williamallenpepper

Here's a blog because NOBODY else has one!

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

SOMETIMES MONSTERS LIKE ORANGE JUICE

Public radio has nothing on a four-year-old for packing in a ton of information into a fifteen minute commute.

Every day, I take my four-year-old to school. Some days he’s silent and reflective, watching the world go by. Other days, he just wants to watch for bulldozers and dump trucks and the occasional ice cream truck.

And then there are the other days. The days when my boy just has TOO MUCH STUFF RATTLING AROUND IN HIS HEAD AND IT NEEDS TO COME OUT RIGHT NOW. ALL OF IT. ONE CONTINUOUS SENTENCE.

In the course of one recent trip, I learned that my boy is “speedy”, much speedier than me. He runs and runs and runs and the monsters can’t catch him. Then, “I stop and go home to my house and drink some orange juice and when I’m done, I go back out and chase the monsters.”

So I asked, “Do monsters like orange juice?”

“No,” he said. “They just like milk and water…Well, sometimes they do.”

For the record, police like orange juice too. It helps them chase the monsters.

After school the same day, I was sure it would be a quiet trip home. What else could there be to tell me?

I underestimated.

Turns out, Superman and Green Lantern live together.

In our town.

Because they’re cousins.

ALL superheroes have cousins. So they don’t get lonely.

Superman’s primary job, evidently, is to help injured nice monsters. He patches them up with, of course, Superman band-aids.

And this was all within like a half-hour’s time.

Other days, he tells me stories about castles and dragons. Sometimes, he just wants to know what day it is and then argue about the answer. He wants to fly with Superman – and take his mom and his sister and me with him. He wants to go to “Wonderland” (wherever that is) to see Superman and Batman. Some days, he talks about Grandma. Other days, he wants to sing songs. Or make me sing songs. Or insist that I don’t if he’s not in the mood.

I really look forward to the books this kid is gonna write someday.

You know, when he learns to write.*

*His handwriting is already better than mine though.

Advertisements

WHAT’S BLACK AND WHITE AND NOT READ ALL OVER

The Pew Research Center says newspaper circulation has dropped some twenty percent since 1990. No, really. It says so here.

Well, make that twenty-percent plus, uh, one percent or whatever fraction of one-percent equals one household.

My house is now officially off the grid. Well, we still have electricity. Running water. Heat. Internet. The BBC America channel because I gotta watch my Doctor Who.

BUT…

And this is big for me…

BUT…

…we cancelled our daily print newspaper subscription.

We held out for a long time. It just seemed wrong. We haven’t cancelled our landline phone service. We still pay a lot of bills OFF-line with envelopes and stamps and crap.

Giving up the daily paper, though, just seems wrong. I’ve always been a newspaper fan, even occasionally wrote for them. I like holding the paper in my hands, seeing the layout, flipping open to the funnies, spreading them out on table or living room floor and reading “Pearls Before Swine” with a cup of coffee.

BUT…

The decision to end our subscription was only partly financial. We pay twenty bucks per month for a daily local paper subscription we only ever actually read maybe a couple days a week. But it was also about the paper itself. Ever read your local paper these days? There’s a not a whole lot of news there anymore. “It’s hot outside” is a weather report, not an above-the-fold headline, unless maybe buildings are melting. A full page spread on the new restaurant in town is an ad, not news.

Yet, it’s those things that fill the paper these days, along with Associated Press articles I can read anywhere else.

And that’s the problem. There’s nothing in most local papers you can’t get off TV news or the Internet. As circulation drops, ad revenues decline and newspaper budgets tighten, papers inexplicably respond by cutting the one thing that people want from a newspaper: NEWS.

Yeah, today you can get news anywhere. Everywhere. It oozes in from all over the place, dripping down the walls. You can’t get away from news. It’s there, ready to inform you. Hell, news will make you sandwich and fluff your pillow at night if you want.

So, news is not hard to find. It wasn’t that hard of a decision to drop the local paper, though I do still feel bad. If I want “Pearls” or an obituary, or stats for the local high school football games, I can still get them online, of course, but giving up on the local paper still feels like a…loss somehow.

R.I.P., daily delivery.

WHAT MAKES YOU STOP READING?

Goodreads recently posted a list of the books its members most often set aside without finishing and the reasons why. The results were interesting. You can read them here.

Not surprisingly, the reasons people stopped reading boiled down to bad writing. But it was more than that. Only a few people were bothered by “ridiculous” plot or “immoral” content, but a whopping forty-six percent said the book was slow or boring. Nineteen percent blamed weak writing. So apparently readers are willing to overlook a LOT, if the writing is good.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere. I wonder what it is…

I don’t remember ever not finishing a book. There’ve been many I’ve been disappointed in, but I always power through to see how it ends (as do twenty-five percent of Goodreads respondents). Likewise, I’ve never walked out of a movie, though I’ve been tempted. (Looking at you, Battlefield Earth). One time I did turn off a rented video half way through. It was Diabolique with Sharon Stone. It was stupid.

Sorry, Sharon.

No, I’m not.

It was awful.

Anyway, there is usually something I can find in a creative work – book, film, TV, fortune cookie fortune – to keep me involved. A character I like. A good story. Cool special effects. Nice crunch. Whatever.

But I know a lot of you aren’t like that. What makes you guys bail on a story? Comment in this space and I’ll read all of them. Unless I get bored.

THE STONER AGE

Researchers – or pranksters, we’re not sure – have concluded that stone age cave men might have been, well, stoned when they painted their cave paintings. The article I read is here. Do go read it. Then come back. I’ll wait right here.

The thrust of the article is that prehistoric cave paintings found around the world contain similar geometric patterns because the painters – cavemen – were ingesting psychedelic plants, perhaps intentionally, to alter their minds so they could take their art to a new level. And apparently something about this particular pattern is appealing to stoners.

Yeah, I’m starting to think it was pranksters.

So, if you ever wondered why Fred and Barney thought those Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes hats looked good, now you know.

Personally, I’m not surprised. Other than the pesky need to spend every waking moment on the primary needs of survival – food, shelter, occupying your time in an era with only basic cable and no Netflix – life could be pretty boring.

I’m pretty sure at the end of a cave-day, the mastodon-call is placed back in its leather pouch, the day’s catch stored in the upright freezer, and now nothing but cave-time on cave-hands. The conversation probably goes something like this (Translation from the original Cave-Speak provided by Google-Flintstone):

Oog (giggling and waving sticks dipped in colored pigments, leaving little droplets on the cave floor): Wait…no wait…(laughs uncontrollably)…that one totally looks like a saber tooth tiger.

Bog: Yeah, man, totally a saber-tooth, but, like, he’s sort of…massive…like a mastodon. Man. Massive.

Oog (lumbers around the cave): Look at me! I’m a T-Rex. Grrr!

Bog (sticks some plant leaves into the colored pigments, smears some on the cave wall: A little for sake of art. (chomps some of the leaves) A little for me.

Oog (still in dino-mode, but fading): I’m soooo gonna be extinct tomorrow. (Falls face first in the cave paint. Bog tries to recreate the scene on the cave wall, but it just comes out looking like a prehistoric bunny, which, for Bog, means a bunny from last Tuesday.)

And, thus, art history is born.

This concludes this week’s seminar on the ancient arts. The final exam is tomorrow. For those just auditing, I got no time for you.

DON’T BE AN IDIOT ABOUT THE THINGS THAT MATTER

When you think about it, daily life can be reduced to a continuum of disappointing, annoying or outright pissing off other people. Yeah, you have think about it cynically, but still, tell me I’m wrong.

You won’t let the kid have chocolate cake for breakfast (but Pop-Tarts are fine???)

On the way out the door in the morning, you tell your spouse you’ll be late for dinner. Again. Then you actually are. Again.

You deliver bad news to the client at work.

You dodge lunch with that coworker you can’t stand.

You’re a jerk to the telemarketer on the phone; the poor, eight-dollar-an-hour schlub who had to call you for her job.

You lie about being out of town and hide inside with the lights off all weekend to avoid the annual neighborhood block party.

You flip off that stupid driver on the road, only to realize a mile later, you actually cut her off.

Your brother-in-law calls and tells a stupid joke. You don’t laugh, even though it would be polite.

Annoying or disappointing our fellow humans is necessary sometimes. You can’t sugar-coat everything. It can even be fun in the right mood. Most of the time, with the run of the mill stuff, it’s harmless. It’s just you or the other person, or both, being intractable. Just being an idiot.

Yes, you’re an idiot. So am I. So’s everyone. No one of us is knowledgeable enough about the world or self-aware enough to be idiot-proof. It’s just the way it is.

But what we can do is ration our idiocy. Learn to recognize when being an idiot is impeding functioning in society. Would it have killed you to laugh at your-brother-in-law’s joke for the sake of family peace? Yes, you had to give the client bad news, but did you have to do it in an offhanded tone while eating an apple and reviewing some other client’s file?

I guess what I’m saying is: Be smart about being stupid.

Simple right?

EATING A DINOSAUR

The three-year-old came home from school one day really excited because at preschool they had just finished a unit on dinosaurs. All through dinner, it was “I was a brachiosaurus. They have long necks.” And, “I want to fly like a pterodactyl”, even doing a decent job pronouncing “pterodactyl”.

And, when asked what he would like to eat for an upcoming birthday dinner, he said, “I want to eat a dinosaur.”

His mom convinced him the supermarkets in our part of the state don’t carry dinosaur, but that didn’t diminish his enthusiasm.

My daughter, meanwhile, was working out dance routines for her upcoming class.

I have creative kids. The boy walks around most of the time with a small broom that is alternately a guitar/microphone/boat oar and, occasionally, actually a broom. The girl has an entire curriculum for her classroom of imaginary pupils.

If you have kids, you know how imaginative they are. This isn’t a post about the joys of childhood or how adults should try to recapture that innocent creativity. You know that already.

This post is just me taking a moment to remember all of this; to appreciate my kids for all they believe they can do. A chance to savor that time before they get older and the crushing realities of the teen years and adulthood threaten to flatten them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find some chocolate syrup to put on my dinosaur.

MY FIRST LINE

So. I’m writing a novel.

Still.

Not the same one. Another one. Whenever someone asks if I’m writing, I usually say, “Oh, I’m always writing something.” It’s true. There is a constant rotation of plays and novels and blog entries; not even a rotation. More like a mas jumble of projects out of which one will tumble, I’ll work on it until the Giant Ball of Work rolls back by and scoops that project up into it and deposits another at my feet.

Because I like you, (Damn it all. I love you, man!…and lady…and unicorn.), I felt like giving you the first line of what is still very much a work in progress. Here it is:

It wasn’t so much that the cheese dip had sausage in it that offended him.

Nice, huh! Huh? No more lines for you. No context. Not even a title of the book. That’s all you get. Reactions? Okay, go!

Is that fair? Can you really get a sense of what I might be writing from this? If so, tell me, because I have no clue.

What’s your favorite line of a book? “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”? “To be or not to be?”, which actually isn’t from a book, but rather a play, but it’s still pretty cool.

How important is the first line anyway? Can you judge a book by it? You can’t judge a book by its cover (unless you’re my kids), but what about those first few words? Why just the first line? What about the first paragraph? Or page? Or chapter? Why so arbitrary, readers?

What is the first thing that makes you want to read a book?

TOP TEN TV SHOWS

There are many “top ten” lists.

And here’s another one.

Here is my personal top ten list of TV shows, in no particular order. The list includes the first ten shows I thought of that really made me say, “Yeah. That show was awesome.” For some, I may offer an explanation as to what makes a show “top” on my list, if I actually have one that can be articulated. For others, the reason the show made the top ten is because…reasons.

This is just my opinion, and a gut reaction at that. Your opinion may differ.

And is probably wrong. But feel free to comment below with your objections, flattery at my listing prowess, or suggestions of your own.

1. The X-Files. The truth was out there. We all wanted to find it SO BAD. But…we never did. Bring on that third movie, Christ Carter.
2. Lost. Put me in the camp that thought the series finale was good – and look down on me for it if you must. Most shows couldn’t pull off an ending like they did. Lost could. Lost did.
3. The West Wing. A show that makes policy wonks into action heroes (of a sort) has to be good.
4. Cheers. One of the best of the now near-extinct three-camera comedies.
5. Frasier. I was tempted to lump Cheers and Frasier together given the obvious overlap. A reviewer once called Frasier “peerlessly classy”. I have to agree.
6. Doctor Who. Any regular reader of this blog (all two of you. Well…one of you plus me.) knew that show would be on this list somewhere.
7. Sherlock – I was scared as anybody when Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat launched a Holmes and Watson series updated to present day. There was nothing to be scared of. Just adored.
8. Friends. Yes, they were half a dozen improbably handsome twenty-somethings spouting impossibly clever one-liners while sitting around in huge apartments none of them could afford in reality. But the whole ensemble made “MUST SEE TV” a real thing. Don’t believe me? Has anyone uttered that phrase since the show went off the air?
9. The Greatest American Hero. A few years ago I bought all the DVDs of one of my favorite childhood shows. Many of the stories were poorly constructed and full of plot holes. But the magic was still there. When I was a kid watching Ralph Hinkley crash into a building, ironically, made me believe any order person could be a superhero.
10. M*A*S*H The series finale is still one of the most watched TV shows EVER. And with the splintering of audiences by infinite cable channels, the Internet and movie services like Netflix, no show will ever get the kind of audience M*A*S*H did. Many shows don’t deserve it anyway.
11. I’m adding in #11 as an honorable mention any of the Star Trek series. Classic Trek, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, or Enterprise. All had good points. All had weaknesses. But all were true, honest-to-god sci-fi. And monsters! And lasers! Fans align with different series as their tastes dictate. But there’s no question the longetivity of this franchise is stunning.

So. What say you?

TOP TEN BOOKS. EVER.

I like books.

Duh.

That’s a pretty lame statement, isn’t it? It’s kind of like, “I like puppies.” or “I like ice cream.” Wait, though, if you’re lactose intolerant, I guess the “I like ice cream” bit wouldn’t be obvious, would it? Unless maybe it’s soy ice cream? But is it still “ice cream” then?

Anyway.

There are a lot of great sci-fi books. A lot of great literary novels. A lot of great biographies, fantasies, mysteries, and any other “ies” you can think of. I love them all.

Well, not all. But the remainder of this post is dedicated to ten books that I do love for…reasons. If I’m inspired to offer one of those reasons, I will. Some books, though, have just left an indefinable impression on me.

So, here they are.

1. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. A funny, moving, impressive tale of several individuals with nothing in common except they all showed up on a bridge at the same time to kill themselves.
2. Redshirts by John Scalzi. Part wink and nod to the tropes of modern sci-fi, especially “Star Trek”, part compelling sci-fi in its own right. I smiled through they whole thing.
3. Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States, by Dave Barry. When I’m asked what my favorite book is, this is the one I give. Why? Because it was the first book I read, around seventh grade, where I really thought about what the author was thinking when he wrote it, where I realized that writing could be fun, not just something that I did. Until then, I had written a lot, without really thinking about why. This book made me do that.
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Read it years ago and it still lingers. Bleak and gripping at the same time.
5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Magical, moving, and momentous.
6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Fun. Absurd. Fun and absurd.
7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Yes, this is actually a play, but I’m including its script here because I thought it was awesome. I’ve never even seen the play. It’s a retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of these two minor characters. It rocks. And I’m not even all that big a Shakespeare fan.
8. Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson
9. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I’m not generally a big elves and swords guy, but I couldn’t not include this seminal work of fantasy fiction. (Plus, I got to say “seminal”. Har har.)
10. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. Also funny and absurd. But also weirdly believable and heartfelt.

So, Blog-reader-types, where do you stand of the whole this is the best book ever debate? Speak up, you!

ON THE DEBATABLE JOY OF ‘SPLOSIONS

Over the fourth of July weekend, someone at a gathering I was at, or maybe it was on the Internet, pointed out the oddity of a holiday centered, largely, around watching explosions. We commemorate the birth of our country by watching fireworks blow up.

It is an odd state of affairs. I’m as anti-gun as anybody, but I also had a great time this weekend blowing up little paper tanks with firecrackers inside. Real tanks blowing up in the news equals really bad. Fake tanks blowing up in the driveway equals a good time.

When Mario hits the dynamite in one of the Super Mario Bros. games (That does happen, right? I’m not hallucinating?), we all cheer and rack up the extra points. When a train blows up in Canada, it’s a tragedy.

I’m not trying to make a case for violence in video games or TV being a cause of violence in real life. I don’t think playing “Call of Duty” is going to turn you into a real-life sniper. And that’s not the fight I’m choosing to wage today, anyway. Just wanted to distinguish the debate, make it clear what I’m not debating, even if it’s not so clear what I am debating.

Fireworks are not violent. Dangerous definitely, and maybe that’s the thrill. But it’s a thrill about big noises and pretty colors, not wanton destruction. (Okay, the tanks are a little bit about wanton destruction. But only a little.) It’s just that when you really think about fireworks as a substitute for an explosion, it sucks some of the fun out of it.

And I’m not sure if that’s a cause for concern. Probably not. Just the sort of thing that happens when you think too much.

Maybe I’ll go have some more pie.

Post Navigation