Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Minds Ajar

The closed door
believes it to be open
as it pretends to clean its window
it doesn't look out anyway
open only for what's already in the room

But, oh, its designs come
from places yours do not
and therefore they must be true
a religion of opposition
worshiping the false facade in the mirror

Anything can live in an apartment
of its own creation
but unlike the closed door
the open door knows
being shut is the easy way out

The closed door
believes it to be open
as it checks frozen locks and rusted hinges
screaming futility
as others happily shift in the wind outside

Hide behind itself
and blame those with minds ajar
though it smiles at its own decorations
it offers no solutions
and nothing notices, or cares, when it slams to the floor

Monday, August 30, 2010

People Change

I crack myself up. In doing the "Irrewinds" here, I force myself to peruse old writings in order to come up with hopefully interesting things to revisit. Though far from a journal or a diary, the tone of the pieces and the subject matter I tended to address at given points in time serve as powerful reminders of what was going on in my own life at the time of their writing. Looking back on some of them, I'm embarrassed by quite a few. Humbled by others. But, they all make me laugh. More than once I've sat back and asked myself, "What the fuck was I thinking?" On a few occasions, I actually don't recall the answer.

If my own pointless musings are anything to judge by, I don't think I can ever say "people don't change" again and actually mean it. Sure, absent something extraordinary, people remain largely consistent, but there are always changes. Some tiny, minuscule, seemingly insignificant. Others noticeable, grand, seemingly profound. It's kinda cool, really. I can point to things I wrote about geopolitical issues just a couple of years ago - melodramatic and clearly passionate in their telling - that I don't believe now (whether from a change in mood or the acquisition of new information is beside the point). Such an observable phenomena might even make it hard for me to criticize wishy-washy politicians in the future (nah... probably not...).

Even within the creative writing found here I can see changes - again, some subtle, others drastic. There is a definite sense of hesitation in some of the older works - likely from a fear of writing honest characters - which all but disappears after my "ah ha!" moment in which writing sex (real sex, mind you... not superficial humpy sex or sex for shock value) ceased to be taboo. And it's fun to notice shifts in everything from preferred genres, to emotions, to words used a little too often during certain spurts of so-called creativity. I'm not claiming there's been a consistent level of improvement in anything... just that there's a consistent level of change.

Anyway, people change. To say otherwise is being disingenuous. Or, perhaps, being too old. But you all probably know this already.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And They Dance...

"I need to get the fuck out of here." He's a wanderer by nature. A wistful heart who knows the world passes everyone by without so much as a by your leave.

"Where you gonna go?" His roommate doesn't really care, but sympathy behind a cigarette is easy enough to offer.

"Don't give a shit. Anywhere." Smoke and ash dissipate beneath a ceiling fan as if showing the way.

***

"I just need to go somewhere." She's a wanderer by design. A wondering heart who knows the world is out there to be seen.

"Aw, honey. I understand, but I wish you wouldn't." Her mother often claims to want her daughter to leave the roost, but the two very much resemble inseparable friends. It's going to break her heart.

"I have to." The crack is almost audible.

***

It is at different times they stand on the same cliff, taking in the wondrous natural beauty of waterfall and canopied jungle below. Thoughts of jumping off may initially alarm, but they are thoughts accompanied by impressions of rope and carabiner. Exhilaration is a necessity, for neither feels alive without it.

It is at different times they swim in the same waters of the same beach, cautious of the invisible barrage from the sun and the currents that could sweep them away. Reckless abandon, for them, is anything but reckless. Few are as aware as either of their easily forgotten roles in the world. There is no reason to conform to anything that, at its core, is little more than chaos. And it is both how and why they understand.

***

"Where are you from?" the Dominican asks. She's beautiful and her English is quite natural in tone. Hell, she's probably from Miami.

He answers with a flippant gesture of hands, the implication of everywhere and nowhere at all.

"What does that mean?"

"Whatever it needs to."

Though the response intrigues her, she can tell he's already bored.

***

"Where are you from?" the Frenchman asks. He's traditionally handsome and picturesque. But she can tell he's looking for a one-nighter.

She answers with not only the city of her origin, but of the suburb. Home, for her, is very specific.

"I used to travel there a bit," he lies, quite obviously.

She asks him a question anyone who's ever seen her hometown would know the answer to. She can't help but laugh when he pretends he's late for an engagement and walks off in embarrassment.

***

He loves an ill-advised adventure down alleys locals warn not to take. Far from suicidal, there is something about this dance that makes the world worth surviving for. To appreciate beauty, one must know ugly. And the knife-wielding thugs are rightfully ugly. Should he come out on top, there will be no guilt in adding to their ugliness.

When it's over his palm is sliced open, though he retains full range of motion with his hand and fingers. A good sign. Neither of the thugs are seriously injured. The one running away tends a fracture mid-forearm while the other stares in disbelief at the sight of his own blade sticking out from his thigh.

Being lost in chaos tastes as good as he remembers.

***

She adores letting it all go in the middle of a dance floor. Self-consciousness dissipates amid the tempo of music and the twirl of hair under black light. Controlled motion depicting out-of-control emotion bridges the gap between being there and knowing where she needs to be. A beautiful stillness is to be had in beautiful movement.

When the music stops she finally notices the eyes of men temporarily in love with her form. It is a motivation she doesn't need, but fully appreciates. Her heartbeat slows down as she gathers her belongings and disappears into the night. It's almost time to return home.

Finding meaning in chaos is as calming as it's ever been.

***

It is in different places they realize they're together, with friends they'll never meet sifting their own ways through the detritus of loneliness. The world, solitary as it is, never stops. And neither will they.

So they dance.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Creative Conspiracy Conspiracy

Most conspiracy theorists crack me up. Not because they believe in a conspiracy (there are actually a few conspiracies that I subscribe to), but because they typically claim they're so "open-minded" and "informed" that they discount blunt evidence if it's widely reported and/or supported by government sources. Of course, this is to be expected, since government is usually the culprit in grand conspiracy theories.

I often work in the art industries. Believe me, those industries are inundated with conspiracy theorists. In my experience, conspiracy theorists tend to not only be (at least) fairly-well-educated people, they tend to be creatives. It may seem obvious (and should be) that creative types often push conspiracies in the absence of 100% transparency concerning a given topic. After all, filling in the blanks, be it in a piece of art, music, or writing, is their job. And, just as fanboys touting their favorite stories refuse to accept obvious plot holes pointed out by critics and create "fan-wank" to explain such plot holes, creative conspiracy theorists do the same with their favorite conspiracies.

This is not to say that they're wrong. They could very well be right, but the simple fact that they provide "proof" that is anything but is cause enough for skepticism (ironic, then, that many conspiracy theorists label themselves as skeptical). They persecute the so-called mainstream because they believe the mainstream to be a tool with which conspirators brainwash the masses (in this, they certainly have a point... but, again, that doesn't mean they're right). As a result, they're persecuted in return by the mainstream. And, in serious jumps of logic, instead of indisputably pointing out such persecution as simple reaction from their own finger-pointing, conspiracy theorists use it as further "proof" that they are, in fact, correct. Which, any reasonable mind will admit, is disputable.

Where I defend conspiracy theorists is in the accusation that they're somehow "anti-American" or otherwise unpatriotic. I would actually posit that most conspiracy theorists are as patriotic as people get. Misguided, in a sense, but many of these conspiracies originate from the perspective that "this is America, and shit like that can't happen here." That this perspective can be a gross underestimation of our political and religious enemies is beside the point. For this belief to prosper among conspiracy theorists, most of them have to believe that America is the greatest country on the planet and nearly immune to external influence. Sure, there are even more plot holes involved with such an explanation, but since they ignore those themselves (not being conducive to their theories and all), there's really no need to go into further detail. It sort of explains itself, doesn't it?

All that stated, who really knows? Perhaps they're right. Perhaps there's a conspiracy to create conspiracy theories (don't laugh, I heard that one from a member of the John Birch Society). Perhaps creatives are just trying to fill in obvious blanks the only way they know how... by being creative. Perhaps they're wrong. One thing's for sure, you'll rarely (if ever) see a conspiracy theorist admit any of the latter three. And that's why their rhetoric fails.

Sure makes for good movies, though.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunset Girl

The setting sun. Bold in its heaven-stroked colors. Welcome in its fading warmth. Much has been written of sunset, but few have heard it sing. That it remains so powerful a muse to humanity is laughable. Saga doesn't know why she finds it funny. She just does.

She laments the Akaishi Mountains, for Saga very much wants to see the sunset's reflection in the Sea of Japan, but she's been ordered to Izu for pickup. Maybe tomorrow she can catch the beginning of the sunrise over the Pacific, but the colors aren't the same. Given her situation, she'll take what she can get.

The middle-aged taxi driver asks her, in Japanese, if she would like to stop for dinner. She shakes her head and turns her attention to her package. She's not seen her American passport in years. The surprise she experienced upon finding it at the drop-off has hung around, and she relishes in its residue. Saga's not been surprised in a long time. Things have been so... menial.

America has long been a no-go area for her organization, and the fact she's being sent there means that something is wrong. She smiles, careful to keep her lips together. She's caught the taxi driver stealing glances at her - whether from attraction or curiosity is of no importance - and, though the thought has crossed her mind, she's no real desire to reveal her true identity. Any discrepancy or, Heaven forbid, interference from law enforcement might make her as-of-yet unknown mission more difficult. And Saga will be damned should Home Office decide to send someone else - someone less reckless - in her place.

The taxi driver asks politely if he may stop to pick up a snack and she nods. It is an unusual request from a taxi driver, particularly in this country, but then again, so is asking for a cab ride from Nomi - her chosen hideaway - to Shimoda. It hadn't occurred to her to request a closer pickup location. Subconsciously, and even if she had, she knew the answer would've been no. Home Office has a reason for everything. Vague though they tend to be, she trusts that she'll soon know why she's going to Shimoda.

Looking at the driver paying for a sea food box and a coffee, she catches her own reflection in the taxi window. There's nothing striking about Saga, save for her extremely pale skin. Many of her friends have asked why she chose Japan to hide in, since her appearance makes her stand out quite dramatically, but she finds that the local populace respects those who wish to keep to themselves. It's rare she notices anyone staring at her. And usually the stares come from tourists. Besides, Japanese was one of the first languages she learned, and there's something about Samurai movies that turns her on. Precision in movement and gratuitous blood. Why wouldn't she choose Japan?

***

The taxi pulls away. The driver no doubt ecstatic - in that subdued Japanese way - at the overly generous tip. Saga even gave him extra money for the fuel required of the return trip to Nomi. They hadn't talked much, but she appreciated his patience and professionalism, and she always makes it a point to reward such admirable characteristics.

"You're late," a voice says. In Romanian.

"By Japanese standards," Saga replies, in Japanese. "Not by anyone else's. What am I doing here?"

"The director," the voice switches to English, "requested your unit. We haven't located all of you yet. Any hints?"

"Legacy is in Australia..."

"We found him."

"I think Wolfe is in Ecuador. Hawke was heading to the Ukraine, last I knew. Haven't heard from any of the others. Are we being reformed?"

"Hawke's not in the Ukraine. Not as far as we can tell, at least. Wolfe was killed two years ago." The voice pauses, letting that sink in. Saga, to her credit, shows no emotional reaction. Wolfe must have really pissed her off. "And, no. Not officially."

"What am I doing here, Archangel?"

The man finally steps out of the shadows. He is even more pale than Saga, but his appearance is striking. Well over six feet tall, his is an imposing presence. Dressed in expensive suit, his strong jawline and angular features scream of Hollywood megastar. Out of the shadows, two more men dressed like him carry another, this one bound and gagged.

"We're being hunted," Archangel answers, equally as emotionless as Saga's responses have been.

Saga gestures tiredly towards the prisoner. "By him?"

"And others like him. Have you eaten?"

Saga shakes her head no and slowly allows a smile. This time, lips apart, the extended and sharpened canines of vampire unmistakable.

"We had his partner for breakfast. This one's all yours."

She glides up to the prisoner, smelling him. Definitely an American. And one who eats a lot of red meat and cheese, she gathers. He'll be tasty.

"Has he been interrogated?"

Archangel smiles. "Not yet." He's going to love watching her work. And eat.

***

The interrogation is terrifying. Saga punctures the man's carotid artery, though she does not draw her meal from there. The purpose is only to make the man lightheaded and less resistant to questioning. Instead, she feeds from his femoral. The blood is as rich, and it affords her the use of fellatio as a method of finding out what she wants to know. Create confusion, and the mind struggles to find clarity. Often by whatever means necessary.

***

Wiping her mouth clean, she makes eye contact with Archangel. Though most of the now-dead man's responses offered no new information, his dying words are cause for alarm.

"We know the Storyteller lied. We know he lied."

The fact that the man knew the name "Storyteller" changes everything. And both Archangel and Saga know it.

***

*Continued in The Man With Wings

Monday, August 23, 2010

DreamScape III: Making Waves

I wasn't sure I should (or could) record this particular dream since so much of it is missing from my memory (actually, the possibility - and probability - remains that what follows were two dreams). I had it around Thanksgiving of last year... I guess this means I should've properly recorded it then. But, such an incomplete dream gives me the opportunity to see how well I can fill in the blanks.

Actual dream portions are in italics.

***

I'm supposedly driving Interstate 80, but that route is East-West and I think I'm driving North-South. I don't know if I'm moving my home or not, but I probably am. I hate planting roots, after all. There's an old man driving a large pickup truck in front of me. It's so large there are four miniature horses in the back of it. Sure, they might be ponies, but they seem like miniature horses. Why the old man doesn't have a proper horse trailer is beyond me.

I follow him to a ferry point on a river. The ferry point is next to somebody's house. It's a huge house on a huge lot. It's so huge there's another house on it. And a restaurant. I guess I'm hungry, because I go inside to eat. Or maybe just for coffee. I can never tell when I'm really hungry, these days. I don't know anybody here, but everyone I see friend requests me on some social-networking site. Could be MySpace, could be Facebook, could be the next big thing nobody's heard of yet. Where this laptop came from, I have no idea. One of the friend requests is from some weird-looking mechanic. Toothless? Goofy glasses? Oil-stained hat? Maybe, but I can't really tell what he looks like. People are giving me their passwords to their online accounts. Do I look trustworthy? I've heard not, but whatever. One guy rescinds his friend request. Apparently, I was an accident. But this mechanic guy... he really wants to be my friend.

It's kinda creeping me out.

The river's flooding so I have an excuse to leave. I notice one of the houses is actually built over the river. Like a home that's also a bridge. It's nicely landscaped, too. Plenty of trees here. There's no chance ferrying across now, and the current is too fast to ford. Not that my piece of shit truck could make it anyway. Guess I'll catch a ride on that massive freighter. Don't ask how a ship that large can fit in this river... I have no clue.

The river fades into the ocean and we're in the middle of a storm. It might be a hurricane, but I'm not the most nautically inclined and wouldn't know the difference this far out. Big waves are nailing the hull and, frighteningly, there's a serious risk of capsizing. I don't know where the crew has gone, but I'm the only one on the bridge. I can't do anything but grab the wheel and hope I'm steering the ship towards land. I really start freaking out when the ship starts to shrink, becoming a tugboat. The waves flip the boat upside down.

I'm insanely happy that it's landed in the middle of an intersection. Am I in Boston? I swear the cobblestone marker of the Boston Massacre is nearby, but I can't see it. I remove the key from the boat's ignition (yes, it has a keyed ignition) and hand it to some overweight woman standing outside of her car. She seems happy... I guess she always wanted a boat.

I walk off and the cityscape fades into an Army base. There are explosions from weapons testing and some man yells at me for being late.

I could tell him about my day, but I'm not sure he'll believe me.

***

Okay, dream analysts... do your thing!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Irrewind, 20100821: Part Ones

So you've probably noticed that I start a lot of stories here without ever finishing them. A few get "sequel" chapters, but just as many are left by the wayside. This is for several reasons, one of which might be that the story sucks. Regardless of quality, as this is a public place to read (and share) stuff, I limit myself to posting three or four installments of any given story (excluding the River of Mnemosyne Challenge at The Tenth Daughter of Memory, of course). My mindset is such that, were to I continue a story beyond that many, then I might as well write it for submission somewhere.

Anyway, here are some "Part Ones" if you're interested:

"Gateway"
The smell of cedar is out of place. Israel is not to the south and there are no trees. He doesn't know what death smells like - perhaps it does smell like wood - but he is resolutely certain that fear should smell like something else. The nitrocellulose in the air does little to staunch the odor. Cedar among blood. It's an interesting scent and its... Read More

"A Dragon in Winter"
A day that was ending unusually had begun unusually, in retrospect. Áfastr had never been hunting with a woman, but for some reason - probably the knee-shaking nervousness that comes with courting someone for the first time - he invited Kolfrosta with him. The intention was to hunt for food, as his family's meat stores were getting low, but... Read More

"Exodus Lost"
Talbot pauses to stare at the stained glass image of the Madonna over the oak doors. He's seen the image - similar ones, at least - many, many times, but for some reason this one appears to be brighter in color than they usually are. The crowns on Jesus and Mary's heads shimmer bright gold, an oddity given that the sun outside is well into... Read More

"Apollyta and Arteseus, Part I"
They are our great heroes. Perseus, Bellerophon, Heracles, Jason, Theseus, Achilles, and Odysseus. Men who were also gods, born of the great curse of divine intervention. Or men who should have been. Their tales only survive for us to tell because of survivors. But theirs are not the greatest feats of heroism. None saved the entire world... Read More

"The Scheherazadi, Part I"
Forgive me. You probably have no idea what's going on. Earth is a desert wasteland in my time and there aren't very many people left. A few dozen-million, if that. Yeah, the polar icecaps melted - well, one of them - but not for reasons you're thinking. Some assholes started a nuclear shootout. With all the interceptor defense systems, most... Read More

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Décolletage

The impression's been made, even from at this distance. She's beautiful. Already, with eyes closed, the tone and accent of her voice match with the impression. Even from at this distance.

A sleeveless cowl-necked top exposes shoulders slouched just a little, sadness revealed on the horizon of her torso. Sun-embraced skin glistens as a foreign easterly attempts to reassure her with cooled ocean air and a whisper of encouragement. She does not look in his direction, instead shifting away. He enjoys the brief image of windswept strands of brunette semaphore.

Loneliness has settled within her, but the desire to be held did not relent, escaping from her imagination in the form of surreptitious tears. Salt-water slides below sunglassed eyes, emphasizing the lines of a turned neck screaming to be tasted. She continues to avoid him, instead gazing to the ground beneath her own feet. An upturn in the wind creates a silhouette of winged coiffure.

Fears of rejection nearly overwhelm her, threatening to dim such a luminescent smile. The sea breeze pauses and wings gently fold into a cleft so lasciviously captivating, sensation reminding that the world is a wonder to behold with head held high.  She makes eye contact, but for an instant, and sees the desire in a stranger's eyes. Her own hand caresses her breast, sweeping her hair behind her, a moment reminiscent of angel bearing tressed halo.

In spite of the agony her in visage, the anguish in her heart, there is a part of her always smiling. As smooth and reflective as the beauty who wears it. She knows she's beautiful. And the confidence affords her the grace to walk on by.

Décolletage...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Screwed-Up Movies: Irréversible

Irréversible (2002)
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer(s): Gaspar Noé
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel
-----
First and foremost - and despite its subject matter - Irréversible is a beautiful, beautiful film. It has to be, of course, in order for its disturbing premise to actually work. In ultimately disguising one of the most wretched of human actions in a beautiful film, French director Gaspar Noé tricks us, again and again, in order to get his point across. The fact that he infuses his film with a certain sensuality and beauty makes it all the more disturbing.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let's make it clear: the centerpiece of Irréversible is a rape scene. And one unlike any other rape scene ever depicted in motion picture history. The camera does not move. The rape lasts for several minutes and never cuts away. The audience is forced to watch it as if a fly glued to a wall. It is harrowing, depressing, and disturbing. There is even a moment when a passerby walks in, sees the rape, and walks away in attempt to "not get involved." Humanity at its worst. And presented in full-color 16mm. That the scene is not so unbelievable can make one want to jump off a bridge.

But Noé tricks us. Again and again.

Irréversible begins with the rape victim's (Alex) husband and good friend exacting revenge on the man whom they believe conducted the rape. It is a chaotically shot scene, refusing to let the audience focus on anything save for snippets of sodomy and hedonism. The tone is set. And there is no question the audience is in for a bumpy ride. The audience will not learn that Alex's husband (Marcus) and friend (Pierre) killed the wrong man until the rape scene. It is a revelation that no one wants to acknowledge. Humanity at its worst, yet again.

Roger Ebert famously stated that Irréversible is "a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable." And this is true. But Noé tricks us. Repeatedly. For the film ends beautifully, with an examination of two lovers believing that a child is on the way. As a capsule, it is a touching ending... as the ending to Irréversible, it only makes what we've seen seem worse. But we can't help but admire the beauty. In this manner, Noé reveals a bit of glee in pointing out how disgusting we can be.

There is a scene in which we see Monica Bellucci, sensually dressed, moving through a party. Her nipples are evident, and her body's curves overwhelm any possibility of subtlety in her dress. In any other film, the men in the audience would be aroused beyond belief. But, Irréversible is presented in reverse chronological order, and we experience this otherwise delicious scene after we've seen Alex raped... and the effect is horrifying.

Bellucci is known for accepting roles that push the boundaries of acceptability. The role of Alex is no different. The irony is that, because it's so brutal and honest a film, it's unacceptable. And, perhaps, unwatchable.

But it is beautiful. Because Noé tricked us. And we all hate to admit it.

Don't say you weren't warned.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Machete; My Cleaver

*a continuation of No Meat; No Creamer

"You want me to do what?" He scarcely believes his ears. No, he doesn't believe them at all. Merlot's lost her damned mind.

"Cut his head off." Her expression is blank. That it is underneath her dark red wig and behind overpriced Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses only adds to the effect.

Coffee doesn't speak Arabic, but he can only assume that the sudden sounds from the bound and gagged man tied at their feet are muffled pleas for mercy. "I..." Coffee doesn't know what to say. Or to do. "I've never killed anyone before."

He can't see it, but he knows Merlot just winked at him. "Baby steps, Coffee."

"Baby steps?" Coffee screams, clumsily brandishing the machete Merlot handed him a few minutes earlier. "You want me to cut his fucking head off!"

***

"Keep moving, Coffee," Merlot ordered, "And quit looking at the buildings. You're making us stick out."

He was used to observing his surroundings discreetly for cops - and even government agents, a bit - but an assassin presented a new challenge entirely. "What about snipers?" he whispered to Merlot.

She put her arm around his and gently nudged his cheek with her nose. "Snipers would have to know where we're going."

Damn, she smelled good. "Where are we going?" He almost didn't ask the question as he briefly wondered what her nose felt like just above his...

"I have no idea," she said through a smile. Her arm slid away and she grabbed his hand. "So how would they?"

Damn, she smelled good.

***

Grayson studies the imagery from the kidnapping. The local police aren't touching this one - the kidnapped man is a known terrorist - and that's a bit of a relief for Grayson. Less interference that way. Tying these loose ends has already taken too much time and the last thing he wants is more bureaucratic red tape.

The problem here is that the kidnapped man is also a known asset. Everyone's been too polite to ask - so far - but it's only a matter of time before Grayson's going to have to answer some questions.

For the briefest of moments, he considers sending out more muscle, but he knows such an action would be career suicide. Not to mention it would probably expose him. Though he excels at fudging numbers, he's aware that he's fast approaching the limit of feasible deniability. He's already spent too much of his operational budget on his pet project. His personal project, he reminds himself.

No, this should be over soon. Keep confident. He did bring in the best, after all.

***

She lied. She knew exactly where they were going. Coffee should've run when she pulled a .40 caliber pistol out of her waistline and handed it to him, but he spent too much time trying to figure out how she hid a gun there without interrupting her curves. He definitely should've run when she pulled another one out of her purse. There is no question he should've already been running when she yanked the 9mm hold-out from her boot.

She thought about it for a moment, then took the .40 back from Coffee and handed him the 9mm.

"What? Why do I get the small one?"

Ever concerned with their cover, she leaned into him, kissing him just on the side of his lips. "Grow up."

They stood in front of apartment 712. Merlot embraced Coffee fully, taking his mouth with hers and pressing his body against the door. He couldn't help it... she turns him on. To her credit, she barely acknowledged the erection and pressed against him more firmly.

Coffee didn't know it at the time, but she was testing the strength of the door. He figured it out after she threw him into it. He watched from the ground, lying on top of the broken door, as she apprehended the Arab. Bitch was fast. And smelled so good.

***

"Baby steps," she almost purrs. "Take a finger first."

"Oh," Coffee responds, bobbing his head quickly up and down as if in the act of losing his mind, "that makes it much better."

The bound and gagged man, Nassir, slowly realizes that the man standing above him is no killer. The woman, however...

Merlot takes the machete from Coffee and before Coffee can stop her, she chops two fingers off of Nassir's left hand. Well, two and half.

"What the fuck'd you do that for?" Coffee screams.

"Asshole. If you hadn't grabbed me, I'd have only taken one finger."

Coffee freezes. The look on his face is priceless. It makes him innocently cute. To those with maternal instincts, anyway. Merlot doesn't have many maternal instincts.

Nassir does his best not to scream in pain, but finds it impossible not to wince and cringe. He can't see the wound but knows parts of him are missing. Still, Nassir begins to doubt that either one of his kidnappers can bring themselves to cut off his head.

Just as Merlot planned. Fact is, she can't bring herself to behead Nassir. Or anyone, for that matter. But she had to prove that she's more than willing to dismember.

Nassir begins his canary song before Merlot can even finish pulling his trousers off.

*Continued in Matches? Check. Charcoal? Check.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue XIII

Brooklyn's Finest (2010)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer(s): Michael C. Martin
Starring: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke
-----
Fans have been waiting a long time for Antoine Fuqua to do a follow-up to Training Day. Though he's directed a bunch of "just okay" films since (including King Arthur and Shooter), the lack of anything truly awesome has had people clamoring for a return to the cop drama. Well, that clamoring has been answered, and the result is... just okay. Brookyln's Finest follows three separate stories, connected only by their physical proximity and a loose gathering of characters in the film's climax. Granted, each of the characters' individual stories are interesting, but the extra-slow pacing of the film (a side-effect of telling three separate stories, no doubt) only increases the anticipation of an all-out action-packed finale... which we're not given. Not a bad movie, but my standards are high enough to refuse to settle for "just okay."
Verdict: Fans of cop drama, SEE it. Everyone else (including those expecting a "normal" Antoine Fuqua film), SKIP it.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer(s): James Gunn, George A. Romero (1978 screenplay)
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer
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Though I originally saw this film in theaters, given that I reviewed another Romero remake (The Crazies) in the previous issue of Irreviews, I figured I'd hit this one up, as well.
-----
Thanks to the subtly brilliant 28 Days Later, zombies in pop culture are now really, really fast. Like, sprinters. And in this remake of master-of-the-slow-and-plodding-zombie George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead, director Zack Snyder sticks with the new establishment and gives us... sprinters. I hate sprinter zombies. They're far more terrifying than slow-and-plodding zombies. While ditching most of the social commentary found in Romero's original film, the protagonists are once-again trapped in a mall (a leftover from that commentary). Replacing thoughtfulness with clever disturbances (zombie baby, anyone?), the result is an entirely different Dawn of the Dead that is still a wonderful tribute to the original.
Verdict: SEE it.

Goldfinger (1964)
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writer(s): Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn, Ian Fleming (novel)
Starring: Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe
-----
A decent entry in the Bond franchise, I'm willing to bet its phenomenal theme song is more responsible for its popularity than the film itself is. Still, we do get a great villain (the titular Goldfinger) and one of the most quotable dialog exchanges ever ("Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."). There's also the small matter of the first appearance of Bond's Aston Martin - a DB5 in this film - and arguably the most outrageous name for a Bond girl (Pussy Galore), but outside of those memorable details, Goldfinger is really just a run-of-the-mill Bond movie.
Verdict: SEE it. I should probably just start writing "BOND it" for these.

Salt (2010)
Director: Phillip Noyce
Writer(s): Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
-----
A CIA agent is fingered as a Russian plant. That CIA agent goes on the run... but for what? To prove her innocence? Or to play into the Russian plot to destroy the United States? Even she doesn't seem to know. That pretty much sums up the conundrum that is the plot of Salt. Sounds a bit silly, sure, but... the film rocks. In the end, this is a spy thriller that truly is more about its character than it is about its story. There are moments that you almost want to stand up and cheer (a scene in which she goes nuts on a terrorist-occupied ship is particularly awesome). Love her or hate her, Angelina Jolie has a hit film franchise on her hands if she wants one.
Verdict: SEE it.

Thunderball (1965)
Director: Terence Young
Writer(s): Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Jack Whittingham (original screenplay), Kevin McClory (story), Ian Fleming (story)
Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi
-----
While From Russia With Love established the lion's share of the Bond formula, it is Thunderball that first took that formula to its spectacular heights. Everything is, quite simply, bigger and better here. Domino (Claudine Auger) remains one of the best Bond girls to date, and the underwater sequences are beyond awesome (establishing a precedent for many movies, including Jaws, to follow). The second great Bond film, it even fostered a remake in the 80s (Never Say Never Again).
Verdict: BOND it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Intensity, Part II

*Continued from Intensity, Part I

The sounds of grappling and tired breathing seem louder than they are. Her awareness is heightened beyond imaginable limits as she runs - barefoot - away from the scene. Strangely, the gunshot is quiet, perhaps from a silencer, or perhaps from a need to pretend it wasn't a gunshot. She doesn't turn around to see. She simply runs.

***

It is a strange and unnatural feeling to fall from the sky, and she had no idea how she let him talk her into experiencing it. Well, she had some idea. It was probably that temporary vulnerability his eyes revealed - a false vulnerability - when they shifted from intense to begging. She knew that he knew all he had to do was get her on the plane. Once she was hooked tandem to the skydiving instructor - a friend of his - there was no turning back. He wouldn't allow it. The prick.

Her eyes were closed at first, but wind-pummeled curiosity soon fostered a peek. The overwhelming perception of the Earth from so high opened her eyes further, and she couldn't help but stare at the ground. She knew he was off laughing somewhere, but the rush of air prevented her from hearing it. Only his smile growing larger as he closed the distance between his own free fall and hers provided evidence of his twisted, but awe-inspiring, joke.

Afterward, she had trouble describing what kissing while falling from an airplane felt like, but she tried anyway. To anyone who would listen.

***

It had been a trick he used often. Get her into a car after an argument, then drive until both were calm. Only, she found herself never calming down, the relative claustrophobia from being confined to such a small space - even one surrounded by windows and directly next to a door - elicited panic. He drove too fast when he was angry. Too precise. She had seen him flip a suspect's car with his own during a chase caught by a news helicopter. She feared the worst as he drove with abandon through mountain roads in the middle of the night. But the fact that he seemed so calm about everything that happened between them only pissed her off.

She should have turned him in when the police questioned her in the recovery room. Should have told them that he drove off the cliff on purpose. Instead, she cooked up a story about a deer and that he was tired from having driven all day. Though it was his driving that put them both in the hospital - and on purpose - it was his driving that ultimately saved their lives. Where he learned how to drive down a cliff, she never learned. But even as he revolted her, he turned her on. She remembers his eyes as he ripped the door off the car, pulling her out of the passenger seat and laying her down safely. Intense eyes, full of regret, yet hiding the knowledge that something like this will undoubtedly happen again.

***

He was bold, that was certain. Approaching her even while under a restraining order.

"I just want to talk," he had said. "You can pick where."

She only agreed after sending a mass-text to everyone, letting them know where she was going and who she'd be with.

***

She doesn't know how it happened. How they wound up in an alley in a seedy area of downtown in the middle of the night. How his hands wound up down her waistline and his fingers inside of her. She'd never been attracted to a set of eyes like his before... or since. Eyes that seemed to suggest, "taste me." So she did, well aware that she might negate the restraining order she herself had applied for.

Never particularly adventurous when it came to sex, she allowed herself to be pinned against an alley wall, wrapping her legs around his torso in the process. There was some discomfort in their postures, but it was worth it, even after realizing how stupid she was being. She had stepped into the web of a master manipulator tonight - years ago, really - and couldn't get out.

Neither had any idea they were being watched, or that she would finally be granted the opportunity to escape.

***

She hates them, but she longs for those eyes. Intense, almost angry eyes. She doesn't yet know it, but she is safe from the assailants and the police will soon arrive. She doesn't yet know it, but she is finally safe from those eyes and will never see them open again. But, it is not enough to earn her forgiveness.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Intensity, Part I

"When I move," he starts, not sure if he should finish the thought. They've been lovers, but have not been the best of friends. In fact, they hate each other as much as they once loved. She quit trusting him years ago and he knows it. She needs to trust him now, though. He figures to see if she does. ".... run like Hell."

***

Their first meeting was rather unusual in that it happened twice. The first first meeting was the more memorable event, but it was the second first meeting that began their relationship. Both were attending night classes - she to finish her degree in education and he to obtain enough college credits to get a promotion at work - and noticed each other immediately. He was instantly attracted to her smile and she to his eyes. Her smile quite literally lit up any room - he would even later claim it glowed in the dark - and his eyes held a mysterious, yet familiar, sense of safety.

Feeling a bit awkward and given his line of work, he had a friend find out more about her before he asked her out. She, too, felt a bit awkward, but only because of the inexplicable familiarity. His eyes were intense - almost angry - but she couldn't help that they made her feel safe.

"You wanna grab coffee before class next Thursday?" he had asked.

Though not a coffee drinker, she replied, "Sure."

When Thursday came around, one coffee cup was refilled a half-dozen times while the other was merely sipped (and never went beyond half-empty). He wasn't as shy as he seemed initially and talked circles around her. She didn't mind, preferring to listen to his stories of traveling the world and doing adventurous things. Some, like jumping out of airplanes, she found stupid, but regaled in his tales nonetheless.

The most significant thing she found herself speaking of was her career history. Not sure that she really wanted to teach, she told of her previous jobs - everything from waitress to golf caddy. She explained the most recent job she held prior to returning to school and the horrifying reason she left.

He started laughing. She was appalled until he told her what he found so funny.

***

Most hostage situations in the United States end peacefully, with minor injuries and no loss of life. But this hadn't been one of those situations. To show they meant business, as the cliché goes, the robbers shot one of the bank tellers.

Before she could even finish her scream, the shattering of windows began, quickly followed by bright flashes and loud bangs. At the time, she hadn't been sure she heard more gunfire - blinded and deafened as she was - but seeing the news report later revealed that she had. She was sure, however, that she had panicked. Unwisely scrambling through what was briefly a war zone, it was a pair of black gloved hands - momentarily removed from their MP5/10 submachine gun - that swung her body out of harms way and carried her to safety. The SWAT operator had a balaclava covering his face, and all she could see were his eyes. Intense, almost angry eyes.

"You okay?" His voice, already muffled by the balaclava, sounded even more faint to her through the ringing in her ears. All she could do was nod rapidly and start to cry. She didn't even have time to utter a thank you as he set her down and ran off to join the overwatch element. But those eyes had burned their way into her memory.

***

In this moment, she hated those eyes. An argument over something - she couldn't even remember what... he probably couldn't either - led to broken furniture and torn clothing. And then he was on top of her, having forced his way inside of her despite her screams and cries. This was a scene oft-repeated, and she's embarrassed to admit that the familiarity of his body sometimes elicited a sick enjoyment from her. But not then. There was too much anger in the both of them. He would not be forgiven.

***

Both were drunk the first time they had sex. It was a euphoric experience for her and a playful resistance melted away instantaneously upon his penetration of her. She vaguely remembers seeing the skyline of the city below and the twinkling stars above outside of the hotel window. His hair had partially blocked the view which made the tapestry of the entire nightscape all the more erotic. For the first time in a very long time, she freed her body from her mind, a fact reflected in the scratches on his back he more than willingly endured.

***

She doesn't want to run, but she knows she has to. She doesn't want to leave his side, even though a small part of her hates that she's by it. He's already bleeding - one of the assailants came armed with a knife and managed to slice his back - and there will be more blood.

He looks at her, and emotion disappears behind necessity. "Are you ready?" he asks.

No. She doesn't have time to finish the thought before he pushes her out of the way and rushes the men.

*Continued in Intensity, Part II

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Diary-Ah

Weird. For the past few weeks (months, really), I've been anticipating another move. Plenty of logistics involved in such a move, but anyone who's ever gone from one place to another knows this. Where it's been extra crazy for me is here, on this friggin' blog. See, I've been maintaining a forced schedule of posting all year to prove a bit of a point (and those in need of this "proof" know who they are), but it's been... shall we say... a tad inconvenient.

Long-story short, given several potential move dates, I wound up pre-scheduling a number of posts (at one point, I was three or four months ahead). These pre-scheduled posts not only included all of my "rant and rave" days, but many of my "creative writing" days, as well. Problem with that, though... there are three creative posting groups I like to participate in (The Tenth Daughter of Memory, Magpie Tales, and Theme Thursday) and I very quickly realized that scheduling the "creative writing" days in advance effectively preempted any participation therein. So I unscheduled... and wound up with a rather large backlog of ready-to-go material.

And now my brain isn't working. I think I've run through my imagination supply for the year. Seriously, it hurts to think (then again, that might be an unrelated problem). Basically, my attempt to "get ahead" might result in not being able to participate, anyway, thanks to massive brain farting.

Ah, well.. c'est la vie.

***

In other news, a few loyal readers have expressed disdain at the fact that several stories that have appeared on these virtual pages are not to be finished on these same virtual pages (I have a reason for this, and it's explained elsewhere... but I'm not sure if it's in a post that's already up or will be up soon). So, I'm considering starting a new blog that's invite-only for those who are truly interested to see how my brain (when it works) pieces together the remainder of these stories. If I do create the new blog (and I've made no decision as of this writing), I'll let those who expressed interest know.

For the first time in a long time, I became appalled at the ability (or willingness) of American book distributors to supply works from foreign authors. I'm currently under contract to analyze the works of some Commonwealth short story writers, and two of those writers are Australian. One of the authors was easy to find, but the other... holy cow. Granted, had these writers been from, say, Sri Lanka or Tanzania, I'd be a little more forgiving of the difficulty in acquiring English versions of applicable works from those nations... but I'm talking Australia, a rather large English-speaking part of the world. Seriously, I went to Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon.com, Buy.com, and even some specialty shops. All to no avail. Were it not for a good friend living in Sydney, I'd have had to (gasp) search university libraries and (gasp) lose my tax write-off.

Yes, I just made a mountain out of a molehill. It can be fun sometimes, you know.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lost Kingdom

Her daughter is upset. This is, to Nicole, no surprise. All of her daughters' friends are married or in relationships that are almost certain to lead to marriage and her daughter often succumbs to the terrible weight of being alone. There's nothing Nicole can do, of course, and she's long since learned to let Kylie play out her own misery. It never lasts long, though. What's starting to bother Nicole is that it's starting to happen so often. And not just to Kylie.

"Oh, you'll find someone soon," she'll invariably tell her daughter. She's proud - extremely proud - that Kylie refuses to give in and lower the standards she set for herself, but sometimes wonders if the alternative might actually be a better lifestyle. Both women are single, Kylie in her early 20s and lifetimes yet to live; Nicole in her mid-50s and curious about how long a sunset can last. That Kylie is her child is the only reason Nicole's own desire for companionship is not the primary concern. Living vicariously will not make Nicole happy - this she already knows - but it keeps her going. She is her daughter's rock and she does not wish to let Kylie see just how brittle it's become.

Nicole's husband died when Kylie was barely three-years-old. A moment's combination of wrong place, wrong time ending in tragedy, as such moments tend to do. A fire at work, set by the building's owner as part of insurance scam, caused a heart attack. Forgotten in the panic, he was left inside by his co-workers. Nicole never learned what actually killed him. She hopes it was the heart attack, for the other is too much for her thoughts to handle.

Not religious, nor raising her children that way - Kylie has a little sister - there was nevertheless a profoundness at her husband's funeral. The priest had chosen the Lord's Prayer as the final petition, and as it came to close, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever," little Kylie looked up at her mother and asked, "Daddy lost his kingdom?"

No, darling, came the thought, I did. Looking down into Kylie's eyes, another thought quickly followed. And I will never let you lose yours. It is a vow that, even Nicole might admit, she has taken just a bit too seriously.

The truth is that Nicole is as lonely as her daughter. Indeed, even when Nicole meets and identifies young men that would be "perfect" for Kylie, there's almost always a subtle acknowledgment that these men would have been perfect for herself. Adding to the irony is the fact that most daughters are hesitant to accept men found and recommended by their parents, and Kylie is certainly loathe to do so - for she knows her mother as well as her mother knows her. Still, it provides Nicole the opportunity for a harmless flirt, ostensibly pitching her beautiful daughter to eligible men while fueling herself with enough lustrous banter to get through the week.

It is during one of her ostentatious flirts that her own loneliness becomes the subject of conversation. Nicole had been working on this one for a while and his willing vulnerability had the unintended effect of fostering a vulnerability of her own. "You know," she starts, only partially aware of what she's about to say, "if you were just a bit older or I a bit younger. Or both." The abandonment of fear that allowed her to say that immediately dissipates upon saying it. His reaction may break her heart, but he only smiles and offers a pragmatic reply. "3.5 billion men in the world, Nicole. You'll find one experienced, unafraid, and unwilling to waste any more time wallowing in his own loneliness." He pauses, though Nicole can tell there's something left unsaid. In reluctant acceptance of the entire situation, he adds, "And your daughter will, too."

As a Christmas present later that year, Kylie takes Nicole to a city Nicole's often dreamed of, but never had the chance to visit. Taken by the beauty of a snow-covered Moscow, Nicole allows her concerns - both of herself and of her daughter - to disappear in fields of white. Even the "random" appearance of one of Kylie's old boyfriends doesn't dissuade Niicole's spirits and, anyway, she's happy that Kylie is enjoying the company of a man.

Wandering through the cold streets of the Russian capital, Nicole slowly realizes that an evening has never felt so romantic to her, despite the fact that she's alone. The Spasskaya and Ostakino towers are as beautiful at night in person as they are in photographs. Touching the walls of St. Basil's Cathedral with her own fingers is almost as profound an experience as a three-year-old's daughters confused words. And even the skyline of the IBC seems to shout at Nicole in defiance of a shared loneliness. By the time Nicole is too cold to continue her sojourn, she doesn't even mind the ugliness of the dirty slush covering the city's roads. Indeed, Nicole decides, her night is far from over. "Can you recommend a good cafe?" she asks the taxi driver. "Of course," he replies with the same smile she saw in a pragmatic boy thousands of miles away.

At the French Cafe, just outside of the center of the city, she removes her overcoat and her ushanka and sits at the bar. She laughs gently as the bartender mistakes her for an American, but takes solace that they speak excellent English here. It will make her sampling of white wines far easier.

While taking her slow ride to inebriation, she glances casually around the cafe, taking note of all of the couples, what they're wearing, and how they whisper sweet - or lascivious, she hopes - things in each others' ears. She sees a man in a corner who, she can tell, carefully observes the room. He's roughly her age, perhaps a bit younger, and though his eyes point mainly at his table and his quickly emptying wine glasses, there's no question he's completely aware of everything going on around him. Upon her second - or is it her third? - glance, she thinks she sees a smile. Ah, been caught, she muses, deciding she should probably keep to herself in a city so foreign and, perhaps, so dangerous. Although danger to her, at the moment, denotes something completely different... something rather inviting. She smiles, orders a glass of a Chardonnay she's never had - nor even heard of - and fades into her glass. To her, this is a perfect evening devoid of perfection, but the ambiance of the night comforts her and refuses to let her give into any negative emotion. Nicole wonders what Kylie is up to and hopes that her friend doesn't have a surprise girlfriend who might ruin Kylie's evening.

It's just like her. Can't stop worrying about my baby girl. Living vicariously does not make Nicole happy, but it does keep her going. And long enough that the bartender jokes there are almost no more wines to sample. She's about to return the humor when the bartender smiles, turns, and rudely walks away. "Hey, I'm not finished with you yet, you," she scolds. She has quite the scolding voice and expression, and she might as well try it on a Russian.

"Excuse me." A voice behind her. One experienced, unafraid, and unwilling to waste any more time. "May I join you?"

She's not even turned her head before her heart skips a beat.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Drop Kicks in American Football

In a month the 2010 NFL season will be upon us. Football (and I mean American football, for my overseas friends) is one of the world's most brutal sports. And, for whatever reason, it gets somewhat of a bad rap internationally. Often I hear the complaint, "why is it called football?" and, I must admit, such complaints make me chuckle.

To the international community, "football" is, as we call it in the United States, soccer. More accurately, football is "association football" (the term "soccer" comes from some weird abbreviation of this). Even more accurately, there are two international sports that are properly known as football: association football and rugby football. Despite the general belief, American football is not, nor has it ever been, related to or descended from association football/soccer. What it is, like Canadian football (and to an extent, Australian football), is an evolution of rugby.

And, in typical rebel fashion, we Americans played around with the rule-sets of established conventions until "rugby football" became two distinct sports in the United States: rugby and football (how's that for stating the obvious?).

But, such is not the purpose of this rant. The purpose of this rant is to propose an idea to bring back the all-too-forgotten aspect of American football: the drop kick. For despite it's legality in the National Football League, it has only been used one time in professional football since 1948. Doug Flutie, in the last play of his professional career (which spanned three football leagues), kicked a drop kick for an extra point, no doubt the result of a wink-wink by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

*If you're not a hardcore football fan, and you happen to still be reading, there's really no point in continuing on.

In short, I'd love to see the move make a comeback, if only to add more strategy to the game. I have no solid idea how to implement and encourage such a return, but what if American football did borrow a page from association football (cough, soccer, cough) and allow the ball to be advanced in any direction by drop kick (by any player) once the line of scrimmage has been passed?

Such a rule might make American football a tad too chaotic (and lead to even more injuries), but how cool would that be?

Obviously, you wouldn't want to curtail the existing rules for the drop kick, so it would have to remain an option for a field goal or a PAT. And as long as the drop kick is attempted from behind the line of scrimmage, that shouldn't be too hard to allow (or enforce). Naturally, since drop kicks touch the ground, they would not be allowed as a form of punt.

There would probably also need to be a differentiation between drop kicks-for-score attempted behind and beyond the line of scrimmage. 2 points for beyond, 3 points for behind (keeping it in line with field goals) sound good? That would also afford the possibility of drop kicks as PATs to become rather interesting (1 or 2 points, depending on where it's done? Unlikely, sure, but why not? Drop kicks are already highly unlikely).

Then consideration for what to do with missed drop kicks-for-score would need to be had. Maybe beyond the line of scrimmage, a drop kick-for-score is a live ball and, unlike a kick from scrimmage, can be advanced by the kicking team? Drop kicks that go out-of-bounds are placed at the point of dropkick. Drop kicks that go out of bounds in the end zone result in a change of possession and a touchback.

Whoa... that just convoluted the game, didn't it? Forget I mentioned anything.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Irrewind, 20100807: Musings

I used to do general musings quite frequently. I've tapered off in the last year or so, but I rather enjoyed them and they make for quick and easy posts. And they're really the only place I use the more, er, "colorful" words found in the English language (don't say you weren't warned). Perhaps a comeback is in order.

"The Whirlwind"
Just applied to graduate school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The first of two intended Masters degrees... the second I want to get from the University of California, Los Angeles. What can I say? I'm vain and I think the MFA, MFA on my business card would look cool... Read More

"How About That?"
Scientists have just determined that the closest known living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex is the chicken. I'd plug in a "but what did they taste like" joke, but some asshole reporter who thinks he's more clever than me beat me to it... Read More

"The Following People Can Kiss My Ass:"
Those door-to-door college-aged magazine salespeople. Seriously, how long do you think we're going to believe that you're "barely beating your competitors" (ususally guys versus girls), and that you're "this close" to winning a trip to Costa Rica. Word of advice, if you're going to lie about being a communications student from USC, make... Read More

"Kudos and F.U.-dos"
Kudos to Al Gore, who completely remodeled his energy-hog home into something much, much more efficient. Way to put your money where your mouth is (but I still wouldn't vote for you)... Read More

"Nothing Much to Say About the World"
Speaking of conspiracies, anything think that Heather Mills is an Al Qaeda agent? She just screwed Sir Paul out of $50 million, you know. For some reasons such as "I can’t live without that much money" and "the $15 million I’m already worth isn’t enough to support my child." Seriously, the woman’s a c***. But I know the real reason she... Read More

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From Acre to Rabat

*Continued from The Burning of Messina

"Robin? What do we do?" Gilbert the White Hand is terrified, and for good reason. Of the stories that made their way to England of Muslim prisoners, none were very encouraging.

"Keep your mouth shut. I'll do the talking." Robin is terrified himself, but is far more adept at maintaining a calm exterior than his companion. Robin is quite glad that one of the Merry Makers is with him and he's especially glad that it's Gilbert. Not only is Gilbert the second-best archer in the group - and, in fact, the group's cook - but he's also the man Robin has known the longest. Serendipity has found its way to the battlefield and Robin takes care not to take it for granted.

"What if none of these heathens speak English?"

It's a valid concern, but some are bound to speak French, and Robin's French should be good enough to communicate.

"Remember, Gilbert," Robin utters, "we're the heathens here."

Eyeing the well-dressed Moor approaching them, Robin briefly reflects on the stupid and greed-influenced decision of the Christian Army to break into plunder while in the middle of the battle for Acre. A side effect, no doubt, of many of their great leaders being sent back to England. Though Robin will not even silently admit it to himself, his thoughts refer to John Bower. The breakdown of discipline in the line would simply never have happened had Bower been there. But the coward had willingly accompanied Eleanor of Acquitaine back to their homeland, and Robin and his men - those still alive - had been left to rot. Even the Templars were forced into retreat.

The Moor reaches Robin, grins widely and, much to Robin's surprise, converses in English. "I am Tariq al-Din. I am in need of slaves. You and your companion seem fit enough."

Robin, still attempting to gauge this man, responds, "I wasn't aware Saladin allowed Christians to be purchased as slaves."

Tariq al-Din laughs. "Then you, my friend, are not very educated." Continuing his laughter, al-Din turns to the guards. "I'll take these two."

***

John Bower hates that he's in England. Hates it so much he's often thought of abandoning his duties and finding his own passage to Jerusalem to join his men. But he knows such an action would be beyond foolish and would likely prevent him from ever returning home. He was under the initial impression that after escorting Eleanor back to London, he would be dispatched back to the Crusade, but Eleanor found Bower charming and professional and convinced her son, Prince John, to award him an official military position. Bower, not wanting to appear discourteous or ungrateful, accepted the position.

Over the course of his assignment, Bower came to despise the Prince. Though Bower's loyalty to Richard did not play a large role in Bower's souring towards the Prince, it certainly remained on his mind. But the Prince has a horrible and insulting sense of humor and has taken to calling Bower "Little John" behind closed doors, the Prince implying himself as "Big John." This created an even larger circle of revolting - to Bower - humor, as Bower clearly is the larger in stature of the two.

In his spare time - which is a dishearteningly ample amount - Bower theorizes methods to get himself honorably removed from his current role.

***

"So, what are your names?" Tariq al-Din asks his two new slaves as he takes a bite of roasted lamb.

Initially, Robin and Gilbert fear that the Moor is going to maliciously enjoy his meal in front of them, but al-Din cuts three portions from the meat, then releases Robin and Gilbert from their bonds. Robin glares up at al-Din.

"You're a brave man."

Tariq laughs. "Not really. I just know that you've no idea where you are. And two wandering Englishmen wouldn't last long out here even if you did. Would you like to eat? I'm more than satisfied saving this meat for later enjoyment."

Gilbert can hold his appetite no longer and grabs his offering, wolfing it down. It's not how he would have prepared it, but it's the best meal he's had since before Acre. Al-Din's smile doesn't fade as he hands Gilbert a bladder of water.

Robin takes his meal and sits near the fire. Al-Din is right. Without the Moor, he and Gilbert have no hope of survival, never mind getting home. "So what's your story, then? What are you to do with us?"

Al-Din sits across from the two and resumes his meal. "You are very rude, English. I asked you a question."

Sensing opportunity, Robin quickly formulates a plan in his mind. "Robin, Earl of Huntington."

Gilbert's expression almost gives the jig up before it even has a chance to find its rhythm.

"You are a noble?" Al-Din is no fool and Robin can tell the Moor doesn't immediately believe him. Robin nods in response. "You are not a simple archer?"

To this, Robin himself almost winces. "No. This man is my attendant, Gilbert of the White Hand."

His attention mostly on his piece of lamb, al-Din inquires, "The White Hand?"

"I'm a cook," Gilbert interjects, too eagerly for Robin's liking.

Al-Din laughs again. He is, apparently, a jovial man.

"Well, my friends. I have a desire to see where you come from. I've heard tales of England since I was but a boy and nothing would please me more than accompanying a noble to his homeland." This is the last thing Robin and Gilbert expect al-Din to say. "As a guest, of course."

"I don't understand. We are not slaves?"

"Here, you are. But, no, I do not keep slaves. It took much persuasion to convince Saladin to sell you to me."

Robin laughs. Perhaps fortune is with him, after all. "When do we leave?"

"My friend, we are already on our way."

Robin is no fool, either. He is quite aware that they have been traveling south, then west, for several days. "England is north and west of the Holy Land. We went south."

"As you would not fare well through these lands, I am quite aware that I would fare even more poorly traveling overland through yours. We will obtain passage to the Kingdom of Portugal on a vessel out of Morocco. Despite being pushed out of Iberia, my family's merchant interests remain strong, so this will be no issue. Does this satisfy you?"

Knowing his response doesn't really matter - and completely distrustful of al-Din's true motives, whatever they may be - Robin simply nods politely and continues to eat.

*To be continued...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue XII

While I've been known to include repeat-viewings on occasion, I usually only "Irreview" films that are new to me. But, since I'm an avid James Bond fanatic, I can't help it...

The Crazies (2010)
Director: Breck Eisner
Writer(s): Scott Kosar, Ray Wright, George A. Romero (1973 screenplay)
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson
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A remake of zombie-maestro George Romero's 70s cult-classic, this version is actually... not too bad. Though Romero is well-known for his social commentary, the commentary in remake seems a bit forced and, on more than one occasion, a bit cliché. But, as it's more subtle than in the original, the movie still works. Timothy Olyphant is great to watch, as usual, and Joe Anderson is a pleasant surprise (despite his character's cheesy resolution). Not altogether scary, it has its moments.
Verdict: Fans of the horror, zombie, and apocalyptic genres should SEE it. Nothing really noteworthy for anyone else.

Dr. No (1962)
Director: Terence Young
Writer(s): Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather, Ian Fleming (novel)
Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman
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The film that started it all. Ian Fleming's British super-spy flies onto the screen and an instant hit franchise is born (although Dr. No is, in fact, the second appearance of Bond on-screen). A bit rough around the edges, the stage is nevertheless set for over-the-top villains and the rebirth of the double entendre in pop culture. Harry Potter and Star Wars be damned, there is no film franchise like the Bond franchise. And I must credit Ursula Andress for setting the Bond-girl standard rather high. Many pubescent boys are quite thankful for that.
Verdict: SEE it. Of course, you know I'm going to list all of the Bond films as "SEE it," even the bad ones.

Edge of Darkness (2010)
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer(s): William Monahan, Andrew Bovell, Troy Kennedy-Martin (TV series)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
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I've never seen the BBC TV series this film is based on, but now I want to. Headlines surrounding Mel Gibson aside, this is a very, very good movie and he does an excellent job as a father trying to solve the mystery of who killed his daughter and why. With Ray Winstone and Danny Huston, the cast is about as good as anybody can ask for (Winstone, in particular, steals every second he's on the screen). It is high coincidence that this film is directed by one of the better Bond-film directors (cough, cough), but Martin Campbell continues to prove that he rocks at the action-thriller.
Verdict: SEE it.

From Russia With Love (1963)
Director: Terence Young
Writer(s): Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood (adaptation), Ian Fleming (novel)
Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw
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Though Dr. No kicked off the franchise, From Russia With Love is the Bond film that established the formula that every Bond film since has followed. Here we get the pre-title sequence, our first gadget (along with Desmond Llewelyn as Q), and our first theme song (not counting the actual Bond theme, of course). Even in light of the establishment of the uber-successful Bond-film formula, From Russia With Love manages to accomplish this while sticking close to its source material, which is something that few Bond films even bother attempting. The first great Bond movie, it remains one of the series' best.
Verdict: SEE it. Bond film. Must see all Bond films.

Inception (2010)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer(s): Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonard DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe
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The Matrix meets James Bond, they're calling it. And, well, that's a close enough description as any. The plot is imaginative: corporate thieves are hired to steal secrets, but enter their target's dreams in order to do so. The cast is outstanding. The climax of the film is likely one of the best climaxes you'll ever see. Though the year's not over, Inception is 2010's best. I refuse to give anything away, because it simply must be seen to be believed. Wow.
Verdict: SEE it, SEE it, SEE it, SEE it. And if you find it hard to comprehend, SEE it until you get it!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Image

"Have you seen what she looks like?"

"Oh, shit yeah. She's gorgeous."

"Is she cool?"

"No clue. Never talked to her."

How strange, then, is an image that can not only turn a head, but turn a mind? One sensory input affecting the whole of perception and of perspective. Yes, it can be touched, but the tactile sensation will be no different than that of any other photograph. There is nothing to look forward to but the realization of yet another absence from a life already wounded by absence. That the introduction was never made makes not the farewell any easier.

"What the Hell is the point of that?"

"I don't know. Just needed it in my life."

"A photograph?"

"No. An idea."

How wonderful, then, is an image that can not only capture a moment gone, but inspire moments to come? Eyes downward, dark brown hair tucked behind an ear, and a smile from a brief experience that will never be shared again. An artificial memory burns into natural memory, interpreted differently for each viewer. To one, she's gorgeous. To another, she's a daughter. To yet another, she's unwanted competition. To all, she's just a photograph. Nothing more than color and light frozen in a world in which all living things eventually go blind.

"An idea of what?"

"Of something worth writing about."

"Can't you just make shit up?"

"It's better knowing it's really out there."

How depressing, then, is an image of something that will never been seen with real eyes? Distance between reveals the world to be a large place, though the image itself claims otherwise. Through the eyes of the camera, a thousand words can be any thousand words. Perfection is as subjective as description, no two describe a picture the same way, and no one describes a picture the same way twice. Maybe a lover yesterday and an enemy tomorrow, or vice versa. Whether idea or impression, she is always beautiful.

"But you don't know. She's just an idea. She could be a bitch."

"She's not. She's a sweetheart."

"How can you tell that from a picture?"

"Because I wrote her that way."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Irrelevant Etiquette

You ever get sick of hearing and reading about how to behave in certain situations and places? I do, but mainly because most of what's out there is stuff people should know already. Yeah, I get that the average person is dumb, and half of the rest are dumber than that (thanks, George Carlin!), but come on... what happened to that "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" poster that used to be up everywhere?

Anyway, and I realize I'm a bit of a hypocrite, since I've written about behavior before, but... whoa... run-on sentence in the making. And I just made it worse, didn't I? Ah, well.

Without further ado and digression, here's the most useless etiquette protocol you will ever see:

1. Be aware that "irreverent" and "irrelevant" are not thrown around lightly here. If you want reverence and relevance, I can point you to better places to find them.
2. Don't comment without reading the piece. I hide stuff for skimmers to expose themselves with, at which point the information is shared with dozens of bloggers who like to laugh at such things. Yes, humor between bloggers really does get that banal. But we dig banal. We write about it enough, eh?
3. Point out grammatical and spelling errors. Don't assume it was an innocent mistake and, for fuck's sake, don't be "polite" and pretend you didn't notice it. That doesn't help anybody.
4. Feel free to be critical, but say what you mean. Don't hide behind vague and colorful language in futile attempts to appear congenial. It makes you look like an idiot.
5. If you leave a comment expecting an answer, make sure your email address is unhidden. This is not a bulletin board. But I do often take the time to reply via email ("noreply@blogger" comments typically get ignored).
6. By the same measure, if you have a question, ask it. The cliché concerning the word "assume" is only half true. You'll be the only ass in the room.
7. For those readers whose sensitivities lead them to believe that I'm writing for their enjoyment: you are not paying for my groceries. This place exists for me to do what I want. "Kiss my ass" and "Have a nice day" are equally common phrases here.
8. If you do want to pay for my groceries so I'll write for your enjoyment, email me for my mailing address and we'll work out a remuneration plan.
9. Don't insult the comments of others. I don't care what you think about anybody else, and most readers here don't, either. Go to their blog and leave a comment or send them an email if you have an issue with someone other than me.
10. Kiss my ass and have a nice day.