Blood, Breasts and Beasts: Happy Birthday Dad

Right now it’s March. Where my family lives in West Virginia, the month of March is wild and schizophrenic. You might start on a Monday in a blizzard, and get 80 degrees by Friday, and back again. You have to be prepared for every possible scenario. The landscape will remind you that it doesn’t necessarily want you there. Every few days is a roll of the dice.

Having only one kid is the paternal equivalent of flying into West Virginia in March. You could get a nice warm day, or you could be under 16 inches of mountain snow.

I’ve been very fortunate that I was raised by parents with a demeanor like mine. I could have been rambunctious and volatile, but thankfully we all got along, with what anyone would describe as only the most minor of hiccups during adolescence when the sudden injection of testosterone imbued me with an outsized interest in theoretically naked women and breaking into derelict buildings.

More dramatic even, I could have had parents that weren’t patient, clever, and even-tempered. I was instead, very lucky.

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Last year I scrounged the internet for a signed (pool legend) Willy Mosconi 10 ball. In wanting to go a different direction this year, I thought it would better to go abstract, and create something that doesn’t really exist at all, this dumb internet article. There isn’t anything less like a 10 ball than an internet article. You can’t hold it in your hand to judge the weight and perfect sphericality of the thing. You can’t put it in a little case, and put that case on the shelf.

This weekend I hosted a “Bad Movie Night” event, which I do on occasion in my back yard to celebrate both our new spring weather in California, and pay homage to Terry Hess, who was a cool enough of a Dad to record two terribly awesome movies onto a vhs tape, and invite me to watch innumerable scary and awful midnight movies on the USA Network when I was a kid.

So at Bad Movie Night we screened two of those vhs ripoffs, first “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl’a’rama” rolled as we got the party was getting started. A fraternity/sorority prank goes badly when a group of oversexed nineteen-year-olds break into a bowling alley, and break open a trophy than contains a demon (imp, apparently), that for looks like a Boglin and speaks jive for no apparent reason. He turns a few of them into a shitty zombies, or something, and the rest of the movie everyone runs around, has terribly unmeaningful conversations, and grabs each other’s boobs.


Second, we screened the other hit that lived on that vhs, “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh”, which is in the very small genre of 80s horror parodies that was both intentionally funny, and morbidly ridiculous (see also BODY COUNT). There’s nothing about Bloodsucking Pharaohs, which takes place in the “Little Egypt” neighborhood of Pittsburgh, that isn’t satisfying. Not the least of which the sidebar where the detective’s voice-box-talking wife, in order to cure her smoking habit, is taken to a white-walled clinic and abused by men in Gorilla masks and sprayed with fire hoses in a kind of Stanley-Kubrick-meets-THS-1138 style.

Dad, you did a good job making sure I wouldn’t spend all my time setting fires, or, as you would put it “Don’t ride a motorcycle or smoke crack, other than that you can do whatever you want”.


I think my parents are shocked when I quote them verbatim from when I was fifteen, twelve, or eight. I’m someone who doesn’t appear to be paying any attention, when in fact I’m paying so much attention it makes my brain hurt, and I have to look away just to escape the glare.

So here’s to my Dad, who taught me a lot more important things than throwing a baseball, and driving pre-power-steering American cars, but also how to stay up and laugh at dumb movies, because it’s pretty much better than everything else you can do with your time. Sorry you can’t put this on the shelf, but you probably have that old vhs laying around somewhere.

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Vacation is a complicated word.  The most important ingredient in a vacation is that it be a separation from your usual routine, that it is other than, strange, novel.  The way novelty is sought after comes primarily in two flavors, that of the basker and the conqueror, and they are inherently at odds.  Baskers want to escape the tensions of their life by situating themselves in an ideal setting, frequently with beverages and views of water or majestic landscapes, and not look at the clock.  I’m a basker.  Baskers are better people than conquerors, who are human monsters.  Conquerors make lists, lists of “essential”, “must do” activities and “must see” attractions that absolutely must be gotten into, waited in line for, and checked off, because every conqueror is a Pac-Man, chased by the ghosts of their mortality into the illusion that if they just gobble fast enough, smart enough, they can “win” at their vacation.  Fuck the conquerors.  Fuck Pac-Man.  Give Inky and Blinky a strawberry martini and let everyone munch pellets at their own pace, because as we all know, no matter how fast and efficient Pac-Man goes, the game just gets harder and faster until game over, man.  Game over.

So, when I was looking for vacation options for a babefriend’s birthday weekend, I already had my sights set on this place called Hicksville Trailer Palace in Joshua Tree, about two hours and change east of Los Angeles, for anyone not living in Candyland.  Joshua Tree is kind of what you might describe as the redneck Palm Springs.  I’d heard of the place years earlier through friends, and cross-promotion of an event that they do in Downtown LA called Devil’s Night, which is a kind of drive in on top of a parking garage.

Hicksville is like a fancy motel where each room is actually a stand alone trailer, ranging from the 40’s/50’s through the 70s, of very motley size, aesthetic, and amenities.  Each of the trailers is profiled on their site, and going through I found one called “THE LUX”, as in Lux Interior, the wild and perverse front man for crass and kitsch Psychobilly band THE CRAMPS. The band being a personal favorite of mine and an absolute favorite of aforementioned babefriend, my mind was made up. The Lux was booked for our second night there, so I picked, nearly at random, an old Airstream trailer with a Space theme.

LUX trailer. pic by KA

LUX trailer. pic by KA

I’m usually a split-it-down-the-middle kind of guy when it comes to costs, but it was a birthday thing, and I wanted it to be a surprise, so I decided to book the thing and worry about my wallet later.  It seemed too good, and this way I could torture her up until the actual event (over three weeks) with knowledge of the HUGE BIRTHDAY SURPRISE DESTINATION, which would prove incredibly satisfying.

Here’s where I could give you a hotel review.  I’m not going to do that.  If you dig through Yelp, you can find all sorts of opinions, up and down on this place.  Personally, I think most of the negatives have to come from folks that can’t read.  It’s not a hotel, it’s not camping, it’s an open format arrangement somewhere in between.  If you want to stay at a fancy pants hotel and soak up a giant heated pool and white your ass with hundreds of newly bleached towels, watching reality tv and eating room service, don’t go to this fucking place. This place is different.

The first night we arrived we stayed in THE LUX, which was absolute perfection.  Tiny in stature (ironically, Lux Interior himself would have had to severely crouch to even fit in the place), it made up for lack of space with vicious red and black vinyl style.

pics by KA

pic by KA

There was an MP3 jukebox with dozens of Cramps songs, a band signed poster, ridiculous band art everywhere, and my personal favorite, a tiny black and white tube tv from the 60s with one knob, hooked up to a vcr, and stocked with about 20 horror and scifi classics.  I watched THEY LIVE, of course.  Ok, I wouldn’t say watched it.  It was playing in the room.  We had other business to attend to than watch the Rodster bash Keith David in the face about a pair of shades.

Bitchin Tube TV. pic by KA

Bitchin Tube TV. pic by KA

Both days of our stay people that were leaving left us with beer/food/supplies that they couldn’t take with them.  Some of which were, ahem, only available in California medicinally.  It probably didn’t hurt that before I woke up, the bubbly redhead floated around the camp making friends without me, but still, everyone was friendly and courteous, and felt like we were all part of the same shindig.

Overall, it’s kind of like staying in a Pee-Wee Herman movie.  It’s a playground for adult children.  Wes Anderson probably loves it. There’s a bow and arrow set and BB guns you can shoot at tin cans.  There’s a very well constructed mini-golf course, where each hole is themed after a trailer in the park, and the balls you get are thematic to your room.  In our case, we got a silver ball and a green alien ball, because that day we were in the Integratrailer, which is vaguely alien-themed (and technically themed after the nearby Integratron, a historic hippie “sound bath” and a desert destination for aura-watching crystal-lickers from all over the Southwest, which was profiled on one of my favorite Podcasts, Oh No! Ross and Carrie.

Hicksville.  by A Hess

Hicksville. by A Hess


Pee Wee (from Big Top Pee Wee). pic by KA

Were there official meals and events?  No.  Were there activities? No!  Was it the best vacation I’ve ever had?  Yes.

The greatest thing about Hicksville was that it felt like a whole place.  By which I mean, usually when you arrive at a destination you unload at your hotel, take an hour or two to re-combobulate, and then everyone goes, “OK, what are we going to get into?” And then the Conquerors get out their little Joseph Goebbels list, and diagram the vacation’s final solution.  Yes, I just equated type-a vacation planning to the third reich, and no I don’t feel bad about it.

Instead, Hicksville filled both the role of the activity and the HQ. If we were the Ghostbusters, it was both the city of New York and the Fire Station.  If we were the Fraggles, it was both the Giant’s yard of radishes, and the underground lair.

There’s a jacuzzi on two of of the second story building that houses the facilities/vending machines/ping pong table.

Hicksville.  by A Hess

Hicksville. by A Hess

There’s a Tee-Pee with a firepit in it. We attempted desperately to start a fire with damp logs for far too long, while getting more than a little bit fuzzy-in-the-brain with some very lovely Mexican Hipsters in Indiana Jones hats.

There’s a pool.  There’s complimentary postcards of the place that they will stamp and mail out for you for free.

The most fun was actually being social with the other guests, which, if you know me, is really not the mostly likely thing to get me to admit. Each of the trailers so is completely unique, people arrive at night in waves, and you can just walk up with a drink and ask them what their trailer is like, and without hesitation or oddity, they’ll offer to show you.  There are fancy trailers, and basic trailers, cheesy trailers, and classy ones, tiny and huge.  The kind of people that want to go to this kind of place, it seems, are self-selectingly more likable than the rest of the population.  They all want to have a cool time at a place that is intentionally silly.

Spaceman postcards in the Integratrailer.  A Hess

Spaceman postcards in the Integratrailer. A Hess

We made the perfect steak pepper and onion kabobs.

We watched the blood moon come over the mountains from the jacuzzi.

I have a new found appreciate for astroturf and walking outside in my bare feet to get to the bathroom.  Maybe I’m really from West Virginia after all.

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good morning starshine, the earth says fuck yourself

I’ve always been prejudiced against the morning. I inherited it legitimately from my father, who would stay up (he was a midnight shift cop) and watch the trash movies on USA’s UP! ALL NIGHT with me, a show hosted, in quite bipolar fashion, alternatively by Gilbert Gottfried, who you could tell would just rather be ordering a medium soup somewhere as soon as his commission arrived, or Rhonda Shear, the busty model/comedian you’ll recognize from the leggy dame scenes with Mel Brooks in SPACEBALLS.

I would carry this habit of weird movies in the middle of the night into college, when I was part of a motley band of misfits. We always thought we had pulled one over on the morning when we managed to party so late that the sun came up, and we were drinking and shouting off of some porch or window sill, mocking the seven am jogger and chanting our personal parody of the Kiss song “I want to rock’n’roll all ni-ight, and part of the next day!” At the time it was snarky and charming. You could imagine Audrey Plaza there, if she hadn’t probably been eleven years old at the time. I have employed this strategy less and less as my life has been populated increasingly by day jobs and coffee and less by bartered klonopin and combat boots.

There are three ways to get yourself up early in the morning. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

One, just do it. Set yourself a reasonable bed time, somehow achieve something in the proximity of this bed time, then wakeup on time, I guess. Snore.

Slightly less popular is to set an alarm or three, and completely disregard the impending reality of the early rise. This has never agreed with me, but some folks either don’t believe in the future, or are those kindsa sonsabitches that can just wake up all Bill Nye the Science Guy in the morning, snap their bow tie on and get cracking. This is the worst kind of human being, and probably the same guy at which we shook our seven am beers. He owns one of those fleece earmuff/headband monstrosities. HIs wife also has one. They match. I’m getting kind of angry writing this.

The third method is to line up a chain of debauchery and laziness in a morbidly organized fashion, like Harpo Marx playing croquet, with the final wicket being an inevitable, sensible bed time. The most basic version of this is to party all night, and power through the following day until you switch to caffeine and tv and short brisk walks, the sunlight bleaching your bloodshot, Daywalker eyes, convincing you from here on out that Depeche Mode was right and you’re going to spend the rest of your life after sunset, preferably in the back of a limousine with a Austrian lady-of-leisure named Gretchen who never wears colors, but who’s bag is somehow constantly replenished with cocaine, weed, and valium.

If you already kill at the piano, I think would easily evolve into a career of being Warren Zevon. I’m surprised “macabre troubadour” isn’t a more popular a career path.

gottfried_shearNd1rxnrg7o1_500Harpo MarxWarren2901

In an effort to be more “productive”, I’ve been flirting with this “waking up early” idea. It’s pretty abhorrent, but it could be a necessary evil. This year instead of one or two new years resolutions, which I’m not a big fan of anyway, I’ve created a list of fifty very finite goals of various sizes, from big, structural things (publish a graphic novel), to little cookie-bite accomplishments, like acquiring an upgraded projector for my house, to interpersonal things like “send more letters home”.

Accordingly, I’ve committed myself to writing thirty blogs. It’s a lot less than once a week, but I plan on getting very busy with BRANDI: QUEEN OF SKULLS, the aforementioned graphic novel project (more on this later), and I do better with flexibility than rigidity.

For now, though, I’m taking my incredible desire to cross things off of lists and finally putting it to broader use.

At times, I have anxiety that I’m going to soften up, to allow myself to normalize, and that someday I may too own a fleece ear warmer.

But then I think, “No I won’t, I listen to AC-fucking-DC and drink miller high life out of 16 oz. cans. You morning jogging fuckers will never take me alive!”

So, let the gods be with me. I’ll be updating my progress on all these fronts here. Aren’t you excited?

Get excited.

*smoldering intensifies.

Do it.

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Dissonant Sounds: Why I love Highland Park

I moved with my girlfriend in May, to a neighborhood of Los Angeles known as Highland Park.  When I met aforementioned girlfriend, I knew nothing about the place.  It was a place whose name I had heard in fleeting conversations, associated vaguely with crime and odd coolness, in the far Northeast of what still constitutes LA, beyond the moronically fashionable havens of Silverlake and Echo Park that I have always so thoroughly avoided for their dense, unflappable hipsterness.

My derision of hipstertude is a difficult, complicated treatise better left the subject of it’s own article.  That said, when we started looking for places, the lady was really into Highland Park.  When pitched to me, the place seemed to meet all of our most important qualities:  cheap, easy to find parking (if you don’t live in LA, you have no idea how pivotal this is to your quality of life index), relaxed, full of real human persons rather than Los Angeles people.  It’s hard to explain to you what exactly I mean by Los Angeles people.  There’s a dense fog of ambition, fashion, and arrogance that trickles out of the tops of the palm trees and floats down into the upholstery of the luxury convertibles and hybrid road trip machines of the successful, slowly failing, and doing well enough’s of LA County that makes huge swaths of us say asinine things like “let’s set a call”, “parking structure”, and “fair trade organic ethiopian decaf brazilian avocado wax”.

In LA part of being successful, a big part actually, is ACTING successful.  When in doubt, pretend you’re a turgid, tumescent erection, prepared to ejaculate the news of your recent deal, project, script, web series, role, gig, festival entry, or option all over the disinterested faces of anyone who dare pause in front of you for longer than it takes to order a chai latte.


This is not my personality.  I inherited a “hide-in-a-cornfield” introversion along with my gorgeous yellow locks and appreciation for office supplies from my mother.   In turn, for my entire life I have associated to a great extent with neurotic types who scream in terror at ringing phones and simultaneously raised their pale fists, gnarled from carpal tunnel, in joy at the rise of self-checkout machines in stores, finally Japanesing away the need to interact with human beings, ever, for any reason. 

Because of this, I make an awkward Los Angeles resident. 

Other things I hate:  ambition, the sun, the beach, fake boobs, forced automobilism, tans, “networking”, frosted tips.

However, I don’t hate everything in the world.  I do enjoy:  tacos, hills, fancy beers, cheap beers, heavy metal, post punk on juke boxes, commenting on vintage cars that I will never own.

Highland Park is a very strange place in Los Angeles.  I am part of a very real wave of gentrification in the form of quiet, nervous, oddly-dressed white folks between 25 and 35 moving in, mostly in couples and families, that has been otherwise a relatively homogenous latino neighborhood for the last twenty-plus years, but throughout a long history of demographic turnover, the area has remained an important headquarters for artists and artisans of various stripe.

The thing I like most about it though, beyond the parking, is that on any of the two major streets in the neighborhood, cascades a carnival of characters reminiscent of an R Crumb comic.  Highland Park residents tend to be younger and older, bigger and smaller, darker and brighter, crunchier, hunchier, raunchier, and altogether peanut butterier than folks in Hollywood, Downtown, or Buddha forbid the West Side. 

Scuzzy latino high school students slide by in packs on skateboards in neon high tops, cholobillies cruise Figueroa sporting greaser ducktails in sea foam Fords on their way to La Cuevita (formerly Little Cave, the  the cultural epicenter of what constitutes the purple section of a venn diagram wherein The Smiths, Motorhead and working class Mexican families intersect). 

When it’s time to eat, you’re much more likely to be ordering in Spanish than in English, but it’s also even more likely that what you’re ordering has never been frozen, and was cooked by people who actually knew the people that farmed it, picked it, and/or butchered it.  And it will be fucking delicious. 

I will admit, that already the happening, Occidental (or Oxy, for a-holes that matriculate) student-infused section of York Blvd from Ave 50 to Ave 51 gives off something of a “too cool for school” vibe fairly frequently, but it’s hard for any polka dot adorned black banged Betty to stay pretentious when dodging a pack of wild chihuahuas, standing in the blazing hot sun, and surrounded by residents of a place filled with folks on their way to, or back from actually doing work for a living

That’s the key thing that infuses Highland Park with it’s unifying flavor.  More than the stand and eat burger and burrito joints, the Chicano music stores, or the dissonant sounds blasting from decades-old speakers from every direction, Highland Park wreaks with work.  People hustle, shove, commute, dig, suture, sift, pile, sweep, cut, sort, sell, deliver and paint hard, long and frequently.  They don scrubs and restaurant whites, clip on name tags, key fobs, and wolverine boots.  Highland Park works.Image

With my milk carton combed hair, Prussian blue eyes, and stumbled-into-the-wrong-room-at-the-hotel radio announcer’s voice, I get a lot of strange looks in this new place I call home, but I’ve always been a cultivator of strange looks.  I inherently hate almost any situation where I could possibly feel like I belong.  Belonging comes with assimilation, and assimilation never really jived with me.  I blame Kurt Cobain, and  Groucho Marx.

So, Highland Park, I will forgive you for being, according to Wikipedia, LA’s new official home of hipsterism, I will forgive the incessant barking of the sad eyed hound across the street, and the insomniac cockatiel and the two am fireworks, and even the damn bleach fist of the unmitigated sun that burns my thinning Nordic widow’s peak.  I forgive it all as long as you promise to not get smug and self important. 

Let your signs always be crooked and hand painted, your carne asada salty and thick, and your populace always be calloused and stained.  This is a good place, and we will try not to fuck it up.





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Bring me more lemonade, or, How I became a cave troll in three easy steps

I injure myself.

Fairly frequently.  They are usually nominal, limp on this for a few days kinds of things.  I’m a tin man that doesn’t know better.

I play dodgeball regularly.  I learn a lot of things from playing dodgeball, one of which is that I don’t have an appropriate amount of fear.  You can certainly argue that dodgeballs, generally, are not dangerous.  For the most part they aren’t (more on this later).

There are certain activities for which is better not to believe you can be killed.  While on one hand, we humans constantly benefit from fear.  It makes us check our blind spot on the freeway, throw away that old takeout that might be less than safe.   It’s likely the most practical of all emotions, fear.

On the other hand there are much more rare moments when having someone, or a lot of someone’s, that simply suppress their danger sense, to turn the volume down to 0.5, can come in very handy.

You see this constantly on the dodgeball court.  One of your players, playing hard up on the front line catches a ball thrown hard by an opponent only a few feet away.  This act of athletic instinct, of skill plus practice times adrenaline then launches them into a fiery and pugnacious assault.  They quickly divest themselves of the caught ball at the nearest enemy, rush to scrounge another from the floor.  Their short term success has burned away their sense of danger.  They are no more invincible than they were sixty seconds ago, but the chemical rush of stealing victory from sporting death makes them FEEL that they are.

This is almost always proven incorrect in the next few seconds when they are picked off by someone less in the moment.

I fall into this mental state far too easily.  I dive for balls in scrimmage matches, I bruise my knees a rainbow of colors every week, even through my pads.  I constantly get hit out when someone less aggression, or more sense depending on your lens, would have hung back rather than charge the line, with no ball, no support, purely for the ephemeral effect inflicting my personality on the enemy.

I’m all too happy to be the vanguard.

It is for exactly this reason that when I tore a muscle in my leg last week playing dodgeball I was fabulously thankful of the fact that my girlfriend happened to be watching, because it was a rare, freak case that I injured not behaving like a brazen idiot forged out of glass and chrome.

Normally on Sundays I will play 2 to 3 hours of dodgeball.  Two hours of what is called “open gym” where everyone is just assigned random disposable teams, and you rotate around and get your dodgeball on and sweat a great deal, and spit a lot of verbage at your friends from across the court.

This week we had a late slot, so it was impractical for me to play open gym then hang out for two hours waiting for our game.  So my girlfriend and I drove into West Hollywood, as we had plans afterward, and she would amuse herself watching me bounce around like a fool for fifty minutes.

I spent ten minutes or so warming up my arm, and then my traditional leg warm up of jumping, hopping and bouncing high low and in between like a Munich man with a handlebar moustache at an old bierhaus.  I spend a great deal of time crouched down, and have recently integrated jumping into my palette of dodges, so I try to avoid pulling anything in my legs.

Well we were playing one of the brand new teams, who, even with extra players filled in in sympathy from some other teams, we were crushing roundly.  Outside entities frequently hear about dodgeball and bring a big batch of their friends, looking at the crowd of weirdos, homosexuals, misfits and brown people that tends to make up LA dodgeball, and assume that they’re going to walk onto the court and show them how its done.

Turns out most of these homos, misfits and brown people are really good at this, and it doesn’t quite go that way.

At any rate, I was taking the opportunity to go on vacation from my usual overzealous playing style, and hanging out on the back wall, throwing only when something came right to me, and generally trying to avoid pressing my aggression in a situation where it just would have made me look like a jerk.

So fifteen minutes in maybe, a ball comes to me, and I walk, I repeat walk three steps from the back to get myself into a throwing position, and on the third step it feels like someone runs up behind me with a ball-peen hammer and hits me as hard as they can in the back of the calf.

A moment later I collapse on the ground like Pinocchio with his strings cut, and look around the court for who in the hell just Nancy Kerrgan’d me.  No one is nearby, and I look onto the stage where my girlfriend is staring at me with a malted expression of worry and confusion.

I stand back up and my left leg just will not do jack.  I can put it on the ground, but it won’t support any weight.  Something is really wrong with me.  After moronically hopping around for another five minutes trying to throw on one foot, I go into the out line and allow myself to be convinced, thankfully, to sit out.

In the following week I would come to find out I had torn a calf muscle, rather than an early prognosis by a clinic physician who hypothesized that I had torn my Achilles tendon, which would have resulted likely in months of recovery, surgery, and physical therapy.

I went with Kim to a orthopedic specialist in Pasadena where we waited in a nice room with a Ronald Reagan calendar on the wall, showing the Gipper signing some such tax cut in a Canadian tuxedo on a damn ranch somewhere (Remember right wing readers, Reagan raised taxes more than almost any President).

Since my injury I’ve been on crutches, hopping around our one story house gritting my teeth, terrifying cats, watching Netflix, writing, eating cheese, and developing interesting smell auras in various rooms that I like to think of as performance art.

Luckily I am usually washed and frequently cogent when Kim gets home so she doesn’t have to be confronted with the bizarre faux bachelor labyrinth that I find myself pattering around for the endless hours from morning until the sun goes down.

I take for granted my mobility.  I move around a hell of a lot on a normal basis.  I walk places on a complete whim.  Highland Park is quite good for that.  You can’t walk a block and a half without passing two liquor stores, a tattoo parlour and a taco stand.  There are smells, coffees and languages you don’t speak wafting in every cardinal direction at all hours of day and night.

Now I am a hard piece of beef, loosening and bittering in flavor with every passing hour, unable to leave the house without the greatest amount of sweat and indignity.  I’ve found that with the crutches locked in to a height one inch shorter than designed I can launch myself far forward like those bizarre landstriders in The Dark Crystal.

As with any old child, I love to milk a sick day here or there, but being trapped at home doesn’t suit me whatsoever.  I like being weird things at weird places without having to explain myself to anyone.  I like spending too long at the store, I like stopping to get beer or a frisbee or a puppet on a whim.  Everything I do is proscribed.  My food and supplies are asked for and purchased by someone else.  Luckily she’s also a vibrating neurotic and a saint for knowing psychically when I’m likely out of this snake oil or that soylent green.

For a selfish person, I have a raging hatred of inconveniencing other people.  This has always forced me to seek the company of those with near inhuman powers of empathy, who can read my dissatisfaction from only my posture or breathing.

I’m still unable to walk or stand on my leg, but thankfully this Hughes-esque episode will surely last only another week or two.  I can’t battle nature on this one.  I also my not have my current day job on the other end of my recovery, but that is simply how these things can go.  I’m not have to go into debt to repair my leg, I’m not going to have to beg anyone for thousands of dollars.  In the scale of things that happen to human people this is barely an inconvenience.

I’m taking these extra hours in the day to crush much of the writing I usually wish I had more time for, this blog included.  In future I’m going to get back to getting at it once a week, even if it means doing one to three paragraph short essays rather than these baroque monoliths I sometimes construct to my own anxiety.

I’ve already learned a few things from being laid up for this short period.

1.  Use your time.

2.  Make everyone’s life easier.

3.  Pretend someone is watching.

The teenage solipsism that threaded into my worldview when I was much younger creates the great potential to become a horror of Bukowskian proportions when left alone for significant periods of time.  Now, there can certainly be a few very striking and strange benefits to this, but they have dangerous and diminishing returns.

I have been forced to begin to become a tin man that knows better, that there are many times when you will be frozen in the forest and you will need someone to lend a hand when you say “oil can”.

And it can be useful to have a tin man around, because the tin man has no fear, and a very big ax.

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Notes on ACT 2.1, followed by ACT 2.2

So, upon being out of from updating ENGINES OF VICTORY for a couple weeks, I realized that often enough why I get stalled on a creative project is that the quiet, subtle, decision-making part of my brain that runs on intuition is quietly signaling to me that there needs to be an adjustment. So, until my actual conscious mind wraps itself around what that adjustment is going to have to be, I end up treading water in the pool of my imagination, kind of dog paddling around a little, picking things up and putting them back down, until something unclogs.
First, I realized that there wasn’t enough inherent tension. Frankie is likeable, and the story has momentum, but there isn’t the back of the neck fear for the characters or investment in their efforts yet. So, as is often the case, I need to frontload some conflict. As I’ve determined that the big reveal narrative is going to be that Frankie’s family is actually the “Blank Tribe”, or rather, they are an agency hired by his mother to get him out of the game and into his “real life”, then I need to establish that element in the first five pages in a way that will both thread through the rest of the plot, and payout in the end.
This will also allow me to frontload the other thing I’m missing: which is an antagonist in the first half of the film. I have this antagonist, Queenie (aka Witch Doctor Babe), but she’s coming in late, and therefore lacking sufficient punch and anxiety. Something that I learned from a very smart professor of mine, actually second hand through I want say my tall Midwestern friend Brad, was that when you don’t have enough conflict in a story, you can go out of your way to pile in all these awful things that happen to him/her, but that’s a waste of time. The only efficient thing to do is to make your protagonist particularly vulnerable to whatever calamities he’s going to face. You have a sheriff of an island town that’s going to have to go onto the ocean and battle a ginormous shark? Make him afraid of the water.
I think what I need to do is make Frankie babe-aphobic. It’s the one thing that fits into the plot in all the important areas (and who doesn’t want something that fits all those important areas, am I right?) It will be his weakness in real life with Kathryn, in the game with the AI girl aaaand against Queenie. My only anxiety is now we’re getting into some really boilerplate Freudian territory about fear of the vagina and whatnot. Do you think Judd Apatow has anxious notes about Freud? More likely Freud had lascivious notes about Judd Apatow. Anyway, this will pull the story tight on itself, as long as I can avoid making a stoner version of Raj from Big Bang Theory. Or maybe I SHOULD make him that.
OH! Holy Relevant life events, Batman! I was totally going to forget to mention, this past week I saw JUDAS PRIEST on their final tour forever, final, ever, for realsies, no joke, pinkie swear. I had way back seats, and it was way the hell out in San Bernadino, and pretty much fucking rocked everything. I’ve seen lots of live recordings from Priest shows, and Rob seemed to be putting in significantly more effort on this tour than in recent years, probably because he knows he’s not going to have to/get to do it anymore, wheeling the huge chrome Harley onto stage, donning a different shimmery/spikey jacket for every song, and cracking out those high notes like he was forty-five again.
Even though I’ve made this observation before, I have to say on here how so incredibly Latino the metal scene is now. I was talking about this with Lauren as we were leaving, which really means me pontificating about the cultural significance of things, bla bla bla. Essentially, like I’ve said here, metal is a working class genre. If you’re sixteen and you have an ipad and a Jetta you don’t need to listen to ICED EARTH or HOLY GRAIL or EMPEROR. Metal is about rage and testosterone, even if those elements are honed and refined into more subtle elements like triumph or nobility or whatever, they’re still originating in your hormones, articulating themselves out of your fingers, and finally exiting the bloody tip of your gleaming broadsword. It all comes down to balls. Metal is still a rebellious music, and music for the young, angry and disheveled. Rich suburban white kids just don’t get the same thing out of it as working class kids, and who are the working class kids in the cities now? Well in California they’re fucking latino kids, I’ll tell you that. They don’t shop at American Apparel, they don’t wear Uggs, and they’re not getting Volkswagens for their sweet sixteen. They’re sneaking cases of Tecate by the apartment complex pool at 2 am, and throwing empty bottles of Boons at the trailer park dumpster. They’re riding 10-inch Huffy’s while listening to SLAYER on their PSPs because there’s nothing fucking else to do.
Ok, so I’ve already written over a page of shit and haven’t even started to get back into outlining Act II. So, for process sake, I’m going to push through the rest of the act rather that go back into Act I and do chop-shop work to integrate today’s notes. Everybody’s different, but my process relies on steam, and I gotta use it when I have it. Tinkering I can do at various times, and tinkering has it’s own mood, and I’m not in that mood. I can edit another day. I’m just flagging the thoughts I already had, and press on accordingly.
Frankie escapes the first barrage of strikes from the stoney warrior, but the jig is up. The other golems begin demolishing the entire forest floor, and Frankie barely leaps away with his head intact, his armor disintegrating from a glancing blow. The golems chase Frankie all T-1000 style through a field, where he’s suddenly rescued by Turner and two of his other ONLINE COMRADES.
\\IRL, Frankie comes to in his basement, when, in crisis mode, decides it’s time to call an emergency video tribe powwow of the Ravenclaws. So, he dials up all his annoyed tribe members, and is trying to explain all of this when –Joker style—Queenie the Witch Doctor Babe cuts into their EoV powwow to give a game-wide magical announcement, that there is a vast reward for the alive capture of Kilrann Coldiron (Frankie). This announcement plays like a giant, mystical billboard throughout all the EoV world, kind of Times Square meets mirror mirror on the wall.
Cut to Flintlock consulting with the scrappy, nebbish goblin Generals of his tribe when the announcement begins.
Frankie and the group react to this, and someone suggests they meet IRL—absolutely not.
Frankie is drawn back online by a distress message from the girl of Pure AI, when she reveals that she truly is completely computer generated, a ghost in the Engines of Victory Machine, but that the blankside attacks on the game are endangering her life.
This encounter leads Frankie and the AI Girl to be captured by Queenie and brought to the Blank side camp, where the sacrificial stripping of Frankie’s Avatar is begun (a la the soul sucking thing vs. the podlings in Dark Crystal).
Gordon and Turner wake Frankie out of his stone-coma, thus saving his avatar, Gordon finally having uncovered that this all is really real.
On a raged out, masculine tear, Frankie rides to the mystical video store, where he gets an arcane rebuff, then marches over to the karaoke bar where he unloads all of his romantic anxiety and stuff all over Karaoke Girl, but in an awesome way, and ends up coming across way better than he expected. He should also champion over the Douche-bag guy, maybe even in a physical way.
While following Frankie on this chore, Gordon should start to put together clues as to the real life conspiracy against Frankie and his clan, but not have it all figured out yet.
The AI Girl contexts Frankie from EoV, and he rushes to get online and save her, but is pulled into a TRAP by the Blanksiders.
Moreover, now not only is Frankie trapped, so is the rest of his clan—leaving no one to save the, except Gordon, who monitors Frankie from the real world in the basement. Suddenly, Gordon will understand the whole conspiracy, and pull their other metal friends out of whatever hilarious shenanigans they’re partaking in to get help from cousin Enoch to enforce some shit on the old craggy video Video Store Owner, and get the skinny from him, and then, in turn, find out how they can restore Frankie’s Power (and use of Angus, the ax forged out of awesome).
Finally, Frankie and the other Ravenclaws are trapped in front of Queenie, who has taken over Lavarian’s castle, and it appears that she will reform Engines of Victory, and wipe it clean of all the characters and empires, etc. They have the AI Girl hostage, and Frankie is sapped of his power. He’s not even strong enough of a character to lift his ax, although it lays at his feet.
Gordon brings the Metal Boys and picks up Karaoke Girl on the way back to Frankie’s basement, determined to save him.

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Frankie wakes up AS his Avatar, KILRANN COLDIRON, who basically shares his face, but is a much more mature, manly, handsome older brother of himself wearing a leather cloak, chain mail, and carrying some really scary WEAPONS, including a very large dagger and an extremely beautiful BEARDED AX (that bears a striking aesthetic resemblance to the iconic guitar carried by Angus Young, among others).

Frankie wakes up in the high branches of a TREE, where he dangles precariously for a moment before plummeting below into a wagon full of timber on its way toward LAVARIAN CASTLE, high on the hillside.  Frankie takes stock of his new…persona…and surroundings, as the wagon gives him a first hand tour of this world as he passes by peasants, soldiers, farms, and mythical creatures.

\\In the REAL WORLD Turner, Frankie’s primary IN GAME friend, will be notified that Frankie is in game, which surprises him, and he jumps in, further surprised that Frankie is both in the wrong server and headed toward the Castle of their most hated enemy, LORD SYNTAX LAVARIAN, who has been waging a broad campaign to have Frankie, and his clan, outright killed for over a year.  Frankie’s a warrior rogue, not a King or a Lord, so slinking into Lavarian’s castle is essentially suicide.

//IN GAME, Frankie is just getting his bearings as the castle nears.  A series of screwball comedy hijinx ensue that keep him in the wagon as it enters the castle,  which continues so that Frankie is unloading timber with the other peasants, now fascinated double whammy by how fucking REAL everything is AND that he’s smack in the middle of his arch-nemesis’ territory.  Further fascinating, Frankie discovers a large portion of Lavarian’s forces working frantically to battle against a STRANGE BLACK PESTILENCE that is rotting away a section of their wall, seemingly bubbling up from underground.

Frankie slinks around the castle, seeing the REAL versions of all these characters and defenses that he’s only seen in game from the outside, when TURNER, taking the form of a RAVEN, perches on a stone wall and accosts Frankie, what the hell is he doing?  Why didn’t he tell Turner about this?  Is he turning traitor on them?  WTF?!

Frankie tries to explain, but sounds totally insane.  That he’s actually IN the game, not just like…in the game.  Suddenly, Frankie is distracted by a girl that’s being escorted through the yard by Lavarian’s guards—she’s incredibly, almost supernaturally beautiful.  Her presence has an immediate, intoxicating effect on Frankie.  Turner as the Raven nags him–he’s got to go, to run…and just then, Lavarian’s guards nab Frankie, when he instinctively bounces into warrior action and an ALL OUT RAGER BATTLE commences in the interior of the castle walls, as all of Lavarian’s foot soldiers turn to defend in the opposite direction all their weapons are aimed against ONE MAN with incredible powers.

As ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE, Turner rallies his online posse IRL\\ who, tune in, kind of a la THE TRUMAN SHOW, and mount up to drive toward Lavarian Castle in order to save Frankie/KILRANN COLDIRON from himself…or whatever.

As the battle rages inside the keep, Frankie is shocked by his abilities as KILRANN—leaping over his enemies, tossing six of them aside at once with his sword, ripping them in half with his ax—which is fucking terrifying because they’re a lot like real dudes in this world.

CUT TO:  Literally the other side of the world.  This flat world reveals Engines of Victory’s Dark side of the coin.  Just 30 feet through impenetrable earth, are the hard-scrabble, soot-skinned DARKSIDERS, a random handful of wild, unpredictable evil races, the vast minority of EOV players and AI, because life on the Darkside is unrelentingly harsh (and you never get to level), they live in permanent midnight, and the atmosphere corrodes all precious metals within days, so the vicious Darkside tribes use elaborate bone weapons carved out of the carcasses of the Giant Monsters that roam the marshes and ash deserts without obstacle.

FLINTLOCK, a diminutive, jacktoothed, saberclaw-wielding soot-goblin from the Stone-Nose Tribe, sniffs the bubbling black cauldron of the marsh in front of him, and identifies a strangeness occurring in the Lightside world.  Just as quickly, he growls and scuttles off to his superiors.

CUT BACK:  Turner and the rest of CLAN RAVENCLOUD ride on magic and flying creatures toward Lavarian Castle, where Frankie is finally enjoying this battle a little bit, just when he’s KNOCKED SENSELESS by an arrow from SMALL GREGORY, Lavarian’s head Man-at-Arms, and Lavarian’s men swarm him, and drag him into the throne room.

Wherein, Lord Lavarian, a grand and opulent medieval king, gives a brief monologue, but is clearly distracted by his advisors, and has KILRANN/Frankie tossed into the dungeon until they have a moment to dispose of him.  Frankie gets another glance of the Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Build in game logic about how you can’t just logout when you’re currently captured)

Clan Ravencloud descend around Castle Lavarian, which itself is insane/suicidal, and cause another dustup as some of them sneak toward the dungeon to rescue KILRANN, when, escaping the dungeon, he stumbles upon a CONSPIRATORY CONVERSATION between Small Gregory and ELDER WORMWOOD, Lavarian’s wizard advisor, that doesn’t sound particularly positive toward Lavarian.

Just then, Kilrann’s eavesdropping is interrupted by his “rescue” by the Ravencloud group, but just as they’re out of the dungeon, Frankie is AWAKENED by his MOTHER pounding on his bedroom door and killing his buzz.

\\IRL , Frankie tears out of his house on his scooter to go see Gordon, ranting about the episode—is he insane?  We become aware that while it seemed to take a whole day in the EOV world, Frankie was actually out of reality for about an hour IRL.

Frankie drags Gordon down to the video store which is closed in a comedic/mindwarping way (“closed due to war in alternate dimension”), as if it had been vacant for decades, etc., which only contributes to Frankie’s paranoia.

Frankie then heads to Turner’s Place, which is an incredibly nerdy gaming store where mega-dorks converge and waste as much time as possible.   Frankie doesn’t interact with his clan-mates in real life, and Turner can tell that this situation is serious, in at very least because Frankie might be insane.

The three of them head toward Frankie’s house to try and re-enact the scenario, but of course bump into Kathryn outside the mall (where Turner’s store is), and Frankie is forced to try and explain their hurried nerdiness, which is yet another epic failure.

Turner, Gordon and Frankie return to Frankie’s basement, and attempt to re-enact the circumstances by which he went into the game.   At first they fail, until Frankie gets stoned again, at which point he launches into EoV, to the fascination of Turner and Gordon, who are still there watching his comatose meat-body as his Avatar hustles about on screen.

Frankie again falls into EoV completely at random, into a totally gross marsh.  He’s immediately plunged into a few feet of black and green miasma, hacking, coughing, Frankie drags himself into the woods, where he happens upon a TEAM OF Lavarian’s underlings, led by Wormwood, as they investigate the EDGE OF THE WORLD, the very edge of the EoV landscape that just drops off into endless blue sky and clouds, inhabited by DRAGONS that nestle the way cats do in piles of clothes.

Frankie waits out the team that just seem to be looking around, and then suddenly march away…he trots over to the edge of the world, which is creeping and crawling with the blackening pestilence, literally eating the edge of the world alive.  Even more notable, the edge of the world is now festooned with gigantic rings.  They pierce the edge of the landscape like fifty-foot eyebrow rings of solid steel, gleaming in the sun.  In the middle of his fascination, Frankie spots the MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD, hiding in the brush.  He chases after her, but she flees, and he tries to follow her into a weird, magical cove, with a waterfall (that isn’t unlike the lake from EXCALIBUR, I would imagine).  He gets close enough to her to have a frozen encounter that feels more like trying to befriend a skittish cat, but she says something enigmatic, and escapes via magic.

Frankie attempts to chase after the girl, but gives up, meandering down the road where he again encounters Wormwood with a group of Lavarian’s soldiers, who is having a very heated argument with a scary, face-painted WITCH DOCTOR BABE, who carries what is clearly a fucking magic scepter, and is backed by a very frightening posse of frozen, gray soldiers.  After a brief, but intense exchange, Wormwood appears furious and orders his group back in a huff.

As they lope away, Frankie attempts a better look at the Witch Babe, when one of the stoney foot soldiers hears him, and plods over to the trees.  Frankie uses some of his Rogue powers to hide, but when the stone soldier is within inches from his face, he panics and runs his blade through his throat.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t have the intended effect.  The Stone soldier abruptly punches THROUGH the nearest tree trunk, then snaps the sword in half—still in his throat, and tosses it away, brandishing a terrible spear that he crashes here, there, and everywhere.   Arousing the curiosity of his stoney comrades and the Witch, they tromp into the woods, spears into everything in sight, which causes the terrifying effect not of splintering the trees and rocks, but infecting them with the gray pestilence that is rotting away the whole EoV world, and they disintegrate into piles of dust in seconds.

Still largely invisible, Frankie dodges a spear that nearly takes off his head, and retaliates by cleaving off a significant portion of the Stone Soldier’s head off with his ax.  After a few moments of examining his own partial headlessness, the soldier returns in an unaffected barrage of spear lunges.




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