Theatre Thursday: Aphra and Edna

(Okay, I’m a day early on this, but since Theatre Thursday is today, I’m going with it.)

On April 16 and 279 years apart, two pioneering women writers passed away. One was British, born in 1640 and died in 1689. The other was American, born in 1885 and died in 1968.

The former was Aphra Behn and the latter was Edna Ferber. You may or may not know those names, and you probably don’t know any of Ms. Behn’s works, but you’ve definitely heard of a couple of Ferber’s, whether you’ve seen them or not, especially if you’re a film or theatre nerd.

Still… Aphra Behn was the trailblazer who made a career like Edna’s even possible, and while she was not the first published playwright in Restoration Era England, she was the most prolific female writer of the period, and the second most prolific overall after John Dryden.

And yet, like Shakespeare, little is known of her early life or even origins. She may or may not have been a spy in Dutch Suriname for King Charles II of England, although she probably did marry a Johan (or Johann or John) Behn. The marriage didn’t last, but she kept his name, crediting herself professionally as Mrs. A. Behn.

She actually was a spy for King Charles during the Second Anglo-Dutch war of 1665, and worked in Antwerp. Ironically, being posted to Antwerp spared her the ravages of the plague that swept London in 1666.

Of course, the king didn’t exactly reimburse her for her expenses as a spy, so she returned to England in poverty. It was only the re-opening of the theatres and the need for new plays that allowed her to earn a living.

In fact, she was one of the first English women to earn her living by writing, so she set the path for future generations. She also didn’t shy away from sexuality or sexual subjects — a scandal for the time, even though male authors likewise didn’t. For example, her poem The Disappointment is all about a young shepherd who just plain loses his boner while he’s trying to satisfy a nymph.

But now from the Aphra to the Edna, the latter being a 20th century writer whose works tended to feature strong female leading characters, along with a major secondary character who belonged to a particularly oppressed class, frequently for ethnic reasons.

Edna Ferber herself was Jewish, and America wasn’t exactly so open-armed towards Jews at the time she wrote, but that identity was important to her as well. Then again, it helped that she won the Pulitzer at 40 for her book So Big. The follow-up novel to that, Show Boat, became the basis of a hit musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.

She was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, featured in the film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, starring my patronus, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Another notable work of hers, Giant, was adapted into the film of the same name, which starred James Dean and Rock Hudson, among others, garnered both of them Oscar nominations, and won the award for Best Director for George Stevens. What a lot of people miss about this film is that the character played by Mercedes McCambridge, Luz Benedict, is pretty much coded as a lesbian in 50s movie terms. Strong woman, doing a man’s job, no male love interest around — and dies because she tried to take on a man’s role and literally couldn’t handle a horse.

No, really. That happened.

Still, when it came to slamming their heads through glass ceilings for writers (sort of), these women were two of the pioneers. Even then, J.K. Rowling might not have been successful if she’d published as Joanne Rowling. Anne Rice did make a mark for herself under her own name in the 70s, but… unlike J.K., who was a billionaire until she gave too much away, Rice never got that rich, despite creating a bigger fictional universe.

And one has to wonder — was it because she didn’t have a male first name?

In case you’re doing the math, Rice has written close to 40 books, most of them in the Vampire/Gothic universe she created. Rowling is up to about… maybe a dozen-ish? And yet, J.K. makes a lot more money than Anne.

To be fair, though, Rowling’s kiddie wizard genre just naturally has a much larger fan-base, and the vast majority of her income no doubt comes from the movies and merchandising. Have you seen the prices on the stuff they sell in the Wizarding World section of Universal Studios?

Meanwhile, Rice’s series of vampire chronicles were never as family friendly and will always appeal to a much smaller, niche audience. It also didn’t help that while Hollywood managed an excellent adaptation of Rice’s first book in the series, Interview with the Vampire, they totally whiffed it when they combined her next two books in the series into Queen of the Damned.

Never a good sign when you replace your A-List leading actor with a lesser-known performer. Or try to combine two books that are already full stories into one movie that doesn’t do justice to either. The Queen of the Damned was, I think, the last book in the series I’d read before Prince Lestat came out. The only way to do it justice would be to adapt the entire story, as it’s told in the book, as a limited streaming series.

I suppose, for Rowling and Rice, these are all rather “first world” problems to have — and I put that phrase in scare quotes because it doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means, since it’s a political designation, not an economic one.

But Madams Rowling and Rice, and all other female writers in the modern English-speaking world, got where they are thanks to the pioneers who came before them. Edna Ferber helped pave the way in the 20th Century, and Aphra Behn stepped through the door to start the journey in the 17th.

The fact that both of them died on the same day of the year is just one of those strange coincidences that strengthens the connection between them across time.

Image: Portrait of Aphra Behn by Peter Lely, c. 1670. Public domain. 

Wednesday Wonders: Facing the music

For some reason, face morphing in music videos really took off, and the whole thing was launched with Michael Jackson’s video for Black or White in 1991. If you’re a 90s kid, you remember a good solid decade of music videos using face-morphing left and right.

Hell, I remember at the time picking up a face-morphing app in the five dollar bin at Fry’s, and although it ran slow as shit on my PC at the time, it did the job and morphed faces and, luckily, it never got killed by the “Oops, Windows isn’t backward compatible with this” problem, so it runs fast as hell now. Well, whenever I last used it, and it’s been a hot minute.

If you’ve never worked with the software, it basically goes like this. You load two photos, the before and after. Then, you mark out reference points on the first photo.

These are generally single dots marking common facial landmarks: inside and outside of each eye, likewise the eyebrows and mouth, bridge of the nose, outside and inside of the nostrils, top and bottom of where the ear hits the face, major landmarks along the hairline, and otherwise places where there are major changes of angle.

Next, you play connect the dots, at first in general, but then it becomes a game of triangles. If you’re patient enough and do it right, you wind up with a first image that is pretty closely mapped with a bunch of little triangles.

Meanwhile, this entire time, your software has been plopping that same mapping onto the second image. But, at least with the software I was working with then (and this may have changed) it only plops those points relative to the boundaries of the image, and not the features in it.

Oh yeah — first essential step in the process: Start with two images of identical dimensions, and faces placed about the same way in each.

The next step in the morph is to painstakingly drag each of the points overlaid on the second image to its corresponding face part. Depending upon how detailed you were in the first image, this can take a long, long time. At least the resizing of all those triangles happens automatically.

When you think you’ve got it, click the magic button, and the first image should morph into the second, based on the other parameters you gave it, which are mostly screen rate.

And that’s just for a still image. For a music video, repeat that for however many seconds any particular transition takes, times 24 frames per second. Ouch!

I think this will give you a greater appreciation of what Jackson’s producers did.

However… this was only the first computerized attempt at the effect in a music video. Six years earlier in 1985, the English duo Godley & Creme (one half of 10cc so… 5cc?) released their video Cry, and their face morphing effect is full-on analog. They didn’t have the advantage of powerful (or even wimpy) computers back then. Oh, sure, they had pulled off kind of early CGI effects for TRON in 1982, but those simple graphics were nowhere near good enough to swap faces.

So Godley & Crème did it the old fashioned way, and anyone who has ever worked in old school video production (or has nerded out over the firing up the Death Star firing moments in Episode IV) will know the term “Grass Valley Switcher.”

Basically, it was a mechanical device that could take the input from two or more video sources, as well as provide its own video input in the form of color fields and masks, and then swap them back and forth or transition one to the other.

And this is what they did in their music video for Cry.

Although, to be fair, they did it brilliantly because they were careful in their choices. Some of their transitions are fades from image A to B, while others are wipes, top down or bottom up. It all depended upon how well the images matched.

In 2017, the group Elbow did an intentional homage to this video using the same technique well into the digital age — and with a nod from Benedict Cumberbatch, with their song Gentle Storm.

And now we come to 2020. See, all of those face morphing videos from 1991 through the early 2000s still required humans to sit down and mark out the face parts and those triangles and whatnot, so it was a painstaking process.

And then, this happens…

These face morphs were created by a neural network that basically looked at the mouth parts and listened to the syllables of the song, and then kind of sort of found other faces and phonemes that matched, and then yanked them all together.

The most disturbing part of it, I think, is how damn good it is compared to all of the other versions. Turn off the sound or don’t understand the language, and it takes Jackson’s message from Black or White into the stratosphere.

Note, though, that this song is from a band named for its lead singer, Lil’ Coin (translated from Russian) and the song itself is about crime and corruption in Russia in the 1990s, titled Everytime. So… without cultural context, the reason for the morphing is ambiguous.

But it’s still an interesting note that 35 years after Godley & Crème first did the music video face morph, it’s still a popular technique with artists. And, honestly, if we don’t limit it to faces or moving media, it’s a hell of a lot older than that. As soon as humans figured out that they could exploit a difference in point of view, they began making images change before our eyes.

Sometimes, that’s a good thing artistically. Other times, when the changes are less benevolent, it’s a bad thing. It’s especially disturbing that AI is getting into the game, and Lil’ Coin’s video is not necessarily a good sign.

Oh, sure, a good music video, but I can’t help but think that it was just a test launch in what is going to become a long, nasty, and ultimately unwinnable cyber war.

After all… how can any of you prove that this article wasn’t created by AI? Without asking me the right questions, you can’t. So there you go.

Image: (CC BY-SA 2.0) Edward Webb

Talky Tuesday: If you love it, you’ll learn it

When you’re learning a new language, there’s one excellent method to increase your vocabulary and improve your fluency, and here it is.

Different people have different learning styles. Some people learn visually. That is, if they see it, they won’t forget it. Others are auditory learners, who pick things up via hearing. And there are also people whose learning method is tactile, through touch or physical motion.

Now, some of those skills seem to apply obviously to certain disciplines. Painters are probably visual learners, musicians are auditory, and dancers are tactile. In the case of language, you might think that it’s an auditory skill, but that’s not necessarily the case. Fortunately, you can use different tricks to learn a new language via your own method.

For visual people, it’s all about words, so the obvious best natural ways for visual learners to pick up a new language are reading and watching.

For auditory people, it’s all about sound, so they’re going to want to listen, although videos won’t hurt if they do have sound as well.

For tactile people, it’s all about sensations, so they’re going to be doing a lot of writing things down by hand.

That part of the lesson may seem like a “Well, duh” moment, but the key is in what you’re reading, listening to, or writing. If you want to learn a new language, treat it like your first language.

That is, whether you’re reading, listening, watching, or writing, you’re going to want to do it with things on subjects that interest you. I can’t emphasize this enough. What you should be doing is seeking out online resources in your target languages — generally newspaper and magazine sites — and then focus on the sections that pertain to your interests.

Whether you’re a fan of movies, TV, sports, fashion, politics, or whatever, if the content in the target language you’re scooping into your brain via your preferred method happens to be about topics you already love, then your contextual understanding is going to go through the roof.

Why? Well, because specialized topics happen to use specialized words, and the quickest way to start to understand the heart of a language — which is how words are derived, how idioms are formed, and so on — is to pick up those words that were created to describe your favorite topic.

I’m a fan of film and theater, for example, so a word I see a lot is taquilla, which means box office. As in English, it’s both a literal and metaphorical meaning. It can refer to the physical place where tickets are sold or to the amount of money a film or play took in.

But where did taquilla come from? Well, like a lot of words in Spanish, it came from Arabic (La Conquista lasted for centuries), and taquilla is a diminutive for “taca.” That word, in turn, came from the Arabic taqah, which referred to a window with bars — a good physical description of a lot of actual box offices, actually.

Incidentally, pretty much any word in Spanish that begins with “al” came from Arabic, where the al- prefix just means “the,” similar to how Spanish combines the articles “a” (to) and “el” (the) into “al.” For example, algodón, which means cotton, and which is also the source of the English word; or alfombra, which means carpet, and this gets back to the focusing on what you love idea. Alfombra was permanently cemented in my brain after seeing it in a few articles about movie premieres always in this context: “en la alfombra roja.” On the red carpet.

The best part is that this is not just limited to Spanish, thanks to the internet (either la internet or la red), because you can probably pretty much find resources in any target language somewhere. If you want to read, you can find national newspapers in the native language and probably plenty of websites — and it will also be a big help to adjust Google’s language settings to include your target. If you want to watch or listen, then there are also tons of videos in other languages. And if you learn by writing, you’ll need source material, so transcribing audio or copying the written word will help as well.

But, again, the key to it is this one simple bit: engage with what you’re interested in in the first place, and it will make your target language come alive in a way that rote lessons or drills or routines never will.

Love it, live it, learn it!

Image © Syed Ikhwan. Used via Creative Commons license 2.0.

Momentous Monday: Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director who relocated to America in the 80s, is actually one of the most amazing and underrated directors of all time. The main reason for this is that once he came to America, he never abandoned his European sensibility, so while it looked like he was making genre movies, he was constantly perverting the genres.

Audiences just didn’t get it.

Then again, I think he’d been like that from the beginning. I have to say “I think,” because I didn’t hear of him until his 1980 film Spetters, and only after it finally made its way to America via the arthouse circuit. Even then, the only reason I deiced to see it was that it had sort of gay themes, three cute male leads and one hot female, and equal opportunity nudity.

I next ran across his amazing The Fourth Man, sort of a twisted next-generation Hitchcock thriller that did not disappoint and, again, involved a flawed and yet gay protagonist — keeping in mind that this was a straight director working in the 80s, and, again, while his gay male character is flawed, so were his straight ones — and he was never not sympathetic to any of them.

I didn’t see his true brilliance until I saw Soldier of Orange, probably his most personal film because it dealt with the Dutch Resistance as the Nazis invaded — something Verhoeven experienced and survived as a child. This, along with his earlier films, are probably what helped make Rutger Hauer an international star, by the way, although he got noticed long before Verhoeven finally came to America and worked with him there.

That would be 1985’s Flesh + Blood, a medieval drama and not one of Verhoeven’s most memorable, not to mention that it feels a lot like Hauer’s very recent (at the time) turn in Ladyhawke, with Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer.

But then Verhoeven got a whole lot better. Or, in other words, he dropped his Dutch sensibility on the series of big budget Hollywood films he proceeded to direct for the next fifteen years, lampooned the hell out of his adopted country, and subverted the hell out of genres.

So… here are six American Films by Verhoeven, some beloved by critics and some blasted, but all of them masterpieces in their own right.

Hint: There’s a common theme in all of them and… surprise… it’s been there all along in his other works. I’ll just start with his big American Blockbusters.

RoboCop (1987)

Verhoeven burst onto the scene big time with the way-over-the-top violence of this one, starting with officer Murphy having just about every bit of his body blown off graphically, and then including such best hits as Jose Ferrer’s character knee-capped before being blown up, a guy being shot in the nuts through a woman’s skirt, Eric Forman’s dad being stabbed in the neck, unfortunate ginger being toxic-wasted into a red stain on a speeding car and, finally, the big bad being fired, shot, and dumped out a window in, admittedly, one of the worst-animated doll-arm death-falls in all of cinema.

On the other hand… what Verhoeven intended and only a few people got was that this film was absolutely meant to be an over-the-top satire of American culture of the time. And it was all right there — this was the dawn of the Reagan Era, when public prisons were being privatized, police forces were being militarized, and loyalty to company meant everything. Ironic, then, that Verhoeven made his hero a man turned robot, since this was also during the rise of home computers. His hunch was that pure technology would defeat human evil, and he might have been right.

Total Recall (1990)

Forget the abysmal remake of this film. The original is pure gold, because it pretends to be a Schwarzenegger action flick — but it’s not. Sure, he’s the hero, but the brilliant thing about this film, and where it actually pays attention to its source in the works of Philip K. Dick is this: The entire “vacation” that Schwarzenegger’s character buys is, in fact… entirely fictional.

He gets what he pays for: “Blue Skies on Mars.” He is exactly who we see that he is at the beginning, he hasn’t changed at the end, and it has all been a fantasy vacation. Notable, he didn’t bring his wife along. In fact, in the dream, his wife is the villain’s consort, so make of that what you will. This flick is just another brick in the wall of what Verhoeven is getting at. And, then…

Basic Instinct (1992)

This film got a lot of flak at the time for making the villain a lesbian, or at least a bisexual woman, but that was also missing the point. Why was this character not actually the villain but, rather, the heroine? Flashforward…

Showgirls (1995)

And, once again, Verhoeven satirizes America so hard that no one gets it. In a lot of ways, Showgirls is the flipside to Basic Instinct, but look back. That’s his thing. He works in pairs. And this was the hardest he’d satirized anything until his next film… While, on the surface, the film seems to be all about the tits, in the end, it’s really about the power of women. After all, who makes it out alive finally?

Starship Troopers (1997)

If you take this film on face value, you’re not going to get it. But, really, it’s the logical extension of Verhoeven’s RoboCop world. You’re especially not going to get it if you’re a fan of the Heinlein works it’s based on, mostly because Heinlein was kind of a Libertarian douche, by which I mean “selfish child who thought he was better than everyone else,” q.v. Ayn Rand.

But, in American terms, Verhoeven was always an outsider, and this is one where he went for it. While pretending to go all-in for American jingoism and bullshit, he actually made an incredibly anti-war movie, and made it funny and biting satire at the same time.

Hollow Man (2000)

Forget the recent Invisible Man, a shallow attempt by Universal to become Disney. This film, twenty years ago, is the real deal. It basically is The Invisible Man, under a different title, casts a Hollywood heartthrob, and then Verhoeven lets him do everything that any toxic male asshole would do, given the power to be invisible. And naked. And both at the same time.

And this film happens to be the key to all of the others, because the thing that Verhoeven has been toying with and exposing all along, even back to his Dutch films, has been this: Toxic Masculinity. And there’s not even a question about that. Now, I haven’t seen any of his films post 2000 — Black Book, Tricked, Elle, and Benedetta — but I have seen enough of his works to think that it’s the whole toxic male thing he’s been railing against since the very beginning of his career.

And why shouldn’t he? After all, it’s what the Nazis used to ruin his childhood and his country, right?

Sunday Nibble #56: Town and country

I really consider myself a city dweller through and through, and enjoy the liveliness and bustle and sheer scale of large urban areas. I was born in Los Angeles — East Hollywood, actually — and grew up in what I guess would be considered an exurb of the city rather than a suburb.

But the exurb I grew up in happened to be pretty well-developed even at the time. It was, however, about as far as you could get from Hollywood and Downtown L.A., seeing as how our city limits shared its western border with L.A. County proper. Cross that line and you’d wind up in Ventura County.

It was a major bedroom community for the rest of the city outside of the San Fernando Valley, though, and for most of my life growing up, my dad worked right next to Century City. In fact, his office building at 10000 Santa Monica Boulevard abutted the border between Beverly Hills and L.A.

They were on the Beverly Hills side, but my dad could walk a block and wind up in Century City, which was a development actually designed and built by the architectural firm he worked for.

It opened in the mid-60s, but really felt like the city of the future and definitely stood in for just that in a lot of TV and movies shot in the 60s and 70s.

Now, from when I was around about nine years old or so, my dad started taking me to the movies, either in Century City or Hollywood, and once I hit my teens, it was a big treat to catch the bus by my middle school once we were dismissed and ride it all the way down Ventura Boulevard to Hollywood and Highland to meet my dad and go see a movie.

To this day, Hollywood and Highland is the “landing point,” if you will, for public transit from the Valley into the City. It’s the first Metro Red Line Station on the other side of the hill — or the last one if you have a city POV.

At the time, it was about an hour and a half bus ride — actually, it still is — even though it could theoretically be about twenty minutes by car outside of rush hour. Then again, the old 83 bus didn’t take the freeway, and it made stops. But it got me there.

So dad and I would go to Grauman’s Chinese, or the Egyptian, or the El Capitan, or sometimes he’d drive me to another part of town, like Century City, and we’d see a movie together, and it was awesome.

It’s a big part of why I made the stupid decision to try to become a film director only to realize too late, in film school, that my talents weren’t geared toward directing, but rather writing. I would have been an English Major, Spanish or History minor otherwise, I suppose. Or any mix of the three.

But the combination of films we went to and all those trips on public transit through urban corridors also gave me a major interest in Science Fiction, and I whiled away a lot of those bus trips imagining that I was actually on some sort of futuristic monorail or, if I got really creative, that we were on an interstellar craft.

Yeah, I was a total nerd. Still am.

But… besides movie night with dad, there was one other thing in my childhood and teen years that I loved more than anything else, and it belies me being a city boy. That is, a couple of times a year, usually around Easter and Thanksgiving, and sometimes in the summer, mom and dad and I would travel up north about 350 miles to visit my dad’s mother and stepfather on their farm in Atascadero.

Oh, my parents and grandparents always called it The Apple Orchard, but it was a farm as far as I was concerned. But first some backstory.

My dad’s mother was actually born in Oklahoma but wound up in Kansas, where she met her husband, who worked for the railroad, which connected Topeka, Kansas, to Victorville, California. Important later.

She always lied about her birthplace, though, saying that she’d been born in Missouri and had traveled to Kansas when she was three with her family by covered wagon.

Cute story, but… I eventually found official documentation that told me she was born in Oklahoma, and by the time she was three, they had cars and shit, so she didn’t make any trip in a covered wagon.

What she did do that was amazing — and she never bragged about this — was manage to be a single parent raising two boys after her husband basically abandoned the family when the kids were 15 (my uncle) and 12 (my dad). And she was working as either a hotel maid or waitress at the time.

Oh yeah… the other little detail is that my uncle was born way sooner than nine months after my grandmother and grandfather got married, and he was born in… Victorville, which is also where they got married.

So what it seems like, since she was 18 and he was 19 at the time, is that grandpa knocked up grandma, it became a scandal back home, abortion was out of the question, so they fled west. Interestingly enough, though, all of grandpa’s immediate family followed, and they all wound up in Los Angeles.

Grandma’s family, not so much.

But back to the single mother raising two sons. Said sons went off to war and grandmother married her second husband, and from that point on seemed to realize the value of investing in real estate.

So I know that she variously owned homes in Burbank, then Pacoima, and then a house in Atascadero proper and then, ultimately, The Apple Orchard (cough — farm) further up in Atascadero, which was fourteen acres abutting a creek and with its own well.

The two of them built their own house on the property despite being in their 60s by that time, and the only thing they didn’t do on their own was dig the basement and pour the foundations.

Oh… one other thing to mention is that to me, Neva and her second husband Sam were always my grandparents, even though he was really my step granddad. Meanwhile, to my much older half siblings, who had known my biological grandfather, Sam was just “Sam.”

I never met my actual grandfather because he was a resident of the mental hospital in Camarillo for more than half his life and you had to be eighteen to visit. He died when I was thirteen.

But back to city boy/country boy… to me as a kid, The Apple Orchard was magic for a ton of reasons. First off, it was its own little enclave at the end of a long dirt road, with this simple house that was always brightly lit and smelt of the wood stove.

It had a basement with all of my grandpa’s audio equipment — and he was quite the audiophile — but also, there was a slope behind the house that led to the rest of the property. The first chunk was my grandfather’s iris garden — although “garden” really isn’t a big enough word for what he had going.

He was actually pretty well-known as an iris breeder and pioneer in creating new types, so this part of the place was basically a huge experiment in action.

At the bottom of the slope was the poultry pen, with ducks and chickens and roosters, and the Evil Fucking Goose. I call it the EFG because it would spread its wings and hiss at everyone, plus the bastard nipped me more than once. Best revenge was the Easter Dinner when that fucker was the greasy main course. No regrets.

Beyond here, though, there were several storage buildings full of amazing artifacts from my grandparents’ lives, and then just more wilderness.

Meanwhile… on the upper half across from the house, this was where the sheep and pigs lived, and I totally loved going over there to hang out with them. Pigs are very smart and affectionate and, actually, so are sheep.

Walk into a group of them and show some respect, and they’ll just smile and “Baaa” at you for days. Plus rubbing their wool with your hands is one of the best moisturizers ever. (Look it up, it’s called lanolin.)

On top of all that, a bunch of peacocks lived in the trees in front, and the neighbors in the house beyond that had horses, and yes, I spent plenty of time at their fence just talking to and petting those beautiful animals.

So combine all of that with waking up in the mornings to the smell of wood fire and bacon, then walking outside into frequently cool crisp air to just listen and realize that what you were hearing was almost total silence, only broken by the occasional caterwaul of a peacock, baaa of a sheep, distant burbling of the creek, or wing snap of a flock of birds taking flight, and it was another kind of paradise.

Oddly enough, this world fed into my Science Fiction thing as well, so that in addition to one of my themes in writing it being, “Wow, what great things can we bring in the future?” another one is always, “Okay, so what if we fuck it up and have to go back to living in simpler times?”

Of course, in my modern life, since I’ve finally landed a position that is 100% remote work and which may only necessitate occasional travel, I really might be able to live anywhere I want to. The only drawback is that it would be more of an effort to visit IRL friends I care about but, then again, there’s always Zoom, and if I move to some place more like my grandparents’ farm, then I may become the incentive to be the one visited instead of having to do it the other way around.

Who knows? The decade is young and the plague isn’t over, but anything can happen. And, as far as I’m concerned, I’m happy with either city or country. All I need to bring along are my brain and my senses.

Well, and the computer and internet, too.

The Saturday Morning Post #57: The Rêves Part 35

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.

The third day

Preston and Danny had stayed up all night watching everything they could find, and they even found one of Preston’s early scenes, which probably every young male actor in same-sex videos had done in their progression from solo to full-on fucking.

It was the classic scenario of the physical exam, which Preston’s character ostensibly had to take before joining the college swim team, and was shot on a very detailed set depicting a doctor’s office, with all of the real equipment and furniture.

The “doctor” was a very handsome 30-something man, and the whole thing played out like a normal exam — at first. Questions and answers, taking temperature, looking in the mouth, eyes, and ears, feeling the lymph nodes in the neck and behind the ears, and so on.

They even took their time with the process of Preston getting undressed, the doctor testing his reflexes, palpating his abdomen, and so on, everything seeming normal until the prostate exam, when Preston let out a loud moan as the doctor probed.

“Do you like that?” he asked, and Preston nodded. “And are you having any problems with your male parts?” the doctor continued as Preston rolled over and laid on the table, now a bit aroused.

As was the case in every version of this scenario ever shot, the answer was yes, and the solution was for the doctor — wearing neoprene gloves and using KY — to administer a hand-job to his naked patient to “cure” the problem.

It covered a few fetishes and genres all at the same time. In addition to the medical doctor, and twink and young dad type angles, it featured what was called CMNM, aka “clothed man, naked man,” which was a thing.

Since Danny was mentally more focused on his days prior to Preston’s career, it always boggled his mind at how many very specific terms and descriptions there were for things, but he really understood why the internet’s Rule 34 was absolutely true.

Rule 34 in a nutshell: If you can imagine it, then there’s internet porn of it.

“There’s probably already gay ghost twincest porn out there somewhere,” Preston suggested one time.

“And we’re not looking for it,” Danny replied. “Or making it!”

Joshua still wasn’t up by noon, although that was understandable given his very late night/early morning, on top of what must have been a lot of depression over Simon. But at about twelve thirty, Danny and Preston suddenly turned and looked at each other.

They’d both felt the same thing, and just shared a smile and a nod.

“Want to do the best thing ever for someone?” Danny asked.

“I’m way ahead of you,” Preston replied. “We just have to wait until… you know.”

“I know,” Danny said.

It was about one o’clock when Joshua finally emerged from his room, hair a mess, dressed casually, shoeless. He wandered past them and said, “Good morning,” as he went into the kitchen and fired up the coffee.

“Good afternoon!” they called back in unison.

“Any big plans today?” Danny asked.

“Just figuring out how to shut down the machine. You guys?”

“We don’t have any ideas on that,” Preston said. “We’re no scientists. But we do know that, sometimes, it helps to get out, wander around, maybe visit a familiar place to help yourself think.”

“What are you boys up to?” Joshua asked.

“Up to helping you deal with things, man,” Danny explained. “That’s all. C’mon. We can see it. You’re not exactly the happiest camper in the world right now, and you won’t be until… you know.”

“Won’t be until…?” Joshua asked.

“Until Simon has come back,” Preston said. “But you know it takes time.”

“And sitting around here just reminds you of him. Obviously.”

“Why don’t we go hang around the NoHo Station?” Preston offered. “You like that place.”

“Oh. So go from one place that reminds me of Simon to another that does?” Joshua shot back.

“Baby steps?” Danny offered weakly.

“I know you two are up to something, but I’m going to play along,” Joshua told them. “I actually trust you.”

He opened his laptop, checked that it was fully charged, took the memo he’d printed, folded it up and pocketed it, then shut his laptop, threw it in the bag, and went to put on shoes and brush his hair.

Danny and Preston were looking at each other like a couple of giddy kids. They gave Joshua hearty good-byes as he left, then dematerialized and set off on their mission.

Joshua walked down to the NoHo Station, descended the escalators by the Orange Line platform and crossed the tunnel to the turnstiles, where he slapped his TAP card and then headed down another escalator to the platform.

As was their custom — his and Simon’s — he went all the way to the end near the tunnel where the incoming trains from Universal City would appear, sat on the last bench, then opened his laptop and got to work.

His thought was that somehow damaging the constraining structures on the machine would effectively shut it down as it would break the containment of the plasma field that was actually acting as a neutrally charged primary barrier to the tachyon stream within.

Cut off the outer magnetic field corralling the plasma, it would expand and cool, suddenly deionizing, which would give it a negative charge. While the tachyon stream itself would be neutrally charged, without the barrier, its tendency was to move in space in all dimensions, so a breach in the plasma would allow the stream to firehose out through the nearest crack, as it were.

The trick was figuring out how to cut off that magnetic field, and that was why Joshua was studying all of the blueprints for the machine, and every last physical spec, running each one of them through load-limit calculations.

He very quickly got quite lost in his work, and had no idea how much time had gone by.

Meanwhile, Preston and Danny had flown over to the cemetery and Simon’s grave, because they had sensed his return. Well, probably, Pearl had sensed it and “pinged” them in her own way, but now they had to find him, because he was probably wandering around the place, a little lost and confused and, sure enough, they finally did find him. Ironically, he wasn’t all that far from Preston’s grave.

“Hello, Simon,” Danny said as Preston gave a friendly wave. Simon looked at them oddly.

“Wait… I think I remember you,” he said.

“Of course you do, Simon,” Preston explained as they approached. “You know us quite well. So does your husband. Joshua?”

Simon seemed to search his memory for a moment, then brightened up. “Joshua. I remember the name.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” Danny said. “You’re newborn, so to speak, so things are kind of fuzzy right now. What do you remember?”

“Flying,” Simon said. “Well, it felt like flying, and then… pain. And then this crazy warm numbness, in and out flashes of bright lights and all kinds of beeping and hissing and voices, and then… more numbness and then I’m standing here in this cemetery. What’s going on?”

“You died,” Preston told him. “Actually, you were murdered, by a man named Ausmann. But thanks to a machine that he built a long time ago and that you know about, we’re all back. Only not quite in our human form.”

“And Joshua is waiting for you,” Danny added.

“Joshua,” Simon said, although it wasn’t clear whether it was a question or a statement.

“Your husband,” Preston reminded him.

“Where is he?” Simon asked.

“We can take you to him,” Danny replied.

“And we can teach you one of our favorite methods of travel.”

“You guys?”

“All of us,” Danny said.

“You’re a Rêve now,” Preston told him. “Do you remember that word?”

“Oh yeah,” Simon replied, seeming to have a sudden realization, which was a good sign.

“Come on then,” Danny said, and he and Preston flanked Simon, each one taking an arm, as they lead him down into the ground and then onward until they intersected with the Metro line and followed the tunnels on up through the stations, finally coming out at NoHo.

Of course, Danny and Preston were able to be visible to Joshua immediately, but Simon was not, so he just appeared as a smoky shadow on the wall.

“How’s it going?” Danny asked.

“I think I’m getting close,” Joshua said.

“Great,” Preston replied. “We brought you a surprise.”

Joshua glanced where he was pointing and saw the obvious Rêve shadow on the wall. “Sorry,” he said. “Let it know I’m not trapping them anymore.”

“Who said you had to trap this one?” Danny told him.

“Just look,” Preston ordered.

Joshua sighed and looked at the shadow and then it drifted out of the wall as black smoke, coalesced, and Simon was standing there, dressed in full Rêve-hunter regalia, looking fifteen years younger, and smiling.

“Hi!” he said, giving a little wave. Joshua rushed over to hug him, arms not really connecting all that much, although he did feel some sort of physical resistance to indicate that something was there — just not much tangible, and with no warmth or smell.

“I missed you so much,” he told Simon.

“So did I,” Simon said. “So… now what?”

“I’m planning to destroy Ausmann and save the Rêves, including you,” Joshua explained.

“Oh, right. About that…”

“What?” Joshua asked.

“I think we just need to talk,” Simon told him.

“Shit,” Joshua exclaimed.

“Not like that talk,” Simon reassured him. “Obviously, things are a bit… different now.”

“Thank you, Captain obvious.”

“So, my place or yours?” Simon asked.

“How about ours?” Joshua countered.

“Is it, really?” Simon replied.

“Stop that!” Joshua told him, shutting and bagging his laptop. Let’s go.

Preston and Danny dematerialized, presumably heading home as Joshua and Simon started down the platform towards the escalators, Simon telling Joshua on the way, “Maybe I should fade out. What would the neighbors think if they saw me come home?”

“True,” Joshua agreed, and Simon vanished. When Joshua got home, he left the front door open and told Simon, “Re-appear once you’re inside.”

“Um…” Joshua turned to find Simon already standing behind him, Preston and Danny standing on either side.

“How long did you know he was back?” Joshua asked them.

“About a half hour before you got your lazy ass up,” Danny said.

“And you couldn’t have just brought him back here?”

“Please,” Preston said. “Where’s the drama and romance in that?”

“Well, thanks…” Joshua said. “But the two of us have some things to discuss, and we’d like to do it in private. Please?”

“All right,” they agreed.

“Go tell Ausmann he’ll be hearing from us soon, and then let Pearl and Anabel know that Simon is back.”

“Oh, we’ll tell Ausmann,” Preston said. “But we don’t have to tell Pearl. They already know.”

Seeing Joshua’s confused look, Danny added, “Who do you think told us?”

“How doe sh… Pearl know?” he asked.

“They’re everywhere, they know everything,” Preston explained. But we’ll leave you two for your reunion.”

Danny saluted, and they made their usual exit off the balcony.

“I wish they wouldn’t do that,” Simon mused.

“So, other than everything, what’s on your mind?” Joshua asked, sitting. Simon sat next to him.

“This has been a very weird experience,” he explained. “I mean, I feel like I’m a sentient being, and I have all my thoughts and most of my memories. And I’m talking to you.”

“Then doesn’t that make you a sentient being?”

“With no actual body, or nervous system, or brain? I don’t even think I have internal organs.”

“But here you are, talking to me, thinking thoughts. I’m not conjuring you up from my memories.”

“No, but we know that’s how the Rêves… exist,” Simon countered. “I’m a Class I because of you. But that’s just the thing,” he added. “I exist. I don’t live.”

“Sure, you’re living,” Joshua assured him. “It’s just a little different than it was before.”

“Organization, growth, reproduction, metabolism, homeostasis, response, and adaptation. Those are the seven criteria for biological life on Earth. We can probably strike reproduction right off that list, and growth. Metabolism?”

“Apparently, energy from the environment is what sustains the Rêves, so they do have a form of metabolism. And homeostasis — you’re maintaining your form, which means you have organization. That’s, what? Three out of seven. I’m guessing you’re also capable of response and adaptation.”

“But no growth, no reproduction,” Simon sighed.

“Do you feel alive?” Joshua asked him.

“Yes, and no,” Simon said. “Things don’t feel like they normally do. I mean, like physical senses. I’m kind of numb, and I don’t feel any kind of temperature. When I walk on hard surfaces, they feel squishy, like I could sink into them. And when I’m doing that shadow and smoke thing, the world looks and sounds really, really weird.”

“How are you doing emotionally?” Joshua asked him.

“Other than that I can never really touch you again? I am glad to see you again. At least we have that.”

“Same here. I suppose you’re as angry at Ausmann as I am.”

“I didn’t feel anything about him between the time I died and the time I found myself flying up out of the ground and wandering around the cemetery. I’m not sure I feel anything now.”

“I can’t say the same there,” Joshua replied.

“But they — the ‘they’ who say things — say that revenge is a dish best served cold, and I’m probably room temperature. So, what do you have in mind?”

Joshua quickly explained what he’d learned about how the machine could be used to destroy the Rêves, and how they were going to turn Ausmann 180 away from that. The best way to help the Rêves and win the war would be to shut the whole things down.

“Which is impossible,” Simon replied.

“Except in cases of containment breach.”

“Which can be suicidal.”

“It depends on how you do it,” Joshua explained, getting out his laptop and showing Simon his notes. “All we have to do is rupture the pipes carrying the magnetic field through a super-cooled super-conductor, the plasma containment goes, and the tachyon beam takes off. This breaks the connection with the other end, and the catastrophic shut-down mechanisms activate.”

“Great. So, how do we rupture the pipes?” Simon asked.

“You’re the materials and properties expert,” Joshua replied. “All of the specs are in that spreadsheet, so take a look and tell me.”

Simon went to the computer, surprised to find that the trackpad actually sensed his finger, and he could press the keys and click the buttons.

“Weird,” he said.

“You probably have some sort of electromagnetic field dancing around your edges,” Joshua said, “Same as human skin, so you’re repelling the electrons in whatever you touch, only maybe not as strongly.”

“Whatever works,” Simon said, continuing to study the specs and make calculations.

Joshua had printed out pictures and schematics of the chamber around the generator end of the machine, which was where they’d be targeting the attack. The generator itself was sealed and heavily fortified, the plasma beam escaping at the end of an eight-foot tube coming from the generator.

There was a catwalk high above this overlooking the first stretch of containment field and super-cooled pipes.

What had been most intriguing during this whole thing was that Joshua finally learned how they made tachyons, which were not a new particle at all. Instead, they were just ordinary photons that had been given that extra kick to go just over the speed of light in a vacuum, or c.

While it took an enormous amount of energy relative to each photon to kick it past the speed limit, it was not a huge amount of energy in absolute terms because each photon was so tiny. As soon as it was going faster than c, it would be fired into a material designed to slow it down, but here was the paradox of tachyons.

Once they’d exceeded the speed of light, that was when they started to travel backwards in time, and when you put the brakes on something go backwards in time, the apparent effect is that it starts to move away from you faster. Well, at least faster backwards in time, which is the same thing as slower going forwards.

The end result was that once the machine got going, the tachyons coming out of it emerged before they had been created inside of it — at least from our point of view.

Speaking of time, it had been over an hour, both of them deep in study, when Joshua noticed Danny and Preston on the balcony, Preston doing the helicopter to get his attention, then gesturing to ask if they could come in now.

Joshua waved and they entered.

“How’s Ausmann?” Joshua asked.

“I think he jizzed himself when we told him you had Lorre and it would be soon,” Preston explained.

“Anything else?”

“Dude has gone totally paranoid espionage hound up there,” Danny told him. “Racks of costumes, disguises, prosthetic make-up — the good, studio kind, not Halloween store shit. We didn’t even recognize him when we popped in.”

“So I guess it works,” Preston added.

“Well, when I finally send you to get him, don’t forget to let him know that once he arrives, the disguises come off.”

“Oh my god,” Simon suddenly exclaimed and Joshua hurried to him, Preston and Danny following.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Weak spot,” Simon replied, pointing at the yellow tubes that shepherded the magnetic field around. “These aren’t that strong, and especially not when they’re under the stress of the temperature differential between the outside and the inside. Hit them at a join, and they’ll pop apart.”

“How hard do we have to hit them?” Joshua asked.

“How far are we hitting from?”

Joshua pointed out the scaffolding above the pipes, Simon checked the measurements and did the calculations. “Wow,” he finally said. “We’d only need to drop about 80 kilos on there.”

“To take one out?” Joshua asked.

“To take out as many as it hit,” Simon corrected him.

“Yes!” Joshua cheered under his breath.

“So, now what?” Simon asked.

“Now, we have to come up with a plausible way to get Ausmann up there and convince him that he can destroy the Rêves.”

“He’s not going to wreck his own machine to do that,” Simon said.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him by this point,” Joshua replied. “But we can come up with some other fake thing he can do.”

“Unless he knows the science of the machine well enough.”

“I’m guessing he doesn’t,” Joshua told him, then thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “Paradox!”

“What?”

“We tell him that if he creates a paradox with the machine, it will destroy the Rêves. And in order to create a paradox, he has to drop matter with mass into the beam. It doesn’t even need to be that much. Maybe just a baseball-sized piece of something, which will fall between the pipes.

“It will accelerate into the past but break the laws of physics at the same time, and that is what will send the Rêves back to their graves. Ooh. Is that dramatic enough?” Joshua asked.

“Chilling,” Simon said.

“Imagine it in Peter Lorre’s voice. Speaking of which, I think it’s time to teach him his lines now,” Joshua added.

“You really have Peter Lorre?” Simon asked.

“Well, just the Class I version of him. Class II is wandering around, probably somewhere in Hollywood, living it up.”

“I suspect Drew’s handiwork,” Simon said.

“You suspect correctly. I suppose it’s time to train him, but let’s wait until tomorrow and get a fresh start. Right now, I just want to hang out with you.,” Joshua told him.

“Should we leave?” the boys asked.

“Nah,” Joshua said. “You both can stay. You feel like family now, anyway.”

Preston and Danny both “Awwed” in unison as the four of them settled in for another night of bingeing, although they all settled down early because tomorrow would probably be a busy day.

It began with Preston and Danny managing to prepare another breakfast, intended for Joshua and Simon but, of course, Simon didn’t need to eat, nor could he. After breakfast, Joshua stood and announced, “So, shall we decant the spirit and see what we can teach it?”

Simon nodded. “Yes, of course!”

Joshua retrieved the trap and placed it in their home containment box, letting Lorre out while keeping him sealed in.

He was surprisingly calm when he appeared in the cage, but that might have had something to do with three Rêves watching him along with one Vivant. He turned to them and smiled.

“Oh, hello,” he said, his accent not as strong as it was onscreen, but still noticeable. “Is Andy here?”

“No,” Joshua said. “He couldn’t come over, but we’re all good friends of his.”

“Ah, I see,” Lorre said. “And where is here?”

“North Hollywood,” Simon explained, to Lorre’s surprise. He turned and looked toward the balcony.

“High-rises in North Hollywood now?” he exclaimed. “I know I have been gone a long time, but now I have seen everything.”

“You haven’t been up here recently?” Joshua asked.

“I’ve only come back recently,” Lorre explained.

“I know exactly what you mean,” Danny said, kneeling in front of the cage. “The same thing happened to me as — ”

“Danny!” Joshua snapped, shooting him a warning look. Real Lorre hadn’t noticed he’d been split, and Joshua wanted to keep it that way.

“So what can I do for you gentlemen?” Lorre asked.

“We have a very important mission for you,” Joshua explained, going on to tell the story of Ausmann, his hatred of the Rêves, and his attempt to destroy them.

“And he tasked us with finding you in order to find out all of the Rêves’ weaknesses.”

“Why would I tell him that?” Lorre asked.

“Not you,” Joshua said. “The version of you from all of your movie roles. You did tend to play characters who were…”

“Don’t be kind,” Lorre said. “That was my specialty. Cowards, turncoats, murderers, and punks. I rather enjoyed it, actually.”

“Excellent,” Joshua said, “Because that’s what this guy is expecting, and you’re going to pretend to give it to him. Cower in fear, and then appear to sell out your own kind.”

“But I don’t?””

“Of course not. You’re going to give him bad information. I assume that you, like every other Rêve, knows about the machine, and how it could destroy you.”

“Oh, yes. Rev up the engine, and we are gone.”

“Exactly. So that’s not what you’re telling Ausmann.”

“I should think not,” Lorre replied.

“Here’s what you will be saying,” Joshua continued, and he and Simon explained the scenario and the words to Lorre, tossing the concept back and forth until it felt like he really got it.

“So it would be necessary to place some mass into the — plasma beam, you called it? — in order to disrupt the machinery and destroy us?” Lorre repeated. “That’s what I should tell him?”

“Pretty good. Yes,” Joshua explained.

“What if he asks me why?” Lorre wondered.

“You’re just an actor. Actually, you’re supposedly just the collective memories of all the characters you ever played, so you don’t know why. It’s just accepted wisdom among the Rêves.”

“Well, that makes my job easier, I suppose,” Lorre laughed. “Oh. But what if he asks why I would participate in my own destruction?”

“Tell him that as long as you’re down there behind the beam when it happens, you’ll be fine.”

“What if he doesn’t believe me?”

“Why would he not? Anyway, none of it matters if he doesn’t believe what you tell him about dropping mass into the beam, and he’ll only buy that if you pull off the role of the cowardly traitor, so that he thinks you are just your characters. You’re a good enough actor that I’m sure you can pull that off.”

“Why, thank you, young man.”

“Joshua,” he introduced himself.

“Peter,” Lorre said. “Oh. But I guess you knew that.”

“No I apologize, because I have to put you back in to the trap until we take you to Ausmann. It’s the only way he’d believe that I could bring you there.”

“I understand,” Lorre replied. “Here’s to our mission succeeding. See you on the other side!”

Joshua nodded and triggered the trap. Lorre vanished into it. The cage ejected the disk out the slot, and Joshua put it in the vault where it would be safe until they needed it.

“I think it’s going to work,” Simon told the others.

“I hope you’re right,” Joshua replied. “Now, can we get our minds off of this for a bit?”

“Binge and bang?” Simon asked.

“Well, we’re not going to get much bang, are we?” Joshua said.

“I was being metaphorical. At least I didn’t say ‘Netflix and chill.’”

“That’s because only old people say that anymore. “

They settled together on the sofa, Danny and Preston on the other side (after they’d asked if they could, of course), then went through the arduous process of deciding what to watch, finally settling on Dune — the 2021 version, not the 1984 David Lynch version or the 2000 television version.

Danny and Preston were thrilled to learn that it even existed. Meanwhile, even though Joshua and Simon had already seen it multiple times, they could always watch it again, and they couldn’t wait for Part 2 to come out, since the first film had stopped halfway through the book, leaving Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica, stranded in the desert of Arakis, after being betrayed by an intricate plot by a rival family.

And then they meet up with the Fremen. If you’re a Dune fan, you’ll know.

It was a long movie, but worth it, and the boys loved it. It also brought up some great memories for Simon and Joshua, and they were giving each other that look, Joshua finally sighing in frustration.

“You have no idea how much I wish we could… actually have sex right now,” he told Simon.

“So do I,” Simon said before looking at him for a long time, then glancing back at the boys, who gave him encouraging looks. “There is… one thing,” he finally said, very awkwardly.

“What’s that?” Joshua asked.

“I guess you’d call it… strength in numbers?”

“Okay, I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Joshua said, “And how would you know, anyway?”

“It’s just how this works, I guess,” Simon replies. “When you become a Rêve, you wind up with all of the knowledge. We’re all kind of interconnected. Only, sometimes, we can be very connected.”

“How, exactly, do you mean ‘connected?’” Joshua asked.

“Did you ever wonder how the Hadas could have caused that storm when every one of them was reduced to scattered ashes, and except for via Pearl, they can’t really manifest a human appearance like we can?”

“Um, no?” Joshua replied.

“That’s strength in numbers,” Danny said. “And three are enough to… do what you gotta do with your husband.”

“So… if I did agree to this, theoretically… how does it work?”

“Simple,” Preston said. “We just lend our energy to Simon so that he can become tangible enough to get freaky with you so you both can feel it.”

“Lend?”

“It’s kind of a temporary merge thing, basically,” Danny said.

“Aren’t you two worried about mooshing back together and just becoming Preston?” Joshua asked.

“Too late for that,” Preston replied. “We are definitely distinct now.”

“It sounds interesting,” Joshua said, “But I don’t know.”

“Sounds like you need a sample,” Simon announced, gesturing. Danny and Preston walked up behind him and then seemed to vanish into him, Simon appearing more and more solid until he stepped forward, took Joshua in his arms and buried his face in a kiss.

It was warm and wet and real, with Simon’s arms wrapped around him, and it took Joshua back to the days and nights before Simon died. When they broke, they stared into each other’s eyes, and all of Joshua’s resistance was gone.

Well, almost all of it. “Are those two aware of… things during this?” he asked Simon.

“Full disclosure,” he heard Preston’s voice, “Yes.”

“But we have to stay in here. If we come out, then Simon can’t do this anymore,” Danny added.

Joshua wasn’t sure whether to think of it as an audience or a four-way, but he stared into Simon’s eyes again.

“So, you’re not going to break out with two extra dicks or sprout a stray asshole or mouth anywhere, right?” he asked.

“Nope,” Simon reassured him. “They’re going to stay where they are. They’re going to feel everything I fell, and I’m sure they’re going to enjoy it, but just forget they’re along for the ride, okay?”

“As long as they don’t start moaning or anything,” Joshua said.

“Sorry, dude. You two are hot. Hard to promise that,” Preston whispered.

Joshua looked at Simon again and gave him a quick kiss. “Fuck it,” he said. “You only live one… sorry.”

“So, fuck it?” Simon said.

“Fuck me,” Joshua replied. Simon picked him up — which surprised the hell out of him, and proceeded to do exactly that. Several times. Until way too late that night became too early the next morning.

* * *

Friday-free-for-all #55: Ideal pet, favorite brands, homeless, compliments

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. And for some reason, this installment inadvertently wound up with a number of commercial plugs. Are you listening, potential sponsors?

If you could have any animal as a pet, what animal would you choose?

Well, this question is a no-brainer. A dog, period. There is no better pet than a dog, although I don’t think that “pet” is the right word. Companion, family member, protector, friend — I’ll take all of those words.

I’d also adjust the question to this one: “If you could accept any animal into your family, which one would it be?”

And the answer would still be “dog.”

What brand are you most loyal to?

Well, it depends on what product we’re talking about. For phones, smart and non, Samsung, period. They make good stuff, and I like it — and in a recent ranking battle of Samsung and Apple, Samsung won hands down.

Then again, Apple products are shit, and if you asked me which brand I hated the most, they’d win.

For computers, for ages it was Gateway or nothing, and I can’t count how many PCs and laptops I bought from them. Sadly, they are no more, but I’ll stick with Acer or Dell. Chips by Intel. And OS is always, always Microsoft.

Did. I mention “fuck Apple?” Because I should. Apple makes computers for computer users who do not understand computers at all. If an Apple/Mac crapbox breaks down, you’re screwed. If my PC craps out, I can fix it — and I have, many times over many boxes.

Mayo: Kraft rules, Best Foods drools.

Cars: This was a long-fought decision that spanned Datsun, Subaru, Honda, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Saturn, Toyota. And while the VW was fun to drive, the ultimate winner is… Toyota. As long as they keep making manual transmissions.

Supermarkets: Ralphs. As long as I don’t have to admit that Kroger exists.

Designer shit: Nautica, but only from Ross Dress for Less because, what? You think I want to pay that much for a pair of pants? Piss off.

What’s the first thing that you think when see a homeless person?

Why do we have to live in a society where this is even possible? Housing — like education and healthcare — should be a right, and at the very least there should be free government housing, no strings attached, for people who can’t afford more at the moment.

As it is right now, there is so much abandoned commercial and industrial property, that cities should just start moving in and converting places. You could house hundreds in abandoned malls, for examples, and give each of them their own space.

A typical department store is about 250,000 square feet. That’s 500 feet on a side, or any combination that multiplies to 250,000. You could fit several hundred 900 square foot apartments into that footprint, per floor.

Now remember that a typical suburban mall usually has anywhere from two to four anchor stores, so multiply those hundreds of units by that many, then add in all the other retail space, which is where you could put the two and three bedroom units.

There could be several different types of spaces, depending upon to whom they’d be open. One type would be for the truly homeless who have no job, no place to go, and tend to wind up living in tent cities or under freeway bridges. This would give them secure shelter, an address, and a chance to start over — a safe place to stay if, for whatever reason, they can’t go on back to make it in society.

Another type could be the sudden emergency shelter, designed for people who are being evicted but can’t find new housing right now, battered spouses with or without children who need to escape a bad situation, or those who have lost their homes to disasters natural or otherwise.

The final category would be twofold: One for students, as in those going to college, so that they could focus on studies and not worry about rent or having to work in addition to school in order to survive. The second would be for seniors on fixed incomes who don’t own property or have the means or income to maintain what they do own.

All of the shelters would also create jobs in various areas from management to maintenance, and by keeping some retail — like grocery and drug stores and limited food courts — they could provide people with affordable necessities right outside their door.

But, really, in a country like the U.S., there should not be a single homeless person. We need to take care of everyone.

What was your favorite restaurant when you were in university? How about when you were a child?

Well, part of that is a tricky question, isn’t it?

In university, I’ll ignore the great on-campus restaurant we did have which was not a part of our pre-paid food service, but which had amazing burgers, and was designed as the practicum for upper-level majors in the field of restaurant management and etc. I can’t remember whether it was called The Lair or the Lion’s Den, although either would have fit, since our team was the Lions. (To complicate matters, there was a bar off-campus in town which had whichever name that the dining hall didn’t.)

The meal card cafeteria for students, BTW, was named after the food service contractor that ran it, SAGA — which, as we always pointed out, was just “A GAS” backwards. Many a “freshman fifteen” was born in that place.

But, having been a theatre minor, the hands-down favorite university restaurant answer is… Denny’s. and for four simple reasons…

  • They were open 24 hours, meaning that we could go there after the end of a show any night of the week, or especially after tech day hell.
  • They had comfort food for days, and that’s all that we wanted — plus breakfast at any hour.
  • They were cheap as fuck, meaning they fit a college budget. Plus free refills.
  • Chances were that we knew our server from school, so we could stay extra-long, got treated really well, and also got a bit generous in tipping.

Now, the second part of the question is trickier because I had no choice in restaurants as a kid. But I do remember two. Well, one by name very well, the other as a life-long mystery.

The one I remember well is the International House of Pancakes, aka IHOP, and my parents would take me there now and again and it was awesome. There were pancakes. And other breakfast stuff. And all kinds of syrup. And the roofs of the buildings were really cool — two steep blue A-frames that crossed each other.

The one I don’t remember as well, we only went to a few times, and this was when my parents took me on a drive-up vacation to San Francisco when I was about four, meaning “Brain still in mushy stage when memories don’t stick yet.”

My perception was that every night we stayed there for about a week, we went to some drive-in/sit-down combo restaurant in a big, round, probably Googie style building, where I’d have the

most amazing chocolate shake, served in a metal cup.

I don’t remember whether we drove there or walked, or whether we ate in the drive-through or went inside. For all I know, it could have actually been the diner attached to the motel we stayed at (TraveLodge) or a stand-alone restaurant across the street.

I just remember it being on top of a hill, it was always after dark, and the inside was brightly lit but the walls were all glass. I have more vivid memories of the coldness and the taste of the shake.

The only things I clearly remember from that trip, sort of, are these: First, a toy my parents bought me in Chinatown with a box and sliding lid — slide the lid open and a dragon popped up.

Second, a tour through the city on the upper deck of a converted London-style bus.

Third, how we missed being trapped in an elevator by seconds after a blackout on Fisherman’s Wharf when an underground transformer blew up — we heard the bang and saw black smoke coming up from a street maintenance cover.

Finally, I remember how we drove home with half a dozen loaves of sourdough bread warming in the back window of our car all the way down.

What was a random compliment that someone gave you that really stuck in your memory?

This one comes from the before times, the long ago, when we were not quarantined or isolated, and I was still doing improv and working box office at the theatre way back when, and one of the company members from the Sunday Team, who shall remain nameless, flat out told me, “I appreciate you.” And that was a total warm fuzzy.

I mean, it’s just such a simple statement, but it comes with so much good will and gratitude, and I recommend trying it yourself. People really seem to appreciate being appreciated, and it really does endow a sense of value.

Theatre Thursday: So put another dime in the jukebox, baby

June 18, 1815: “My my, At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender

April 6, 1974: ABBA wins the Eurovision Song Contest for their song Waterloo, which has nothing to do with Napoleon, really.

April 6, 1999: the jukebox musical Mamma Mia! premieres in London’s West End. The date, obviously, is not a coincidence.

But now the theme of this piece probably makes sense, since it is Theatre Thursday. So I’m not writing about Napoleon, famous battles, or Swedish pop groups. This is about the concept of a jukebox musical, which I have to say I find somewhat abhorrent with a few exceptions.

If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s what it is. A jukebox musical is a show that takes existing musical works, either a collection of popular tunes or sometimes the collected works of a particular band or artist, and then uses them to create a story, although one that’s generally not about that band or artist — with exceptions, more on which later.

Note that concept albums that became musicals, like Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita are not jukebox musicals since they were created like traditional musicals, just released as soundtracks first.

No — a jukebox musical is a collage made out of pre-existing material. And the problem with this sort of backwards creation is that it forces the story into the music, rather than letting the music flow from the story. And, of course, if you’re working with a group like ABBA, with a lot of hits, there’s the need to jam every one of them in there, even if it includes Waterloo, whether it fits the story or not.

Another big danger is that it just turns into a concert loosely wrapped around a story — q.v. 2005’s Jersey Boys, documenting Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and infamous for the number of fistfights that would start in the audience every single night at intermission.

The concept of jukebox musicals really started in America with film rather than stage, and some of them are quite famous and actually good — Singin’ in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis, and An American in Paris being just three examples.

But the granddaddy of jukebox musicals is arguably John Gay’s 1728 opus The Beggar’s Opera, which took popular ballads of the day as the soundtrack of its story, which was stylized as a parody of Italian opera of the time.

Ultimately, it gave us the decidedly non-jukebox musical The Three Penny Opera by Brecht and Weill, which gave us the song Mack the Knife, which you probably still know from the linked version despite Bobby Darin having made it a hit in the late 50s and having last performed it just before his death in 1973.

Ironically, Darin’s music was used in the 2016 stage musical Dream Lover: The Bobby Darin Musical as well as the ambitious but incredibly miscast 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea, in which Kevin Spacey, already in his 40s, tried to play Darin at all stages in his life, keeping in mind that the singer started his career very young, basically getting into songwriting at 19 before dying at only 37.

Though they not always successful — hits like Mamma Mia! are the exception, not the rule — the number of jukebox musicals has exploded in each decade since the 1980s, with nearly 50 produced in the 2010s and three already planned for 2021, although there’s no telling whether they’ll happen now.

So what’s the appeal of the genre? Sadly, a vast majority of audiences prefer the familiar over the novel. Also, from the producer’s side of it, if they’re a large company that already owns a bunch of intellectual property (IP), like a huge star’s song catalog, then they don’t have to pay extra to use it, so they save a lot on material.

Not that they might not still spend the money, but Mega Studio Pictures paying hundreds of thousands to license music owned by Mega Studio Music Group is just an accounting trick that allows the former to deduct the cost and the latter to use the income to appear profitable. It’s no different than you or I transferring money from checking to savings.

With major companies like Disney and other studios getting more involved in Broadway productions, because the shows have just gotten so expensive, it was an inevitable move, really.

But, again, this leads right back to the big ho-hum drawback of large venue jukebox musicals focusing on a single artist or group. They can easily come across (and do) as nothing but overblown concerts with fancy sets, an attempt at a story, but with none of the original stars.

Yes, Sting did appear in productions of his musical The Last Ship — but that wasn’t a jukebox musical. It was all original material he wrote.

I’m trying to think of a single stage jukebox musical that I’ve liked, and I can’t. Okay, I can think of one series of such shows but it’s a specific sub-genre, in that they use the jukebox format to create mash-ups between particular artists and authors.

Officially known as the Troubadour Theater Company but usually referred to as the Troubies, they do shows that take text from authors like Dickens or Shakespeare, combine this with the music of a specific artist or group, and give us musicals like A Christmas Carole King or Julius Weezer.

They work because they were never supposed to be serious in the first place while still presenting a distillation of the original stage story that is accessible to all audiences.

Oddly enough, though, the format seems to work a lot better on film than it does on stage — maybe because the need for film to make things literal works against everything just looking like a concert.

One very notable example is Moulin Rouge!, which used modern pop and rock songs in a story set in 1901 Paris, but part of the reason this worked so well is that the script was written first with the songs very carefully chosen, and nothing proceeded until Baz Luhrmann had acquired the rights to every last one of them. There’s only one original song in the film, the haunting Come What May, but this is common for every Hollywood jukebox musical. You can’t get an Oscar nod if the song wasn’t written for the movie, after all.

Another great example of one that works is the Elton John biopic Rocketman, but that’s because it brilliantly relates the songs to the life of the composer rather than putting them in the context of performance. There are only one or two moments where we actually see the Elton character performing one of his songs for an audience, but those bits are frequently parts of a bigger fantasy sequence.

And, of course, there’s the classic 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain, which happened because producer Arthur Freed wanted a vehicle to pimp out songs he and Nacio Herb Brown had written during the early talkie period (1929-39). It was all about owning that IP again. Fortunately, the result was a film that is still funny and timeless to this day.

In case you haven’t seen it, it takes place in the late 1920s, right as movies went from being silent to “talking pictures,” something which caused huge turmoil in the real-life industry. A key plot point is that one of the biggest starlets of the era looks beautiful, but has an accent and a voice that would make a chainsaw sound like James Earl Jones.

It’s an early 50s parody of the world of about 25 years previously — which seems to actually be the standard human parody cycle. Think about it. If you were going to make a film today about people struggling with a huge change in how things are done when it comes to media, wouldn’t the rise of the internet and mid-90s be the ideal target?

And if you haven’t seen Singin’ in the Rain, that’s even more of a surprise, because it happens to be what I like to call one of the Warner Bros. ATMs.

I worked for Warner Home Video just after the turn of the century, and loved it, but the marketing people behind it sometimes did… questionable things in search of a buck. Hence, the Five ATMs: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and Singin’ in the Rain.

Why ATMs? Simple. Warner Bros. owned the rights to all of them and, whenever it looked like the company was going to have a bad quarter because some property had crashed and burned — which happened a lot back then (The Adventures of Pluto Nash? Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever?) — they would quickly whip out yet another special edition boxed set of any or all of those films, either adding more bonus material, special booklets, or collectibles (especially with Oz), or just going all whiz-bang on the packaging, calling it a limited edition #th anniversary set, and charging a premium.

By the way, I think I still have original, rolled theatrical posters for Pluto and Ballistic, in case anyone is interested in buying one or both.

As for all of those special releases, people bought them hand over fist. Oz was particularly egregious. Sell the exact same special edition box set as last time three months later, only now it comes with a special Tin Man ornament instead of Scarecrow. Whoosh — product out, money in.

It’s that lure of the familiar once again. But that was exactly how a jukebox worked: If you wanted to hear that song you liked one more time, you had to pay for it. Again, and again, and again.

Hm. Maybe that remake of Singin’ in the Rain, called Torrentin’ on the Net, should be all about how piracy came about, as people got tired of having to pay over and over for slightly shinier but not always better versions of the same old shit.

Image (CC BY-SA 2.0), used unmodified, Vintage Jukebox by Mark Sebastian.

Wednesday Wonders: Thoughts into action

Today, March 11, 2020, marks the 209th anniversary of the birth in 1811 of a man named Urbain Le Verrier, a French astronomer and mathematician. One thing he is remembered for is his hypothesis that our solar system had a second asteroid belt, located between the Sun and Mercury. It, of course, does not.

But there was one other thing he did that led to a big discovery. Before we get to that, though, we need to jump back to almost exactly 30 years before Le Verrier was born — March 13, 1781.

This was when the astronomer William Herschel took a look at his third survey of the night sky and realized that one of the “stars” in it was not a star, it was a planet. By sheer luck, he had managed to find Uranus.

This was no mean feat, because the five “classic” planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn — had been discovered in ancient times and were always a part of human culture.

They were also easier to spot because all of them could be seen by the naked eye. Uranus can be, too, but it is incredibly dim, which is probably why it wasn’t picked out as a planet a lot sooner. Not to mention that its year was a lot longer, so its apparent motion relative to the stars would take a much more time and patience to notice.

But for the other planets, motion is what made them stand out. The constellations and everything else appeared to travel together across the sky, but these five objects had their own  different and predictable pattern.

In other words, Venus, which frequently appears in the eastern sky after sunset (in the northern spring) or the western sky before sunrise (in the northern fall), will appear to move from constellation to constellation as the year progresses. What’s really happening, and what it took astronomers a long time to figure out and a longer time to convince the public of, is that it was the Earth that was moving around the Sun, along with all of the other planets.

In effect, all those stars out there could basically be considered fixed objects, as if they were painted on the inside of a giant sphere that we’re moving around in. Oh, they’re not fixed at all, and they all move too — the Big Dipper will look really different in thousands of years — they just move too slowly for humans to notice the change.

It’s a variation of the old “moving landscape effect”, more properly known as motion parallax. That is, if you’re riding in a vehicle as a passenger, look out the side window, and you’ll notice that nearby objects, like freeway guardrails, trees along the road or close buildings appear to zip past, while slightly farther objects cruise along more slowly and the most distant objects, like far-off mountains, appear to barely move at all.

It’s this effect plus the telescope that finally allowed Herschel to find Uranus. And, by the way, it’s actually pronounced oo-RAN-oos (or you-RAN-us, if you must), so enough of those jokes. Don’t make the IAU change its name!

Uranus turned out to be a really odd duck of a planet, though, one of the more interesting facts being that its axis, unlike every other planet, is tilted on its side. The others basically rotate with their north poles being “up” and “down” relative to the plane of the ecliptic. Not Uranus. Its axis is tilted more than 90 degrees, meaning that it’s rotating on its side. Astrophysicists aren’t sure yet why this happened, but the leading conjecture is that something about the size of Earth smacked into it once it had substantially formed as a planet, knocking it over, and it can’t get up.

But there was one other oddity, and one that was only noticeable because of the work of Sir Isaac Newton. He’s that gravity guy — and no, an apple didn’t fall on his head, although he did wonder why things fell and whether they all did it at the same rate.

This led to him coming up with some laws of gravity that have proven to be pretty damn accurate. So damn accurate, in fact, that once Uranus had been discovered, something quickly became apparent: It wasn’t quite orbiting the Sun the way that it should be according to how the gravity of the Sun and other planets should have affected it.

This is what got to Urbain Le Verrier. There were noticeable differences between what Newton’s laws said Uranus should be doing and what observations showed that it was doing, but Newton wasn’t wrong, so something else must have been going on here.

Here’s a little note for people who still don’t know the different scientific terms. A law is something that is an irrefutable fact. It’s been observed, tested, confirmed, and reconfirmed far too many times for it to be falsifiable, and generally comes with a formula to back it up, like Newton’s f = ma, or force equals mass times acceleration.

If anything appears to violate a law, then there’s something else affecting it, period. And a law doesn’t come with an explanation, it just is what it is. In terms of gravity, the law just says, “Stuff falls at this speed,” which in an equation is F = Gm1m2/r2, or, more commonly, the force of gravity is inversely proportional to the distance between the centers of two objects, with G being the gravitational constant. Simplified, gravity on Earth is described as g = GM/r2, where M is the mass of the Earth. Which is 5.972 × 1024 kilograms, or 6.583 × 1021 tons, by the way. You’re welcome.

Law is top of the ladder in science. Theory is next, and in science it doesn’t mean what it does in popular vernacular. A theory is an explanation of how and why the law works. It says “After a ton of reproducible experimental results and rigorous testing and attempts at falsification, this idea here is our absolute best statement of what we think is really going on.” For example, Einstein’s theory of relativity is an explanation of how Newton’s laws work.

So Le Verrier, being a math dude, looked at the discrepancies and ran the numbers, and although he was really flying blind, here’s what he managed to do, using Newton’s Laws and a lot of calculation. He reverse-engineered our solar system to the point that he said, “Okay. Uranus is acting weird because there’s this other planet out there, and here’s where you’ll probably find it in the sky.”

August 31, 1846: Le Verrier announces his prediction to the French Academy.

September 18, 1846: He mails his prediction to Johann Galle of the Berlin observatory. The letter arrives five days later.

September 23, 1846: Galle finds Neptune, within one degree of where Le Verrier says it will be.

Fortuitously, this is the day of the autumnal equinox — one of two days in the year when Earth’s axis has zero degrees of tilt. That has nothing to do with Neptune, but it’s a nice touch in the story, and something that gives the astronomically inclined a little warm fuzzy.

Now just think on that one for a moment. Herschel only found Uranus because he’d been looking at the sky repeatedly and noticed something a bit off, and he made his discovery at least ten millennia after all the other planets had been discovered.

It only took sixty-five years (and six months) for the next planet to be discovered, and how that happened says a lot about how science should work. The theoretical folk (Le Verrier) used the math and formulae to come up with solid predictions, and then the experimental/observational folk (Galle) put those into action. End result: instant planet!

Throughout human history, we have had thinkers and we have had doers, and both are indispensable to progress. We will always need idea people, who can come up with solutions, questions, or fixes. We will always need action people, who can take those solutions, questions, or ideas and make them happen.

Together, the two are an unstoppable force. Just take Le Verrier and Galle as an example. They did, in seven decades, what all of humanity had been unable to do for tens of thousands of years before Herschel found Uranus.

Now just imagine what would happen if we applied this model to every field. Let the thinkers do their thing, then they hand their ideas to the doers, who do theirs. I think that the overused corporate term for this is synergy, but it works. If we can discover planets out there with it, imagine what we could do with it down here.

Image: Neptune by NASA, public domain.

Talky Tuesday: April showers

If you speak a Romance language, then you know that the days of the week were named for the planets via Roman gods pure and simple. Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, with the last one, Sunday, technically having been named for Phoebus Apollo.

When it comes to months of the year, though, it’s a lot less clear and, in fact, only three of them — March, May, and June — are clearly named after a Roman god: March for Mars, god of war (and of Tuesday); May for Maia, an Earth goddess of plants; and June for Juno, wife of Zeus.

Two things to remember: One is that the Roman calendar originally didn’t have January or February at all, and the New Year happened at the end of March. Second, other than the three months mentioned, the rest were originally known by number.

Here’s the calendar: Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junio, Quintilis, Sextillia, September, October, November, December.

So after those first four months, the ones from Quintilis on are literally named for their position in the calendar: Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth.

Quintilis and Sextillia were replaced with July and August in honor of Julius and Augustus Caesar. But the last four months of the year have kept their names that mean seventh through tenth even though they’ve long since been ninth through twelfth.

If you’ve been keeping score, you might notice one thing. The month of April isn’t named for a deity or its place in the calendar order. And there’s a reason for that: Nobody is really sure where that name came from.

T.S. Eliot wasn’t kidding when he wrote “April is the cruellest (sic) month.” Chaucer had a quite different view of things, but he was also the better poet.

Theories on the origin of the name for April fall into both the “named for a deity” and “named for its place in the calendar,” and neither one has any proof to back it up. There’s also the attributive theory, as in April is when flowers bloom, and there’s a Latin word meaning to open, “aperire,” that gave the month its name.

By the way, if you speak Spanish, you’ll see the roots of the word “abrir,” to open, right there. If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably think of aperture, which is the opening that light passes through on its way from the lens to the film or sensor. They all came from the same place.

Of course, humans being humans, we have a habit of doing it the other way around and naming people after months. For example, there’s the actress January Jones, who was born in January. There don’t appear to be any with the first names of February or March, but we probably all know an April or two. Likewise, May and June are very common first names.

There don’t appear to be any people with the first name July, but in the Spanish-speaking world, Julio is a common man’s first name, and you’ve probably heard of Julio Iglesias, whose name translates as “July Churches.”

August through November are all pretty well-represented. August Strindberg was a famous playwright. August was also the first name of one of my great grandfathers. I’ve known at least two Septembers personally — although one was spelled much differently — and a famous real-world example is the doctor, bioethicist, and filmmaker September Williams.

October Moore and October Kingsley are both actresses, and we round out the list with November Christine. Again, there are no famous Decembers.

So, why do those particular months not get used as first names while the others do? February, March, July, and December have been mostly ignored. Even a site like How Many of Me? says that there are probably zero people with these first names in the U.S.

It’s an interesting question, and one I’m not sure that I have the answer to. When it comes to strange names, none of the four are as weird as some of the most unusual names given to babies in 2019.

And when it comes to the ultimate in strange names, look no further than celebrities to go off the deep end with such strange creations as Kal-El, Jermajesty, Pilot Inspektor, and my personal favorite, Moxie Crimefighter.

The grand champion of weird baby names, though, has to be Frank Zappa. A brilliant artist, musician, and political thinker, but Jesus, man. What were he and his wife Gail on when they pulled these monikers out of their asses: Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmed Emuukha Rodan, and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen?

Okay, to be fair, Dweezil was actually named Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa, but, seriously — four given names? Even that is a bit excessive. And I would have personally chosen to go by Euclid had I been him. Yookie for short.

So this makes those four unused months seem absolutely pedestrian as names, and I shudder to think what our months and days of the week would sound like if the Zappas had been in charge of naming them.

Or, maybe not. They might have just livened things up a bit. Kind of like Dr. Seuss for adults.

Image, A Masque for the Four Seasons, by Walter Crane, 1905-1909Public domain under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.