode.

The podcast started and the opening bars of “45” came out of my little gray speaker and I burst out crying.

I gripped the edge of the table – a familiar move, the last two years – tried to calm down, and thought, “of COURSE that’s the fucking theme music.”

The Devils had changed their goal music to Howl, another Gaslight Anthem track, a few years before – a change I liked – and it made sense that they’d stick with TGA for the podcast. There are worse things, certainly, than associating your team with a beloved local band. At that moment, though, it was just about the most awful thing in the world.

Once I let go of the table I pawed for my phone and stopped the player, then sat there trying to take deep breaths for a while.

It occurred to me that in addition to not watching a hockey game since Danny had died I hadn’t once listened to Handwritten either.

I got my breathing and my heartrate under control and looked down at my phone. The details of the show were still up on the screen: “Episode 3: The Return of Chico Resch.”

One of the things I occasionally quip – and always mean seriously – is that when the universe is telling you something, you have to listen.

Like pretty much every Devils fan, I would jump in front of a train for Chico Resch. He’s the wacky uncle to all of us and is maybe the most beloved figure in the entire organization. (Martin Brodeur is a lot of things, but I don’t know that “lovable” is one of them.) It was a legitimately sad day when he left the broadcast booth, like when that wacky uncle moves away and doesn’t have Facebook to keep in touch because, well, he’s your wacky uncle and folks of that generation are not great Facebook users.

A Devils podcast, led off by the Gaslight Anthem, with “the return of Chico Resch” (whatever that meant) was definitely the universe trying to tell me something. Specifically, it was telling me to take some more deep breaths, calm down dammit, and spend half an hour listening to this podcast.

I turned it back on and two voices came on, a man and a woman doing podcast intro banter, talking about their new show and how things were starting out. I believe there was an early mention of the now-ongoing regular fries vs. sweet potato fries debate.

I distinctly remember thinking that Amanda Stein had the most Canadian voice I’d ever heard.

I had gotten up from the dining room table and was busying myself in the kitchen while listening, emptying the dishwasher and shit whatnot, repeatedly thinking, “this is really good. It’s rough and new, but it’s really good.” Then the interview with Chico came on and as soon as I heard his voice I actually stopped what I was doing and smiled. Chico. God it was good to hear him again.

Hearing Chico Resch made me think of Danny and not be sad for the first time since I’d gotten the phone call from Steph.

And I would be able to hear him more! The “return” the title talked about was that he was going to be doing color on the Devils’ radio broadcasts. That alone made my heart leap a little bit, the chance to hear Chico on the regular. But that wasn’t even all. He was going to join Twitter! CHICO RESCH WAS GOING TO BE ON TWITTER! I was going to have regular access to his thoughts! CHICO ON TWITTER!

Sometimes the universe tries to tell you things. And then sometimes the universe looks at you, and raises its eyebrows in that “seriously, man, come ON” look and demands you get with the goddamn program.

The show ended and I subscribed to it in Downcast.

I looked at the schedule and saw that the Devils would be playing the Capitals the next night.

I said out loud to my empty kitchen, “okay, fine, I’ll watch.”

The next night after work I sat in front of the TV, fired up my NHL app, and watched the Devils lose to the Caps 5-2. Again.

***

After I watched the game I set up a “Devils” column in Tweetdeck. I added Chico to it first. I also added Amanda and Arda, the nice folks from the podcast. I added a couple players, the team accounts, some reporters.

It was slow – I was listening to a podcast, reading some stuff on Twitter, and had watched a single game – but hockey was something I could bear to think about again. I started paying a little more attention to r/Devils. Eventually I started joining in on game threads and other discussions.

I watched another game the next week, and another and another.

Watching those Devils games, those early ones back in October, was hard. After every memorable play, good and bad, for the first few weeks I would pick up my phone every time. The muscle memory was still there – something would happen on the ice, and I’d pick up my phone to text Danny something stupid about it.

Four months later I don’t pick up the phone anymore, but I do still think about it. Every time. I compose the text in my head and think about his reaction before I can remember there won’t be one, but at least I don’t pick up the phone anymore. Most of the time, at least. Every now and then the thought and the joke plow through everything and I find myself holding the phone and I end up texting our friend Tom, also a Devils fan, who I hope is watching the game. Sometimes he is and we have a nice back-and-forth.

Tom is another one who knows the game way better than I ever will. I was always a Devils fan more than I was necessarily a hockey fan, but I’m trying to learn a little now. I even read Wyshynski’s loathsome book about hockey strategy and managed to learn a few things from it (the ratio of time spent learning to time spent muttering “oh Jesus Christ” was highly unfavorable). I wish I had learned before – I wish just once I could have had a conversation with Danny about hockey that was close to his level – and the irony of finally doing that now is, believe me, really, really not lost on me. But I’m learning anyway.

***

For that first month or two, the thought of going to an actual game never crossed my mind. I could watch on TV, and I was participating more and more in the discussions on the Devils subreddit, but actually going up to the Rock was still a bridge too far. Being there, I was convinced, would be somehow “different” in some way I very carefully refused to define.

I stuck by that until I want to say sometime in early December, when out of nowhere I texted Tom, “we should find a Devils game to go to.”

I’m not entirely sure why I did that, and I don’t recall any specific moment of breakthrough or catharsis where I thought, “you know what, I think I’d be okay now to go to a Devils game, let’s round up the boys.”

Even still, before I knew it I was scrolling through the Devils’ schedule and I sent to Tom, “how about Devils-Bruins on 2/11?”

What the hell was I doing? I was still terrified of the thought of going to the Rock. It was like my fingers had a mind of my own, or I’d been infected by Snow Crash, or I’d finally had the psychotic break a lot of those Carol Marcus types had assumed was coming sooner or later. Why was I picking out dates for me and Tom to go to a game? It was madness.

Then I started texting OTHER people to see if THEY wanted to go to the game with us. Other friends of mine who were Devils fans. A friend who is a Bruins fan. I told Tom to see if any of HIS friends wanted to join us.

This one, at least, I knew what was happening: if I was going to plunge headlong into danger (a la a certain captain) I would surround myself with friends in an attempt to…lessen the blow? Provide moral support? Pick me up if I walked into the Rock and fainted? All of the above? Possibly.

The thing had gotten away from me now, though. Invites were flying all over the eastern seaboard. And if we’re being honest – and I hope I am, at least, it’s always a little dicey but that IS the idea – ever since we agreed to it I have been dreading going to this game tomorrow.

Not just dreading, though. I mean, definitely dreading, yes. I have no idea how I’m going to react when I walk into that arena tomorrow, when I first see the ice and the folks in their jerseys. There is a nonzero chance I’m going to have a total fucking meltdown when I get there.

You know what I’m really dreading, though? I’m dreading buying coffee. The thought of going to get one, for some reason, is almost as scary as actual things like being there for the first time without my friend. This is the thing I’m fixating on. The goddamn coffee cup. I recognize this is my brain doing gymnastics to try and get me to avoid thinking about actual things that are painful but COME ON: the coffee cup? I really feel like a brain that can do the things mine can should come up with a more interesting effort than that.

But I’m not only dreading it. For all the parts of my brain that are Kirk in his quarters trying to shut out everything that’s happened, still refusing to deal with death, there is another part that is Kirk on the bridge with Bones and Carol, searching for new life in the sunrise, finally dealing with death the only way we can that actually works: with other people propping him up.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I know what I hope will happen. I’m going to walk into that arena with all the other people who came a long way to sit and be together, and hope I hear that Gaslight Anthem song, think of my friend, and feel young again.

JLK

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Dad, they come in through the doors.

Posted by kozemp on June 16, 2017

I’ve been having trouble getting out of bed lately.

Not trouble sleeping, mind. I’ve never been good in the mornings, but for at least the last god knows how many years that’s been mostly because I was never really sleeping. Since the nice doctors gave me the kickass CPAP machine at the end of last year, oh baby have I been sleeping.

But the last few months I’ve been having the damnedest time in the morning when I wake up. Before, my trouble in the morning was that I was always moving through quicksand. I’d get out of bed at 530 and I wouldn’t really even be awake until almost an hour later. That’s what happens when you haven’t slept for more than 8 or 10 minutes at a time in years.

That isn’t what’s happening now, though.

Now my alarm goes off at 530 – the opening song from La La Land – I wake up and turn it off, and then I just lay there. I’m not asleep, really. It’s not “oh, I’ll hit snooze and stay here for ten more minutes.” I don’t set a snooze on my morning alarm anymore. I turn it off and I just lay in bed awake. Sometimes for ten minutes. Sometimes for almost an hour. It’s not that I’m still asleep. It’s not that I want to go back to sleep. It’s not that my back hurts too much to get out of bed.

I just lie there, awake, not wanting to get up. I lie there until the thought of getting showered and dressed and making breakfast in time to leave for work would mean rushing more than I want to in the morning, and that’s the thing that jolts me out of bed. Having a leisurely morning is why I started getting up that early in the first place, and on days when I have to go to work it’s basically the only thing that gets me out of bed.

On weekends, when I need to be somewhere in the morning I’ll lie there until the last possible second before I’ll be late to wherever I’m going.

On weekend days when I don’t have to be anywhere…

On days like that I will stay in bed until I have to go to the bathroom so badly I can’t take it anymore.

The third or fourth time that happened I started to realize I had a problem.

********

Almost a year ago – in actual fact very close to exactly a year ago – we got the news that my father was sick. Really sick. Stage III peripheral T-Cell lymphoma.

That is one of those moments you wish you could say “I don’t remember much from those days.” I remember exactly which empty office I sat in at work to talk to my mother. I remember sitting there at the unused desk with my head in my hands for almost a half an hour, wondering what to do. I called Regina. I talked to my boss. I booked a ticket to Florida on the first flight I could afford. Then Florida in June – seven hells, Florida in June. The hospital. Back and forth the 24 miles from my parents’ to the hospital, sitting with my dad in shifts. Watching the Bridgestone and the Euros with my dad while my mom slept at home. Talking about treatment and prognosis with my father’s doctor, who annoyingly insisted on being called “Tim.” Exaggeratingly pronouncing “TIM” like John Cleese as soon as he left the room.

One night back at the house, laying out for my mother, talking nonstop for almost an hour in the coldest monotone I have ever managed, my detailed analysis of what an absolute failure I’d been as a son and a person. The feeling, when I left several days later, that I was inhuman for going back home and leaving them on their own.

I remember that week with perfect, excruciating clarity.

After that week came six months of treatment, which was somehow worse. I don’t want to go into too much direct technical detail here – I lived it for months and don’t want to spend so much as five seconds reliving it again – but basically the way we treat cancer, the way we stop this thing from killing you, is to do everything BUT kill you. The idea of the chemotherapy regimens is to get you as close to death as you can tolerate, and I don’t mean tolerate the way you gimp around on a sore ankle for a few weeks until you can see the orthopedist. I mean tolerate as in “not actually die.”  Once they find that level, they hit you with it over and over and over again. Then, for my father at least, at the end they perform a stem cell transplant, basically a complete teardown and rebuild of your immune system, a remarkable procedure with truly horrific side effects which in my dad’s case involved weeks living in a clean room and being ACTUALLY dead for a few seconds.

For six months there was this thing there, hanging over me, that no matter how much good news we got from doctors, no matter how well my father handled the chemo (which turned out to be very well), for six straight months I spent every second convinced that my father was going to die at any moment. Not just any moment, in the next moment. Every second of every day, waiting for the axe to fall.

It was not a good way to live. It wasn’t even the only one; over those six months I came up with any number of very innovative ways to live that were not good.

People were telling me from the start, “take care of yourself.” Tons of people reached out to me with offers of help, and good wishes, and the outpouring of support blew my mind more than a little, but people kept saying that to me and I really didn’t know what to make of it. “Take care of myself.” Of course I’m going to take care of myself. How can I not take care of myself?

Turns out, not taking care of yourself is a lot easier than you’d believe. Step 1: spend all your time worrying about someone else. Step 2: don’t do anything else. I’m not sure what happens after that for anyone else, but for me it involved losing a night of my life.

I’ve talked occasionally about the very few times I’ve straight-up hallucinated – brought on by my purposeful and idiotic choices to stay awake for days at a stretch – and how the real problem with, say, seeing trees in the middle of Roosevelt Boulevard is not “oh my, there’s a tree in the middle of the road that wasn’t there before,” but instead “there’s a tree in the middle of the road and I KNOW there isn’t a tree in the middle of the road so OH MAN MY BRAIN ISN’T WORKING RIGHT.” The problem isn’t bad input. The problem is the epistemological fear reaction it produces.

The very bottom of me ignoring the advice I got to take care of myself came on a Friday night in October, when I got home from work and stepped out of my car, and the next thing I knew after that I was lying in bed, in the middle of the night, in different clothes than I had worn to work that day. I had no memory of the previous six hours, but at some point I had, at the very least, changed clothes and gone to bed.

I made some very quick checks – I hadn’t blackout-dialed any of my exes. My car was still where I parked it. My bag was where I leave it when I walk in the door. I hadn’t done anything crazy. Near as I could figure, it appeared that once I had gotten home the conscious part of my brain simply shut down entirely.

The fact that I had managed to get myself inside, and changed and – damp towel, taken a goddamn shower! – and put myself to bed without any sort of higher brain functioning, all of that worried me less than the fact that it had happened in the first place. Just like that first drive back from New York in the middle of the night when I saw trees in the middle of the Boulevard, my reaction was not “oh my god I can’t remember the last six hours.” It was “how did I get myself to a place where it was possible for me to black out for six hours?”

Even at the time the answer was fairly obvious. I had been living on a ragged emotional edge for months at that point, and was now apparently doing considerable physical harm to myself as well, but what was I supposed to do? My father was sick. As far as I was concerned my father was going to die in the next five seconds. It wasn’t something that could be ignored. You might as well ask someone to ignore air, or the sun.

The part of my brain that still works through situations like this, that always seems to find some sliver to function rationally even when things have gone completely pear-shaped, reasoned that if I started blacking out regularly, or got myself sick or messed up, I wouldn’t be able to help my parents. That was what finally motivated me to actually make an effort to do what people had been telling me from the start and take care of myself through all this. That was what got me going. Not listening to those friends, or any sort of instinct for self-preservation. Just pure guilt. Straight up, end of Last Crusade, you can’t save him when you’re dead, guilt.

So I called some of the friends whose advice I had been ignoring, expressed my alarm that, Fox Mulder-style, I had lost time, and asked for help. My friends, being far better than I deserved, gave it and then some. I didn’t make any sort of real move to be actively healthy in any way – not then, at least – but I did start taking rudimentary precautions to make sure I didn’t black out again.

And then… not to make a long story too short, but: my dad got better. He tolerated the chemotherapy and his test results were positive. I went down to Florida a bunch more times. We did Hospital Thanksgiving the day after he was admitted to the transplant unit. We managed to have Christmas at their house when he demanded to be discharged from the transplant unit the first day it was humanly possible for him to leave. (He was in there a shade over three weeks.) Then, in January, we got word that his scans came back clean. There was no detectable cancer.

It was early yet, but by all indications the treatments had worked. My dad was fine.

The thing no one tells you, and I’m not sure if they don’t tell you because it only happened to me or because it’s too awful to talk about, is that the news that my dad was fine made things infinitely, almost indescribably worse.

I had spent more or less every second of the previous six months worrying about my father, but in an “is he okay RIGHT NOW” sense, and not in an “is he going to be okay in the indeterminate future” sense. That second thing was there, yes. In some way it was always there, but it was always a teeny tiny little process lurking in the background. 1 percent, 2 tops, and you’re not going to pay attention to that itty bitty thing when CANCER.EXE is up there at the top of the list crushing your CPU for every scrap of spare resources it can find.

My parents were young when they had me. I objectively know how young but it’s hard for me to understand, to really grasp just how young. I’m going to turn 40 later this year. When my father turned 40 I was finishing my FRESHMAN YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. The thought of having a kid that old is legitimately terrifying to me, let alone having TWO like my parents did. They both just turned 65 and aside from the occasional minor health scare – there were a few years there when I was a teenager when we thought my dad had prostate cancer, thank you useless PSA testing, but it never turned into anything so it was never real for me – my parents have been basically chugging along nicely my entire life.

Stage III lymphoma, though, that’s a big flashing neon sign the size of Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas that says, “hey, guess what, Sparky? Your father is mortal and you might want to get used to the idea.” The trouble was that while he was actually sick I was so entirely consumed by the “is he okay right now” question that the notion of my father’s mortality had never crossed my mind.

I’ve lost people over the years. I’ve lost a lot of people. The part of me that is a bad card player – a very small part, admittedly – sometimes likes to think that I’ve lost more than my fair share of people. The rest of me, the vast majority that is a good card player, that part remembers an old man in a robe telling me there’s no such thing as luck and a cute goth girl with an ankh necklace reminding me that I get what anybody gets. And that’s… in a weird way, that’s okay? We all lose people, and you go through it, and it’s awful and sad, and eventually you come out on the other side.

None of those people are my parents, though. None of them are my father. I tried to think about the possibility of my father actually dying and I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t there; I couldn’t conceive of a world where that had happened. I’ve spent a lot of my life living in the future, in a future that was admittedly almost always incorrect but no less vivid for that, but no matter how hard I tried, and I tried very hard, I couldn’t see that particular future.

I’ve said before, here and other places, that I am loathe to assign meaning to things I cannot accurately describe, but this is one of those things that if I were pressed to say how it’s different I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything more than “it just is.”

So for six months I had sublimated – or, possibly more accurately, outright ignored – this giant reminder of my father’s mortality. (My mother’s as well, of course, but if there’s anything in heredity my mother will live well into her two thousands.)

And then came the news that my father was well. He was not going to die.

He was not going to die RIGHT NOW.

It was at this point that six months of not confronting my father’s mortality hit me all at once, and the force of it dislodged this thing inside me like an iceberg breaking off from the polar ice cap, and my entire brain was suddenly consumed by pure, atavistic terror.

Much like the feeling of worry that consumed me when my dad was sick, I’ve been experiencing that terror almost every waking moment since I got the phone call in January that he was fine.

You know what I hate more than anything in the world right now? My phone. Jesus puppyfucking Christ, how I hate my phone.

I had my first phone-related panic attack when my mother called a few weeks after we got the good news. My phone rang – the fanfare from the Indiana Jones theme – I saw “Mom” at the top of the screen, and the entire 68-piece panic attack orchestra broke into the opening bars of the 1812 Overture.

This was it. This was the call. The scans were wrong. The doctors fucked it up. The cancer is back. The cancer never left.

My mother was calling to tell me my father was dying again.

Now, of course, my mother was actually calling to tell me that my sister would be leaving their place soon and heading back up here, and she was sending some stuff for me with her, and when she came by to drop it off would I mind giving her the old vacuum cleaner?

I am reasonably sure my mom didn’t know that for the first 30 seconds of our conversation I was a hairsbreadth away from needing to be hospitalized. I think I covered it up pretty well.

My mother and I don’t talk on the phone all that often. She took to technology with much more ease than a lot of people her age so most of our communication is digital. She texts me about Doctor Who. She emails me stories about new attractions at Disney World and questions about whether or not she should upgrade her iMac. (The apple, and indeed the Apple, doesn’t fall far from the tree.) Honest to goodness voice calls, though, they’re pretty rare.

It’s a good thing they’re rare, because this panic attack happens every time she calls now.

Every time my phone rings and I see “Mom” at the top I get that feeling, that pressure in my chest, the world spinning around my head, that inability to catch a breath once I answer. Now, months later, it’s over almost before I know it, it’s over as soon as I hear that impossibly cheery “Hell-LO!” she always starts phone calls with, but even still, imagine that: even for a second, not being able to breathe when your mother calls.

This insane, impossible little box that connects me to the rest of the world has become this thing that I hate. I hate having it on me, I hate carrying it around, I hate needing it, because every time the fanfare from Raiders plays and I see “Mom” I am convinced that this time is it, this is the one I’ve been dreading, my father is sick again and the giant mass of atavistic terror is sharpened down to a dagger that gets driven into my chest.

One time she called me a few months ago I just sat there for a little bit, staring at my phone, wondering if this was the ballgame. Am I always going to panic when my mother calls? Am I ever going to be able to actually talk to her on the phone without feeling like I’m dying?

Am I going to spend the rest of my life terrified that this is the call telling me the world is ending?

The part of my brain that always functions rationally no matter what quietly said, “no, not for the rest of your life. Just for the rest of HIS.”

I put my elbows on the table and my head in my hands the same way I did that day last June when she called and said aloud to my empty dining room, “that’s not helpful.”

********

My dad and I were never really shy about communicating – well, not about talking at least, actual COMMUNICATING may be another story – but we talk a lot more now than we ever did. When my father was sick I made it a point to talk to him every day, even if it was just a text message to see how he was feeling. (The answer was usually “crappy.”) I still try to touch base every day, although most days if nothing else we end up texting the weather where we are to each other, as though the cursed smartphones we’re texting through don’t also tell us the weather where the other is.

So we talk about weather. We live-text each other the golf. We argue about movies. I text him the puns from the opening credits of Bob’s Burgers every week. He texts me what he did in physical therapy that day and how good he feels. We argue about their itinerary for when they drive north for the summer in a few weeks.

If I think about all of it too much it still feels just as bad, but it doesn’t feel as bad for as long, and I take my small victories where I can find them.

I woke up this morning and went down to the kitchen to make my breakfast. As I was getting ready to toss the butter for my egg in the pan, in my dreary pre-coffee shuffle I slowly noticed that I smelled gas, which should not happen. I realized, even through my stupor, that I never heard the click-click-click of the igniter on the burner.

I looked down: no flames.

I looked at the control panel for the range: no clock.

I muttered, “shit,” and was instantly, completely awake.

A minute later as I was sitting at my computer googling my electrician’s number I texted my mother “no power in oven. Weird. Calling the guy.” My parents are in Disney World, which I knew was the only thing on earth that would get my mother out of bed before 8AM.

Before I could finish finding the number my mother texted me “hang on.”

I saw that and thought “NO DON’T – !”

My phone rang.

Indiana Jones theme. “Mom.”

I gripped the edge of the dining room table so hard my nails would have snapped off, if I had any.

As my mother started talking about the GFCI and testing the outlet behind the dish rack, that rational part of my brain quietly slid up next to me and said, “it’s time we fixed this.”

I pushed the tiny red button on the outlet.

JLK

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You don’t need a crystal ball to predict the obvious.

Posted by kozemp on July 12, 2013

Studio brass at 20th Century Fox are taking meetings with possible directors for their upcoming X-Force movie.

What follows is a transcript of every one of those meetings.

Director: So, I had some questions.

Fox: Sure, go ahead.

Director: This “Cable” person, who is he?

Fox: Ah, sure. See, Cable is Cyclops’ son.

Director: But he’s an old man.

Fox: Yes.

Director: And Cyclops isn’t in this movie.

Fox: No.

Director: So…

Fox: What happens is, Jean Grey dies. Kinda like she did in X-Men 2. Like that only, you know, again.

Director: Wait, she’s not in this either. Are we going to reuse the footage, or…

Fox: So Jean Grey dies. And then Mister Sinister –

Director: Who is THAT?

Fox: Mister Sinister creates a clone of Jean Grey called Maddie Pryor. And Scott falls in love with her. Maddie, I mean. For some reason.

Director: Again, none of this happens in this script –

Fox: Scott abandons Maddie and their baby to go off and form X-Factor –

Director: What the hell is X-Factor?!

Fox: And in her depressive state Maddie becomes possessed by a demon.

Director: <silence>

Fox: So when Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force finally manage to kill Maddie –

Director: But Jean Grey is dead. She died TWICE in the other movies! Never mind whatever the hell a Phoenix Force is.

Fox: Jean absorbs Maddie’s memories, or something.

Director: I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

Fox: And once Apocalypse learns that Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey had a son –

Director: How does the apocalypse learn something? It’s a biblical event.

Fox: No, Apocalypse. With a capital “A.” The first mutant.

Director: With a captial “A.”

Fox: After Apocalypse lears about Scott and Maddie’s half-clone son, he infects it with the techno-organic virus –

Director: WHAT IS A TECHNO-ORGANIC VIRUS? WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

Fox: And then Askani shows up.

Director: I don’t even care who that is.

Fox: Askani is Cyclops and Jean Grey’s daughter from an alternate dimension who lives 2,000 years in the future of THIS dimension.

Director: <begins loading handgun>

Fox: Askani shows up and says she can cure the baby by taking him into the future, only Scott and Jean will never see the baby again.

Director: Why would Jean, who is somehow alive, care about never seeing her clone’s baby?

Fox: So Askani takes the baby into the future, and then even though she said they’d never see it again, she takes Scott and Jean’s minds into the future and they raise the baby for twelve years under assumed names.

Director: I – I don’t –

Fox: And the baby grows up to be Cable. Who then travels BACK in time to kill Apocalypse, who rules the world 2,000 years in the future.

Director: Please stop.

Fox: Which, the whole traveling back to the present from the future to kill Apocalypse, who is 3,000 years old now and rules the world 2,000 years in the future, was why Mister Sinister –

Director: Still don’t know who that is.

Fox: Which is why Mister Sinister created Maddie Pryor in the first place. So she’d give birth to Cable. Who is an old man who leads a group of teenage mutant terrorists. Oh, and half of his body is made of metal and one of his eyes is a flashlight.

Director: Don’t ever fucking call me again.

 

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We know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here.

Posted by kozemp on February 13, 2013

The first DC Comic I ever bought was Batman 500, back in the fall of 1993.

Yes, that issue with the hideous gatefold, die-cut, foil cover. That cover was like a summation of everything that was wrong with 90s comics. I bought it at a shop called 4Cs, which was really more of a baseball card joint, but back in the day when I could walk to four different comic shops it was the closest. I bought it on a lark – I mean, at the time, as far as I thought, DC sucked. However, possibly because I was 15 years old, I fell totally in love with it, and essentially doubled my comic reading workload.

The last DC Comic I ever bought was a hardcover collection of The Black Mirror, a Batman story by Scott Snyder, a few weeks ago.

I read, I suppose it was last week, the announcement that DC was hiring Orson Scott Card to write Superman and my initial reaction was, “are they out of their fucking minds?”

The funny thing about it is that that was a showbiz reaction. It came from the same sort of place as when I said “are they out of their fucking minds?” 6 or 7 years ago when it was announced that Robert Downey was going to play Tony Stark. It’s ludicrous! He’s damaged goods! What a stupid decision! This will doom the project before it begins!

Don’t get me wrong, I still found (and find) Orson Scott Card to be a repulsive, evil excuse for a human being, but I didn’t think about it in moral terms until this morning.

This morning I saw two things.

One was an announcement that a comic shop in Dallas said that they would not sell a Superman book written by Orson Scott Card because of his repulsive, evil depictions of gay people.

The other was DC’s response to the (heretofore unknown to me) outcry about hiring Card. A response in which they actually defend their decision to hire this repulsive, evil excuse for a human being. A response in which they not only have the appalling nerve to claim that the people they choose to hire do not represent them, a logical fallacy that will make your eyes bleed if you think too long about it, but which they had the astronomically more appalling nerve to release to precisely two outlets: The Advocate, and Fox Business Radio.

I read those two things, and something in my head snapped.

Something in my head snapped, and for a little while I had trouble accurately pinning down precisely what I was feeling. I was hurt by it, deeply and profoundly hurt, and I was incredibly, powerfully angry that not only had DC done such a thing, but when presented with the loud cry of outrage that followed it, they chose to double down on it and act as though they were somehow doing something admirable. I was hurt at the fact that DC doesn’t care about people’s feelings or how what they do looks. I was angry that DC could be so reckless and cavalier with their duty of care towards such an important icon of American culture.

But there was a third feeling in there, one I couldn’t pin down for a while until I talked to a friend of mine about it. It was in the course of that conversation I recognized what I was feeling:

Shame.

I have said before, many times: in whatever that special place is, be it over their bed, or at their desk, or in the kitchen, or over the front door, lots of people keep a picture of Jesus as a reminder of what they aspire to, and the kind of person they want to be. Or a picture of Albert Einstein. Or Martin Luther King. Or the Dalai Lama. Or whoever.

Over my desk, there is a picture of Superman.

There is a picture of Superman over my desk because Superman is my barometer, my yardstick for measuring right and wrong. Superman is that for me because, setting aside silly temporal considerations of story or plot or whatever, Superman is a god walking the earth, an omnipotent being who can do and have anything he wants, and he chooses to devote his life to helping other people. He chooses to always do the right thing. And when he’s done he puts on a pair of glasses and goes home and doesn’t ask for credit, or recognition, or thanks. He is the perfect representation of human altruism, the very best of us given form.

Superman is my barometer because he can do and have anything he wants, and he chooses to be Superman.

And I felt shame about it.

I felt shame because having grown up with all of that as such an important part of my life, having this now be part of it made me feel as though I was somehow complicit in it. As though, because he was now one of the people guiding it, the hateful, evil things Card represents are also part of me as well. I recognize that is irrational, yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that I felt it all the same.

I’ll tell you something: I can deal with hurt feelings. I can deal with anger. By this point in my life, having come out on the other side of all the crazy that’s happened over the years, I can deal with anger and hurt feelings like a fucking champ. But shame doesn’t go away so easily, and that anger – not the initial anger at the act itself, but the deep, soul anger caused by someone you trusted making you ashamed – that dies even harder. I’m not an angry guy, not anymore, even though it takes a lot of work for me to be that, but when Bruce teaches us “hold tight to your anger,” I think maybe this is what he was talking about, that breaking the covenant we have to take care of one another is the only thing worth getting angry about.

So, yeah, I’m there.

And before we unilaterally reject anger and conflict in all its forms – which I wholly endorse 99.99% of the time – let’s not forget, this isn’t the first time we’ve gone round and round with DC on this. Recall last year, when DC made the announcement that one of their “major” characters was going to come out as gay, and when the time came it turned out to be Alan Scott. You almost have to give them credit, since for however reprehensible the move was they managed to pull it off while giving themselves perfect political cover from both sides: the fans and media who rightfully ask why there aren’t any major gay characters at DC get their “Green Lantern is gay” headline, but DC can still turn to the repulsive, evil excuses for human beings who would be outraged by that and whisper, “don’t worry, the REAL Green Lantern isn’t gay.”

If you think for even one second that isn’t what DC was doing, just remember they released their response to two places: The Advocate, and Fox.

Their CYA used to be subtle, at least.

It was when I was wrestling with all this hurt and anger and shame that I realized I just couldn’t be a part of it anymore.

My friend put it best: they gave a purveyor of hate speech the keys to Superman. And, yes, I could just as easily not buy the book. Hell, there was no way I could buy the book. The problem is that the book isn’t the disease; the book is a symptom. The disease is that there are people running DC Comics who thought this was okay. Who thought this was a good idea. Who thought they should give a purveyor of hate speech the keys to Superman. That is so fundamentally and intrinsically WRONG that if I think too much about it I physically shudder and twitch, as though by body is trying to wrench the idea out of itself.

I’m not going to pretend that having a conscience – or at least one that I listen to – isn’t still a bit of a new thing for me, relatively speaking, but as the saying goes: I cannot, in good conscience, give money to people who think that. And no matter how hard I try I can’t shake this anger. I’m not sure I should.

So after almost 20 years, me and DC Comics are done. And, yeah, for me, that kinda sucks. Admittedly I don’t think I’ve ever read less DC in the last 20 years than I do now, but still. No Night of Owls. No Death of the Family. No Snyder/Lee Superman. No Rotworld. No Aquaman, no Flash, no Green Lantern, none of it. Not until this gets fixed. Not until something is done about this.

DC and I are done until this is fixed, and until someone apologizes for the shame, and the anger. Because for however much I want to do both, the leadership at DC Comics is so venal, so corrupt, so degenerate, they thought that given the choice between reading their books and looking in the mirror, I would choose the books.

You don’t have to be Superman to choose the mirror.

JLK

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Ah, distinctly I remember.

Posted by kozemp on July 19, 2012

Remember Muzzy Izzet?

He was a Turkish international who played for Chelsea way back in the day and spent most of his career at Leicester City. After Leicester he spent three injury-wracked years at Birmingham where by all accounts he produced nothing particularly noteworthy, except for what I still remember eight years later as the single greatest handball in the history of soccer.

I have tried and failed to find video of this play but believe me when I tell you: it was truly, truly spectacular. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was in November, I was at the Dark Horse, and I was walking out of the Rigger Bar past the brand-new big-screen television that had been installed the month before for an England-Wales World Cup qualifier. (My attendance at the Dark Horse for that specific game, I recall, was required by certain parties as a shibboleth to prove that I “actually” liked soccer.)

I was walking out of the bar when I glanced at the television. Everton had a free kick maybe 25 yards from the Birmingham goal. Thomas Gravesen – sweet zombie Jesus, I can’t believe I still remember it was Thomas Gravesen – lined up over the ball and took a very nice free kick that looked to sail over the heads of the wall and slightly trouble the Birmingham goalkeeper (whose name, sadly, I cannot remember). It looked like it was going to do this until, possibly entering a dissociative state and believing he was playing some other sport, Muzzy shoved his arms up in the air, hit the ball square with the heels of both hands, and pushed it over the crossbar.

It was as perfect a set as you would see on any volleyball court. Unfortunately, it happened in a soccer game.

Everyone in the bar stared at the television. Everyone in the stands stared at the pitch. It was a moment of perfect, stunned silence on two continents. The ref walked over to Muzzy, pointed to the spot, and showed him a red card with a bewildered look on his face that clearly said, “what the fuck were you doing?”

It is, to this day, still one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen in sports, and it takes the cake from Luis Suarez as the Greatest Handball Ever because while Suarez was simply cheating, Muzzy Izzet genuinely appeared to lose his mind for a second there.

I am reminded tonight of Muzzy because walking back to my car from PPL Park tonight, between the corner at the stadium road and the church where I park, I sent a message on Twitter to a friend of mine.

I wrote, “Has there been a change to the Laws of the Game that visiting players at PPL Park can use their hands?!”

This is twice in a week now and it’s starting to get really, really irritating.

I’m not going to say that the handball witnessed in the closing stages of tonight’s friendly with Aston Villa was close to as bad as Muzzy’s famous set, but is the second time in seven days I’m sitting here talking about a Union game and the most important part of it was a terrible refereeing decision.

The Union won a free kick on the edge of the Villa penalty area in… late in the game, I want to say maybe the 82nd minute or so. I’m not entirely sure how the Union actually won the free kick – we were on a careening late run towards the Villa goal, because as we know the the Union’s new MO is to only actually play soccer in the last 10 minutes of the game – but there it was all the same. The free kick right on the edge of the area, just inside the post.

Part of the reason my memory of this free kick is somewhat distorted (i.e., I cannot remember when it happened, who won the foul, or who took the kick) is what happened ON the free kick.

The ball was kicked.

The ball flew at the wall.

One of the Villa players in the wall flung his arm at the ball and knocked it away from the play.

It was a clear, deliberate, obvious handball by defending player in his own box. It may not have been as spectacular or ridiculous as Muzzy’s handball against Everton, but it was no less blatant. This should have been the easiest red card and penalty the referee had ever issued.

Play continued.

Sitting in our seats more than 120 yards away, Nick and I saw this clear as day and both screamed simultaneously, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” Tom, in his Aston Villa shirt, more demurely muttered, “wow.”

Now, again, don’t get me wrong. Just like the Cup semifinal against Sporting last week, the Union did not lose because of a poor refereeing decision. Well, bad refereeing decision. Well, atrocious refereeing decision. It may not necessarily have been the worst soccer game I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely flirting with the top 10. We put out what was mostly a youth side, Lambert rotated his squad players and his youngsters in and out as well, and the quality of play on both sides could generally best be described as “terrible.” And that’s fine. It was a mid-season friendly for us. It was a preseason tour game for Villa. No one is expecting an all-time classic. And we lost because Nathan Delfouneso scored a really, really good goal.

It does rankle, though, that our undefeated run in exhibitions against foreign sides ended this way, where by rights we should have had a chance to at least tie it up late in the game and keep our unblemished record. Yeah, it’s just a friendly but… pride, you know? It’s not just a terrible U2 song.

JLK

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I believe you will find it is you who are mistaken. About a great many things.

Posted by kozemp on July 12, 2012

We learned three very important things at PPL Park last night.

1) There is, in fact, a level of officiating that is worse than what is commonly found in MLS.

2) The Philadelphia Union still have quite a long ways to go before all of their problems are solved.

3) I am not very good at kicking a soccer ball.

So, a rundown.

It’s an article of faith among MLS fans that the officiating in the league hovers just above abysmal. This is hardly surprising. USSF refs don’t exactly get the best training in the world so one can’t be too surprised when they go to a game and fuck it up on a scale normally used by people like Charles Richter.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last three years at PPL Park and while the MLS officials have not been out-and-out terrible every week, poor officiating seems to be the norm rather than the exception. After a while you just get sort of… I don’t know… inured to it, I guess. You go to the games, you root for your team, the official makes a shitload of mistakes, there are no peanuts in your goddamn Cracker Jack, everybody goes home, and on and on it goes, till death do us part, amen.

Occasionally you’ll get egregiously bad refs whose intent, it seems, is to elevate bad officiating into some sort of hideous performance art, as though their desire were to go in front of 18,000 people and put on a terrible show so as to purposely draw the audience’s ire, as some sort of bizarre commentary on the American need for a villain. This, frankly, is pretty rare. Most the time you get garden-variety terrible refs who simply don’t know what they’re doing, or aren’t fit enough to keep up with the game, or hate Peter Nowak because of that time he told the ref’s mother go fuck herself.

Last night, though, at the US Open Cup semifinal against Sporting Kansas City, officiating in American soccer reached a new, previously unthought-of nadir. Like I said, I’ve been at PPL Park for the better part of the last three years and last night was, without a doubt, the single worst officiated soccer game I have ever seen in my entire life. The sheer number of things the referee “let go” in this game was STAGGERING. Hand balls, lunges from behind, players kicking the ball away from the team that won a free kick – that last one of at least three things in this game I counted that are supposed to be an automatic yellow card where none was issued – the official no-called every one of these things, multiple times. Oh man, the hand balls. So, so many.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We did not lose BECAUSE of the ref. I’m not even sure how much the ref directly contributed to the Union’s loss. Having the worst official of the history of soccer – that’s right, you heard me, worst official in 2400 years – certainly didn’t help the cause, but any reasonably fair assessment would show that the Union lost because Zac MacMath lost his mind on a free kick in the middle of the second half, flailing at it like a seven-year-old trying to return his father’s serve in beach volleyball.

Which, conveniently, nicely segues into the next thing we learned, which is that for all the recent turnaround under John Hackworth, the Union still have a long way to go to get back to where they were, say, a year ago.

There is a fine line between playing badly and simply not playing well, and the Union flip-flopped back and forth over it all night. I still say they spent more time on the “not playing well” side, and that overall the game had the feel more of a dire and dreary cup final than of a usually-more-interesting semifinal. I can’t even say one of the usual platitudes like, “this wasn’t the same team that won their last three games, including beating this Sporting team 4-0.”

This was, in fact, very MUCH the same team that rattled off those three wins in a row, and that was part of the problem.

Around the middle of the first half (just before a Union free kick where our slam-bag official would wrongly rule him offside) I turned to Tim and Nick and said, “Jack McInerney has got to get out of there.” In the buildup to the kick, which like almost every other free taken this game seemed to go on forever, Jack wandered around the Sporting penalty area seemingly tired, beaten down, barely there.

Tim said, “he looks gassed.”

I said, “he looks dead.”

And he did. Jack looked terrible the entire game. I get that the Union are trying to put on a new face in the Hackworth era, and that in order to restore the fan’s trust in the team they need to go out there and win as many games as possible. I agree; these are things they have to do. But the simple fact of the matter is that three days ago this team was playing Toronto FC at home, and even though in our previous meeting this season we lost to The Worst Soccer Team In The World, if Hackworth had put out a slightly reduced side this past Sunday to save up players like McInerney I don’t think anyone would’ve complained too much with the far more important US Open Cup semifinal coming – a game where a fully-fit, fully-charged McInerney would have been much more useful than a game against the absolute dregs of professional soccer.

As it was, with McInerney a pale shadow of himself, and Pajoy performing his usual shtick of “running around on a soccer field with no one really knowing what he’s doing,” the Union attack basically had no teeth the entire evening.

And let’s not even go into SKC’s second goal, which was the first hockey-style empty-netter I’ve ever seen in soccer.

I’m still inclined to give Hackworth a significant benefit of the doubt – the league results are good and at this point almost any sort of positive outcome is a major uplift for the team and the fans – but the roster selections last night and over the last week were pretty egregious mistakes. Hackworth’s mistake compounded with MacMath’s mistake and left the Union crashing out of the Cup, but, well… live and learn, I suppose. It’s early days for both of them and last night’s result aside, the future still looks a hell of a lot brighter than it did six weeks ago.

And, finally, I kicked an actual soccer ball with my actual foot for the first time since approximately 1986. It was a very nice evening weather-wise, and after the game we found ourselves in the parking lot waiting for the line of cars to reduce to a point where we could conceivably leave sometime that night, and Nick had a ball, so I ended up occasionally joining the kick-around.

To say it not go well would give poetic license a bad name, and on at least two occasions my attempt to hit the ball with my foot failed entirely and I was forced to defend myself with my hands and arms, and I’m still not 100% certain that on that last free kick, in which I tried to knock over a 64 ounce soda mug on the lip of a trunk, I didn’t break five or six bones in my right foot. Still, though, a good time was had and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Provided I can get myself better shoes. And better feet. And better coordination.

Or, at the least, I could simply stop telling everyone how badly I do at it.

JLK

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CLASSIC: How is this MY fault?

Posted by kozemp on November 22, 2011

On my way to work every morning there is a light – at Ryan Avenue and the Boulevard, for those inexplicably keeping track of my route to work – that I have actually successfully driven through without stopping I believe four times in my entire life. It’s one of those weird things. It’s an intersection I end up at approximately 800 times a week, since you have to go through it to go essentially anywhere that isn’t Center City. And I always get stuck at it. It’s one of those things you get used to.

This morning, for whatever reason – Monday is usually the lightest traffic day of the week – the wait at the light was much, much longer than usual, stretching back a solid three blocks. While I was sitting there, for some reason, I had a flashback to another time I was sitting in traffic, although that one was much more weird and scary.

Many years ago me and a friend of mine, let’s call him… say… “Patrick” decided to go to Boston for a long weekend to visit a friend of ours who had recently moved there. For some reason – this part is hazy, it may have possibly been because I didn’t have a car at the time – Patrick was going to drive us up there on a Friday afternoon. This was a spectacularly bad idea for any number of reasons, the foremost among which is that Patrick was (and to an extent still is) completely incapable of successfully driving anywhere without laser-guided telemetry to get him there. The first time he tried to go to my house when we were in college he ended up at a bowling alley 21 miles past my house. TWENTY ONE MILES.

Boston, if you’ve never driven it, is roughly a six hour drive from here. Patrick picked me up at noon. We arrived at our friend’s apartment on Beacon Hill at 10:30PM.

Here’s how you make it take ten and a half hours to get to Boston:

First, you have someone drive you who, I am fairly certain, cannot always discern their right from their left. Then you have this person make only a cursory glance at a road atlas and think that this road here, yeah, 95, sure, that can take us the whole way, right?

So, instead of taking (if I’m remembering correctly) the New Jersey Turnpike up PAST New York City to… the Merritt Parkway? I honestly forget… you take the Turnpike INTO New York City and try to cross the GW and hack your way through the Bronx and suburban Connecticut on 95. Now years before we had them here they had those giant LCD signs on 95 in Connecticut, and once we get across the GW (elapsed bridge time: 45 minutes) and finally get moving, the sign says “HEAVY TRAFFIC APPROACHING DARIEN, CT”

When we see that sign Patrick begins rummaging in the space behind the seats with his right hand. Eventually he pulls out a map and says words that, to this day, echo in my nightmares:

“Find us a better way.”

I find what I think is a way for us to get to the Merritt Parkway without undue distress. This, of course, does not happen. After taking the first exit we can, Patrick first turns west, i.e. AWAY from Boston, and after much screaming we finally make it onto this OTHER highway which is, of course, at a dead stop.

“This is all your fault,” Patrick says.

“How is this MY fault?” I neglect to mention that the actual route entirely is my fault, but it’s inconsiderate to distract the driver.

“We were MOVING on 95,” Patrick says.

“Fucking turkeys,” I say.

“I, ah… I’ve never heard traffic described that way.” Patrick sounds confused.

“No,” I say, pointing at a flock of wild turkeys on the highway embankment. “Turkeys. Over there.” Like 20 turkeys just sitting around watching the traffic. This is my first ever exposure to the state of Connecticut and between turkeys and traffic I am unthrilled to say the least.

“That’s something you don’t see every day.”

“I don’t get stuck on a random highway in the middle of Connecticut every day either.”

“Shut up.”

At this point we’ve been in the car for maybe three hours. Eventually we get to a point where what we’re on is moving and it is determined -rightly or wrongly – that we need to get back onto 95. There is some kind of highway spur that goes to 95 through New Haven, which at that point I understood to be a slightly dingier place than Hell.

Traffic has been moving for a while and we’re on this spur back to 95 when Patrick turns to me and says – I swear to God these were his exact words because they will be burned into my brain until the day I die – “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but we don’t have any brakes.”

Despite Patrick’s attempts to the contrary I am considerably alarmed.

We manage to limp off the highway and into a Pep Boys that was INCREDIBLY conveniently located right off the exit. It is now 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday (5 and a half hours to New Haven, BTW). The mechanics have all gone home. The people working at the Pep Boys are telling us that we can leave the Jeep there and someone could possibly look at it Saturday morning, but that it’s also possible the sun could explode on Saturday morning and the two things are about AS possible, and more than likely it will be Monday before someone looks at the brakes.

My vacation weekend in Boston is rapidly turning into my weekend sitting in a motel across the street from a Pep Boys in New Haven (which, until I would go to Los Angeles a few months later, was at that point the Worst Place On Earth I Had Ever Seen). Patrick is talking to the people at the service desk – god knows what he’s talking about – and they’re firmly saying no sir, we can’t call in one of our mechanics, but there’s a lovely Motel 6 just down the block when I notice a guy leaving the store with like 4 bags of auto parts.

I run outside and stop him in the parking lot. “Are you a mechanic?” I ask, desperate. He is. I ask him if he would PLEASE PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE OH GOD HELP US I’M GOING TO DIE IN NEW HAVEN just look under the hood of Patrick’s jeep and let us know if there’s something immediate we can do.

This is how much I know about cars. I think the brakes are under the hood.

The guy actually agrees, opens the hood , and after approximately four and a half seconds says “you’re out of brake fluid.”

“That’s it?” I ask.

“That’s it. Cost you five bucks and you’re back on the road.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

The mechanic – aka The Nicest Man I Have Ever Met – walks away smiling. I go back into the Pep Boys to find Patrick now with approximately half of his upper body leaning across the counter, his feet now barely touching the floor, pleading with the person at the service counter. I consider letting him debase himself a little further before I remember that he is actually my friend and could, were he so inclined, leave me in New Haven.

“Come on,” I say, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from the service desk. “I took care of it. We need brake fluid.”

“You TOOK CARE OF IT? What does that MEAN?” he asks.

“Just find a couple bottles of brake fluid and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“What does TOOK CARE OF IT mean? What did you DO?”

Knowing him and knowing me I imagine Patrick assumes I, Jack Bauer-like, tortured a perfect stranger into diagnosing the car. I tell him what actually did happen.

“Brake fluid? That’s it?” he asks.

“That’s it.”

He pauses, then says, “we’re really fucking stupid.”

“No,” I say, “we’re smart, we just don’t know anything about cars. There is no shame in that.”

I resist the urge to tell the story of the first time I tried to put motor oil in my car and put it in the transmission.

“We know what BRAKE FLUID is, for god’s sake. I mean, we’ve HEARD of it.”

This argument essentially went on for the remaining five hours it took to get from New Haven to our friends apartment, 90 minutes of it spent actually IN Boston looking for it. Because calling someone from the Virgin Islands to help you navigate around a city he’s lived in for like 3 months and never actually driven a car in – that, my friends, is intelligent behavior at its best.

As for what happened in Boston, well, that’s another story, innit? Another long, sad story…

JLK

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An Open Letter to International Business Times Editor Shawn Moynihan

Posted by kozemp on September 2, 2011

Dear Shawn:

I read your letter, and in the spirit of the times – open letters are all the rage now, apparently – I thought I would respond in kind.

You and I have been friends for no small number of years, thanks in part to our mutual love of Star Wars. You’re the biggest Star Wars fan I know, and I mean that as an honest and great compliment. You and I both travel in social circles where being a big fan is pretty common, but out of everyone I know who loves Star Wars, I’ve always felt that you were one of the few who “got it.”

You were the guy who, like me, loved Star Wars not just for special effects or its place in filmmaking history or as fuel for an obsessive need to collect things (though you and I both indulge in all of those). You were the guy who connected with the weight behind the hype, who realized that the important thing about Star Wars wasn’t sound design or toys or editing.

You recognized that Star Wars is the quintessential modern myth in the quintessentially ancient sense. You recognized that Star Wars is a story designed to teach lessons, and fundamentally important lessons at that: Star Wars is the simplest, easiest way to teach children why it’s important to be good, to stand up for what’s right, and to help people in need.

Yes, there are other vehicles for those lessons as we get older. Tolkein does most of the heavy lifting once we hit the teenage years. In college and beyond we can literalize the subject by studying Kant or Aquinas or stick with pop culture and drink deeply from A Song of Ice and Fire or the adventures of The Doctor.

But if you want to teach a 7-year-old kid the difference between right and wrong and why it’s important to do right, and have that lesson stick with him his entire life, letting him watch Star Wars to his heart’s content is more effective than a thousand sermons. And you, Shawn, understand that better than anyone I know.

So yesterday, when I saw on my Twitter feed a post from @ShawnMoyn that read “Dear Mr. Lucas: Are These Blu-Ray Tweaks Really Necessary?” I thought, oh dear, I hope Shawn hasn’t abused his position at the IBT to launch a public broadside against George Lucas.

I clicked the link, and four seconds later I thought, oh dear, he has.

Most of the points you make in your letter – almost all of them, really – are spot-on. There can be precious little argument that, in a purely objective sense, George Lucas is a terrible, terrible filmmaker, or that his continued depredations upon the Original Trilogy are precisely that: depredations. I didn’t need to read your letter to know that you feel the same way (though in your letter you articulate those thoughts in your usual excellent manner).

I got a little worried when you flirted with the demonstrably idiotic (and distressingly prevalent) notion that fans “own” Star Wars in some way, but I thought you nicely redeemed that misstep by making the point that part of being an artist is knowing when to stop working, and that Lucas is risking severe fan alienation by not realizing that.

But George Lucas isn’t the problem, Shawn.

You are.

You close your letter by saying that despite the fact that you hate what Lucas is doing to the Original Trilogy, you are going to buy the Blu-Ray boxed set anyway.

My friend, as a wise man once said, “that… is why you fail.”

I’m not certain I buy the other distressingly prevalent notion that Lucas keeps tinkering with the Original Trilogy because he wants to suck money directly from fans’ wallets. There surely comes a point where even someone like George Lucas has enough money, and after making 1.4 gajillion dollars from Star Wars (that is an exact figure, I looked it up) I’m pretty sure Lucas is past that point.

No, Shawn, the reason Lucas keeps changing the films is because Star Wars fans like you KEEP BUYING THEM. At the end of the day, my friend, this is still showbusiness – you of all people know that – and there’s no booth at the local high school here: you vote with your wallet, and for going on 15 years now Star Wars fans like you and me and countless others have overwhelmingly voted again and again to let George Lucas keep making changes to the films we love so much.

This time, though, I’m voting no. I’m pulling the other lever for once. I’m cancelling my pre-order of the Blu Ray set. Yes, it’s true that I am in a small minority, and that my un-purchase won’t actually accomplish anything. My protest vote is, in the end, a futile gesture.

But these movies I watched as a kid taught me that you have to do the right thing no matter what.

I hope, Shawn, that you are strong enough in the Force to do the right thing as well.

K’oyacyi, ner vod,

JLK

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Downwards is the only way forwards.

Posted by kozemp on August 15, 2011

Last night I was at this girl’s house, a friend of mine.

Nothing serious, nothing fancy. Simply that, after 8,000 tries, I had finally convinced her to sit down and watch Doctor Who. We made some popcorn, sat on the couch, and watched The Eleventh Hour. It was great, of course, but The Eleventh Hour is always great. After the show was over she got up to take the popcorn stuff out into the kitchen.

“Admit I was right!” I shouted after her. “You loved it!”

“It was pretty good,” she said from the other room.

I muttered to myself, “that’s not exactly what I asked for.”

I twisted around to my right and leaned over the arm of the couch to look at the pile of books stacked up on the end table. What I saw there shocked me – I owned EVERY SINGLE BOOK sitting on that table. The first three Game of Thrones books. A couple of the recent Star Wars releases. Gatsby. Dune. Jurassic Park. Even, most unbelievably, a copy of Queen and Country Volume 3 – Operation Crystal Ball, and the red leather hardcover to boot – a book that until last night I was fairly certain I was the only person anywhere to actually buy.

How did I never know she read this stuff? Queen and Country? How has THAT never come up in conversation? We’re the only two people on earth who read this.

I spent some time doing some quick mental calculations – it felt like minutes but it was only probably a few seconds, she was still in the kitchen and how long can it take to toss a popcorn bowl in the sink – and came to the rough conclusion that the odds of me owning every single one of the motley collection of books that happened to be on her end table the night I stopped by was something like one in nine hundred billion; the odds of me never knowing that our reading habits were almost exactly similar was just as unlikely.

The fact that the odds were so far against it didn’t really trouble me – last month when I had my wisdom teeth out, the oral surgeon was describing “dry socket,” a particularly heinous side effect of tooth extraction that involves a lot of pain and gunk and going back to the oral surgeon every day for ten straight days.

“Jesus,” I said, “what are the odds of me getting that?”

The doc waved his hand dismissively. “One, maybe two percent. I wouldn’t worry.”

I snorted. “You know how much money I’ve lost to one or two percent?”

Three days later I was back at the oral surgeon’s, and I was back again every day for the next week and a half.

So I didn’t think much about the ridiculously long odds. I have more experience with ridiculous odds than a normal person could possibly believe.

Still, all the same books. Fucking wild.

I turned back around and my feet got tangled up in something. I felt a sharp stab of pain in my knee and heard someone say “waaaaaaah!” and suddenly I was stuck on the couch and my friend was sprawled out on top of me.

I muttered to myself, “gah, fucking knee.”

More conversationally, I said, “what the hell?”

She smiled at me. “You turned around the EXACT second I was right behind you and you kicked my legs out from under me. I tried to keep my balance, but…” She looked at the coffee table. “It was either fall on you or the coffee table.” She smiled again.

I looked at the table, which was very nice. “Probably the smart play.” I looked back at her and realized that the result of my clumsiness and her nice furniture could be interpreted in a fairly lascivious manner. “It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I can barely see out the eyes in the front of my head, the ones in the back are total shit.”

She said, “it’s okay.”

And she smiled at me again, only this time it was different.

Again, I couldn’t tell you if it took a second or a minute, but eventually I realized, oh, I think we’re supposed to kiss now.

My brain went into warp speed overdrive.

“SEE!” It said. “You don’t have to always think and analyze and plan this shit and obsess about EVERY SINGLE DETAIL and bore everyone you know to death with this crap for months on end. Sometimes, good things just HAPPEN. Did you even think this was possible tonight? Hell, you didn’t even PLAN tonight!”

No, I said back. I did not plan this. Hell, I’ve never even thought about this.

As her and I leaned toward each other my brain quietly said:

“Liar…”

The picosecond before we kissed, my phone rang.

Since 2004, the ringtone on my various cellphones has been the theme song to the BBC show Hustle. It is, honestly, a remnant of an earlier, darker time in my life. I had no job, no prospects at a job, I hadn’t founded The Pros From Dover or discovered the Dark Horse yet, and I was generally and thoroughly an angry, miserable bastard. One night, though, I discovered Hustle on the internet and was instantly hooked on it, staying up until 4 or 5AM to download new episodes as they came out, and when I got a phone that could make a ringtone out of any mp3 on earth, I chose the theme music to a show about con men.

I would say it is a wonder that I ever escaped the sea of horrific negativity I lived in back then, but that last paragraph puts the lie to that: later that very year I started the theater company and found the DH, and like almost everything I’ve ever done that was worthwhile, other people did a lot of the work.

Still, in the last couple weeks I’ve been thinking I need to change my ringtone. I still love the show, dont get me wrong, but high-class British con artists just, I dunno, it isn’t me anymore. I’ve pretty much got it narrowed down to two choices, and for a while now I’ve said to myself, eh, one of these days I’ll get past the inertia of all these years and finally change it.

As my phone rang last night, that picosecond stretched out and I thought, god I wish I’d changed that stupid ringtone. Talk about bad timing. And it’s so fucking LOUD.

But then, the picosecond stretched out even further when I thought, wait a minute. My phone isn’t THAT loud. It sounds like it’s coming from all over the place. And, what the fuck, didn’t I put my phone on vibrate when I got here?

The picosecond stretched out some more and I thought, hang on, when did I get here?

My spine turned to ice.

HOW did I get here?

The theme song from Hustle blaring around me from the entire world, the picosecond refused to end and I realized my phone wasn’t going off because someone was calling.

It wasn’t a ringtone.

It was the music warning me to be ready for the kick.

I looked up at her, desperate for the magic picosecond to last a little longer.

She just smiled again, and the picosecond snapped.

I lashed my arm out at the phone, sitting on top of a stack of books next to my bed. I pressed the button on the side with my thumb to turn off the alarm. I held the phone up an inch in front of my face – my glasses were on the other side of the room – so I could read the message box. “7:13. ALARM.

It might as well have said, “HA HA, JOKE’S ON YOU.

Eventually, via a complex system of grabbing the door frame and slowly pulling with various major muscle groups – getting up in the morning with a bad back is always a challenge – I managed to haul myself upright and sit on the edge of my bed.  I sat there for a second, then looked at the phone again.

7:13. ALARM.

I muttered to myself, “just a dream. Doesn’t mean anything.”

I looked down, and the phone said:

LIAR…

I got up to get in the shower, tossed my phone on the bed and thought, the ringtone is getting changed today. That thing is never playing that goddamned theme song ever again.

JLK

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