Friday Free-for-All #61: Back, fashion, obsession

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’s your “back in my day, we…”?

This one is funny because it’s also the name of an improv game we play, usually as a final round “jump-out” game, which is one in which we all get a suggestion, then players take turns jumping out of the line up to step downstage and tell a joke or a pun based on the suggestion and in the format of the game.

For “Back in my day…”, the request for suggestion will be “something that didn’t exist X years ago,” and the joke revolves around some ancient version or weird alternative to that thing.

For example, it the suggestion is “smart phone,” then the joke might go, “Back in my day, we didn’t have smart phones. If you wanted to send a friend a text, you had to tie the note around a rock and throw it through their bedroom window.”

I have so many potential real-life versions mainly since I’ve been on the internet since it was born, but here’s one: Back in my day, when we wanted porn online, we had to wait five minutes for the grayscale JPEG to download one scan-line at a time, and couldn’t even tell if it was any good or not until it was almost finished.

And it wouldn’t matter if someone else in the house picked up the phone, because then you’d get kicked offline with no way of continuing the download later. You’d have to start over.

Now get off my lawn!

What is the silliest recent fashion trend?

Not that I really follow fashion, but two on the radar for women’s wear later this year strike me as particularly ridiculous. One is the puff-shoulder or puffer sleeve look, and the general effect is that somebody just walked off of the set of a goth musical version of some Disney Princess tale and forgot to change their costume.

There’s a certain retro feel to it, and not in a good way. It looks more like a severe Edwardian nanny and must be hell trying to coordinate and stuff into any kind of jacket.

The other women’s fashion: boiler suits, which just don’t look good on anybody. The aesthetic looks like something between “couldn’t be arsed to change out of my pajamas” and “who threw me into this bag?”

Luckily, men don’t usually suffer such extremes in fashion by the time it hits the street. Unless they’re out clubbing or walking a fashion week runway, the heights of ridiculous are generally kept out of sight of the general public.

But there are rumors that styles from the 70s and 80s are coming back this year, especially for men, and this is a bad idea that must be stopped before it begins. Have you taken a good look at how people dressed in the 1970s? It’s utterly ridiculous. Plus it would make our present suddenly look like a bad version of the future from a 1970s science fiction movie.

What is something that a ton of people are obsessed with but you just don’t get the point of?

For me, it’s comic books in general, but particularly people who obsess over all of the minutiae of all the various issues and eras and crossovers and so on of either or both of the major universes (Marvel and DC), or with Manga and Anime, or even with much more niche works that are not necessarily of the superhero genre.

It’s always been pretty clear to me that the books are cranked out to maximize sales and profits, with a new issue due on schedule, so that story and continuity aren’t always the top priority. In addition to that, there are constant efforts to double-sell, so one superhero will appear in another superhero’s comic in hopes that fans of both will buy it.

This is also why they’ve created things like alternate universes, metaverses, and so on — to cover up and/or fix the ridiculous continuity errors they’ve introduced into things over the years.

And remember: Comics have been around a long time, now. They’re pretty much an artform that’s moving into its 90s, and a couple of the top stars go back to almost the beginning. With that much material, it all just becomes a mountain of mush — and yet there are people who go out of their way to memorize every detail of a particular hero or series or even an entire universe.

All I can do is shake my head and wonder, “Why?” They must get something out of it, but I just can’t imagine what. And the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has grown to ridiculous proportions so that I haven’t even tried to keep up. I’ve seen a couple of the early films, watched all of Wandavision, and made it a point to see both Guardians of the Galaxy and both Antman films.

On the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) side, they just haven’t been as lucky at turning out something that wasn’t pretty bad, so over there I’ve only seen the two Deadpool movies — but, of course, those are much different than anything else in the series.

Or, in a famous internet comic, after Iron Man (oops, wrong franchise) and Spider-Man explain why they’re like Batman but only better, Batman points at Deadpool and says, “Who’s he?”

Deadpool replies, “I can say ‘fuck.’”

Friday Free-for-All #58: Movie love, movie hate, major useless, and “normal”

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.

What terrible movie do you love?

This one is easy. A lot of critics and others think that the movies Caligula is total crap, despite the all-star cast. But the thing is this — it is actually a really faithful retelling of Suetonius’ The lives of the Twelve Caesers.

Sure, Suetonius may have been totally full of shit and he may have libeled the fuck out of Caligula for the sake of kissing up to later Emperors. Still, ignore that part of it, and the film’s story follows the source pretty closely.

In fact, if anything, the producers actually held back on the sex and violence. But, come on. What’s not to love about this flick? Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, and John Gielgud, plenty of eye candy for all genders and preferences in the supporting cast, and script by Gore Vidal – even though he disowned it — but he shouldn’t have.

Seriously, ignore the scissor sisters BS that Guccione snuck into it because he could just before he had to smuggle the footage out of Italy to avoid obscenity charges, boom, done.

One really interesting aspect of the anniversary edition I own is that one of the features on the DVD is raw footage from a scene set in Tiberius’ (infamous) grotto on Capri, where it looks like all kinds of bizarre sex acts are going on in the background – but unedited and from angles not used in the film, it’s quite clear that what you thought you saw was far more graphic and nasty than what was really happening. The magic of film!

What is the most overrated movie?

Oh, there are many, but two stand out because they won Best Picture and had absolutely no goddamn business doing so.

Exhibit A: Forrest Gump.

Exhibit B: Gladiator.

I mean, come on. In the case of the first movie, it’s the glorification of stupid, and I did not ever for one second connect with or empathize with Gump. Why would I? He obviously has mental problems and, given the era, if his Mama wasn’t able to help, he would have been put into an institution, preventing the rest of the movie, period.

Still… Forrest’s character through the rest of the film is an object lesson in this: The mentally ill, despite their condition, are still quite capable of being total assholes.

Second film, Gladiator… as a Roman History buff, this stack of shit just loses from the get-go. And it only gets worse from there, for ten thousand reasons. One big one beyond the rape of history at the end?

Well, true Gladiators were not slaves. They were celebrities. Think MMA fighters now, or social media influencers. So if they got tossed into the ring, it was not to die. It was to play up a high-profile slap fight at the most.

But don’t even get me started on the whole “Pissed off Gladiator killed Commodus in the ring, in public” bullshit.

Anyway, long story short: No way in hell that Gladiator deserved a single accolade, much less “Best Picture.” Nope. It was a steaming pile of crap then, and it still is now.

What is the most useless major in college?

I’m going to have to go with Philosophy – and not that I’m pegging it as a major, not a course of study. I absolutely think that everyone should have to take two philosophy courses in college, one general and the other more specific – but beyond that, majoring in it is pretty pointless.

You learn that when you take your lower division general philosophy course and realize that quite a lot of these philosophers were basically talking out of their asses, and most of them were stuck in the same error that wasn’t even discussed in philosophy until the 20th century.

That is, they forget to include themselves and their own experiences in seeing how their philosophies formed, and instead tried to create these grand mystical rules for what is “reality.”

And it all started with the worst of them, Plato, and his “ideal” forms. This meant that for every object, there was an ideal version of it that existed in some invisible ethereal realm, and that version was the one invoked every time an earthly imitation was created.

Carpenter makes a chair? He’s just copying from that ideal. Singer creates a song – echo of the ideal, and so on. Of course, he never talked about whether that dump your kid just took was a copy of the ideal ethereal shit. What he implied, though, was that everything ever yet to be invented was just floating out there somewhere, waiting to be invoked down here.

He did have one good bit though, his parable of the “slave in a cave.” In it, a slave is chained to a rock in a cave, constrained so that he’s facing the back wall with the entrance behind him. Way beyond the entrance is a bright fire. All the slave can see of the outside world are the shadows on the wall, created by people and animals and the like passing between the fire and the entrance.

In other words, he was saying, we could not perceive the real world of these ideal forms because our perception was limited. And that’s a kind of yes, kind of no, although I’d think of it more in terms of things like we couldn’t conceive of germ theory until we’d made the microscopes to see them, or couldn’t fathom the skies above until we had telescopes and math. Lots and lots of math.

There is, though, a great parody of Plato’s Cave that I first heard from the late, self-proclaimed “guerrilla ontologist,” Robert Anton Wilson. In that version, a slave and a Buddhist are chained up in the cave, just watching the shadows. Then, the Buddhist suddenly slips his chains off and walks outside, staying there for a while.

The Buddhist finally returns to the cave calmly, sits down and puts his chains back on.

“What did you see out there?” the slave asks, excitedly.

The Buddhist replies, “Nothing.”

Anyway, don’t major in Philosophy. It’s not worth it and doesn’t translate to anything marketable.

What seemed normal in your family when you were growing up, but seems weird now?

How rarely my parents had any kind of dinners or parties or invited guests, to the extent that the few times we did host something really stand out in my mind. And the lack of invited guests growing up extended to my friends. I was expected to go play elsewhere, and god forbid that I invite one of my friends into my Mother’s Holy of Holies.

I think we did host a couple of extended family Thanksgiving dinners, as well as my Mom’s older brother when he was in town with his college debate team (he was the professor/coach, who came with his two students, and I can still remember their names to this day: Vinnie and Tim.) Mom’s mom came and stayed with us twice, and one of my cousins (my mom’s niece) came and stayed with us once.

My mom did plan to host my 4th birthday party, but that happened to be the year that we had a bit of a flu epidemic, the end result being that the only guest who finally was well enough to make it was a kid down the street named Scott, whom I didn’t really know. Yeah, awkward!

When I was in Kindergarten, my parents did invite my teacher, Miss Jones, over for dinner and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I wondered. Jones was my father’s mother’s maiden name. Any relation? Although it’s such a common name, who knows.

Anyway, this all seemed normal until I grew up, and then saw friends who were constantly hosting parties of get-togethers, or frequently had relatives or distant friends visiting for a few days, and it blew my mind.

People did this? How weird. How… intrusive. And, unfortunately, I think I wound up inheriting the “No guests!” gene (definitely from my mother), and I cannot come up with more than maybe one time I hosted an overnight guest – an old friend and former roommate – and I’ve never hosted a party. Keep in mind, I’m only counting the times when I’ve lived alone. I’ve had plenty of roommates who were really into the parties and weekend visitors and the like.

And I don’t mind that. I think I was just not programmed on how to do this shit. Of course, I used to live along in a two-bedroom apartment back when that was affordable, but nowadays, it’s a one bedroom, so unless I’m really intimate with an overnight guest, there’s really nowhere to put them.

Friday Free-for-All #57: Reality, inanimate, huge tracts, best and worst

Do you like reality TV shows? Why or why not? If so, which ones?

Oh, hell no. There’s nothing I find more boring than watching other people drama. On top of that, I worked for a reality show star for ten years, so I’m very aware that there really isn’t a single bit of “reality” going on. Everything you see on every one of those shows has been planned, scripted, carefully edited, and reshot when necessary.

The only possible exceptions are shows like Punk’d or other prank shows, but even then, they still have to get permission to film the “victim,” either before the fact, or get clearance to use what they shot afterwards.

In short, there are so many rules and openings for liability that nothing you see on TV other than live news coverage is “reality.” So, no, I don’t like reality shows because they aren’t, and I find most of the people who star in them to be self-centered and vapid wastes of oxygen.

If you had to become an inanimate object for a year, what object would you choose to be?

This is one of those questions that really needs the rules well-defined. That is, by definition, if I’m inanimate, then I’m not conscious and have no senses, right? In that case, the only real requirement is that I’m something very durable that’s going to be around for at least that year so that I can come back to human form intact.

So, in that case… I’d go for something really durable, like a mountain, or maybe a beloved local landmark with historical protections in place.

Now, on the other hand, if this were a Beauty and the Beast situation, and I had all or most of my senses and was aware of what was going on, then I’d want to be a patio umbrella, awning, or inflatable at one of the many small gay-male nudist resorts in Palm Springs — preferably one with a twinkier crowd.

What? If I’m going to be stuck in inanimate form, I might as well get some enjoyment out of it.

If you were given one thousand acres of land that you didn’t need to pay taxes on but couldn’t sell, what would you do with it?

Okay, here’s the math for perspective. A thousand acres is 43,560,000 square feet, which means a square that’s 6,600 feet on a side, or a mile and a quarter. That covers a pretty decent chunk of neighborhood, and so I’d turn it into an art village.

Yes, I would be greedy and grab maybe four acres for my private enclave which would actually be the brain center for the place. But a lot of the rest of the acreage would go toward single family homes or bungalows on either a quarter or half acre

Qualification for residency: a demonstrated proficiency in one or more the seven lively arts, or similar in a related tech skill. Note: not “a ton of professional experience.” Just “are you good it?” Bring receipts or talent.

So if you’re a writer, director, actor, singer, dancer, musician, composer, painter, sculptor, visual artist, designer of sets, costumes, or lights, make-up artist, producer, electrician, grip, PA, stage manager, best boy, gaffer, caterer, PR or marketer, accountant…

Well, fuck it. Tell us what you do and how you’d like to do it for the arts. I’m setting aside 750 acres of this place to create half and full acre lots that will either house families (on the acre) or individuals or roommate groups on half acres, which would allow for about a thousand units.

That’s following the ideal of each residence being free-standing, with its own private yard and outside space. Now, if interest got really big, it might be worth setting some of that acreage aside for multi-family housing, but not too much of it, And there’d probably need to be at least one hotel-like facility for visiting artists.

Okay, so that leaves the other couple hundred acres, and that would basically be the arts “campus.” That’s where the theatres, studios, classrooms, galleries, and whatnot would go in order for everyone to have space to do what they came here to do.

Now, again, I cannot sell the land, but I can make it self-sustaining without making it ridiculous, so the basic deal would be that residents would only be required to cover their utilities, and some minimal housing charge that would go into a co-op to support the art campus and maintenance of the village itself.

Of course, any profits that came from productions and public exhibitions on that campus would go back to reducing the resident fees. Any kind of HOA would be prohibited. Yes, I know that technically we’d be charging an HOA fee, but screw the idea of a bunch of busybodies making stupid rules. This is an art colony. There are no rules!

Oh yeah — although sort of renting and despite my not being able to sell of the land, each resident would still get a deed giving them ownership of their place as a $0 value land-grant.

Damn. Okay. Now who wants to give me a thousand acres free of property taxes?

What’s the best and worst thing about the country you are from?

Talk about two sides of the same coin. I’m from the United States, and the absolute best thing about this country is that it was built by immigrants. I’ve seen the meme online, and it’s something like this: “If you’re an American, then you’re either an immigrant, a refugee, a slave, or a Native. There is no other option.”

And that is absolutely true. In my case, I come from a combination of immigrants and refugees — although I do find it weird that “invader” isn’t included on the list.

But… I live in a city with a lot of people who fall into at least three if not four of those categories, and I love it. That is the beauty of the USA. Go to any big city, you can find any culture in the world represented, and hear any language, and it is awesome.

Sure, for the last year or so, I haven’t been as free to travel around L.A., but one of my joys before the Dark Times was to hop on the Metro, ride to an unknown neighborhood, and then just take in the community.

Los Angeles is not alone in this, but it is a really good example of a truly international city. Name an ethnic food you want to eat tonight, and I will find you a place that serves it within a mile of my front door in two minutes.

Ask me where we can go to see art or performance of a particular culture within a half-hour drive, again, boom. Done.

Los Angeles has everything. So does San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and a whole lot more.

And… surprise, surprise… it’s not just the Big Blue Liberal Cities that are such melting pots. Okay, the key word is probably “cities,” so that blue dots in red lagoons, like Austin, Texas, stand out.

But the point is this: The best thing about my country is that we are a mosaic of every other country, and our diversity is what makes us so special and so strong.

And the worst thing about my country? The white racist assholes who just don’t get this part. They have this really warped fantasy that America was founded by a boatload of Puritan WASPS who landed on Plymouth Rock, and that was it.

But the joke is really on them, because chances are that their ancestors are really more likely to be German, Irish, Italian, or Eastern European and, at various points in time, each one of those “white” groups of immigrants was considered to be less-than, and shunned and ridiculed.

And the shunning and ridiculing was done by those stuck-up WASPS from whom none of the later immigrants were descended.

They also like to ignore the fact that for a lot of its early history, ‘Murica only consisted of a narrow band on the east coast, especially after the Founders kicked out the Brits, during which time Ohio was considered to be the far west frontier — q.v. Case Western Reserve University, located all the way over in… Cleveland.

Otherwise, the rest of the continent was owned by Spain, France, and England and, if you did go far enough west, Russia.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that we managed to either buy a ton of shit from France so that Napoleon could attempt to take over Europe, then kill off enough Natives to sweep west screaming “Manifest Destiny!” and then finally curb stomp Mexico (after they’d kicked France’s ass) in order to steal the bottom third of the western two thirds of the country back form Aztlán.

So… let’s recap. Best thing about my native country: It was created as a place for all, and as far as I’m concerned, all are welcome here. Worst thing: We still are plagued by a pack of assholes who just don’t get that part.

Sigh.

Friday-free-for-all #54: Polarizing, genius, genes, rights

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.

What’s the most polarizing question you could ask a group of your friends?

Well, knowing my friends, it would either involve food or some nerdy fandom. So, for example, “Does pineapple belong on pizza?” would start big arguments. So would “DC or Marvel?”

“Star Trek or Star Wars?” “Is Quentin Tarantino overrated?” “Order from Amazon or boycott?” “CVS or RiteAid?”

But I know for a fact, because I choose my friends well, that there’s not a single political question that would polarize us. If I asked, “46 or 45,” I know how all of my friends would answer.

How would you define genius?

To me, genius is the ability to see patterns or mappings in very different things and then synthesize them into new and unique ways of seeing the world. However, please note that this is only a sliver away from also being the definition of madness.

That is, conspiracy theorists can see patterns and mappings, too, and synthesize them into new ways of seeing things. But to spin wildly down that path is to give us things like flat-Earthers and QAnon.

What separates genius then is the ability to either constrain all of the wild conjectures to art and keep them grounded in acknowledged what-if fantasy — and also use that to teach a bigger lesson about the world — or to do all of that synthesis, and then develop the experiments to empirically test the hypotheses that come out of the work.

Somebody like Tony Kushner is a genius because he mooshed together AIDS, Mormonism, Roy Cohn’s internalized homophobia and connection to Ethel Rosenberg, and some pretty intense references to 19th century ideas of each continent having its own patron Archangel, and he walked away with a Pulitzer and a Tony, both well-deserved.

Or… it took Albert Einstein asking a few questions about what was then orthodox theory, and why they didn’t quite seem to fit, at least not if the equations were taken to extremes, and the same thing happened. What could have seemed like total moonbat lunacy was born out as truth once the experiments were done to prove it.

What genetic modification would you most like to have?

Another nice no-brainer, but mine is a trifecta, because you can have that in genetic modifications.

First, the only reason we age is because these things called telomeres on the ends of our chromosomes keep getting shorter and shorter with each new replication, until they’re gone, and then the chromosome itself starts to degrade.

Think of them as those little plastic things on the end of your shoe laces that make it still possible to thread them through the eyes of your shoes, and keep the lace from unravelling. Once they’re gone, that lace is not going to be useful for too much longer.

So… that’s bit one of the formula: A genetic modification that keeps the telomere’s at original baby length forever. This would take care of a lot of degenerative diseases — dementia, arthritis, heart disease, and so on.

Second: Cancer suicide. We already sort of kind of have this in us, and it’s called a sunburn. What cause or skin to turn red and then get all flaky and fall off after an overdose of UV is our genes reacting to the danger and sending out a suicide signal. That is, those skin cells are instructed to die and flake off, lest they go cancerous.

Adapt this to all of the cells in the body, and voila. Part two of the cocktail.

Finally, toss in the ability to regrow almost any lost part. Short of losing something fatal, like your head, or heart, or both lungs at once, give us those salamander powers. Lose a finger or a toe? No problem. It grows back. Lose a tooth? Same thing. Lose hair? Hey, that was probably already covered in modification number one.

And yes, extend it to entire limbs, eyes, ears, patches of skin, whatever. As long as losing it didn’t kill you, it’ll grow back.

So, basically, the formula for almost immortality. But we are going to need it if we’re ever going to explore space outside of our meager solar system.

What rights does every human have? Do those rights change based on age?

This shouldn’t even be a question in the 21st century. The Bill of Rights is a pretty good start, with the exception of the 2nd Amendment, which is really badly worded. Owning any kind of arm is not a right. But protecting one’s self and one’s family from harm is. So perhaps that one should be couched more in terms of the idea that any kind of defensive weapon stays in the home for use of the residents there.

Also: You have the right to practice any religion you want, but you do not have the right in the public arena to treat other people differently because of what you believe.

But there are things that aren’t in the Bill of Rights that should be.

Everyone should have the right to an education from childhood through university, free of charge because we all pay for it. Everyone should have the right to healthcare with minimal costs based on income. Everyone should have the right to receive a universal basic income (UBI) which is calculated as enough to pay for their rent, utilities (which includes internet), food, transportation, plus an extra $600 stipend per month.

People who continue to work and make more than the UBI will still receive the stipend, or they can opt-out and donate it, either to other UBI recipients or the charities of their choice, with a full tax deduction.

Humans have the right to not be murdered by police. Period. This is why Redesign the Police is so damn important, and why “defund” is a bullshit rightwing talking point. We mainly need to reform the system so that when something non-violent happens — i.e. a store clerk automatically assumes a Black man is trying to pass off funny money — we don’t send hyped-up and armed racist white cops. Instead, we send trained social workers, who are far more used to dealing with all kinds of stuff.

Guaranteed, if that had been the case in Minnesota, George Floyd would still be alive today.

Finally, Karens do have the right to be offended. They just don’t have the right to be free of consequences.

Oh yeah… rights obviously do changed based on age — think about driving, voting, and drinking. But, so far, we’ve only set lower limits on things. Around 15 or 16 to drive, 18 to vote, 21 to drink, 25 to run for Congress, and 35 to run for President. Okay, and 50 to join AARP, but nobody is rushing for that one.

The thing we’re missing is upper limits and, honestly, I think that the pace of developments in the last thirty years shows that we need them, too. Hell, the Catholic Church prohibits any Cardinal over 80 from being nominated as the new Pope.

We have five Senators (or 5%) and 11 Congresscritters (or 2.5%) over 80.

And considering that Medicare first kicks in at 65, is it at all unreasonable to say that no one over that age at inauguration can run for office on a Federal level? Sure, let them do it at state, county, city, whatever; just not federally.

Thinking back on my own life, though — 25 and 35 are probably the best minimum limits. So, hey, you want a career as a Federal politician, you’ve got a good 30 to 40 years if you start early, and you’ll exit with a great pension.

Hell, start at local or state level, and you can run for mayor or governor at 18. Or, if your state really didn’t pay attention… run whenever. And 18-year-olds have won elsewhere.

If only OK Boomers started losing…

Friday Free for all #52: Cereal, siblings, best age

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. Also, despite this being #52 of a weekly series, it was actually a year ago last February that I started them. I lost four weekly installments during my Christmas Countdown month-long curated feature.

Is cereal soup?

This is along the lines of the “is a hotdog a sandwich” question (no), and while I’m sure there are people who would insist that cereal is soup, they’re probably also the same people who put pineapple on pizza, so anything they say about food can be safely ignored.

The definition of soup, according to Google: Definition: a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food. Now cereal is often liquid, if you add milk to it like a normal human, and it does contain pieces of solid food.

However, that solid food is generally made of grains, like wheat, oats, or corn, with nary a bit of meat, fish, or vegetable in it. And if you try to argue that milk is somehow beef stock, I’m just going to look at you like you’re crazy, because you clearly have no idea what stock is.

The one thing I would associate with most soups is that they are cooked first, and usually served warm. The two exceptions I can think of are vichyssoise, served at room temperature, and gazpacho, served cold. However, the former is most definitely cooked and then let to cool down while the latter is pureed at room temperature and chilled for at least four hours.

Then again, gazpacho doesn’t have any lumpy bits in it — nary an oat, cornflake, or marshmallow.

The other big difference is that cereal is generally, though not always, a breakfast food, while soup is more normally lunch or dinner. Sure, there are probably people who have one for breakfast and the other for dinner, but that still doesn’t change definitions.

Soup is soup. Cereal is not.

How many siblings do you have?

That all depends on how you count them. As I’ve mentioned many times before here, my father was married long before he met my mother, and had three kids. My mother was also married once, briefly, had one miscarriage due to spousal abuse and then a quick annulment.

So I lost the half-sister I would have had via my mother before I was even born. Meanwhile, my dad’s kids were all a lot older than me, and I never really grew up with any of them, other than frequently seeing my oldest half-sister and her kids, and sometimes seeing my oldest half-brother and his partner, Phil.

My half-sister was practically my mom’s age, so she was more like an aunt, and all of her kids were my age, so even though I was their uncle, it was more like we were cousins.

My older half-brother was somewhat estranged from my dad, although it apparently had nothing to do with his being gay. Meanwhile, my youngest half-brother, still much older than me, had been manipulated by his mother against my father, and I think they ran off to Hawai’i for years.

My dad’s ex- did have another kid around my age with her second husband, although I don’t think we’ve ever met and we’re not related anyway. But my half-siblings share him as a half-sibling, and he turned out to be one rightwing Trumpeteer asshole.

But I do digress.

So… I grew up as an only child who technically had three siblings, but never had a sibling relationship with any of them. I tried to be close to older half-brother because of having being gay in common, but never got to tell him that, and then he and “Uncle” Phil had a little issue with the IRS and relocated to Vegas.

Jimmy, that half-brother, died in the 1992, although I still don’t know whether it was because of a congenital heart condition or suicide — I’ve heard both versions. But I miss him, and the brought parity to my number of half-siblings.

Two living, two dead, although another one died just over a decade later. Well, at least she died to me emotionally.

That would be my older half-sister. Now, from what I remember growing up, she got along great with my mom but, at the same time, whenever she showed up with her three kids, it always seemed to be because she needed money from dad, or something. Her first husband died of cancer very young — he had been a Marine, and it’s entirely possible that he was an atomic veteran but that all got covered up.

She had two more kids with her second husband, then eventually married a third. Notably, every one of her husbands was a hell of a lot older than her.

Toward the end of my father’s life, though, she took advantage of two things. The first was that she lived a lot closer to him than I did — so did her kids, i.e. his grandkids. Meanwhile, I had lost my TV job and was struggling in lower-paying temp work, trying not to become homeless.

In retrospect, I should have done the smart thing and said, “Hey, Dad, how about if I just move in so I can take care of you?” But I didn’t, for various reasons.

One, I suppose, was pride, and not wanting to feel like I’d somehow failed and went crawling home — never realizing that plenty of adults move in to take care of aging parents. The other, though, was that I knew I just would not be good as a caretaker. I don’t deal well, on a gut, physical level, with other people’s injuries or illnesses.

So… half-sister swept in and moved in and, at the funeral itself no less, quietly told me, “Don’t bother asking about the house. It’s in my name.”

That would be the house that my mother and father owned and that I grew up in, and that this bitch stole from me. And even if she put it in her name so that my father could qualify for MediCal,  she should have at least discussed it first.

So… how many siblings do I have? Full siblings by birth, none. Half-siblings conceived, four. Half-siblings physically deceased, two. Half-siblings morally deceased, one.

Ironically, in the years since our father died, and thanks to a combination of social media, his divorce, and hooking up with his former high school girlfriend who reached out to me because she somehow remembered me as a kid, I have reconnected to the one remaining half-brother that I have, and that’s been pretty cool.

But if we’re really counting, I have a number of good friends who are not related to me by blood at all, and yet I consider them to be brothers and sisters as well, and they actually outnumber all the people related directly to me by one or the other of my parents.

What age do you wish you could permanently be?

It depends. Mentally? The age I am right now, if that means that I could have the knowledge, personality, courage, and don’t-give-a-fuckitude of me in this moment.

If you mean physically, if I can stick it with that brain, then the answer is 32. I was young, skinny, hot, and had great hair, and looking back on it, I could get laid at the drop of a hat, although it wasn’t until I looked at photos of myself at that age that I realized what I never did back then.

I was seriously fucking hot, but I never realized it. So, instead, I was shy and never the one to approach people. Yes, I would get hit on, but I would never, ever make the first move. Okay, wait, there was one time that I did, which was uncharacteristic for me.

It was at a weekend-long seminar by an author I admired, and as we were all filing out on the first evening, I looked across the auditorium and saw some cute young guy looking back at me from the far aisle. We kind of locked eyes, but then totally lost each other outside.

The next evening, I arrived early, saw him sitting at the end of an unfilled row near the front, then just thought, “Go for it, “walked on up and asked, “Is this seat taken?”

Well, of course it wasn’t, and that seminar ended with a dinner date, later a first date, and a fuck. He was a college student at UCLA, and one hot fucking nerd. But I was also kind of a mess back then when it came to emotional intelligence, which is why it kind of followed by one date, one fuck pattern.

So… put my mind now in my body then, and not only would I be dangerous, but I’d probably be tearing it up on Only Fans or just starting my own porn studio.

What? That’s not arrogance. That’s honesty. So, yeah. Hey, science — figure out how to drop my brain now into my body then, and I’ll earn enough in a year to pay for the procedure, and love every second of it!

Friday Free for all #38: Words, music, and magic

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

What’s the most disgusting sounding word in the English language?

I know that a lot of people don’t like the word “moist,” but I don’t see what the problem with it is. And it’s still a toss-up whether the disgust people feel for words in whatever language have more to do with the sound than with the concept or thing it’s describing.

One web poll, for example, ranked “lugubrious” as a disgusting sounding word, but its meaning is decidedly not. It just refers to something that looks or sounds sad or dismal.

I don’t think I have one word in particular, but I do have some nominees: phlegm, smegma, and clitoris. And no, it has nothing to do with two of them being really gross bodily secretions and one being a very important part of the female anatomy.

It’s just that the first two sound a lot like they smell, as it were, and when you can smell a word, that’s bad. Also, it wouldn’t be at all inappropriate to pronounce either one like you’re about to hock up a giant loogie. And both “hock” and “loogie” aren’t far from round out a top five list for me here.

As for “clitoris,” no matter which syllable you emphasize (c-LIT-oris? Cli-TOR-is?) it’s just got too many clicks and weak vowels in it.

Do you like classical music?

No, I don’t like classical music. I FUCKING LOVE IT! Then again, I had a rather unusual musical upbringing as a child, starting with me beginning musical lessons when I was seven years old. And, fortunately, a hell of a lot of that learning was based on music theory — i.e., the Circle of Fifths, and the relationships of chords and keys to each other.

End result: while I’ve always been okay at reading sheet music, I’ve been demon motherfucking at improvising and composing. That’s part one.

Part two: My paternal grandfather — actually, step-grandfather, but I never met my bio one, so he counts as my only real one — was a big-time audiophile, and he was constantly going off to buy lots of records. Um… “lots” in the “sold in bulk” sense, and not in the “numerous sense.”

He would get these from estate sales or thrift shops or wherever. He’d bring them home, and remove what interested him — which was anything jazz, blues, big band, etc., before the era of rock and roll.

So… he would cull his collection, and leave behind endless milk crates with tons of classic rock albums, along with anything spoken voice and anything classical. Whenever I or any of my three same-age (second) cousins (long story) would visit, we got to go through the crates and take what we wanted.

Naturally, my cousins went for the classic rock, but I really didn’t have much interest in that. Instead, I went for the spoken word, and so discovered many a comedian I otherwise might not have because they came before my time. But I also grabbed anything classical I could get my hands on.

This all happened when I was in elementary and middle school, and I had already found Beethoven and Mozart, while my music lessons had introduced me to Chopin and Debussy. And then I got to high school, and had the most wonderful music teach of all.

His name was Ken Kamp, now deceased, and he was mostly a jazzman, but I wound up in marching band, orchestra, and the jazz ensemble with him throughout my high school years. Since I was a keyboardist, I only played piano in the latter. In the first two, I was the bass drummer and percussionist, particularly timpanist.

But the most amazing thing was the music history class I took with him my first year, and he made everything come alive, because he had a knack for turning it into stories. He would cover a couple of composers with dramatized bits, play some of their stuff, and I would add “Artists to check out” to me brain list.

One class I remember in particular was when he covered Hector Berlioz, mostly known for the Symphonie fantastique, but who actually wrote the definitive book on orchestration, and he did it by picking the minds of students at a particular music academy.

To this day, I remember him acting out the supposed scenario in the school cafeteria. “So he found the best player of a particular instrument, like, say, the oboe. And he sat them down and said, ‘Okay… what are your high and low notes, and what keys work for you, and if you finger it like this, is that easier than that?’”

Anyway… that march through the classics really influenced me as a composer, and gave me tons of favorites. My top ten? Beethoven, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Copland, Orff, Holst, Williams, Elfman. (Yes, the last two do write classical music.)

If you ever want to have the most emotional experience of your life, go see (when it’s possible again) a full orchestral and choral performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Stay for it all, then strap in for the fourth movement.

When it hits the finale, if you don’t explode into tears of pure joy, then you have no soul.

What’s the closest thing to magic that actually exists?

I subscribe to Clarke’s Third Law, named for science fiction Arthur C. Clarke, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So… that thing in your pocket that you can surf the internet on, send messages to people around the world, watch videos, make phone calls, and so on? Yeah, take that back to 1970 with some sort of time-link still connected to now, and you would make people’s heads explode with your witchcraft.

Of course, nowadays, a lot of people take the magic for granted and don’t even realize that without Einstein, their GPS would not work. Why? Because, relativity. Meaning that the GPS satellite up above the Earth experiencing slightly less gravity also experiences time in a slightly different way.

Meaning that in order to do the very precise calculations that won’t dump your ass in a canyon whenever you try to drive to CostCo require very refined adjustments to account for the different inertial frames of reference experienced by the satellite, your cell phone, and the nearest transmission towers.

Sure, the differences are in milliseconds or less, but they can translate into huge differences in spatial difference on Earth. If you’re off by one degree, depending on latitude, you could be off by tens of miles. Even an error of a second of latitude or longitude could put you off by dozens of feet.

But if you want real magic, then you have to dive into the big and the small — astrophysics and quantum physics.

Caveat: this is only magic if you don’t understand it. I’ve kind of been a fan forever, so I guess that makes me amateur wizard.

Anyway… astrophysics has taken us to the Moon and all of the planets in our Solar System, even sending two probes out. Meanwhile, it has also sent our eyes across the local group and the universe, with which we have learned so much — like discovering thousands of exoplanets, learning tons about black holes, gauging the true age of the universe, and even possibly discovering evidence of universes before it.

Quantum physics has run in the other direction, and proven that it does not get along with large-scale classical physics — yet. But it has taught us a bit about what everything is made of, and how weird reality gets at very tiny scales — and how tiny those scales are compared to everything else.

Just take a look at this amazing video from Morn1415, whom I encourage all of you to follow, because he does amazing stuff, indistinguishable from magic.

But, honestly, to me, the real magic was (and someday again may be) the look of love and admiration given to me by any of the dogs who I’ve ever been lucky enough to have as a companion.  Note that I will never say “dogs I’ve owned,” because I never owned them. They just decided to let me share my life with them.

And that was always the real magic.

Friday Free-for-all #36: First world fashion

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

What first-world problem do you have?

I believe that people define “first-world problem” as something that people in wealthy countries struggle with, but which is hardly an inconvenience at all — things like “Trader Joe’s discontinued my favorite thing,” or “We still can’t tickets to Hamilton” (well, okay, right now, no one can), or “Can you believe that Ernesto can’t come out to detail the Lexus until a week from Thursday? He is that booked up.”

Of course, the real first-world problems are things like, “I just turned 50 and I’m still paying off my student loans,” or “I know I’m supposed to buy health insurance, but I’m a 35-year-old single mother with two kids, and the monthly premium would be almost twice my rent, which I can barely pay either,” or “Our CEO just retired with a $35,000,000 bonus package, and I haven’t had a raise in seven years.”

But they’re not first-world problems because they involve people who don’t live in mud shacks under an oppressive military regime or in nations with a GDP of five dollars U.S.

That’s because most people completely misuse the terms “first world” and “third world” and completely forget that there is a “second world” as well.

See, these are not economic terms. They are political, and date back to the Cold War. The First World comprised the U.S. and its allies, and the Second World was the Soviet Union and theirs. The Third World were all of those countries not aligned with either super-power.

So while a lot of people may think “Most of Africa” or “Places like Bangladesh” when they hear Third World, that is completely wrong. A lot of countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America were part of the First or Second World.

Here are some Third World countries, if you go by the actual definition: Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Austria and Switzerland, to name just a few of the 120 that are still currently part of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Now, I don’t think anyone could look at those countries listed and think of them as “impoverished shitholes,” and yet that’s the true image most people have of third-world countries.

Getting back to what I listed as actual first-world problems — student loan debt, unaffordable health insurance and ridiculous rents, wealth being concentrated in the hands of the 1% while the rest barely get by, enormous income inequality, and hardly any union protections anymore — they are all the results of exactly what made the First World the First World in the first place.

Capitalism. In case you didn’t notice — First World, capitalist countries (under the euphemism of “Western Democracies”) vs. Second World communist countries (under the euphemism Soviet Bloc and satellite nations.)

So other than people getting the definition wrong being my personal first-world problem, my real problem with the First World is that it has proven unfettered capitalism to be just as failed a system as Soviet-style communism, which is just as corrupt and rotten at the top as is our current regime and as has been the party associated with it for forty years now.

I usually don’t go political here, and I’m trying to keep it abstract, but you asked. Okay, a website asked at random and my computer picked the question at random, but there you go.

Does fashion help society in any way?

This is a yes and no. Personally, I think that the emphasis Western culture puts on fashion is ridiculous. If the clothes fit and look good on you, that should be all that matters. But too many people invest too much time in fawning all over designers and labels, and paying way too much for stuff then can get better-made versions of a year later and for a lot less.

You’ve probably heard the whole “Don’t wear white after Labor Day” thing, right? In fact, that was a completely invented rule, although the reasons for its invention are murky. It might have been rich old-money women messing with the wives of the nouveau-riche in the late 19th century, after all of the new technologies and resources the U.S. was inventing and exploiting made tons of new millionaires.

Or it may just have been that white was for people who were able to travel to winter vacation homes in warmer climates to wear, while the ones who stayed behind in the city dressed drab from early September until late May.

In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, it’s been the fashion for a while now for Democratic women in Congress to wear white year-round — in fact, “suffragette white” in honor of the 100th anniversary of (most) American women getting the vote.

So yes, fashion and the idea that it has arbiters is silly, but I’ll bet that when a lot of people think about the ridiculousness of fashion, they think of those big runway shows during the Fashion Week of various cities, in which designers trot out their supposed designs for the next seasons’ lines.

But, of course, they create ridiculous things that would never be practical to wear IRL. Just a few examples appear here:

Of course, the models don’t even always wear clothes, as this very NSFW runway show demonstrates.

So, what’s going on? They’re not going to start selling these outfits at high-end boutiques and trickle them down to the little people, are they?

And the answer is “Of course not.”

The fashion shows are all about marketing and attention, and each of the designers trying to out-weird the others. The media eats it up by reporting it to their naïve fans as “OMG, can you believe that Clark St. Clark Divine Devore has in store for you this fall?” along with photos of models dressed in dirndls made of mirrored tiles, twelve-inch stiletto heels, four-foot high neon-colored wigs that cover their faces, not the backs of their heads, and wings made of actual chicken bones.

Which is all total bullshit, of course. There are two things happening in these shows: 1) Each designer is screaming “Look at me!” while hoping to get their name into the pop culture and fashion media. 2) At the same time, they are often showing off the materials and color palettes that they will be using in their legit designs — and those will probably show up at some point during the week, too, but most likely during the events focused on by the fashion press, like Elle and Vogue, and not the bullshite press, like People and Us.

Long detour to the answer, because there really is a distinction to be made between the fashion industry and fashion in general.

The industry takes itself way too seriously, and that is summed up in this amazing moment from Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, in which her character delivers an amazing monologue in which she is so very right and yet so very wrong at the same time. It’s worth the watch.

And if you didn’t watch: After Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) giggles when a costume assistant holds up two belts that appear to be the same color, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) goes off on the color of Andrea’s sweater and traces its history back to the high-fashion runways and expensive designers, and basically outlines how some creator of haute couture four years earlier suddenly said, “I like this color!”, colored their collection with it, and it trickled down to eventually land in a bargain bin at a place like Ross Dress for Less.

That’s what’s so good about this movie: It both explains and eviscerates the fashion industry at the same time, and that approaches my answer.

Does the fashion industry help society in any way? Oh, fuck no, except as an opportunity for those of us who don’t care to be able to laugh at the pretentious.

But… does fashion help society in any way? In the sense that it’s personal, oh hell yes. When people just pick what they like, maybe learn to figure out what compliments their body shape and complexion, then puts it all together to express themselves, then that is the epitome of helping society by empowering people through finding their voice and look.

In essence, it makes each individual their own fashion designer, and to hell with what’s in style, or what color is hot this year, or whatever. It is the branding of those who reject brands and consumerism and being sold on what is supposed to be “hot.”

Which is kind of the anti-point of the last clip above.

I know a lot of people who dress very eclectic retro, which means a mix of all of the styles from the 1990s on back, practically speaking to maybe the 1920s, mixed and matched. But a funny thing happens when they do that. Well, a few things.

First, they create their own unique visual thing that is never less than interesting, but also instantly recognizable as them.

Second, it’s pretty clear that they don’t care less what the mainstream fashion industry tells them to wear, which actually ups my estimation of them instantly.

Third, most of the time, they’re not getting their outfits from any major retailers, rather relying on discount houses that dump imperfects or out-of-season clothes, but especially on thrift shops, that have a lot of high-end stuff for pennies on the Benjamin.

Not that we can do it right now, of course, but this is the fashion that makes a difference, and the fashion that empowers.

Designers are over-rated. The people know what they want and, given the freedom, they will wear it.

Friday Free-for-all #29: More questions

This originally started as me answering one random questions generated by a website, but the questions eventually got to the part where they didn’t really need long answers. So, instead, it’s turned into a slow-motion interview with multiple queries. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments — or ask your own!

If you had to get rid of a holiday, which would you get rid of? Why?

Also known as “How to piss someone off.” There are so many possibilities, but I’m going to have to go for Christmas. But hear me out, because this is the opposite of what the “War on Christmas” people would think.

Yes, we need a solstice holiday for sure, and one that celebrates all beliefs because most cultures have a certain reverence for the winter solstice. But we need to do three things.

One: Give Christmas back to the Christians. Let them have it, they can celebrate however they want to in private, fine. The tradeoff is that we don’t need to mention it or memorialize it at all in the secular world which, if you come to think of it, really just serves to diminish the religious meaning of the holiday in the first place. Next…

Two: We need to remove completely the idea that this winter holiday is all about buying each other shit that we don’t need. That was an invention of capitalism, and it is toxic. The idea of the winter holiday should be for groups of friends and family to variously gather together during the entire period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s for the sole purpose of being together.

Plague permitting, of course — but there are always virtual meetings.

But get together. Share a meal. Binge-watch a favorite show. Have a game night. Go hiking, or biking, or ice-skating, or to a museum. And agree to not exchange presents. Rather, exchange presence. Be there for each other, because that’s the real meaning of any holiday.

Three: Create your own private traditions, religious or secular, and share them. Reject the commercial crap that has been pushed on us for generations in the singular interest of making rich people richer. Sure, you can give someone you say you love a really expensive present, but in the end, that’s really pretty shallow. The greatest gift you can really give is yourself — your time, your attention, your love.

That’s what people need, that’s what they really want, and that’s what we should really be celebrating in the final month of every year.

What fad did you never really understand?

Although it’s been highlighted by the internet, especially since the rise of smart phones, it really isn’t anything new, but the idea of “challenges,” especially ones that can be physically dangerous, just boggles my brain-box.

The cinnamon challenge immediately comes to mind, and this one (like many of them) was actually dangerous. The idea was for someone to video themself swallowing a spoonful of ground cinnamon. One big problem, though: that’s basically like shoving a shitload of dust in your mouth, and that stuff flies into the air at the slightest provocation.

Or, in other words, you suddenly have a cloud of dust in your mouth and flying down your throat, and it also tends to clump when it gets wet (as your mouth and throat are wont to be), and so you can also suddenly wind up with very viscous clumps of spice jamming up your airways or even loose dust going into your lungs.

No matter which way, it’s not a great combo at all — and it can be fatal.

So can other stunts, like jumping out of a moving car and dancing next to it to a track by Drake. If that’s too easy, there’s always the internet fire challenge, which is just what it sounds like, and just as stupidly dangerous. If you don’t like fire, then you can always try the hot water challenge.

And there are many, many more. But, again, taking stupid dares is nothing new. Stupid human tricks from the past perpetrated by our grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-greats included things like phone booth stuffing, swallowing live goldfish, sitting on poles (the object, not the nationality), or walking on the wings of airplanes.

Some of these still happen, by the way. But the nutshell answer to the original question is that I don’t understand any fad that involves a bunch of people doing really stupid and dangerous shit just to get attention.

What inanimate object do you wish you could eliminate from existence?

Guns. And in the broadest sense of the word — pistols, side-arms, handguns, rifles, shotguns… Okay, let’s shorthand it to “all ballistic weapons.” Note that this does not exclude useful ballistics, without which we could not put astronauts into space.

Ironically, it’s a way to make humanity more civilized by making us more primitive. You want to kill someone? Then do it the old-fashioned way — hand-to-hand, close quarters, or with a pointy weapon that has a range of one to four feet, depending on what you’re wielding.

Slingshots and bows and arrows are probably somewhat acceptable, but we’d need to determine rules of engagement on where we can aim — slings never at the head, arrows never at the head, throat, or torso.

You can stop someone with a club or a sword at close range and, provided that you also aim for those stopping points without aiming for fatalities (see above) , you’re only going to put them down, not out, so everyone lives — even you, who felt threatened enough to draw that weapon.

Or you can shoot an unarmed father of three in the back seven times for absolutely no discernible reason. And that is only one of way-too-many reasons that yes, we need to take these dick-compensators out of the hands of man-babies who absolutely don’t need them.

%d bloggers like this: