Saturday, May 28, 2005

Time for a Little Baseball

Our Friday Morning Outing

With Julie working, Joe and I get our mornings together. There's just no better way to spend it than with a little bit of exploring. Buffalo may be a rotting industrial corpse, but damnit, it's my corpse. Unlike the popular impression of the city, we're surrounded by nature. Buffalo sports numerous parks, and interesting places to explore. This is a trail behind our house that follows a small creek. Perfect for packing our bags and having a picnic.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Dark Side: Review of Star Wars

Star Wars fans are the abused husbands of geekdom. George Lucas treats us like dirt, and while we're whimpering in a corner nursing our black eye we whimper to ourselves "he used to be such a good man". We think back to when we were younger and in love. Everything was flowers and candy. He gave us lightsabers and space battles. Wookies and scoundrels. He left us for a long time, and when he came back things just weren't the same. Oh, we tried to fool ourselves into thinking that the relationship would get better, but it never did. We tried to excuse his behavior to our friends. "you know, Jar Jar wasn't that bad. Besides, it's not like dialog is really important in a movie." We didn't believe it in our hearts, and neither did our friends. They shook their heads and wondered if we would get the help we need.

George Lucas must have been visiting Dr. Phil or something, because after two movies or treating his audience like dirt he actually gave us a pretty decent film. Really.

I'm part of a generation that grew up on Star Wars. As a wee lad I remember my Star Wars t-shirts, my action figures, the board games and every other single bit of memorabilia that I could get my little fingers on. There wasn't an internet back then. We would scrape and beg for even the smallest scrap of information about Star Wars. We would get excited about Mark Hamill appearing on the Muppet Show. We would argue on the playground for hours about plot points and what was going to happen in the next movie. I even watched the Star Wars Christmas special for christsake, and that had Bea Arthur singing.

When the prequels came out, there was electricity in the air. It was the end of the nineties and the geeky Star Wars kids had conquered the world. The kid with the Darth Vadar lunchbox had become the computer designer driving the economy. The prequels were going to be a vindication of a whole generation. IT departments across the nation were shut down the day of release. This was going to be greatest moment of our lives.

Then we saw Phantom Menace and boy did it hurt. We walked out of the movie trying to find it's redeeming qualities. Perhaps Jar Jar wasn't that bad. You know, it's not like C3PO wasn't annoying back in the day. Hey, it's for the kids. We were just jaded adults, and the movies weren't really meant for us. Perhaps the first three Star Wars films weren't that good either.

Eventually we accepted the truth. They just weren't very good films. Cringe worthy for adults, and too boring for kids. The first two movies forced us to accept that Star Wars was dead. No worry. We always would have our memories.

I was going to skip the third movie. Wait until it came out on video. Then something happened. My son discovered Star Wars. Watching a borrowed DVD he watched as the Star Destroyer crawled along the screen in the opening, and jumped for joy as the Death Star was destroyed. Everything he held became light saber. He would echo lines from the movie, telling my wife "help me mommy. You're my only hope." Sometimes we live through our children, and watching the movies with his eyes, that old love came back. We watched the Clone Wars cartoon, and both cheered as Yoda swept away armies of droids. Here's a boy not much younger than I was when I first discovered Star Wars. I didn't have a choice but to buy a ticket to Revenge of the Sith on opening weekend.

The first hour and a half of the movie isn't really much better than the previous two. The actors are still wooden, the story muddled, and it offered not much more than gratuitous eye candy. Moments of the film were unwatchable. Natalie Portman sucked the life out of every scene she was in. My hope is that in the directors cut they replace every scene she appears in with a picture of a puppy. It couldn't be any worse is all I'm saying.

Then something happens to the movie. In the final hour it suddenly becomes everything that the kid inside of me wanted to see on the screen. We watch the descent of Annikan and the rise of Darth Vadar. The echoes of previous films ring loudly as he's seduced by the dark side. We know how it's going to end, but we don't care because we're captivated by it. The performances become gripping and you finally get a sense of the tragedy that Lucas is trying to tell.

It ain't prefect, but it works.

There are faults. For one thing, it's not fair to the generation of young fans my son's age. It becomes far too dark for children to see. When the anti-hero slaughters a room full of children, it just isn't something I want to have to explain to my son.

Yet in the end, the final film provides a justification of my childhood love of Star Wars. You're still a bad director, George, and I'm still waiting for you to give me back the six hours of my life I wasted watching the first two prequels, but at least you stop beating us up long enough to give us a big wet kiss at the end.

Now I just have to explain to Joe why we have to leave the theater before the movie is over when we see it next weekend.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Pictures from a darn nice saturday

Julie vs. the paparazzi

Didn't you used to be somebody?


Better luck than his dad

Picnic In the Park

There are days when the term "thank god it's Friday" just makes perfect sense.

After a week of work, surgery and poor weather, it was time for a break. With the sun shining bright and warm, Joe and I got into the car and headed down to Delaware Park for a father/son picnic. Joe was excited as he opened his happy meal and saw that he had gotten a Yoda figurine from his Happy Meal.

Laying on the grass I had a moment of perfect clarity and peace. Offer me the world, and I wouldn't trade it for being right there, right then. There was nothing else that could have been more perfect than sharing a meal with Joe, soaking up the sunshine and the surroundings. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Sadly for Joe, he lost Yoda while playing in the park. The boy is good. Instead of crying or screaming, he simply retraced his steps and sadly accepted that Yoda was gone. He's a good boy who handles disappointment well. Somewhere, Somehow I'll have to get him another one.

Now it's the weekend. A time to kick off the shoes and enjoy my family.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Odds and Ends

There aren't many things me and Buddha can agree upon. I like to eat meat. I think there are many problems that can be solved with a baseball bat. One thing, however, I think he was on to was the concept of suffering coming from desire. Separate yourself from desire and you're on the road to a content life.

It wasn't that it was a bad weekend or anything, just not what I had hoped for. It was going to be a springtime weekend with my family, a concert with my wife and friends, and hours and hours in front of a card table. Instead it was a weekend of cold weather, a boy recovering from surgery, and a poker session that lasted one single hand.

Joe is recovering from his ordeal, but not as quickly as we had hoped. On Saturday the continued bleeding and the swelling concerned us enough to bring him back to the hospital. You have to hand it to Children's Hospital. They arranged for a nurse to meet us at the door so we wouldn't have to check in and pay money. They conducted the examination in the bathroom and gave the boy a clean bill of health.

Julie convinced me to go the Asylum Street Spankers concert anyways. I can't say enough good things about the band. If any group puts on a better show, I haven't seen it yet. The Spankers are not your typical band. They don't fit into any real category. They play swing, blues, country, hip hop, punk, classic rock, bluegrass and three or four other styles...Often at the same time. You can see a video of them here.

Had a great dinner with my parents on Sunday. It was good for the boy to get out of the house. Poor kid is going stir crazy, and dragging his parents into it with him. By Yesterday I was climbing the walls, looking for something to do. Keeping a four year old still is much more work than keeping him occupied. If not for video games, we would have had to use handcuffs to keep him down.

As for poker.....well, the less said the better. It's the only game where you can make the right play, your opponent makes the wrong play and yet you still lose. So much for playing nice and tight on Sunday.

Bits and Pieces

I sent this story to my Aunt Claire last week. I would like to assure people that no actually midgets were hurt in the making of the web page.

This is why I'm not seeing Star Wars on Thursday night.

What a bad year for journalisim. The "Newsweek Lied. People Died" meme is overblown, but adds to the growing distrust of the mainstream media. Trust and objectivity is the only thing the media has going for it. When you risk those things to make headlines, you risk your whole business. The scenario of EPIC 2014 doesn't seem that far off the mark. Smart search agents and firsthand blogging may very well be the way that Joe gets the news when he's an adult. The newspaper business kept a roof over my head and fed me as a child. A world without newspapers doesn't appeal to my sensibilities. Then again, I'm sure people felt that way about town criers as well.

It's E3 time. This is the first year when I'm not sad about sitting it out. It took about 4 years, but my love affair with the game industry has come to an end. I've written about the game industry and it's problems before, and they don't seem to have gotten any better. If it's a bad time to be a journalist right now, it's even worse for people who make video games. Between outsourcing, low profit margins and ballooning budgets, it's amazing that any decent game is produced.

Speaking of games, here's a timewaster.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Another Year Older

As every cranky ol' SOB can relate to, birthdays become progessivley less fun after the 29th. Instead of spending the night closing down a bar with a tattooed wench on your arm, you instead spend the evening going over retirement plans, and making checklists for the year ahead.

Recently I've been making a list of goals for the coming year. Digging out the one from last year, I didn't do too shabby.

Find a better job. Check. I had some help with this one. I tip my hat to the lying, cheap scumbags at Adelphia for letting me go. The new job is much better.

Become a better husband. Well, I made some progress on this one. I no longer spend the night browsing Filipino mail order bride catalogs, so I guess I'm doing better. I also stopped beating Julie for minor infractions. I save it for the big issues, like making the coffee too weak.

Take over the world. I have to be honest. The plan to train Joe's hamster to lead an army of small mammals didn't work out as well as I planned. You can't win them all.

Well, here we go again. Another year where I can sit back and just enjoy the fact that everything is working out pretty well. I have a great family, a roof over the head and a full stomach. As soon as I get the kinks of worked out of the that whole world domination thingie, I should be fine.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Boy Did Good

The alarm went off at five, and in the back of my mind I thought"why is the alarm on? I have the day off!" Then I recalled why I had the day off. It was the day of Joe's surgery, and that's never something to look forward to.

Joe needed a circumcision to take care of a case of phimosis. Just thinking about it enough to make any man a bit queasy. Joe had been pretty mellow about the whole thing. In our best imitation of good parents we tried talking to him about it and reassuring him that everything would be alright. He would just shrug and go on about his four year old business. Did he really understand how serious it was?

Apparently so. He went to the hospital without a single complaint. Although not thrilled by the prospect of the IV tube, he didn't mind it too much. We arrived at seven and were checked in. One child, waiting for surgery, was wailing in the corner. Another was being berated by his father for playing with girls toys. Joe, on the other hand, was simply delighted that the hospital had video games, courtesy of the Starlight Foundation. The nurses were delighted to have Joe. On of their easier patients. As one nurse came in to talk to Joe to calm his fears, he pushed her aside so he could keep playing video games. Truly his father's son.

Joe was put under for about an hour. He awoke asking not where his Mother or Father were, but instead where his gameboy was. The little junkie. The doctor warned us the patient was not to engage in physical activity or sexual relations for a week. The neighborhood girls will be so disappointed.

He was a little woozy, and his male member was bloody, raw, and wrapped in bandages.

Now he's home and playing Spiderman on the PS2. For our little trooper it was just another day of adventure. Me, I could use a drink.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Twas the Night Before Surgery

Twas the night before surgery
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring....

Well, that's not true. Right now the cat is going nuts and the hamster is running in a wheel. I'm unable to sleep, but aside from that it's pretty still.

Tomorrow Joe goes in for his surgery. He's fine. It's just his parents who are nervous wrecks.

Today my Mom came over for a combination Pre-Surgery/ My Birthday dinner. We had a good time. Mom sat down and Joe went right up to her to sit on her lap. It's either the love of a grandson and his nanna, or he was just really happy to get books and baloons. With a four year old it's tough to tell.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Poker Night

There are many things that weren't too great about being unemployed. One of the things that bothered me was the lack of card playing. Since moving back to Buffalo, I've been throwing down cards every Sunday with my friends. I sat out a number of weeks before I was convinced to take a marker. Turned out to be a good move. Poker wining during March paid the bills until I landed my latest gig.

"Casino Buffalo" was looking ratty. Mike and Karl have been hosting the game for over ten years now. The Poker table has seen a great deal of action over the past decade. The green felt was worn, and there was a seat where some nasty nails tended to snag your sleeves. Over the weekend we put new felt on the poker table, added a finish to it and replaced some broken boards.

"Casino Buffalo" has it's charms. The mini-bar is full of beer, and liquor bottles line the mantle underneath the painting of dogs playing poker. The dining room the house is dominated by the poker table. A police portrait of ol' Blue eyes looks down from his poster, and signs warn new players that the casino is monitored on cameras.

Mike is an aggressive player who, a couple of years ago, decided he liked playing poker better than working. Karl is a chef at an upscale restaurant, and a methodical player. It's a good group. Usually there are two or three full time card players who show up, and chumps like me who like to throw money at them.

I wasn't about to turn down a chance to play on the refinished table. The only problem was that it was Mother's day, so the game started late...and I had to work early the next morning. Pity. Blood was in the water. We had a new poker player that night, two drunks, and my favorite walking bag of money showing up that evening. Blood was in the water, and the chum was making us all a little giddy.

I had told myself that I wouldn't stay past midnight. We didn't start playing until 11:45. Dragging myself away was pretty rough. After a series of bad calls and mental errors I managed to finish slightly up for the night. I caught myself trying to justify staying. After all, I reasoned, I was making more money per hour there than I do at work, and with everyone drinking it would only get better. Fortunately I have a wife who would kill me if I blew my new job. There's a reason why most full time gamblers are single.

There's allays next week.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Why summer is great

Joe chillin' with his lady friends.

Taking a break

Joe reading a comic book, while taking a break between our adventures yesterday.

We needed it. Yesterday was one of those glorious, busy days that leaves a person tired and smiling after. The day started off with Joe and I getting chores done. Going to the bank, doing some shopping and getting ready for T-ball. Joe was exhausted and it wasn't even noon.

We continued on with a drive to Lockport and then to the comic book store for Free Comic Day. We stopped back home to see if Julie wanted to join us on adventures (she needed her sleep and her quiet so the answer was no.) then visited Mike and Karl's house for another cookout.

Mike and Karl had decided that the poker table was in bad shape and needed to be fixed. We disassembled it, re-felted the table and put a nice dark wood stain on it. Joe helped out the whole time, following behind us with a bag to collect the screws and stapling the felt on the table. Joe took the remnants of the felt and created a costume for himself. With a green felt hood and cape he took a handful of cards and was dubbed "the Green Gambler". Someday in the future, when Joe is competing in the 2020 World Series of Poker, we'll have to take the picture that Ian had taken of Joe in the getup and give it to ESPN to embarrass him.

For ten hours Joe and I explored, adventured, worked and played. It's why I love summer time so much.

Free comic day

Saturday was free comic book day.

Free comic day is an attempt by publishers to revive a dying industry. We went to Queen City Comics in Buffalo, where they had set up boxes of back stock for kids to grab as many books as they wish. Children crowded the tables, lured by the promise of free stuff. Great idea, right? Well, sorta.

The comic industry is in bad shape. When I was reading comics as a kid, an issue was canceled by the publisher if it sold under 500,000 copies. Today a best seller is an issue that sells 100,000. Today kids are more aware of the characters than they ever have been. Just not from the comics. Every kid can name Spiderman, or Wolverine or Batman. They've seen the cartoons, they've played the video games and paid big bucks for the movies. Why aren't they buying comics then? Well, many reasons have been offered. Some suggest that kids just don't read any more. Of course, you would have to ignore the sales of Harry Potter or a Series of Unfortunate Events if you wanted to believe that. Another suggestion is that kids don't have the disposable income to spend on comics. They cost 3 dollars after all. Is this the reason? Well, take a look at video game sales. Kids plop down sixty dollars without thinking every week. Kids today have more cash than ever. So why are comics dying?

The real reason is that comic book writers are making comics for people my age and they need to stop it. Read an article about any comic book writer. They all dismiss the notion that comics are just for kids. They'll stick their nose up and sniff that graphic novels are an artistic and mature art form and it deserves respect. Most of us in the real world will scratch our heads and wonder why if it's a mature art form everyone wears spandex and carries a big gun, but don't expect that to stop the comic book writer. Superman has become a murderer, Batman an unhinged psychotic, Spiderman a married man and every single other beloved character a dark vigilante driven by sinister urges. Whatever happened to the colorful spinner racks in the 7-11 proudly screaming "Hey Kids! Comics!"?

Comics today are unfriendly to casual readers. They're even more unfriendly to the people who should be reading them...children.

So was Free Comic Book Day a success? Well, Joe loves his comics. He's excited by a promise that once he can read I'll buy him a comic each week. I just don't have the heart to tell him that there really isn't a comic each week that's available for him to read. I don't have the heart to tell him that even if he can read he wouldn't be able to find an issue of Spiderman written for someone under the age of twelve. Because of that, he'll never have the box of comics. He won't have the hours spent reading comics under the covers of his bed with a flashlight that so many kids have in the past. He'll never be a regular comic reader, and it's the comic book industry's own fault.

Ten years from now they'll still be scratching their heads wondering why sales have fallen even more than they have today.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

First Ball Game

First Day of T-Ball

What do you get when you combine a horde of parents, a mob of four year olds and one harried instructor? Why, you have T-Ball, of course! Despite the gray sky, the weather was warm and the day perfect to hit the field.

This is the first team Joe ever played on. He got the hang of it like a pro. He would hit the ball and head to first base in a blur of frenzied activity. Of course, figuring out which direction to run is the tough part.

Friday, May 06, 2005

How My Brain Works Pt 1

I'm tired. I need to sleep. I have to wake up early tomorrow.

I won't go to bed because I want to watch the rest of a rebroadcast of a hockey game that took place over eight years ago and that I'm currently recording on my DVR. It's not like I don't know the result, or that I couldn't finish watching tomorrow. Nope. I need to stay up to watch.

Joe on a cannon at mount hope cemetary last summer....what a guy.

Any excuse for BBQ

We celebrated Cinco De Mayo last night. Not because we're big fans of Ignacio Zaragoza or anything. It had more to do with the fact that the cold spell is over and spring has returned again. If that isn't a good enough reason for a BBQ, I don't know what is.

The party was over at Mike's house. Mike is a poker buddy and Joe loves to visit him and his roommates. It might be the action figures around the house, or just Joe's conviction that my friends are nocturnal creatures. In his words, "they're always asleep during the day. They must be nocturnal!" To him, visiting my friends is more fun than going to the zoo.

As always, the boy was on his best behavior. Roxy, who bartends as at my favorite watering hole, couldn't get over him. Her small dog, Mr. Pickles, was a bit less in favor of a 4 year old boy running around the yard. Of course, we're talking about a dog who is also afraid of sudden movement, people talking or gravity so being afraid of Joe seems mild in comparison.

The boy ate his meal at the poker table. He should feel comfortable at it. It's where most of his toys and his bike came from. He should learn the lesson that money doesn't grow on trees. Instead it has to be extracted from suckers drawing to an inside straight. Or something like that. I'm not too good at the fatherly lessons.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The New Bike

When spring first hit Buffalo, it was clear the boy needed a new bike. The problem? Well, I was out of work and a bike just wasn't on the budget. The solution?


Here it is!

So I'm still playing around with the photo options. I have to admit I'm liking google software a great deal.

Here's a picture of Joe from Steamboat Springs.

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Joe Vs. The Snow Monster Posted by Hello