Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Build-Up to iPhone

The iPhone. Released last year to much fanfare only to run headfirst into a wall of scorn six weeks later when the price was slashed by several hundred dollars. It’s like Steve Jobs himself was pointing at the early adopter Apple fanatics and quoting Nelson from The Simpsons.

“Ha ha!”

But now the new generation is ready for me to pick up. I played with my dad and sister’s iPhones over the Christmas break and I thought I was hungry for it before. Oh no. I just wanted one and if I got one when my contract with Sprint was up in the spring then so much the better. But now I’m actually going to pay double the cost just to break the contract.

Because I have to have one. RIGHT. THIS. INSTANT.

This thing is hands down the sexiest piece of tech to come down the pipe in years. I mean that goes without saying. Look at it! It is stunning. What’s better? Touch screen tech that is just about flawless. Oh sure, there are certain quirks here and there (just try playing Pac-Man on it, or better yet don’t) but on the whole it is a giant leap forward in terms of user interface.

You can have 3-D. People want to know that what they see and touch is real. That’s why I firmly believe, and this is a slight digression, that the current top guys in Hollywood (Spielberg, Cameron, Zemeckis, Jackson) who are obsessed with developing a new generation of 3-D are missing the point. People love special effects and marvel at what a computer can do.

But you heard genuine gasps of awe in “The Dark Knight” when that truck flipped over. Even before that, the way that car chase on Lower Wacker Drive through Gotham left people gripping their seats and shouting from excitement? Why is that?

Because what they were looking at was real. It was tangible. They knew instinctively they could reach out and touch what was on screen, in spite of some CGI thrown in here and there. For the most part, it was real and the stunt work was amazing. At the beginning, when the two robbers slide from one building to the next the audience was in the moment more so than if they were CGI figures because it was real and the IMAX presentation made it seem as if they were there with them. That’s the next big thing – finding a way to IMAX everything. It brings reality so close you can touch it.

Which is exactly what I love so much about the iPhone. I’m not just pushing buttons and cycling through menu after menu. I’m sliding through menus with the touch of my hand. Or I’m shaking the iPhone so that the slot machine style interface of an application will bring up local delis in my price range. I’m interacting with it beyond just hitting a button and waiting for my call to go through. I’m stretching pictures out, finding a mind-boggling amount of information out about local eateries, and more.

But the bottom line is this – it’s not cold and impersonal. I can do a gazillion things with this little device and never once do I lose sight of it being a phone too. I’ve railed in the past about phone carriers packing more and more features into their devices transforming them from phones into PDAs. The iPhone is no different, but it does so many things so well and so smoothly that I am happy to gloss over the fact that a phone is one aspect among many.

Oh I can’t wait to get my hands on one tonight. I’ll report back on whether my lust translates into a full blown love affair or a crash-and-burn.

3Dog Nt

Is 3 Dog Night honestly worth a license plate devoted to them? No sir. No they are not.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Now Playing: Dragon Quest IV (DS)

The Nintendo DS is a Godsend for those of us who wax romantic about the games of our youth. The old 8 and 16-bit classics we grew up with on the original Nintendo systems were fun little time sinks, and continue to provoke endless debates when pitted against current generation software.

Which was the cooler JRPG? Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy XII? What’s your favorite Dragon Quest of the original seven?

Meanwhile, I’m playing Dragon Quest IV on the little handheld that could and my understanding is it never came out in the States before now. I love the facelift Square-Enix bestowed upon it. The once 8-bit game is now rife with color, humor, wonderful art and energy. It’s also filled with the need to grind, and grind, and grind, and grind some more. It’s like playing EverQuest only repeatedly cycling through the first 15 levels.

The story introduces the hero right off the bat then jumps to someone else. You take control of them for the next four to five hours and complete their introductory story. Then it jumps to another character and you repeat the cycle. Then you repeat it a third and a fourth time, each with new characters. Then finally it jumps back to the hero who is at… level 1.


Why yes, Square Enix, I would LOVE to grind the first 15 levels FIVE GODDAMN TIMES IN A ROW! Doesn’t that sound like fun? Oh it surly does to me, thank you kindly. Seriously, a game like this released today would be shredded. Once the story sort of kicks in then the game picks up and starts to move but according to my in-game clock I’ve already been playing for north of 24 hours and now I’m starting over YET AGAIN?!?!


To be fair, this is not the kind of title you blaze through. You savor it, enjoy it slowly, and take your time with it. Pull it out at the airport and level grind while waiting for your flight, and continue grinding while ignoring your spouse during the actual flight. I can’t say I haven’t had a lot of fun with it, but I’ve been at it for two months now and I’m just getting to the primary story line. The good news is I’ve discovered a reasonable place to farm metal slimes so my characters all level a hell of a lot faster now than at the beginning.

And some of you have absolutely no clue what I just said.

For those of you new to the Dragon Quest series, let me be more succinct. Each new release of a Dragon Quest title virtually shuts down Japan as people call in sick to play it. This is not a joke, nor an exaggeration. An entire country shuts down to play one game. The fascination with this series is wild to me, but there you have it.

In this iteration, a hero is called to defeat a great evil but picks up a bunch of friends along the way. Wait, that’s pretty much every video game ever designed. Where this game differentiates itself from everything else is what I mentioned about chapters – one per supporting character, and you get to power level each one for the first 15 levels or so before getting to the meat of the story. Once you do, the game opens up and becomes way more fun but getting there is a beating.

It’s certainly charming and quirky and is a perfect fit for the DS. If you can just get through the level grinding of the majority of the game, DQIV is a nice little time killer. If you’re looking for a quick fix title to blaze through, look elsewhere. This is one you take your time with and just play at your leisure. Even after putting it down for a week or two, it’s surprisingly easy to figure out what to do and where to go next.

I get a kick from old school titles like this. Contrasting them against modern titles is fun to see the evolution of game play. Next on my “Ye Olde School Playlist” is Chrono Trigger which has developed a mythic reputation since its release. I’ve never played it, but the music from the sequel’s intro has stuck with me for years. That may be an odd recollection, but it’s the closest I’ve come to actually playing it.

But at the rate I’m going on DQIV, I’ll probably hold off on starting Chrono Trigger until sometime next year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Information that might have been useful YESTERDAY

Fired up my email this morning and had an email dated 2:07 AM Saturday. The contents of the email informed us that for the next two weeks we could dress casual at work. I'm reading this while dressed in a suit as upper management (i.e. those with Blackberrys) walk around in jeans.

Note to Santa - bring me a Blackberry.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Latest Reviews

My two latest reviews at Gaming Trend are up and here they are: Madagascar 2 and Far Cry 2. You might notice a significant difference in the writing styles for both and the explanation is simple – one sucked and the other most assuredly did not.

To make it easier to discern which is which, allow me to extol the further virtues of "Far Cry 2" forthwith. I wasn’t a big fan of the first game. Much like “Doom 3,” “Far Cry” was an engine in search of a game. It presented a massive world that was top to bottom beautiful, and let players loose in it to do what they would. Sandbox style shooters are nothing new, but “Far Cry” left me bored. Even when it took a hard right into science fiction territory, it did so by just throwing a bunch of mutants at you and still letting you go on your merry way.

“Far Cry 2” has no such sci-fi elements, electing instead to keep things firmly grounded in the real world. The game immediately benefits from this by setting up a massive powder keg in the middle of Africa, then dropping you in the middle of it to find and kill a single target – the gun runner behind both sides of the conflict known simply as the Jackal. It’s an ingenious setup but what truly thrills is how the game utterly swallows you.

This is not a twitch game by any stretch of the imagination. It will take you a while to move from one place to another even after mastering the bus system, the only rapid transit available. Otherwise, you’re on your own to find transportation (surprisingly easy) and surviving the drive along the numerous dirt roads (somewhat more difficult). I’ve been playing it constantly for over a month now and I’m just to the point where I can experience the back half of the game.

This thing is one of the most immersive titles I’ve played since BioShock. Nothing else touches it. I’m thrilled that it’s sold over a million copies because with everything else hitting right now (Gears of War 2, CoD: World at War, Fallout 3, Rock Band 2, et. al) this is the gem that would absolutely be swallowed. I’m sure people bought this then dropped it after a day to play GoW2 or CoD and those sad souls are missing the winner of the bunch.

“Far Cry 2” is not interested in just throwing bigger and bigger guns at you and letting you wade through the bush nuking the hell out of everything in sight. There is a purpose here, but one that is not immediately evident. The purpose here is to literally live the events, and every single action happens through your character’s eyes. Walk up to a car and you watch as your character slides across the seat or climbs up into the gunners seat. Get into a gunfight with a crappy firearm and watch it jam, usually at the worst possible moment. Get shot up almost to the point of death and check it out as your character pops bullets out of his/her arm with their fingers (and no I’m not kidding about this).

At no point in the game does anything feel video gamey. Well, that’s not entirely true. Attacks on the roads are more frequent than they should be and enemies can hit you a mile away it seems with little effort and with crap weaponry. Also the dialogue coach at Ubisoft should be fired immediately because all the characters deliver their lines as if there was no punctuation used anywhere in the script.

Forgiving these minor grievances allows one to indulge in a game world so vast and rich and detailed that it’s stunning. During development, the designers took a trip to Kenya for a safari to see for themselves whether what they’d come up with was accurate. Upon returning, they tossed everything and started over. The resulting level of detail takes you across the planet to an honest rendition of Africa via the country of Kenya. I’m left stunned every time I play it.

So what haven’t I liked? Not much really. My gripes are pretty contained to the ones listed above and that’s about it. I hate having to go through so many checkpoints, i.e. guard stations, but off-roading cures that little hiccup. Ditto the random battles that happen quite frequently. The guns breaking or jamming infuriates me but just compare the rusted POS you pick up off some local thug to the nice shiny weapons available for purchase at the gun store and tell me which one looks more reliable. Running out of ammo in the middle of a firefight can happen, so dropping a gorgeous gun and picking up a rusted one for the sake of expediency adds to the tension. How many shots until this thing jams or worse, breaks completely? Your heart races as soon as the shooting starts.

Every. Single. Time.

As for the story, this is not a plot driven game so to speak. There is an overarching story, but the game is more about the experience and less about the tale being told. This isn’t “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” Early on, the player is told by a journalist that he lost tapes of a conversation he recorded with the Jackal and when you start finding those tapes the lights will begin to turn on. The further you delve into the game, the more the tension builds and your understanding of the Jackal is fleshed out by these tapes. It’s a clever way to build anticipation towards your eventual show-down with him. You come to understand not only his philosophy on world events but also what he’s doing in this particular war-torn area of the world.

The buddy system is also pretty cool in that you stumble across people who will assist you. They don’t run with you all the time but if you get hurt, one usually shows up to get you out of the situation. I like the fact that even though they can take an inordinate amount of punishment, they can in fact die. If they do, then they are gone for good. Bonding with at least one or two is inevitable and when one of your close buddies dies, as happened to me, it genuinely hurts.

I can understand how this one seems to have been marginalized by the press in favor of Fallout 3, the latest Call of Duty, and so forth but this is an honest gem. If you have the chance to really check out Far Cry 2 then do so but be prepared to be swallowed whole.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No Need For An Alarm Clock

I have my stomach! I was sound asleep this morning. Dead quiet throughout the house. All of a sudden I hear this:

Brrrrrrrp. Mmmmmmrrrrppppp. Repeat.

I snap awake. Angry. I roll over. That only muffled it slightly. Whatever else, my stomach was running on empty and apparently felt it was its solemn duty to inform me of its displeasure.

At 5:50 a.m.

I get up and scarf down a piece of bread. Lay back down. My stomach growls less and less until finally it’s quiet again. Some people hate their bodies for various reasons. I hate mine when it wakes me up. Self preservation takes a back seat to a good night’s sleep in my book.

But I’m weird like that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ixnay on the Raspberry-ay

One thing I love about my office is the abundance of sweets that find their ways into our hands. Someone is always bringing cake or cookies up here and it rules on a number of levels. However, a co-worker offered me some cake recently and I had to decline.

“What’s in it?” I non-chalantly asked.

“Oh the good stuff. Vanilla, and raspberry, and…”

I cut her off with a stern head shake.

“Nope, can’t do it then. But thank you.”

Not sure if it’s a food allergy or just revulsion, but if I have a small taste of raspberry I get a migraine. More than a taste adds extreme nausea as a topper. Been that way my whole life but took me forever to figure out what the specifics were. My problem is an addiction to all things chocolate. Chefs the world over have the same problem: Thinking raspberry drizzled over chocolate is a good thing.

Now you understand my predicament.

I remain puzzled by people who love, love, love raspberry on chocolate. Everyone enjoys different flavors, but that one is just disgusting. Not to mention headache inducing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Two Weeks Later...

Max 0.05 entered our world on 11/20/08 and our lives remain uprooted. But in a good way. Sorta. Right from the start, evidence surfaced of him one day evolving into a clone of Yours Truly. This is both a good and bad thing. The good thing is I feel I’m a pretty level headed individual who could have been better were I less shy and more self confident when I was younger.

The bad is I was a holy terror as a child who only mellowed out when I was overtaken by extreme shyness. At 12.

Infants traditionally have three tasks:

1. Eat
2. Sleep
3. Poop
Not necessarily in that order, either. Or sometimes they manage the trifecta and accomplish all three at once, which is something no one outside of new parents should ever bear witness to.

A fourth dictum is conveniently left unspoken, lest skittish folks decide children are not for them:

4. Scream/cry like crazy
This last one manifested itself quicker than we suspected and continued through the holiday week while the in-laws camped out at Casa de Skim. Every night starting at about 8 p.m. and going through midnight, Max 0.05 would scream holy hell with only a slight respite occurring upon feeding. He would exhaust himself, we’d stressfully rock him and work to comfort him and it was all for naught. Frustrating doesn’t begin to convey the anxiety a new parent feels anyway, so when you add screaming fits as a capper, you find yourself frazzled beyond belief. During the day he was a gem, an affable baby boy with the biggest and most alert eyes you’ve ever seen. At night, he’d morph into Holy Screaming Fury™.

When you come to dread the sun going down, you’re either in a horror film or living with a newborn.

We worried we were overfeeding him at first. A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a small marble and he was packing a mean amount of acid reflux. Turns out this is entirely normal and goes away on it’s own after two weeks. Again, this is information that might have been useful AHEAD OF TIME. So we tried over-feeding him to see if that calmed him down.

8 p.m. came and went with no screaming. Ditto 9 p.m. Ditto 10 p.m. Then 11 p.m. and he started fussing, so we fed him again.

It was like someone flipped a light switch off and he sacked out until his next feeding at 2 a.m. It was the first night in literally two weeks that My Fair Lady and I got a solid amount of sleep. We actually felt human the next day.

In short it’s been incredibly stressful but surprisingly enough we’ve enjoyed it. Max 0.05 is a gem when he’s not crying. He has the biggest eyes and is so alert it’s scary. He knows both of us by now, or at least enjoys listening to our voices. He’s already developing a personality quirk that’s hilarious. When he stretches out and yawns, he goes all out. He has his arms down at his sides, he stretches his legs out, then he stretches his neck out and yawns as wide as his mouth will allow. It’ll be wild to see if he still does that later in life.

When we threw our list of questions at our pediatrician, she offered some sage advice about the first month – survive it. Doesn’t matter what you do, just survive it. After that, it all gets better.

We’ll see what happens.

P.S. For the last two nights, he’s been up and at ‘em every 15 or 20 minutes. I took the first shift last night and rocked him in a pouch until 2 a.m.-ish. My Fair Lady took over at that point and is, I believe, close to collapse. She’s a trooper but believe me when I say that watching a newborn would exhaust Patton’s 3rd Army. We’re almost through the first month and we are watching that calendar like a pair of hawks.

Deadman Switch

A co-worker observed in the lunch room the other day that I got a haircut.

“No,” I replied, “I got a lot cut.”

“Well, it looks really good.”

“Thank you. I just wish they got the white ones too.”

I recently found three white hairs on my head. These were not gray, or pseudo-white. These were Anderson Cooper white.

“Why don’t you just pluck them?” my co-worker asked.

“Are you crazy? They plan for this. All white hairs come with a deadman switch attached. Pluck one, and it sends out a signal for reinforcements. I’ll be white haired by Christmas of next year. All I’ll need is 100 more pounds and a beard and I’ll have a line of kids demanding toys.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"We've Got a Gusher!"

I feel like I’ve aged 5 years from the last week.

We checked My Fair Lady into the hospital Tuesday night and she began the fluids necessary to initiate induction. The induction proper commenced at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning. When no progress had been made by noon, Doc burst the bag of waters (yes, with an ‘s’) and out flowed enough water to render My Fair Lady a tributary.

“Oh wow, we’ve got a gusher!” is not normally something you expect a doctor to say in a cheery tone of voice.

Six hours later, no progress. My Fair Lady had been under Pitocin (which induces labor, or more specifically, labor pains in a big, big way) for 12 hours by that point and only progressed to 2cm. This is what’s known as a bad thing. She of the iron cervix was apparently having nothing to do with delivering our child. But she would warily take the epidural, thank you very much. This may have made her feel significantly better but the baby still wasn’t coming. Nor was it about to, ever.

Then we had our second gusher of the night.

The epidural brings large scale pain relief to your lower half and based on the dosage you may or may not feel your toes for the next few hours. I feel sorry for women going through it because it literally looks like they're being plugged into the Matrix and have sit still and lean forward over their belly for roughly half an hour. All well and fine by itself if you're not pregnant and in labor. If that's the case, then you have to lean over and sit very still while in the throes of massive labor contractions so the joy adds up quickly. Once the drugs started it took about 10 minutes for her pain to subsist.

At one point, My Fair Lady tried to sit up and her elbow came back on the bed and broke one of the plastic vials on the IV line. We saw clear fluid spill (a small amount) onto the bed, so I left to get the nurse. I returned 30 seconds later to find My Fair Lady covered in blood, the baby monitor was going off the chart and she was clutching her arm while forlornly looking at me.

This is exactly the combination of look and circumstance you never, ever want to be in.

The nurse came in right behind me, saw what was going down, and sprang into action. She called in another nurse who in turn brought another doctor with her. The mighty trio sealed the wound, removed the broken IV, and replaced it all within two minutes give or take. Apparently this never happens, as one nurse kept repeating, and my guess is that for some reason the broken IV triggered a blow-back from the vein. But all was cleaned up and My Fair Lady and Pending were declared just fine.

Thirty seconds later Doc walked in from her rounds and asked if anything was going on. It was one of those sitcom moments life throws at you every now and then to break the tension.

Following another six hours of non-progress, a decision was made to schedule a c-section at 6 a.m. Thursday morning so I went home close to 1 a.m. to get some sleep. I’m laying down and not five minutes later the phone rings. I saw it was My Fair Lady. Now, take into account all that happened that day and tell me what you think she might want to tell me.

Good night? Sweet dreams? Oh no.

Apparently the baby’s heart rate had started dropping while they were administering a new batch of Pitocin right after I left and since Pending wasn’t engaging at all then Doc opted to release Pending a few hours in advance of his/her street date.

Fortunately we live literally five minutes from the hospital. I’ve timed it.

I get back just as they've finished prepping My Fair Lady for the surgery, and she's understandably terrified. It's been a day from hell and the capper is highly invasive surgery to remove a large parasite from her insides. I again gave thanks to the Creator for letting me be the cause of this chaos and not the recipient. As they wheeled her out, Doc tossed me some scrubs.

This proved interesting. I threw on the scrubs followed by the hairnet then looked at the blue shoe covers. I was assured they would fit just about anything. I compared them to the Merrill hiking boots I was wearing. If those fit over the shoes I was wearing, then I was a WWII fighter pilot (Ret.) So I opted instead for the white boot covers and when I stood up I looked like part of a hazmat team. Doc's assistant came to get me and after sanitizing up, into the OR we went.

Doc had me sit next to My Fair Lady’s head while the rest of her remained thankfully obscured by a large drape. I comforted her and told her everything was going to be fine. Meanwhile, all I hear is a giant vacuum going strong on the other side of the curtain. Suddenly an urge struck me. It was the urge to stand up and see what was going on. I just had to see it if only for the sheer novelty of...

I promptly stomped that urge into the ground then rolled over it like Kent did to Otto in “A Fish Called Wanda.”

All of a sudden we heard a loud cry. We stared at each other. Then Doc spoke:

“Oh! It’s a boy!”

Pending had officially hit Release Status. We welcomed Max 0.1 into this world on November 20, 2008, at 1:47 a.m. My Fair Lady was confined to quarters until Sunday when we brought him home to Casa de Skim. Thus far he’s doing well, but Sunday night and Monday night screamed and cried to all hours of the night pushing My Fair Lady to the verge of insanity. That’s how I wound up carrying him for an hour before collapsing onto the couch with him on my chest... a position we remained in for the next three hours. Repeat the following night.

Welcome to parenthood.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's a boy!

I've written up a much longer post than this but it's on a flash drive at the house so I'll have to post it later. But for the world of the internets, I now have a son named Max 0.1 and he's an absolute doll. Sort of like a Chatty Cathy only everytime you pull the string it screams bloody murder at you.

For the most part, he's pretty laid back considering he's only five days old at this point. When he gets worked up is at night which has resulted in a sum total of 6 hours sleep for Yours Truly out of the last 72. I'm having to type this slowly because I see three keyboards when I look down. Were I any groggier, the spell check would even say, "Sorry dude, I have no clue what word dfadhsfda is supposed to eb."

But he's a keeper. I understand now the sheer absolute panic only parents are capable of experiencing, and if you've heard the stories but blown them off then you have no clue what it feels like. The first night he was home, things were cool during the day. Then 8 p.m. rolled around and he started fussing. By midnight it was into full out crazy and by 3 a.m. we'd lost our minds. More specifically My Fair Lady actually had because she'd been in the hospital the previous five days and was already beyond exhausted. I wound up with Max 0.1 around 4:30 a.m. and he and I wound up on the couch where amazingly enough he slept like a champ in my arms.

Rinse-repeat last night only change my final location to my desk in the office. Whoo-hoo!

We're excited though and after his first pediatric appointment today are proud to note that he's regained most of the initial weight and is progressing quite nicely. He may also have his days and nights mixed up slightly which means this week and next should be filled with fun as we try to correct that. If we can get him to be on a three to four hour schedule at night we'll be in good shape.

In the meantime, I think My Fair Lady will actually hold a gun to my head should I be remiss in future blogging so I may be picking this back up on a more routine basis. I'm sure this week will also net itself plenty of stories worth relating via my skewed perception.

But we got the best present two people could ever hope for - a fully healthy baby that is a bundle of joy. We love him absolutely and I'm looking forward to warping him with my film library. I can hardly believe that I have a chance to see Star Wars and Monty Python through my son's eyes at some point and it should be interesting to see his reactions.

Then again, there's always Kung-fu Panda which I instinctively know he's going to go simply bonkers for.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Drink From the Keg of Glory

Note: This tale is from April, 2008. Enjoy.

This weekend, My Fair Lady and I drank from The Keg of Glory. Waaaaaay back in 2002, a race of sorts popped up in Dallas. It was called the "Urban Challenge" and it was a scavenger hunt of sorts. The point was to start the race with a set of clues which you would need to decipher in order to find certain locations scattered across the city. Only public transportation, i.e. DART buses and the rail) were allowed in terms of transportation. No bikes, no cars, no nothing. Just your feet and your DART pass. You could have friends standing by in their homes with Google at the ready, and both Crayola and Fireball proved invaluable. Once you arrived at your destinations, you had to take a picture of yourself and your teammate at those locations.

The challenge was not so much in the finding of the locations that year as it was surviving the heat. The organizers, who were clearly not native to the area, thought it a a great idea to hold it at the first of September which is still in the Texas summer. So it was that we journeyed forth in 100+ degree heat, all chipper and excited. Our pictures that year were hilarious because the first one showed us excited, the next one showed us to be a little less excited, then the third one showed us already sunburned but kinda gung-ho, and so on and so forth. The eighth picture, also the point where we gave up, shows us completely melting. Think the ending of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in t-shirts and backpacks and that's it.

Fireball was kind enough to answer his phone that year and not ask any questions when all he heard on the other end was "I'm melting.... MELTING...." I don't recall much after that but apparently in my incoherent ramblings (which come from having to hold the phone with one hand and paste your lips back onto your face with the other) I gave him the address we died at. He drove over, poured us into his car, and drove us back downtown where we crawled across the finish line along with another couple of teams in, believe it or not, worse shape than us. With only a few fatalities that year, the future looked bright for more races to come.

Fortunately, the weather the following year was fantastic and we placed 19th thus qualifying for the National Championships in New Orleans, which we had to forgo since that was right in the middle of My Fair Lady's law school exams. The next year, the contest mysteriously vanished.

Fast forward to this weekend...

The newly christened "The Urban Race" was upon us and of course My Fair Lady would not allow us to miss it. So it was that we arrived at Dick's Last Resort in the West End (i.e. the family-style party center of Dallas) and stood around looking at the other teams. This year, organizers thought to hold the contest in APRIL which proved a wise decision because the weather was in the high 60s, and it was a beautiful, cloudless day. The prices this year included an award for "Best Costume," the result of which was a high number of people wearing all manner of elaborate, and not so elaborate, crazy-wear. We spied a man and woman dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Rambo complete with war paint, inflatable weapons, and bullets wrapped around their chests. Another team was dressed in suits (yes, suits) while two others were dressed as ninjas. I was, frankly, surprised to see them so I assume they were training ninjas who had not yet received details on being covert.

The announcer called to us and gathered us in the square outside Dick's and assistants passed out envelopes containing clues. The good news this year was that we could team up with another couple, and our good friends M&L joined us. They had run in the previous races with us, so it was fun to have fellow veterans on our side. At high noon-ish, the buzzer sounded and all of us tore into our clues. We could do the clues in any order, and we could skip one of them. Two of the clues, however, were mandatory and skipping those was obviously not allowed. Should we miss or mess up on any of the clues, we could still finish and take a 30-minute penalty. The clues broke down as follows:

1) Find someone with an out of state drivers license
2) Find the number 225 on any building and yes, it could be part of an address (i.e. 12256 Somewhere Dr.)
3) Find a Mexican flag
4) Go to a specific carnival inflatable ride place, run their inflatable gauntlet and take a picture coming down the slide at the end (Mandatory)
5) Find a specific tae-kwan-do place and take a 5-10 minute lesson, noting that only groups of 10-20 would be accepted at a time
6) Find a place that made concentric circles in the sand every 24 hours
7) Get to a specific stall in the Farmer's Market, take a banana, then feed it to your teammate (Mandatory)
Cool Decipher an anagram to find a location, then arrive there and hold up the number of fingers that matched the Cowboy's win record last season
9) Get to Flag Pole Hill and take a shot of the flag pole while holding up the number of fingers of the surrounded picnic tables
10) Decipher clues to get an address, then once there high five one another over the address
11) Find a specific bronze cow and take a picture showing its hoofs
12) Do a crossword puzzle included with the clues

AND WE WERE OFF!!! Like the wind, some might say. I'd say more like a subtle breeze. We spent about half an hour or so cracking the clues and between the four of us we figured them out, locations and all. We recognized that the inflato-course and Flag Pole Hill were hell-and-gone from downtown Dallas, but that everything else was within walking distance of the finish line (also Dick's Last Resort). So we figured it would be wise to do the furthest ones out first, then come back downtown and knock out the rest. We headed down a thin alley towards the rail station when My Fair Lady was struck with inspiration. It occurred to her that while we were in the West End that we should start asking people if they were from out of state. So it was that we found this lovely lady right at the start:

We interrupted her lunch but she was gracious enough to be from Pennsylvania and to share that bit of geography with us for our first clue. While we were taking this shot, one of our cohorts ran inside only to come back out and let us know there was a Mexican flag hanging from the rafters. We checked with the gal at the front counter and she waved us through, already tired of our fellow racers hustling past people concerned only with their enchiladas. The result was our second clue:

Viva Mexico! After a quick pit stop, it was on to our next clue. We raced out of the restaurant ignoring the stares of people expecting to see a camera crew following us. We ran to the rail stop and patiently waited for the Blue Line to arrive. It's promptness did not disappoint for it pulled up alongside us and we elbowed our way on board. Roughly 15 minutes later, the train pulled to a stop near where Flag Pole Hill was, twenty or so teams hopped off, but M&L insisted we stay on to the next stop. The next one would put us in striking distance of the inflato-course, which was the same train of thought exhibited by three other teams. The Browns, Mr. & Mrs. Rambo, the Greens, and us all piled out of the train at the next stop and bolted. It was exactly like on the Amazing Race because every team ran full out... for about 30 yards. Then we all remembered we were in Texas, we were not racing for $1 million, and where we were headed was any one's guess.

We all knew vaguely where this inflato-course was, but not specifically. We all made it to the intersection of 635 and some random street which is where our paths diverged. The Browns turned south and opted to follow 635 all the way to the course. We, and the other teams, opted to go north to a major street where we would turn right then follow that around to our location.

While the Greens and Mr. & Mrs. Rambo went further north, we hooked a right and cut through the warehouse row to the far side. We arrived at the major street the inflato-course was off of well ahead of the others. The two teams were behind us and the Browns were no where in sight. Neither was the inflato-course, for the record. We headed south, and amongst much swearing and bickering (entirely from me) we finally came in sight of the cross street we'd all been looking for. My Fair Lady encountered a random piece of metal, cast off from a truck, that whacked her a good one on the shin. Her latest tetanus shot was, fortunately, just a few years back so we pressed on rather than amputate on the go. The other two teams were catching up to us because they'd decided it was a good time to run.

We booked it to the inflato-course where we were warmly greeted by the proprietor and his merry band of people. I yanked off my shoes, then dove headfirst into the course roughly 15 seconds after Mr. Commando had entered. I raced through the course, my years of gaming bringing to me the skill to make split-second decisions on how best to go over/under/through the course. Mr. Commando lacked for such awesome prowess, for I blew past him, scaled the final inflatable ladder, then heard My Fair Lady ask me if I was ready for my picture. The result is such:

I hurled myself out of the course, catching the camera in midair as My Fair Lady hurried off to begin the trial. Moments later she flew down the slide. We were then waylaid by M&L who struggled mightily to get "the perfect shot" of her coming down the slide. Finally, they finished the course (I think the fourth time) then just stood on the slide for the shot. Good enough, we thought and then moved it. With the generously provided lemonade slushies firmly in hand, we were then off and we were forced to make a decision - head back to the train or continue walking south to Flag Pole Hill. Our numbers crunchers did the math and found it to be six to one, half a dozen to the other. A half hour walk back to the train, only to wait for it followed by another 10 minutes south and then to walk over? Or should we just hike south?

We opted to hike south.

Along the way, we cut through a few neighborhoods and went off the beaten path. One team of racers ran past us as they headed from Flag Pole Hill up to the inflato-course. It should be noted here that we were walking downhill this whole time and they had been running up hill. Heh heh heh. After exiting the neighborhoods, we found the hill, counted the lone picnic table, and here was our victory shot:

It was then on to the train, and southward bound once more. As we arrived at the train, a few other racers were exiting and asked us directions. We were kind enough to share, knowing it had taken us roughly two hours to do this circuit that netted us exactly two shots. We figured we'd be in good shape if we could knock out the rest downtown. Once the train started south, we began to formulate our strategery.

Since we exited right next to the street of one clue, we worked to find the address. We stumbled onto it, lay down and high-fived one another as seen below:

We decided to head to the Farmer's Market next since the rest seemed to be grouped together near the finish line. We recalled a previous race where we spent a good hour and change looking for a stall with "Little John's" on a banner, and hoped this time it would be quicker. Fortune smiled upon us because we quickly tracked down the stall, which resulted in my favorite shot of the course:

Potassium firmly in our stomachs, it was off to the other side of downtown. At this point, the nagging sense of doubt began. Where the hell would we find 225 on a building, we all wondered? This part genuinely scared us, more so than finding someone with an out of state drivers license which we admit had been an awesome stroke of luck early on. We continued onward and past Dallas City Hall (aka OCP Headquarters) we came to the bronzed cattle drive. The clue told us to look for one cow with its eyes closed, its tail between its legs, and its hooves in a certain position. No trouble! Only about 30 of these suckers to look at. Between the four of us, we canvased many a cow that afternoon and when I look my grandkids in the eyes and relay this tale to them over hot cocoa many moons from now, I'll be able to tell them with perfect honesty that yes, granddad did spend too much time of his life looking at the underbellies of bronzed cattle.

"HEY!" shouted a female voice. It turned out to be some girls at a quinceanera. My Fair Lady waved frantically over the cows (how she expected me to hear her waving I don't know) and we all ran over to find the cow we'd been looking for. As seen below:

ONWARD! We hustled across a few streets to find the below image:

Apparently, this giant-ass screw makes perfect concentric circles in the sand every 24 hours. Basically, it's a Zen garden by way of Texas oilmen and it's hilarious to behold in person. Following this, we ran on to the next clue. The anagram we'd deciphered pointed us to the Old Red Courthouse, and the result was this picture:

13 wins by the 'Boys last year. Too bad the three loses were, you know, IMPORTANT games. PeteRock no doubt is snickering as he reads this part.

At this point we were down to our last clue - find 225 on a building. It was roughly 3:40 p.m. and we hadn't seen another team in some time so we had no idea what our place was. We scrambled, we talked to people on the streets, we even split up. Nothing. Then, My Fair Lady and I got a call from M&L who'd found it. We ran to where they were - right at the head of the tiny alley we'd walked through at the beginning of the race. The number 225 was scribbled on the wall right there as seen below:

If we'd looked to our right as we entered that at the very beginning, we wouldn't have experienced any panic. With the final shot snapped, we raced back to Dick's and landed on the finish line. We showed them our pics, and they told us we'd placed in the top 25 which meant automatic qualification into the Nationals. An hour later, we found out that My Fair Lady and I placed 16th on the list of north of a 100 teams. Hell yeah. Our final victory pose was with our medals at the finish line:

We have drunk from The Keg of Glory and damn if the taste isn't sweet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Anatomy of a Scene

I’m nearing completion on my feature (the first draft going out for review, any way) and I thought it might be time to do a quick run down of what exactly has transpired to bring it to this point. My Fair Lady has a tendency to underestimate the massive amount of work that goes into a feature screenplay, and my parents (good natured though they are) remain baffled that someone, let alone their eldest son, would voluntarily want to write for a living.

In hindsight, I think it may have been easier on them if I’d said I was gay. Instead, they’re stuck with a writer as their eldest, and an actress as their middle child. Brother G being the youngest seems to be the only responsible one since he went to work in The Vault.

I began the script back in my college days. It was my second semester as a Junior and my writing class was supposed to write a series of short scripts every week or so. No problem. I showcased how I could switch genres with each new script, regardless of what the topic was. Then the big semester grade hit – Write a short film, or a feature. Either way, it was due at the beginning of May (I think that’s when it was. This is 10 years removed.)

Naturally, I opted for the challenge of writing the feature. Why? Because I was an idiot.

So it gets to the Friday before it’s due. The table read for the two features was Monday starting at 7 p.m. I get back to my dorm from the house at around 8 p.m. I look up my script. Page 3. The blinking cursor flashed about halfway down the page.


So I started writing. And writing. And writing some more. I think I managed to get 15 to 20 pages written that night. By the time I blacked out it was around 5 a.m. I woke up about 8 a.m. and realized exactly what I was going to be doing for the rest of the weekend. I phoned my girlfriend telling her not to call me. I contacted friends explaining to them that all trips and distractions were postponed through that weekend. Then I started writing.

I don’t recall much beyond that, and that’s not because it’s been 10 years. Well, partly it’s not. Primarily, it’s because I was on such a Coca-Cola-fueled bender of caffeine, terror, and creative energy for those 72 hours that a literal black spot exists in my memory where that weekend was. I get flashes every now and then, but nothing substantial. Oh, and I didn’t sleep again until some time Sunday night when I blacked out again for a few hours. My girlfriend told me I walked into the school cafeteria wearing my pajama pants at one point. I do recall talking briefly to her and her friend but do not remember wearing pajamas. That’s as specific a memory of the weekend I have.

I wrote the script (which clocked in around 120 pages), printed it, raced to Office Max and had several copies made and bound. Then I raced straight from there to the film school where I sat down as everyone else entered the room for the table read. That’s how close I cut it.

The read went okay and everyone seemed to like it. My professor even gave me an A on the project, but I think that was more on account of the size of the project I endured than on the quality of the script. From my point of view, I thought it nailed the skeleton of what I wanted to do and say with it but that was all. I put the excess copies in a bin and put it aside with the understanding that one day I’d rewrite it into something better.

Fast forward 10 years and I run into my professor at Brother G’s graduation. The professor recalled the script and the general subject matter, praised it, and was disappointed I never did anything with it. I sat there next to My Fair Lady and in front of my parents slack-jawed. How the hell did he recall that? Do you realize how many of these things he’s read over the years? What made mine stand out? HOLY CRAP!!!

We came home and I pulled out an old copy. I got three pages in before throwing it out. “Awful” would be a charitable way to describe it. My guess was the idea behind the script is what stuck out. You know how when something good happens to you and you kinda think you recall it well years later but are, in truth, romanticizing what happened? Yeah, something like that is what I chalk up to regarding his memory of my script.

But I thought about it. Then I thought about it some more.

I fired up my screenwriter program and started writing. I wrote an entirely new opening scene that not only nicely segued into the meat of the story, but established everything I wanted to say in the film. I have a knack for writing killer openers, then flailing about in the middle and the end. Which is why I’ve worked for years to hone my technique.

But you know what? In four months, I’ve turned out what I think is a pretty dang solid script. Not perfect, but a dang good read. It’s commercial as hell while still being funny and scary and entertaining and surprising. Ten years later I still recalled the basic story and with a lot of changes to it, I think it works. I think it really works now.

I’m even happier with it as I’m re-writing it now for essentially the third time. I wrote 15 pages in my screenwriter software, and then exported to Word to do notes in my spare time. I wound up writing the rest of it on the fly here and there even though I kept meaning to go back to my specialty software. Around page 65 I said screw it and just kept writing in Word. Once it was done, I figured I would transcribe it all back into my other software so as to accomplish both proper formatting along with another re-write to smooth out transitions, gaffes, plot holes, etc.

It worked. For example, I wasn’t satisfied with how the bad guy and the good guy met in the Word draft, but I rewrote the scene as I got to it and it works better now. Not great, but better. I’m still reworking that scene in my head because I know there are better ways to do it. I think, however, I’m going to let that go for right now and get another opinion once it’s done. See what notes I get, then apply those to the scene. I have another idea on how to do the scene but it would take far more research than I have time for.

The goal of this was to bang it out in the span of a month or so. It’s now gone over four. But the end is in sight. Honestly. I’m in the mid-40s on the re-re-write now and I’m going to blaze through as much as I can in the next few days. If I can finish it by the weekend and get it to my former professor before heading out on a road trip for the weekend, I’ll be one seriously happy camper. Even if he comes back with “this sucks” it will at least be more feedback on my script writing than I’ve had in the last few years. Not to mention it’ll be a solid monster movie script right around Halloween which is as good a time as any to bombard Hollywood agents with it.

I don’t know if this will sell. That’s less the point for me right now, to be honest. I want to have this completed and sent to my prof for review, then hopefully he’ll send it to his agent with a disclaimer of “Read this now!” at the top. That’s what I want: My work in front of an agent’s eyes for the first time ever.

Regarding money, let me state exactly why every writer in Hollywood is a bullshit artist. To a one, all of them say the same thing: “Write what you want. If it’s good enough, it’ll sell. Don’t write with money in mind. Never do that. Write from your heart.”

Meanwhile, you’re slogging through your personal life story in script form which they know will never sell and they’re cranking out “John Tucker Must Die 2.” Never, ever, ever listen to one of these clowns when they tell you not to worry about the sale. It’s ALL about the sale. This is a business that involves art. It may have been reversed at some point, but not anymore. Thank you, “Star Wars.”

Writing “The Godfather” today will get you no where unless your name is Steven Spielberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, or now Christopher Nolan. If you’re established with a proven track record, you can get anything you want done (for the most part). If, however, you’re an outsider like me that no one has ever heard of then your tragic tale of woe and redemption ain’t gonna cut it. Not at all. Hell, it may not even make the festival circuit. If you have personal visions, and I have plenty, write them but do not lead with them.

Hollywood wants what will make them plenty of money, first and foremost. Awards are nice too, but between an Oscar and the grosses of “The Dark Knight,” which do you think studio executives are going to choose every single time?

Is that a deeply cynical view? Nope. It’s a realistic one. Hollywood is a business. It invariably learns the wrong lessons from success but this is where people can capitalize. If a script is rock solid and appeals to a broad demographic, then it will sell. I genuinely believe that. And will continue to believe that until my script gets shot down by every studio in town. At which point my tune shall change.

To that end, what I’m writing should ultimately be pretty solid. Maybe even “Lost Boys” solid if I’m lucky. I’ll settle for “Transylvania 6-5000.”

I’ll let everyone know if it sells. That sound of someone screaming at the top of their lungs will be me. I will likely also be jumping up and down at that time. Worst case scenario, I get feedback on a script my professor enjoyed when he first read it. Hopefully this time he’ll genuinely have something worth loving.

Stay tuned...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Times Are A Changin'

The Times They Are A Changin’ Come Nov.

My Fair Lady and I purchased our first house last July and closed mid-Sept. Right around one year later, we finally have improved it enough to where we’re satisfied with it. That’s not to say we didn’t like it to begin with. One thing everyone says who sets foot in the house is a variation on this sentence: “Wow, you’re place is so homey!”

It’s even more so now, baby.

We found out in March that we were expecting Holy Screaming Fury v.1 to release in November. Until we settle on an official title, I hath dubbed thee… Pending. We’re excited about Pending, but were more than a little nervous when we looked around Casa de Skim and realized how much work we had to do on the house prior to release. To wit:

• The designated nursery still had boxes in it from Sept.
• The office looked like Poland post Blitzkrieg, if the Nazis had used paper instead of tanks
• A grand total of four pictures were on our walls across the entire house. A large world map showing where we’ve been was hung in our main hallway when we first moved in. The other three were hung this year at my insistence. The remaining wall space was deafening in its emptiness.
• The fountain in the atrium remained hostile towards us. Whenever we plugged it in, it would grind and growl and call us names before allowing a bare trickle of water out. Said trickles would then fall over the edges and spill out onto the tile floor. Again, while the fountain would huff and puff and give me every reason in the world to kick its ass with a sledgehammer.
• The amount of empty space in our front and back yards bordered on ridiculous. After speaking with our neighbor, we learned that the previous tenant did not tend the yard as much as the tenant before them. The result was a series of gaping holes in our grass, branches from our SEVEN TREES in the front yard going every which way, and massive patches of dirt everywhere. This needed to be fixed, ASAP.
• Unwelcome boarders. We discovered in late fall of last year that several unruly squirrels in the neighborhood had long ago labeled our house a flop house. A hostel, if you will. Squirrels backpacking through North Texas were all welcome to crash at our pad for a while before moving on. I think I even saw a sign out once. Not only were they running across the ceiling through the night, but they weren’t even paying rent!

So what was the solution to all of these quandaries? Prioritizing.

That list may not be as long as my annual one to Santa (started a little early this year, Big Guy, so you may get two Fed Ex Overnights from me this year instead of just the one), but there are a load of subtleties per each line item. We have thus far fixed most every issue though, with the side benefit of my ongoing war against the bushy-tailed invaders inspiring notes for a new screenplay, and finished off the nursery and the office this weekend.

Then we figured it would be a smart thing to buy a chest of drawers from IKEA, one that would look nice and that we wouldn’t care about if Pending took up some red and yellow crayons and drew a mural devoted to Dora the Explorer on. Plus, the one we spotted a few weeks back was about half the cost of anything at genuine furniture stores. So we picked it up in the two boxes (we opted to go with the one made by the Poles instead of the Fins, a fact which I now find doubly amusing considering my earlier Poland reference was entirely off the cuff) and brought it home where I unpacked it last night.

My Fair Lady’s reaction was priceless. She walked in after I had everything unpacked and sorted accordingly, took one look and said, “Sweet merciful crap!”

I love a woman who can whip out appropriate “Simpsons” quotes.

“What? You were expecting something smaller?” I asked.

“I just wasn’t expecting so much… wow. Are you gonna be able to do all this?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “It looks fun.”

“FUN?!?!” Yes, she said it in all caps. “Do you know how many guys on The Nest would volunteer for something like this? No one.”

“Recall, dear, that I’m the freak who at five years of age complained that Santa was putting all my G.I. Joe toys together when that was something I wanted to do. My father, standing behind me unbeknownst to Yours Truly at the time, practically fainted from the combination of shock and joy at not having to work so hard every Christmas henceforth.”

What can I say? I like putting stuff together, though only to use. Models, with the exception of LEGOs, I consider a waste of my time. If I’m going to put something together, then I fully intend to use it on a daily basis for more than just a show piece. Toys, furniture, etc. all work for me. I also enjoy jigsaw puzzles, Scrabble, and long walks on the beach at night. Call me.

I managed to get about a third of the way through before sleep pimpslapped me upside the head. But on the whole it was a highly productive weekend. The office is done. The nursery itself is done, and all that’s left is furniture construction. This week will see the delivery of a genuine entertainment center with matching side tables, which will get all electronic cables off the ground and back behind locked doors so that Pending will not inadvertently strangle him/herself while gaming with Daddy.

This will be the culmination of the baby proofing necessary for Casa de Skim. We’ve been told repeatedly that nothing can prepare you for the changes in store. I disagree. I believe that the house can be as ready as humanly possible and once we throw the number of Poison Control and Dominos on the fridge, we will be set. The emotional journey is something entirely different, and one that I’m not focusing on at the moment. There are too many tangible issues on deck at present and the sooner those are knocked off the “To Do” list the better off we’ll be.

More stories to follow, especially once Pending hits release status.

PS – Regarding the fountain, the least it could have done is tell me its airway was constricted. I guess it was giving us a trial run for the last several months which we managed to fail spectacularly. “Is it supposed to sound like that?” “I don’t know, why don’t we dampen the sound in the room so it’ll quiet down.” Yeah, like that’s gonna fly with an infant. Upon taking it apart, draining it, then cleaning it out I found the water tube was bent in half. Fixed it, filled it up, works like a champ now. The fountain gave us failing grades across the board for taking so long to resolve its issues. We have filed an appeal, but the outlook is grim. More on this story as it develops.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Now Playing: Syriana

I find it amazing when a film is heralded as one of the best of "Insert Year Here" yet it succeeds only in repeating a previous film from the writer. In this case, writer-director Stephen Gaghan ripped himself off by retooling his script for "Traffic" and replaced the international drug trade with the international oil trade. Change the character names and he was good to go.

Overall, "Syriana" isn't a bad film at all, but it is one that I've seen before to the point where I knew the ending about 30 minutes in. For a film proclaimed as deep, heady, and impossible to predict that's pretty sad. I also don't understand why Clooney won an Oscar for his role. He's good, don't get me wrong, but Oscar caliber?

The film takes several branching paths so run with me for a moment. Clooney plays a burned out CIA operative who specializes in Beirut and the Middle East at large. He's conflicted about a missile sale that goes wrong right at the start, and works to regain approval from his bosses to return to the Middle East as soon as possible.

Matt Damon plays an energy analyst based out of Geneva, Switzerland, who trumpets the company line regarding oil futures. He, his wife (played by Amanda Peet), and their two sons live well based on his predictions and he's given an opportunity to sell his firm's services to a reigning Saudi emir. While at the party, a tragic accident strikes their family resulting in Damon working hand-in-hand with the emir's eldest son, played by Alexander Siddig (Yup, Dr. Bashir for you "DS9" fans).

It seems the eldest son is worried about being usurped by his younger brother who has the attention of oil interests lead by Christopher Plummer's character, a grizzled industrialist concerned only with controlling as much of the world's oil supply as possible. Meanwhile, Siddig's character wants to become emir so he can begin to instigate genuine reform in his country, and the region at large.

Naturally, other forces in the CIA and the oil industry, which is holding its breath pending a government greenlight on a merger between two massive companies with control of an untapped field in Asia, wouldn't appreciate the emir's son reforming squat. Meanwhile, two oil workers laid off begin their inexorable drift towards becoming suicide bombers.

Still with me so far?

The short of it is that every step of the oil trade is corrupt and nothing will change unless the oil runs out, or if the men in charge willingly change their practices to allow for the Middle East to implement honest reforms. What are the odds of either happening in our lifetime?

"Syriana" has a lot on its mind and it is a message worth hearing if only for the debate, but it would have been more of a landmark film had it not been little more than a carbon copy of one of the best films of the 90's.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Is this thing on?

Holy crap.

Talk about time flying and so forth once you get busy. It helps when your personal life spirals damn near out of control and by that I mean it totally consumes you. So let's hit a few highlights before moving on, shall we?

1) Last year I left my job on account of not getting paid for the three months prior. That would be too many pay periods by far, for those keeping score at home. A year later that account was settled up. Ahh, liens on deadbeat property enforced by the Texas Workforce Commission are a fun tool to keep in one's back pocket.

2) While out of work, attempted to make it as a professional writer. Quickly discovered that my lack of drive for the past year and change combined with my natural ADD tendencies meant I was not ideally suited to being my own boss. This resulted in...

3) Finding a temporary job as a substitute teacher at my old high school and middle school. The middle school I went to has long since been torn down and the shiny new one standing in its place made me resoundingly angry that I lacked such awesome tools when I was there. Back in my day we still had an abacus and WE LIKED IT, DAMMIT! This job resulted in pretty consistent work there on account of hitting it off with all the kids and knowing instinctively how to corral the anarchists among them. Finally, I got to deal with people on the same devious intellectual level as my own. Teachers kept calling me wanting me to cover for them, and the kids loved hanging with me. I now have a personal resume designed by two fifth grade girls hanging on my fridge because it's too adorable. More tales will follow.

4) My Fair Lady and I went through a pretty substantial personal loss last winter only to follow it up this spring by the discovery that Yours Truly packs a .44 Magnum that has six bullets in it, punk, and not five. Our little bundle of Holy Screaming Fury is slated to arrive on or about Thanksgiving of this year. Said spawn has already shown a predilection for chocolate brownie sundaes, hamburgers, and ice cream shakes. Definitely mine. Gender is unknown and will remain a mystery until the birth, and many names have been picked out. If you have thoughts or suggestions, feel free to throw them in the pot.

5) Yours Truly obtained a 9-5ish job as a writer this year. While it's in the industry of commercial real estate, something I plum knew nothing about, I know people and I know marketing and I know how to market to people. As such, I was slick enough in my interview to land the gig and have since been working steadily as a marketing guru designing brochures, documents, and the like until recently when I inherited the metrics project from Hell. I am not a spreadsheet guy but fatefully answered yes when El Jefe asked if I knew Excel. Subsequently, I found myself building an extensive database out of Excel which brings up thoughts of suicide roughly once every 45 minutes or so. This is actually down from once every 5 minutes when the project first started. Not sure if this is good or bad progress.

6) Script writing has been extensive to say the least. Wrote a script off and on all last year then finally finished it early this. I'm looking at it right now and it is desperate need of rewriting. Ran into my old college writing professor at school during Brother G's graduation in May and said prof recalled a script I'd written for his class, and expressed his disappointment that I'd never done anything with it. I returned home, pulled it out, skimmed it, threw it out, and started rewriting it from scratch. It's nearing the end and is 100X better than the crap I threw together in 72 hours 10 years ago. He is expecting to read it by the end of this month and shall, come Hell or high water. Ideally, he will pass this on to his agent who will reward me with a sale. Or a very nasty letter saying how much better this was when it was called "Titanic."

7) Also landed a scripting job two weeks ago for an animated short film. A former co-worker rang and wanted to adapt a children's book specifically targeted at cancer patients into an animated film. The idea was to script a short story from it (the book is a series of short stories told by animals to one another), have it professionally animated, then pitch it to possible investors. I turned in the script this past Thursday and my friend read it today and loved it top to bottom. I meet with her and the animator tomorrow and hopefully we'll get something going on this.

8) Also did a rewrite on another former co-worker's short film about spies and that was a lot of fun. He offered me a wordless part as a guy who gets sniped which of course I leaped at. Then his DP got a job working as the DP on Oliver Stone's future bomb W so obviously the short was put on hold. Expect it to resume sometime this fall. Said short is planned to be shopped to various festivals and no doubt my 15 second cameo will result in a sale.

9) The house My Fair Lady and Yours Truly bought last summer continues to take shape. The nursery has been finished save for the installation of new closet doors followed by furniture. But the room is painted, a new fan/ceiling light is installed, new blinds are hung, and the crib is built all courtesy of Yours Truly. Apparently, I know how to install lights on the quick which saves a ton on paying an electrician to do it. Next up is a new entry way fixture which we should pick up in the next few weeks.

10) The future of this blog remains in doubt. While I definitely need to blog more, I'm pondering changing the name to something else. Casa de Skim was funny for me, not so much for people actually looking for something which increasingly I see the value in. I guess it depends on whether I can actually post more than once every other year. Funny enough, I've actually kept up with blog posts but they remain on my flash drive. Call it laziness on my part but the more Word docs I see on that drive the less inclined I get to transferring them to this blog. I'll do it someday. Maybe.

And that brings us up to speed, pretty much. My primary focus now that the nursery is done is the completion of this full script. I'm currently in the 70s and the story continues on at full speed. The problem I hit with the script earlier in the year was that the story ran out around page 86. I know a subsequent rewrite will help that along, but the good news for the current script is that the story hasn't run its course at all. The way things look now it should blow past page 100 easily and in theory top out around pages 110 and 115. In theory.

More as it develops...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Oops, I've done it again

Look at that. Not a single post in close to a month. At some point I honestly may stop trying to convince myself that I'll post with anything resembling frequency but until that day I'll do what I can to remember I have a blog in the first place. I'm working on what can only be described as life-changing work at the moment, hence my temporary departure from the land of the living. It may not seem like much to the non-writers of the world, but for me it is a major league event:

The completion of my first full screenplay.

Technically it would be my second since I banged one out in 72 hours in college because I was on page 10 on Friday night and 110 more pages of it was due that Monday. But the one was a feeble skeleton held together by cliche and rote whatever, not to mention the caffeine bender from hell, and I think the professor gave me an A on it out of sympathy more than quality. I'd tell you what the details were but I honestly can't recall that weekend. There's a giant blank spot where it was and I had to rely on my ex-girlfriend's account of me walking into the college lunch facility wearing my pajamas to assemble anything close to a full memory.

As it stands, this is one that I've been working on for close to a year off and on and since I've finally, finally, finally decided to stop being, well, an indecisive tosser and actually be a writer, then it helps to finish one project before moving on to the next. The result goes something like this: I finish this script in either by or during this coming weekend. I print the entire monster out (which should be between 110 and 130 pages) then I'm going to let it sit on my desk for one entire week. If I have thoughts about it, I'll make notes and stickie them to the script. But I ain't making a single edit until exactly 168 hours have passed me by.

At which point, comes the re-write. Followed shortly thereafter by the polish, then the re-polish. During the one week interim period, I intend to get cranking on fine-tuning two outlines I've played with on additional scripts. One is a detective thriller and the other is a horror film. God only knows why but these things pop into my head and won't let go, so I may as well give 'em a chance to run around and play.

During this time I've been working as a substitute teacher to bring in additional funds to the household and believe me when I say there is a gigantor post coming about those experiences. I've also been burning through movies and should start posting those reviews shortly. In the meantime, know that I'm still around, alive, and actually working on being a professional at all this which includes my current job search for full-time employment. I have some good leads, applied to one in particular tonight I'm anxious about, and here's hoping I'll have something by my birthday in a few weeks.

For now, it's off to sleep and tomorrow I'll keep writing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


You know you're behind on your reviews when you have to pull up your Netflix queue history just to remind yourself of everything you watched in the last month. Plenty of reviews are coming over the next few weeks along with a some more stories and possible change of Blog title. "Casa de Skim" struck me as an amusing personal joke but not one any body outside of me is likely to find funny. As such, I will change the title of the blog soon once I decide on a better name for it.

Maybe then I might actually get some more traffic in addition to my parents. Hi mom!

Personal Best... ish

My Fair Lady queued "The Talented Mr. Ripley" this weekend and decided to watch it yesterday. She made it a grand total of 13 minutes in before declaring, "This is stupid!" That beats my record of making it 25 minutes into the film before deciding it was awful.

Yet for some inexplicable reason both my mom and Diva enjoyed it. Go figure.

Happy New Year 2008

Why not start off the New Year with a video that's just hilarious. And I mean that in the strangest possible way.