Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Call The CDC, I've Identified The Source!

I hope this baby's happy, because he's just unleashed the biblical apocalypse on us!

Seriously, though, I'm getting so sick and tired of all this Swine Flu fear mongering going on in the media these days. Are they SO desperate to find something new to report? Also, can they change the name? Since this current flu strain is a mixture of avian, pig, and human viruses, it's a misnomer to label it the "swine" flu, don't you think? Or is it just me?

I'm heading to San Diego next week, which means I'll be as close to Mexico as you can be in the U.S. without actually being on the other side of the fence. But do you see me worried?

Just to be on the safe side, though, I will stay away from the newborn babies belonging to my friends and family when I get back. I'm not even one iota worried about my own chances of contracting this, but I'm not about to put young, old, or compromised immune systems to the test either.

Still, I think this is much ado about nothing. And I sincerely wish the news would stop wasting my time with this already. It's been 4 full days now of nonstop coverage on the local stations. Yesterday while I was jogging on my treadmill and watching tv, channel 7 news spent the first 17 minutes of their coverage on just this one asinine topic alone! At minute 18, they said: "And now on to other news . . ."


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Evolution Of Me

I posted a whole photo album's worth of childhood pics of myself over on Facebook, but for those of my friends who can't seem to view them, here's a few of the more embarrassing ones. Yes, why I continue to torture myself I have no idea.

I've been told I haven't really changed much over the years, but I personally don't know what people are talking about. I think I look drastically different. Then again, I'm terrible with faces. I can never recognize people I've once known but have not seen for several years. Don't know what's wrong with me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Zipcar Tryout

I signed up for Zipcar earlier this week. Zipcar is a "car sharing" program, not unlike car rentals, but more convenient. You can sign up for an "occasional driver" membership wherein you're charged a yearly fee of $50, and then a $9/$13 per hr charge weekdays/weekends, respectively. This plan, obviously, benefits those who will only need a car on special occasions, like yours truly.

Living in NYC, there's not much you need a car for since everything is either in walking distance or a quick subway ride away. For those who need a vehicle more frequently, however, there is a monthly charge of $50 instead. And once that fee is paid, you can use the cars as often as you want with no additional charges.

Sounds good, no?

Well, I was skeptical. I read around at various different blogs and discussion boards regarding people's experiences with this company. I focused specifically on NYC members. Most of the accounts were positive, but there were a few standout negative replies that got me worried. It appears the biggest complaints were over car availability and cleanliness of the vehicles.

You see, how it works is this: Zipcars are stored in parking lots and garages all over the city. As a member, you login to the website and choose the date and time you want your reservation. Then, a list of cars pop up according to your location. Ideally, you chose the car closest to you and set the reservation. Once this is done, you're set. You walk up to the car, place your member ID card on the windshield, and the doors open automatically and your reservation begins. It's that simple! You can rent by the hour at the aforementioned rate, or for the whole day (24 hour period) at a price of $77/$100. You have to have the car back in the same exact location by the time your reservation is up, or else incur a late charge of $50 for every half hour you are late. Naturally this encourages people to get the cars back so that those with reservations after you won't be left waiting.

It's a nice system, but not without it's problems. Zipcars are left to the courtesy of those who share them to maintain the cleanliness of the vehicle. From the accounts I've heard, this has been met with varying degrees of success here in the city. Some people are truly nasty! Luckily, though, it seems Zipcar has a pretty good reporting service. If you arrive and find your vehicle is filthy, you are encouraged to report it right away. This way, the person before you will get penalized. What this penalty is exactly is not clear to me at this point, but I do know that Zipcar reserves the right to suspend your membership if certain guidelines are not followed. Personally, I think it sounds like a good system.

So, I signed up. The 30-day trial period made it easy for me to decide. Being that I was in the Bronx, I had an extra level of concern as the type of people I live around can accurately be described as sub-human at times. However, I started thinking and realized that most of those people either: 1) don't have valid driver's licenses; or 2) don't have clean driving records. Both these factors are instant disqualifiers for membership. The possession of a credit card is also needed. It might sound like a bygone conclusion in this day and age, but you'd be surprised how many people in the ghetto actually *DON'T* have credit cards. And if they do, they don't fit the other two qualifying factors. Those that do, are generally responsible, decent citizens. The type of people that SHOULD know how to take care of a car, shared or otherwise.

Such was my thinking.

So I reserved a car at a nearby garage for yesterday. I'd planned to drive up to the next county over and visit that bastion of super-unnecessary but oh-so-appreciated wholesale warehouse grocery shopping -- Costco! No more begging and pleading with friends and family members to drive me there every six months now!

So I walked the 2 blocks to the garage, told the attendant that I was looking for their Zipcars, and he showed me to my car already waiting in the front area for me. On first look, I thought: well, this is a much better looking car than I had expected. The vehicle--a Honda Civic sedan--looked almost brand new! The picture above is a bit murky, but this is how I found the car. Zipcar suggests that you walk around the vehicle and check to make sure there are no dents or obvious damage, which I did. Everything look good to me. So then I got in . . . and was shocked by the very clean interior.

Two of my worries were immediately put to rest.

The rest was smooth driving. I first drove all the way down to lower Manhattan to pick up Tarrell, then we headed all the way back up and beyond the Bronx to Westchester county. Traffic was touchy at some spots, but the Civic handled everything like a charm.

The only slight sticking point with me, as you can see in the one pic above, was the kitschy-ness of the large, green Zipcar logo emblazoned on the passenger side of the vehicle. It garnered a few stares, to say the least. But it's a small price to pay for the luxury of an occasional vehicle just minutes away from your doorstep. And the garage fees and gas are all included in the cost of rental, as is insurance. Not bad, really.

So, I'm happy to say that my first outing with Zipcar was an outstanding success! While I'll never be the type of person who just loves driving for the sake of driving (I really don't understand that mindset), I must say that knowing I can have a car on the rare occasions when I really need one is a great resource to have. I hear it's better on the environment, too, which is always a plus! If more and more people would car share . . . .

So, have you used Zipcar? What are you thoughts? Tell me, please.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Interesting Movie On Conan's Creator, REH

Some of you might not know this, but I'm a huge Conan the Barbarian fan. And I'm talking the pulp and comic stories as written by Robert E. Howard, and not the movies. Although the movies are good in their own rights, but for entirely different reasons.

Anyway, Dark Horse Comics started a brand new (and in my opinion, more faithful) capture of the *spirit* of the originals, if not the outright plots, in a brand new line of Conan comics. In each comic, a little 3-5 frame "mini-comic" detailing an idyllic episode in the life of a young R.E.H. finishes out the book in the letters section. These episodes are taken from numerous correspondences R.E.H. had with other pulp writers of the time, most notably H.P. Lovecraft. But some of them are taken from one Novalyne Price's memoirs, as collected in her novel: The One Who Walked Alone. These brief comics are very poignant, and show you how introspective and brilliant the real Robert E. Howard was, if not just a tad eccentric.

I learned a lot about Conan's creator through these short strips. He was a very troubled young man, one who found it hard to interact with so-called "normal" society, and preferred nature and solitude above all other things. For a brief time, he and Ms. Price had a romance that might have turned into something quite serious, but then tragedy struck when REH's promising life as an exciting writer was cut short by his suicide. I've always been intensely interested in learning more about this complicated man's life ever since discovering this little tidbit.

So imagine my surprise, then, when I found out a movie had been made back in 1996 based on Novalyne Price's book? It's called "The Whole Wide World" and stars Renee Zellweger as Ms. Price, and Vincent D'Onofrio as Bob Howard. The movie is a romance drama, but one that focuses very satisfactorily on the man behind the legend. D'Onofrio adds perhaps a little more panache than was true of the man, but for the most part his performance seems spot-on to how many of Howard's friends and peers described him. The clip I'm including below is taken from one particularly brilliant scene where Howard and Price are out taking a drive and she asks him about his latest character, Conan. The way D'Onofrio springs into life and has this demented gleam in his eye as he describes him almost made the whole movie for me! This is a lot like how I pictured REH -- it's so perfectly done! Check it out for yourself:

As an aspiring writer myself, this film really resonated with me as it deals with some realistic issues struggling writers face in life. Howard serves as a sort of mentor to the very young Price, who herself was a schoolteacher trying to get her stories and daily observances published by the big lifestyle magazines of the day. On the romance front, the movie purportedly has one of the best on-screen kisses on celluloid, although personally I found it a bit awkward looking. But since I didn't rent this for the romance aspect, it didn't bug me all that much. :)

I would recommend this movie for both romance enthusiasts as well as Conan fans who want to learn about the tragic short life and eccentricities of the man behind many of the most famous pulp characters of the late 20s and early 30s. It's a depressing movie, don't get me wrong, but tender at the same time. And Vincent D'Onofrio is just off the hook as the disturbed yet brilliant writer who's misunderstood by everyone except the woman he loves.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Ultimate Highlander: The Series Quiz!

Fans of the Highlander tv show might want to check this one out.

There's a new quiz game app on Facebook making the rounds, and it's called Know-It-All. This is a user based app that allows members to create their own quizzes and allow other people to come in and attempt to get as many answers correct in the allotted time. Points from correct answers are tallied, and users can accumulate a score across a wide range of quiz options created by all sorts of people. There are quizzes on virtually every subject!

If you have a mind, please check out my own specially created Highlander quiz here. I believe you have to be a member of Facebook to access this, but don't hold me to that. Why not give it a try and see how well you can do?

I'm warning you, though, this is for serious fans only. I've made some of these questions super hard that only true fans will get. But have no fear, the 20 questions are all multiple choice answers. I had a little fun making up some of these answers, so I hope you enjoy!

By the by, this might also be a good time to add me to your Facebook friends if you haven't done so already. I'm always looking for more people to add! You can view my FB info over on the right hand column of my main page on this blog (near the top), and click on the badge to jump over to my profile. Or, click on this direct link if that doesn't work.

Enjoy the quiz. I sure had fun making it!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Look What Bad Habit I Picked Up While In France

Yup, that's right. I'm a certified WHINO now! Har, har!

No, but seriously, I've never been much of a wine drinker. Like with beer, the taste is just something I've never acquired. But unlike beer and hard liquor, wine is at least smoother going down.

However, while we were in Paris, I had a glass of red wine (or two, or three) with EVERY evening meal. Because, hey, when in Rome . . .

Anyway, at the airport on the way home, I stopped in the duty-free shop and purchased two bottles of Bordeaux. But once I got home and realized just how much I was missing France, I decided to honor the country by partaking of some of its home-grown libations right away. Wow, and what a treat that was!

Now I'm hooked. Well, okay, not hooked. I don't want to come across like an alkie. But I have to say it's really not so bad. I went to a wine store and purchased several different bottles and varieties, mostly from France. And mostly from the Bordeaux region, at that. I threw in a few Napa Valley Merlots and Pinots for variety, but mostly stuck with the French stuff as much as possible.

Funny, before our trip I would have sworn by Italian wine only, even though I know next to nothing about wines. I just figured if I ever did drink the stuff, I would prefer the Italian variety. This may still be the case as I've yet to really explore the offerings from that country. For now, though, I'm focusing on French grapes. Eventually I figure I'll move on to those on the other side of the Alps. Probably whenever we decide to tour Italy, I'd imagine.

Anyway, as you can see from the picture, I've amassed quite a good beginner's collection. The whites and roses are on the bottom row, the moderate-priced reds are in the middle . . . and the expensive stuff is on the top. I probably won't touch the top row except on special occasions. For now, I'm drinking only one glass of red a night with dinner. Lisa hates wines, but she can somewhat tolerate a good rose or Pinot Gris on occasion, so that's what I got her.

So far I'm liking it. Along with the wine rack, I purchased a device that preserves open bottles of wine by vacuuming the air out through the use of specialized re-corkers provided (see the picture below).

You simply insert the rubber plunger into the mouth of the bottle, then take the WineSaver and stick it into the small nozzle at the top of the plunger. Press the button and it sucks the air right out! Haha . . . the simple things that amuse me! :) This device preserves an open bottle of wine for 2 - 3 weeks. Should come in handy, I think.

I'm going to try to educate myself along the way and develop a palate for this stuff if at all possible.

We shall see!

Reliving TV Show Memories . . .

Been watching the complete box set DVDs of the Cosby Show these past few weeks, thanks to my best friend, Tarrell, who lent the collection to me. At first I thought this would be one of those borrows that I end up giving back barely touched. Because, see, I have so little time to watch movies at home anymore. But, turns out I was so very wrong.

I always liked this show growing up in the 80s, but I was surprised by how well it still holds up today! I swear, when I pop in a DVD, I'm instantly drawn back into the show like as if I never left. At the same time, I can feel the 80s nostalgia wash over me and I find myself thinking of those happy go-lucky years when I was very young and carefree.

Was anyone else into this show? I was in the 3rd grade when it first aired, and watching the 1st season now I see I must have been catching this from the very beginning, as all of the episodes are so familiar to me. What a great production this was!

Oh, and T, you're absolutely right . . . Phylicia Rashad really is quite beautiful! I was too young to appreciate it at the time (guess she was too much of a mother figure for me), but now that I'm older I definitely see it. Hoo, boy!

Now I'm addicted. I rush home from work and it's the first thing I put on after working out and winding down. I watch on average 3 episodes per day, more on weekends. What a fun treat! I might have to purchase this set for when I have kids.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Talk About Surreal

I actually forgot to discuss this pic we took while in Paris, but the coolness should be obvious to my fellow fans of Highlander.

We actually didn't get to eat at this Greek restaurant, which is located in a narrow, cobble-stoned side street not far from St. Julien le Pauvre and Shakespeare and Co. Eerie, no?

And, yes, I know this isn't the exact same spelling as the ROG (really old guy, for you n00bs), but I could imagine him passing this place and getting a nice chuckle.

If you're ever in Paris, stop along the rue St. Severin and give it a try. It looked pretty cozy inside. This street is more of a back alley, with lots of other small pubs and restaurants nearby. It was pretty raucous here late at night. It must be very popular with the college crowd, as we saw nothing but young people milling up and down the street and causing a general hubbub of activity even after midnight. A good place to go pub crawling, though, which I made a mental note of for future reference. :)

I think there's even a bar called the Highlander nearby, but I wasn't looking for it so we never saw it. I hear it's tucked away in a spot most people can't find, which makes it even more enticing! Ah, maybe next time . . .

A Classic Movie Sword Fight!

Some of you know that I'm obsessed with swords, hence my love of shows like Highlander and movies like By The Sword, Rob Roy, and even Star Wars. Yes, SW had some pretty decent fight choreography -- especially the prequels.

But nothing can hold a candle to what I think has to be on EVERYONE'S list of best sword fights in the movies: the clifftop duel between The Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya. So I felt obliged to include the infamous duel here, simply because it kicks so much ass and I love it! :)

I've watched enough real fencing matches to know that this isn't all that accurate, but it's still one of the best filmed duels on celluloid. I'm not as big a fan now of choreographer Bob Anderson's work as I used to be when I was a kid, especially with fights using two-handed broadsword techniques like the original SW trilogy and the first two seasons of Highlander. But when it came to rapier or sabre duels on the big screen, Anderson really knew how to make them shine! And this is a prime example of his handiwork. I'm still amazed the actors did most of this themselves. Wow!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fear Is The Mind-Killer.

Rescued an important e-mail from my junk folder last night (damn you Hotmail!), and saw that it was one of my stories I had submitted to this really cool magazine I love.

I stared at the e-mail, daring myself to open it. I've been hoping beyond hope that they would like my story. It's a good little story. One of my better ones in a while.

But nope, it got rejected!


For about a split second that fear gripped my heart. That fear that tells you that this is all just a big joke and that you better give up your dream and just go back to the daily grind of existence. You know, all THAT melodrama. :)

But it only lasted for a moment.

Almost immediately I put the thought out of my mind. My dream won't die that easily. Yes I had perhaps placed too much hope in this story, but the rejection wasn't all that bad even though it was a form rejection letter which I'd received. At least they gave me a reason.

Well, sort of. The form response listed four possibilities for why a given story would be rejected by this magazine:

1) Doesn't contain a sci-fi element;
2) Doesn't contain a horror element;
3) Poorly edited;
4) Other.

I got "Other" as my reason. Which I suppose is better than getting either of the previous three, especially that 3rd one -- yikes!

At first I thought the letter was stating that my story, Hatchling, got rejected for ALL of these reasons -- LOL! And I was left wondering, how is that f'n possible? It has BOTH a sci-fi and horror element, and I've been getting much better at self-editing my stories. This one was rather well polished, in fact.

But then I saw the X was next to the "other" category, and the brief explanation was: "It was a good story, but not quite right for us."

Here's the thing: magazine editors don't bullshit. Unlike your best friend or parental figures, editors don't feel the need to hold your hand and tell you something you worked on is good when it clearly sucks. If my story was truly god-awful, a comment to such effect would have been included in the message. So to have my story described as "good" -- while to some people this might be taken as mollycoddling -- I choose to take it at face value. Lord knows I've gotten the opposite end of the praise stick from editors with plenty of my other stories.

Still, I thought my story was perfect for this magazine. It could be that my understanding of what gets published at this place is off. Or that my story is not the story which appears to other people reading it.

Or it could just be a simple game of numbers. Said magazine gets a LOT of submissions. Could just be that mine didn't make the cut due to the sheer volume of other good stories submitted in the same time period.

I suspect the latter is most likely true. Just a gut feeling I have. Of course, it means my story wasn't good *enough* to stand out from the rest. But, hey, that's what I have to work on. That's my boulder to roll.

It seems I always get these rejections at the worst time possible, though. I always get them exactly right before I'm about to start writing an exciting new tale. This week had me in the familiar position of receiving two great ideas at the same time, both equally exciting and both equally persistent that I write them out first. I've spent the week so far fleshing out the details of both in my head, but by Friday I had planned to make my choice. Either way, I knew I would be having fun this weekend.

And then this happens and suddenly I'm doubting myself. And of course, doubt kills any sort of sparkly creative energy one is experiencing at any given moment.

So all morning I've been psyching myself up, trying hard to forget that I just received a major blow to my writerly psyche the night before. But if I focus only on this brand new story, and not the one that was just rejected, things get a little better at least.

And yet, still, in the dark recesses of my cluttered mind is this little nagging fear that I'm going to fail, and fail horribly.

But I never give in to that fear, for fear is the mind-killer. I must remember this always!

Anyway, I shall trod on bravely, my friends.

In the meantime -- sometime between crafting these latest two stories and playing some more Resident Evil 5 on my PS3 -- I'll find a way to send out this rejected story and a few others I've written to different venues. I might take this particular magazine out of my rotation for a few months, as I've already submitted two stories to them this year . . . and we're only in April! I still believe in my story, Hatchling, so I'm not exactly worried about it being picked up somewhere else eventually. And that's a good way of looking at the situation, no?

Onward and upward!

Monday, April 6, 2009

I Have No Sympathy For Ghetto Bunnies.

Ghetto bunnies. Heh heh. That's what my grandma calls 'em. Ghetto bunnies are kids who hang out in the streets of the Bronx all day and who never amount to anything. Their only purpose in life is to pump out babies and have the taxpayer subsidize them. Sounds like a cliche, doesn't it? But I look out my window and that's exactly what I see. Ghetto bunnies everywhere!

I had some pretty liberal and civil-minded friends in college. And although I like to consider myself a champion of the poor and discriminated (being that I've been both), at the same time I would tell these friends that all their textbook and cozy notions of the underprivileged denizens of the so-termed "ghetto" are not as innocent and helpless and you'd like to think. After all, I was a product of the same environs, and yet I ended up going to a prestigious private college on a scholarship.

So where did I go right where so many in my exact same predicament went wrong? Hint: the answer is not "The Man."

The Man did not keep these kids back and spring me forward. The Man did not tell them to treat school like a joke, or to expect society to give them that which they did not rightfully earn. A good life is not something you are handed; you have to WORK for it. You are not the be all and end all of existence -- you have to fight for what you want, or else get the **** out of the way and let someone else get his.

I bring all this up because I suffered yet another sleepless night last night due to all the teenagers hollering and screaming in the park across the street. They kept it up until 2 in the morning. Since it's not possible for me to sleep in a room with windows closed, I had to suffer the full brunt of this nonsense. And I'm a terribly light sleeper. I wake up if a mouse farts!

But I comforted myself in the knowledge that these bunnies will never make it anywhere in life. Or maybe that's not such a comforting thought. Because, let's face it, if you're up until 2 am on a Sunday night/Monday morning, then it's obvious you don't take your schooling very seriously.

I shake my head. What do these kids expect in life? Why has no one conveyed to them the fact that high school is way more serious than one thinks? What you do (or do not do) in those 4 years has serious repercussions on the rest of your life. It sounds cheesy, but it's true! If you don't take high school seriously, you won't take college seriously. And anyone who thinks they can make it through this world without at least a college education is seriously delusional. We don't live in that kind of world anymore. We haven't for a long time, in fact.

I just think it's sad that for a group of people that whine and complain so much about how society is keeping them down, that they exhibit no motivation to lift themselves up and do something about it. The Jews, Irish, Italians -- hell, even African and Mexican immigrants new to this country all exhibited the same thing in common that these ghetto bastards lack. DRIVE!

It has nothing to do with being black or hispanic. Ethnicity is not the problem. It's that stupid ghetto mentality that life owes you a favor -- that having fun FIRST will get you somewhere -- that is dooming millions of young people in this country.

You could blame the parents if you want to, but teenagers are old enough to make decisions for themselves. My grandmother raised us, but she wasn't too involved with our school work. I had no one telling me to go to college, and to therefore get good grades in high school. My motivation was myself. In a real sense I had no parent. But I knew enough to want something better for myself. That's all the motivation I needed.

Why is it so hard for teenagers in poverty to get this? Being poor is not an excuse. Being ignorant is your own fault.

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...