August 2003 Archives

Still Wallets Run Deep

I'm the first to admit that I've got money issues. I don't part with it easily. I agonize over virtually every purchase. I spend my change. I need to work on loosening up, on feeling OK about spending money on myself. Therapy might be helpful. Except that it costs money.

I wanted to stay in the Polynesian with my sister & nieces. I thought I could ignore the cost and just go with it. I tried bringing myself into a Zen-like state of acceptance, but satori eluded me. A hotel room for me is nothing more than a place to crash at night and shower in the morning. I'm going to Disney World for the theme parks, not the resort facilities. I can understand why my sister wants to stay at the Polynesian. Killer location, great pool for the kids, the Disney "magic" at a time in their lives when it's still magical... makes total sense for them. But it's overkill for me. The difference in price-- $300 for the Polynesian, $80 for the All-Stars-- is enormous. In fact, the total package-- room, park passes, and Silver Wishes upgrade-- is less than half the cost at the All-Stars than it'd be at the Polynesian. That's an entire 2nd vacation I'd be tossing away.

That's real money, and I couldn't just shrug it off. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got about staying at the Polynesian. I can still meet up with the family in the morning, return with them to their hotel at night, hang out with the kids until they go to bed, then bus or taxi back to my hotel. I'm willing to accept that minor inconvenience, and the time to myself might actually be nice after spending the entire day with the family.

More to the point, I'm excited about the trip and not seething at the cost as I'd be at the Polynesian. It's the right decision for me. My sister thinks I'm being cheap and allowing monetary concerns to take precedence over being close to my nieces. I agree that I'm being cheap, but feel the impact on my nieces will be negligible. They'll still have all the magic, just without Uncle Pete in the early morning. I'm content with my cost-benefit analysis, even if my sister isn't.

The worst thing about people knowing you've come into money is they all feel entitled to decide how you should spend it.

Comments (9) | last by Greg, Sep 5, 5:41 PM

Back in the Hotseat

Apparently the Millionaire reruns this week are from my week of shows, which means I'll probably be on this Thursday and Friday. If you missed it the first go-round, or you just want to marvel at The Great Millicent Ass-Pull one more time, here's your chance.

The good folks from Replay Amusements came by yesterday for a house call on my Addams Family pinball machine. The game features 3 magnets beneath the center of the playfield called "The Power". When The Power activates, it radically alters the course of the ball in unpredictable ways. I've had the game for a few years, but one of the magnets has never worked. They're all working now for a much more lively game, making me very happy. Thank you, Thing!

Comments (6) | last by Mark Evans, Aug 27, 4:43 PM

The Barely Remarkable Race

I think we can all agree that the only two outcomes that mattered were a) Jon and Al win, and b) Jon and Kelly don't. One out of two ain't bad.

The problem with The Amazing Race is that for most of the season it is not, in fact, a race to be first-- it's a race not to be last. The race is structured so that winning any given leg conveys absolutely no advantage for the next one. The ultimate winner could come in 2nd-to-last in every leg, as long as they finish first at the end. Feh.

The basic idea behind the show is great, but it's always suffered from poor development. Most activities en route are not interesting for viewers to watch, and provide little room for trailing teams to catch up. And there are no guns or goofy costumes. I think if teams were issued service pistols at the starting line and Tian and Jaree had to run the entire race dressed as French maids, the show would suddenly become a heck of a lot more interesting.

Comment (1) | last by dana, Aug 23, 1:31 PM

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you... Lapdance Island. The only thing I can imagine that would be more uncomfortable than being sexually frustrated is being sexually frustrated on television. I can't imagine who'd actually sign up for this, but the application is pretty funny.

Comments (4) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Aug 27, 4:01 AM

My CGI Sense is Tingling

The new animated Spider-man series on MTV is creepy. First, Spidey's voiced by Neil Patrick Harris and whenever he opens his mouth for a wisecrack I can only think, "Doogie!" But it's the animation style that really creeps me out.

The whole thing is computer animated, and not in a cute, Pixar kind of way. The entire show looks like it was created using the animation engine of a video game. That isn't hyperbole-- everyone moves completely unrealistically with a kind of floaty smoothness game players will recognize immediately. Action sequences are terrific, but close-ups and conversations are horrendous. I keep expecting life meters to appear over their heads. It'd also be nice if, for once, the TV version of the character would be more-or-less in sync with the comic book instead of stuck in his early college, pre-marriage years.

Watching the series is like watching a videogame cut scene, but without the payoff of having gameplay resume. Maybe it's perfect for a generation raised on that kind of animation, but I'll take Cartoon Network's Justice League over this any day.

Comment (1) | last by Damon, Aug 18, 11:17 AM

Days Outt

My sister's taking her family to Disney World this fall and I'm going to join them. It'll be the first real vacation I've taken in 12 years (the annual trips to The Gathering of Friends and going home for Thanksgiving don't count), and I'm looking forward to it. On the one hand, I haven't been to Disney World since I was a child, before MGM Studios, Blizzard Beach, or Animal Kingdom existed. There's a ton of stuff I haven't seen, and my adult eye can appreciate the genius of the Disney parks on a completely different level now. The richness of the theming, the way line lengths are cleverly concealed and there's always something new to look at around the corner, the relentless eradication of employee individuality-- all lost on me as a kid, but endlessly fascinating to me today.

On the other hand, I'll also be seeing the parks through the eyes of my nieces who'll be going for the first time. If ever there's a place to be an uncle, surely it must be Disney World.

To quote my sister, "This is going to be the family vacation we never had as a kid-- no Days Inns or not doing anything fun." And it's true-- our family vacations (the one or two that we had) were budget affairs. Economy hotels, no frills or extras, no activities that carried an extra cost. And my mother wonders where my parsimony comes from.

So we're staying at the Polynesian Resort (the nieces are thrilled that we're staying "where Lilo and Stitch would stay."), and we're already booked for the luau the night we arrive. The kids have a Princess Character Breakfast on the schedule (hell could have frozen over and we still wouldn't have gotten to go to one of these in our childhood), and we have reservations at the Brown Derby for dinner and seats at Fantasmic. A pair of little people, nattily attired in house livery, will follow us around all day and remind us of our schedules.

For my own part, I've got a list of must-do activities: DisneyQuest, The Adventurer's Club, Blizzard Beach, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Play-It, Mission: Space, and a day off-site at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure for the Spiderman and Hulk rides. Anything else I should put on the list?

Comments (6) | last by Abby, Sep 4, 11:52 AM

A concerned reader wondered if it was such a good idea to show my address on that check. And if my mattress was bursting with cash, I could understand his concern. But my address is readily available both on- and off-line, the cash isn't here, and we've already established that I'm a cheapskate with no style. What's the worst a thief could abscond with, my almost-complete set of Wired Magazine? A case of Simply Cola? I'm actually hoping for Matthew Baldwin's flash mob to swing by my place.

Comment (1) | last by Abby Sarrett, Sep 4, 1:09 PM

If only more of my mail could be like this.


Comments (10) | last by sam, Sep 7, 9:38 PM

Tears of a Clown

My favorites, gone!
Who can I root for now? Who?
Not Kelly and John!

If they win the race
It will be just like last year,
When the whiner won.

I no longer watch
To cheer for a victory;
I hope they all lose.

Why didn't you check
For a better flight sooner?
Goodbye, Jon and Al.

"What kind of clown are you?"
"The crying on the inside kind, I guess."
-- Bill Murray, Quick Change

Max Payne

I haven't played a computer game in a while, so to scratch the itch I picked up the full version of a game for which I'd previously enjoyed the demo: Max Payne. It's a first-person shooter with the twist that you can enter "bullet-time"-- a slow motion mode where you move a little faster than your enemies and can see (and perhaps dodge) their bullets. You can't do a slow-motion Limbo like Neo, but the effect is terrific and wonderfully enhanced by slo-mo cutaway shots of the last enemy in a scene getting knocked backward by your kill shot. In fact, it's the theatrical touches which make Max Payne sing. The story is told via a graphic novel format with gritty painted artwork and gloriously purple prose. The sounds come at you from the right directions. But what prompted me to write this entry was the most creative use of a first-person engine I've ever seen: a dream sequence.

In the game's prologue, Max's wife and baby are killed in his own home. Rather than reading about it in a graphic novel sequence, we play through it in-game. At the end of Part I, Max is slipped a mickey. He falls unconscious and relives those events in a dream. And again, we don't just read it-- we play it. It's brilliant. The rooms of the house are in a gray fog of memory. Corridors extend to infinity. Cries for help echo from nowhere. A door is mysteriously boarded up before our eyes as we try to open it. A trail of blood extends into space. It's a psychadelic nightmare and one of the freshest first-person-shooter experiences I've ever had. Bravo.

Comments (2) | last by Mark Evans, Aug 6, 3:35 AM

Wilde Digression

Back in junior high and high school, I had a serious addiction. My supplier knew me by name and was always waiting for me. He knew I'd come for my steady fix to satisfy my jones. The habit consumed all my free cash. It got so bad, I did things-- terrible, heinous things, like mowing lawns and babysitting-- to finance my addiction. I was a comic book junkie. "Still only 35 cents!" the covers screamed. A bargain at twice the price. And soon, twice again. And that's when, as a poor college student, I finally knocked the monkey off my back. $1.50 per issue? Excelsior indeed.

DC Comics, with its geriatric residents of Gotham, Metropolis, and Central City, was decidedly uncool. As I got older, I experimented in the DC universe-- Teen Titans, the reinvented Wonder Woman and Superman. But I was mostly a mainstream superhero guy, loyal to Marvel Comics. X-Men, New Mutants, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Firestorm, and too many others to count (the complete run of Micronauts! Oh, the humanity!). I pretty much ignored the burgeoning independent scene-- Elfquest, Zot!, Mage, Nexus. Upstarts with an axe to grind and a higher price tag, both of which I could do without.

With one exception.

Cerebus was an odd little duck. Exquisitely detailed black and white artwork in a world of zip-a-tone color. A talking, sword-wielding aardvark in a world of men. A Canadian comic book going it alone in a world of American publishing giants. The unique artistic style caught my attention. The storytelling and frequent parodies of mainstream comics kept it. Mainstream comics were written for teenagers, but Cerebus was written for adults. I was hooked.

Cerebus got dropped 15 years ago along with all the other comics, and I always kind of regretted that. But I had to go cold turkey. I couldn't bear to visit a comics shop only to limp out with but a single title under my arm. And I couldn't trust myself to do just that. But now, as an adult, I got to wondering what I've been missing. And so last year I got a couple of the "phone book" Cerebus compilations, picking up from where I left off.

Cerebus is a barbarian aardvark who talks of himself in the third person. He likes ale and gold. A lot. In the course of his story he's been both prime minister and pope, devices which let Sim explore the trappings of power. Church & State was classic Cerebus. Jaka's Story was a departure but a welcome and successful one, focusing a great deal on a secondary character's history and less on Cerebus himself. It worked because of Jaka's popularity, her intimate connection with Cerebus, and the quality of creator Dave Sim's story. Good stuff.

And then, last night, came Melmoth. What was Sim smoking? Melmoth consists of 12 issues-- an entire year of the series. Cerebus spends all but the last half of the last issue sitting on a patio staring into space. Wait, it gets better. The bulk of these issues is devoted to a retelling of the final days of Oscar Wilde.

Now, I don't begrudge a writer/artist a bit of artistic freedom. The occasional literary tangent within a comic is to be expected. An issue here or there over the course of the run, to keep the juices flowing. But an entire year? Devoted to a story in which nothing happens, about a character who has no meaning within the Cerebus universe? What was he thinking? Imagine a whole year of Peanuts strips about Issac Newton narrated by Pig Pen, or Sports Illustrated offering 12 months of nothing but coverage of church bake sales. Sim's hubris wasn't in wandering off on a 12 month indulgence, or foisting his Wilde obsession on his readers. His hubris was making an excruciatingly boring comic book in doing so. I paid half price for Melmoth and still feel ripped off.

An entire year. Un-frickin-believable.

Comments (4) | last by dave, Jan 17, 3:36 AM

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