Category Archives: Obsessions

So There’s a Book I Really Enjoyed

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If you’re into great writing, flawless pacing, and horrifying subject matter that may or may not destroy your faith in humanity, you’ll probably like it, too. It’s called “The Wish Doctor“, written by the most likely pseudononymous G.R. Sabian.

 

The book follows the exploits of a crazily rich and seemingly soulless man who, for no discernible reason (other than a near-supernatural compulsion that I suspect is rooted in a traumatic past) randomly grants violent wishes to miserable people – regardless of whether the misery is warranted, the person is good, or the wishes are deserved. As an example, he burns one family alive to satisfy the wishes of a disgruntled young scion.

 

On to other things.

 

Somehow, he crosses paths with a child prostitute named Jamie. (Can you guess where this is going?) Her deepest wish, naturally, is that the pimps and offenders all die. Our hero, Harry, accomplishes this and assumes his work is done.

 

Only it’s not.

 

First off, the child refuses to let him leave. Second, she (understandably) has many issues that make her a danger to herself and others. By necessity, she is a master manipulator and basically, they end up in a twisted, if mostly sincere, approximation of a parent/child relationship. On top of that, the two have some kind of weird, understated psychic connection.

 

I’ll be honest. First, this is most definitely not a book I wish I’d written. Second, I definitely did not write it (just want to throw it out there – I am a professional writer, but I do things like ad copy, product descriptions, and blog posts for small/midsize businesses. I want to be a novelist, but I’m too chicken as of now to put my work out there).

 

Third, the entire novel is extremely disturbing on several levels. Think graphic violence and a lot of implied abuse and memories. It isn’t for everyone. In fact, the entire book is basically one giant trigger. As good as it most certainly is, as fantastic as the writer him/herself is, I can sort of understand why it’s retailing for $1 USD.

 

That said, I’ve been trying to talk people into reading it since I first read it in July of 2014, but my efforts have been in vain (and I can sort of see why, after reading the above endorsement). So, after this, I’m honestly giving up. I just couldn’t let it go without a cursory post on my very own blog. G.R. Sabian, whoever she/he is, is a stunningly fantastic writer. Think the pacing and spare, impactful sentences of Dean Koontz with the eerie lyricism of Cormac McCarthy wrapped around Tarantino-level violence (without the absurdity) and the true-to-life, hard-to-stomach grit of “Taxi Driver”. It’s cinematic and oddly literary at once.

 

If you can tolerate this, please read it – mostly because it’s supposedly part of a series and I want to make sure it continues.

 

In case you missed the link the first time, here it is: The Wish Doctor by G.R. Sabian.

 

It’s just $1, folks. Pleeeeeeeease do this. For me.

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.

Yes, Fullmetal Alchemist IS Better Than Just About Anything

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Displaying my knack for being painfully behind the times, I started watching Fullmetal Alchemist about a year ago. I was immediately enthralled. I’m a sucker for a good story and an even better sucker for awesome characters. In fact, when it comes to characters and story, FMA exceeds just about every standard. It  is a spectacular TV show, a good movie, and a wonderful series of graphic novels. If you wanted to try, it’d be a great novel, mini-series, micro-series, film trilogy, comic strip, radio show, live-action show, or anything else. “Fullmetal Alchemist” would succeed in any forum, because it is a spectacular story. And if you’ve got that, you have everything else in the bag.

The show follows the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric. They live, not in this world, but a close parallel called Amestris, where science has diverged from ours–though far more sophisticated in its way, the science of alchemy has superseded all our sciences in importance. It’s easy to see why: if you understand the composition of matter, alchemy can produce anything out of anything–as long as you abide by the law of equivalent exchange: to obtain, something of equal value must be lost.

The one exception to this rule is life.

But when their mother dies, the distraught brothers ignore this rule and do everything they can to bring her back, with disastrous consequences. The resurrected monster is nothing like their mother; Alphonse loses his human body; and Edward is literally ripped apart, left with an arm and a leg.

Torn by guilt over his brother’s condition, Edward sets off–with his brother, in a strong but inhuman form–to correct the travesty he has committed. He is determined to bring his brother’s body back, but the only way to possibly do that is to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone–the only object on earth that can surpass and ignore the law of equivalent exchange.

In order to obtain the Stone, however, the Elric brothers have one option: they must become State Alchemists, working for the military, doing everything they are bid, whether war or destruction or murder, as the military is the only organization with information on the Stone. It’s equivalent exchange all over again.

Their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone run a close parallel with Edward’s career as a State alchemist, with hilarious, uplifting, awe-inspiring, and often tragic consequences.

In the second season, the consequences grow more dire, the storylines deeper, more emotional, more moving, and more tragic. Pursued by evil, inhuman creatures known as the Homunculi who are also after the Stone, Edward ends up separated from Alphonse, and the two brothers embark on individual, parallel courses in order to do what they must, courses that could end the life of one or both before their goal is reached–or before they ever see each other again.

“Fullmetal Alchemist” has a brilliant story populated with brilliant characters. Both the plot and the people are among the best I have ever encountered in a fictional work of any kind. I’m not even an anime fan; I stumbled on this because I thought the story sounded cool. It’s beyond cool; I don’t often use this word, but I will repeat: it is brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough.  It contains a powerful story, thought-provoking,artfully-rendered themes, amazing storylines, and the richest characters I have ever encountered in film or television. Character depth actually rivals many good novels. 

 If you have a soft spot for brilliance (and don’t we all?) “Fullmetal Alchemist” is a must.

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.