Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Superman, Siegel, Shuster Problem

Not many are aware, but due to recent litigation, DC Comics is in danger of losing the copyright to the Superman character (as well as much of his supporting cast). There are circles that are worrying incessantly about this happening, as pessimists tend to do, but I'm going to climb out on an extremely tiny limb and make the following statement: DC lose Superman? Never.

I'll get to why I believe this in a moment, but first... some background:
  • 1938 - Superman is created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and appears in Action Comics #1.  Siegel and Shuster are paid $130 for the rights to Superman and are employed by Detective Comics, Inc. (a precursor to DC Comics). Given that profits from Superman skyrocket over the next few years, Siegel and Shuster renegotiate their original deal.
  • 1947 - Siegel and Shuster sue to void the 1938 contract completely and reacquire rights to the Superman character. They are unable to void the contract but are awarded the rights to Superboy (reportedly published by DC without their permission), which are promptly sold back to DC.
  • 1973 - invoking the Copyright Act of 1909, Siegel and Shuster claim that they never allowed DC to renew its copyright of Superman, stating that the original deal was for only 28 years. Siegel and Shuster lose the suit and its 1974 appeal.
  • 1975 - with public support against it, DC Comics initiates pensions and benefits for both Siegel and Shuster. Warner (DC's parent company) also begins its policy of crediting all-things-Superman (including film and television) to Siegel and Shuster.
  • 1976 - DC extends its copyright again, but the Copyright Act of 1976 ostensibly provides Siegel and Shuster the opportunity to reclaim the copyright between 1994 and 1999.
  • 1992 - Joe Shuster dies.
  • 1996 - Jerry Siegel dies.
  • 1998 - The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act allows DC to extend its copyright to Superman in spite of the Copyright Act of 1976.
  • 1999 - Siegel's wife and daughter file a copyright termination notice.
  • 2004 - Shuster's nephew files an intent to reclaim copyright by 2013.
  • 2008-2009 - Siegel's estate wins a share of the United States copyright of Superman (international copyright remains with DC), but Superboy remains in question. DC and Time Warner have until 2011 to initiate a new Superman film or the Siegels may sue for further damages.
Crazy, right? If there were ever a case of greed-induced iconoclasm, this is it. Still, there's no arguing that DC Comics took advantage of Siegel and Shuster early on (particularly concerning Siegel's service in World War II). There's also no arguing that the subsequent suits were about an estate gaining assets.

Regardless, motive will not affect execution. And why not? Well, as implied (despite its obviousness), this is all about money. And Superman makes a great deal of money through DC Comics and its licensing. The estates of Siegel and Shuster have to know that, were they to win back Superman's copyright, the character's value decreases immensely. Which is why, I boldly state (okay, safely state), the Siegels and Shusters don't really want the copyright.

First, the Siegels didn't win international rights, only US domestic (making it safe to assume this is the best the Shusters can hope for, as well). And while that market will undoubtedly make the Siegels and Shusters extremely wealthy people, 100% of that share would still be much, much less than a significant share of the international take.

Second, without DC, Superman loses much of his supporting cast. Popular characters who will undoubtedly move on, much to the chagrin of comic book and film fans alike. Doomsday, Steel, The Eradicator, and everyone else not protected under any victory under "derivative works."

Third, without DC, Superman will no longer go on grand adventures with Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League America, and everyone else pop culture expects Superman to be teamed with.

I am not claiming that DC wouldn't feel the pinch from losing its most iconic character. Of course it would. But it is far more likely the DC would continue to prosper without Superman than the Siegels and Shusters would continue to prosper with him. Adding irony to the mix is that DC now owns a character whose creators it once sued because that character was deemed "too similar" to Superman (Captain Marvel of Shazam!). Perhaps it's been no accident that DC has been prompting Captain Marvel into the limelight over the past 15 years. But who knows?

All I know is that Superman is at DC to stay. And the Siegels and Shusters wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twenty Minutes and a Gun, Part I

"Where you going?" Moira asks.

Linda smiles in response, a smile that reassures Moira that, yes, the same conclusion was reached. Linda is going to kill him. It's only fair... Just desserts for all.

Moira nods and reaches into her purse, pulling out her cell phone. "What do you need? I'll make the arrangements."

Staring at the wall, Linda thinks about it for a brief moment, then stands up and heads for the bathroom door. "Twenty minutes and a gun."

*01:00*

Linda looks at herself in the mirror, surprised at the sudden bloodthirsty resolve. There is a momentary recollection of some Commandment she learned years ago in Sunday School, but she shakes it off. In that moment, she has her justification. There is another about coveting, after all. Somehow, in the cosmic lot of drawn straws, everything will remain in balance.

Blinking, she turns on the hot water and splashes her face.

*02:00*

Setting the face cloth down, she clears her eyes and stares at her reflection again. This time, with drops of water obscuring her view, there's the sensation of seeing a ghost. Herself, a few years ago. Like a peek through a soft lens on a camera.

Linda was in love with life those few years ago. Everything and everyone she touched seemed happy. College was wrapping up, her boyfriend just asked her to marry him, her favorite cat had a litter of five (of which she kept two). So simple, then.

She grits her teeth suddenly and smacks herself in the face. "Bullshit," she utters. The facade was simple then, a walled-up complication just waiting to crumble. Things are truly simple now... rubble notwithstanding.

*03:00*

Her favorite three-color toothpaste glides onto a pink toothbrush. She remembers advice her college roommate - a dental student - gave her: "Floss before you brush, Linda. It lets the toothpaste get in the cracks." She has no idea why that popped into her head, but she sets the toothbrush down carefully and grabs a plastic flosser out of a ziploc bag. Flecks of last meal hit the mirror and bathroom counter as she quickly counts to 30, one for each flossed gap.

Throwing the plastic tool in the trash can, she picks up her toothbrush and begins brushing her teeth. He often told her that her smile was the most beautiful smiles in the world. She's going to be damned sure it's the last thing he sees.

*04:00*

Before she's even done brushing, she turns the hot water on to the shower. No time for a bath, unfortunately. Exhaustion creeps through anger for a moment and reminds her how tired she is. She really could use a soak... but that will have to come later. Time is of the essence, as they say, and there's only one essence to her time: she wants to be dressed to kill.

She rinses the toothbrush and sets it in its holder. Mouthwash is poured into lips and she jumps into the shower. There are a few seconds of introspection - and appreciation of the water - before she grabs the facial cleanse. Her hair does not need washing... it shines when it's a little bit dirty, after all... and she's going to be doing something just a little bit dirty.

*05:00*

The apricot exfoliate feels good on her face. She lets it set while she lathers up a washcloth with shower gel. She wants very much to enjoy the shower, but she's well-aware that she's on the clock. It's a self-imposed time limit, to be sure, but a time limit nonetheless. This needs to get done, and she needs to do it. Beginning with her neck, she quickly scrubs her skin down to her breasts - there's a brief recollection of his hands doing the same - then her stomach, legs, and feet.

She considers rubbing her feet with the pumice stone, but decides against it. She'll save that for the soak. After the murder.

*Continued in Twenty Minutes and a Gun, Part II

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Return of Fortune Cookies

Perhaps it's because I haven't been imbibing in Chinese food (or, more accurately, Japanese food) as often as I used to (I do miss my Fire Bowl delivery in Wilmington), or perhaps it's just because I've been ranting and raving about other irrelevant things, but I've not done fortune cookies in quite a while.

Probably both.

Anyway, I'm wasting time. Presenting: the return of the fortune cookie!
  • "Before you take revenge on an adulterer, dig two graves. They were with someone else, after all!" 
  • "Your heart does not get as confused as your head... probably because hearts can't think."
  • "An unexpected relationship will become permanent. Fucking tax auditors!"
  • "Judge not according to appearance. With the lights off, it all feels the same."
  • "An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes. An angry woman can make an angry man happy."
  • "Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals. As such, you will never meet them."
  • "You will live a long, happy life. Relatively speaking, you already have."
  • "True friends ask only for your time, not your money. Spouses ask for both."
  • "Confucius says: nothing. He's been dead for a while."
  • "Take note of fortunes. One of them will be the last one you ever read."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vitis Coffea, Part II

*continued from Vitis Coffea, Part I
*adult content

There was no other way to put it... she was dressed to kill. The day after following him on the beach, she put on a sleek black dress and waited for him outside of the lobby. In French, she interrupted his reading of an English newspaper and asked him for the time. He responded politely and feigned a lack of notice of her figure, but a momentary widening of eyes betrayed him, and she could feel those eyes long after she said merci, monsieur and walked away.

As she hurried back to her hotel and changed for the day's work - the trip to Marseilles was not for fun and games, after all - she noted that he had an excellent French accent, but spoke horrible French. She also thought she saw an unsure recognition. Perhaps he did remember her from the night in the club, when he seemed so out of place, yet so exactly where he should be. Whether he did or not didn't really factor into her plan. If it did, she'd have given him more time to figure it out. Even so, she had made sure she wore the same perfume and made equally sure that he could smell it when he checked his watch for her.

***

"Hate to bother you... again, but what's the time?" English, this time. Already dressed for work, it is no accident that her jacket is unbuttoned, her skirt hiked just a little extra, and her choice of tank top just a little tight.

"Ah..." He's perplexed. She smiles her beautiful smile, knowing he definitely remembers her now. "7:17. How did you know I speak English?" It is a subtle English accent. Weak, almost non-native to England.

She taps his newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.

"Have we met?" he asks. "Before yesterday, I mean."

"Yes," she replies, beginning her walk away, "we have."

A small smile curves into existence on the right side of his mouth. He's not going to give chase, because he knows he'll see her again. "What's your name?"

"Alex." It's as if she were yelling out to everyone. Then again, she may have been.

***

They enjoy a lunch together, seated at a windowed table near the front of the restaurant. She planned to request an outside seat, but it's a bit chilly today and she doesn't want to appear too aggressive in spite of her aggression. Americans have a reputation of arrogance and she wants none - neither him, nor any witnesses - to come away from her with that impression. She's meticulous in her listening. Japanese grandparents immigrated to England, their London-born son marrying an American exchange student, and time spent at school in the United States. The sadness from the beach seems mostly gone and he's comfortable in his general loquaciousness. She loves to hear him talk, loves his voice as she spices up her mood with a few glasses of a house wine.

While he talks, politely attempting to keep his attention away from anything below her neck - and, indeed, from her neck as well... he finds its smooth perfection rather irresistible in itself - she moves her torso and legs in a way that makes it more than clear that she's wearing nothing underneath. As they leave, she imagines that were he to follow her, they could find some little used corridor and enjoy a flip of her skirt. But she will not let him, not today. Today, she repays his prior lack of notice with a tease. And an unspoken promise.

***

A promise kept under a loss of inhibitions, inspired by her Château Pétrus. Conversation as mere protocol lost beneath the wine-flushed burn of two distinct skin tones. Milliliters remaining mimicked by the millimeters separating the inevitable. And the bottle, now empty, a false reflection of a body filled with that of another's. It is a vintage lust, aged to perfection by her vinified patience. An uncorked pouring of emotion worth waiting for. It is a sommelier's intercourse, a matching so perfect and a coupling so expert that its execution need little conscious attention. This evening's specifics will mostly fail in memory, but its impressions will forever succeed in their imaginations.

***

She can't sleep. She lies on her side, staring out the open window overlooking Vieux Port, listening to his sleep-heavy breathing and feeling the warm exhale on the back of her neck. His arms wrapped around her, their bodies aligned perfectly in mock fetal positions. A smile from noticing that he's still aroused... whether by dream or residual thought makes no difference to her. She can't help burying her face in her pillow in attempts to hide uncontrollable giggles and an embarrassingly wide smile that she knows nobody can see. She had feared regret from effectively forcing this night, but none manifested. It all - everything about it - seems too right.

An inadvertent squeezing of her legs together fosters an unconscious reaction. She covers her smile with her hand as she's gently pushed onto her stomach. Feeling him on top of her, she widens her legs a bit to allow him in. His hands, childishly, caress her buttocks for a few moments before they graciously and gratefully begin a massage of her shoulders. The massage is more than enough to wet her and his penetration is a smooth and breathtaking glide. There is gentle teasing as he bites her neck with his lips and exposes her moon-reflected skin while shifting her beautiful hair to his pillow. Unlike before, sobriety ensures memory will be perceived accurately, and both carefully consider their movements, showing the other how much they want this to last forever.

A purposeful squeezing of her legs percolates a wine that he doesn't hesitate to taste. He looks up into her eyes and she makes another unspoken promise... this one to return the favor. And it is kept. Wines and sweat come together in the most intoxicating of cocktails. Her smile is omnipresent and only a sensual bite on her nipple convinces her that this not a dream.

***

She wakes up alone and a second that could've given away to panic instead remains calm. She hears him in the kitchenette, moving about. There's a scent in the air, one as comforting as it is encouraging. He has, obviously, no intention to leave.

"What were you doing at the beach the other day?"

He pops his head into the bedroom, an expression of curious satisfaction. "I'm sorry?"

"The beach. You seemed so sad."

His expression shifts to concern, though the curiosity amplifies. Her words clear implications that this - for him, anyway - was not pure serendipity. He disappears behind the door and another second that could've given away to fear also remains calm. He's returned to his task at hand. "I was," comes the muffled reply.

She rolls over onto her back and breathes a sigh of relief. "Why?"

Entering the bedroom holding two coffee mugs, he hands her one and sits on the edge of the bed. Her eyes brighten and she grabs it with both hands, hiding still another smile in a sip of local roast.

"I was wondering if I'd ever find you."

The schoolgirl giddiness overcomes her and she spasms uncontrollably in sheer joy. Lunging forward, she discovers that coffee tastes much better when poured from his lips.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vitis Coffea, Part I

The Asian was hopelessly drunk the night they danced together, so she prepares to remind him of her name. She does not, however, prepare for his complete lack of recognition. Of course, a little tipsy herself that night, a small possibility exists that this is not the same man. Still, she is certain of his identity and the memory of first noticing him is a sober one. Or is it? Yes, of course it is. The momentary confusion exists only due to the badly lit club allowing his face to disappear in a sea of faces.

Lying prone on a towel at a small beach near La Pointe Rouge harbor, she watches as he walks by her and continues down the sand. The sweat on her skin, just on the pale side of a golden brown, glistens with disappointment. Removing her bun, then sweeping her dark brown hair from her face, she nudges her black Prada sunglasses down the bridge of her nose and takes another look. A gentle breeze carries a few shoulder-length strands of hair, as if gesturing to follow, while the rest of her longer hair caresses her back and assures her that, yes, it is him.

She exhales slowly, cautiously reexamining her attraction to him that night. She wants to think that it was probably just of the moment, lust enhanced by being in a foreign country, and that she imagined the shock at seeing him. C'est la vie and all. But she believes too much in serendipity and can't shake it. He's been in her dreams for years. Someone like him, anyway. Someone who looks very much like him.

Standing, she pulls a light and dark-brown patterned sarong out of her beach bag and wraps it around her waist. Nervous of her conscious decision to pursue him, she hesitates before donning her black shirt. She picks the towel up and pops it clean. Securing her sandals in her right hand, she rolls the towel and shoves it in her bag while trying futilely not to appear to be in a hurry.

Thankfully, the Asian moves slowly, eyes to the ground, pausing every few steps to look out at the Mediterranean. Finally, he sits in the sand and stares at the horizon. Again questioning her own intent, she considers approaching him... instead, she maintains safe distance, finding a bench farther from the water and pretending to share the view. He seems sad, somehow. Alone. But maybe that's how he prefers it. Or, maybe, the sunset reminds him of a broken heart patiently awaiting a new dawn. Smiling inwardly at the thought, she places her sunglasses in her bag and watches the horizon fade as sky darkens into sea, the water's surface penetrated by a retreating twilight.

She's no idea what either of them are doing there.

***

Unsure of whether to let it - him - go or not, she listens to the sounds of the city and absorbs herself into their chaotic consistency. The vehicles of passersby mimicking the flutters in her stomach. Why not? deafens any question of why?

He sat there for hours, and so did she. Even when the cool sea air began to arouse goosebumps on her skin - she blamed it on the sea air, though his silhouette certainly may have been a cause - she waited. Even when he lay on the beach - awake, but motionless - she waited.

By the time he finally leaves, she's realized that something is wrong. Not with her, nor with him, but with the moment. She's caught up too eagerly in her desire, and he's caught up too introspectively in his mystery. Her intent to approach abandoned, she follows him to learn where to find him. Almost as in a film, two taxis pull up almost simultaneously and she orders the driver of hers - in her limited French - to follow the other.

She is joyous to discover serendipity again with her; he's staying at the Oceania Escale, just around the corner from the Kyriad Carré Vieux Port... her hotel.

Later, in her room, she enjoys a bottle of Château Pétrus, a congratulatory gift from her mother in San Diego. Merlot, she finds, warms her nicely. A chemical foreplay for the most devious and long-awaited seduction of her life. She wanted to wait for his touch, should it ever come, but she soon finds herself enjoying her own. There is a youthful and reckless abandon in the way she uses her hands and fingers, but the whole of her mind and body are smiling in unison, and she can't but help bring them to laughter.

As she fades into sleep, she dreams of tomorrow. It will be the start, no doubt, of one of the most memorable experiences she'll ever have.

*continued in Vitis Coffea, Part II

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hollywood Science Fiction Tentpoles

As relatively-ignored by the Oscars as science fiction films are, it's hard to argue that there is a more influential genre in Hollywood. Ever since Star Wars nominalized the blockbuster, technology has usurped story as the force behind filmmaking. Yes, a good story remains the most important factor in regards to a good movie, but a good story is often not what makes a box office success. You can argue that if you'd like, but all evidence will point against you.

Every time an "event" science fiction film makes its way into theaters, other films (science fiction or not) scramble to take advantage of the technology presented in that event picture. The end result is that motion picture eras can be defined almost as easily by the science fiction film they follow as by the decade they're a part of.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick was infamous for his bucking of Hollywood trends and the irony that he likely kicked off one of its biggest is not lost on anyone (or shouldn't be). There were influential science fiction films before Kubrick and Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this was the first film to not only truly emphasize scientific realism in Hollywood science fiction at large, but to also present it as what many might refer to as an art film.

Admittedly, I find 2001: A Space Odyssey a highly overrated narrative mess (the novel, on the other hand, is brilliant), but its influence is obvious. Without it, there would be no Solyaris (1972) or The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Indeed, given its own sequel (2010: The Year We Make Contact - 1984) and the underrated American remake of Solyaris (Solaris - 2002), it's easy to argue that 2001: A Space Odyssey remains more influential than the more recent films appearing on this list. 1996's The Arrival and 1997's Contact also directly owe their thematic execution to Kubrick's influence.

Star Wars (1977)
Undoubtedly the most obvious film on the list, this is the one that changed Hollywood from top to bottom. Upon its release and the seemingly miles-long lines of eagerly-awaiting audiences that accompanied it, the film industry started churning out science fiction films (many horribly awful) in droves. Overtly less science fiction and more fairy tale (what many call space opera), Star Wars spanned all of the fantasy genres and its fingerprints can be found on everything from its own sequels to 2006's Eragon.

Specifically regarding science fiction, however, the success of Star Wars convinced Paramount to take a silver screen chance on its beloved franchise, Star Trek, and 20th Century Fox to give Ridley Scott the go-ahead to make a horror film set in space (Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien, respectively... both 1979). That the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the fun of Return of the Jedi (1983) were nearly erased with the despicable Star Wars prequels of the the late 1990s and early 2000s does not lessen the impact of the original movie (and, in fact, proves its resilience).

Aliens (1986)
James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien is, as implied, part of the Star Wars "family tree of influence." And while perhaps not as groundbreaking as Cameron's previous film, The Terminator (1984), Aliens propelled science fiction into the stratosphere (a fact not lost on the Academy Awards, which honored the film with a nomination for Best Actress... a feat unheard of for a science fiction film). Part action, part horror, part commentary, Cameron finally proved with Aliens what stalwarts such as David Cronenberg and Scott were trying to prove with their own (brilliant) films: science fiction could be dark, gritty, and commercially successful.

While some might disagree, Aliens is the true cinematic progenitor of 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (corporate intrigue, strong female protagonist, etc.) and not, as one would imagine, The Terminator. 2000's Pitch Black is even interpreted by some as a quasi-remake of Aliens. 1997's Starship Troopers, too, owes a great deal to Cameron's film (ironically, the novel Starship Troopers heavily influenced Aliens). And lets not forget the plethora of franchise-launching or franchise-renewing projects that appeared because of it: 1987's Predator (which also unfortunately led to 2004's Alien vs. Predator), Alien Nation (1988), a War of the Worlds television series (1988), and even direct and pervasive homage in countless Japanese animated films.

The Matrix (1999)
Strangely, there were rather low expectations for this film to do well at the box office, must less spawn two sequels and a host of animation and graphic novel projects. That it became so influential to Hollywood in general could not have been predicted by anyone. Filmed for a relatively low budget (less than $65 million, where most films of this type are priced well over $100 million), the in-house effects team created some mind-boggling visuals that are still considered top-notch over a decade later. These effects, combined with a comic book-inspired script loaded with (unintentional) relevant philosophy, captured the minds of its audiences while blowing them away with ridiculous (yet appropriate, given the story) action sequences and subdued questions of reality.

Though not entirely relevant to itself, this examination of existence returned the genre to the realm of philosophy. While the tone of such later films as Sunshine (2007) and Moon (2009) doesn't lend to comparison, it would be hard-pressed for one to imagine either of those films being produced without The Matrix. And despite the two Matrix sequels attempting to force the philosophical issue (resulting in far-inferior films), many subsequent films were highly successful at it (2006's The Fountain - despite being a tad too overwrought - and even 2002's 28 Days Later). Essentially, it took an action spectacle to allow the quiet, introspective science fiction film to enjoy a resurgence.

Avatar (2009)
Avatar's place on this list could have very easily been taken by 2007's Transformers (yes, Transformers), but given that film's rush-to-sequel and the enormous amount of press preceding Avatar's release, Transformers had no chance to settle into the subconscious of audiences and filmmakers. There's not a lot to say about Avatar's influence just yet (save for the proliferation of 3D films), but I don't think I'm taking too much of a risk by claiming that, yes, it is the new Star Wars in that filmmaking has been distinctly altered forever.

The story of Avatar is admittedly pedestrian, but out of all of the films on this list, it is the most socially relevant. An intellectual might claim 2001: A Space Odyssey holds that distinction, but Kubrick's film hid its moral behind far too much artistic interpretation that its message went unnoticed by most of its viewers. Avatar, on the other hand, presented its commentary (environmentalism, racism, anti-private military, corporate greed) rather plainly.

It is obvious that Avatar has affected the technical nature of filmmaking for all time to come. It remains to be seen how it affects the presentation of social context within the genre. One can only hope.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No Meat; No Creamer

Looking at them, one might think they are lovers. The way they dress, the way they stand, the way they walk. Everything about them screams of fitting together. The kiss under the streetlight does, too, but that is only a deception.

They are not lovers, but reluctant partners. Until this night, they'd never even met in person. But they are being hunted, and they are each other's only chance of survival.

***

Todd Grayson was not his real name, but it suited him. The alias was a not-so-subtle nod to his favorite comic book character and it reminded him that there was always someone else pulling strings. Even now, as he prepared to pull the strings of one of his charges, someone pulled his.

He sat by himself, alfresco, at a French-Italian cafe in Tunis. His appearance was somewhere between disheveled and clean-cut - really, it depended on the angle - and he both stuck out from and faded into the background. Passers-by had a tendency to see him, notice him, then forget him. And all in a few steps. Of course, that was the intent.

Grayson resisted the urge to check his watch (he had long since trained himself not to do so) and instead glanced at the sky as if in mid-thought. She was late, which was unlike her. Then again, he had made her wait the last time they met in public. Perhaps she was simply returning the favor. He finally noticed her as he signaled a waiter to refill his glass of water. He had turned to do so and saw her sitting three tables behind him and to the left. Clever girl. Though he felt the red hair didn't suit her.

She smiled, stood, and walked over to him. He would admit that she startled him and she would joke that he was getting old and sloppy. He would hold his tongue, knowing that it was the last time he'd ever see her.

***

The kiss over - she notes that his lips are soft - they break their embrace. Before he was interrupted by a passing black sedan, he was asking a question. "Why Merlot?"

She gently places her hand on his neck. Anyone watching from a distance will think they are continuing their intimate conversation. Anyone listening, however, will be thoroughly confused.

"Why not?" She winks. "It matches my hair."

He laughs, leaning in to her ear, gently exposing her neck. She must really think he's an amateur. "That's a wig. And you missed some roots."

That hits her sensitive spot. He notices the subtlest of winces, as if her professionalism is insulted. She turns into him and kisses him again.

No, she feels no insult. Merely alarm that she may have underestimated him. Thieves usually rub her wrong way, but this one is different. "We should go."

***

"You're Coffee?" Grayson was tired of operatives with silly code names, but didn't dwell on it long. Everyone went by stupid aliases these days, it seems. Blame it on the Internet and screen names.

The man called Coffee chuckled as a waiter quickly ran over with a mug and fresh pot of actual coffee, obviously having mistaken Grayson's question for a request. Must be security. That was just way too fast for a Tunisian waiter. Coffee waited for the "waiter" to leave, then leaned forward.

"You know I don't trust you."

Grayson smiled. "That one's mutual. Can you do it or not?"

Coffee thought about something for a few moments - he was secretly relieved that, like himself, Grayson preferred to get right to business - then nodded. "As long as your prep is as good as you say it is."

"She's the best."

Coffee's eyebrow raised at "she." He so very rarely got to work with female keys. Grayson took notice and smirked. Coffee's profile report clearly fit him like a glove.

***

Twice they both thought they had tails, and twice she lost the cars in question. Coffee hates that he's not driving, but he's extremely impressed at how quickly - and subtly - she maneuvers their vehicle through traffic. He couldn't do any better and he knows it. Hell, were he driving, they'd likely be engaged in a high-speed getaway. But Merlot barely brought their speed over the posted limit signs.

"Where'd you learn to drive?"

"Nevada. My dad taught me." She's well aware that's not what Coffee is asking, but she can't resist. Evasion and deception are built into her psyche, ingrained by years of training and experience. Of course, she loves sarcastic humor, as well, which she did get from her father.

"You're not from Nevada," Coffee says as he checks the rear-view. She keeps underestimating him on purpose, and it's starting to piss him off.

She tilts her head. "How do you know?"

"Quit asking rhetorical questions."

Yes, she pronounced Nevada like a non-local. And he picked up on it immediately. So, either he's from there or just, like her, well-traveled and/or well-versed.

"Start asking real ones," he almost commands. "I will answer, you know. You don't have to distrust me."

Interesting, she thinks. He broached the topic of trust from the opposite direction than nearly everyone else would. He's letting her know that he doesn't expect her to trust him, but they are in their current predicament together, and they're going to have to work together.

"It's my favorite wine. Barefoot, actually."

"What?" Coffee's caught off-guard, but only for a split-second. Ah... she's answering his earlier question. He grins. "I figured you for an expensive girl."

"All part of the deception. Why Coffee?"

"It's my name."

***

Grayson smiled as he listened to the scanners. All Hell had broken loose. It had been a few days past schedule - he had to admit that he had started to get worried - but if the reports from the Algerian National Police were to be believed, it appeared that the wait was worth it. Grayson was competent at speaking Arabic, but the rapid screaming over the radios had made it hard for him to translate everything he heard in his head. Still, he managed to make out "stolen" and "there is no suspect" and couldn't prevent the shit-eating grin that crossed his face.

Satisfied, he turned to the silhouette behind him, seated across the desk.

"We're back in business," Grayson said, his tone not even bothering to conceal his glee. It had been his error that caused the incident in the first place, but it will be recorded that it was he who also rectified it. And there would be no loose ends.

He slid a manila envelope to the silhouette. "Tie these for me, will you?"

"Of course," the silhouette replied as it pulled two pictures from the packet. One was of Merlot - the silhouette paused to admire how beautiful she was - and the other was Coffee. There was a wink and another acknowledgment, and Grayson was soon alone in his office.

It almost seemed like a joke. A spy and a thief, chased by an assassin.

He'll laugh later. Of this, Grayson was sure.

*Continued in Your Machete; My Cleaver

Monday, June 21, 2010

Great American Directors

There seems to be a propensity in Hollywood to seek out foreign talent. And, in point of fact, there is. Of course, this is not due to some overbearing conspiracy to "de-Americanize" the American film industry, it's merely the result of reaching out to aesthetically-different filmmakers and actors to cast in appropriate ethnicities. Sure, Hollywood's got a ways to go as far as being "equal," but it's closer than most industries. Regardless, this is not a rant about the film world's inequities... this is a celebration of my favorite (living) American directors.

Let's face it, though devoid of an international reputation for art (pop-culturally speaking... the reality is quite different), America is the home to its fair share of capable artists. And I'd like to share my thoughts on two American film directors who absolutely rule their preferred genres, and a third who I think is in honest contention to being labeled the Best Director of All-Time (American or otherwise).

Arguably the least well-known of the three, but easily the best war-film director, is Edward Zwick. Known for critical darlings Glory and Courage Under Fire, he's also been responsible for the underrated The Last Samurai and Defiance. Drama in storytelling is inherently conflict, and while Zwick fills his films with ample amounts of emotional drama (the rivalry between Denzel Washington's Private Trip and, well, everyone else in Glory), he excels at presenting physical conflict.

For many filmmakers, such a tactic would be considered a cheap trick (think the finale of The Matrix trilogy or the third act of Danny Boyle's otherwise brilliant Sunshine). For Zwick, however, whose love of history and geopolitics permeates nearly every frame of his motion pictures, such a tactic is built into the story from inception. And, very nearly to perfection, the payoff works every time.

Still, he has endured his fair share of hiccups (1998's The Siege), but his war film resume, along with the good but often derided (usually by men) Legends of the Fall, more than ensures Zwick's place in the highest pantheon of film direction.

More famous than Zwick is Michael Mann, whom many remember as the progenitor of the campy 80s television series, Miami Vice. Actually, given that he also directed the misguided film version, he'll probably only be remembered for Miami Vice. Such a remembrance would be a little sad, however, as Mann has long been bringing powerful and ostensibly realistic crime films to the screen (then again, perhaps he wouldn't mind).

Little known for the fact that he was the first director to bring Hannibal Lecter to Hollywood (in Manhunter, later remade as Red Dragon), Mann initially burst into the crime scene with the brilliant and brilliantly subdued Thief. Starring James Caan as an extremely professional and increasingly reluctant safecracker, Thief laid the groundwork for many of Mann's crime films to come.

Along with Thief, Mann's greats are Heat (a remake of his own L.A. Takedown) and Collateral, the first film to star Tom Cruise as a villain. There was also the aforementioned film version of Miami Vice (again, misguided, but entertaining) and the under-appreciated Public Enemies, a charismatic film criticized for its historical inaccuracies. Mann's resume also includes the most recent The Last of the Mohicans and Ali.

By far the greatest living American director (in my opinion, anyway), Clint Eastwood began his career as an actor. Upon undertaking his directing career in the early 1970s, Eastwood helmed film after film (usually casting himself) in a professional, competent, and somewhat unspectacular manner. Though many of his earlier efforts remain guilty pleasures (High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Firefox), it wasn't until the phenomenal Unforgiven in 1992 that he truly hit his stride. Though his follow-up schedule would be peppered "old Eastwood" directing efforts such as Absolute Power and Space Cowboys, more and more of his films entered the realm of true greatness.

Shifting away from his action-oriented past and into contemporary relevance, Eastwood delighted and disturbed us with cautionary tales of revenge (Mystic River), controversial and loving depictions of euthanasia (Million Dollar Baby), and the perspective of enemies at war (Letters from Iwo Jima). One of his latest efforts not only sealed his place on any list of great film directors, but marked his return to on-screen star-power with quite possibly the greatest character he's ever portrayed (Gran Torino).

Effectively, Eastwood has become what other great and once-great American directors have failed to become... one who gets better with age. Many argue that such lions of film such as Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola have lost their touch (confirmed for the latter), but few lay claim to such a thing happening to Eastwood. Eastwood, effectively, is the anti-Spielberg (think The Terminal, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). And even with Martin Scorsese's resurgence, Eastwood seems to stand alone when considering quantity, quality, and consistency of work.

I can't wait to see who comes along next.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Irrewind, 20100619: Soldier Fiction

I write a lot of military fiction (for a variety of reasons), and while I was perusing some older works, I noticed I had a tendency to write military pieces which were not necessarily "military." Yes, the protagonists of these pieces are clearly soldiers, but the situations presented are merely those of, well, life in general. "Soldier fiction," maybe, rather than "military fiction."

Honestly, I hadn't realized that I do this, but in realizing it I am rather intrigued.  Perhaps you will be, too.

"But First, a Funeral"
He took a breath, straightened his uniform as well as he could. It didn't fit as well as he remembered. A little tighter around the waist, a little looser around the shoulders. But it was his. He had earned it. His friends had died wearing it. And he would put up with looking a little out-of-place in order to honor them... because who else was left to do... Read More

"The Tightrope"
It was when the plan was scrutinized that everything revealed itself to be fucked up beyond all recognition. The logistics were gone. The supplier, and the supply line with her, disappeared into the urban jungle with a simple note containing an apologetic explanation and a veiled threat. This, naturally, meant the strategy would have to... Read More

"Alone in His Absence"
Initially, he was going to wait for the widow to leave. He preferred to pay his respects in solitude, alone in the presence of his friend, six feet beneath his shoes. She stayed, however, and didn't seem to want to leave. She wanted to stay with her husband forever, and until the pragmatic conclusion that her own life still needed to be... Read More

"Awaycoming"
His grip was confident, loose, and fingers gently caressed all the right curves. Curves so familiar, they could be seen with eyes closed and felt with hands numb. Her smell hadn't changed, years of caretaking ensured a scent arousing and deceptively young. It's said that aroma is best at triggering memory, and it's true. Years apart erased... Read More

"Halos"
Mrs. Taylor kept to herself. She was not an old woman. Early 50s at the time it happened, she might have looked 60 or so, but that's what happens when life gets too stressful or, in her case, too depressing. Of course, I didn't know that then. All I knew about her was that she had money and how her smile looked when she bothered to say... Read More

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Window

He can see her, but he can barely hear her. Even with the listening device, the window doesn't allow sound through all that well. She's extraordinarily beautiful - to him, at least - and he'd be hard-pressed to dream of a woman more attractive.

They met in Cozumel, Mexico. She was traveling the world, fresh from secondary school. With no desire to immediately attend college, she packed her bags and left everything behind. He was a sophomore at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Spring break. Not much of a traveler - he likes to keep to himself - his friends talked him into accompanying them to yet another tourist trap.

Sublimely unaware of his eyes gazing upon her, she goes about her business, dusting shelves and preparing her evening meal. She's speaking, but he's since put away the device out of frustration. Besides, he's far more interested in staring at the movement of her lips than the words. Pity she's not a bit closer. Of course, proximity runs the risk of giving his devious intentions away. He licks his upper lip in anticipation.

He was glad he went. An inopportune bar brawl between French and American partiers led to him taking a broken bottle on his left shoulder - a bottle that would have hit her had he not got in the way. There wasn't any chivalry involved in the decision, it's just that he had stared at her for most of the night and didn't want his evening obsession left scarred in any way. The blood and protruding glass in his shoulder led to sympathetic conversation, which led to sympathetic dinner, which led to romance. Only lasting three days, it was the best three days of his life. She enjoyed them, herself, but they failed to resonate with her as strongly as they did with him.

The notion of voyeurism creeps into his mind, but he doesn't care. She's worth looking at; she's worth listening to, and he's aware of the possibility that he'll never touch her again. Something distracts her and he moves away, pretending not to notice. She doesn't need his piercing eyes to add to the distraction. And he doesn't want this moment to end. The perfect body in the perfect frame.

They exchanged contact information, but as she circumnavigated the globe for nearly three years, her information soon proved useless. Caught up in the grand adventure that is the world, the excitement of Cozumel quickly hid itself beneath the excitement of seeing and experiencing things she'd only dreamed of while growing up in Glasgow, Montana.

She reacts to the distraction - clearly, she heard some sort of noise. Out of reflex, he checks his surroundings. Did he..? No, he knows better. He's been sitting here for the better part of two hours and he's done nothing save whisper a few longing words. There are dogs barking, but they are in neighbors' yards and not aimed at him. Still, the excitement arouses him.

Finding himself oblivious to any other women, he succumbed to depression, dropped out of college in his final semester, and joined the US Army. A mental breakdown - related to her, no doubt - forced an early discharge. Though not in in love, he nevertheless renewed a relationship with an old high school girlfriend and got his life together, at least partially. Subsistence was his only recourse.

She screams at something and his curiosity overcomes him. He leans in so closely, trying to get a better view, that his breath fogs up her image. He's been breathing hard, conscious of his own caress, and backs off. The vapors need wiping clean, but he decides that might be too conspicuous. They dissipate just when a cat appears in the window. He hears her scream at it again. Damn... it's blocking her. His hand swipes at the air in a useless gesture.

When an old friend became a private investigator and the Internet afforded the capability, he managed to track her to South Africa. Search engines devoid of contact information, he spent nearly all of his savings and hired his PI friend to go to there. She married a businessman in Johannesburg and took a job with the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee. Now divorced, she had kept her married name.

Her hands grab the cat and he gets a good look at her fingers. Oh, those sensual fingers. He's not been this close to them since Mexico. He must be careful... showing up like this is probably odd to her, but so far she seems to have paid no mind. She moves away, out of the room, and returns a few minutes later wearing a robe. He curses his limited visibility, tracing her body with a finger and imagining the lines underneath.

Leaving his girlfriend, he tried to relocate himself overseas, but life and money kept getting in the way. He often wondered if it would have been better had he gone to South Africa himself, but knows he probably wouldn't have found her. So he watched from a distance, trying to summon the courage to reenter her life. One time he built up the nerve to call her, only to fail in building up the nerve to actually speak. But hearing her voice renewed his sense of purpose. She would be his. One way or another.

"Sorry," she says. "Just wanted to get comfortable."

"It's okay," he replies, having plugged the headset and microphone back into the computer. There's some frustration that she's so pixelated, but her memory is as clear as day, and that's all his eyes require.

"When are you coming to visit me?"

He smiles. Though she's careful not to be obvious, she clearly harbors affection. It's too bad there's an ocean between them. He considers sending the inventor of the web camera a thank you note.

"As soon as I can."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue X

Blow Out (1981)
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer(s): Brian De Palma
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
-----
Made as homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, Blow Out instead comes across as a cheap knock-off of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. Changing the plot device from photography (as in Blow-Up) to sound recording, De Palma "homages" and rehashes Antonioni's and Coppola's films in what winds up a depressing mess. The first two acts of the film play well, with John Travolta giving the audience an attractive and charismatic protagonist (Jack Terry). Unfortunately, the ending only provides a perverse (and open-ended) resolution that, while clearly included for its shock value, lets the film down. Despite the tragic background given to Jack Terry, no explanation is given for his inexplicable decision to use his lover's dying scream as a sound effect. Yes, it plays at stupid as it reads.
Verdict: Eh... SEE it. I'd say SKIP it, but most of the movie is actually pretty good.

The Cat Returns (2002)
Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Writer(s): Reiko Yoshida, Aoi Hîragi (comic)
Starring: Japanese voice talent
-----
Probably the most "traditionally Disney" Japanese animated film I've ever seen, The Cat Returns convinced me that the Japanese need to stick to what they do best, because emulating Disney is not their strong suit. Yes, the story is occasionally hilarious and touching, but the narrative direction remains unclear even upon the film's conclusion. An overt moral tale ("believe in yourself"), the subversive nuances present in most Studio Ghibli films are noticeably absent. Not altogether bad, but slightly disappointing. And shame on you Disney (the film's US distributor) for using dubtitles (find a real translation if you can)!
Verdict: If you're really into Studio Ghibli or Japanese animation, SEE it.

City of Ember (2008)
Director: Gil Kenan
Writer(s): Caroline Thompson, Jeanne Duprau (book)
Starring: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Tim Robbins, Bill Murray
-----
The remnants of humanity have been forced underground to live in a self-sustaining city. Only, the city is falling apart. Two teenagers discover clues that will help humanity return to the surface and a harrowing mystery unfolds. There are no strong antagonists in the film, merely a handful of slightly lazy conspirators, and the film often glosses over its own world (the large insects are underused, the city itself is more plot-device than "character"). All that aside, the supporting cast is a treat and help carry the film quite well.
Verdict: SEE it. A decent family film.

Dressed to Kill  (1980)
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer(s): Brian De Palma
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen
-----
Brian De Palma seems to have always had a problem ending his movies. His "shocks" rarely work, and his "epilogues" (as in the case of Dressed to Kill) are worse. Known as a thriller director, his best work is clearly in the action genre. Dressed to Kill, however, is one of his thrillers. Although an early pioneer of plot twists of the type that are far too prevalent in modern films, Dressed to Kill suffers from being predictable a bit too quickly. Michael Caine, however, plays his role expertly (and creepily) and Angie Dickinson exudes a helluva lot of sex appeal. Still, in addition to its built-in shortcomings, Dressed to Kill is not a film that has aged well. It's not bad, but it's not great, either.
Verdict: SEE it if you're a De Palma or a genre fan.

Porco Rosso (1992)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Japanese voice talent
-----
There is no other word for Hayao Miyazaki than brilliant. How else can you describe a man who creates an alternate inter-war reality in which the Mediterranean is overrun by air pirates in flying boats and whose hero is a World War I ace magically transformed into a pig? And makes it work! Though the third act is a bit chaotic, the entire film is a wonder. Though all the characters are fully developed, the love interest, Gina, has a subtext that is realistic, engrossing, depressing, and inspiring. A brilliant film from a brilliant mind. Odd trivia: Japan Air Lines is credited as a producer.
Verdict: SEE it. Fabulous film.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Burning of Messina

"We're doing what?" The corporal is incredulous. Surely King Richard - he'd been king for barely a year - wouldn't risk an army of crusaders to free his sister.

The Man-at-Arms leading the flank turns to the corporal, grim-faced, though with a glint of humor. "What do you expect? Him to leave Joan in the hands of that bastard, Tancred? Don't be stupid."

Any other superior would have expected the corporal to hang his head in embarrassment, but Sergeant John Bower is known for encouraging his men to ask questions... and question ridiculous orders (as long as those questions were directed to John Bower himself, naturally... other Men-at-Arms and Knights were not so encouraging).

"Prepare the archers, Corporal," John orders. "Separate them into smaller squads. They'll need to remain as mobile as possible when we enter Messina."

"Yes, Sergeant," the corporal replies, then leaves to conduct his duties.

John finishes writing some tactical amendments on a scroll, rolls and seals it, and hands it to a messenger. "Ensure King Philip's men are informed of these changes, as well." Richard, John knows, will want full credit for capturing the Sicilian capital, but it will be strategically advantageous for the French contingent to be on the same page as the English. Rivals make poor partners, after all. And John is far too pragmatic to let competition get in the way of victory.

In addition to his pragmatism, John is also a proponent of irregular and unconventional warfare. Unlike the Lords and Knights he serves, he is uninhibited by chivalry, and often takes full advantage of his plebeian station. It is one reason he is highly sought after as a Man-at-Arms. He will do what it takes to win, regardless of anyone's perspective of his methods. He is confident his flank will move through Messina quite rapidly, his men consisting of the best archer/hunters in all of Britain.

***

Robin of Nottinghamshire is, above all else, an archer and a hunter. The best, in fact. At least in the eyes of everyone who knows him and, indeed, everyone who's heard of him. Which isn't all that many people, to say the least. Still, his reputation is strong enough that John Bower personally requested Robin to lead his contingent of archers. Though the two share a great deal of respect for one another - John in awe of Robin's skill with the bow, as well as his ability to motivate people... Robin in awe of John's tactical and strategic mind - they don't particularly care for each other. Still, Robin loves serving under John's command, as it not only increases Robin's chances of victory, but chances of survival, as well. In all of the ridiculous engagements he's been forced into by nobles, Robin has never come across a better leader.

After the corporal leaves, Robin turns to his small band of men - known as the Merry Makers among the armies here, for various reasons - and smiles. His men love it when he smiles. "Drink up, lads. We're to be wolves in the fold."

***

The timing couldn't have been better. Messina's populace revolted against Tancred in protest of the presence of foreign troops, and King Richard initiated the assault shortly after. The combination of civil unrest and foreign invasion were, by themselves, enough to foster the capture of the city. John Bower's strategy and Robin's execution of it only made the capture seem unfair. Even to Robin.

Robin is not, by definition, a ruthless man, though his small reputation is suggestive to the contrary. He has killed men - quite many - but only because he's told to. His aim with the arrow is always true and he prefers to make shots that are as quickly fatal as possible. The inherent irony is that this is the very action responsible for his reputation. It bothers him a little, but he knows he has to live with it lest he truly become a ruthless, unmerciful soldier.

Soldier. The very term drives him crazy. He is a simple man and would much prefer to be tilling the land of his employer rather than shooting enemies of his king who he cares nothing about. He had been stuck on this God-forsaken island for nearly six months and quietly longed for a return to England. Word had come that Eleanor of Aquitaine - who had arrived to help smooth over Tancred's surrender and Joan's return - would be returning home and that John Bower would accompany her as part of a military escort. Robin hoped that, despite their differences, Bower would bring him, as well.

But it was not to be.

*To be continued...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marijuana versus Tobacco: A Great Irony

I fully believe that smoking cigarettes is bad for you. I fully believe that smoking marijuana is bad for you. And I fully believe that both should be legal, regulated as little as possible, and available on the open market to be enjoyed wherever someone (someone being an individual or a business) provides a spot for them to be enjoyed.

In a reverse of how I usually conduct myself in rants, I'll start with the conclusion: legalize marijuana and back the fuck off from tobacco. I mean, can society possibly be any more contradictory when it comes to these two topics? Given that there's currently a very strong push to legalize marijuana, and another very strong push to put the tobacco companies out of business, why aren't these two "industries" (that's in quotes because, well, marijuana isn't technically a legal industry quite yet) banding together and calling everyone (individuals and government) out on the obvious irony.

Note: I am now in pure rant mode and no longer feel it necessary to make logical transitional sense.

Here's where I'm at. I smoke cigarettes, somewhat reluctantly. I am addicted and am working on rectifying that particular shortcoming. I don't smoke marijuana and have no desire to. Not because I feel morally superior to anybody (I honestly couldn't care less), but because I'm attempting to 1) eliminate everything that I shouldn't ingest (be it tobacco or hard liquor or transfats) and 2) shift to a good, clean, wholesome, natural diet. That and, unlike most, I can't stand the smell of weed... particularly out of bongs.

Anyway, there are only two non-bullshit ways for myself to come to terms with this ironic substance-based political football: make both tobacco and marijuana completely illegal (which I don't personally support, but at least it obviates the contradiction), or make/keep them legal and allow people to fuck themselves up the way they want to fuck themselves up.

Honestly, it is far more difficult to me to name 10 people I know who don't smoke marijuana than it is for me to name 10 people who do. In fact, I can probably name 100 I know personally who smoke weed before I can name 10 friends who don't. And, you know, none of those people are criminals, drug addicts, or otherwise bad people (some are assholes, yeah, and others are idiots, but that's beside my point). They're more-or-less law-abiding, friendly, and hard-working folks.

And, no, I don't feel that marijuana is some dangerous "gateway drug" (no more so than cigarettes, beer, or... say... fetish pornography) that will lead to hardcore use of cocaine and/or heroin. And, no, I don't feel that all drugs should be legalized, either.

All that stated, I will only support the pro-weed movement if the pro-weed movement supports the pro-tobacco movement. Quid pro quo is the way to go! Not really, but you (hopefully) get my point: how the Hell can a society or counter-culture (counter-culture... love that term) support one, but not the other? It's all propaganda. We already know that both are bad for you, medicinal uses notwithstanding. But who gives a shit? Neither in-and-of-themselves leads to any sort of deviance or delinquency. And, really, they're both cheap and easy to enjoy. So who cares? Tax 'em!

Anyway, there's no real point to this other than pointing out the obvious irony. Legalize one; keep the other legal. Everyone's too uptight these days, anyway.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A-M-L-C-S

Strange... as I talked to a friend the other day, the subject of women came up. I guess that part's not strange, since I talk about women often, but this particular conversation went specifically to women whom I've been "enamored" with. Now, as a blatant hopeless romantic and serial-luster who "falls in love" at least once per day, even I figured this number to be relatively high. Much to my surprise, though, it's not (please do not interpret anything you read here as boasting or bragging that I'm some sort of "ladies man," for I am anything but).

In attempting to determining my "enamors" (using subjective standards, of course), I considered women that I've 1) fantasized over for significant periods of time - excluding celebrities - 2) pursued, regardless of success rate, or 3) legitimately dated or otherwise spent significant amounts of time with. This number was, I'll admit, a bit high. But while trying to figure out how to eliminate those who obviously didn't qualify as enamors, it dawned on me... I've always written about what Chazz Palmintieri's character in A Bronx Tale refers to as "the great ones." And I'm not talking little puberty-induced pornographic tales in high school, or amalgamating a real woman into a fictional character...

I've written about these women. Quite in-depth and quite often. And, in counting them, there are only five. That's it. Five. Five women I've ever seriously considered spending the rest of my life with. No more; no less.

The first was "A," and I met her at my first college. For three-and-a-half years, I had a bit of an arbitrary rule I adhered to: no relationships while I'm active duty. And I didn't. There were plenty of almosts, should Is, I want tos, and shits-she's-gorgeous, but I never gave in. Call it a misplaced sense of discipline (well, yeah... that's what it was), but somehow I never gave in. Until I did.

After my first tour I, reenlisted and attended a semester of college as a reward for staying in the Army. And there she was. "A." She was (and is, to this day) extraordinarily beautiful. A dark-haired, pale-skinned wonder from Ecuador. At the time, were I to close my eyes and imagine my perfect woman, "A" would've have been extremely close. And, as a young hopeless romantic, there were poems written of her. Nothing any good, of course, since I didn't yet understand poetry (probably still don't, to be honest), but it was written.

"M" followed "A" rather quickly, almost to the point of overlap. Putting it simply, "A" lost interest before the dust had even settled, and I went on my merry way. Just after that semester ended, a friend of mine introduced me to "M" who, as luck would have it, lived a mere 500 miles away. Still, we hit it off and maintained the relationship across the distance. Poetry was written for this one, too. Better than the stuff for "A," but still pretty bad.

"M" called the relationship off after I did something extremely stupid (no, I didn't cheat on her, nor did anything that could've gotten me arrested) and it fucked me up emotionally for about the next year-and-a-half. I almost even got myself thrown out of the Army during the fallout. All ended well, though, and we were even civil to each other at a wedding we both went to (that of the friend who introduced us, actually).

Granted, with both "A" and "M," I was still very young (that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it).

A couple of years after "M," there was "L," a local girl whom I broke another arbitrary rule for (no local girls). "L" would become, to this day, my longest relationship. And, probably by no accident, my worst. It lasted about 7 years longer than it should have, but there were money and assets involved, and so things devolved into a bit of a twisted chess match. She sucks at chess, but she won anyhow (if anyone could be called a winner). I wear no scars from women save from "L."

"L" is, frankly, the subject of at least 75% of the poetry I've written (though not here). She's also the subject of several woe-is-me rants and is even the basis for many villainous characters in stories I've written. Yes, there's a bad taste in mouth from "L," but I honestly don't hold any ill-will towards her (anymore, that is). And, in point of fact, given that so much has been written of her by myself, she is undeniably one of my enamors.

In the midst of "L" (in-between, actually... we had several break-ups and I never cheated on her... or anybody, for that matter), there was "C." The result of breaking yet another arbitrary rule (no one under 24), "C" was extremely young and a bit naive, but oh, such a thing to look at. And she was deceptively sweet. Though feelings weren't exchanged between us until after I left the East Coast, we reunited for a time upon my return. Most know how shitty 2006 was to me, emotionally-speaking, and "C" helped me through it. Her 2006 was pretty bad, itself, and we took advantage of that old cliché: misery loves company. She wound up in several poems, a couple of short stories, and even inspired a character (along with Natalie Portman... heh) in an early script.

Unfortunately (or fortunately... yeah, likely fortunately), we were both surrounded by other relationships that kept getting in the way. That, and she revealed herself to be dishearteningly materialistic and a tad crazy (whoa, the temper on that one). Needless to say, that one faded into history.

Two years later, during the tail end of purging "L" from my life, there was "S," the most pragmatic woman I know. A bit serendipitous, and never what I would call a real relationship, I had actually met "S" 14 years before I ran into her again. By simple providence, we had wound up living in the same part of the country, some 2800 miles away from where we first met.

As implied, "S" - unlike the others - was only peripherally an object of desire. There was too much going on in our individual lives, anyway... I was leaving the East Coast again and trying to avoid the military. She was staying and trying to join the military. But she did something for me that no one else did... the right person at the right time, in essence... she kicked me in the ass and helped get my life back in gear (she was, actually, the person who finally convinced me to completely let "L" go). She's also the primary muse behind my proliferation in writing this past year or so (there is an entire week's worth of writing dedicated to her). For that, she's enamored.

And that makes five.

Except... I haven't been completely honest. There's a sixth. I'm trying very hard for there not to be; I've got shit to take care of, after all... and I need there to be no distractions until I can afford distractions. Especially not one so young, beautiful, and on her way. Thankfully, this sixth is more an idea and an image and less a real person, allowing me to maintain some semblance of practicality.

Problem is... I'm writing about her. And there's no chance of her ever leaving the page.

Somebody shoot me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lollies, Stupid

*Not sure why I did it, but a random thought popped into my head and I wound up writing a semi-continuation of a friend's piece, "24 Hours in a Tin Can." It's not directly-related narratively, but it's certainly thematically so. Basically, I used her piece as a prompt, and here's what happened...

"You quit smoking, eh?" It's an accusation as much as it a question, and she wants to be totally clear about it. Her mother smokes and she'll be damned if there are two smokers staying in the same house.

"Yeah, a while back." He understands. He almost explains to her that even when he did smoke, he never smoked in the house, but he doesn't. His reluctant chauffeur is gorgeous and is sublimely aware of his interest in her, and he doesn't want to risk turning her off by telling too many fish stories too early.

"And how's that going?" There's a sarcastic twinkle in her eye, but she feels confident he won't notice it behind her oversized sunglasses.

But he does. He just doesn't take the bait. "Pretty good. Tobacco-free for four months. Nicotine-free for two." He reflects for a moment how little fashion varies from place to place these days. Probably the Internet's fault. His father would've blamed it on Hollywood, but since such placement of blame is passé - combined with the fact that he actually works in Hollywood - he ignores the mental voice of a scolding parent.

"Good," she says, rather bluntly. "The house already stinks." She sees him smirk out of the corner of her eye. It's a disarming smirk - he is much cuter in person - and she allows herself to let loose a small bit of friendly humor. "My nostrils probably have cancer by now."

There's a quick laugh and she turns to check out his smile - his teeth, actually - but he's looking out his window. In reality, he's looking at her. Her reflection just strong enough to see clearly. She's beautiful and it's near impossible to take his eyes off of her.

She doesn't drive much and he can tell. He rarely gets car sick, but he can feel the onset of motion sickness creeping its way up through his abdomen. It's probably no accident that the only three drivers to ever get him car sick were all women - his sister, his ex-fiancée, and one of his best friends from college. Why should this ride be any different? Of course, he's never had butterflies in his stomach flapping as violently as they were now. Put a man purportedly unafraid of anything into a car with a beautiful woman and he's suddenly omniphobic.

He clears his throat and shifts forward. "Is there like a candy store or something on the way?" His ears don't need popping, but it's all he can think of.

"A what?" She knows what he means, but she loves fucking with Americans. Who doesn't?

"Candy store?"

"We call them lollies here, stupid." It is as endearing as an insult could possibly be. "Are you car sick?"

Beautiful... and observant. He'll wax poetic about that later, hopefully after managing not to throw up. Too many hours in a plane followed by stop and go traffic, he does not recommend.

She pulls to the curb, leaving the engine running.

"What's up?" he asks. Although he's been avoiding aviator breathing techniques as he didn't want to look "uncool," he's wisely reconsidering his priorities.

She slides her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose, laughing and sympathetic eyes peering past his. "Lollies?" She nods to the shop behind him.

He opens the door without looking and steps out. Gathering himself and trying to save some face, he leans back into the window. "You want anything?"

"Yeah. Don't spew in my fucking car."

He smirks again, hiding a wink in his sardonic smile. Candy, indeed. He can't wait to taste this one.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Superficial Scribbling

Writing in a hurry can be fun, but it usually isn't. Although even when it isn't, there's some weird sick joy to be had in "knocking shit out." It's even better when that shit actually isn't shit, but just the act of getting it written is good enough (for me, anyway).

Still, even I've noticed that the level of superficiality in what I write (be it creative writing or ranting/raving) has increased since I set myself the goal of posting at least four entries a week. It's alarming, yes, and I have no desire to develop bad habits (even as a quasi-writer). But perhaps that's the challenge? Write quickly with depth, rather than just write quickly.

Of course, a goal has to be known in order to be set, yes? So that's the goal for the rest of the year. Quick and deep, because the shallow stuff is starting to irk me (hmm... sounds like sex... er... forget I wrote that).

Then again, I've noticed a lot of writing from others that seems to be suffering from superficiality. And I don't mean in general, since most write superficially... I'm speaking of people whose writings typically have a lot more depth than they have as of late. Hmm... maybe the transition from spring to summer (or fall to winter, depending on your hemisphere) makes people dumber. Or lazier. Or both.

Anyway, just thought I'd put it out there that I'm going to try a bit harder. When I don't, feel absolutely free to call me out on it. I may just ignore you, but you might feel better about it.

Time to write.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Equation

*Follows Gateway and Surface

Falling from an aircraft and experiencing flight the way only a liar can feels nothing like falling from a planet. Or in this case a moon, Samuel reminds himself. The landscape here doesn't vary and the dark skies make it hard to gauge how high up he actually is. His head hurts, an infection-inspired vertigo, and that his eyes constantly readjust from his inclination to stare up at Saturn and down at Iapetus make the very act of focus - visual or mental - almost impossible. But he can't help it. This facade of flying is too addicting.

***

"Jesus fuck," Vasquez mutters as he loses his balance. The impact doesn't hurt much - the gravity here is roughly two or three percent of Earth's - but the complicated act of landing properly makes him feel like an albatross.

"Ah, shit," Estevez screams in frustration as he undertakes the same clumsy action.

Roarke can't help but smile, knowing that Estevez and Vasquez are from the same part of the United States and react similarly to almost every situation. The group - five survivors from an initial squad of 13 - has been walking/flying for about 70 miles. It was determined a short time ago that whatever is jamming their transmissions to the orbiter is not coming from Gateway. Instead, it seems to be coming from the moon. Though Roarke swears she can occasionally see the Capricorn orbiter in the sky - a perception shared by none of the others - she knows that the odds of the crew spotting five lonely spots on the surface of Iapetus are slim to none... and closer to none.

"Sipalia," Roarke calls out over the comm-set, "the men are tired."

Sipalia responds with a grunt. The labored breathing Roarke hears lets her know that Sipalia is well-aware of the team's exhaustion. They've been fighting all day - perhaps more than a day - and though the light gravity allows the team to move quite rapidly, the frustration of not being able to move efficiently is taking its fair toll.

"Oxygen check," Sipalia orders. Though Roarke had led the team for much of the operation, Sipalia re-assumed his proper authority upon leaving the station. They hadn't been accosted by the Things since abandoning McDaniels in the airlock and the thought of sleeping is quite attractive.

Everyone reports in at least 60%. Good news, thinks Sipalia, and he begins mentally to put a sleep schedule together. Then he realizes only three reports came in.

"Nduom?"

Silence.

"Nduom?" Sipalia repeats in that command voice that leaders who prefer subtle approaches hate to use.

***

The zenith of the flight arc provides a wonderful view of the equatorial ridge. It is a strange natural formation that spans nearly the entire waistline of the moon. The skyline screams of being man-made - or intelligently-designed, as it were - but he knows that's impossible. The entire moon would have to be an artifact, were that the case. Thoughts struggle to form pedestrian theories as a pressure suit slams into the ground. The memory of a paratrooper's poeticism from the early 21st century begins to sing in imaginative choir.

"Give us wings... and we'll still fall."

***

"Nduom!" Sipalia's yell fails to snap Nduom out of whatever trance he's in and Sipalia watches as the pressure suit smacks a rock, then rolls over limp. "Estevez." It is a simple order and even without being able to see Sipalia's command expression, Estevez reacts immediately and bounds over to Nduom's unmoving suit.

"Hang on, brother," Estevez radios out, "I'm coming." The anxiety in the medic's voice betrays his knowledge that if, in fact, Nduom needs medical attention, he's not getting any out here.

"Anybody see what happened?" Sipalia asks the others. Some shake their heads, then respond "no" once they remember that the pressure helmet hides any such body language. "Well, that's just fucking great."

"How far do you think we are from the ridge?"

Sipalia turns to Roarke instinctively. Even without being able to discern a woman's voice, he knows that she's the only one who would ask such a pragmatic question in such a dicked-up circumstance. He holds his thumb toward Gateway, estimating their distance traveled, then turns around and compares it to the base of the ridge. "We're over half-way," he answers.

Roarke fails to transmit it, but Sipalia imagines a small sigh of relief. The ridge is their last hope of making contact with the orbiter - or so they think - and the orbiter is their only chance of survival.

***

Samuel can tell his body is being rolled over into a supine position, but he can't tell by whom... or by what. His thoughts continue to enjoy the meanderings of flight, finding an imaginary permanence over a random peak of a random mountain. Iapetus, he muses, is only about one-tenth as beautiful as Earth's own moon. Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a laugh at such an arbitrary and subjective conclusion.

His eyes finally recognize Estevez' face through the half-reflection of a gold-lined faceplate. The medic is talking to him and though the receivers are inches from his ears, Samuel has no idea what is being said. Instead, his thoughts begin to accelerate, concocting mathematical formulas that have no basis in logic.

65 miles to the ridge. Just over 100 klicks. 15 klicks up the designated peak. Just over 9 miles. 189 total integers that don't create a sum but add together anyway. The acceleration of gravity here is .223 meters per second squared and indefinite flight can be achieved with a jump creating just over a half-kilometer per second force. The orbiter should still be tending to Gateway's satellites, which are geo-synchronous, which technically allows a rendezvous with a well-aimed push. 60% oxygen is an ample supply. 40% carbon dioxide might be enough to plant a tree. Landing in a tree should be easier than landing on a rock one can barely see. I just want to fly.

Samuel knows he was scratched by one of the Things. He couldn't figure out if it were a claw or a tail that got him... maybe even a tooth or a fang... but it didn't draw a lot of blood so he had kept his mouth shut. He watches Estevez stand and can tell the medic's posture is dour. The Things are poisonous.

100% fatal.

***

Estevez double-checks the vital read on the suit before he calls Sipalia. "He's dying."

Sipalia is confused, but doesn't harp on it. "From what?" There's nothing out here.

"I don't know."

"Can we carry him?"

"Sure, but without opening the suit there's not a damned thing I can do."

Roarke's radio keys and Sipalia prepares himself to counteract her typical "no man left behind" argument. Instead, she merely offers a suggestion. "Transfer his oxygen to the others."

Each man can hear her tears. The Icy Bitch finally melts under Saturn's rings of ice.

***

Nduom lies still on the moon's landscape. Left with ten per cent oxygen - the others hoping that his wound will kill him before the asphyxiation - his mind once again returns to flight. He briefly considers this to be an out-of-body experience, but discounts the consideration when he fails to see his body. Only stars in one direction and a large, ringed planet in the other. There is no wind, no gale to ride, but the flight is as spectacular as any he's ever taken.

He smiles as another pressure suit approaches. Perhaps one of his friends - probably Roarke - is refusing to let him die alone. It towers above him, though Nduom knows that he is flying above it. How odd that ground and sky can each be touched but out of reach at the same time. There is cheerful laughter as he sees that there are wings on his new companion. An angel to take him home.

200 billion stars means 200 billion chances for life. There is alien life here, of which I am one. One killed me. And one returns me to zero.

It is a horrible mathematical interpretation, but as he is carried away from the surface, he knows that the formula is sound. Breaking free of atmosphere, he spies the peaks that his friends head toward. Somehow, they will survive.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue IX

Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Director: Tim Burton
Writer(s): Linda Woolverton, Lewis Carroll (books)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
-----
It's been a while since Alice has graced the silver screen and it shouldn't be a surprise that it was Tim Burton who decided to return her there. Part remake of the Disney animated film and part sequel, the film is entertaining as both, though there are things lost in translation. Without the source material (Carroll's books) fresh in mind, many of the nuances and homages to the original works will come and go without so much as a blink. Still, the production design and art direction are delights, Johnny Depp is eerily eerie as the Mad Hatter (who, following a recent trend in Wonderland interpretations, is elevated to a primary protagonist), and I can't think of a better director for a live action Alice in Wonderland than Tim Burton. The 3D, while competent, seems mostly unnecessary.
Verdict: SEE it. Just make sure to re-familiarize yourself with the original stories before you do.

The Last Word (1995)
Director: Tony Spiridakis
Writer(s): Tony Spiridakis
Starring: Timothy Hutton, Joe Pantoliano, Michelle Burke
-----
Also known as Cosa Nostra because of a ridiculous subplot involving the Mafia, this film's ridiculousness only starts there. Starring a surprisingly excellent cast (including Tony Goldwyn, as well as Chazz Palmintieri, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cybill Shepherd in scene-stealing cameos - which wasn't hard to do in this film), I had high(er) hopes for this one. But a script rife with ridiculous dialog and a convoluted plot killed any chance of it being good. Overdirected, overacted, and painfully disjointed, there's quite literally nothing to see (or speak of) here.
Verdict: SKIP it.

Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Writer(s): Sylvain Chomet
Starring: Er... nobody, really... just cartoon characters and some singing voices
-----
As a fan of animation in nearly all of its forms, I was remiss in not catching this when it was released. It is truly a wonderful and weird film. I can't think of five French cartoons I've seen, but if they're typically like this, I'll be watching quite a few in the near future. Practically a silent film (many sound effects, some singing, no dialog), the script is absent logic and the style of the animation is low on realism. And what a fantastic combination that makes. I won't explain more, partially because it needs to be seen to be understood and partially because there's actually nothing to explain. Notable for the strangest and most charming chase scene in animation history.
Verdict: SEE it. Its weirdness demands a view.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Japanese voice actors you don't know
-----
One of Miyazaki's (Spirited Away,  Princess Mononoke) earliest theatrical efforts, it's quite a thing to learn that the formula he uses in his storytelling hasn't changed much over the years... and still doesn't seem stale. Though his more recent films are arguably better, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is an excellent film. Based upon Miyazaki's own manga, the transition from page to screen is unnoticeable to a casual observer. Always on the cutting edge of fanstastical conceptual design and full of environmentalist commentary, this one can be enjoyed on several levels.
Verdict: SEE it. Miyazaki films are practically always must-sees.

Robin Hood (2010)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Brian Helgeland, Ethan Reiff (story), Cyrus Voris (story)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong
-----
As wth Alice in Wonderland, it's been a while since we've had a film version of Robin Hood. Ridley Scott, following in his own footsteps, decided to present us with a historical look at Robin Hood, much like Hollywood tried with King Arthur a few years ago. The result is a good movie (one rife with historical inaccuracies) that is decidedly not a Robin Hood movie. While Russell Crowe pulls off the outlaw better than most expected (or give him credit for), the fact that the legendary Robin Hood that everyone knows and loves is almost completely absent from the story will undoubtedly hurt it. That stated, it's an interesting interpretation. Perhaps viewing this as a continuation of Scott's Kingdom of Heaven will allow you to appreciate it more than you will appreciate it as a Robin Hood film.
Verdict: SEE it. A different enough take on the Robin Hood mythos to warrant a view.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Irrewind, 20100605: Music

It's a bit strange that I don't write about music more often than I do. I hate to claim it, but I do happen to be a trained musician (piano and trumpet, believe it or not)... that I am not very good at either is beside the point. Strangely, I even took a psychological test that purportedly matches people to their ideal occupations and wound up with "music composer."

Anyway, I do happen to be writing a new piece concerning music, but as I've been technically "writing it" for months now, I have no idea when (or where) it will show up. But, I wanted to go back and revisit previous musical rants just for fun. Obviously, some are temporal and no longer have any real relevance (then again, little you'll find here does), others have been obviated by corporate mergers (XM and Sirius, anyone?), and one is even a poem that's probably enjoying it's umptieth time being reposted here. Whatever. Read if you like, don't if you don't.

"My Two Cents on American Idol"
However, thanks to an overzealous girlfriend, an equally overzealous sister, and an accidental run-in with Bucky and Paris, I've been forced to watch this year's competition... and, unfortunately, have become a bit addicted (not 24 or Lost addicted, but close enough). And so, I've decided to jot down what I think of a few of the contestants... Read More

"One-Hit Wonders, the Wave of the Future"
Before everyone starts jumping on me, I'm not claiming that all music is garbage... just a lot of it. A higher proportion of it than there used to be. Yes, we still have our superstars knocking out decent to great hits, we still have our "rookies of the year" blowing us away with startling debuts, and we still have our underground... Read More

"XM Radio: Saving Music One Genre at a Time"
It's true that regular FM stations tend to not play the best of tunes anymore. Top 40 all seems like crap, alt rock is becoming way too emo, and even emo is becoming way too emo. Heavy metal is in a sad state of affairs, with most of the new bands just trying to pretend that they're devil worshippers so the freaks come to their local Wal-Mart... Read More

"Musicians You Should Be Listening To, but Probably Aren't"
Oh, yes, believe it or not, there is great music that isn't permeating your Top 40 stations. In fact (well, in opinion), there is music far better than what you hear on your Top 40 stations. Top 40, as we all know, but may not admit, is full of crap that is so heavily market-oriented, pretty much everyone without an individual thought in their mind... Read More

"Piano"
a ballet of fingertips on floors of ebony and ivory
a canvas of eighty-eight colors
art and life confused by their own reflections... Read More

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Slow Crawl to a Cliff's Edge

If ever there was needed a reminder of how brutal life is, none is needed now. Blood in the sands, falling from the skies, obscuring the seas. That there is a wound is obvious. Where it is... less so. There's a ridge just up ahead; perhaps the view from it will reveal all. Wise men are found on mountains, yes? Perhaps there is wisdom to found.

There's blood under fingernails, and legs can't be felt, but survival requires movement and becoming a feast for carrion is not yet a given. There are wings circling overhead. Manmade? Or feathered? One could be rescue. Both could be death.

Streets in the desert don't care what they're called, for they're still desert. The mountains ahead have a name, surely, but they don't seem to mind their own namelessness. They are and will be for some time; it is a crawling man who is in danger of fading. But nature designed him resilient, and feral thought will not allow surrender. Even if conscience does.

An inch at a time eventually becomes miles, and distance is ultimately crossed. Knowing how far would be desirable and, likely, responsible. But greed felt in lungs struggling to breathe spreads to hands grasping at purchases to pull them along in a desire to be defined by living.

This is not a summit's peak, but a cliff's edge, and the difference is unimportant. Get up. If you're going to fall, do it here, do it now. There's still air beneath you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Flag Waving

*Sober warning: What you're about to read is, indeed, drunk rambling (I went through a phase a little while ago... sue me) and makes little sense, even to me. That stated, I left what was originally written (while editing typos and misspellings, of course) because it's kinda funny. Politics and religion should be avoided at all costs, right? And especially so when drinking.

By now most of you have heard about the ridiculous thing that happened at a California high school this past Cinco de Mayo. But, if you haven't, here's the gist: some teenagers got sent home for sporting clothing with the American flag on a day in which the student body was encouraged to sport clothing with the Mexican flag.

Yes, it was a ridiculous action for the Vice Principal of the school to take, but like all things controversial, there are two sides to every story. Please keep in mind that I'm drunk as I write this, don't really care what happened, and am merely musing on the topic. There will be jumps in logic here (as is standard for alcohol-influenced writing), but hopefully you can follow where I'm going with this.

1) Sending the kids home was stupid. Ridiculously so (yes, I realize I've already stated this). This does happen to be the United States of America and nobody, EVER, should be "punished" for displaying the flag (punished is in quotes because I don't particularly view being sent home from school as a punishment).
2) Encouraging American students (regardless of ethnicity) to wear foreign flags in celebration of a holiday that isn't actually a real holiday is pretty stupid in and of itself.

Okay, that's out of the way, and you can probably infer the problem I have with what happened. HOWEVER, it is important to discern why those students who wore the American flag did so. Again, nobody should ever be punished for doing so, but that doesn't mean we can't mock them. So... if these kids who were sent home happened to wear the American flag often, then there really was no reason to send them home. But... if these kids who were sent home happened to only wear the flag on Cinco de Mayo, then, well, there are questions that need to be asked. If the latter is the case (which I believe it to be), then they were clearly being defiant amid a celebration that they felt like being racist about. But, again, nobody should ever be punished for waving the American flag in the United States... ever.

I'm rambling. And I'm afraid my point will get lost amid the fog of Merlot. But I'll try anyway... Hell, this might be good for a laugh when I sober up.

And now I'm soliloquizing. I'm gonna have to do this point by point.

Despite everything I've already stated, there is no reason to deny a people the celebration of their heritage. None. Pride comes in strange forms, and while George Carlin had a point when he said that (and I'm paraphrasing) "there's no reason to be proud of what you were born into," people have a right to honor what they're proud of however they want to.

*Sober interjection: Okay, so the above sort of has some logic to it... loose, but understandable. What follows makes NO sense.

So where am I going with this? Flags, that's where. The problem with the Mexican flag is that it's the flag of Mexico. The nation. Not the people. And the problem with that is that we identify our ethnicities with the flags of our governments. And that IS the problem. I happen to be half-Japanese, but you'll be damned to ever see me waving a Japanese flag in the United States (and, by contrast, I wouldn't sport an American flag in Japan, either... unless I'm in uniform, of course).

So I propose that everyone create a flag for their ethnicity. Create a Mexican flag that is devoid of symbolism for Mexico. Do the same for America. Kazakhstan. Armenia. Germany. Where-the-fuck-ever. Fly that flag with pride. But if you're going to live in a sovereign nation, have some respect for that nation and realize that you are a citizen there.

I'm sure I haven't made any sense. But I'm gonna laugh about this when I read it again.

*Sober conclusion: Even I can't really determine what the last part is supposed to accomplish. Something about flags replacing flags in order to have flags that aren't real flags to prevent flag-tricide. Yeah... that's about as much sense as I can make of it. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time of inebriation. Perhaps I'll read this at an AA meeting in a dozen years or so.