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Wednesday, March 23, 2011


OK, I remember a sort-of-scary Burger Time commercial (above), but I don't recall this shit at all. Did I miss these, or did I just block them out as trauma?



I mean, holy shit. If I can come to grips with these, I'll write about them on Cinematograflop, but I think they may be beyond the scope of my intellect. Truly astounding work.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another Pathetic Tale for the Faint at Heart

What's even better than an unfinished illustration? An unfinished story to go with it!

Frumpty Lumpty

You may have heard of Humpty Dumpty, that grand old character of Eggsville, who had a great fall and was never the same again, but you probably never heard of Humpty’s nephew Frumpty Lumpty. Frumpty Lumpty was an egg just like his uncle, but smaller and a little more raw. When he saw what happened to his uncle, he decided to stay indoors on a bed of soft cushions. He carefully sanded the corners off all of his furniture and glued pieces of foam on the edges of everything. “Nothing will take me by surprise,” claimed Frumpty Lumpty. “Just because I am an egg does not mean I will be easy to crack.”

Soon Frumpty Lumpty developed a habit of ordering useless things from television infomercials and mail-order catalogs because he was bored with his shut-in lifestyle. To get his deliveries, he had to walk to his mailbox—just across the street and under a tree where a woodpecker lived. Every time he went to his mailbox, the woodpecker stared at him. “Stop looking at me, woodpecker!” Sometimes the woodpecker moved its beak as if to say, “I will punch holes in you like a whiffle ball.” Frumpty toddled fast as he could back inside, wiped his forehead with a tissue, and fainted onto his soft recliner.

Frumpty ordered a bunch of Snuggies—all different colors, one for each day of the week. He ordered an 8-hour video of a yule log burning in a fireplace. He ordered little blocks of freeze-dried ice cream like astronauts eat up in space. He ordered a stack of edible dinner plates that tasted horrible. He ordered shoes shaped like penguins holding little snow shovels. The catalog guaranteed that they would shovel your sidewalk snow for you*. Frumpty ordered a lot of things just to get free shipping, and then forgot what he ordered so that when those things arrived, they surprised him. “Oh, what a treat! Some kind of slippers for cat feet,” he said when he opened a box. “Now if they would just send me a cat,” and he started looking through catalogs. “Maybe one with no claws.”    
               *Only up to one centimeter of snow

Although it strained his budget, he’d joined the Toilet Seat of the Month Club, and was waiting for this month’s toilet seat to arrive: the Wonderplush Microfuzz Rumpcradle, so comfortable it will make you forget you’re on the toilet. Frumpty was a tad bit worried about forgetting too soon that he was on the toilet, but he was also painfully aware that last month’s toilet seat, the May Flowers Garden of Rich Delights, was already in the red-hot crosshairs of toilet seat fashionistas across America, and he would soon be noticeably outcommoded. “What if someone finds out I’m still using last month’s toilet seat four days into May?” That’s when he decided against letting anyone into his house. No more repairmen or surprise visitors. Even friends could be a big risk. He would keep the curtains closed so no one could see him watching TV or sitting on his outdated toilet seat.

One Saturday, Frumpty Lumpty needed to go out to get the mail. He was expecting a 9-volt Hot Dog Slicer with free Hot Dog Peeler, making hot dogs easier to eat without choking, but he was really scared to go outside. It was rainy, and he was worried about slip-and-fall situations because he had seen a number of Tad Morlan commercials. Finally he put on three layers of Snuggies and a hardhat, plus some grippy shoes. He also used a walker like some grandmas use. He made it to the mailbox safe and sound.
    “Darn,” he said, “No Hot Dog Slicer.” He got some new catalogs from the mailbox and looked up to see the woodpecker landing on his shoulder. His eyes stretched maximally open and he cried a little bit of egg white. Then he tripped on a tiny pebble and died, but came back to terrorize your neighborhood!

Just kidding--that's not how it ends.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bill Maher as Seen by iPhone

Despite Bill Maher's vehement opposition to all things religious, he appears supernaturally energized to the electronic lens... as a Cocoon alien, or as my wife called the image, "Electric Sasquatch."

Last night he stuck it to Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, the Pope—and Obama for being a pussy. Somewhere outside, the Westboro Baptist Church protested in vain.

One of many highlights: when he said he liked coming to the Midwest because we don't call our mothers "cunts." Also, when he spoke of politicians who always talk about praying in the wake of a disaster: "Yeah, that's what I want in a leader—someone who says the first thing he'll do is try to telepathically communicate with his imaginary friend."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Defense of Bastard Teachers

(Looks like this will not be appearing on Thought Catalog, so it appears here.)

A recent Thought Catalog article (Be Generous. Speak to the Smartest.) by Daniel Coffeen sparked a mixed comment thread marked by numerous calls for the author to stay away from teaching for the good of students and society. Others, fewer in number, weighed in supportively. I was one of the latter, with some misgivings; as the comments rolled in, I steeped in deeper waters. It’s easy to make the case for caring, for hand-holding, for kiddie coddling. I will make the tougher argument (and probably get skewered for it). I will make the case for bastards.     

I’ll start with a quote from Mr. Coffeen on pedagogy: “This may sound obvious but, needless to say, many in the pedagogic community believe just the opposite: aim for the lowest common denominator, for the stupid and least interested.” While I think he may have been punished by some for his bluntness and honesty, I can also get why he was attacked for being a dick. Maybe he pushed it too far, throwing around the word “stupid.” My brother was not academically inclined, but I have never considered him stupid; there are many topics (construction, demolition, flora and fauna both local and worldwide) where I will quickly bow to his expertise. Still, he wasn’t built for school, and I’m sure some people thought he was dumb.

Now, a general theory that I think stands a (faint) chance of uniting the factions in Coffeen’s comment thread: As we progress through school, the hand-holding can decrease. It MUST decrease. Coffeen’s detractors, some of whom practically demanded that he be banned from teaching, have a point if he taught K-6. Higher than that, and they become increasingly full of shit as Coffeen’s credibility grows.

Here’s why (and I can only speak from a full public-school background, K-MFA): From high school on, many of my best teachers were bastards. On the flip side, people like my brother needed waste no more years in school. Sure, he might have found some area of interest had he attended college, but that’s alternate universe stuff. He prospered by getting out into the hands-on world, and that’s the sanest, kindest outcome pursuant to Coffeen’s statement, “If the dummies don’t get it, fuck ‘em. It’s not the job of smart people to cater to dumb people. It’s the job of dumb people either to shut the fuck up or try and be smarter.” Ironically, this sounds like something my brother would say today; only he might be saying it because some college-educated person didn’t have the brains to replace a bad capacitor in their HVAC unit. I know the outraged commenters found this to be one of Coffeen’s most incendiary bits, then calling him things like “arrogant asshole.” What they don’t get is that their view of education has a built-in arrogance of its own: that their overly democratic view can be a waste of everyone’s time, including a “stupid” person’s, based on the conceit that they can enlighten everyone in their image. Sorry, in some cases you’re just beating square pegs through round holes—the sort of exercise that dumb guys are often quicker in spotting as foolish, if put against academics. It should be obvious by now that higher education is not for everyone, and that’s not a judgment from on high; it’s a common-sense recognition of different types of intelligence, different ways of navigating life.

No matter how much our culture devalues the blue-collar man, manual labor persists in its manifold robotic and animal usefulness. It neither ennobles nor dehumanizes, necessarily; it’s simply necessary. You’ll know this when your car breaks down. You will be saved by a man with no PhD, no letters at all after his name. His power comes from a realm neither academic nor celebrated, but today he is the better man.

I realize at this point that I’m inching away from Coffeen’s main point of lecturing on a higher rhetorical plane. I seem to be aiming at some kind of moving target, either highlighting the “smartness of the stupids,” or just making common enemy of his detractors, whose attacks seemed too rote and simplistic. I realize also that my thesis may be teetering on the cliche of promoting a “school of hard knocks” mentality. If so, it is because George Carlin made a lot of good points when he dissected the continual “pussification of America.”

One of my favorite Coffeen comments came from someone called BRI: “I once had a professor who called my writing "trivial" and told me that my writing skills were behind most of the students in my class. Instead of sitting around attacking him with the rest of my classmates (he was pretty nasty to everyone) I took it as a challenge. I managed to pull off an A in the class. His superiority, which was extremely apparent to anyone in my class, did nothing but motivate me.” This embodies the right attitude to me. Not all students will have such fortitude, but it’s exactly what progress is built on. When I taught writing, BRI was just the type of ore I loved to discover.

Another thing I noticed in the comment thread was that Coffeen’s attackers, aside from hating the word “alas,” used more ad hominem attacks, where the supporters offered more anecdotal evidence. I’m staying true to that formula and going with the anecdotes, because stories are not only more memorable, they’re all I have: the pedagogy course I took against my will in grad school made barely a ripple on my long-term mindset, and is less than forgettable compared to the bastard giants on whose shoulders I stand today.

Before I send out my champions, I’ll concede that they not only teach/taught above grade 9, but that they in no way nullify or diminish those teachers who are kind, soothing, and ever-uplifting. I’m hardly an Iron John cultural conservative, but it makes sense to me that the teacher of small children be stereotyped as a smiling, nice lady with the capacity to unselfconsciously help six-year-olds with potty problems. It also follows that we grow toward adversity (within reason), and  men tend to make better bastards. I can make you a list of the sweethearts at some point if necessary, but today we celebrate the sons (and daughters) of bitches. The whip-wielding masters of public school sado-academic darwinism. The tellers of harsh truths.

Bastard Champ #1: Eric Pervukhin

He might be my all-time favorite teacher. He teaches design and illustration at Missouri State, but seems to know everything visual from classical painting to computers, printmaking to cartooning. He came from Moscow, tells vague stories about surviving post-WW2 internment camps and later working on what he called Soviet version of Sesame Street. He talk a little funny but knows English better than most native speakers. He’s a friendly, hilarious and talkative guy, but he used to make students cry occasionally after critiques. I took two of his classes for the sheer joy of them—they didn’t count toward my writing degree—and came away with not only technical knowledge, but a wealth of funny stories and wisdom. When I later taught writing classes, I found myself quoting Eric more than any other teacher.

For instance: “Students, be smart. If you cannot draw hands, don’t make comic about people—make comic about blob. Might be sad blob, might be happy blob, but BLOB YOU CAN DRAW.” This was one of several announcements made, in slight disgust, hot on the heels of one or two classmates trying to compose complex Hollywood blockbuster comic stories despite a total lack of artistic draftsmanship. Nothing looks more foolish, and they needed to be told, so Eric told them. His comment is awesome because it sounds delirious and wacky at first, but delivers the invaluable wisdom of working within one’s limits to meet deadlines with artistic savvy.

I generally got off easy, with Eric liking most of my work. Still, I was not above whipping. My lack of typography knowledge once led me to a layout with several characters “kissing.” I thought I was being slick or something; Eric said, “It looks like it was made by a totally ignorant person.” This brought me down for a bit, but I never made that mistake again.

More champ than bastard, Eric still makes the list because he embodies fearless knowledge, unafraid to scrape a few feelings. He once provided a possible slogan for this topic: “Remember, students like to be beaten!”

Bastard Champ Team-up: William Logan & Debora Greger

In 1998 I won my way into the University of Florida writing program. While I’ve not had stellar literary success since, I still feel it was time well spent. I learned great amounts at a great pace, much to the credit of the program director, William Logan. Logan had a reputation, of which I was faintly aware going in, for being the bulldog of the world of poetry criticism, and some people would say that comparison abuses bulldogs. Little did I know that it would be Logan’s wife, Debora Greger, who would be the true literary Shiva, destroyer of egos. Whereas Logan would litter a page with erudite comments ranging from informative to snidely mockful (“Oh! Oh! This sentimentality brings tears!” or “Amusing as it is, this poem never rises above the giddy.”  Greger would do things that could literally keep a young writer awake at night. She routinely drew an “X” through a whole stanza, even a whole poem, with terse comments like “trite and embarrassing.” Naturally we grads learned to form little support groups where we shared our Debora lashings for communal relief. One of her classic comments, which stayed with me partly because it was never delivered unto me, was, “This is exactly the sort of Southern-fried writing that I wish would crawl under the porch and die.” At her harshest, she delivered your poem to your mailbox in an envelope, saying, “This is a waste of my time—and yours. What exactly HAVE you learned this semester?”

Greger could also be very nice—never quite warm, but nice—which was almost more terrifying. In vaguely dominatrix fashion, she lashed capriciously, keeping one guessing when the next blow would come. I must say that I think Debora was occasionally too hardcore in her criticism, adding perhaps more anxiety than creative flux to the atmosphere. Still, there were lessons galore from both Logan and Greger. In tag-team fashion, they cured me of 99% of my sentimental writing instincts.

Finally, the King of Bastard Teachers

So much can be said, but in the end only so much can be said. At some point, a person must learn, do, fail, fight, and finally die. There is a grim ingredient in life that is sometimes overlooked, especially by institutions like schools, but a good Bastard Teacher will give it to you straight. I’ll end with a remembrance I wrote last year upon the death of my most memorable high school teacher.

RIP Great One (Summer 2010)

I heard today that Bill “Great One” Gould died this week of cancer at age 66. I told my wife, and she asked, “Who is that again?” That made me realize I’ve been remiss in spreading the good word.

“You may call me Sir, or Your Highness, or Great One,” he stated on the first day of class. “I will call you maggot.”

I used to say that if you went to Willard schools and never had one of Gould’s classes, you pretty much missed the Willard experience. You missed out, probably on getting your ass kicked by the champ. “Great One?” would be answered, “Yes, maggot?” with lightning speed and just the right touch of imperiousness.

Surfing the pimply tide of smartass teenagers with golf club in hand, playing Whack-A-Mole with any heads that poked up too high, the Great One jabbed us with Rickles-esque mockery and made sure he scheduled his conference hour in period 7 so he could scram an hour early— straight to the Brown Derby down the road in his greenish El Camino.

If you had fortitude, Gould was one of your first shots at having an anti-hero. He proudly revealed his closet full of the same history tests he’d been giving for 20 years. “There are no tricks here,” he’d say. “I’ll write the questions on the board Monday through Thursday. Every Friday there’ll be a test. There’s no reason everyone can’t get ‘A’s. But most of you will blow it.” You knew it was all true, because the tests were printed in purple mimeo ink even though the school had switched to photocopiers a decade earlier. Amazingly, some people managed to flunk those tests.

He practiced his golf swing at the front of the room. If you fell asleep, he’d hit your desk with it. God help you if you woke up drooling. He knew no fear or mercy. He skewered the kids of the School Board members, the Superintendent, anyone. He once signed a petition that called for the firing of… Bill Gould. He saved chalk dust and erasers long after blackboards were replaced with dry erase whiteboards, just so he could dust the cheerleaders’ black outfits on game days.

He thumped his liquor gut like a melon and said it was almost ripe.

Great One had funny nicknames for many students. Some were recycled year after year— “Zulu,” for instance, was used on my sister, and later on another tan blonde girl. Was it about the tan? Some were appropriated from the student lexicon, like Eric “The Juice” Poland, which Great One probably assumed was some ironic play on Eric’s being a pale antithesis of OJ Simpson. No, it was because Jimmy Barnes and I decided once that Eric’s big boxy noggin resembled a juice box. Maybe he’d call you J.J. or Bubba or Fescue Phil. He didn’t have to explain.

If he lacked a nickname for you, he just said your name in a snide tone to tarnish it a bit. Great One knew that one’s own name could be the most cutting and original smear.

In the end, Great One used the academic situation, and the topic of world history, as trojan horses to deliver his true curriculum: horrors of the social mirror. He tried to force our heads up through the low ceiling of our small-town youthful ignorance so we could see our own foolishness, and maybe see past it. He was also teaching us to wake up, to watch out, to be ready when it came time “to thin the herd.” Long after the facts about ancient Pharoahs faded, Great One’s core lessons remained relevant. I have never been more honored to be called “maggot.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oh no! 8.9!

Good gravy, that whirlpool off the coast of Japan in the wake of the tsunami looks like Godzilla will rise out of it!

Poor Japan! What a mess.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Blog A-formin'

I'd like to have a communal blog for harsh write-ups of bad movies and TV, such as my previous post. I will try to watch something terrible periodically, and invite you to do the same. This would probably be easier to do in a Facebook group, but I don't want Zuckerburg dragging us down.

WEEKEND WASTED is the best title I have so far. I think my Dungeons and Dragons entry sets up a pretty good template, but we also need a ratings system. I don't think it works just to give a bad movie fewer traditional stars, because what we're craving here is that rare bad movie that is so bad it's also mutating into good; thus, a certain one-star movie might be ridiculously funny, whereas another one-star movie may just be unwatchable and boring. Here are ideas:

• 1-4 BLACK STARS: inverted stars that denote anti-quality
• 1-10 on the ED WOOD scale

It might also be funny to say where you "acquired" the movie—in the bargain bin at Mal-Wart, or on local late-night TV.

We can also nominate certain movies that need to be tackled, like a list for bounty hunters. I hereby nominate those "Left Behind" movies with Kirk Cameron.

If anyone knows the best way to build this blog/group, let me know. I suppose Facebook will be hard to beat.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Weekend Wasted—Episode 1

Dungeons and Dragons (2000)

After my wife and a friend exclaimed about Jeremy Irons on a Law and Order episode, I used it as an excuse to come to terms with Dungeons and Dragons, a movie I never saw because it looked like crap.

A truly awful movie can be a joy to behold, at least in the comfort and privacy of home. In the case of Dungeons and Dragons, joy may not be the primary feeling involved, but it does come bearing many gifts: feats of lousy acting, bizarre stupidity, feeble theft from greater films, and a dragon's hoard of floppy cliches. How much does this movie stink? Let us count the ways.

1. It has a Wayans brother. As soon as the tale begins you'll get to see him in action. This Lesser Wayans is the first, best sign that you've boarded the chump train. You might be like me and point him out with the same weary dread that Boromir used in Fellowship of the Ring when he said in Moria, "They've got a cave troll…." “They have a Wayans.”
2. It has a Beholder, but they don't do anything with it.
3. The effects are weak-ass. The only inventive visual comes when a Persian rug turns into a pit of oatmealy quicksand, and even that isn't mind-blowing.
4. Most of the actors can't even be bothered to adopt a faux British accent to boost their medieval mojo. There are some very non-human races who speak modern casual. For instance, a blue guy with a third eye in his forehead who sounds like he works at Fast & Friendly.
5. The main badass villain, the Darth Vader to Jeremy Irons's Emperor, has nonsensical blue lips.
6. Just when you think you might be treated to one scintilla of originality, that doesn't happen.
7. Some of the weakest fight scenes ever filmed. As if no one ever planned, trained, practiced, or cared. Most of the fights count on the scene being very crowded with people, so they just scramble around and bump into each other, but with swords in their hands.
8. Rip-off Town: Take the Princess and the Emperor from Star Wars, take Gimli, Elrond, Sam & Frodo, and the giant tree from LotR, take a brain-worm vaguely like Chekov’s ear-grubs from Wrath of Khan, run your hero through a maze challenge kind of like Indiana Jones, then mash them all together into a charmless gruel.
9. Apparently, the good guys dissolve into fairy dust at the end and follow the dead Wayans brother to heaven! Jesus Christ.

Talking Points:
• When Ghost World came out, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson seemed equal. When did Thora Birch officially lose the fame race with Scarlett Johansson? Either at birth or when this movie came out, depending on your level of cynicism.
• Lord of the Rings was in production when this movie came out. Did they just rush it out to cash in on sword-and-sorcery fever?
• Why would anyone make shit like this?
• There is a theme of class warfare built into the script, where Mages are the ruling class and likened to the rich and powerful. Everyone else is poor, powerless, and rag-tag. This socio-economic theme is resolved by a computer-generated ruckus of fire-breathing red dragons.

Cast of Characters:
• Two thief buddies—Some Fucking Wayans and Bland Young Stud. They are the embodiment of the worst in buddy movies, plus a bit of Abbott and Costello. SFW is supposed to be hilarious because he's both cowardly and flirty, while BYS is supposed to be full of admirable gumption and loyalty. It is a relief when SFW dies, and a constant worry that he’ll be resurrected by magic.
• Empress Thora Birch—She dresses and functions just like Princess Amidala in Star Wars, except when she rides a dragon, in which case she wears a secondhand Penthouse magazine Joan of Arc get-up.
• Foodbeard the Dwarf—he’s like a homeless Gimli, but with a lot less class. He gets so much food in his beard throughout the movie that it often resembles a beard of vomit. Between this and his overly expressive face, he is the second best presence in the movie, because he is unapologetically moronic.
• S&M Spock Elf—She’s a mysterious battle-bitch with above average skills. She looks like a Vulcan, but wears a sky-blue Madonna-tits breastplate, pastel plate-mail, and leather work gloves from Race Brothers Farm Supply. When Bland Young Stud is stabbed in the collar, he swoons like Morgul-blade Frodo and she takes him to be healed by her Elf-lord father, faux-Elrond. He chides the humans: “You USE magic… WE are PART of it.” All eyes moisten with wonder.
• Cut-rate Anne Hathaway—sort of a magical grad student. Semi-hot; moistly harmless.
• Blue-lipped Prick—Bad guy who is so bad he’s really bad. He stabs, beats, and lies under the command of Jeremy Irons, who controls him with a mean-looking brain parasite. Potentially one of the more interesting items in the film, but it fizzles predictably.
• Jeremy Irons— When things get serious, he takes off his white clothes and puts on his black clothes. Everyone knows he can act, but he does his best to prove otherwise. Maybe he’s trying to beat his co-stars to the Shit Trophy. The director must have told Jeremy Irons to act to the point of seizure, because that’s what he does.
• There’s this talking skeleton tied to the wall of the dragon’s treasure chamber. He is the best actor in the film, and I commend him.


The two buddies have to steal things in lively fashion, because they are thieves. Right up the street there must be ripe pickings at the Magic School, so they break in to steal. The smarty-pants grad-student girl nabs them with a magic binding spell. They argue about their values and begin building a little sexual tension. Then they all run around. Meanwhile, Jeremy Irons throws caution to the wind and fucks with red dragons, bending them to his will whilst twisting his teeth into various grimaces. Then they all run around. The good guys have to do some feats of skill to win a map from the Lord of Thieves. They win, but he screws them over because he’s the biggest thief, and laughs at the concept of “honor among thieves.” Blue-lipped Prick shows up and they all run around. Soothingly, the Prick kills the Wayans brother. The remaining good guys follow the map and get to the dragon’s lair, where they steal a gem, put it in a secret slot, and get magical results. Thora Birch rides a dragon in her Penthouse Joan of Arc suit, winning the hour. A pissed-off red dragon bites the bejeezus out of Jeremy Irons in the Superbowl of dragon fights, which plays like a video game. Then they have a modest funeral for the Wayans brother, and—I fucking shit you not—they all turn to fairy twinkles and rise into the air!

Did my friend Chris DeLozier write this in junior high when he was our dungeon master?