Maybe We Just Need to Stop and Listen

As I left for work yesterday, I came upon a guy walking his dog along the side of the road. We live in a neighborhood lined with sidewalks, but for some reason this guy decided to walk his dog in the street. No worries, I thought. I simply veered to his left a few feet and went by at what I assumed was a reasonable speed. Then something unexpected happened.

In my rearview mirror, I saw this man take the cup of water he was holding and sling it at my car. I immediately hit the brakes and sat there for a second watching him. Maybe it was a coincidence and he just happened to bail on his beverage as I passed by? Could that have been directed at me? As I thought this over, I saw him do the classic “bring it” gesture to my stopped car, and I knew at that point this guy was pissed. At me.

After witnessing the guy “bow up” like that, I couldn’t just continue on into the office. Instead, I slowly drove down the road a bit until I could find a place to turn around. As I did this, our eyes met and he seemed a bit stunned. I mean, who expects a guy in a Prius to come back and confront you when you sling a cup of water all over the back of his car? I took a deep breath, pulled alongside him, and rolled down the window. I asked if something was wrong in an attempt to let him do most of the talking. He immediately went off about how I passed much too closely, being careful to cite that countless other drivers in our neighborhood disrespect him in much the same manner each day. He wasn’t at all happy about my car’s proximity to his body, specifically stating that he could have reached out and touched my vehicle as it passed.

I’ll be honest. In that instant I wanted to eviscerate this poor guy. I wanted to tell him to get his ass on the sidewalk or at least walk against traffic. I wanted to tell him that I gave him several feet of room, and honestly in my judgment, I thought that was plenty of space to provide for his safety. I wanted to call him a big ol’ baby and several other unflattering terms. But for some reason, I decided to hold my tongue. I just sat there and listened to him talk about how every morning people drive like maniacs. And after a minute or two, I realized I kind of agreed with him.

I realized that lots of people drive recklessly. I walk in our neighborhood daily and stroll my son through those same streets. It has gotten to me at times too. I realized that some people find it easier to walk in the street because the pavement might be easier on their knees and ankles. For some, the sidewalk is an uneven tripping hazard. Maybe that was the case with this guy? I also thought about the fact that the roads were pretty much dead that morning and he wasn’t hurting anyone by choosing to walk in the street. What did it matter? Also, my Prius makes no sound whatsoever. Seriously, golf carts make more noise. So I did pass by too closely. Heck, I probably scared the crap out of him.

So there I sat, lost in my head for a minute as he ranted and raved, all of those justifications for his anger bouncing around in my head… and I just stopped. I stopped, and I apologized. He was clearly having a crap morning, and this outburst might not even be about my car “almost hitting him” at all. Now, I’m by no means a saint. I have my own anger issues I work on each and every day, but just this once I stopped to hear the other person out, and it actually ended well. We parted ways that morning, and I think things were cool between us. I looked for him again today as I headed into the office. I didn’t see him, but I did give anyone I passed a little bit more room to roam. I mean, that’s what I would want after all.

I’ve Become a Walker

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve lost weight. A lot of weight. Over one-hundred pounds of me has slowly melted away with only one or two minor setbacks along the way.

My success came through the usual means, eating less and moving more. I became a runner, because that’s what serious-minded cardio lovers do, right? There were 5Ks, 10Ks, and even a half marathon that took place over the years. I did it all and became obsessed with how far I could push myself while simultaneously avoiding a crippling injury. Don’t worry, that’s as far as I’ll go with the humble bragging. This piece isn’t about how many miles I run each day or week. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I’m still working toward my ideal body weight, eating well, and moving more… only nowadays I find myself not running. Somewhere along the way I said goodbye to that world, left the house, and just started walking.

Walking is fantastic. It’s the cheapest therapy I’ve ever come across. Walking gives me time to think and decompress at the end of the day (something essential for an introvert like me). It’s much more sustainable as a form of daily exercise too. My joints are rarely left sore and achy after a long walk. I can even find the energy for a short walk when I’m somewhat sleep starved.

So yeah, I’m a walker now. I’m in no hurry to return to running and that’s ok. As I near 40 years on this planet, I find that I care less and less about appearing tough or projecting this image to the world of me being a badass. I’m fine with slowing things down, treading lightly. And if I burn fewer calories, so what?

The Wolfen

Whitley Strieber’s The Wolfen (1978)

Whitley Strieber is best known for his 1987 work, Communion. In that book he detailed the strange occurrences surrounding the night of December 26, 1985. Using journal entries as his guide, Strieber described how “visitors” (possibly from another world/dimension) came into his bedroom and abducted him from his family’s remote cabin in upstate New York. Several other non-fiction works would follow Communion as Strieber attempted to further unpack what the heck actually happened to him on that fateful night.

With all of his interesting non-fiction works to explore, it’s easy to forget that Strieber actually began his writing career as a fiction writer specializing in the thriller/horror genre. Recently I got my hands on his first published novel, The Wolfen, and quickly devoured it in a matter of days.

The Plot

Two detectives, George Wilson and Becky Neff, are tasked with figuring out how two police officers were torn apart by some sort of savage beasts. Thanks to some help from Dr. Carl Ferguson, they learn that the grizzly killings were committed by a previously unknown pack of wolf monsters affectionately dubbed, the Wolfen.

The big shots in the police department don’t believe any of this junk, and sell the press a pack of lies (pun intended) about the killings being committed by dogs or perhaps a serial killer pretending to be a werewolf. Meanwhile, the Wolfen know that George and Becky are onto them, and they wish to hunt the detectives down and kill the humans before the they can expose the existence of the Wolfen to all of mankind.

In order to get some protection from the higher ups, George and Becky decide they need photographic proof of a Wolfen in action. They gain access to a special night vision camera, thanks to Becky’s husband, and take turns watching for Wolfen on the rooftop of the apartment building where Becky lives (a place where Wolfen have been known to stalk). Needless to say, things go south during the mission and bad things happen to the good guys.

Main Characters

Becky Neff: Up and coming, young detective on the force. She’s tough, smart, and doesn’t put up with any crap.

George Wilson: The clichéd (in many ways) “I’m gettin’ too old for this” detective, who was forced to partner with the “lady” (Becky), because no one else could stand to be in his presence. He acts like he hates Becky at times, but he’s secretly in love with her. The Wolfen really freak him out which sucks because he can’t smoke cigarettes anymore.

Dr. Carl Ferguson: He’s the science guy in the story. He desperately wants some scientific proof regarding the existence of the Wolfen. He reluctantly agrees to work with Becky and George as they try to acquire this proof.

Top Brass (Commissioner, Chief of Police, Medical Examiner): These guys pretty much deal in politics and spin. To varying degrees they all think Neff and Wilson are nuts. Oh and one of them becomes a bloody smear in the back seat of a patrol car… guess he believes now.

Dick Neff: Becky’s crooked cop husband. He did some bad things, and their marriage is strained to say the least, but he has a good heart. He gets them the special camera.

The Wolfen: Super fast, super smart, super deadly. These cunning creatures have lived alongside man in secret since the beginning of time. Now choosing to hide in the shadows of major metropolitan areas, they feed on the weak and those who may wish to spread the news of their existence. We get a decent understanding of how packs are structured and how they hunt because several chapters are written from the Wolfen’s point of view.

My Thoughts

I went into this read expecting a seedy detective novel with horror elements and that is exactly what I got. It hit all of the notes that a typical pulp would hit. It was dark and gritty, at times sexist, characters tended to be a bit one dimensional, and the plot was fairly simple. I say all of this, mind you, not to tear the book down. There are times where I need a book like this in my life. It’s like a bag of Sweet Chili Doritos. One can’t live on corn chips alone, but every now and then that sweet, glorious body poison really hits the spot.

Oh and I was honestly more creeped out while reading this book than I thought I would be. It takes a lot to unnerve me, but some of the scenes made me leave lights on in rooms of my house that had no business being illuminated at night time. The scene where the detectives walk through a dark abandoned building as the Wolfen hunt them from the shadows comes to mind. Also, wow. The gore. I’m not really a “gore” guy, but when the Wolfen come for you… it’s bloody. They love ripping out throats for some reason. I don’t know, guess that would be a quick way to do the deed. So, thank you?

I will most likely add another Strieber book to my “to read” list. At the very least I may go back and give Communion another read. I remember reading it back in the early 2000s and it was just as disturbing as Strieber’s fiction. In Communion, Strieber never flat out says “aliens came and took me away”. He just uses the word “visitors” and even leaves open the possibility that his mind manufactured the whole experience. I can appreciate that kind of open mindedness and self awareness from a writer.

Moonwalker Cover Art

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Sega 1989)

A man enters a poorly lit warehouse. He lowers his lily white fedora and throws his right hand high into the air. Suddenly, and without effort, he launches a quarter across the room activating a jukebox that hasn’t rocked in years. Then it happens. Pop star turned action hero begins thrashin’ to the tune of his latest hit “Smooth Criminal”.

The Game

Jacko’s arsenal of moves is limited and doesn’t include a moonwalk at all. His offense consists of one kick, one punch, a spin move, and an interesting hip flare. These attacks are nothing more than enchanted dance moves, and Michael delivers each with a signature “whoo” as only he can. The objective is to save Annie (I suppose) as she pops up throughout many stair case ridden structures. The only highlight being the guest cameo from Bubbles after the completion of each stage. As for the ending, I assume it’s just a big Pepsi commercial or something. I should know, but after the third level I realized I had a pulse.

Fun Links

User Guide for Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Sega Master System)

TMNT NES

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES 1989)

Note: If anyone has actually defeated this game without a Game Genie and can prove it to me in some way… please do so. I need this.

Konami (under it’s Ultra imprint) released the first Nintendo game ever to feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the summer of ‘89 just as the “heroes in a half shell” were beginning their climb to the top of wish lists everywhere. I remember getting this one for my 9th birthday. I also remember never getting past the third level. I’m not bitter though.

The Game

The first objective is to save April O’Neil from the hands of Shredder. You must complete this task without being captured by the foot clan. However, as you head out on your journey, you quickly save April and discover your real mission is to save Master Splinter. Or if you’re like me, you turn off the system after you’ve liberated the reporter and pretend you’ve beaten the game. It will only get exponentially more difficult from here.

Moving on, the turtles visit the nearest dam and you quickly realize this game hates you. Of course I am speaking of the underwater bomb sequence that has caused me to develop a spontaneous, nagging twitch. After defusing these bombs you move on to the “party wagon level” and begin to have a small amount of “fun”. This “fun” only lasts a few minutes unfortunately, because not since ancient Greece has the world seen such a winding labyrinth. *Sigh* I would love to tell you more about this level, but thinking about it makes my face hurt.

Honestly, I don’t remember what comes next in this gem of a game, but I did eventually beat it with a Game Genie… I think… please say that wasn’t a dream. Oh well, I’m pretty sure the ending has something to do with pizza. In summary, play the sequels. They will make you live longer, and you can even play them with a friend.

Fun Links

Nintendo Power (May/June 1989) – Feature Article on TMNT for the NES

PBS Logo

The Nostalgia Papers: Fever Dreams, PBS, and Bologna Sandwiches

When I reflect upon my childhood years, I usually remember the loftier, happier moments. I typically avoid the less attractive ones like the time my inner tube flipped over on a water slide and I was forced to skid the last fifteen yards on my head. However, recently I stumbled upon a treasure trove of yesteryear bliss when my thoughts drifted into the purposely ignored “negative realm” and set up camp alongside the banks of the River Sick Day.

For me, sick days usually fell into one of two camps: “at home” sick days or “at my grandparents” sick days. Each was unique with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, the outcome was the same… my ass didn’t have to go to school. And that’s cool when you’re a little kid, because it’s not like you’re really going to fall behind in your studies. Heck, in Kindergarten I remember spending half the day attempting to sculpt a paper mache mask. Need I say more?

In addressing the at home sick day, let me first state that these were usually pretty rough. I may even go as far as to say that I would rather have been at school. Such days always meant I had a very high fever and they were usually accompanied by a visit to the doctor. Aside from the delirious moments spent gadding in and out of consciousness, I was also strictly forbidden from even looking at my Nintendo. It was as if sitting upright and allowing something to take my mind off the misery was the worst thing I could possibly do for myself. Did my mother think I had intentionally licked the toilet at school just so I could stay home and play Super Mario Bros. for eight hours straight? Did she think I was trying to pull a fast one here? She always did seem overly suspicious about my lust for 8-bit gaming while being simultaneously attacked by a viral infection.

But anyway, the bad would have almost outweighed the good here were it not for one thing, Nickelodeon. If I got to stay home I could watch Nickelodeon all day long during what in my opinion was the high point of the network. Quality programming like Pinwheel, Today’s Special, and You Can’t Do That on Television were in store for me if I managed to pull off an at home sick day. And yes, I must admit I imbibed liberally when successful.

Well what about the days when I wasn’t deathly ill yet still deemed unworthy of attending grade school? Ah, that meant a day at my grandparent’s house and the situation could turn out pretty boss if this young fellow planned ahead. You see, the “survival kit” was essential in a successful remote sick day. The kit would contain all the comforts of home that I would need to get through the day. You know, important things like Silverhawk action figures and plastic dinosaurs. And the good news was that I could play with these bad boys like it was my last day on Earth. I could make noise, throw them around, and act the six-year old donkey in a fashion my mother would never have condoned. I can remember getting so excited once that I actually broke a leg off of Quicksilver, the heroic leader of the Silverhawks, as I sent him on an ill-fated flight into a table leg.

Lunch was always better on remote days as well. The bologna sandwiches my grandmother served easily beat the soup and crackers I inevitably had to eat at home. Oh, and it was the good kind of bologna too. The kind with the red ring around the edge. I would like to personally thank my grandmothers at this time for teaching me good bologna from bad. It’s a fabulous lunch meat, and it should always be purchased with the little red ring round the edge. Anything less would be uncivilized.

I know you must be saying to yourself, Dang, it sounds like a remote sick day was perfection! What could possibly be the downside?PBS I tell you, PBS. I will admit that PBS has a fond place in my heart now as an adult looking back, but when I was five or six it was often times boring and honestly a little bit terrifying. Look, we all know what I’m talking about. The puppets from The Land of Make Believe could keep a kid awake at night. However, since cable wasn’t an option at grandma’s, the “kid friendly” lineup of PBS became my only viable option. It’s why to this very day I always mentally connect PBS with a day spent at my grandparent’s house on a remote sick day.

The Nostalgia Papers: It’s Electric!

The bad kids told of its existence. The rest of us always wondered if the rumors were true. Did Mr. Perry have an electric paddle? Of course as adults we now laugh at such a notion, but I tell ya, there was a time in my life where there lived deep within me some doubt over the matter. I thought to myself, perhaps old Mr. Perry did in fact have an electric paddle, and if I messed up, I might just experience its wrath.

I guess the electric paddle myth can find its origins in the existence of the electric chair, a device often associated with condemned men. Birthed in the mind of some over-imaginative child on his way to the principal’s office, it must have found its way into grade school lore as the ultimate in capital punishment for naughty children.

In my earlier years, grades K – 1, I remember seeing the paddle in my mind’s eye as looking like an ordinary paddle on the surface, but secretly being able to fire electric beams into the buttocks of unsuspecting kids with the push of a button. Interestingly, I abandoned this make in my later years of belief, grades 2 – 3, for a more reasonable design. The revamped electric model looked more like a ping pong paddle. However, at the push of a button, the head of this one would flap back and forth at adjustable speeds. Thus simplifying the spanking act and making it so that the disciplinarian needn’t even swing his arm.

I was by no means a bad kid in school, so I never actually got sent to the principal’s office for lashing out. However, due to my good behavior, on occasion I would be asked to run an errand to the beastly location. Once inside, I would strain to see if I could spot the infamous whacking stick. I never did, nor did I ever hear him fire it up as he let out a maniacal, door-muffled laugh. So it is with this sentiment that I quit believing in the electric paddle. But as you can see, I still haven’t totally forgotten about it… just in case.