Friday Free-for-All #63: Boring, character, tattoo, vacation

Friday Free for All
Here’s 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 or ask your own questions in the comments.

What are some boring games or sports and how can they be livened up?

Clearly, cricket, but I won’t get into that one because all I know about it is that it’s the incredibly slow British attempt at baseball with incomprehensible rules played by the elite. It’s probably just s trolling attempt — a handful of upperclassmen at a few of the top universities got together and decided to create their own sort of early version of Numberwang in which there really aren’t any rules, and the players just make them up along the way.

So I’ll have to settle for the most boring game and sport I know: golf and baseball, respectively. (Golf is definitely not a sport.)

“Golf is a good walk spoiled” is true, although Mark Twain never said it. At this point in time, and especially in desert climates like Southern California, it is also a ridiculous waste of land and resources, particularly water. Imagine the benefit if we could turn all of those country clubs back into parkland and forest, or even convert them into cheap, livable neighborhoods. What a concept.

As for the game itself, what could be more boring than groups of usually four people, all with questionable fashion sense, individually taking turns whacking a tiny ball toward a distant target? I mean, you can’t really see the ball until it’s on the green — and only if you’re standing there — and on longer holes, it can take forever for each player to final knock that ball onto the green.

Plus, everyone has to whisper or golf-clap for some reason. Apparently, golfers can’t handle noise. Can you imagine if the NFL or NBA had their own requirements that the crowds of fans just had to shut up?

Anyway, here’s my suggestion for livening golf up. After the last player in a group has taken their first shot and they get into the cart to find the ball that went the least distance, it’s time to unleash the wild animals from the pens hidden among the trees along the fairway — bears, or buffalo, or the occasional tiger of the four-legged variety. The challenge is for a player to get to their ball and take the next shot before the animals get to them.

They already do this in Florida, by the way, except with alligators.

Anyway, make the U.S. Open look more like The Hunger Games, and it might justify the ridiculous amounts of money players make, as well as the incredible waste of land and water.

As for baseball, America’s most boring pastime — since they never did create the American Paint-Drying League — during each half-inning, let the pitcher slip in a surprise for one pitch out of every six — ninja throwing star, “exploding” chalk ball, Christmas ornament, whatever. The only requirement is that it can be thrown over the plate.

Meanwhile, around the infield, set second and third base on robotic platforms that activate at random using proximity sensors so that they can change position in unpredictable ways. Position the shortstop on top of a spring-loaded platform that will launch them harmlessly into the air utterly at random.

Finally, make all of the players wear huge, ridiculously fake “old-timey” baseball player stick-on moustaches. In order to tag a player out, you not only have to have the ball, but have to rip off your moustache and stick it to their ass.

Players keep extras in their caps, and if they run out, then they can no longer tag players out.

During the “Seventh Inning Stretch,” the opposing teams need to line up in alternating order, and then proceed to do the Bunny Hop around the baseline, with the home team pitcher leading the way.

Now that would keep it interesting.

What actor played their character so well that you can’t watch them in any other show or movie without seeing that character?

It’s actually a Doctor Who reference, and the answer is John Simm, who played the Master in various episodes opposite David Tenant and, later, Peter Capaldi. He just brought such energy and panache to the role without overplaying it that he became that rare thing: A totally evil villain that you actually kind of root for.

Michelle Gomez actually matched that energy when she appeared as Missy through a series or so but, then again (SPOILERS, sweetie!) she was playing the same character.

Anyway, Simm brought charisma and a sheer joy to playing the part that made it immensely watchable, but also branded him in the role. To his credit, though, I do have to say that when I later saw him in Life in Mars, it did take a little bit to see past the master and appreciate his work as lead Sam Tyler. (Note: Life in Mars actually debuted in the UK before Simm played the Master, but got to the U.S. later, as is typical with all things BBC.)

What’s the most ridiculous tattoo you’ve ever seen?

It’s not so much a tattoo as it is degree and location. Some people seem to become addicted and lose the ability to stop once they start getting tattooed. Anything from the collar bone up is suspect, possibly short of a subtle motif on one side of the neck.

Hands are equally off-putting, and when we get to portraits of people’s faces, names, or quotations, you really need to reconsider your choices. There’s a reason that tattoo artists make big money in covering up things like ex’s names or faces.

Quantity is also a big “ick” factor. If you can take all of your clothes off and still look like you’re wearing a shirt or pants or both, then that’s just too damn much.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate tattoos, and one or two in the right place and done well can be absolutely beautiful. But, otherwise, tattoos are like beards. Simple and subtle are the way to go. But when you start looking like walking subway graffiti or a hipster wizard, then that is just too, too much.

And the two of them together? Just walk away.

Where did you take family vacations to when you were younger?

Since I grew up in L.A., a lot of those were basically staycations, since they involved Universal Studies (a few miles from home) or Disneyland/Knotts Berry Farm (over an hour from home.)

The former was always a day trip and a lot of fun. At least it was in my young mind, but I can happily report that, as a jaded adult who has worked far too long in entertainment, the place is still enjoyable.

For trips to the Orange County Duo, we would frequently drive down, book a room in the Holiday Inn across from Disneyland, then spend a day or two there, followed by a trip to Knotts, which always included dinner at the fried chicken restaurant.

As for out-of-town vacations, the one big and different one we made was when I was a preschooler and we drove up to San Francisco. I think I was only about four years old, but everything about that trip made an impression and I fell in love with the city, mainly because it was just so different than L.A. You could see the ocean from just about everywhere in it, it had hills and fog, and cable cars.

It was also small — the trip from where I grew up to Universal Studios would have crossed the entire city from the beach on the west, driven across the bay and then across Alameda Island, finally landing in Fruitland in the East Bay.

Even now, when I live much closer to Universal, that would still be a Breakers to Bay drive, or vice versa.

The other big vacations we did were to either grandmother, either my fathers (easy) or my mom’s (difficult.) The ease factors are based on location. My dad’s mom lived about 350 miles north of us in California. My mom’s mom lived about 2,700 miles away from us, in a small town just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Consequently, we would visit Dad’s mom frequently, often several times a year — around Easter, during the summer, and Thanksgiving at the least. As for Mom’s mom I can think of five visits in my lifetime.

The first I don’t remember, because it was not long after I was born and, since I was born prematurely, it was basically the opportunity to show grandma, “Hey, here’s the baby, in case it dies or something.” (Seriously, it was a big concern, since I popped out two months early.)

I know that we flew out, but that’s it. The second time was also by airplane, and it was for my mom’s younger sister’s wedding, in which I was the ring-bearer. This trip I definitely remember, and it was the first time I learned the concept of “cousins,” and that I had this whole family on the other coast and we all really looked like each other.

We still do, btw. Via social media, I’ve reconnected with my first cousins, as well as having gotten to know their kids (my 2nd cousins) and even their kids (my 3rd cousins) — and some of those third gen folk look eerily like me.

The rest of the trips to grandma happened every other year over the course of six years, from the time I was eleven until I was fifteen. Sadly, grandma died two years after the third drive out, although she had visited us in California between trips two and three.

Each place provided something unique and different. Dad’s mom lived on a small ranch/orchard near the Central California coast, and it was full of woods and trees, and they had their own livestock and poultry. It was about 23 miles from the nearest slightly big city, and every visit was like an escape from concrete and noise. There was nothing better than waking up there to the smell of the wood stove and bacon cooking, and the sound of the peacocks caterwauling in the trees.

Meanwhile, Mom’s mom lived in a Victorian-style two-story house (with basement and attic) in a very woodsy, suburban neighborhood. During the night, the fireflies would come and frolic, to our delight.

It was really kind of a river city, separated from the slightly big town of Wilkes-Barre by the Susquehanna River, and the distinctive morning sounds there: the clang of ship’s bells as they went up and down the diver, an occasional mournful foghorn early in the morning, and a distant rumble that I later learned was the sound of dynamite in the still-working coal mines over in Forty-Forty.

It didn’t really sound at all unlike San Francisco in the morning, except for the dynamite.

There really wasn’t a whole lot to do in Kingston but, for some reason, Wilkes-Barre was one of those small towns in which corporate America liked to test everything first, so it had an inordinate amount of cool stuff. It was also home to Planters Peanuts, and trips to the Planters Peanuts store in the mall there were always magical.

To me, though, the real treat in the driving trips to visit Mom’s mom were the drive itself, although I know that my mom did not agree. She was only concerned with getting there as soon as possible. Meanwhile, my dad and I would have much preferred to stop and explore everywhere.

And considering that we made our last trip before I got my license and Mom didn’t drive except in cases of extreme need, it was entirely on Dad to do all of the driving all the way there and back. Ironically, I’ve inherited that superpower, although I really haven’t gotten to use it for a long time.

But to me, a fledgling writer in the backseat with a few of ever-changing America as we made our way east, it was nothing more than a giant canvas to play with. When I wasn’t being inspired by sights and place to come up with imaginary scenarios and characters, I spent plenty of time myself reading in the backseat, particularly science fiction.

I remember one year making it through all three volumes of Isaac Asimov’s anthology The Golden Years of Science Fiction, in which he presents the stories that influenced him as a kid growing up, and that sure did influence me. I think I managed that entirely on day two of the trip, from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Elkhart, Indiana.

Along the way, a lot of places made an impression on me. The arid, one-street nothingness of Rock Springs; the absolute joy of small-town Kearney, Nebraska, that still showed its rail-road route roots; the discovery of Lincoln, Nebraska that seriously made me consider going to university there; how Cleveland actually felt a lot like L.A.; how familiar Chicago felt even though I’d never been there; and so on.

These weren’t all on one trip, of course. We took slightly different routes each time, stopped at slightly different franchised roadside tourist traps (can you say Stuckey’s?) but always stayed at Holiday Inn.

Hey, I guess that something had to be constant.

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