As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really give a rat’s ass who Kerry picks for VP. But, that said, it would be kind of fun to see John Edwards matched up with Dick Cheney in a vice-presidental debate. It would be pretty much exactly like that one episode where Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes head-to-head with Dracula.

Behind The Scenes: The Making Of “Veep-Stakes”

Me: Hey, who was the Big Bad in the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

The Queen: What?

M: I’m writing something for the yeti and I’ve trying to remember who the main villian was in the first season of Buffy.

Q: Dracula?

M: No, although she did meet Dracula once. That’s who I’ve currently got in the post, but I thought it might be funnier if I used the name of the head bad guy in the first season.

Q: The Ubervamp?

M: No, he was in the last season.

Q: It was some super vampire guy.

M: Right. And he had a name.


Q: Fred?

M: So, you’re bored of this conversation, is that what you’re saying?

Q: Pretty much.

On The Ball

The weekend started with a literal bang here in the Baldwin household, as the nation of Taiwan attempted to kill me and my child. It was a little after ten on Friday evening, and I was trying to get The Squirrelly to sleep by holding him while bouncing up and down on an exercise ball in a darkened room. Then, just as he closed his eyes and started to breath deeply, the ball beneath us decided to embark on a new career as a big piece of ruptured plastic. One moment we’re merrily boinging up and down, the next we’re laying there with dazed looks on our faces, I sprawled cockeyed against the wall, The Squirrelly several feet away on his back, looking like two guys waking up on the morning after a particularly enjoyable bachelor party.

While I lay there wondering what the hell had happened, The Squirrelly leapt into action, quickly inhaling all of the oxygen in the room and expelling it in the form of a banshee-deafening wail. This was, of course, followed mamaseconds later by The Queen charging into the room (though she had doubtlessly already been mobilized by the sound of a small explosion emanating from our room). She saw The Squirrelly on the ground, bellowed “DID YOU DROP THE BABY?!!,” and then stabbed me in the heart with a screwdriver. Or, at least, she would have, if she had been in possession of a screwdriver, and if I hadn’t hastily gestured towards the limp and damp remains of the ball to justify my apparent decision to lounge nonchalantly in the corner of the room while the kid lay on the floor screaming.

The casualties of the calamity were as follows: one red mark on The Squirrelly’s noggin, one aching tailbone on papa’s hindquarters, and a lot of anxiety for The Queen, who spent the remainder of the evening looking up “brain injuries” in The Baby Book (while I repeatedly pointed out that (a) the baby had not been “dropped on its head,” as some spouses in the household were alleging — he had merely tumbled out of my arms after I hit the floor — and (b) I don’t see anyone looking up “Ass, broken” in The Husband Book, so what say we spread the sympathy around a little bit, hey?).

Later, reading the fine print on the body ball box, we discovered the true culprit: the Taiwanese, who apparently sanction the manufacture of shoddy goods within their borders. Or maybe they encourage it, and intend to seize control of our nation after wiping out an entire generation of American babies (and daddies!) through the export of defective “Gaiam Balance Balls.” America, remain vigilant!

Actually, there is another possibility. In the childcare classes we took prior to the birth, the teacher spoke about the absolutely necessity of a “body ball” to sooth cranky infants. When someone asked if the balls ever pop, the midwife said, oh no, that could never happen, because a typical ball has a burst weight of 800 pounds, at which point I loudly guffawed (because, c’mon: “burst weight” is funny) and the teacher looked a little irked. So I may have been on the receiving end of some midwifey fertility goddess hex. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that there was no long-term damage to either the top end of baby or the bottom end of daddy. And the very next day I bought a ball with burst weight of 1000 lbs., taking pains to select a model that had been made in China. TAKE THAT TAIWAN!!!

Appropo of nothing, here’s Louie Cat traipsing through a Squirrelly photoshoot:

Bladder Lad

The other day I rewatched X2: X-Men United on DVD, and it reminded me of something I wanted to mention in my original review but omitted because it gave away the end of the movie. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, here there be spoilers.

Anyhow, when I went to see X2 in the theater I did something I never do; namely, visit the concession stand. I dunno what possessed me, but something about the prospect of seeing Hugh Jackman in leather made me want to have snacks on hand. So I got some popcorn and, of course, several cubic feet of cola. All I wanted was a “small,” honest, but you know how these things are rigged against you, where it’s, like, you can get an additional 128 oz. for only seven cents, and if you don’t go for it the cashier looks at you like you must be the stupidest thing ever to claw its way out of a grave and wander around in search of brains, so you’re, like, “oh, what’s seven cents compared to the withering scorn of a nineteen year-old making minimum wage?” and the next thing you know you’re staggering away with cup of Dr. Pepper the size of Kirsty Alley.

And then, for reasons as inscrutable as Mona Lisa’s smile, I proceeded to drink the whole damned thing before the open credits had concluded. Well, I think we all know where this is going.

So there I am, an hour or so into the film, with an Extended-Family-Sized Soft Drink firmly lodged in my Medium-sized nether regions. Now usually I’m pretty pragmatic about these things, and will flee to the restroom at the first twinge of discomfort, knowing that the longer I wait the more reluctant I’ll be to leave as the movie builds toward its climax. But director Bryan Singer did a pretty good job of making a movie without a single pee-able moment, what with the punching and the shooting and the more punching. So I’m sitting there waiting for the characters in the movie to decide to do something boring, like go see one of the Matrix sequels or whatever, when suddenly the X-Men announce that they have discovered the enemy’s secret hideout and they’re heading over there prontoismo to kick some mutant tail. And I’m, like, “Buh? We’re already heading to the big finale? Maybe this is only a 90 minute movie or something.” And I decide I can make it to the end.

Alas, dear readers, X2: X-men United is not a 90 minute movie. It is, in fact, a 135 minute movie. And the secret hideout, it turns out, is conveniently located inside a dam — a dam, I might add, which soon becomes damaged due to metahuman fisticuffs. From that point on we are treated to 45 minutes of pipes groaning with burgeoning water pressure, walls bulging under increased strain, corridors flooded by rushing torrents of liquid, and, ultimately, the disintegration of the dam itself, an event which precipitates an enormous wall of water shown rushing headlong at the audience, all while that cola continues to steadily drip-drip-drip into my bladder like some demonic IV feed.

Somehow, and despite all this, I made it to the first nanosecond of the closing credits, at which point I sprinted to the restroom as quickly as advisable under the circumstances. But the superhuman effort I’d exerted to get that far probably would have gained me admission into Dr. Xavier’s School For The Gifted.

Come to think of it, that reminds me of another motion picture + urination story. (I got a million of ’em.) Several year back I went and saw Lawrence of Arabia at a local art house theater. At the end of the 215 minute movie I joined quite a sizable line at the men’s bathrooms. The facilities had two urinals, and while men were constantly cycling through the one of the right, the one of the left was seemingly inhabited by a gentleman taking the longest, marathon piss I’ve ever had the good fortune to witness. He outlasted the three guys in front of me in line and was still there as I occupied the second urinal. A few moments after my arrival, however, he managed to wrap things up. As he rezippered, he turned to me and loudly exclaimed “Thank God that was a movie about a desert!”

The Bad Review Revue

The Chronicles of Riddick: “Riddick-ulous.” — Megan Lehmann, NEW YORK POST

Garfield: “You’d have to be a real asshole to hate this movie. Sadly the task falls to me.” — Marrit Ingman, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Soul Plane: “An hour and a half of real airplane turbulence is better than sitting through Soul Plane.” — Sara Gebhardt, WASHINGTON POST

The Stepford Wives: “So god-awful it falls into the category of needing to be seen to be believed. ” — Karen Karbo, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

The Terminal: “Interminable.” — Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL

Games: Hansa

I’m not a big fan of abstract games. That’s what I keep saying, at least, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Much of that evidence has been provided by Michael Schacht, who has designed a number of games I quite like, including one of my favorites Web of Power. And now I find myself enamored with Schacht’s most recent release, a enjoyably agonizing little gem called Hansa.

The gameboard shows nine Hanseatic cities, connected by a web of water routes and home to an assortment of consumer goods. The players, meanwhile, are merchants on a ship zig-zagging across the Baltic sea, visiting the various cities as the vendors ply their trade. The crucial point here is that all of the players are on the same ship, and only control it on their individual turns.

At the start of the game each player receives three coins and places markets in some of the cities. Players then spend their turns sailing the ship from its current location to a new destination — in accordance with the route lines, and spending a coin to do so — and taking actions: buying goods, establishing markets, or selling goods. To buy a good, a player takes one of the good counters from the ship’s current city and pays one coin to whomever has the most markets in that city. To establish new markets, a player discards a previously purchased good and places 1-3 markets in this ship’s current city. To sell goods, a player turns a number of previously purchased goods face down (adding them to his score pile) and removes one market from the ship’s current city (if the player has no markets in the current city, he may not sell there). Complicating all this is the restriction that a player may take more than one action in a city at a time. At the end of the game, players receive points for all the goods they own, and two points for every city in which they have at least one market.

What makes the game hum is the clever (and often maddening) way in which money, goods, and markets are intertwined. Owning the plurality of markets in a city is always a boon, not only because other players will pay you to buy goods there but because you can take goods from that city for free. The coins you receive from your markets can be used to purchase goods, and these goods can be later discarded to establish still more markets. This would be a powerful positive feedback loop were it not for two limitations: each player only has a total of 15 markets, and every time you sell goods (a necessity, if you wish to win) you remove markets from the board.

Hansa is very much a tactical game rather than a strategic one — that is, every turn you evaluate your current position and decide what to do, with little focus on long-term planning. In that respect, each turn of Hansa feels like solving a little puzzle, as you noodle out where to buy and sell goods, establish markets, and sail the ship, all with a finite number of coins at your disposal. These kind of mental gymnastics might become taxing over a long period of time, but I find them quite enjoyable over the course of Hansa’s typical 45-60 minutes playing time.

Unlike some of my previous recommendations, this one isn’t necessarily for everyone — although the rules couldn’t be simpler, playing well does require a willingness to mentally crunch the permutations before making a move. But for folks game for a little analytic reasoning, Hansa is about as addictive as they come.

Sexual Congress

Okay, so Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan may have taken his former wife to “bizarre clubs” around the world and pressured her to have sex with him in front of complete strangers. But should that automatically disqualify him from serving in Congress? I mean, sure, the guy has some flaws, but let’s not forget that he took down an international drug cartel, helped America recover from a devastating terrorist attack, and pulled the nation back from the brink of nuclear holocaust. Isn’t this someone we should be rallying behind?

On the other hand, I think he was also the soldier Tom Hanks saved in World War II, so maybe he’s already used up his good luck.

Side-By-Side In Sisterhood

Now that I’ve regained my masculinity, I guess I can start making sweeping sexist generalizations again.

What is it about women that make them constitutionally incapable of walking Indian-Native American file, even for the briefest of moments? I have a number of running partners, many of whom are female — The Queen, her friends, some coworkers here at the office — and one thing that’s always struck me is that while men will quickly assemble into a line when the trail narrows, women will often steadfastly refuse to deviate from their side-by-side formation, even if it means slowing to a crawl, hunching their shoulders forward, and moving within picometers of their companions to navigate a bottleneck.

And it’s not just on the run: in the mall, on the sidewalk, on the escalator… Is it because women are so egalitarian that no one wishes to assume the lead? Or are they so independent that they refuse to literally “fall in line”? For whatever reason, the behavior seems endemic to the whole sex. I’ve noticed this phenomenon so often that I’ve started to wonder if it is, in fact, the origin of the phrase “walking abreast.”

Books: The Last American Man

I haven’t really been keeping up with my book reviews, but since I recommended The Last American Man over at The Morning News a few weeks back, I figure I could at do the same for my readers over here.

Those of you unfortunate enough to be adults may remember a spate of books released in the mid-90s that purported to tackle the thorny issue of “masculinity.” The tomes tended to come in two varieties: those that analyzed the issue from a feminist perspective and urged readers to identify their masculine side and then quash it in favor of nurturing their inner womyn, and those that warned that the former were turning us into a nation of simpering nancyboys and encouraged men to combat this creeping menace by making more of an effort to behave like an asshole.

Since I was at Evergreen during the throes of this trend, it was pretty much inescapable for me. And, consequentially, I have an irrational fear of any book that has the word “masculinity” anywhere near it. So the only thing that’s more amazing than the fact that I picked up The Last American Man from the library is the fact that I then went on to read it, despite a blurb on the front cover that declared it to be “the finest examination of American masculinity since Into the Wild.” And hey, you know what? It was great — best nonfiction book I’ve read so far this year.

The Last American Man is the biography of one Eustace Conway, written by his good friend Elizabeth Gilbert. Conway was literally the stuff of legends. As a teen he decided to forego a comfortable existence and live in the wilderness, surviving off what food he could catch or grow, fashioning his clothing out of buckskin, and eschewing even the luxury of matches. Unlike many hermits, though, Conway’s desire was not to get away from people — in fact, he was an extraordinary public speaker, and early on decided that it was his life’s calling to proselytize this lifestyle, urging city folk to ditch the suburbs and come join him in the forest. In that end he established the Turtle Island Preserve, where he gave workshops and mentored those who wanted to learn how to live a “traditional lifestyle.” He also travelled to schools and conferences as a handsomely paid guest speaker. And, between gigs, he found time to hike the entire Appalachian Trail and ride across the nation on horseback.

In chronicling the life of Conway, Gilbert makes little effort to hide her affection for the subject matter: she freely admits that she’s a friend of the protagonist and is obviously not immune to his considerable charms. Even so, she’s not afraid to tell it like it is when it comes to Conway’s many failings. Gilbert makes it all too clear why a man of Conway’s charism nonetheless winds up alienating his friends, family, lovers and apprentices. Indeed, Conway come across less as a paragon of manhood and more like a greek god: larger-than-life, but with a flaw for every virtue. That Gilbert is able to navigate the tightrope between objectivity and personalization is a credit to her skills as an author.

And while I haven’t rushed out and purchased a copy of Iron John just yet, I will say that The Last American Man went a long way in destigmatizing treatises on masculinity for me. Better still, I found it an engrossing, funny, and thought-provoking book, one perfect for summer reading on the beach. Or in the middle of a rainforst, whichever you prefer.