Friday, March 30, 2012

Cell Phone Etiquette

So I'm at my doctor's office yesterday, thankful that he had an availability on such short notice. I've been experiencing some mild discomfort in my lower right back that circles to the front and down into my right testicle. (Yes, I know...TMI.) I was on the examining table where he palpated my abdomen, checking for sharp pain and any noticeable blockages, and examened said testicle and confirms no hard spots, lumps or swelling. He stepped away to write notes in my chart and asked me to turn onto my left side. I heard the slight slap of latex as they glove went over his hand and the squelch of the gel as he prepped himself. With two fingers and very cold gel, he proceeded to check my prostate.

And that's when my cell phone rang.

That made me blush, try as I did to ignore the ringing, and I silently thanked who or whatever that I didn't get that Family Guy ringtone of Quagmire's catchphrase. I wondered if I should answer, asking the doctor if he could hold the probe for a moment while I took the call. (No, I didn't, really. That's just tacky, though I hear guys answering their phones all the time, talking loudly as they sit on the toilet doing their business. I let the call go to voicemail.)

And my prostate was fine by the way, but I'm scheduled for a CT scan on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Covers

Sometimes, what draws me to a book isn't how well-known the author or title is, nor that brief blurb on the back giving a hint at the wonders inside. The covers can draw me in just as much as the story inside, and often, they provide a better glimpse at what to expect. Since I started cataloging my "library" (i.e., rickety plywood bookshelf from IKEA) on Librarything, I discovered a feature that displays my books by the covers and find myself oftentimes just browsing the covers, wondering at the thought and details that went into the design in order to catch my interest in the book itself. My favorites are from the old pulp novels and the science fiction covers from the 1950s and 1960s. And I do like the gimmicky ones, such as the cover of Palahniuk's Haunted which glows in the dark. It's like my own mini art gallery.

Update: I recently discovered this site for old covers: Book Cover Archive. Yay!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Eat Your Heart Out

by Dayna Ingram

It starts out just like any other annoying day for Devin: she's already running late to bring the morning coffee to her girlfriend Carmelle Soufflé, and then she gets to spend yet another day as a salesclerk at Ashbee's Furniture Outlet. At the store, she patiently listens while her boss Biff Tipping warns her about being late, then steps onto the floor to see if she can make any sales. Her day takes an interesting turn when Renni Ramirez, the gorgeous B-movie actress walks through the door. Tongue-tied at the sight of Renni, she finally summons up enough courage to say something when she's interrupted by a commotion outside. One of their customers is being attacked by a zombie, of all things. In the middle of Nowhere, Ohio! Now Devin, Renni and her co-workers are trapped in the furniture store and need to get out before the automatic door opens up, letting the flood of the undead into the store. Will they be able to make it out safe and sound, and will Devin be able to rescue Carmelle in time?

Eat Your Heart Out is a fast-paced page turner, filled with great characters -- like the kick-ass Renni who finally makes Devin realize what she really wants from life -- and a truly unique perspective on the zombies themselves. I was blown away by author Dayna Ingram's idea of the zombies and literally slapped my palm against my forehead, wondering why no one had thought of that before. Pure genius! I also found it interesting that the story unfolds in the present tense, enhancing the level of urgency and fear the more I read.

My only gripe comes from the character of Deus Ex Machina. His reason for being in Ohio when the zombie breakout occurs is very honorable, but when he discovers the true nature of the zombies, he's quick to change his mind, and it felt like a minor letdown for me. But I can and will look past that because this is an excellent zombie novella.

Eat Your Heart Out
by Dayna Ingram
BrazenHead/Lethe Press, Inc. (2011)
trade paperback, 132 pgs.

borrowed book from the Long Beach Public Library

Monday, March 26, 2012

John Carter of Mars (No Relation)

With my Mom recovering from outpatient surgery to her head, I knew my Dad would be getting antsy after being housebound for most of the weekend. So when I called down on Sunday to check on both of them, my Mom asked if I would take my Dad to the movies. My Dad and I hadn't sat through a movie together in a theater since the opening of Return of the Jedi (the original, not the re-mastered version). I thought it might be fun so I hopped in the car and headed south.

He wanted to see John Carter because he loves sci-fi/fantasy/action adventure films, and the critics be damned! I've wanted to see it since first viewing the preview sometime last year.

And you know what? He was right: critics be damned.

I enjoyed the movie. Lots of action, great special effects, a good story (that is encouraging me to find copies of the books), and just an all-around good time. Yes, it was a bit long. But I'm not sure why all the critics have been panning it. Maybe because it didn't reach ticket sales expectations on opening weekend, that automatically labels it as a bad film, and critics jump on that, tainting their expectations before they even see the film. It's taken some time, but I stopped paying attention to the critics. They're entitled to their own opinion about a film, but that's all it is -- an opinion. If I want to see a film, I will.

And I'm glad I saw this one -- and that I saw it with my Dad, who loved it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New TV

Don't take that to mean we've bought a new TV. Though we have been thinking about it...and possibly an XBox....

We actually don't watch much TV. I'll have it on as background noise while I'm reading or tidying up the apartment or even while writing. A few shows, though, have managed to capture our attention. Shows such as The Walking Dead, The Amazing Race, Dr. Who, Holmes Inspection, Cougartown, and Ghost Adventures. As far as new shows go, I've tried watching a few -- like The River -- but they've never stuck with me. Only two new shows managed to keep me watching from the first episode way back in September.

Once Upon a Time struck a chord with both Caesar and myself. We love the re-imaging of each of the fairy tales -- and the fact the Red Riding Hood is a badass werewolf. Sometimes, it's easy to figure out what's going to happen, but I love the storytelling and the jumping back and forth between the real world and the fairytale world. Not to mention Josh Dallas, who makes a charming Charming. But I Robert Carlyle is really the one to watch. He makes for a wonderfully mischievous Rumplestiltskin, and I can't wait to see him duke it out with the Queen.

The other new show I make a point to watch each week is New Girl. It's silly fun with a great cast and some of the best lines. Plus, how can you go wrong with Schmidt!? We laugh ourselves to tears every time we sit down and watch.

And we get to watch them in HD, which is even better. Now, if I can talk Caesar into one of those TVs that takes up an entire wall....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quickie Book Review: A Game of Groans

by George R.R. Washington

Trouble is in the air in Easterrabbit. The Wall that separates the denizens of Easterrabbit from the Others is ready to fall. The Foot of King Bobbert has been found dead, and someone's trying to kill the family of his brother, Lord Headcase Barker. To top it all off, Summer is coming.

Whatever that means.

Normally, I enjoy parodies of books, like the Pride and Prejudice and Zombie series. But this novel -- a parody of A Game of Thrones -- made no sense to me. In between the juvenile fart jokes, the myriad sexual encounters or references, and the paper-thin plots, the author's thrown in references to almost every recent fantasy or science-fiction film you can think of, like Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, that feel out of place. The whole time, I felt as though I were reading the script to one of those terrible parody films: Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, or Vampires Suck. Plus, the constant attention the story focuses on pointing out that the original books spawned a TV series was just too intrusive and annoying. Say it once and let it alone; stop belaboring us with it!

And I still have no idea what the story was about. Lord Barker's wife is addicted to Godsweede. Lolyta Targetpractice happily marries a Dorki -- a race of centaurs who are much smarter than they appear -- and has lots of joyous sex in the public square. The gaseous Allbran Barker lies dying in his bed, though he's really fine. And on and on without ever coalescing into a coherent story. Not being familiar with the original books or the TV series, maybe I'm missing how everything is supposed to tie together.

All I can say is that after reading this, I think the word "groan" is apt.

A Game of Groans
by George R.R. Washington
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
trade paperback, 228 pgs.

Received book from the publisher

Sunday, March 18, 2012

American Idiot

Not quite sure what we wanted to do yesterday, we hopped in the car during a lull in the rain and headed for the Ahmanson. We didn't know if we would even be able to get tickets, but somehow, we managed to get rush tickets -- 2nd row center, in fact -- for $30 a piece. Not too shabby considering the rest of the orchestra seats sold for $100 a pop. I usually don't enjoy sitting that close to the stage, but after seeing American Idiot, I recommend those seats if you can.

Using the music from Green Day's American Idiot album, the stage musical tells the story of three friends from Jingletown, USA -- Johnny, Will and Tunny -- who are disillusioned with their lives that they plan on hightailing it to New York to explore their futures. But Will's exodus derails early as his girlfriend Heather tells him that she's pregnant, leaving Johnny and Tunny to head for the bright lights on their own. Once in the big city, Tunny becomes disillusioned with what he thought would be a great time in his life and chooses to join the military to fill an emptiness that eats at him. And Johnny, he dives into the drug culture, teaming up with St. Jimmy to enjoy a life of excess and a new girlfriend, Whatsername. The musical follows each of their stories as they maneuver through life in the days leading up to 9/11 and how that event changes their outlook on the future.

The entire cast was amazing from the three leads -- Van Hughes as Johnny, Jake Epstein as Will, and Scott J. Campbell as Tunny -- to Leslie McDonel as Heather and Gabrielle McClinton as Whatsername. Josh Kobak as St. Jimmy is a force to be reckoned with, too. The show also gave me a new appreciation of Green Day's songs. It's one thing to hear them in their original punk rock forms, but put them into a context where they are pared down or use a different arrangement, and the meaning and impact of the songs shines, like Are We the Waiting when Tunny makes his decision to join the military (one of my favorite songs). What also makes the songs so much more is the choreography, such as with When September Ends. Johnny, Will and Tunny are in their respective lives, And Johnny tells the audience that it's September 10. The ensemble slowly gathers onstage one at time, each dressed in suits or office attire, staring into the audience as rectangles of light, like what you see reflected from windows, slowly climb the set. The ensemble collapses on stage, and as they sing, some lift their arms and legs in the air, flailing as they sing a single note, resembling people falling from a tall tower. It's an incredibly powerful scene and changed my entire impression of the song.

Simply an amazing production. That's all I can really say without overly gushing about it. I highly recommend it if the opportunity presents itself.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Look what was released this morning! Before Plan 9: Plans 1-8 from Outer Space. Taking a lead from Ed Woods' cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, these stories answer the often-asked question, "Well, what about the other 8 plans?"

The anthology includes stories to answer that burning question, including tales from Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory), Craig DiLouie (Tooth and Nail), DA Chaney (Cryptic), and many others.

And my story is Plan #3!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blast from the Past: Nu Shooz

I Can't Wait was one of my favorite songs from the '80s. I actually wore out the cassette and had to buy another copy. Bizarre video, though. I think the director was trying to show all the (ahem) "neat" stuff they would be able to do with computer graphics rather than focus on the song.

Update 3-18-12: If you'd like to learn more about the video for I Can't Wait, check out this link. And thank you to Valerie and John (of Nu Shooz) for the information!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Woman in Black

Yesterday, we finally saw The Woman in Black, Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Harry Potter film.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kips, a young solicitor from London, sent to a small town on the coast of the United Kingdom called Crythin Gifford to set the affairs of one Mrs. Alice Drablow in order. His visit to the town doesn't start off with any promise, as the town's solicitor -- Mr. Jerome -- seems too eager to hasten Kips' exit form Crythin Gifford as soon as possible. The other townsfolk are just as off-putting, hiding their children when Kips rides into town, denying him a room at the only inn. But it isn't until he makes his way to Eel Marsh House -- the former home of Alice Drablow, set at the end of the causeway on the outskirts of Crythin Gifford -- that the true strangeness begins.

Kips finds stacks of Drablow's papers in the house and begins to sort through them in the cold comfort of the house's library. His efforts are interrupted when he hears odd sounds, such as a rocking chair in a locked upstairs room, footsteps crossing the floor, voices shouting across the thickly-fogged marsh. He also spies a strange woman dressed in black standing in the yard staring up at the house, but when he investigates, he finds no one. As he investigates further, he uncovers the dark secret of Eel Marsh House and why the townsfolk are so fearful of anyone who sees the mysterious woman in black. But will he be able to put things to rights before disaster can strike again?

I enjoyed the film without having to watch through my laced fingers. (I may love to read horror, but when it comes to watching, I am the biggest chicken.) The film's creators didn't rely too much on CGI to generate the creepiness, instead using shadows and camera angles and sounds -- with the occasional computer trick -- to effectively scare the bejeesus out of me. I also liked the acting, especially from Daniel Radcliffe. He was well-suited for the part of a young widower still grieving but also out to prove himself, and not once did I think of him as Harry Potter.

My only problem was that the story felt as though it were missing something. I understood the motives behind the Woman in Black, but couldn't understand why she was taking her revenge on the townsfolk. The story hinted at a possible reason having to do with the Woman having her child taken from her, but a connection to the townsfolk was never made clear so her interaction with them seemed odd to me.

Even so, the movie certainly delivers the creepiness and scares, and I recommend it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Last night after dinner, we walked the length of 2nd Street from Lucille's down to Powell's Candy Store,then decided we wanted some frozen yogurt for dessert. However, Yogurtland was all the way back where we started, and as we began the trek beck, the urgent need to use the restroom kicked in. By the time we reached Yogurtland, I thrust pushed passed the crowds at the machines and dashed into the Men's Room. The lights clicked on as I locked the door behind me I hurried over to the porcelain basin and started doing my business when the lights suddenly went out. Not in the entire building, mind you, but just in the restroom. With one hand maintaining my aim, I raised the other, waved it back and forth in the air. But the light didn't click back on, damned motion sensors. I seriously considered jumping up and down, but the two diet Cokes and a glass of water from dinner wouldn't allow it.

I stood in the dark, my eyes barely adjusting to the faint glow coming from under the door, and finished my business. I zipped up and felt my way to the sink. It was only when I turned the faucet the that the lights clicked on. I checked myself -- thank goodness I hadn't made a mess -- then washed up.

Moral of the story: never drink two Diet Cokes and two glasses of water before going for a walk.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Columbia

Since I decided to not renew my Disney Annual Pass, I've begun searching for other local things to do. Today's outing: the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, CA. The Center opened almost three years ago as a tribute to both the Space Shuttle Columbia and to the space and aeronautics industry that helped to put Downey on the map. The Apollo space capsules were designed and built right across the street from the Center, and the Boilerplate from Apollo 12 sits outside the entrance to the Center, as you can see in the picture.

The first floor of the Center opens with an interactive exhibit about the Space Shuttle Columbia, including a wall-sized photograph of the launch made from smaller pictures. The remainder of the floor provides hands-on exhibits about air pressure (shooting empty liter-sized plastic bottles into the air), aerodynamics (creating and launching different kinds of paper airplanes), flying a plane, learning how planets orbit, and a robotics lab. But the best part is a live feed from the International Space Station so guests can watch experiments being conducted in space. The second floor contained an exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian: Suited for Space showing the progression of space suits from the 1930s to proposed manned missions to Mars.

It's a fun place to visit, one of the little out-of-the-way finds that turn out to be more than you'd expect.

I think I'm going to enjoy not having the pass....

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Quickie Book Review: Autumn: Aftermath

by David Moody

In a matter of moments, a strange infection strikes without warning, wiping out the vast majority of humans. Millions dropped dead in an instant, leaving those who survived trying to understand what happened. And then they dead began to wake up, struggling to their feet and seeking the last remaining survivors.

One small group of survivors makes their way to Cheetham Castle, hoping that the castle walls would provide the much-needed protection they'd been seeking. But as the months pass and winter begins to settle in, the idyllic life they'd all imagined begins to sour. Survivors butt heads, forming two groups: those who want to wait the winter out, safe behind the closed castle walls, and those who want to take advantage of the frozen dead, making their way to the nearest towns to scavenge for food and supplies.

Meanwhile, another pocket of survivors manages to set up life on Cormansey, a small island off the coast. They've cleared the island of the living dead and are well on their way to regaining some level of normalcy. Trips need to be made to the mainland for supplies, though, and with fuel running low, a new means of transport to and from the island needs to be found. During their last trip to the coastal town of Chadwick for supplies and to rig a few boats for the journey across the water, the islanders run into a lone survivor who tells them about the others at the castle. Believing that bringing the fellow survivors to the island can only help everyone, they travel to the castle to offer their assistance. But some in the castle aren't so ready to leave the safety of the stone walls, and their refusal may prove deadly for everyone.

Though most of the characters have appeared throughout the previous Autumn novels, author David Moody provides enough background information in Autumn: Aftermath that reading those novels isn't necessary -- though I highly recommend it, if only to provide a more well-rounded view of events. And he manages to step up the creepiness level of the living dead by showing them in winter, frozen in place like snow-covered statues. The survivors slowly made their way through them, all the while noticing the subtle movements of arms or a twitch of the eyes, making the living very aware that the threat was still there, and a quick rise in temperature could catch them offguard.

But what I liked best about Autumn: Aftermath is that with only a few words, the whole outlook of the living dead and what they truly are comes into question. Perhaps like the survivors, I viewed Autumn's living dead with the same preconceived notion of what a zombie is and does, and in re-thinking the earlier novels, did I assume that the dead must be the aggressors? It begs the question as to who the real monsters are, and now, I want to go back and re-read each of the books with a new insight to see how that changes the story.

Autumn: Aftermath brings Moody's Autmun series to a satisfying conclusion. (And yes, I'm sad to see it end.)

Autumn: Aftermath
by David Moody
Thomas Dunne Books (March 2012)
trade paperback, 388pgs

Received book from publisher

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

To Hell and Back

Nick oohed and aahed at the intricately carved path of white marble winding through the narrow tunnel. The fine detailing of the figures stunned him. Over here, a man dressed in priestly robes kneeling prayer with the left hand pointed up while the other grabbed a handful of money from a collection plate; a step to the right, and a rotund woman seated at a table forcing handfuls of cakes and breads and meats into her mouth; and more and more carvings of people crowding the path into the semi-darkness. More amazing yet was how untouched the path appeared: no chipped noses or ears, no wear marks from constant foot traffic.

He walked along, head gently moving back and forth as he scanned the path. One carving in particular near the wall of the tunnel caught his eye. He knelt to get a better look, running his fingers over the image of a man, who was the spitting image of his neighbor Mr. Razmin back in the States, using a bullwhip on a group of children that looked surprisingly like the Razmin kids. Which would be impossible, considering the path must be hundreds of years old, he mused. Still, the resemblance was enough that he snapped a picture with his iPhone before continuing.

The narrow tunnel soon gave way to a large cave. Nick entered cautiously, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim light cast from the large iron torches jutting from the walls. The path continued in a straight line across the cave floor, and in the flickering light, the carvings almost seemed to move with him as he walked. He was so enthralled by the movements that he collided with a tall dark figure blocking the path.

"Sorry, man, I didn't see --," he stopped. The figure before him must have been seven or eight feet tall, dressed in a long ratted brown robe that pooled on the floor. Long, emaciated arms ending in bony fingers and hands poked from the sleeves. It had a twisted nose, elongated with flaking flesh. The scraggly beard hung in patches down the chin, making the sucked-in cheeks more evident. The eyes were nothing more than fiery coals.

"You are met with Sin. Abandon hope, all ye who pass through the Gates," Sin said and glided to Nick's right. With a long skeletal finger, Sin pointed down the path toward a pair of black iron gates, the bars thick as small tree trunks that stretched and disappeared into the darkness above. Nick watched the gate, almost believing they bulged out then back in as if something pressed against them. And the voices. He hadn't noticed them before. The moaning and the wails of who knows what that echoed throughout the cave.

Something vibrated in Nick's pocket. He frowned and pulled out his phone. "Impossible! Service down here?" Nick held up his index finger. "Hold on a sec." He turned from Sin and started typing frantically as he wandered away from the gates.

Sin slowly followed, but jumped back when Nick suddenly shouted, "That's so awesome! Who knew you could checkin here on foursquare. And," he tilted his phone toward Sin, "it even leveled up my Great Outdoors badge to seven!"

"No one's going to believe this!"

Nick jogged up the path and disappeared into the tunnel, leaving a confused Sin standing before the Gates of Hell.

The above is a work of fiction, © 2012 Gregory A. Carter

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Greg's Day Out

We headed to L.A. with the sole intention of buying tickets for the upcoming performances of Billy Elliott the Musical at the Pantages. And we accomplished that goal with flying colors, selecting two Center Orchestra seats. Go Team! But we couldn't drive all that way from Long Beach just for some tickets so we somehow managed to skirt traffic and wind our way down Melrose to find Michael Voltaggio's little restaurant, ink.sack

For those of you who never watched Top Chef, Michael won season six of that little cooking program. To have a chance to eat at one of the winner's restaurants sounded exciting, so we tracked down the address and made a beeline from Hollywood. ink.sack specializes in sandwiches, but not your typical grilled American cheese on white. After browsing the menu, I ordered two sandwiches (because Caesar heard they were on the small size): the Maple-Pepper Turkey Melt -- with turkey, camembert, arugula and mostarda -- and the Banh Mi -- pork butt, pork belly, chicharrónes, and pickled vegetables. Caesar also chose the Banh Mi, as well as the Cold Fried Chicken Sandwich. And we split a bag of their homemade potato chips. I think one sandwich each would have been plenty, but they were all delicious. I wasn't sure what was in the mostarda, thinking it was a fig jam, but it tasted so good with the turkey and the camembert. And the pickled vegetables with all that pork on the Banh Mi was wonderful.

After over-stuffing ourselves with the sandwiches, we headed back toward the Pantages but drove past it, opting for hidden gem of a museum known as the Museum of Death. Yes, it is just as odd as it sounds, but well worth a visit. Inside, the owners have amassed a collection of almost anything having to do with death: photographs from hangings, police scenes, murders, car accidents; souvenirs from executions such as an electric chair; actual artwork from several convicted serial killers; playing cards, board games, and letters to and from serial killers; a room devoted to the art of embalming, including a training video; photos of the severed body from the Black Dahlia murder; coffins, caskets, taxidermy, etc. Some of the photographs are very graphic. I mean, I love reading horror fiction, and many of the pictures even surpass the zombie-related tales I so enjoy. Neither of us knew what to make of the exhibits after we entered that first room, but after the initial shock wore off, it was fascinating.

But just for good measure, when we returned home, we watched an hour of Too Cute on Animal Planet. Cute puppies to cleanse the palette....

Friday, March 02, 2012

Gotye

Somebody That I Used to Know has been making its way around the airwaves for the past few months. Something about the almost quiet disbelief melding into loud anger as the reality behind "let's be friends" comes into play after the end of a relationship. Or maybe it's just the cool use of xylophone. Regardless, I'm enjoying the song, and even went so far as to purchase the CD. (Yes, CD.) All the songs on Gotye's Making Mirrors are good, but the album doesn't have a definite sound. Some songs feel straight out of the 60s pop/rock scene, others are a blend of 80s and 90s, one sounds like something from Kate Bush, while State of the Art reminds me of Bent. With that said, I have been playing almost non-stop since I bought it.