Sunday, October 29, 2017

Fun Times

This weekend we celebrated my birthday.  It’s not actually my birthday yet, but next weekend will not be particularly useful in terms of celebrating anything (see also the surgery announcement).  So we decided to do the birthday weekend thing a week early.  We didn’t do much, really.  We watched Baby Driver, which was quite good.  We completed our rewatch of season 1 of Stranger Things and got about 3 episodes deep into season 2.  We played a game of Munchkin Wonderland and started a massive 2v1 game of Heroscape: snakes and wolves working with elementals on offense, vs a vast legion of Romans and Cathars on defense.  We ate out at a new(ish) Italian deli, which was pretty nice.  And I got to sleep till noon both days and my family did all my chores for me.  So, you know: can’t complain.

Disneyland on Thursday was, mercifully, not as hot as we feared.  It was, however, a comedy of errors in practically every other way.  We left late, and we had to get gas first.  I accidentally drove to the wrong gas station—the one where they refuse to take any credit card—and then when I said, fine, just run my card as a debit card and I’ll pay your moronic 50¢ fee or whatever it was, it didn’t work anyway.  So we had to drive to the proper gas station anyway and start over.  I plugged my phone into the car charger to make sure it stayed fully charged despite the fact I was running Waze the whole way, but it turns out it wasn’t plugged in all the way, so I started out the day at 50% battery, which started dropping rapidly.  (Yes, my battery is pretty well borked.)  Still better than my eldest, whose phone is completely dead and not yet replaced (on account of being 19 years old means your parents are no longer responsible for fixing everything for you, so things have a tendency to just not get fixed).  We decided to start the day at California Adventure, since it closed at 8 (the main park wasn’t closing until 11pm).  We heard that the new(ish) Cars-themed ride was closed, which was a bummer, since we’ve never ridden it, but we decided to head over to the even newer Guardians of the Galaxy ride, which we’ve also never ridden.  When we got there, they’d just closed “to switch over to the Hallowe’en theme.”  So we figured we’d get a Fastpass time and come back later, but they’d closed the Fastpass too.  So we dawdled a bit in A Bug’s Land, then decided to check out Radiator Springs even if the main ride was closed.  But they’d actually reopened it, and the wait time was only 60 minutes, which is long, but not that long, especially for a good ride that you’ve never been on before.  After 15 minutes of waiting, they announced that the wait time was more like 90 minutes.  15 more minutes and the wait time was officially up to 105 minutes.  It turns out that the problem was, if you have a Fastpass time but the ride is closed then, your Fastpass becomes officially good for any for the remainder of the day.  So all those people with Fastpass times while the ride was closed were now coming back, on top of the people who actually had Fastpass times for that actual time window.  With the end result that they were letting more Fastpass people than “regular” people in, so us regular folks got screwed.  You know how frustrating it is to get 3 people away from the final lining up and then get stopped while 50 Fastpass people go streaming in ahead of you?  I mean, it was a good ride, in the end, but still.  After that we decided to go back to the main park and the littlest one starts freaking out about buying a balloon.  Not now, we say: wait until we’re on the way out.  We’re not lugging a damn balloon around while we’re trying to ride rides.  So that was a thing.  Then the Smaller Animal insisted we take the train to New Orleans instead of walking, which is fine, sort of, except that, by the time you have to wait in line for the stupid train, it ends up taking longer than it would to just walk.  And we’re all hungry as hell because it’s past dinner time at this point.  So I try to get us into the Orleans Café, but they’re only doing reservations.  So, fine: the French Market Restaurant—they don’t have the gumbo, but at least I can get red beans and rice.  Except, no, they took that off the menu.  Sigh.  Okay, fine, give me the “New Orleans beef stew,” whatever that is.  I’ll try something new.  Actually, we just ran out of that; sorry, sir.  Seriously?  So I just got a salad.  Then we were going to go into the Haunted Mansion, but the wait time was 90 minutes and we just couldn’t go through that again.  So then the Smaller Animal wanted to do the Winne-the-Pooh ride, but only because he’d heard there was someplace on the ride where you can see “an animal or something” if you turn around and look behind you at some point on the ride.  (For the record, it’s 3 stuffed-and-mounted heads way up close to the ceiling: moose, bear, and something else ... wolf, maybe.)  But he couldn’t remember when you were supposed to turn around.  So we spent the whole time craning our necks around, which was a real problem for me because I’d already developed a weird crick in my neck from sleeping badly the night before or something.  So then we figured we’d give Pirates of the Caribbean a shot, ’cause the line wasn’t too bad, but it was still 45 minutes of more waiting.  Then we had to get back on the train because the Littles demanded to see the dinosaurs (the littlest one informed us that she hadn’t seen dinosaurs “for 6 minutes—maybe more!”  By that time, it was after 10:30, so we figured we’d call it a night.  Time to find that balloon the little one wanted ... except the balloon sellers had apparently already packed it in for the night.  This engendered a good 15 minutes’ worth of panic, as we desperately tried to avoid a full-blown meltdown.  We finally compromised on buying her a Little Mermaid bubble wand, because, you know: bubbles.  Then we left the park, with Waze telling us that we could be home in a little over an hour: well under half as long as it took us to get there.  Great, we figure.  Maybe just make a quick stop to get a couple milkshakes or something to help us stay awake.  Trying to get Waze to point you at a useful McDonald’s, though, can be tricky.  It forces you to pick which McDonald’s you want to go to, which isn’t very helpful if you have no idea where you are.  I want one that is right off the freeway, and has a drive-through, and isn’t located inside a Wal-Mart, and isn’t already behind us.  How the fuck am I supposed to know which of the 5 McDonald’s-es in the list that is?  We eventually ended up at an In-and-Out (probably a better milkshake anyhow), except we were behind like 20 cars and we didn’t move for 10 minutes.  So we gave up and found a McDonald’s.  Started to order and they said sorry, we’re out of ice cream; what else can I get for you?  Nothing.  You can get nothing for me, because I WANT FUCKING ICE CREAM.  So we finally find a different McDonald’s, and they do have ice cream, but they’re only accepting cash, because their cash registers are all down (literally, they are using pen and paper to calculate the order totals).  So now we’re all scrambling for enough cash and The Mother is pointing out that we actually would have been home by now if we’d just driven straight through, and of course we don’t know how much cash we need because they have to write everything down and carry the 2 and all that shit, and, long story short (HAH!) we ended up getting home at like 1am.

So that was a fun time.  I mean, really it was, and I’m glad we went one last time, but I can’t help but feel like fate was sort of thumbing its nose at us or something.

And now we’re on final countdown.  5 days till the pre-surgery appointment.  7 days until we find out what time the surgery will be, and if they have a room for us at the Ronald McDonald House.  8 days until surgery.  Should be a fun time.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Counting down

Well, we’re winding down the long, stressful march towards the Smaller Animal’s surgery.  Next week is our final trip to Disneyland on this year’s season passes.  This past week I gave a talk at LA Perl Mongers (a.k.a., despite coming off the tail of a 24-hour bug that kept me home from work that day.  Hopefully I didn’t get any of the fellow Mongers sick.

The Smaller Animal and I are trying to work through the new Defenders series before the surgery, and the whole family is rewatching Stranger Things in preparation for season 2.  And of course The Mother and I will be glued to the tube tonight for the Walking Dead season premiere tonight.

And that’s pretty much it.  Working on a few financial things this weekend to get that stuff out of the way, and happy that there’s not something big going on.  Next weekend we’ll get my birthday celebration out of the way a bit early, and the weekend after that, it’s surgery showtime.

Watched Patton Oswalt’s latest Netflix special last night.  He says his late wife hated when people said “everything happens for a reason.”  There’s no reasons (she would say), there’s no order; we just have to be as good to each other as we can every day because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Or, as Patton put it:

Everything is chaos; be kind.

I kinda like that.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NHSD 2017: Quick Results

As expected, there’s still no time for a proper post this week.  However, I can comment just a bit on our National Heroscape Day tournament.  As per last year, let’s start with a few refreshers:


Last year I brought 6 participants to make a total turnout of 11, plus one person who arrived late; this year I brought 7 for a turnout of 13, but one person had to leave early.  Which is fairly promising, all in all—we’re increasing or at least remaining steady, for a game that has been out of print for 7 years.  Not too shoddy.  We’re keeping the dream alive.

Anyhow, this year I lost all my games, which was even more crushing on account of they were all against people I brought to the tourney.  First the demonspawn beat me, then the Smaller Animal beat me, then the Smaller Animal’s best friend beat me, thus leading to this conversation between me and my oldest:

“You got beat by a nine year old!”

“Hey!  He’s ten!”

But I don’t mind.  I don’t go to the tourneys to win; I go to have fun, and I think we all had a great time.  The Smaller Animal was a bit disappointed in his performance, but I say he did pretty damn well: in his first game, he managed to take out half the army of the person who ended up winning the entire thing, and he only lost the last game because his opponent had a bit of a run of good luck.  Not really all that bad for an 11 year old.  This year he played an army consisting primarily of Quahon, the big blue dragon who breathes lightning bolts; Sujoah, the giant dragonfly with a poison stinger; and a few squads of giant spiders.  It’s a pretty solid army overall, and I’m sorry to see him get down on it.

The demonspawn did better, winning two games with an army composed of Morgoloth (the demon darklord), mezzodemons, and wolves.  But the day went to our old friend “hivelord” (his forum name), who won every game, beating out his own dad in the final round.

After the tournament, we went on to play a quite cutthroat game of Exploding Kittens, which the Smaller Animal and his best friend won: they deicded to work together after the best friend killed the SA by accident while trying to knock off his brother.  All in all, a long day, but totally worth it.  Hopefully we can manage to get together sometime before next year’s tournament.


* If you do read that, remember that “Xotli” is my codename there.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Busy busy month

This week, instead of giving you a proper post, I’m going to tell you why I don’t have time to give you a proper post.

As it turns out, this month is turning into quite the crazy one.  There are many factors contributing to that; obviously the biggest one is the Smaller Animal’s upcoming surgery, which is right at the beginning of November.  So a lot of crap has to get taken care of prior to that.  For instance, the surgery is the day after my birthday.  So obviously that weekend is not a particularly good one for a birthday weekend celebration.  As a result, we’ll be celebrating my birthday the weekend before, which is actually before Hallowe’en, even.  Hallowe’en, by the way, is another thing that we have to spend some time preparing for: our eldest was never candy-motivated the way the younger two are, so this level of dedication to dressing up and begging strangers for food is a bit more recent for us.  So there are costumes to buy, routes to plan, etc.

October is also the month for National Heroscape Day.  Due to a convergence of a few factors, we’re getting a pretty late start on prep for that annual tournament.  And it’s not a “preparation light” sort of event.  As small as it’s been getting lately, there’s still quite a bit of work to be done, and I haven’t really started yet.  And I’m down to a week and a half to get it all done (as I write this; even less by the time you read it).  It’s going to be tight this year.

I also got an invite from the moderator of our local Perl group to speak this month.  Well, it serves me right for writing a Perl blog post a few weeks ago and then posting on Facebook about it.  But, it’s been a long time since I did a talk there and I can probably handle this one with mininmal prep time.  Which is a good thing, because minimal prep time is all I’ve got.

Right now, though, I don’t have time to do any of that prep, because I’ve got to finish my online traffic school course before the court-appointed deadline, or else I won’t be able to afford my car insurance any more.  Yeah, I got another ticket.  First one in a while ... my incidence of traffic tickets went way down after I bought that radar detector.  Best investment I ever made.  But, you know, every once in a while, your reflexes just aren’t quick enough to hit the brakes before the cop tags you.  Still, one ticket in 5 years: that’s a definite improvement.  For me.

Still, the big ticket item is getting ready for that upcoming surgery.  We’re hoping to get one last trip to Disneyland out of our season tickets before the date, and pretty much anything else the kid wants, he gets.  We’ve also got one mental health appointment scheduled, and I’m hoping to get another.  I’m not really sure there can be really be too much mental preparation for this sort of event.  But there’s also more mundane aspects to worry about: The Mother just recently reminded me that we need to start compiling a list of all the people we need to update once the surgery is done.  Lots of folks to call or email, posts to social media to make, etc etc etc.  So surgery prep is pretty overwhelming all on its own, never minding all the other prep I’ve been pondering.  And of course it’s not like life in general stopped: there’s still dishes to be done and bills to be paid and children (furry, scaly, and smooth-skinned alike) to be fed and work hours to be worked and clothes to be washed and groceries to be bought and ...

I suppose I could bow out of at least some of those things.  But, no: that’s what I’ve decided to do with this month.  I rather think that keeping as busy as I can physically manage is the only way I’m going to remain sane.  If I give myself too much time to ponder what’s coming up, I may not make it through.  So it’s a busy month, and the downside of that is that you’re not likely to see too many proper blog posts this month ... maybe even none at all.  But I will try to put up something every week, even if it’s only a few sentences.  But, honestly, I’m not even promising that much.  We’ll just have to see how it all plays out.  In the meantime, wish me luck.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Wisty Mysteria I

"Silent Sunset Orange Cloud"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

You may remember back when we talked about Rose-Coloured Brainpanover 2 years ago, now—that I mentioned Depression, the first of the “proto-mixes.”  One of the biggest reasons I refer to anything from that period as “proto” is because those mixes were just random collections of songs.  There was some small amount of thought as to theme, but no real coherent throughline, nothing that would tie the songs together to form something like an album.  By the time I got to college1 I understood that a mix tape needed to be more than a loosely related collection of randomly ordered tracks.  I started to make mixes that were much closer to an album: tracks that fit together to form a picture, and were laid out in an order that told a story.  Now, I still hadn’t learned what the inimitable Hearts of Space was to teach me a few years later—all the stuff about transitions and thematics that I’ve discussed many times beforebut I was making progress.  These were what I call the “pre-modern” mixes, and the very first one I made was an attempt to create a refinement of Depression.

So, as I’ve said before, the biggest problem with Depression is that its picks were all over the place.  The songs from that proto-mix are now scattered across several modern mixes, such as Rose-Coloured Brainpan, Tenderhearted Nightshade, and Darkling Embrace.  Each of these captures a much narrower slice of the range that Depression was trying to examine.  But before any of those mixes, I started with something that would be a little sad, but not too much—sort of wistful, so to speak.  Something where many songs would have a bit of a creepy or mysterious vibe, but again not too much so.  So it would be a little bit wistful and a little bit mysterious, and the first thing I came up with was “Misty Wisteria”: the mist provides the mystery factor, and the wisteria provides the association with sadness via scenarios like doomed gothic romances.  But eventually I just swapped the initial consonants and ended up with far more direct analogs of “wistful” and “mysterious,” but the fact that neither is an actual word encourages the listener’s ear to do the transposition and end up with the original phrase anyway.  Wisty Mysteria was not only the first of the pre-modern mixes, it was also the first to use my weird naming convention.2

The pre-modern mixes were developed in the early 90s, so, just as we saw on HipHop Bottlerocket (whose songs all lived in the very narrow timeband of 1988 – 1990, except for 2 throwbacks to the late 70s), we have a similar situation here.  This time we widen the band somewhat: 1986 – 1991, with a single mid-70s throwback.3  But you still need to be feeling nostalgic for that period from the late 80s to the early 90s to properly enjoy this volume to its fullest.  We even have several crossover artists from HHB, such as Fishbone, Dramarama, Concrete Blonde, and Jane’s Addiction.  Which is pretty strange if you think about it ... Wisty Mysteria is nearly diametrically opposed to HipHop Bottlerocket, thematically.  But that just shows what range some of these bands have.

I think this is a fairly faithful recreation of the original Wisty Mysteria, though theoretically the original should have had more tracks.4  Plus I threw in an extra track at the end: “The Last Resort,” by the Eagles.  I just felt like the mix needed a stronger closer, and “Last Resort” is a melancholy, slow tune that makes good use of Don Henley’s voice to make some stinging commentary on commercialism and religion.  And it’s just a good closer.

So, on the “wisty” side, the saddest song on here is perhaps “Walking in the Woods,” by the Pursuit of Happiness, a Canadian band who are best known for their insanely catchy 1989 hit “I’m an Adult Now.”  Musically, the song is not as downbeat as you might expect, but listen to the words at your own risk: they’ve been known to bring an actual tear to my eye on occasion.  Second might well be a-ha’s “Manhattan Skyline,” where Morten Harket sings “I don’t want to race this pain.”  I also tend to find “Heart of Stone” (by the highly underappreciated Dreams So Real) a bit tear-jerking; certainly the lyrics “she’s gone away ... I’m so alone, and all I own is a heart of stone” is a big clue.  And yet there’s something that’s also not-sad about this tune: its power chords are cathartic, somehow.  And that tends to be where a lot of the choices here land.

“You’re Still Beautiful” by the Church, for instance, with its ode to fading beauty, or “Little Conversations” by Concrete Blonde, which I’ve always felt is a perfect recollection of late-night chats with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t really attracted to you and is too oblivious to notice your feelings for them.  Or perhaps “Part of Me Now” by the Lucy Show, which seems to warn “please don’t break my heart,” or “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me)?” by the Spin Doctors, which expresss all the puzzlement that its title implies.  Even “The Ballad of Jenny Rae” by the BoDeans, which is clearly a story of abandonment (“Jenny Rae left me late last fall; didn’t say much, she just left, that’s all”), is somehow not particularly sad about it.5

On the “mysteria” side, some of the songs here are more obscure; it’s not always clear what they are about.  Is “Blue Green” (by local-to-my-college-town band Hearsay) about drowning?  Does “The Woods” by the Call symbolize a tangled forest inside one’s heart?  Is the echoey, repeated call of “home” in “Up the Beach” by Jane’s Addiction supposed to be welcoming or ominous?

“Obsession” might be about sitting alone with someone you care about in a candlelit room ... but then why does it sound so gothy and dark?  (Probably because it’s from goth-master Ronny Moorings, during his Xymox phase.6)  “Fireplace, Pool & Air Conditioning” by Dramarama is ostensibly a song about seduction (“I’ll take you home ...”), but its surreal lyrics (one of which provides our volume title) hint at something more.

Note that most of these bands are more noted for upbeat songs (or at least mid-tempo), but these tunes showcase their softer sides.  Just as the band that sings “Manhattan Skyline” is the same one that brought you the ultra-pop 80s hit “Take On Me,” so do many of the tracks above share bands and even albums with much more upbeat songs: “The Last Resort” is from the same album as “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Little Conversations” shares a disc with “God Is a Bullet,” “How Could You Want Him?” accompanies the so-poppy-it’s-almost-silly “Two Princes” ... hell, even Dramarama, not necessarily known for hard rockin’, was last seen in this series belting out “Last Cigarette” on HipHop Bottlerocket.  Also on that mix was “Bonin’ in the Boneyard,” by the amazing (and eclectic) Fishbone.  Here they provide our opener: “Pouring Rain.”  This is not really a sad song, but it sure ain’t a happy one.  A taste of the lyrics:

He had one foot in the gutter,
Another on dry land.
His ship had sailed without him.
Across life’s burning sands,
He cried out in the distance.
And no one, no one heard a word
For a prophet’s not respected
in his own world.

Even Walter Kibby’s trumpet has a lonely feel to it ... hell, even Norwood’s bass sounds like it’s echoing in a vast, empty space.  I always thought it was the perfect opener here.

Wisty Mysteria I
    [Silent Sunset Orange Cloud]

        “Pouring Rain” by Fishbone, off Truth and Soul
        “Obsession” by Xymox, off Twist of Shadows
        “Velveteen” by Transvision Vamp, off Velveteen
        “Part of Me Now” by The Lucy Show, off Mania
        “Manhattan Skyline” by a-ha, off Scoundrel Days
        “You're Still Beautiful” by The Church, off Gold Afternoon Fix
        “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)” by Spin Doctors, off Pocket Full of Kryptonite
        “Little Conversations” by Concrete Blonde, off Free
        “Blue Green” by Hearsay, off Triggerfish
        “Heart of Stone” by Dreams So Real, off Rough Night in Jericho
        “Fireplace, Pool, & Air Conditioning” by Dramarama, off Stuck in Wonderamaland
        “Walking in the Woods” by The Pursuit of Happiness, off Love Junk
        “Up the Beach” by Jane's Addiction, off Nothing's Shocking
        “The Ballad of Jenny Rae” by BoDeans, off Outside Looking In
        “The Woods” by The Call, off Into the Woods
        “The Last Resort” by Eagles, off Hotel California
Total:  16 tracks,  79:33

In closing, I’ll tell you two more things.  First is a bit of background on one of the bands I only briefly mentioned above.  Hearsay definitely qualifies for my definition of “very obscure band”: AllMusic’s “entry” is so impoverished that it doesn’t even have an overview (because there’s literally no info to overview), and Wikipedia has nothing.  They were in fact a small, local band from a suburb of the town I went to college in ... which is itself just a glorified suburb of Washington D.C.  I scoured the Internet for a digital copy of their magnificent album Triggerfish, but found nothing; the link above will take you to an Amazon page, but you’ll actually be buying a copy from private sellers, and paying anywhere from $15 to $60.  Not saying it’s not worth it; just opining that it’s unlikely too many of you are going to bite on that type of deal.  Perhaps one day I’ll get industrious and upload some of their music to YouTube myself.  In the meantime, you’re mostly going to have to take my word for it that they exist at all; about all I could find other than the Amazon page was an old article from the Washington Post.7  So just trust me when I tell you that lead singer Jeny Nicholson’s vocals are angelic, and Doug Kallmeyer’s bass work is phenomenal.

And, finally, we have “Velveteen” by Transvision Vamp.  Velveteen the album is the lackluster follow-up to the far superior Pop Art; it’s an inconsistent affair whose highlight is a song carried over from its much better predecessor.  “Velveteen” the song is a long, overblown bit of melodrama that drips with cheese ... but I find it irresistable, for some unfathomable reason.  If I were assigning it to a mix today, I would no doubt slot it for something a bit more operatic,8 but at this point it’s become integral to my mental model of what Wisty Mysteria actually is.  It’s not sad, per se, although there’s a sense of yearning at its core.  It’s got way too much in-your-face sexual innuendo, but that’s pretty standard for this band (which after all has “vamp” right there in the name, so you knew what you were getting into).  It can’t really decide what style it wants to be, and its sense of what seduction means is about what you’d expect from a Twilight novel.  And yet ... and yet there’s something about it which captures my imagination, in between the cheesy lyrics and the bombastic strings, something perhaps in the interplay of Wendy James’ sultry bark and what I assume is Nick Sayer’s throaty whisper.  Let’s call it a guilty pleasure and leave it at that.

Next time, we’ll head out on a world tour.


1 For the second time.  I had a weird college career where I attended for 2 years, dropped out for 3, then went back for 3 and finished up.

2 And, yes, I realize I’m being very generous in calling it a “convention.”

3 Again, count on future volumes expanding on that.

4 All the original pre-modern mixes were on 90-minute cassettes, so modern mix volumes are generally about 10 minutes shorter.

5 In fact, this is probably the most country-ish song the BoDeans have ever done that I can still stand to listen to.  And yet, despite that, I’ve always really liked this particular track.

6 That would be after his Clan of Xymox phase, but just before his Clan of Xymox phase.

7 Fun fact: see how the final paragraph of that article says: “if you miss them at the Bayou, they’ll be at Fat Tuesday’s in Fairfax Thursday”?  I was actually at that show.

8 A mix which we shall come to in, as always, in the fullness of time.