Wednesday Wonders: Red-blooded? Not necessarily

Previously, I wrote about various foods that aren’t actually their original natural colors for various reasons. These include cherries, oranges, margarine, wasabi, and Blue Curaçao. Now, I’m going to go for the flip side of that one.

When I ask, “What color is blood?” I’d guess that your immediate answer would be “red.” And if you’re a member of certain species, then that is true, those species being humans and most vertebrates.

But that’s not true of every species at all. It depends entirely upon chemistry.

Red

So, if you’re red-blooded, what does it really mean? It has nothing to do with courage, valor, patriotism, or any of those silly attributes. What? Goldfish have red blood. So do dogs and cats. But why is that the case?

It’s simple. Well, it’s actually ultimately complicated, but all you need to really know is that the hemoglobin in our blood, which is the molecule that binds to oxygen and circulates it through our body, contains an iron molecule at the center of a ring structure.

This is what allows your red blood cells to circulate oxygen, out from your lungs, around your body, and back again as carbon dioxide.

If you’re wondering, “Okay, why red? I can’t see oxygen in the air,” think about this. Have you ever seen rust? What color is it? And what is rust? Oxidized iron.

In the body, in reality, the blood in the lungs starts out bright red and winds up a duller and more rust-like color by the time it comes back. But it’s red because of that iron.

But blood doesn’t necessarily need to use iron.

Yellow

Swap the iron out for the metal vanadium, and you get yellow blood, which is found, for example, in beetles and sea cucumbers. Surprise, though: vanadium does nothing to circulate oxygen, so its presence is still a mystery.

Green

While you might associate green blood with a certain popular Star Trek character, one human did surprise surgeons by bleeding green during surgery, although that was due to a medication he was taking rather than alien origins.

Otherwise, it’s really not normal for humans. But there are a few species of lizard that are very green on the inside and, ironically, it’s due to the same chemical that our bodies produce as a waste-product of red blood cell death, but which would kill us if it built up to levels that would actually turn our blood green.

That chemical is biliverdin, which is filtered out by human livers as quickly as possible via conversion to bilirubin.

It’s not such a problem for these species of lizards discovered in New Guinea, which have levels of biliverdin more than twenty-times that ever seen in a human.

Blue

Figuratively, “blue blood” refers to a member of the noble class. The English expression is actually a direct translation of the Spanish sangre azul, and it came from the noble classes of Spain wanting to distinguish themselves from the darker skinned Moorish invaders.

The nobles of Spain claimed descent from the Visigoths, who were actually Germanic and when one has paler skin, the veins that show through their skin appear blue, hence the term. Although, keep in mind that while veins may appear blue, the blood in them actually isn’t.

It’s just a trick of light and refraction, much the same way that our Sun is actually white, but our atmosphere makes it look yellow and, in turn, makes the sky appear blue.

If you want to find real blue blood, you’ll have to seek out certain octopodes, crustaceans, snails and spiders, which are all related. Instead of hemoglobin to transport oxygen, they use hemocyanin, and you can see the clue in the name: cyan is a particular shade of blue.

Instead of iron, hemocyanin uses copper as the oxygen-binding element. When copper oxidizes, it doesn’t rust. Rather, it corrodes, so while corroded copper picks up a green patina, when it carries oxygen in blood, it imparts a blue color.

One of the most famous blue animal bloods came from horseshoe crabs, who until recently were harvested in order to collect their blood because it could be used to test for bacteria, contamination, and toxins during the manufacture of any medicine or medical device intended to go inside of a human.

While the blood harvesting isn’t intended to harm the animals, many of them were still dying in the process, so scientists finally switched to an artificial substitute.

Purple

Finally, we come to the blood color that Romans would have considered the most noble, but find it mostly in lowly worms. These animals use the molecule hemerythrin to transport oxygen, which has two molecules of iron. Before it’s oxygenated, it’s transparent. Once it’s oxygenated, it turns light purple, almost violet.

So there’s a rainbow tour of blood, proving that we have plenty of “alien” biology already here on Earth, as well as that the simplest of molecular changes can make a huge difference in a surface appearance.

Image via (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Talky Tuesday: Beware the -Ides of… words

English is a tricky beast, especially when it comes to verb conjugations. At least a lot of irregular conjugations in other languages happen for reasons of pronunciation — for example, a Spanish verb like conocer, in which the second “C” is pronounced like an “S”, changes to “conozco” in first person present in order to preserve the “S” sound. Slipping the Z in there turns the word into “ko-NOS-ko.” Otherwise, it would be “ko-NO-ko,” which just sounds wrong.

In English, since our spelling is all over the place, that never seems to be the driving force behind why a verb may suddenly become completely irregular.

Now, some of our main irregulars are common to every language. The words for “to be” and “to go” are pretty much a hot mess in any tongue, probably because they are very common. So while there’s neither rhyme no reason to I am, you are, he/she/it is, they are, you (all) are, we are, and even less to a change across tenses like I go, I went, I am going, I have gone, and so on, at least these words are equally strange in English, Spanish, German, French, and so on, and so on.

But it occurred to me recently that there are certain groups of English words that have no consistency in conjugation because, while their infinitives might be spelled the same, they act very differently once we move into the preterite and present perfect.

Today, I’ll just be looking at infinitives that end in –ide, of which I have 29 examples. Out of that total, 19 are completely regular, seven are completely irregular, two of them are mixed, and one of them goes both ways.

The regular infinitives are: to betide, to bide, to blindside, to broadside, to coincide, to collide, to confide, to divide, to elide, to glide, to misguide, to preside, to pride, to provide, to reside, to side, to subdivide, to subside, and to tide.

In each case, both the preterite and present perfect are formed completely regularly, by adding a “D” to the end of each: bided, blindsided, broadsided, etc. Sometimes, this will add an extra syllable to the word, although in a lot of cases it doesn’t. Instead, the original verb just winds up with a T-sound.

For example, watch and snatch become watched and snatched, but are pronounced more like “watcht” and “snatcht.” Likewise, catch becomes… caught.

There’s that inconsistent English irregularity again. Speaking of which, let’s move on to the seven completely irregular –ide verbs: to backslide, to bestride, to hide, to override, to ride, to slide, and to stride.

These can be broken down even further, because there are several ways they can be irregular. In the preterite, they can either be shortened, so that instead of adding the –d, the terminal e is dropped and the “i” becomes a short vowel. For example, to “backslide” becomes “backslid” and not “backslided.” Backslide, slide, and hide all work this way.

The other four change their internal vowel completely, from an “i” to an “o.” For example, to bestride becomes “bestrode.” This seems to be a common feature of most infinitives that end in “–ride”, so bestride, override, ride, and stride all fit this pattern for the preterite.

As for the present perfect, two of the verbs also use the shortened form, so that backslide and slide also become backslid and slid. Meanwhile, all of the others do something strange. They double the letter “D” and add an “N.” For example, to hide becomes hidden.

This is the case for not only to hide, but to bestride, to override, to ride, and to stride; hidden, bestridden, overridden, ridden, stridden.

The oddballs are to chide and deride, because they sort of fall out of any of the above patterns. You might think that “to chide” would follow “to hide” and become “chid” and “chidden,” but it doesn’t. In fact, it’s usually normal in both forms — chided. The present perfect can also be chidden, but this is not the preferred form.

Incidentally, never conjugate “to chide” as “chode,” because that means something entirely different in English, and can also be spelled “choad.” It’s a noun, not a verb, and one that you wouldn’t want to bring up at a family dinner.

As for “to deride,” its past participle is not “derode,” but “derided,” while its present perfect is… deridden.

The remaining oddball is “to abide,” which can be either “abided” or “abode,” but there’s a catch. Abided is preferred for the preterite, while abode is preferred for the present perfect.

Weird, right? So how did this happen? Well, it all comes from the concept of strong and weak verbs. In this case, the ones that just add the –d are the weak ones. Meanwhile, the strong ones have some sort of internal change in the vowels.

Blame this on Old English, which still survives in the modern language even after its been used and abused by French, Germanic, Nordic, Romance, and pretty much every other tongue its ever met. The good news is that most English verbs are weak. The bad news is that you can really only master the strong ones by memorizing them, because there are no hard and fast rules.

But that’s how English works. Enjoy!

Momentous Monday: We, the jury

Here’s a funny story. Once I hit adulthood and after college, I got called to jury duty about every four years or so. Now, I’ll admit that I quickly figured out that the best way to game the system and not get called at all was to re-schedule for a major holiday week — either Thanksgiving week, or one with Yom Kippur or Passover in the middle.

The other trick, once they got into the phone-in system was to wait until as late as possible in the day to call and see if you were selected.

In the first case, none of the attorneys or judges wants to schedule a trial to start up right before or after a holiday, so those weeks tend to not need people. In the second case, all the nervous nellies call starting right at five p.m. and they will get called up. Meanwhile, if you wait until ten or eleven in the evening, all the slots have probably already been filled.

These tactics haven’t always kept me out, but I can only think of three times that I’ve actually had to go down to the courthouse, and I’ve never had to go more than two days in a row.

By the way, I have no objections to the concept of jury duty. I just think that it needs to pay people enough to live on while they do it. Sorry, but $15 a day are untenable wages, period, whether one’s employer compensates or not.

Still — it’s much better, at least in L.A., than it used to be. I remember a judge in one case explaining to us that back in the old days — the 1960s and prior — “jury duty” was set for 30 days, and it meant that people called had to report to the courthouse every day for 30 days, and just sit there and wait until they were called, or not.

No wonder everyone wanted to duck it. I mean, what a shit system, right?

Eventually, the term shortened to 14 days, and then they figured out that telephones where a thing, and by the time I first got called, we’d gotten to the point of, “Don’t come in until we call, but we’ll call you if we need you if you call us to check.”

So, more often than not, I’d get that summons and wind up never having to show up at all.

I only ever made it onto a jury once, sort of. I was chosen as second alternate for a drunk-driving trial. We were empaneled on the first day, testimony began, then we were dismissed for the day before four p.m. and asked to come back to the Van Nuys courthouse the next morning.

Well, we came back and then were told to wait outside. And wait. And wait. Finally, one of the officers who was supposed to testify — I don’t remember whether he was a Sheriff or Highway Patrol — came out in full uniform, looked at us and laughed in full-on condescending asshole mode. “Thanks for coming on down!” he scoffed, and it was yet another moment of me wondering, “Who do these people work for, again?” (And “full-on asshole mode” made me think “Definitely Sheriff.”)

Anyway… the defendant had basically hired one of those bus-stop bench attorneys who was trying to drag things out as long as possible until they came to some plea bargain, and we were no longer needed. Gee. Thanks! We never did find out whether he got off or not, because we had become discards of the system by that point.

Next time around was a murder trial, and I really wanted to be on that one, but for whatever reason I was rejected. I did figure out, though, what case it referred to, followed the proceedings, and was very happy to hear that the jury found the defendant guilty, because he obviously was.

And then… I wound up in the jury pool for one of those cases where ridiculous anti-gang laws led to something along the lines of “The guy we’re trying once dated the sister of the guy who sold the gun to the guy who drove the car of the guy we convicted of homicide, so that first guy is also guilty.”

Okay, not quite as convoluted in real life, but close. Defendant loaned his car to a friend, who drove some other guy to a place where said other guy did a drive-by and killed someone. Defendant was being tried for that homicide, even though he had no idea that’s what he was loaning his car for. (Guess the race of the defendant, by the way.)

When it got to the questioning, one of the things the prosecutor asked each of us was, “Could you find someone guilty under a law you did not agree with?”

Now, I could have committed perjury and said, “Yes,” then proceeded to refuse to convict. But there’s the problem. Could I find someone guilty under that kind of law, especially when that kind of law seems to be targeted directly at people of color?

Oh, hell no. And when the prosecutor — who, by the way, was one of those perfectly obnoxious conservative Hate Barbies — heard my answer, she got me kicked off the panel, and that was it.

I never heard what happened in that case but… I also wasn’t called back to jury duty for over eight years, until last October, which was the worst possible time, since I was still working in Medicare then. I got it postponed to December and pulled my old holiday trick — reset for December 21, 2020, the Monday before Christmas.

Now, COVID-19 probably contributed somewhat, in that the number of actual in-person hearings and trials may be low, but in any case I only called in a couple of times before they said, “Thanks, you’re done.”

I had started to wonder, though: Had I wound up on some kind of list? Did I garner some sort of “I’m not going to rubber stamp your bullshit” badge?

On the one hand, that would be flattering. On the other… I did finally get called again. It still irks me, though, that even with a jury trial, some people never do get justice. Sometimes, especially not with a jury trial.

Sunday Nibble #54: Words, words, words

One of my lifelong joys has been used bookstores and or used book sales, and from a very early age, whenever I could ever avail myself of one or the other and ride the three miles home on a bike with several heavy bags on the handlebars, or stuff my car trunk with several boxes, or whatever… the downside is that actually being able to patronize such places were taken away as an option a year ago.

And then, last week, I happened to stumble upon a place that was near where I grew up, but not there when I grew up at all, and wound up spending a ton of time crawling the shelves and coming out with a just amazing stack of stuff that cost around thirteen dollars.

One thing that they had a lot of that’s usually hard to find: Books of sheet music, generally collections of popular songs from various years or decades, or on various themes. I wound up with Television Sheet Music Hits (from Warner Music, so not surprisingly all Warner Bros. produced shows); Biggest Hits of ’92-’93; Popular Hits of the ‘90s; 50 Songs of WW II; and Bradley’s New Top Movie Tunes (© 1994), also Warner Music.

On top of those, I grabbed an AP Spanish Language study guide, presumably for the AP test 2018, and didn’t even realize it at the time that it came with a CD full of MP3s. It’ll be interesting to go through it and see how much I’ve learned on my own in the last seven-ish years that I didn’t learn taking five years of Spanish in high school — or at least which didn’t stick.

Two funny Spanish AP stories. When I got to junior year and the same Spanish class I’d been with since starting middle school, we all landed in AP and on the first day the teacher asked us whether we’d rather study grammar or literature.

The vote: Absolutely unanimous for grammar — and she vetoed it, saying that we’d learn grammar better by reading the literature. As a result, someone in the class found out that the University Library at Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) was available for L.A. Unified School District students. We couldn’t check anything out, but we could go in and read or copy as much as we wanted.

But the important part: They just so happened to have every book we were assigned to read for the Spanish class, translated into English. We alternated going down there to make copies of the shorter works, which we’d then share with each other. For longer books, we’d just read them in the library and make notes.

Consequently, we really didn’t learn shit about Spanish or its grammar that year because we all took the lazy way out. Now, at the time and like my fellow students, I was vehement in believing that learning grammar was the way to go. Looking back on it now from the point of view of someone who became fluent from self-study, I see that we were all wrong. Immersion, including reading everything, is the way to go.

Not long after I’d left high school, I’d pretty much lost my Spanish other than knowing basic words and short expressions. Anything complicated or conjugated, forget it. Now, I’ve gone way past translating in my head and can communicate with native speakers just fine.

The other funny Spanish AP story: I was scheduled to take the AP placement exam on a Saturday morning. The Friday night before was a high school football game, and I was in band. I played drums mainly because you can’t march with a piano. I don’t remember whether I’d forgotten my mallets or broke one, but we were on the field.

I ran back up to the classroom to grab a pair. On the way back down, I decided to try my powers of flight instead of actually taking the stairs, and twisted my ankle. I still played and marched the whole game, but wouldn’t get a chance to go to a doctor until after the test.

I showed up using one of my dad’s golf clubs as a makeshift walking stick, took the test in a lot of distracting pain, and I don’t remember doing all that well, although it was well enough to get me the college credits for that course.

Combined with my other AP credits, I actually started university as a second semester freshman, with the huge advantage being that I automatically wound up registering before all of the first semester freshman, so I got every class I wanted, and the pattern repeated.

Of course, instead of just graduating a semester early, I had to be ambitious, so in addition to my major in Communications, I had a double minor in Abnormal Psychology and Theatre, which all kind of go together in a way.

The four other finds in this bonanza were sort of random. The first, A Day in the Life of California, is a coffee table picture book created when a bunch of professional photo journalists were sent out to take pictures in the state, all on the same day: April 29, 1988. It was a massive undertaking and, from what I can remember hearing about it at the time, a pretty big deal.

The book itself tells me that it resulted in 115,000 photos, and it wasn’t the first time they did this. The back flap of the dust jacket lists six other entries in the A Day in the Life of… series. I have no idea what the original price was. It’s currently on Amazon for $25.95, but I got it for one dollar.

Another book, called Field Guide to Luck, was targeted as a how-to guide on using the lucky talismans of various cultures in order to get lucky, but at the same time, it’s just a handy reference to all kinds of folk superstitions, which will always be useful as a writer.

Another interesting random find was The Ultimate Fantasy Sourcebook and CD-ROM, a collection of free-to-use hand-drawn art depicting fairies, wizards, dragons, castles, and more, which seemed like it might be useful in future art projects. Finally, there’s Mathematical Lateral Thinking Puzzles, which are always good for keeping the brain sharp.

For example, you have ten letters, each written to a different person, and ten envelopes each addressed to one of those ten people. You put the letters into the envelopes blindly. What are the odds that exactly nine of them are in the right envelope?

Post your guesses in the comments, and tell me about your favorite used book store.

The Saturday Morning Post #55: The Rêves Part 33

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Farewell, for now

It was a warm and sunny day, but with an uncharacteristic cool breeze that kept them all from overheating in their formal wear — Joshua had put on his favorite ghost-hunting outfit to match Simon’s funeral garb.

“That’s the Hadas,” Preston had whispered to him when they got out of the car and walked toward the funeral home for the viewing and service.

“What?” Joshua asked. Honestly, he was barely holding it together.

“The breeze,” Preston explained. “Otherwise, I’m sure it would be five hundred degrees out.”

“Wait. You can feel the breeze?” Joshua asked incredulous.

“And I can see it. That’s how I know it’s the Hadas.”

The room the service took place in was called a chapel, but this was the non-denominational one they had selected. The man who had set up the arrangements originally had referred to it as their “Secular Sanctuary.”

There were no religious symbols of any kind in it. Nor were the seats arranged in any manner resembling a traditional church. Instead of heavy wood pews and an altar and bema, it was more like a theater, with red velvet seats arranged in tiers in an arc around a semi-circular thrust stage.

As they entered, Preston announced, “We’re still here if you need us,” and then he and Danny respectfully faded from view.

Simon’s favorite songs were playing quietly in the background on a loop. Brent and Drew were already there when Joshua and company arrived, both dressed dapperly in matching and very formal morning wear. They greeted Joshua and gave their condolences.

Joshua thanked them, then excused himself and went to the coffin, which was open. He stood for a long time, just looking at Simon’s face, still not believing that he was gone — for the moment or for good — all the grief hitting him again.

“I’m going to get that motherfucker, honey,” he whispered before kissing Simon on the forehead, and he could have sworn he heard Simon very clearly say, “I know.”

Joshua wheeled around to see that Simon wasn’t there, but Brenda and her family had just entered the place. She saw him and nodded, then brought them over for the introductions.

“This is Joshua,” she explained. “A friend of mine I met on the job. Joshua, my mother Esme, daughter Malia, my son, Samuel, and my husband, Jonah.”

Esme took both of his hands and looked him in the eyes. “I am so, so sorry for your loss, dear. I can’t even begin to express it. Be safe, be well, be in his love.”

“Thank you,” Joshua said.

The kids greeted him with shy and awkward “Hellos,” and then Jonah shook his hand. “I am so sorry about your loss, brother” he said. “When it’s someone you love enough to share your life with… I can’t even imagine. I mean, I’d be devastated if I lost Brenda.”

“Thank you,” Joshua said, trying not to cry again. He distracted himself by doing the intros with Brett and Drew, and then said, “Looks like we’re all here. Well, almost.”

“This is it?” Brenda asked.

“By choice,” Joshua replied. “We didn’t want too big of a deal now, but maybe we’ll have a huge memorial later on.”

A side door opened and Olam escorted in Charity Walters. She would be officiating the services, such as they were, and was ordained in the Universal Life Church, having incorporated as The Holy Church of Dogs Are God, LLC.

She had officiated at Joshua and Simon’s wedding, but she wasn’t just a random fake holy person that they knew. She was also one of Joshua’s oldest friends, and by extension Simon’s. She was more like a sister to Joshua, and they would have done anything for each other — and had, many times in the past.

She wrapped him in a silent hug and they both cried together for a moment, then she pulled away and whispered, “How you holding up, baby?”

“Not great,” Joshua said.

“I know,” she replied. “Shall we…?”

“Please.”

Everyone took their seats as Charity took to the stage. As usual when she officiated, her attire was amazing, and really complimented Joshua’s and Simon’s, in a way. She was wearing a three-piece women’s business suit in a very 1940s cut with a long skirt, in a black and white houndstooth pattern — which was actually a very subtle nod to branding.

She wore white gloves and red square-heeled boots, and the suitcoat and skirt were piped in black, while the vest had white mock-ivory buttons. Her blouse beneath it matched her shoes precisely. Around but under the collar, she wore a white Geneva band, its two tails being somewhat reminiscent of British priests and barristers.

Her hat was a small black cloche with a half-veil in black lace, weighted at the bottom corners with white pearls that held it in place. Her lipstick matched her shoes and blouse.

Finally, she had a long, thin scarf draped over her shoulders to come down the front rather like a Catholic priest’s stole. For this occasion, she had chosen a rainbow pattern that repeated on each side.

The image was powerful, as it always was when she officiated, and she looked like some Golden Age of Hollywood era starlet reincarnated and put in exactly the right setting.

“Greetings, people — of all ages, races, beliefs, genders, orientations, origins, and classes, we have come together today to pay tribute to the loss of an amazing person, Simon Johan Aisling, who was taken from us far too soon.”

Brent put his hand on Joshua’s arm and gave him a look. Joshua just glanced over and nodded a thanks.

“Now, I’m not just officiating here today. It’s been my pleasure to have known Joshua and Simon for — how long has it been now? I want to say since just after college, which was — ” she mumbled — “years ago. And in all that time, I can’t say that I have met a more compassionate, passionate, caring, involved, giving, amazing person than Simon. He was a truly gentle soul but, at the same time, an intellectual and emotional giant.”

She went on with a series of stories and anecdotes over the years, some of which Joshua knew, and some of which he didn’t, and all of it sent the emotions racing through his mind — both joy at the love of a wonderful person he had known, and sheer despair at the loss.

She finally finished up with one that brought out all of the emotions in Joshua. “I still remember to this day the night that Joshua came to me to ask my advice. He and Simon had known each other for years at that point. Probably half their lives by then, since they’d met at thirteen.

“They’d been the best of friends since forever, but he called, I invited him over for dinner, and he was really confused because he realized that he’d fallen in love with Simon, but this was different. They’d dated other people before, and had come out to each other in college, but their relationship had always been platonic.

“‘But it suddenly hit me, Charity,’ he said, and I could see the look of confusion in his eyes. ‘He’s not just my best friend,’ he told me. ‘He is The One.’ So what do I do?

“Now, I’ve never told you this before, Josh, but… what I wanted to say right then and there was, ‘You ask him out, dummy!’ But I didn’t. My minor in social work kicked in, so I talked you through an hour of questions that got you around to your eureka moment of telling me, ‘I have to ask him out.’ Which is how therapy works, by the way.

“So you did, and he said yes, and the rest is history, and if I remember correctly, it wasn’t all that long after that the two of you started a very successful tech biz, and it was because your talents and interests meshed perfectly.

“They say that opposites attract, but that’s not really true. What attracts are people with similar interests, values, and traits. But what holds them together is the meshing of complementary skills and tastes, which was absolutely the case here.

“I’m not going to call anything out, but I know that one of you was great at coding, the other wasn’t. One of you was into marketing and the other wasn’t. One of you loved to do accounting and the other hated it. You were both smart enough to hire business consultants, and so there you went. Hand in hand together.

“And long before most of your friends and family knew you were actually a couple, I was lucky enough to officiate one of the most beautiful and moving weddings I’ve ever done. I am so, so sorry that I have to officiate this ceremony today. I wasn’t expecting to do this for another fifty or sixty years, if at all.

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because the joy that Simon brought into so many lives needs to be celebrated.”

She stepped aside and video came up on the big screen on the back wall — a series of video clips and photos of Simon’s life, with and without Joshua, most of them from Social media.

There were things here that Joshua didn’t even know existed, like “shot by potato” quality clips from low-res video cams and early flip phones from their college days just after the turn of the century, to photos from the years just before they had met in the late 90s, some of them even clearly taken on film cameras.

The montage ended with some of the high-res stuff they had done between five and ten years ago for their company social media, mostly excited announcements of new product launches in which the two of them engaged in playfully mocking banter and the chemistry between them couldn’t have been more obvious if they’d been wearing lab coats.

It ended with Simon’s name above the dates, 1985 — 2023, and then faded out.

After a bit of silence, Charity returned to the stage. “I’m not the only member of Simon and Joshua’s ‘Family by Choice’ here today, and I’d now like to introduce two men that Joshua and Simon both considered adopted uncles — ”

“Aunties!” Drew called out.

“That, too!” Charity laughed. “Anyway, two older men who were always mentors. Now, for a few words from Brent Rouseau and Drew Weisheit.

Brent and drew stepped from their seats, Brent helping Drew up, then went up on the stage, taking a bit of time as Drew moved haltingly, and finally taking their places. Olam rolled a lectern out and put on the brakes while they moved, so that Drew had something to lean on.

“I could tell you where and when I met Joshua,” Brent started, “But it’s kind of naughty, so I won’t.”

“It wasn’t naughty at all,” Drew cut in. “It was just a party.”

“Yes, but — ”

“All right, a bit decadent, but he was a good boy the whole time.”

“Okay, true. But what I will say is that I quickly realized that he and his boyfriend were a lot more special than I’d thought at first, and Drew and I pretty soon brought them into our inner circle.”

“Both of them really were into old movies and music, and that’s my field, so we really hit it off, and they could listen to me talk about them for hours — ”

“Or you just talked their ears off, dear.” Brent replied.

“It was to distract you from feeding them to death,” Drew said. “If you’d had your way, they’d both be over three hundred pounds by now.”

“I’m southern, dear. Food is love.”

“Food is overrated!” Brent scoffed.

Joshua just stared, chuckling to himself, and he could hear Brenda and Jonah trying not to, while their kids, being kids, were honestly giggly at this marital bickering. It was the comedy relief that Joshua really needed.

They ultimately wound up delivering a really nice tribute to Simon before sitting down, Olam removing the lectern during their exit, and it had done Joshua a world of good, because he knew what was coming up next on the program.

“Now, of course, we couldn’t finish this ceremony without a few words from Simon’s widower and loving husband, Joshua Hunter.”

Joshua stood and went to the stage, Charity taking both of his hands in hers and telling him quietly, “You got this, honey,” before he turned back to the crowd.

“Ha,” he thought. “Crowd.” There were seven people looking at him directly from the audience, two off to the side, and two more hanging out invisibly. He didn’t have any notes or anything really prepared. He took a moment to look at Simon in the coffin, and then just winged it.

“You know, I never suspected in a million years that I’d be here, giving this speech, on this day, so soon. I’m only thirty-eight, and he wouldn’t have been for another three months. No, we were supposed to both live as long as our uncle Drew there — who’s 97, by the way.

“Think about that one. He was born almost sixty years before Simon or I, and he’s still here. Meanwhile…”

He let it hang for a moment, trying to not get too emotional, before he reeled it in and found an anchor. “Meanwhile… 1998. That was only 25 years ago, but it was also in another century and another era. It was a Monday in December, and I remember the date exactly, actually.

“December 14, 1998. It was right before our middle school was going to go on winter break, it was lunchtime, and a bunch of us who had seen Star Trek: Insurrection during its opening weekend were discussing it. And I was quickly realizing that, while my nerdy friends and I had all been huge fans of TNG — um, The Next Generation, that’s the Patrick Stewart series that followed up the William Shatner one decades later — anyway, they are just gushing all over the movie, while I was not all that impressed.

“And I tried to express my disdain and explain why and kept getting shot down until, at one point, this kid I’d never met before who’d been eating lunch at a nearby bench suddenly came over and went, ‘Hey. I didn’t like it either for the same reasons, and I am the biggest TNG fanboy on the planet!’

“I kind of didn’t know I was gay at that point. I mean, I was thirteen, and puberty was in the first year or two of rearing its ugly head, although I preferred hanging out with the guys. And then here comes this one who is, honestly, really good-looking, even then, and he validates me.

“Oh — on the good-looking thing at thirteen, I know that sounds creepy, but when you’re in your own demographic it makes sense. It’s only creepy if they stay good looking while you get older, nod to the major creep moment in Dazed and Confused, with Matthew McConaughey’s ‘I get older, they stay the same age’ quote.

“No, thanks. But what happened in that moment was that Simon and I became friends real fast, spent every recess and lunch after that together, realized we didn’t have any classes in common, then swapped numbers and stayed in touch over the break, and beyond.

“So I suddenly had a school bestie, and that lasted on up into high school, and we even chose the same college — UCLA — and worked it so that we wound up as roommates, and then on the last night of high school, after graduation at one of the many parties — and after we’d locked in on the UCLA thing, he came to me and said, ‘Hey. Let’s take a walk.’”

“So we did. And we were at some house up on Mullholland near the Universal Studios side, so we wandered out onto a dark bluff above the city lights, mostly making small talk until we sat and stared off at the city for a long time, saying nothing.

“Finally, he turned to me and said — and I remember his exact words — ‘Dude, don’t hate me, okay? But I think I’m into dudes and not girls.’

“I just turned and looked at him, and I think my jaw hit my knees, and I said nothing for a while, but I could hear him muttering, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry. Really, I’m… sorry.’ Then I finally mustered up the courage to reply. ‘Dude, number one. Shut up. Number two — me, too.’

“And it was his turn to fall silent until he replied with a very timid and weak, ‘Really?’

“’Yeah, man. Really.’ And so we hugged, and kept our secret, and went off to college for four years and had a wonderful time, and even wound up coming out in college to everyone and joining a group called Ten Percent, but never once did we even consider doing anything with each other because… well, honestly, that would have felt like incest and icky. Or something.

“So we graduate college, each of us had had several boyfriends by that time, and several after, and then, one day in July 2009, a couple of years out and after we’d gone to see a movie and then hung out afterwards, it hit me.

“’He is the one.’ And so I called Charity, like she already explained, then I made the date with Simon and we went on it and… our first date was a disaster. Oh, not because of us. Rather, it was because we wound up going to no fewer than three highly-rated restaurants that had actually shut down, mixing up the summer and fall venues of the L.A. Philharmonic, and then getting a flat tire on the way home.

“And none of that shit mattered. We had a great time through it all, and by the end of that evening, both of us knew it, and he actually said it first. ‘Dude… I think you might be the one.

“So that was that,” Joshua said. “Looking back, it really was love at first sight. We were just too immature to realize it. But once we did, then that was it. And it was supposed to last forever, but…”

He looked back at the coffin, then at the audience, and then the tidal wave of emotion hit him. Before he collapsed completely, Charity rushed on and hugged him. Meanwhile, Olam came on and took center stage.

“Thus ends our memorial service. We shall now move to the internment site for our final good-byes.”

Since there were nowhere near enough pallbearers, the casket had been placed on a pair of Boston Dynamics robots (with matte black finishes, of course), which rose to the occasion and proceeded to march down the center aisle and out the doors.

Joshua smiled at this bit. Simon really would have loved it. But the real surprise didn’t come until Joshua and the others stepped outside and into the sunlight.

Preston and Danny were standing on either side of the doors, fully manifest — and Preston had even put clothes on — and when the coffin came out, they took their positions as first and second pallbearers. Even though they could not have supported any of the load it was a beautiful symbolic gesture.

On top of that, there were seemingly hundreds of Rêves, probably all Class I and Class III, lined up along the walk, and as soon as the coffin came down the steps and onto the path, every single one of them knelt and bowed their head.

Joshua was so moved that he almost fell over, but then Pearl and Anabel were at his side to guide him. At least Brenda, Brent and Drew had already seen Rêves, and Brenda’s husband and kids had seen them on TV.

Olam, not so much, and he just stood in the doorway in shock.

At the gravesite, Charity took her place at the head as the coffin was placed onto the green canvas straps that would lower it home.

“I know that the ashes to ashes thing is popular at times like this,” she said, “But I prefer Carl Sagan’s description. ‘We are all born of star-stuff.’ In fact, we are nothing but what was created by the deaths of countless supernovae — motes of dust. So, in the words of another tradition, ‘So mote it be.’ Rest in power, Simon.”

She bowed her head and the robots each placed a foot on the cranks at the top right and bottom left corners of the grave and spun, lowering the closed casket into its final place.

As everyone turned away, Brent announced, “For anyone who would like to attend, we’re having a reception and luncheon afterwards at our place. Ask me for the address.”

Everyone, except Olam, of course, got the address, and so they were on their way, although Joshua hung back for a bit with Danny and Preston.

“So… that’s that,” he said.

“Yep,” they both agreed.

“Only one problem left, then,” he said. “I need to find Peter Lorre for Ausmann, and I have no idea.”

“Are you kidding?” Preston asked.

“What?” Joshua replied.

“If you want to summon a Rêve, you only have to go to their grave and bring a Rêve with you.”

“Are you shitting me?” Joshua demanded.

“No. What? No one ever told you?”

“Um… no?” Joshua exclaimed. “But, wait. I know where Simon’s grave is, so can’t I just — “

“Not yet,” Preston insisted.

“Why not?”

“They only just pulled him out of the freezer and put him in there, okay? It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

“Okay, okay, I forgot,” Joshua said. “So — do either of you know where Peter Lorre is?”

“You can probably look it up on the intrawebs,” Daniel suggested.

“Oh, right,” he said, quickly finding the location. “There he is, let’s go,” he told them.

“Don’t you have a luncheon to go to?” Preston demanded.

“I do,” Joshua replied. “But Mr. Lorre is going to be a guest of honor.”

“Why’s that?” Danny asked.

“I have my reasons. Now just lead the way!”

“Okay, daddy,” Preston replied, and they guided him as he drove to Lorre’s gravesite in Hollywood after a bit of a schlep.

“Now what?” Joshua asked.

Preston laughed and dropped into the ground. A few seconds later, he returned with the Rêve Peter Lorre, who was in full-on bug-eyed Casablanca mode.

“Who is it? Who disturbs my rest? Reek, Reek, help me — ”

Before he could finish that sentence, Joshua had deployed the trap strapped to his wrist and sucked Lorre in, slamming it shut. Danny and Preston both looked at him, alarmed.

“Dude!” they exclaimed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But if you want to defeat Ausmann this is absolutely necessary. Trust me. Now come back to the car, and let’s get this party started.”

By the time Joshua made it up to Brent and Drew’s, everyone was well into the meal. Just before they entered, Joshua told Preston and Danny, “Stay visible. I want you to meet them.”

“Are you sure?” Danny asked.

“Yes,” Joshua said. “There wouldn’t be two of you without them.”

They looked confused but manifested, Joshua warning Preston before they entered. “Clothes, please. There are kids present.”

“Sorry!” Preston sighed, materializing his funeral suit.

“There he is!” Brent called out. “Naughty boy. Late to your own funeral party.”

“Sorry! I had business to attend to at the cemetery. Plus two friends to pick up. Preston and Danny, this is Brent.”

“Enchanté!” Brent announced, moving to kiss each of their wrists before realizing. “Oh… you’re… I see.”

By this point, the four of them had entered the main living room, and when they walked in, Drew spotted Danny and Preston and gasped.

“My god!” he said, way too loudly. “You actually found that porn star, and now there are two of him?”

“Ixnay, Ewdray. Erethay areway ildrenchay, okayway?” Brent said out of the side of his mouth.

“We do need to talk about the twin thing,” Joshua said, “But later, okay?”

Drew made his way over to them and looked intently at Preston and then Danny. “My god, I can’t even tell which is which.”

“That’s because I made the naughty one not wear his work uniform,” Joshua whispered. “But… I am really hungry and want some of your husband’s amazing cooking. If you want, you can show the boys your library?”

“Good idea,” Drew said. “Boys?”

“Daddy…” Preston leered at him as Danny slapped his ass in protest. They followed Drew off and up the stairs to his inner sanctum.

At least Joshua knew that it was impossible to molest a Rêve.

He spotted Charity, who was chatting away with Brenda, and joined them.

“Hi!”

“Hello,” Charity said. “So Brenda was just explaining to me what all of those… spirits were we saw there. You never told me that you and Simon were involved in hunting them down.”

“We thought it was research,” Joshua said. “We were lied to. So now, we’re involved in stopping the guy who wants to destroy them. Well, we were, now it’s just me… but I’m going to do it.”

“And you really don’t want that job I offered you?” Brenda asked.

“It sounded to me like that job was just what Ausmann had us doing, but on steroids.”

“The terms are probably subject to change if you give them new information.”

“Too late for that, really,” Joshua said. “I think I’m pretty close to what they call in chess and the MCU the endgame.”

“Are you sure?” Brenda asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Joshua said. “A pawn is about to be promoted, and then two queens are going to take out the opposing king. Checkmate.”

“You sound so confident.”

“I am confident.” he replied. “So… let’s just celebrate Simon now, and our victory over Ausmann later. Which won’t be all that much later.”

Brenda gave Joshua a skeptical look, but Charity turned to her and said, “I know him. He only gets like this when he’s about 125% sure of himself. Otherwise, he’s a ball of doubt. Trust him.”

“And… thank… you?” Joshua said to her.

“You know it’s true, silly,” Charity replied, and he did. She could read him like a fucking book. She’d always been able to.

The three of them intentionally turned the conversation away from anything to do with the Rêves and Ausmann and went to hang out with Esme, Jonah, and the kids, who had already taken a trip to Brent’s fabulous dessert bar.

Brenda gave the adults a jaundiced eye when she saw the ice cream monstrosities that Malia and Samuel had doled out way too generously in their bowls, but Esme just rebuked her quietly.

“Stressful event, let them,” she said. “You know you want to, too. No… you know you need to. Go. Gorge. No guilt. No guilt at funerals.”

Brenda turned to Charity and Joshua, who both said almost the same words, to the effect of, “Always listen to your mother,” and very soon they were loading bowls with way too much ice cream in the most decadent flavors, topping them with chocolate sauce, hot fudge, butterscotch, and every kind of sprinkly thing imaginable.

By the time all of them had finished, they’d collapsed onto the various sofas in food comas, the only sound coming from the water running in the kitchen and Brent happily humming to himself as he did the dishes.

“Yeah, I needed that,” Joshua muttered eventually, and Charity agreed.

“Amen,” she said.

“Probably best we be making our move now,” Jonah announced. “The kids are going to be crashing, and we should leave the real family alone for the evening.”

“True,” Brenda said, and she and her husband and mother pulled themselves to their feet. Jonah picked up Samuel and Brenda did likewise with Malia.

“Thank you for the invite,” she told Joshua. “You’ll have to come on down for dinner and game night soon. Both of you.”

“I’d love that,” he said.

“We’re all about game night,” Charity added.

And so the Family Mason made their way out, and then Joshua and Charity were rebuked when they asked Brent if they could help in the kitchen. The two of them wandered back to the living room.

“So, I should be going — ”

“No,” Joshua insisted.

“But I should,” she said, “Because you still have one bit of business left to do, and it probably doesn’t concern me.”

“What? How…”

“You sent your little ghost boys off with the older husband a while ago, and you’re very sure that you’re close to defeating this… what was his name?”

“The less you know the better.”

“See?” Charity said. “I can read you like a book, Joshie. And right now, that book is saying, ‘Strap in for the climax.’”

He just stared at her for a long beat, then finally broke out in a smile and laugh. “And this is why I fucking love you, Charity Walters.”

“I know,” she said, winking and stroking his inner Star Wars nerd — and yes, one could be both a Star Wars and Star Trek nerd at the same time, Joshua and Simon had been living proof of that.

Goddammit, Joshua thought again. Had been.

But then Charity left, and it was now down to just Joshua, Brent, Drew, and the boys, so Joshua went to the bottom of the stairs and called up. “We’re ready for you all now!” he shouted.

After a few moments, Drew descended the stairs, Danny and Preston flanking and supporting him as best they could, and Preston was back in his porn star costume.

Joshua shot them a look that clearly said, “What did you do?” But Danny and Preston both just winked back at him as if to say, “Whatever.”

Drew certainly seemed happy, then he turned to Joshua and smiled. “The boys told me you had an assignment for me,” he said.

“I did. I do,” Joshua said. “Let’s go outside.”

Out on the deck by the pool, with the Sun sinking in the west, Joshua quickly explained everything. How Ausmann wanted to destroy the Rêves, but in order to do that, he had to steal their secrets. But, in order to steal their secrets, he had to find a Class II Rêve who was only known for playing cowardly characters who would sell out anyone else to save their asses.

“Well, shit,” Brent drawled, “Just go find a dead Senator or two…”

“Amen,” Drew exclaimed.

“No, he came up with someone very specific. Peter Lorre,” Joshua explained.

“Who was far from cowardly, goddammit,” Drew exclaimed. “That is absolute slander!”

“I know, I know,” Joshua said. “Which is the whole point of this exercise.” He pulled the trap from his pocket and showed it to them. “Do you remember what happened with Ramon Novarro?” he asked.

“He didn’t seem too happy when he left here,” Drew replied.

“Well, that changed,” Joshua said. “And look at my guys here. Danny and Preston. You gave us the info, Simon and I accidentally made them, and now…? They are the best of friends.”

“Okay, so… what? You want me to split Lorre because I knew him? Is this just some sick experiment?”

“Not at all!” Joshua countered. “No. This is our secret weapon against a genocidal maniac who wants to destroy not only you, but the recently deceased love of my life.”

“Okay,” Drew muttered, still seeming confused. “But how can a B-List foreign star who generally only played creeps and villains convince anybody of anything?”

“What did I just tell you? Remind him of who he was. That’s the Lorre we need. That’s our secret weapon. Understand?”

“What if he doesn’t — ”

“How well did you really know him?” Joshua asked.

“A lot,” Drew finally answered.

“Great,” Joshua replied. “Then you are our secret weapon.”

He raised the trap in his left hand, thumb moving into position to open it.

“What if I can’t split him?” Drew asked.

“Oh, you will,” Joshua says. “I’m sure of it. Ready?”

“Fuck no!”

Danny and Preston flanked Drew. “Don’t worry, dude,” whispering in his ears. “We’re here.”

“So, ready?” Joshua asked, but Drew didn’t reply Neither did Joshua. But then he opened the trap and Peter Lorre drifted out. For a brief moment, he flashed through his more iconic roles before suddenly sticking in place, looking very young and curly haired as he did in The Maltese Falcon.

“Joel Cairo,” Drew said, in awe. I loved that movie. I was about fifteen when it came out, and I saw it a dozen times. Memorized all the dialogue — ”

“You always have a very smooth explanation ready,” Lorre as Cairo said.

“Like that line!” Drew perked up. “What was next…? Oh, right. ‘What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?’”

Lorre looked at him oddly. “You look different, Sam.”

“That’s because I’m not Sam, Joel,” Drew said. “And you’re not Joel. Pete.”

Lorre stared and started to morph through his various characters, finally stopping in what were clearly casual civilian clothes of Hollywood in the early 60s. “Andy?” he said quietly.

“Long time, no see, huh?” Drew told him. “Oh, remember all those times you told me stories about working with Bogart and Greenstreet, and you had me laughing my ass off?”

“I don’t know the lines…” he muttered, a little panicky before swapping back to Ugarte from Casablanca. “Rick?” he pleaded with the familiar drawn-out pronunciation: “Reeek!

“You were always good at learning lines, Pete. Oh — you used to quote your films when we all hung out together, too. Except that you’d exaggerate and make fun of your performances — ”

“I have the transit papers, Rick,” he offered, hands shaking. “Please don’t — ”

“I remember you very well, Pete. Well, that’s what you insisted I call you, but you’ll always be Mr. Lorre to me. A real Hollywood icon, sure, but also a real friend.

“You despise me, don’t you?” Lorre as Ugarte demanded.

“Not at all,” Drew said. “I loved you as a friend — ”

“Follow the damn script!” Ugarte practically screamed before shrinking into apologetic human Chihuahua mode. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sometimes I say things — ”

“That other people wrote for you, Pete.”

“You are a very cynical person, Rick, if you’ll forgive me for saying so.”

“I told you. I am not Rick. I am Drew. You knew me as Andy. I knew you as Peter Lorre, but your birth name was László Löwenstein, and you were born in Hungary.”

“Rick. Rick! Hide me — ”

Before he could continue, Lorre’s eyes rolled, he morphed rapid-fire through a bunch of characters, and then collapsed in a puff of black smoke onto the patio.

Joshua grinned at Drew and gave him thumbs-up. As they’d seen before, gray smoke moved away as the first cloud coalesced into character Lorre. The second one approached Drew and took on the form of real Lorre.

“Andy!” he smiled, his accent not quite as strong as on film, though still present. “How are you?”

“I’m doing great, Pete. And you?”

“Couldn’t be better.”

He suddenly vanished in a wisp of smoke into the trap Joshua had redeployed, now closing it and pocketing it.

“Why did you do that?” Drew demanded.

“Couldn’t have him noticing his double and getting away,” Joshua said. “He’s the key to the plan.”

“What about the other one?”

“He can go back to Hollywood and hang out with the tourists if he wants.” Joshua turned to look, and character Lorre didn’t hesitate to take the advice, shooting off into the night sky.

Joshua looked at Danny and Preston, and all of them grinned. He indicated the trap in his pocket. “I think I’ve now got the key to destroying Ausmann.”

“Brilliant!” Preston exclaimed, Danny nodding in agreement. They said their good-byes and left, passing a very nonplussed looking Brent in the back slider. He watched them go, then turned to Drew.

“Honey, in the contest between whether this year or 2020 is weirder, I think we’re quickly catching up.”

* * *

image source: Melissa, Peter Lorre — Hollywood Walk of Fame, licensed under (CC) BY-ND 4.0

Friday-free-for-all #53: Overreaction, sport, tech, sequel

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

  1. What’s the biggest overreaction you’ve ever seen?

January 6, 2021, when a childish bunch of uninformed, conspiracy-believing Qidiots tried to storm the Capitol, take over Congress, stop the certification of the electoral vote count, and maybe kill a few Reps and Senators while they were at it.

They’re still whining about it even now, after their self-proclaimed “deadlines” of January 20, March 4, and March 20 all passed, and there was not a sudden storm of arrests of prominent Democrats, with the former guy being put back in office.

They’ve gotten a lot less shrill online — at least publicly — although there are still the trollbots who show up on every Tweet by President Biden, all with the same cut-and-paste, no doubt bot-created comment: “Win a real election.”

It’s gratifying to see those comments get shoouted down immediately and loudly by dozens of supporters of our duly elected 46th president.

Now, of course, I didn’t see the events of January 6 in person, but I did watch them in real time, and it was an appalling display of a bunch of people being the exact opposite of patriotic.

  1. What sport would be the funniest to add a mandatory amount of alcohol to?

Well, I don’t think it’s a funny idea at all, although my snappy glib answer would be “NASCAR.” Oh, wait. That’s not a sport. It’s just a bunch of drivers repeatedly turning left while wasting fossil fuels.

Golf and bowling pretty much already seem to have mandatory amounts of alcohol. Fun factoid: Rumor has it that a golf course has 18 holes because that’s how many shots are in a fifth of liquor.

Of course, it isn’t true at all, which is why I called it a factoid, per its first definition.

Probably the funniest and least dangerous would be curling. Think about it. A bunch of drunk people, on ice, pushing around a stone by sweeping the ice in front of it — except that they can all barely stand up. It would certainly make it more popular.

  1. What piece of technology would look like magic or a miracle to people in medieval Europe?

Which one wouldn’t? It’s a perfect example of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

We can probably leave out simple mechanical devices, like steam engines, because they don’t go too far beyond what people of the time might have been familiar with. All right, they didn’t actually have those yet, but in the 12th century, there was an organ powered by heated water, so the concept existed.

Certainly, educated clergy would have some familiarity with ancient science and technology, a lot of which was mechanically advanced and lost to the Middle Ages in general.

Of course, one big trick is this: If you take this device back in time, it has to work there, meaning that you couldn’t do a whole lot on a cellphone, although you could convince people that it’s a magic window that shows living pictures if you put enough video on it.

At the same time, with a concealed walkie-talkie and a partner, you could play all kinds of “Talking to spirits games,” although those would probably be dangerous, and more likely to get you executed as a heretic.

The real miracle, though, would be modern medicine. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to use any of our current diagnostic techniques because they mostly require large amounts of electricity — I’m thinking X-rays, MRIs, CAT and PET scans, and so on.

But for years doctors have relied on differential diagnoses using manuals in which they basically walk through a checklist of symptoms to find likely causes. They could use that low-tech method to figure out what medications to prescribe to their patients.

Surgery might be trickier, if only because true anesthesia would be difficult without proper monitors and the like. Still, bring back a few generators that run on solar power, set up your surgery in a secure tent that uses “air-lock” style entrances and positive ventilation to keep the outside out, and there you’ve got your clinic all set to go.

Start handing out the penicillin and vaccines, and you and your team will be hailed as miracle-workers in no time at all.

  1. Which movie sequel do you wish you could erase from history?

Simple. The one that did the most to piss on the legend that is my favorite film of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was followed up by the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, based on the official sequel by Arthur C. Clarke, and it could have been good, except that it was directed by a total hack.

I won’t mention his name. You can look it up. But he’s made a number of films that could have been great, but usually just missed the target. In 2010, he did nearly everything wrong.

Start with the subtitle. “The year we make contact?” Nope. Per the first film, we kind of did that in about 1999 in the first film when we dug up the monolith and, if not then, definitely by the time that Dave Bowman took his journey through the star gate.

Hell, I could argue that “we” made contact the second that Moonwatcher touched the Monolith in the opening act, in prehistoric times.

But this director’s biggest mistake in 2010, though, was tossing out everything Kubrick had established in 2001. That is, following the laws of physics and science.

Nope. Welcome to a movie with apparent artificial gravity on spaceships and sound in space. Sure, fine for most other space movies out there, but if you’re going to make this particular sequel, the scientific accuracy is something you cannot leave out.

There’s also a moment when the Russian ship sent to Jupiter with a joint Soviet-American crew (the film was made before the fall of the USSR) uses what basically appears to be a bunch of inflated parachutes to drag through Jupiter’s upper atmosphere to slow them down into orbit.

Okay, fine. That’s somewhat plausible. What isn’t is having them burst into open flames when there is no oxygen in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere or space. Those things are just going to get hot, not burn.

It would have been a much more dramatic visual to have them heat up, from red-hot all the way to white-hot. Oh yeah — this was also one of the noisier “sound in space” moments. It would have been so much more dramatic to cut between the brakes heating up and heating up, the crew inside hanging on for dear life, and then jumping back and forth from the sounds of human chaos inside to… absolute silence.

The film does try to pay attention to the science in the finale. Long story short, both ships, the Russian Leonov and the American Discovery, are going to wait a week for a launch window to open up so they can get back to Earth. However, circumstances dictate that they have to leave before two days pass.

Their solution is to use the Discovery as a booster stage for the Leonov to get it up to velocity so it can take a different route, and they do this. All of the above is scientifically accurate. You can’t just arbitrarily decide to start your trip from planet A to planet B right this second, at least not with our existing technology.

But there’s one other thing going on. Jupiter is about to be transformed into a dwarf star, which means there’s going to be an enormous explosion in the outer solar system, which will send out a rapid shock wave of high energy radiation that is going to catch up to the Leonov, which may not be sufficiently shielded to handle it.

The Discovery, by the way, somehow implausibly stopped after it was done boosting the Leonov (again, scientifically wrong), and is destroyed in the explosion that turns Jupiter into our Sun’s binary partner.

Hint: In space, if you use rocket A to give rocket B a boost, and then rocket B fires its own engines to pull away, rocket A is only going to be slowed by whatever negative thrust it picks up from departing B, which might not be that much. Otherwise, it’s going to continue onward forever at whatever velocity it had.

It could separate by firing its own forward-facing thrusters, which would slow it a bit, but that might damage the other ship, which is the one you want to keep intact.

Newton’s Laws, baby. So chances are that if Discovery didn’t make it out of the melty zone, Leonov didn’t, either.

But the director puts the final nail into his disregard for Kubrick in the last shot, when we go back to a now warm and wet Europa, which is in about its equivalent to Earth’s Carboniferous Period — think steamy swaps with giant ferns and huge insects.

SPOILER ALERT: Cue Also Sprach Zarathustra, which means we’re getting a big reveal. And we do. There’s a monolith on Europa, waiting. But how does the director get to it? Not through a dramatic and involving tilt up. Nope. He instead pans right, in a shot that sucks all of the impact out of the reveal.

Quite typical of this hatchet job, really. So yeah, it’s a sequel that should just disappear. Preferably, Clarke’s three sequels should instead be made into a streaming series, and done by producers and directors who actually respect Kubrick and can do onscreen science right.

Theatre Thursday: A Bard’s dozen

I am a huge fan of Shakespeare, so keep that in mind and… here we go…

One of the most remarkable things about Shakespeare is that the psychological truths in his plays are so universal that they offer themselves up for endless adaptations and recreations. They can be staged as faithfully as possible to the actual look and feel of whatever era he was writing about, or be stretched and bent into just about anything else. A lot of people may not know it, but the seminal 1950s science fiction film Forbidden Planet is somewhat based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and when you can easily leap from 17th century romance to 20th century science fiction, it says a lot about the original writer.

The other amazing thing about his works is this, and something I cannot emphasize enough to someone who fears getting into Shakespeare: Yes, it may be hard to read his words on the page, but watch them acted by brilliant performers, and you’ll be sucked in in a second. The language barrier will vanish while the emotional power will take you over.

Here then are half a dozen straight adaptations of his works, followed by half a dozen that only took inspiration but still delivered powerful stories because, after all, the Bard of Avon was a powerful story-teller.

Straight Adaptations (Most to least faithful to the original era of the story)

  1. Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Probably one of the Bard’s best-know works, which also gave us West Side Story and  Romeo + Juliet, this tale of star-crossed lovers was best told and most accurately cast in Zeffirelli’s version. Unfortunately, years later, the actor Bruce Robinson, who played Benvolio in the film, took part in the #MeToo movement, when he revealed that Zeffirelli sexually harassed him on set.

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999, Kevin Kline)

This is one of the most over-produced Shakespeare plays ever, possibly because it’s really the least substantial, but at least this version managed to nail things down definitively with an amazing cast. I mean, come on… Kevin Kline, Roger Rees, Sam Rockwell, Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer,  Dominic West, Calista Flockhart, Christian Bale, and David Strathairn…  how much more stellar could you get?

  1. Henry V (1989)

Branagh. Shakespeare. Say no more. He is one of the most definitive Shakespearean actors — in fact, he can rightly tell Laurence Olivier to fuck right off (because, honestly Olivier wasn’t that good as Hamlet or Richard III.) But Branagh has brought us multiple Shakespearean adaptations, from Hamlet to Henry V to Much Ado, and all of them are brilliant. Still… his turn as director and star in the pivotal film in Shakespeare’s amazing “War of the Roses” cycle knocks everything else out of the park.

  1. Hamlet (1990)

Despite the allegations about Zefferelli mentioned above, he still gave us a version of Hamlet that rang true, even if Mel Gibson was way too old to play the hero and Glenn Close was way too young to play his mother. Branagh did it six years later, but his exercise was way too academic. Zefferelli’s is visceral and gutsy, and definitely blew Olivier’s bloodless 1948 attempt right out of the water. Unlike Branagh’s, Zefferelli did not adapt the play mostly uncut — which is why his version only runs 2 hours and 14 minutes, while Branagh’s is just over 4 hours.

  1. Richard III (1995)

This is my second favorite Shakespeare play starring one of my favorite actors, Ian McKellan, and the reimagination here is brilliant. It takes this War of the Roses and sets it in an imaginary world where the UK went through a civil war in the 1930s and the fascists won — at first. McKellan plays the humpbacked anti-hero with all of the nasty glee necessary, and is aided and abetted by an amazing cast. (Full disclosure: My actor’s dream would be to play Gloucester/Richard III through the whole cycle of plays he’s in, from all of the Henry VI’s through Richard III… He’s just that amazing a douchebag of a character.)

  1. Titus (1999)

And this is my favorite Shakespeare play, despite most Shakespeare scholars considering it problematic, but in Julie Taymor’s adaptation, it takes off and sings. Her first and most brilliant move was setting it in a Rome that is not specific, but is eternal — it could be anywhere from the time of Julius Caesar to the time of Mussolini, or maybe even Fellini, and it all works. On top of that, the cast is amazing: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Colm Feore, Harry Lennix, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Angus Macfadyen. If you’re not sure about Shakespeare, this is probably your best entry point.

Reimaginations (Nearest to furthest)

  1. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Quick catch-up: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters from Hamlet. In the play, they are two old school pals of Hamlet, and they were brought in by the villain to lure Hamlet onto a boat-ride intended to lead to his death. However, Hamlet turns the tables, re-writes a letter and, instead, sentences these two to be executed in his stead. This play, by Tom Stoppard, makes R&G the lead characters, with the actions in Hamlet in the background, and becomes an existential comedy. In the film version, directed by Stoppard, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman essay the lead roles, with Richard Dreyfuss appearing as the lead player — more important here than he was in Hamlet.

  1. Ran (1985)

I saw this film at one of the revival houses in L.A. and went in knowing nothing about it, other than that it was directed by Akira Kurosawa. I was about one act into what I thought was some traditional drama set in the shogun era when my brain suddenly clicked and I realized, “Holy crap. This is King Lear.” And it was. Other than a gender swap up top regarding who inherits what, the rest of it is pure Shakespeare, and there are a lot of moments that really stand out visually, particularly the mad king wandering unharmed through a castle that is being pin-cushioned by arrows, and the summary execution of Lady Kaede, which indicates that maybe her blood pressure was a bit too high.

  1. Scotland, PA (2001)

Another odd little adaptation, but one which gets the source material entirely: This is Shakespeare’s story of ambitious monarchs writ large brought down to human scale, and it totally works. Yes, it’s set in a real place, and manages to reset all of the drama of Shakespeare’s original in the context of the petty squabbles inherent to a fast-food franchise. Surprisingly, though, this does not blunt the drama from the Scottish Play one bit.

  1. West Side Story (1961)

As if you didn’t know, this is Romeo & Juliet, updated and with an utterly amazing collaboration with seasoned pro Leonard Bernstein writing the score and newbie Stephen Sondheim providing the lyrics. This was lightning in a bottle, almost perfect in every way from Broadway onward, and the movie adaptation is one of the most incredible musicals ever filmed. The talent on tap is over the top, the numbers are choreographed to perfection (thank Jerome Robbins for that), and put this down as the second best adaptation of Romeo and Juliet ever filmed.

  1. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Also known as The Taming of the Shrew (see how the titles rhyme?) this is another Shakespeare update that is admirable for bringing the bard to a new and younger audience. It’s the same story in a different setting: Petruchio… er, Cameron, wants to date Bianca, but her dad is stuffy, so won’t let her date anyone until her older sister Kat hooks up. Enter Patrick Verona (see what they did there?) who will try to, well, tame that shrew. This all takes place at Padua High School, and it’s all a lot better than you might think it’d be from the description.

  1. Theater of Blood (1973)

All right. Question one: Do you like Shakespeare? Question two: Do you like Vincent Price? Question three: Are you a fan of horror movies? Well, if you answered “yes” to at least two of those questions, this is your lucky day. Theater of Blood is an amazing film in which Vincent Price plays a disgruntled Shakespearean actor who did not win a critics’ award, so goes on to bump off each of those critics following his most recent season of Shakespeare plays. The cast of critics is an all-star bunch of British actors of the 1970s, Price is abetted by the amazing Diana Rigg (what ho, Game of Thrones fans!) and we get the amazing combination of Price and Rigg doing Shakespeare, a comedy gore-fest, and a metric buttload of fantastic British actors, well, acting. Keep your eyes out for murders based on Julius Caesar, Troilus & Cressida, Cymbeline, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Othello, Henry VI: Part One, and Titus Andronicus. Price’s character fails, however, with attempts at Romeo & Juliet and King Lear. Oops… spoilers?

What is your favorite Shakespeare play or film adaptation? Let me know in the comments!

Wonderous Wednesday: 5 Things that are older than you think

A lot of our current technology seems surprisingly new. The iPhone is only about fourteen years old, for example, although the first Blackberry, a more primitive form of smart phone, came out in 1999. The first actual smart phone, IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator, was introduced in 1992 but not available to consumers until 1994. That was also the year that the internet started to really take off with people outside of universities or the government, although public connections to it had been available as early as 1989 (remember Compuserve, anyone?), and the first experimental internet nodes were connected in 1969.

Of course, to go from room-sized computers communicating via acoustic modems along wires to handheld supercomputers sending their signals wirelessly via satellite took some evolution and development of existing technology. Your microwave oven has a lot more computing power than the system that helped us land on the moon, for example. But the roots of many of our modern inventions go back a lot further than you might think. Here are five examples.

Alarm clock

As a concept, alarm clocks go back to the ancient Greeks, frequently involving water clocks. These were designed to wake people up before dawn, in Plato’s case to make it to class on time, which started at daybreak; later, they woke monks in order to pray before sunrise.

From the late middle ages, church towers became town alarm clocks, with the bells set to strike at one particular hour per day, and personal alarm clocks first appeared in 15th-century Europe. The first American alarm clock was made by Levi Hutchins in 1787, but he only made it for himself since, like Plato, he got up before dawn. Antoine Redier of France was the first to patent a mechanical alarm clock, in 1847. Because of a lack of production during WWII due to the appropriation of metal and machine shops to the war effort (and the breakdown of older clocks during the war) they became one of the first consumer items to be mass-produced just before the war ended. Atlas Obscura has a fascinating history of alarm clocks that’s worth a look.

Fax machine

Although it’s pretty much a dead technology now, it was the height of high tech in offices in the 80s and 90s, but you’d be hard pressed to find a fax machine that isn’t part of the built-in hardware of a multi-purpose networked printer nowadays, and that’s only because it’s such a cheap legacy to include. But it might surprise you to know that the prototypical fax machine, originally an “Electric Printing Telegraph,” dates back to 1843.

Basically, as soon as humans figured out how to send signals down telegraph wires, they started to figure out how to encode images — and you can bet that the second image ever sent in that way was a dirty picture. Or a cat photo.

Still, it took until 1964 for Xerox to finally figure out how to use this technology over phone lines and create the Xerox LDX. The scanner/printer combo was available to rent for $800 a month — the equivalent of around $6,500 today — and it could transmit pages at a blazing 8 per minute. The second generation fax machine only weighed 46 lbs and could send a letter-sized document in only six minutes, or ten page per hour. Whoot — progress!

You can actually see one of the Electric Printing Telegraphs in action in the 1948 movie Call Northside 777, in which it plays a pivotal role in sending a photograph cross-country in order to exonerate an accused man.

In case you’re wondering, the title of the film refers to a telephone number from back in the days before what was originally called “all digit dialing.” Up until then, telephone exchanges (what we now call prefixes) were identified by the first two letters of a word, and then another digit or two or three. (Once upon a time, in some areas of the US, phone numbers only had five digits.) So NOrthside 777 would resolve itself to 667-77, with 667 being the prefix. This system started to end in 1958, and a lot of people didn’t like that.

Of course, with the advent of cell phones, prefixes and even area codes have become pretty meaningless, since people tend to keep the number they had in their home town regardless of where they move to, and a “long distance call” is mostly a dead concept now as well, which is probably a good thing.

CGI

When do you suppose the first computer animation appeared on film? You may have heard that the original 2D computer generated imagery (CGI) used in a movie was in 1973 in the original film Westworld, inspiration for the recent TV series. Using very primitive equipment, the visual effects designers simulated pixilation of actual footage in order to show us the POV of the robotic gunslinger played by Yul Brynner. It turned out to be a revolutionary effort.

The first 3D CGI happened to be in this film’s sequel, Futureworld in 1976, where the effect was used to create the image of a rotating 3D robot head. However, the first ever CGI sequence was actually made in… 1961. Called Rendering of a planned highway, it was created by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology on what was then the fastest computer in the world, the BESK, driven by vacuum tubes. It’s an interesting effort for the time, but the results are rather disappointing.

Microwave oven

If you’re a Millennial, then microwave ovens have pretty much always been a standard accessory in your kitchen, but home versions don’t predate your birth by much. Sales began in the late 1960s. By 1972 Litton had introduced microwave ovens as kitchen appliances. They cost the equivalent of about $2,400 today. As demand went up, prices fell. Nowadays, you can get a small, basic microwave for under $50.

But would it surprise you to learn that the first microwave ovens were created just after World War II? In fact, they were the direct result of it, due to a sudden lack of demand for magnetrons, the devices used by the military to generate radar in the microwave range. Not wanting to lose the market, their manufacturers began to look for new uses for the tubes. The idea of using radio waves to cook food went back to 1933, but those devices were never developed.

Around 1946, engineers accidentally realized that the microwaves coming from these devices could cook food, and voìla! In 1947, the technology was developed, although only for commercial use, since the devices were taller than an average man, weighed 750 lbs and cost the equivalent of $56,000 today. It took 20 years for the first home model, the Radarange, to be introduced for the mere sum of $12,000 of today’s dollars.

Music video

Conventional wisdom says that the first music video to ever air went out on August 1, 1981 on MTV, and it was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. As is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. It was the first to air on MTV, but the concept of putting visuals to rock music as a marketing tool goes back a lot farther than that.

Artists and labels were making promotional films for their songs back at almost the beginning of the 1960s, with the Beatles a prominent example. Before these, though, was the Scopitone, a jukebox that could play films in sync with music popular from the late 1950s to mid-1960s, and their predecessor was the Panoram, a similar concept popular in the 1940s which played short programs called Soundies.

However, these programs played on a continuous loop, so you couldn’t chose your song. Soundies were produced until 1946, which brings us to the real predecessor of music videos: Vitaphone Shorts, produced by Warner Bros. as sound began to come to film. Some of these featured musical acts and were essentially miniature musicals themselves. They weren’t shot on video, but they introduced the concept all the same. Here, you can watch a particularly fun example from 1935 in 3-strip Technicolor that also features cameos by various stars of the era in a very loose story.

Do you know of any things that are actually a lot older than people think? Let us know in the comments!

Photo credit: Jake von Slatt

Talky Tuesday: Noah Webster explains it all

Noah Webster was 70 when he copyrighted his Dictionary of the American Language in 1828. This in itself is a meta-event because he was one of the people most instrumental in reforming American copyright law in order to extend its terms, extending coverage from 14 to 28 years, with an option to extend another 14 to a total of 42 years.

The dictionary was originally released in two volumes for the price of $20, which may seem cheap until you adjust for inflation: $471. This meant that, effectively, it was probably only purchased by institutions like libraries and schools. A price cut to $15 ($353) did improve sales and the first edition run of 2,500 copies sold out by 1836.

It’s kind of ironic, really, that the price of a good hardcover version of the modern Merriam-Webster Dictionary is actually the same or less than $15 in absolute dollar amount and would have cost about 64 cents back in the 1820s.

Webster’s original dictionary had 70,000 entries, but how did they happen? Well, not quickly. It took him 22 years and along the way he learned 26 languages in order to accurately track word origins.

His main goal was to define and create a uniquely American version of English, avoiding the classism and mutually unintelligible local dialects of England, and he really started the job not long after American independence.

He also sought to simplify spelling to avoid foreign influences on orthography, which Samuel Johnson didn’t. This is why one of the most notable differences between British and American English shows up in word pairs like centre/center, flavour/flavor, and programme/program.

By the way, Johnson lost more than he won. For example, he wanted to spell words like “public” as “publick,” and extended his “ou” fetish to words like “horrour.”

In modern times, dictionaries are compiled by lexicographers, who look for usages of words in the wild and, once they become widespread enough to be commonly known, go through the process of defining and adding them.

Note that unlike Spain or France, the U.S. does not have a single, national governing body that determines the rules of the language or the words in it.

The dictionary is adding words all of the time. Sometimes, new words wind up there fairly quickly. In other cases, it takes a relatively long time. Here are some additions from April and September 2019, and a general idea of how long they were in the wild before they became “official.”

Here are a dozen recent additions.

  1. Bechdel test: Coined by Alison Bechdel in 2007, this was her way of assessing the representation of women in fiction. The question in the test is this: “Does this work feature two women who talk to each other about something besides a man?” Sometimes, the additional requirement of both female characters being named is included.
  1. Bottle episode: This is one of my personal favorites mainly because it relates to my field. A “bottle episode” is an episode of a TV series that takes place mostly in one location, and with only a few characters, and it exists entirely to save money. Often, showrunners will toss in a bottle episode when they know they want to shoot the moon on the budget of their season finale. It can actually make for compelling television, though. Although a number of examples on that list predate it, the term was first used in 2003.
  1. Deep state: This one is older than you’d think, since it’s only recently shown up in the demented ravings of certain politicians. The idea is that it’s a hidden cabal of unelected government officials working behind the scenes to influence government policy in an extra-legal way. The joke is that this system already exists in the open, and it’s called lobbying. The current usage of “deep state,” despite perceptions, goes back much further than 2016. It originated in 2000.
  1. Escape room: I think most people know what these are — elaborate interactive theatrical puzzles in which a group of people gets a certain amount of time to solve a mystery and get out. This is also one of the faster additions to the dictionary. Unlike other words here that date back twenty or more years, the first use of escape room was in 2012.
  1. Gender nonconforming: Added along with top surgery and bottom surgery, the first term originated in 1991, and the other two go back to 1992 and 1994 Gender nonconforming refers to someone who exhibits behavioral, psychological, or cultural traits not usually associated with their biological sex. The two surgeries refer to the procedures used in gender confirmation surgery to respectively make the breasts and upper body or genitals and lower body match the person’s true gender.
  1. Gig economy: This is the modern system of serfdom that forces people to freelance at severely depressed wages and without benefits in order for incredibly well-off companies to save money by not actually providing living wages and things like health insurance, paid time off, and pensions. Coined in 2009, it has very quickly proven to be about the worst possible invention of late-stage capitalism.
  1. Page view: This is a web statistic, as in how many times a specific web page has been viewed by visitors. Considering that the concept of counting visits to a page goes back to the internet dark ages of the mid-90s, when every Geocities page had a hit counter, this concept took forever to finally make it into the dictionary.
  1. Purple: A new definition for the color, extended to refer to states that are neither predominantly Democratic (blue) nor Republican (red). The idea of color-coding political parties goes back to 1976, but the specifics of red and blue weren’t nailed down until the election of 2000.
  1. Qubit: This is the quantum computing equivalent of digital computing’s bit, which is the most basic unit of information. The difference is that a qubit doesn’t store a single digit. It contains all of the possible states of a particle until its collapse to a single value. It was also coined over 25 years ago, in 1994.
  1. Rhotic: This one is surprising, considering that it comes from the world of linguistics, which would seem to be a natural field for harvesting dictionary words. And yet, it took 51 years for it to be added. The term was first used in 1968, and refers to whether or not the consonant “r” is pronounced in words, especially before other consonants (cart, park) or at the end of words (car, jar.)
  1. They: All right, the word itself goes way, way back in English history, arising in the 13th century as the third person plural pronoun. What became official in 2019, though — and which you can now use to shut up pedantic purists — is that the pronoun “they” is now accepted as a gender-neutral singular as applied to a nonbinary person.
  1. Vacay: The term is a very straightforward shortening of the word “vacation.” Surprisingly, it took nearly thirty years to make it into the dictionary, having been first attested to in 1991.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through the dictionary. What are some of your favorite words that may or may not have been added? Let us know in the comments!

Momentous Monday: You betcha

The state of Minnesota has been getting a lot of media attention lately, largely due to the impending trial of  the cop who killed George Floyd. The northernmost continental U.S. state, 22nd most populous, and 12th largest by area, there’s a lot more going on up there than people on the coasts might think.

I know that when a lot of people hear “Minnesota,” they think Coen Brothers, and while those two may be one of its most famous exports, the title of one of their more famous and acclaimed films (later, streaming show), Fargo, doesn’t even refer to a city in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

I have to admit that the closest I’ve ever gotten to Minnesota is passing through Iowa and Wisconsin on the way to visit Chicago, fart through Michigan, then dive via Indiana into Ohio and beyond.

If you visually combine Minnesota and Iowa on an outline map, it looks like a hungry boar trying to eat Wisconsin. Of course, since Wisconsin is made of cheese and men in flannel, who can blame the other two for being peckish? The snack also comes with a free chaser of Great Lakes Water.

Without having gone to the state, the closest I’ve actually gotten there has been the people from there I’ve met and known, and all I can say is that 3M (originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) must be secretly cloning armies of intelligent, creative, funny, friendly, good-looking people and exporting them. And I’ve met a lot of them over the years.

Given the Scandinavian background of the state, this might be a clue to how the Vikings really conquered everything. They didn’t come in as armed invaders killing people. Nah. They sailed in really polite and well-groomed and just sort of hung around. Eventually, they niced everyone into submission, but the conquered people were too embarrassed to admit that this was how it happened, so all of those “Vikings Invade and Take no Prisoners” stories came about.

By all reports, though, the Vikings did have amazing hair.

But, come on. Can you imagine any of the following people invading anywhere and violently kicking ass? Al Franken, Prince, Judy Garland, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Schulz, Bob Dylan, and so on? Not likely.

It’s been a popular setting for film and TV programs, with 1970s The Mary Tyler Moore Show being the first example of a series specifically set there, in Minneapolis. Wikipedia tells me that the earliest TV show probably set in the state is the 1959 series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, although that appears to be conjecture — the show is set in the fictitious Central City in the upper Midwest. Only the stories the series was based on were explicitly set in Minnesota.

TV returned to the state in 1974 (while MTM was still airing) with the show Little House on the Prairie, which took place a hundred years earlier, in Walnut Grove, a small town in the southwest corner of the state.

In fact, the town itself was drawn out in 1874 and incorporated in 1879.

And, of course, it’s really hard to ignore the multi-media juggernaut that was Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, partly set in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. It aired on radio for over 40 years, finally ending in 2016.

As I’ve mentioned, Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but that happens to be a total, bald-faced lie. In fact, the state has at least 11,842 lakes if you go by the standard of a body of water of at least 10 acres.

Wisconsin claims to have more lakes — 15,074 — but their standard is 2.2 acres or more. If you apply Minnesota’s standard to Wisconsin, then the latter only has a mere 5,300 lakes.

And if you apply the U.S. Geological Survey standard, which combines ponds and lakes together as water body features, Minnesota has a staggering 124,522 of them. So 10,000 lakes, indeed. There’s that Minnesota modesty for you right there! Or is it duplicity? I’m not really sure right now.

Here’s another not-real thing related to the state: Minnesota Fats. In real life, he was a professional pool player and hustler, originally named Rudolf Wanderone. Beginning in the 1960s, he became one of the most well-known pool players in the world, eventually being inducted into the billiards hall of fame in the 1980s.

However… this Minnesota Fats was actually born in New York City to Swiss immigrants in 1913. He started playing pool early, managed pool-halls, and went by a series of “Fats” nicknames, none of which involved the name Minnesota. (And the Swiss, not being Scandinavian, were not part of the big influx into that state in the first place.)

Then, in 1959, the book The Hustler. by Walter Tevis, came out. It was soon adapted into a film of the same name starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason as the totally made-up character Minnesota Fats, who had absolutely nothing at all to do with Wanderone.

This didn’t stop Wanderone, though, who quickly adopted the name and claimed that the character was based on him, although both Tevis and the film’s technical advisor, Willie Mosconi, denied it.

Oh… the film itself was shot almost entirely on location in… New York City.

I mentioned at the beginning that I know a lot of people from Minnesota — living in L.A. entails knowing a lot of people from a lot of places — and I reached out to eight of them I could think of off of the top of my head via IM and email, asking for their thoughts and comments on having grown up in the state.

I heard from five, got promises from four… and then nothing. The closest I did get were the comments from a friend who shall remain nameless in accepting the request: “All I ask is that you tell the truth. However dirty, beautiful, or in-between it may be. The world needs to know the truth about Minnesota…

“There’s what you call dry humor and passive aggressiveness we have that you’ll need to absorb here…! Actually I don’t know if that’s a generalization. It could just be me, but there’s certainly something fishy in that ‘Minnesota Nice’ cover we have.”

Then… silence. Which maybe just confirms the short statement from the only one to ultimately respond.

So maybe Minnesota is more like the quiet, shy one you have to watch out for, maybe not. But there is one other detail: It was the next state accepted into the union after California, so in a sense we’re the Gopher State’s big brother. Maybe it’s our responsibility to keep reminding them that they’re supposed to be the nice ones.

Otherwise, people might figure out that it’s actually us, and we can’t have that!

Oh, by the way, that gopher nickname has nothing to do with the actual animal. It came from a political cartoon from 1858, which wasn’t complimentary. So maybe “Minnesota Nasty” is a thing after all.