Category Archives: Musings

Trains

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If you wait at any given train station on a certain date, a train will appear that isn’t on any schedule. If you board the train you will find that the interior, regardless of the exterior, will be very elegant and old fashioned.

Have a seat and enjoy the train ride. The steam engine is beautiful: plush seats, exotic decor, gorgeous windows and elegant color schemes.

The crew are refined and very eager to please. The ticket takers engage you in conversation. Every half an hour or so, a waiter comes by to offer you the most select dishes.

The landscape rushing by outside is incredibly lush and lovely. Lakes and mountains, deep forests and pristine beaches. Don’t try to recognize any of it. Not a single tree or peak or grain of sand corresponds to any known geography.

You are not alone. The train is full of passengers. Some are dressed like you; some are in clothing you recognize as ceremonial and foreign; a few are dressed very elegantly, in luxurious fashions as least one hundred and fifty years out of date. Others sport fashions you do not recognize, and carry items—electronics? accessories?—that you have never even imagined.

When the train makes its fourth stop (this will take several hours), get off.  If you disembark beforehand, you will disappear. If you manage to return—and some do—you will only be capable of speaking a language completely unknown to our world. You will panic, and weep for days on end. You will not eat. You will pine for the world you left behind until you waste into nothing.

If you disembark after the fourth stop?

No one knows.

Just be aware that every once in a while, a hideously dismembered corpse is recovered from the rails near stations. Typically these bodies are rotted masses of meat only vaguely recognizable as human. Despite the decomposition and the mess, they appear very suddenly, often in the time it takes to blink.

Many of the victims remain unidentified due simply to the appalling state of the remains. Those identified, however, all had stained and battered train tickets on their person, dated days, weeks, even months and years prior.

People will tell you the victims tragically fell or even threw themselves into the rail wells.

But surely you know better.

Romy Inc., WHAT do I Have to DO to You to Make Your Clothes Last MORE Than Four Days?

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I am a naive person. Not incurably, intolerably, dangerously so. I just have this tendency to assume that whenever something is unsatisfactory, or disappointing, or otherwise unpleasant—say, Modcloth.com’s selection of incredibly adorable, hideously overpriced, ridiculously flimsy clothes–that it’s bad, and when it’s unusually bad, like Modcloth, there’s just not going to be much else that is as bad. (For the record, color me stupid but I’m a frequent buyer on Modcloth. I can’t stay away.) How many stores carrying incredibly adorable, hideously overpriced, ridiculously flimsy merchandise can one floundering economy support?

As it turns out, at least two.

I have the same sort of disgusted adoration for Romy (http://www.romystyle.com) that, until recently, I reserved for Modcloth.  It makes sense. Browsing their online showroom, or popping in at one of their boutiques, is enough to give anyone the sneaking suspicion that they probably source clothes from the same places as Modcloth.  (If this is true, though, Romy gets the unbranded merchandise, while Modcloth has the go-ahead to use labels.)

Moving on.

It’s pretty easy to see through Romy’s gimmicks. The first time I saw a store, I was thrilled with the screaming red and yellow signs that read, “Everything 50% off!” Very cool, yeah?

Well, not passing any judgment here, but a year later, everything, in every store, is still 50% off. This kind of reminds me of a bit in some movie (I think it was “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan”, but I’m probably wrong) where the owner of some electronics shop has big “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, EVERYTHING ON SALE….” and has had these same signs up more or less since he took up shop. Anyway, I’m digressing majorly here.

Every time I walk through Romy, or even just past a window display, I fall in love. About every four times I fall in love, I buy. And given the wider availability and more immediate gratification of Romy, I end up buying from them a lot more often than I buy from Modcloth.

With one exception, I’m disappointed every time. (The exception is a black skirt that I’ve since skinnied myself out of. Shame, actually. It’s a really nice skirt. Also, it came off the clearance rack. Miss Bean for the win times two….minus the twenty or so losses she’s sustained meanwhile, leaving her with a rough score of -18. Whoops.) Romy carries some of the prettiest, girliest, most feminine, modest pieces. So many of them are gorgeous. Florals, pastels, flowing skirts, lace, ribbons, sashes, and on and on and on and on. They are so PRETTY and they ACTUALLY LOOK GOOD ON YOU! I’ve never actually bought anything at Romy that looked bad on me. Even the camisole that I accidentally bought in the wrong size (like, four sizes too small size) looked decent. The only problem I’ve ever had with the fit is, inexplicably, on one gorgeous little blouse, the arm-holes were like…miniscule. Insanely small. To the point where they don’t even look like they match the rest of the shirt.

Yes…they are so pretty. And even though they’re not dirt-cheap in terms of pricing, I bought a skirt, two undershirts, a sweater, and two blouses for around $68.  It all sounds so good…

Til the loose threads start to cascade.

I don’t know. I don’t get it. They are SO flimsy. SO poorly-made. SO cheap.

But—

With florals and lace and ribbons and sashes and pastels and flowing skirts…what are we supposed to do? Well, okay, most of you will probably (rightly) turn your noses up and seek your wardrobe elsewhere. So I’ll rephrase:

What am I supposed to do?!?

Even when the clothes fall apart in four days. Even when they forget to give me my $10 gift card no matter how much money I spend. Even when their sale is a hoax. Even when the dressing room is partitioned off from the store by a frigging curtain. Even when the website is riddled with grammatical errors.

I’m hopeless. It’s kind of sad. But I like to think it’s kind of funny, too.

Parrots

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I share a room with two parrots. They aren’t mine. Sometimes, the fact that they don’t belong to me makes me sad. Most of the time, though, I’m fully resolved to never, ever, EVER buy a bird.

Case in point: I’ve owned dogs all my life. My family’s always had at least four. Currently, at quite a tender age, I own three (with a hedgehog on the way!). In my entire life, I’ve never been bitten by a dog.

Three weeks with these parrots, and I’ve been bitten every day. I don’t even carry these guys around, and I definitely don’t stick my fingers in their cage. I don’t do anything to encourage them. In fact, I don’t need to; when it comes to biting, they are very proactive. When they’re let out of their cages (something I never do, in the interest of my own wellbeing) they fly, hop, or sidle on over, and bite.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an African Grey Parrot. Compared to, say, giant macaws, I guess they’re not huge, but that’s not saying much.  Their beaks have a wicked, barbed-looking curve.

I’ve taken to wearing sweatshirts. Luckily, it’s still quite cold where I am. It doesn’t stop the pain, but they manage not to hook the barb in. Usually.

One of the parrots also hates me. I’ve been told he hates everybody but his person (which is sad, because actually, he technically has two people). Even when I’m feeding him, he lunges forward. We have found a sort of compromise, though. As long as I give him a square of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, he doesn’t make a go for my fingers. So it kind of works out. He gets a sugary treat that likely isn’t good for him, and my skin remains relatively intact.

Now that we’ve gone through the bad, here’s the good.

They talk.

I don’t just mean the “Polly want a cracker” variety (although they do ask for crackers often.) I can hold conversations with these birds. The conversations are really weird…but they’re conversations. Also, at the moment, I am starved for conversation. I would go so far as to say I’m lonely. So, neurotic or not, I talk to the birds.

They are very, very partial to food. Our funniest convos center around potatoes (which can mean roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, french fries, and chips) or “crapples” (which can mean apples, crackers, crappy food or, literally, crap, as in “No crapple? Then I’m gonna take a crapple. I’m a bad boy.”)

They also like to butt in. Whenever I’m phoning or Skyping, they like to join in. If I complain about anything, one bird invariably advises, “Well, don’t bitch about it.” Sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, will you shut up?!” (They’ll say that to each other, which is pretty funny.) They also like to argue. And they’ll squawk and whistly and make screamy sounds and shriek “BAD!” (this is true) if I try to watch “Say Yes to the Dress.”  They single-handedly make the viewing experience impossible. Thus, I no longer have that particular viewing experience. (Which is, to be honest, a good, good thing.)

They also have distinct personalities. I know that all animals do. Even the ones you wouldn’t expect to do, and you will notice if you pay attention. The more talkative one is kind of grumpy but craves interaction. He’s got a sense of humor, and he knows it. He actually laughs at himself all the time.  The one that hates me is very demanding, and free-spirited. He’s always figuring out how to open his cage (which is bizarre–it has this bolt you have to press and slide from the outside. I don’t get it) and he’s constantly trying to make a break for it. I still don’t know why he hates me, but maybe it’s because I have the means to get out (well…I have the means to take a walk, anyway. “Getting out” and “escaping” are impossible for me right now) and most of the time, I stay in the house. Or at least in view of the windows. He probably doesn’t understand it.

Anyway, the parrots are pretty cool. I don’t like the bites at all. But they’re the only living beings on earth that can tell me to stop bitching and to shut up and elicit a laugh rather than an infuriated scream. Also, I can’t even complain about exotic pets. In about three weeks, I’m going to be picking up my baby cinnacot hedgehog, whom I have already named Hans. (Well, my brother named him when he got tired of me dithering madly. But Hans fits. You know, like the fairy tale, “Hans Hedgehog?” Heeeeeeeeeee! Anyway. My brother is the one who wanted a hedgehog first. I wanted a sugar glider, til I realized some have a penchant for peeling the skin off your arms. Not to mention the fact that the cages cost upward of $600. Even with spines (that aren’t really spines, just hardened hairs) hedgehogs are safer. And more bumbly. I love things that bumble about =}) hedgehogs are safer. And they’re easier to care for. Also, they’re sturdier. This is a good thing, because when I go to visit my brother after picking up Hans, he’s going to be handled a lot. My brother is very gentle with animals, but he does handle them a lot. This would make a sugar glider mad, but hedgehogs acclimate better. Besides, my brother has mad skills, and he’ll make that hedgehog the friendliest, most sociable, easygoing hedgehog on the face of the earth. Seriously, this kid tames feral cats. All the animals we’ve raised from babyhood happily drape across your shoulders as you’re walking. They also follow you. And like to cuddle up to your face. I’m telling you, my brother is amazing.)

Anyway, the point is, I love the parrots. I’m just never going to own one.

My Hyper-Belated Take on the House of Night Novels

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I think most of us can agree that P.C. Cast is a decent writer.

Which begs the question: Where on earth did “House of Night” come from??

Before I go any farther, I’ll admit I only read the first book, called “Marked.” But I think that was enough. To be perfectly blunt, it sucked.

For those of you who are even more behind than me, “Marked” is Cast’s collaboration with her daughter, Kristin. It  follows the progression of Zoey Redbird, a fledgling vampyre in a world (parallel? future?)where vampyres are a fact of life. They’re separate from humans, they’re dangerous, but they’re here, and there’s nothing to do about it.

Zoey’s an interesting heroine. A normal teenage girl, she is reluctantly chosen as a vampyre, which basically means she’s separated from her family. Zoey’s also quite believable within the parameters of the story.

Unfortunately, Zoey is the only likeable part of this book.

While the opening sentence is certainly a gripper, the book swiftly falls flat from there. The writing is much too lean, and it seems unskillful; the progression is a little too fast, there aren’t any smooth transitions–it’s always very jarring, jarring enough to let you know you definitely are reading, and aren’t lost in the book–and with the exception of Zoey, nobody’s a sympathetic character. In fact, ALL of the sideline characters are incredibly shallow. Neferet is the deepest character after Zoey, and even she’s a stereotype.

For instance, Aphrodite is so openly self-centered that, from her first or second sentence, I wondered if I was reading a bullying scene written by a 2nd-grader. Most of the writing style is like that, but Aphrodite saying, “This place is awesome because of me” is so incredibly stupid, even for a villainess, that I almost stopped reading. Aphrodite can easily be a nasty character without throwing it in our faces that like. Having to be so obvious is a mark of bad writing; if the writer has to tell that tidbit, and has no way of showing it for the reader to infer him or herself first, then there’s a problem.

Also, Zoey’s friends are just as unbelievable: one’s the hick-stupid country girl, her human best friend is so without depth, so snarky and vapid, that it was boring; and even her love interest is your basic two-dimensional hero template. Excluding one dirty scene early in the novel, he’s the boy next door–without anything to his personality or history beyond that. NONE of them have any personality beyond stereotypical high school roles. It’s not that fitting the high school roles into this story is bad; in this novel, which has the potential to be funny, it could have been hysterical. But instead it’s only ridiculous.

The plot is also so insanely juvenile. While you expect high school drama here–it’s a vampire boarding school– you would think the underlying plot would be deeper, or at least not so submerged in adolescent melodrama.

I do apologize for the severity here, but for any reader who likes story depth and character development is going to be so disappointed. The story was shallow, a thin plot developed in time to cash in on the vampire craze, an excuse for more adolescent fantasy in relatively clean book-form. I know we all need escapism, but I do think it could be better than this. The writers could have done much better; I don’t know why they welshed here.

I’d advise you to skip it. Still, take this with a grain of salt; one man’s trash, and all that. 

For the record, though, I think it’s definitely trash.

Nobody Can Beat the Indigo League

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I’ve got this serious thing for Pokemon.

I don’t know how many readers (if there are any, heh heh) are familiar with this erstwhile phenomenon. I’m going to assume pretty much anybody with an internet connection has some familiarity with Pikachu, Ash, and the gang, but I suppose anything’s possible.

Anyway.

To repeat, I’ve got a serious thing for Pokemon.

The games, the cards, the manga, the TV show….I adore it. The only possible exceptions are the later seasons of the show. Actually, the only season I really enjoy is the first. You can’t beat the Indigo League.

Now, until recently, I’ve done a fantastic job hiding this weird little passion of mine. I have managed not to brag about my card collection for seven years. (At the height of the craze, when I was 11 0r 12, it was assessed at a $6,000 value. For a kid, that’s impressive, right? Misplaced determination is still determination.) I have not played any of the games since I was 15. The reason for that? I started playing Pokemon Red about midway through my sophomore year of high school. Great student, 3.8 GPA, the teacher’s pet you all probably disliked. About two thirds through my sophomore year of high school, my GPA was about a 2.7, and my parents staged a casual form of an intervention. That game was like crack. I couldn’t stop. (Well, I probably could’ve, but I didn’t.) I strongly suspect, after several years, that the games are probably still like crack. I’m going to test that over the summer with Pokemon Black. Wish me luck. No, better yet, pray.

Now, backtracking here, I want to tell you a little bit more about my card collection. About the time of the Pokemon Red intervention, I stashed that bulging folder away. I didn’t look at it for a looooooong time. In fact, I forgot I hid it (I forget things a LOT) and assumed it had been stolen. This wasn’t an entirely unfounded fear. One particular summer, a lot of things disappeared from my parents’ house. Having forgotten about my mad skills for hiding stuff, I naturally assumed this bizarre paean to an obsessive childhood–I would call it the sum of my pre-adolescent life–had gotten stuck to a couple of sticky fingers and slid away.

A few months ago, maybe February, my youngest brother unearthed this collection. I was ecstatic. Wild. Never mind a couple of card slots had emptied in the intervening years. Of once-$6,000, I probably still had once-$5,800. All my favorites were there. It made my month.

My youngest brother was just as excited. In fact, he was developing a nice little Poke-obsession himself: he’d amassed a good 300 cards over the last year, no mean feat for a kid with no allowance and sporadic earning potential. Even now, booster packs cost anywhere from $3 to $6. I was proud.

That pride morphed to shock when he asked if he could have my collection.

“No way!” I cried. “You know what these mean to me?”

To cut a long story short, my Scroogey sensibilities persisted. My brother’s obsession did not wane, however, and culminated with some thievery on his part. However, it was kind of a joke. He is, by the way, a joker, and filmed himself (on my camera!) taking them. He also hid them in the bathroom. I confiscated the cards, but I was so amused, it was all in good humor.

I did feel kind of guilty, which was definitely warranted. I mean, think about it. I couldn’t even remember WHY I loved Pokemon so much. I have been an adult for a few of years now. I haven’t touched the game since high school, the show even longer than that. So what was up? Not to brag, but I’m normally a very generous person. I do develop weird attachments to inanimate objects, true. Things like Carls Jr. cups, water bottles, coffee mugs, old coats, frog sculptures, empty lotion pots, 5-year-old homework notebooks, bolts of fabric, pieces of deconstructed music boxes, cracked aquariums, headless figurines, plastic meal buckets  (also from Carl’s Jr, incidentally) and stuffed animals. (Regarding stuffed animals: until I was seven, I actually believed they had feelings. Isn’t it nice when you can pinpoint the origin of a particular neurosis?) Naturally, I assumed my thing for Pokemon cards was along those lines. Not that it excused anything, and I did make a vague promise to gift him some lesser cards.

Shortly after this first round of the Thief Game (there were several more) my brother managed to wheedle a DVD set of the first half of the first season of Pokemon. Those of you in the know will remember it as The Indigo League.

Shamefully, I was every bit as excited as my brother.

Working around my employment schedule (which was pretty minimal) we settled in for a marathon that week.

Within ten minutes, I was stunned.

Not long after, I was swept away.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Pokemon is almost crazily childish. Cliches abound.  The situations are, with very few exceptions, kind of laughable. Even the bad guys aren’t scary. Team Rocket is cringingly inept, and provides comic relief much more often than conflict or even tension. It turns out they even play for Ash’s team every once in a while. Damian, Charmander’s former trainer (you remember this episode, my fellow nerds?) is much more sickening than dopey James can ever hope to be. Shoot, his and Jessie’s determination, perpetual ingenuity, unswerving loyalty is moralistic in itself. (I might be biased in their favor, though, as they both dropped out of the academy. I’m not a dropout by any stretch, but I hate school.)

Moving on, the show’s morals are overwhelming. Their perennial “preserve the enviroment!” message don’t even make an effort toward subtlety. Nor do the themes of friendship, patience, personal development, responsibility, respect, or equality. Ash is a stubborn, pigheaded, often idiotic example of a child, but this kid can’t go five minutes without learning some lesson or other. He doesn’t even get a free pass for stupid, poor thing. Every time he’s silly, arrogant, self-centered, or displays a lack of empathy, he’s punished in some way or other. Even when he’s overcoming an obstacle, he gets bashed if he doesn’t overcome it with complete selflessness and humility. It was kind of embarrassing. I remembered why, as a child, I felt stupid if my parents were in the room watching it with me. It was a fun, addictive show with good lessons, but jeez maria.

My brother and I kept on watching, though. We weren’t about to be deterred. We were INTO it. We were basking in the silliness and adventure and the awesomeness of the Pokemon universe. A world filled to the brim with adorable, intelligent creatures, with tons of adventure and just the right amount sof danger–how does anyone with a childish heart stand a chance? Even the bad guys don’t want to hurt you. They just want to take your Pikachu. That in itself can be traumatic, of course, but think. No matter what, it always turns out well.  Even when Ash loses his battle, even when Charmander is abandoned, even when Team Rocket is on the cusp of success,  it always turns out okay. But not simply, or without work. The ghost in the machine is present, but it requires some sacrifice. These characters have the passion, the honesty, the ingenuity, the creativity, the drive, the courage, and the pureness of heart to always do what is right, and thus to always come out happy. Think about it. Ash is soooooooooooo not a winner in the traditional sense. The only way he works his way up through the League is through unusual means. In fact, this clueless child usually ends up risking his life for others. The desire to win dissipates in the face of threat to his friends, Pokemon, and even strangers. In the end, after everything, Ash can’t even get into the Pokemon League. All that work, all that heartache and danger and grueling work, and he can’t even achieve his dream. Lack of skill or not, this boy has earned this. But he still can’t get it.

Does he give up?

Of course not. He accepts this defeat, this crushing disappoint, with the ultimate grace. And he sets out to try again.

About halfway through the season, it started to hit me.

My craziness regarding cards and games actually tuned the show out. I really didn’t even watch this cartoon after I turned eleven. But to be honest, I think that was my loss. Not to write over the childishness, the simplicity, of the thing. But it was those things–always do what’s right; take care of your world; face adversity with graceful courage; respect your enemies; take care of those who depend on you; put yourself last; never, ever, ever give up–that captured my imagination as a child. And it recaptured my imagination at an adult. (To be fair, I haven’t really matured. Obviously.) And what was so wrong with that? “The Lord of the Rings” is jam-packed with similar themes. Narnia? Don’t even get me started. Harry Potter, same deal. The Dark Tower? Well, maybe subtract the “respect your enemies”, but yeah. (Oooh, on the subject of Stephen King’s work, pick up his and Peter Straub’s brilliant collaboration, “The Talisman.” In fact, stop reading this and go do that now.) To be honest, Pokemon’s not doing anything but putting forth the messages, morals, and themes held up by the best works of fantasy since the inception of storytelling. Pokemon did what it was meant to do, and it suceeded wonderfully.

Now….is Pokemon among the greatest works of fantasy? Of course not. It’ll never be. It’s a cliche-ridden cartoon that’s honestly seen better days. Most of you probably don’t even think it’s worth your time. And it probably isn’t. But it is worth mine. And I’m very, very glad.

Tragically, very recently there cropped up a situation that required me to leave my precious cards. I had to resort to a Spartan amount of possessions (and oh boy, if you’re anything like me, you can imagine the agony.) I’m kind of humiliated to admit that I did consider packing them, but it was impossible. And I’d been promising to trade cards with my little brother for a long time by then. Somehow, I never got around to it.

So, I offered that bulging, messy, crazy folder that, once upon a time, had been worth thousands of dollars. That, to me, is still worth thousands of dollars, pathetic as that may be. And I gave it to the one person who valued it as much as I do. A person who just might value it more. And the funny thing about it? It didn’t feel like a loss. Honestly, I think I was probably just a little bit happier than he was.