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This is normally a comic-book related site.  Not right now, though.

I decided to build a house.  That doesn’t mean I’m shopping around for real estate.  I’m going to design, contract, and build a house all on my own.  This means I have to study building codes and learn about permits and do a lot of research on furnace efficiency and r-value and carpet fiber and refrigerators and wind direction and toilet height and backsplashes… I simply won’t have time for Tiny Life any time soon.

So, probably through 2015, the majority of these posts will be about building a house.  And possibly about living with the In-Laws while the house is built.

The Bean Bar

beanbar-1I was in Detroit recently. I had to walk from the Holiday Inn to Cobo (a description of the hotel: One elevator smelled like fish; the other contained a broken Miller High Life bottle.  The swimming pool looked like several bathtubs welded together.  When I looked out the window, I saw two abandoned 10-story buildings. There was a warning by the TV that said “Do not answer the door, even if they claim to be from housekeeping.  Call the front desk immediately”).  Since I’ve recently taken up coffee-drinking, I thought this would be a good opportunity to expand my horizons beyond the local gas station’s selection of Chock Full O Nuts brand java.

Right across the street, on the ground floor of the Westin, was WBC Coffee.  Once I managed to cross the street (because of the non-existent traffic), I noticed that there is not a front door.  So I walked toward Cobo.

Right across the street from Cobo was The Bean Bar.  There was no line, no one was sitting at a table.  The only person in there was the older woman at the register.  Here was my conversation:

Clerk: Can I help you?

Me: Yeah.  Can I get a large hot coffee?

Clerk: Did you say large “hot” coffee?

Me, confused: “Yes?”

Clerk, visibly upset: “OK.  Just checking.”  She then tried three different carafes and they were all empty.  So she started making a new pot.

Since I like milk in my coffee, I said, “Since we’re waiting, can you put like an inch of milk in the bottom of the cup?”

Clerk, visibly upset: “Yep.”  She then poured the equivalent of a wet sneeze into the bottom of the cup.  Then, trying to fill the silence of waiting for a brew, she said, “You know, my father wouldn’t take a cup of coffee unless it was stirred with Pet Milk.”

Me, obviously confused: “Pet milk”?

Clerk, obviously confused at my obvious confusion: Yeah.  Pet Milk.

Me: Like milk from a dog?!

Clerk, audibly upset: Did you grow up in Michigan!?

Me: Yeah, up by Flint.

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This is Pet Milk, by the way

Clerk: “It doesn’t matter – Flint, U.P. – you should know about Pet Milk!”

There was a dull silence.  I asked for a little more milk.

It was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

 

Indoctrination of Little Girls

Two years ago, my kids discovered Play-Doh.  They got Play-Doh everything.  Play-Doh kitchen set, Play-Doh haircutting studio, they even got the Play-Doh cake decorator.  It turns out one of the Play-Doh accessories looks just like wang.

We all thought it was funny.  Ha ha, Hasbro messed up.  This’ll be a good story when they’re a little older.

This year they’re into My Little Pony.  Also by Hasbro.  Here’s an accessory to one of the princess playsets:

What’re you trying to do to my kids, Hasbro?

Fake

I don’t trust anything that says “It’s just like the real thing!”  Everything from Hydrox cookies to sex dolls – if it was as good as the real thing, the real thing wouldn’t exist.

I’m not saying there’s not a place for “fat free” or “Mike’s Hard fill-in-the-blank”.  I like Reduced Fat Cheeze-Its better than original (even though they both attack my bowels like Homer eating an orange); I like Caffeine-Free Mountain Dew better than the original (even though they both taste like a urinal cake dipped in cat medicine).  It’ s just that you shouldn’t buy something that completely replaces a vice without thinking there won’t be some sort of consequence.

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Mike’s Hard Enfamil: “We’re now openly encouraging under-age drinking”

My entire life, my mom has consumed a liter of soda per day.  As she’s aged, she’s switched over to Diet Pepsi because it’s diet; it’s better for you (even though study after study says otherwise).  When they say, “It’s just like the real thing!”, we think they mean “it tastes so similar to the thing you love but is probably killing you, won’t be able to tell the difference!”  What they really mean is “our product is chemically similar on our arbitrary sweetness scale.  Our beta-testing shows that your body will react in the same exact way to this completely synthetic substitute; therefore the lawyers tell us that we can legally say ‘It’s just like the real thing!’ even though we’re not quite sure exactly when we started playing God.”

Case in point; I was getting a cup of coffee when I noticed this:

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They have a specific spot for each of the “creamers”.  There is no cream in these; they are made from water, sugar, and vegetable oil.  Normally when I think “This coffee is a little strong” I also think “I should add oil”.

They have a spot for the “half and half”.  From their website: “creamers do not contain lactose. However, they do contain sodium caseinate, a milk derivative”.  Because when I think my coffee needs a splash of milk, “legally milk” will do just fine.

But they have no idea what to call the fake sugar.  Sometimes it’s Splenda.  Sometimes it’s Nutrisweet.  Sometimes it’s Aspartame, or AminoSweet, or Equal, or NatraTaste, or TwinSweet, or Cyclamate, or Sucaryl, or Erythritol, Zerose, Zsweet, Glycerol, ClearCut, Isomalt, Decomalt, DiabetiSweet, Lactitol, MaltiSweet, SweetPearl, Mannitol, Neotame, Dextrose, Saccharin, Necta Sweet, Sweet N Low, Sweet Twin, Sorbitol, Sucralose, Natrulose, Smart Sweet, Xylipure, Xylosweet… so they named it “Pink” and “Yellow.”  Because when I think that my brew is a little bitter, I think “two packets of yellow should do the trick.”

Time to Reexamine

Because of my family history, I do my best to avoid certain groups of people.

Some people would say it’s a good rule to avoid felons, but I’ve met some people who’ve been to jail, got their life straightened out, and now live pretty good lives (they still have self-destructive traits like leaving porn on their computer screens, but they try to keep it under control).  We all did stupid stuff when we were younger; we all have that one story that ends with “How are we still alive?”

So, instead of lumping groups of people together – and then consequently avoiding them – for what they’ve done, I’m lumping them together for what they do.

If you do anything on this list, I think it might be time to reassess your life.  Something is broken and you should fix it.

  • If you prepare to watch TV shows more than you prepare for a job
  • If your gas station attendant knows about your health
  • If you regularly drink out of a 2-liter bottle
  • If loud noises are amusing in and of themselves
  • If you have more than 150 college credits but no degree
  • If you have serious discussions about Wrestlemania
  • If you’re between the ages of 25 and 65 and work anyplace with an “apostrophe s” in the title
  • If playing the lottery is a legitimate investment
  • If anything in your house costs more than your house
  • If you get mad at imaginary characters
  • If you do things, not because they’re your responsibility, but because you want to avoid getting in trouble

I’m not saying any of these activities in-and-of themselves makes you a bad person.  It’s just that I don’t know of too many people with a retirement account that share these traits.

 

 

 

The OA Pitch Meeting

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If you’ve watched The OA, then you know there are moments of genius and there are also plot holes so gaping they inspired a new category of porn.

There’s no way this was planned.  Some of the scenes are absolute magic, simultaneously raising questions, completing thoughts, advancing plot, studying characters, and being original.  There are others plot points – like where it’s a big deal that everyone leave their front doors open and then it’s never brought up again – that must’ve been part of a different story and just got lost in the rewrite.

So, being a writer, I thought this is probably how the pitch to Netflix went:


Paul and Gary from Netflix start their Skype call to Brit Marling and Zal Banmanglij in order to hear their pitch of a new sci-fi series that they’ve been told is akin to their upcoming mega-hit Stranger Things:

Paul from Netflix: Hey guys.  Can you see us ok?  We’re big fans of your work.  Loved Another Earth.

Brit Marling: Thanks.

Paul: Who’s this?

Brit: This is my creative partner, Zal Batmanglij.

Gary from Netflix: Heh.  Yeah.  Barney GreenLanternBlip says he’s running late.  So let’s hear this idea; you said it’s a lot like Stranger Things?

Zal Bamanglij: That’s my real name.

Gary: Sure it is, slugger.  We think Stranger Things is going to be huge, so we’d love to have something that gives the public the ole one-two punch.  “Bap!”   “Kapow!”  Am I right BatmanGlee?

Zal: That’s what we’re going for, yes. Please stop mocking my name.

Gary: You got it, champ.  So give us the broad “Catwoman”-like strokes.  Make us purr.

Zal: This is a common name in –

Brit interrupts: It’s called The OA...

Paul: Ok.  I like it so far.  A weird name, but not too weird…

Brit continues: It’s about a woman, played by me, who gets kidnapped and is held prisoner in a basement for years.  She’s basically slave.

Gary: Anything gratuitous?  Is she forced to do something against her will but in the end finds that she’s actually into it?  And then she lets her husband know and they can finally get Colleen into that threeway I’ve always wanted?

Brit: No.  Nothing like that.  I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with anything like that.  Like I said, it’s closer to Stranger Things.

Paul: Sorry.  Continue.

Brit: The guy who kidnapped her keeps her in his basement – but it’s not a basement, it’s more like an underground lair; not just bricks everywhere with a pingpong table in the background.  It’s more like a cave…

Gary: The Bat Cave?

Zal to Brit: I’m just going to wait outside while –

Brit continues: …And the twist is that this kidnapper kills her over and over again.  She continually dies and goes to heaven.

Paul: Oh.  Nice.  Different.  So are there others with her?  One of the best things about Stranger Things is the dynamic between the characters.

Zal: Totally.  There are four other people with her down there.  They’re all killed over and over again and they’re all brought back to life.

Paul: I like it.  It’ll take a little work in casting, but it sounds good so far.  One of the best parts of Stranger Things is this nostalgic thing because it all happens in the 80’s.  Does this happen in the past too?

Brit: Part of it, yes.  The 90’s.  Maybe early 2000’s?

Gary: Not bad.  The Goldbergs is doing gangbusters.

Paul whispers to Gary: “Gangbusters”?  You sound like a Conan O’Brien character.

Brit continues: She escapes and convinces other people to help rescue the other prisoners.  But it happens in parallel narratives: one is in the past, one is in the present; that way, the audience experiences this nostalgia with the characters.

Paul: OK.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  So when they die and come back, does anything special happen to them?  Special insight or super-powers or something?

Brit: Oh yeah.  My character, Prairie, was blind but after she dies, not only can she see, but she can see into your soul.  Renata is able to seduce anyone when she activates her aura. There’s a kid who can heal instantly, Homer can send rays of light…

Paul: Homer?

Zal: That’s the love interest.

Paul: Homer, the blind poet, is the blind lady’s boyfriend?

Brit: Yeah.  Clever, huh?

Gary: A little too on-the-nose.  I take it Carmel BatMan here is going to play him?

Zal: For the last time.  The name is a common surname in many parts –

Brit: No.  He knows the vision, so we’re here to see if we can get him to direct a few episodes.

Paul: That’s ballsy.  Um.  Before you continue, I just want to say I like what I’ve heard so far, but it sounds really expensive.  From a production perspective, if you want to be like Stranger Things, you need to have an interesting/mysterious story…

Brit: Check.

Paul: …Nostalgic…

Zal: We already talked about that.  Check.

Paul: …Terrific actors…

Brit: Wait ’til you hear who we have lined up…

Gary: …and cheap.  There are almost no computer effects in Stranger Things.  The most famous person we had is Winona Rider and all she asked for was a chance to be on camera and as many cigarettes as she could fit into her Honda Civic.

Paul to Gary: Did I tell you that I found her here dressed up as Eleven last week trying to seduce one of the interns?

Brit whispers to Zal: Should I tell them Brad Pitt is willing to do this?

Zal to Brit: He’s not willing to do it for free.  I wonder if he can recommend anyone from Fury.

Paul: So.  Can we still do the story on the cheap?

Brit: Well, I guess we can do some old-school special effects.  Instead of using CGI when Scott regenerates, we can just play the film backwards.  Or when Rachel sings we can…

Gary: I mean cheap-cheap.  Netflix is almost three billion dollars in debt.  We can’t afford another Marco Polo.  I think we’re in agreement here that we like the idea, we like other projects you’ve done.  We even like your pitch: you’re making your own little Justice League-type series and you bring in BatManDoobie, here…

Zal: This is getting offensive…

Paul: We’re willing to give you eight episodes.  But you have to scale back on everything.  If we can make it on the cheap, we can make it.

Brit: Hold on…

Brit mutes the call and talks to Zal: I only wrote two hours of material!  I thought you said this was a movie pitch!

Zal to Brit: Well, you kept saying Stranger Things

Brit to Zal: How the hell are we going to make this into an eight-hour story?

Zal to Brit: You’re a good writer.  Just take the scenes you really like and expand them out.

Brit to Zal: But half these characters aren’t even characters.  They’re throwaways.  Look at their names: Prairie, Homer, Hab, Renata… and Scott?

Zal to Brit: That’s how you make it longer: add some backstory to Steve and Jesse.

Brit to Zal: I guess, but how do we make a two-hour story about superhero origins into a cheaper eight-hour story?

Zal to Brit: How about instead of the dual narrative of a plot in the present paralleled with a plot in the past, the audience hears the story along with the kids in the present?

Brit to Zal: Oh!  A frame narrative!  I like it!  It’ll be like the “story” is trapping her!

Zal to Brit: And what about instead of filming in Moscow, London, New York, and Paris like we planned, we do it in Michigan?

Brit to Zal: Or someplace in Canada that looks like Michigan!

Zal to Brit: Nice!  Detroit or Flint!  Lots of nice houses surrounded by lots of abandoned buildings! Now we’re thinking!

Brit to Zal: Yeah!  It’ll show the dichotomy of Prairie/OA!

Zal to Brit: I guess…

Brit to Zal: And when they die, instead of going to some CGI heaven, we can just put them in a mirrored room full of christmas lights!

Zal to Brit: I suppose if we do it tastefully, that would probably…

Brit to Zal: And we can cut out the super-expensive sub-plots, like why Hab wants to keep his tomato-allergy secret or why the angel takes Prairie’s eyes…

Zal to Brit: Aw, those are my favorite…

Brit to Zal: And what about, instead of expensive superpowers, they all just dance creatively!

Zal to Brit: I’m not sure how that’ll…

Brit turns off mute: WE’LL DO IT!

 

 

 

How We Really Got Here (part 5)

To review:

Because of constant internet we’ve turned regular speech into Hyperbolic Speech and any news into Personal News.  Because there is No Longer Religion, any outrageous claims can Now Be Considered Factual.  If you take these ideas and put them together, you get a series of clichés: “A storm is coming” or “you just don’t get it” or “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” or…

Reason 5: “Any Change is Good Change”

I think we can all agree that the political waters of washington have gotten pretty murky.  Like looking at the basement collection of comic books after the sewer backs up – with the number of lobbyists working and the idea that money = speech and the idea that corruption can’t be proven unless there is a direct quid-pro-quo – it’s difficult to see everything we used to love.  More than that, most of what we can see doesn’t add up.

Most Americans aren’t making the money they used to, yet the stock market is astoundingly high.  The people we vote into office are supposed to represent (hence the name) us, yet most politicians vote however they want.  The people who do what they’re supposed to keep getting screwed over while the people who screw up keep getting bailed out.  No one wants another season of Grey’s Anatomy.  People are fed up.

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Or, if you’re in Japan, “…that many tentacles in your face.”

We don’t want the same ole same ole because it doesn’t seem to be working.  Something is broken.  “Politician” is literally “one who compromises”, but we don’t see compromise anymore.  We see grown men tweeting their dicks and women getting shouted down because “la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you“; as we all know, nothing gets done when there’s that many penises in your face.

So we want something different.  Anything different.  We’ll take professional wrestlers, actors, reality TV stars, and business owners instead.  Even though it never works – check out Florida or North Carolina or Michigan – we keep trying.  And so we get Trump: a business owner, reality TV star, actor, and professional wrestler.

Maybe he can get me that raise I’ve waited a decade for.

Maybe he can get my retirement back.

Maybe he can stop bailing companies out who don’t deserve it.

Maybe he can get the legislature to start listening to me.

Chances are, though, he’ll do what a business owner, reality TV star, actor, and professional wrestler always do: try to fix problems that aren’t problems in order to boast that he fixed problems.

How We Really Got Here (part 4)

I’ve gotten quite a few responses from the last few posts (part 1, part 2, part 3).  There’s a lot of “you’re just angry you lost” or “get over it” or “You can’t stand it that someone’s in office that represents me” – type of replies.  I also got a few troll-like replies that may or may not have insinuated that I commit suicide through extra-homosexual means.

That’s a lot of passion.  It takes time and energy and thought to come up with those responses to a listicle that was fairly even-handed.  Where does all that passion come from?

Reason 4: No One is Religious Anymore

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A VCR in 1988 cost as much as a Samsung 65″ 4K UHD 3D wifi smart tv today

By all measures, religious attendance is down.  Frankly, I think it has something to do with being comfortable.  They say “There are no atheists in a foxhole;” it works the other way too: “Everyone’s an atheist in Heaven.”  All cars work.  Air conditioners are as expensive now as they were in 1952.  TVs are practically free.  We have so much food available that we throw away 40% of it.  Cell phones are so necessary that the government will give you one if you can’t afford it.  We have everything we need; we already live in heaven.  And in heaven, you don’t need God.

But, as a species, we can’t evolve that fast.  Most of human history has been so miserable – hiding from tigers, outrunning ice ages, suffering the spanish inquisition, pretending Morrissey is good – that we’ve needed a belief that this life is just a transition; we’ve needed to believe that something better happens after we suffer through this foxhole we call a life.  We can’t go from being constantly uncomfortable as a species to being continuously fellated while a slow-drip of cocaine, caffeine, and high-fructose corn syrup is inserted into our veins in the ten seconds Netflix gives you to choose if you want to watch the next episode.  That need to believe in a higher power – that need to believe in something we can’t understand – has been replaced.

By what?  By goddamn anything.

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“Because only bacteria that are registered trademarks keep me regular.”

Anyone you know who is super into something – exercise, veganism, coffee, honesty, their pets, their kids, their job – is doing so because there is no higher power to be a part of.  “Kale flushes me of the toxins that build up in my colon” or “I quit my job to homeschool my kids” or “porn is full of anti-oxidants”  actually means, “Since I don’t have a religion to help demystify things I don’t quite understand, I’m going to believe in something equally outrageous!”  This replacement of religion also works for global warming, race relations, abortion, gun control, health care, immigration, taxes, wealth inequality, and war.

So now we have two sides, the super-democrats and super-republicans (because no one makes sane, middle-of-the-road choices), who are literally religious about their beliefs in actual problems.  People actually believe that it’s not getting hotter; people actually believe guns protect against break-ins; people actually believe that health care shouldn’t be equal.

And how do you change someone’s religious beliefs?  Yell louder (that’s how you get holy wars)?  Inundate them with facts (evolution and the age of the universe are two good reasons the Bible might be wrong)?  Point at the guy behind the pulpit (I would think all the child abuse might deflect some parishioners)?  Point out the moral inconsistencies of their own faith (Jesus is all about love, unless you’re into other dudes)?  Or do we just stop engaging?

I’m honestly asking.  I don’t know how we can collectively talk everyone out of their own personal religions and deal with reality.