Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Siren of Myron

Another Thanksgiving Thursday has come and gone, this year coinciding with my birthday; sandwiches of leftover turkey will continue to be my meals for a couple days to come. Yesterday, I followed a day of overindulgence with yet another shameless vice: watching a bad movie. Not any bad movie. Most bad movies are no fun at all. There is a particular sort of bad movie that is fun to watch. The necessary element that makes a bad film a viewing pleasure is “camp,” which is notoriously hard to define but unmistakable when you see it. Not everyone experiences pleasure in camp – at least not readily; many (perhaps most) can’t get past the badness even so. But for the rest of us, such acknowledged classics as Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and The Philadelphia Story are very nearly matched on the fun scale by I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Wild Women of Wongo, and Chopping Mall. Sometimes the camp in these films is intentional (e.g. Killer Klowns from Outer Space) and sometimes it apparently is not (Showgirls). I find pleasure in films that are very bad indeed. I enjoyed the abysmally reviewed Sucker Punch. I enjoyed Lindsay Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me.

The legendarily bad movie I chose yesterday came to mind thanks to an appearance by director Quentin Tarantino on The Tonight Show several days earlier. Tarantino does not make bad movies: he pulls off the neat trick of making flicks that are both campy and very good. His violent and abrasive fare is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his movies are well regarded by critics and always do good box office. What struck me as odd, however, was Quentin’s story to Jay Leno about fist fights he had in NYC. He seemed rather proud of them in an old-fashioned masculine way reminiscent of Hemingway – not Hemingway the writer, but Hemingway the man. Following the peculiar paths by which our minds link one memory to another, the story also reminded me of a very different masculine vision in a novel by Gore Vidal: Myra Breckinridge.

After The Tonight Show, I pulled the novel from my shelf. It was a 1968 edition hardcover that probably was the very one I read in 1968 while in prep school – it was a recreational read at the time, not a school assignment. Parents would have gone ballistic had this book been assigned as schoolwork; some had objections enough to Ovid.

The gist: the protagonist, once Myron Breckinridge, thanks to the good surgeons of Copenhagen, had become Myra. She doesn’t reveal her other-gendered past when she takes a teaching position at an actors school in LA. Myra is a classic film aficionado who argues that no insignificant film was made between 1935 and 1945. The book is rife with references to these films. She asserts that every culture has a mythology from which it derives an identity, and the movies of 1935-45 form the American mythology; the actors of the era are the gods and goddesses of our myths. They define our sense of ethics, our world view, and our ideals of masculinity and femininity. She believes the sex roles embodied in these films were all very well for building a nation and fighting Nazis, but are inappropriate to a 1968 world facing overpopulation and nuclear weaponry. She wants to remold our mythology by means of the movies. She wants to create an America and (to the extent Hollywood movies have global reach) a world that is more bisexual and less dominated by traditional masculine bluster. The birthrate thus will fall and pressure will be eased on the nuclear trigger. A school for actors is as good a place to start as any.

The traditional gender types reflective of ’35-45 are embodied by two students at the film school who plan to marry. Rusty is handsome, swaggering, and a bit of an ass. His wholesomely pretty and somewhat air-headed girlfriend Mary-Ann wants nothing more than a white picket fence and four children with Rusty. Myra sets out to remold them by sexually humiliating Rusty and seducing Mary-Ann. She considers it a great success when the shattered Rusty shouts he is “sick of women.” He then acts so hostile to Mary-Ann that she announces, “I’ll never marry! I hate men!” Both are now better able to bring Myra’s vision to their future screen roles. Bisexuality is a double-edge sword, however, and Myra’s plans are endangered when she finds herself (the part of her still Myron) falling for Mary-Ann.

This book was made into a movie in 1970. Raquel Welch and Rex Reed are Myra/Myron. Also in the movie are a 77-year-old Mae West, a young Tom Selleck, and an even younger Farah Fawcett. The film bombed at the box office so badly that sales of the novel (previously a best-seller) nearly stopped. The vast majority of critics hated it, despised it, reviled it. Even the favorable review in The New York Times warned of the need for “a strong stomach.” It is listed in Harry Medved’s book The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time. Despite this, the film always has had a cult following. It seemed perfect for Friday viewing.

The film proved to be an ideal pick. It was bad in all the right places, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Fair warning: the majority of viewers surely still will hate this movie. (A quick peek at Rotten Tomatoes shows that they do.) There is likely to be some distaste even among some of the cadre normally as easily pleased by camp as I. Yet, Myra in many ways was far in advance of its time. The film looks good, too, which counts for something. Though some critics complained about them, the clips of classic films inserted into the movie work well in my opinion at setting the tone. While I’ll not contend that this is a misunderstood good movie, my only real personal complaint with Myra is the deviation from the ironic ending of the book, in which (*spoiler*) Mary-Ann is married to a surgically re-altered Myron; the movie (big *spoiler*) tells us at the end that Myron's adventures as Myra were just a dream. The movie ending is just not very satisfying.

I suppose one could argue that, despite being fictional, Myra succeeded. The marriage and birth rates indeed have fallen since 1970 to all-time lows, and perhaps ongoing changes (to which she contributed) in sex roles are a reason. Traditional hetero attitudes sound increasingly quaint when not actually politically incorrect. Gender roles have lost definition. Quentin seems out of step. Come to think of it, maybe omitting the marriage of Myron and Mary-Ann was the correct decision for the movie after all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting Past the Future

The books on the shelves of my home library are not so numerous as to need Melvil Dewey’s organizational help. There are enough, however, for something simpler to be useful. Fiction (all types and genres) is alphabetical by author, history is roughly chronological by subject matter, and all the other nonfiction is packed together – a rough and ready arrangement, but good enough. Even so, I occasionally misfile something, effectively making the book invisible until I stumble on it by accident. This happened the other day: when putting away some Jim Thompson, I noticed Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock on the shelf below. I don’t think I was being intentionally ironic when I long ago misfiled it amid the fiction.

I read Future Shock when it was first published in 1970. It was inspired by the technological revolution of the 20th century and the social revolution that accompanied it. Indeed it had been a remarkable 70 years. I often think about the changes my grandparents experienced in their lifetimes. All were born in or before 1900, and they witnessed a horse-and-buggy world transform into one with satellite communications, jetports, superhighways, consumer electronics, frozen foods, television, and space flight. My paternal grandfather left Austria-Hungary in a horse-drawn hay rick and revisited Budapest in a Boeing 707.

We often hear how in the 21st century “technological change is accelerating.” It really isn’t. I’m not casually dismissing the internet and cell phones, though mobile phones existed as early as 1946; they just were in cars because the power sources were too clunky to carry around. The significance of present-day communications and computing power is enormous. Nevertheless, someone who fell asleep in 1970 and woke up in 2013 would not be astonished at the way we live. If anything, he’d be disappointed there are no moon bases and sentient computers as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A single day of instruction could get him functional (not proficient, but functional) on a PC and cell phone, neither of which is difficult to learn to use. Otherwise, daily life is just not that different from 1970 -- mine isn't, even though I now write for a blog site instead of (as in that year) a school newspaper. A Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in 1900 and woke up in 1970, on the other hand, would have been awestruck and would have taken months to get up to speed.

So, 1970 was a ripe time for folks to feel shocked by the onrushing future, and Toffler caught the vibe. Many of the points Toffler made are still valid. The nature and pace of modern life, being so at variance with the life for which humans evolved, evoke a constant sense of angst in us. We are likely to interact, however fleetingly, in an average week (sometimes in a day) with more strangers than a Paleo human would have seen in a lifetime. Our friends and family scatter over thousands of miles – often around the globe. We are surrounded by an immense wealth of packaged foods and manufactured goods, even though a diminishing proportion of us is engaged in their production; most of the modern workforce is in services. Impermanence is the hallmark of contemporary life. Change itself – in jobs, homes, partners, property, location, and technology– is the only certainty. Toffler wasn’t describing all this as a problem to be fixed, but as an inevitability to which we must adapt.

People often react to impermanence by trying to anchor themselves to some tradition. They substitute the Rotary Club for a clan, since a club meeting in Phoenix is much like one in Manchester. They retain long distance friendships. They opt for faux traditional architecture. None of this quite dispels the sense that everything is provisional and temporary.

In a life where nothing lasts, we often are exhorted to “embrace change.” Like most facile advice (“straighten up and fly right”; “buck up, kiddo”; “eat less and exercise more”) this is more annoying than useful. We know full well we should do those things; if it were as easy as saying them, we’d already be doing them. Following such nagging advice runs up against some the very same ingrained primate predilections that cause our angst in the first place. However, whether or not we like change, it helps a little to be unsurprised by it – to accept, at least intellectually, that it is inevitable. Besides, for all the angst of modern life, it still beats hunting mammoths with a spear.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I Hate DB Cooper

Retrospectives are common on anniversaries ending in zeroes. So, naturally enough, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination is receiving a lot of attention. I don’t think there is anything much I can add to this endlessly dissected event. The official line and the various conspiracy theories are all well known. (My favorite – not the one I believe, but just my favorite – is still the one presented in Barbara Garson’s 1967 satirical play Macbird, with a JFK-type character as Ken O’Dunc, LBJ as MacBird, and Ladybird as Lady MacBird.) “Where were you when…?” no longer is a question asked very often, for the simple reason that for more than 70% of the US population the answer is “I wasn’t born yet.” I’m among the minority that does remember 1963, however, so my answer is “elementary school.” They closed the school early and sent us home.

So, having nothing beyond this minor personal datum to add to this upcoming anniversary, I’ll pick another upcoming anniversary on which to reminisce: one without zeroes. On November 24, 1971, the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history took place. The perpetrator called himself Dan Cooper. The middle initial “B” was bestowed on him by the press. He never used it, but the error has stuck anyway. The well-mannered and politely spoken Cooper informed a flight attendant on Flight 305 from Portland to Seattle that he had a bomb in his brief case. He flashed open his case long enough to reveal something that looked like a bomb. He demanded $200,000 and four parachutes. When the Boeing 727 landed in Seattle, the money (all of which was first photographed by the FBI) was delivered, the plane was refueled, and Cooper allowed the passengers off the plane. Cooper told the pilot to fly south at 10,000 feet and specifically ordered him to deploy flaps at 15 degrees. Cabin pressurization isn’t required at 10,000 feet and the flap setting prevented the 727 from exceeding 200 mph (322kph) – that he would know this indicates at least some familiarity with the aircraft. Cooper donned a parachute, strapped the money to his waist, lowered the aircraft’s rear staircase, and jumped out somewhere over Oregon. He was never captured and no body ever was found. Though many possible suspects have been proposed by amateur investigators in the years since, the true identity of the skyjacker remains unknown to this day.

The FBI claimed from the start that the odds were heavily against Cooper’s survival given the airspeed, the altitude, the -70F exterior air temperature, and the remote wilderness below the aircraft. The problem with this assertion is that it is demonstrably untrue. How? Because there are still 727s flown by private owners for the purpose of commercial skydiving. Jumpers not only successfully and repeatedly duplicate the Cooper jump, they pay extra to do it. Perhaps an inexperienced jumper would have a rougher time of it, but we don’t know anything about Cooper’s level of experience. Furthermore, while that part of Oregon certainly has deep woods, it is not really a wilderness. In 1980, a few miles from a roadway, a 9-year-old boy found $5800 in the woods that matched serial numbers from the ransom money. The cash was decayed but still together in three neat packets, with $200 removed from one, so it didn’t just scatter out of the sky. This is certainly curious, but there is no way to know what it means. Is this evidence Cooper died? Did Cooper drop some money while walking out of the woods, or even deliberately plant it as misdirection? We just don’t know. 

Cooper didn’t injure anyone and he was polite, so his exploit earned him a certain cachet with the public. The “gentleman bandit” always has had a popular appeal, whether real (Black Bart, John Dillinger) or fictional (Cary Grant in It Takes a Thief, David Niven in The Pink Panther). There have been books, songs, movies, and TV shows about Cooper. There is a Cooper Day event in Ariel Washington.

So, what is my beef with DB Cooper? Those who don’t remember the world of 1971 scarcely can imagine what a lax and trusting place the US was when it came to security. There were no metal detectors, pat downs, or baggage searches at airports. No one asked for your ID before you boarded a plane. Your ticket was all you needed, and on some flights not even that; on the shuttle between NYC and DC, for example, you could buy your ticket from the flight attendant after boarding, totally anonymously. Hardly any businesses other than banks and casinos bothered with security cameras. Despite the fact that the US was at war and had several small but violent insurrectionary groups, public buildings were barely guarded. I could and did enter the Capitol Building in DC and wander around on my own without once being challenged. Hardly ever did we feel watched. Whatever the other ills of the era may have been, in this regard it was a very comfortable time.

Nowadays we always feel watched. Getting on a plane is an obstacle course. Never mind the Capitol, even my local county courthouse, a building that once left a half dozen entrances unlocked, can be entered only by filing through a guarded checkpoint with metal detectors and a sign-in sheet. Anonymity has all but vanished in public or private life. Try renting a hotel room without a credit card; oh, they’ll accept cash, but they still want a record of your card. Cooper is not solely responsible for these changes, which began long before 9/11, but he certainly is one reason for them – he is directly responsible for stiffer screening of airline passengers and for the expansion of the sky marshal program. Intrusive security may be a fact of modern life, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. To the extent that Cooper and people like him have caused the rest of us to be saddled with these measures, it is perfectly fair to hate them all.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Scranton Rolls through Morristown

On November 9 The Corporal Punishers women’s roller derby team on its home rink in MorristownNJ, faced the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Roller Radicals.

The bout began promisingly for Morristown with #394 Voldeloxx scoring on the first jam; #187 Maggy Kyllanfall and #911 Brass Muscles added to an early lead. It didn’t last. In a power jam, #81 VeroniKa Gettsburger closed up most of the gap, and #2 Elysium took the Radicals into the lead; both skaters were invaluable to Scranton and seemingly tireless for the duration of the bout. Scranton’s strong defense often formed solid walls that the Punishers found difficult to bypass or penetrate. #1200 Liberty Violence, among others, delivered individual hard hits for Scranton. By the half-time whistle, the Roller Radicals had built their lead with the score at 113-69.

Halftime included a demonstration by children and adults of the Jersey Judo Karate Academy.

The second half began with the Corporal Punishers determined to regain momentum. The Morristown defense stiffened, with #63 Raven Rage showing her usual aggression, and #VH1 LL Kill J Stopping #2 Elysium at a key moment. Morristown’s opportunity came in a power jam which Voldeloxx was able to exploit with multiple passes through the pack. #1111 Pretty Khaotic and #8 L’il Mo Peep steadily added points, while #3684 CaliforniKate made a triple pass through the pack in a power jam for MorristownScranton didn't remain idle. The Radicals, too, continued to block and score effectively, but the Punishers continued to close, aided by another power jam multiple pass by Pretty Khaotic. With three minutes remaining, the score stood at 200-172 in favor of Scranton. A triple pass power jam by Maggy Kyllanfall narrowed the spread further and brought the final outcome into doubt. In an exciting finish, Scranton was able to re-expand its edge, with the score standing at 223 -190 in favor of the Roller Radicals at the final whistle.

MVPs for the bout were Pretty Khaotic for the Corporal Punishers and Elysium for the Roller Radicals.

Skating with an Edge

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Road Worrier

A month ago my venerable Jeep Cherokee decided it had had enough. (See October 15 blog: So It Goes.) My pickup (as old as the Jeep, but with 112,000 fewer miles on it) is still in good shape, but this is not a suitable vehicle for all purposes, so the purchase of a replacement car could be put off no longer. The deed is done. A brief finger-count reveals to me that my new vehicle is my 10th in my life. I could count differently. I could include a 1965 GMC pickup that I frequently used, for example, but it wasn’t “mine” formally or informally; it was my dad’s. There were two vehicles during my ill-fated marriage that were “ours,” but as a matter of practice they weren’t ours: they were hers. On the other hand there was a Jeepster that wasn’t in my name (again, it was my dad’s), but which nonetheless I do count, since I was the most common driver of it. So, I’ll stick with a 10-count. Many of our significant memories involve our vehicles in one way or another. The nice round number 10 invites a bit of retrospection. The ones below were purchased new unless I mention otherwise.

1970 Jeepster C101 Commando
My father bought this Jeep in the autumn of '69. I think it reminded him of the war surplus Willys he had owned in 1946. This was the first vehicle I drove on my own -- i.e. with no instructor in the passenger seat. The Jeepster was an excellent vehicle on which to learn to drive: a V6 stick shift with no power steering, no power breaks, and a clutch with scarcely any slippage. Every other vehicle I’ve driven since – regardless of transmission type – has been a breeze by comparison. It wasn’t very practical for most of my father’s needs on or off the job (he always had a full-bed pickup for work), so I was its driver most of the time for the next decade – almost exclusively after the first few years. By 1976 it developed a reluctance to start in the morning that even changing the starter didn’t cure, so I took to parking it on an incline. Even before trying to start it conventionally, I would let it roll forward, turn on the key, and engage second gear. Worked every time. Fondest memory: my dad’s clear but unvoiced expressions of alarm in my early driving days on the occasions he was in the Jeepster with me.

1973 Ford Maverick
This was the first car actually in my own name. Though it sported a 302 V8, it wasn’t terrible on gas by the standards of the day, perhaps because such a powerful engine in a light compact car never had to strain. Good thing, because the first oil crisis struck just a few months after I bought it. The Ford remained with me for the next 7 years and took me around the US. They were eventful years for me, as one’s 20s tend to be; the Maverick was a part of them. (The car figures in two of my nonfiction short stories over at : The Driving Lesson and The Roxy Caution.) Fondest memories: 1) extracting my girlfriend Angela from the seat belt when the buckle inexplicably jammed – no doubt a more amusing circumstance for me than for her – and 2) navigating LA in those pre-GPS days en route to the Hollywood apartment building where my sister Sharon resided with her first husband Frank.

1979 Ford F150 pickup
The truck had an automatic transmission and the same 302 as my Maverick, but otherwise it was no-frills. Nonetheless, it was with me until 2001. Though utilitarian, this is the one vehicle I regret having sold. It did, however, belong to the model years in which the Ford transmissions had a quirk. The shift sometimes would be obstructed from sliding into “Park.” If you didn’t look, but just shifted by feel, you could think you were in “P” when in fact you were hung up between “P” and “R.” If you left the vehicle to open a garage door or some such thing, the shift could slip back into “R.” This leads to a fondest memory (though I’d be hard pressed to explain why it is): I exited the truck to open a garage door. Suddenly the F150 was off on a backwards journey – it had shifted into reverse. I ran after it yelling, “Stop!” For some reason the truck didn’t obey me. It arced off the driveway to the left, slipped between two big black birches, and smacked into a flexible young cedar. The cedar bent and thereby stopped the Ford without noticeable damage. I scolded the truck for running away but praised it for its choice of trees.

1981 Dodge Aries
This was a “K car,” the platform designed to bring Chrysler back after its brush with bankruptcy. With front wheel drive and a fuel-saving 4-cylinder engine, it was considered innovative in the day. Though it had and still has a fairly decent reputation, no car ever gave me more trouble. Its worst habit: it would vapor lock unpredictably in any time or place and sputter to a halt. There was nothing to do at that point but to wait for the engine to cool down, after which the fuel in the line would reliquefy and the engine would start as though nothing were wrong. Usually this took 20 minutes or so, but on one occasion the Aries stranded me overnight in NYC. Fondest memory: driving into the driveway of my first house (more of a cottage, really) after the closing.

1982 Oldsmobile Toronado
This had been my mom’s car. I bought it from her in 1986. In a reverse of the Aries experience, the V8 diesel Toronado had a terrible public reputation, but it served me well and flawlessly. The car also was economical considering its size. The Toronado was the largest and most upscale of any of my cars; with its long hood, it made a U-turn feel like a circumnavigation of the globe. Fondest memory: the drives to Mineola from 1986 to 1989, the year when the young lady I’d visit there finally gave me one of those 1:00 a.m. “We have to talk” phone calls.

1990 Ford Taurus
This was an unremarkable but reliable vehicle, which is all I ask a car to be. I none-too-successfully chased a blues singer while it was my primary ride. Fondest memory: squeezing said blues singer and her band into the car in Greenwich Village for a ride out to a gig in Denville, NJ.

1995 Ford Taurus
Based on my experience with the previous Taurus, I bought another one. This one had more bells and whistles, but also had a familiar problem: vapor lock, It didn’t happen as often is it did in the Dodge, but there is never a convenient time for it to happen at all. I met my future ex while driving it. Fondest memory: selling it.

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee
I inherited the Jeep when my mom died in 2001 – my father had died the previous year. In the dozen years thereafter the Jeep took me anywhere I wanted to go, anytime and regardless of road condition. It never got stuck, even in major snowstorms or in Hurricane Sandy. Although it nickel-and-dimed me with small repairs – the worst of them being a wiper motor – it never once stranded me until its very last day on the road when it could go no farther. Fondest memory: teaching a neighbor’s daughter (a sort of quasi-niece) to drive in it.

1998 GMC 2500 Sierra pickup
I inherited the GMC truck at the same time as the Jeep – as a practical matter it already had been mine for a year. It is with me to this day. I don’t put many miles on it. I use it as a back-up transport and…well… as a truck. So, though it is 15 years old, it has less wear and tear than a typical daily user’s 4-year-old vehicle. The 4WD is handy in winter, but the 34 gallon tank makes filling up an expensive proposition. At this point, I see no reason it can’t match my old F150’s 22-year longevity. Fondest memory: as a passenger when my father was behind the wheel.

2014 Chevy Cruze
The size and feel of the new Cruze reminds me a lot of my old Maverick, which (counting only the cars) makes a full circle of sorts. It’s my first Chevy. I haven’t had it long enough for a memory fonder than “driving it home,” but there is time to make more. Given how long I usually keep cars, there is likely to be lots of time.

Chevy Commercial from my birth year 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sound of Silence

In any confabulating group of any size, the conversation inexplicably lapses into awkward silence every now and then. Somehow, no one has anything at all to say. There is a superstition that this happens 20 minutes past the hour and another than it happens every 7 minutes. Neither is true. There is nothing magical about the numbers 20 or 7, but conversational pauses commonly occur several times an hour, so both myths seem almost right.

Some people try to explain the lapses in terms of evolutionary biology. The argument is that that our ancestors sitting around the fire had to shut up occasionally to listen for predators; groups that didn’t have frequent silences got eaten. Maybe, but there is no practical way to test this. In principle, I suppose we could set two groups out in the wild amid top line predators: one (presumably supplied with scripts) would be instructed to talk continuously, and the other would be told to chat and pause naturally. Then we could wait to see how many of each are eaten, but, ethical considerations aside, finding volunteers might be difficult.

Talk generally rekindles when someone finally feels more uncomfortable staying silent than blurting out some inanity. However, there are ways to shorten the pauses. Among them is a product called Chat Pack: questions to spark conversations. I received one as a gift a while back. I haven’t yet used this pack of cards, but the thought occurs to open it now and surmise what conversations might be stirred by the first dozen questions– no cheating. Why a dozen? More might make this blog too long and fewer might not be a fair sample. So, here we go.

1. If you could enter a racehorse in the Kentucky Derby, what would you name your horse?
What? Really? No, that’s not the name. I’m just not sure of what a conversation starter this is. But, I’ll play. How about “Biggest Loser”? The critter couldn’t fail to meet or (most likely) exceed expectations.

2. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want people to remember you for most of all?
Once again, “What?” and “Really?” You know, under those circumstances, it doesn’t really matter much. One of my mom’s sayings was, “Give your flowers to people while they’re alive.” I suppose the same would go for tomatoes.

3. What is your favorite saying or quotation?
I’ve always been fond of Benjamin Disraeli’s ambiguous note to an author who sent him an unsolicited copy: “Your book has arrived, and I shall waste no time reading it.”

4. Forget about soft sounds like babbling brooks, gentle showers, and warbling birds. What is your favorite loud sound?
Bass guitar. Motorhead would do.

5. If you could change the ending to any movie you have ever seen, what movie would it be and how would you alter the way it ends?
Ok, I’ve got one: AI: Artificial Intelligence. The ending is much too treacle-ish. How about giving David a robotic mom? He then can reject her because she is not real.

6. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being not at all and 10 being very much so), how superstitious are you?
Split answer here. Intellectually, 1. I’d be lying though, to say that I never feel any unease about “tempting fate” in some way. So, emotionally, 4. It used to be higher.

7. If you were writing an autobiography, what would be the book’s title (besides your name)?
The blog site title would work for that, too: Richard’s Pretension.

8. What is the best $100 you ever spent in your life?
Not on a public blog. Maybe in private, depending on the company.

9. What is something you always used to love to do that, during the past year or two, you feel like you’ve outgrown or lost interest in doing?
Dating. You know the old saying, “The chase is sweeter than the catch?” No it’s not. The catch is fine, but the chase is too much like work.

10. Through the use of a time machine, you are traveling back to the year 1850. You may take with you one, and only one, product or invention from the modern era. What would you take with you to impress and awe our forebears?
First we must assume that my time machine is the only one in existence (ever) with access to 1850 earth. Otherwise, I’ll have to compete with all those other time travelers hawking their goods and endlessly altering the time line.

That assumption allowed, there is no point in showing up with a technology far beyond the scientific understanding of the audience. An iPhone, for example, couldn’t connect to a network anyway. Besides, can you explain properly how it works? I can’t. Electronics in general are out, since they are beyond the industrial capacity of 1850 to duplicate. Something ahead of the time, but fully comprehensible to the natives, would be best. A simple compact internal combustion engine would do – one of the old fully mechanical ones, not one of the new ones constantly tweaked by computer chips: maybe a Chevy straight-6 circa 1950. Any number of technologies could follow from that, and the principles would have been graspable in 1850 – even for the electric starter, since Sturgeon’s electromagnet dates to 1825 and Faraday’s dynamo to 1831. The engine might as well be brought back inside a Chevy.

11. Which punctuation mark would best describe your personality?
Semicolon. It tentatively completes a thought, but keeps the options for the sentence open.

12. Aside from any family occurrence (marriage, special anniversary, birth of a child, etc.), what event or accomplishment would you consider the highlight of your life so far?
See #8.
Would these cards work to break the silence? Most of them probably would, I think. Thanksgiving is coming up, and the usual suspects will be at my table. I’ll keep the cards handy for when our larynxes suddenly cease to buzz.

Pulp Fiction: Uncomfortable Silences

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Frisky Business

On November 2, Risky B’siness, the newest team of the NJRD (New Jersey Roller Derby), closed out the league season with a lightly attended home bout in Morristown against the Red Bank Roller Vixens. It was Risky’s second bout ever, and the first on its home rink. Both teams are still in the process of building their expertise and strength – in fact I don’t yet have a full roster to match names with the numbers on the Risky B’usiness side.

Nonetheless, the Morristown team demonstrated an edge from the start. This was not for want of talent or aggression on the Red Bank side. The Vixens have a depth of effective jammers, including #88 Hip Czech, #100 Infra Red, #M80 Fire Crack-her, and #2121 Buffy Dee Slayer. Their blockers can hit hard (#007 Pushy Galore among them) and can recover well from hard hits (notable #777). The Risky Bs had a matching field of jammers, however, with #5 showing exceptional stamina, going down from hits and yet getting up to force or scoot her way effectively through the pack. So, too, #949 Dreadlock-Ness Monster and #508 Ruff’n Muff’n. The edge came in blocking. Risky B’s defense was not tougher so much as it was well strategized. Training plainly paid off with Morristown frequently creating no pack situations that forced Red Bank to let the jammer through. It was not a big advantage, but enough of one on which to build a lead. It showed up the most on power jams (when the opposing jammer is in the penalty box) which Morristown exploited more successfully.

Risky B’siness picked up an early lead, but the score remained close through most of the first half. Thanks largely to fortuitous power jams, the lead over the Vixens expanded in the minutes before halftime. The second half began with the score at 102-41 in favor of Morristown. The Vixens pushed hard to catch up with #100 Infra Red making notable use of power jams. They racked up points, but so did Risky B’siness. The final whistle blew with a final score of 250-103 in favor of Morristown.

The teams were more evenly matched than the score might make them seem, and very few changes on either side could have made all the difference. Perhaps in a 2014 rematch they will.

Risky – Iggy Pop and Ryuichi Sakamoto