I Watched It So You Don’t Have To: The Florida Project

I Watched It So You Don’t Have To: The Florida Project

This movie is clearly a psychological experiment – It’s a test to see how much of an award-winning movie (that, of course, doesn’t deserve any awards) you are willing to endure. This 2017 movie, a darling among critics – who by-the-way are critics because they couldn’t write or direct a good movie of their own – is an alleged slice-of-life dramedy, a window into the very real inequity that takes place in the shadow of a fairy tale (that being Disney World; wow, subtle metaphor there). Unfortunately, the movie winds up being less about inequity than the amoral exploits of the people in their particular circumstances.

The main character is 6-year old Moonee, played by Brooklyn Prince, who was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Young Performer when really, she’s being directed to be a brat the entire movie which can’t be much of a challenge for any child her age. Moonee and her friends proceed to basically be little s(beep)s the entire movie, never reined in by anyone much less Moonee’s mother who is so free of a moral compass you keep hoping for her to die of a drug overdose and just be done with it. And therein lies one of the movie’s biggest problems – no likable characters.

Willem Defoe’s turn as the hapless motel manager almost gets us there, but his heart is more bronze than gold, never really being of more consequence than running off a potential child molester. (Okay, I guess we should be thankful.) Every other character is of no consequence to the world; if they disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, no one would care. None of the characters develop. There’s a hint of conflict halfway through the movie between Moonee’s mother and her best friend that is ultimately cast aside because the mother’s friend decides to move, perhaps in the best interest of her child though we can’t be sure. And so, any chance for any of the characters to grow is muted. I’m not saying a story has to give us at least one flawless character but as far as plots go, the audience needs someone to root for. The kids would presumably be those characters here, but they’re so damn annoying the entire time you want to see them caged.

Secondly, ‘as far as plots go,’ nothing really happens in this movie. There is no plot. The movie focuses heavily on the children’s screeching exploits which, as I just said, gets old really fast whether you have kids or not. Descriptions of the movie would have us believe the children are ‘finding magic’ in their circumstance when in fact they’re just being little beep-holes. While I understand they’re operating with zero parental supervision, this is not cause for sympathy. I can’t be sympathetic when said lack of supervision or guidance brings out the worst tendencies in children which, when you look into the future of these characters, is not going to be appealing. This is beaten into our heads over the movie’s two hour runtime.

What I will concede is that the movie is as well acted as any other movie and that it looks authentic. Well, great. Is that supposed to endear me to the characters, to their non-existent story? This movie doesn’t take us anywhere that matters and it’s not going to make anyone who sees this movie sit up and say, “We need to help these people!” The filmmakers would love us to feel this way but not actually do anything about it, hence, this is not actually art.

The Florida Project is the kind of movie that Hollywood liberals love for ‘opening our eyes’ to the raw underbelly of America, as if they keep forgetting it exists and so they are humbled by the reminder. They want audiences to be reminded as well, which also makes the movie the kind of movie that inclines left-leaning independents want to purchase guns and Confederate flags as a hedge against Hollywood’s pretentiousness. In other words, this is a movie in which you will only lose by watching it. For the sake of your own sanity, avoid this movie.

The Florida Project is currently streaming on Netflix. Don’t watch it.

My Top 10 Most Influential Albums

My Top 10 Most Influential Albums

Music has been important to me for as long as I can remember. A song always has some kind of effect on me, even if it’s to speak ill of it. My taste in music tends to be eclectic, which makes sense given my personality, though I do tend towards the rock genres. (I’m also another cliché white boy who loves some EDM from time to time.) Although songs are of great importance, sometimes their importance is magnified given an album they might appear on. But sometimes an album is greater than the sum of its songs for other reasons. What with the way modern music is distributed, the album has basically died, which is unfortunate because there are so many great ones. What follows is a list of albums that have been important to me in my development and existence as a human being. It’s a highly personal list, but one I never get tired of ruminating on.

10-AC/DC “Back in Black” – Simply a classic album that showed the world how danceable hard rock could be (for strippers). There are ten songs on the album and every single one hits the mark. This was the album that first featured new singer Brian Johnson after former singer Bon Scott had tragically died. AC/DC the band was certainly not dead and would continue to be a powerhouse band for many years to come. This album was also instrumental in developing my taste for rock music.

9-Y&T “Down for the Count” – Until I heard Y&T I’d been listening to metal out of Britain and east coast hard rock bands (on heavy MTV rotation) like Twisted Sister. But Y&T had a distinctly west coast vibe, encapsulated by their one MTV hit Summertime Girls, a song that may have put them on the map but didn’t really capture the entirety of what they were about. Dave Meniketti, the singer-guitarist and writer whom the band was centered upon had both an underappreciated rock voice and guitar skills. In my own song-writing, Y&T is whose sound I try to emulate if I’m not trying to mimic Judas Priest. While this album will never wind up on anyone’s Top 500 list besides mine, it introduced me to a sound I’d appreciate forever.

8-Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories “Tails” – There’s nothing complicated about Tails. Loeb’s debut album is simple, straightforward acoustic alt-pop (and sometimes rock). I like that Loeb’s music is uncomplicated and frankly, her voice just does it for me. I’ve been a big fan ever since and I’ve seen her play live more times than anyone else except for Joan Jett. If there’s anyone I try to imitate acoustically, it’s Lisa Loeb.

7-Twisted Sister “Stay Hungry” – Stay Hungry is an album that came along at exactly the right time in history for both the world and myself as I developed y rebellious streak. It demonstrated that rock could be simultaneously aggressive and fun, a perfect metaphor for the 80’s. But the album was also smart and socially conscious and I respected that. Finally, Dee Snider’s voice is probably my second male singing voice after Rob Halford of Judas Priest.

6-‘Til Tuesday “Everything” – I’d never heard alt-pop before until my roommate in the army had bought this album and played it tirelessly for an entire month. I actually hated it at first but it grew on me like a barnacle. Since this was the MTV’s one-ht-wonder’s last album (you might remember their song Voice’s Carry), I would go on to become a huge fan of Aimee Mann who’s lyrics and musical phrasings I believe are so unique as to be quietly legendary.

5-Aimee Mann “Whatever” – While Mann’s last ‘Til Tuesday album (see #6) had to grow on me, I was hooked on this, her solo debut album right from the start. Every song is simply a master class in alt-pop songwriting and producing. And, god, her lyrics, so sublime – no one does a screwed-up relationship song better than Mann. Best of all, her songs would only get better from here.

4-Judas Priest “Screaming for Vengeance” – A classic hard rock album that captured the raw essence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was as melodic as it was aggressive. It was the first album in some time that I immediately sensed a theme in and identified with. I absolutely loved the guitar work on this album and have always wanted to play like KK Downing and Glenn Tipton. (No such luck.) And, of course, Rob Halford’s voice is not to be trifled with. He’s a metal icon for a reason.

3-Metallica “Master of Puppets” I picked up this album because I heard some kids in high school talking about how incredible it was. I had no idea what genre they were but I had figured, why not try it? I was sitting down to do my math homework when I popped the cassette in and the opening bars of Battery kicked my ass so hard I was sore for a week. I’d never heard music that hard before and needless to say I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without it. Master of Puppets spoke to my dark side, a side every teenager is eager – and sometimes actually willing – to explore.

2-Green Day “American Idiot” I was already a Green Day fan because of Dookie so this was a no-brainer purchase. The album was released in 2004, a time by which I’d come to see the flaws in the concept of American exceptionalism. American Idiot summed up everything I was thinking about America at the time but also demonstrated a more complex and nuanced approach to music than Green Day had demonstrated before. This was the first album I ever learned to play (on guitar) in its entirety.

1-The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” This was not my first Beatles album but my first exposure to a concept album and I thought that was really cool and something only the Beatles could pull off. (Sure, I know differently now.) This is also probably the first album I ever heard that I considered to be flawless. I can’t tell you how many times I stood on my parent’s coffee table when they weren’t home and pretended to play guitar to this album. Strangely, although I actually do play guitar now, I can’t play a single song off Sgt. Pepper.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) April 2020 John J Vinacci

Memories of the Ice Cream Man

Memories of the Ice Cream Man

There are not a lot of memories I can call dear. I’ve been around the Sun four dozen or so times now and I admit that it hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows, though I did live in Hawaii for several years. As it happens, most memories are mired in a struggle against existential grief, apparently satiated only by worldly pleasures such as candy and ice cream. As a child, these items were not as plentifully provided by my parental units as I or any other child would have liked. Instead this task fell to the local ice cream man who, simply by virtue of his wares, was a saint.

His name was Mario if I recall correctly, which I found odd because he was Italian and coming from an Italian family I’d never heard of an Italian with that name. (Only later did I learn I was in fact Sicilian, which may have contributed the confusion.) Mario was probably mid-forties and, despite a gravelly voice, as kind and gentle a man could be without being effeminate. And although he drove the standard boxy white truck which blared tired carnival music, there was no hint of him being the serial killer we all – as adults – imagine ice cream men to be. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

Mario had everything – ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches, fudge pops, popsicles, icees, shakes, candy, trading cards, even small fireworks like sparklers, poppers, caps, and smoke bombs. This in sharp contrast to the hated Mr. Softy ice cream man who always drove through the neighborhood so fast you thought he was a retiree from the Indy 500 circuit. Perhaps he knew the territory belonged to Mario, that Mario offered more than Mr. Softy’s pathetic line-up of four soft ice cream flavors, and/or that he hated kids so why did he even come around? Undoubtedly, his wife had nagged him to get a job, any job.

Mario typically came around the block anywhere between two and five o’clock Monday through Saturday. Though you could never be sure exactly when he’d come around, he would come around. He was as reliable as Mr. Softy driving through the neighborhood at 60mph. In contrast, Mario drove never more than a cool 20mph, so you usually had time to go fetch some money once you heard his music.

Funny, our sensitivity to sound was as heightened as a dogs when it came to the ice cream man. As my friends and I usually played baseball in my yard in the afternoon one of us would inevitably perk our heads up and speak in haste, “Did you hear that?” Then everyone would stop and listen. Was it just the wind? No, no. Wait to be sure…then, “ICE CREAM MAN!” My friends and I would scramble like roaches to go find spare change anywhere; in the junk drawer, between the couch cushions, behind the washer, in mom’s purse. Back then you only needed a dime and you would score something, maybe only a stick of gum; it didn’t really matter what. The only question was once we heard the ice cream man did we have enough time to scavenge any coin? It was more than once that my friends and I, too into our own little world or perhaps it was atmospheric conditions, that we didn’t hear Mario in time, in which we’d politely wave as he passed. In time, whenever we heard Mario coming we instinctively knew how far away he was and how much time we had. By that point, though, Mario’s round were becoming less frequent.

I don’t know what the average career life-expectancy is for ice cream men (or women) but certainly though their numerous transactions they come to know their customers too well, meaning, they know when children have come too far along and have discovered their libido. Can candy and ice cream really via for a youngster’s attention any longer? Not savvy to this possibility, my friends and I often speculated why Mario didn’t come around much anymore. We ultimately concluded, based on no more evidence than greying hair, that Mario was having health problems. We could understand and accept that. For what other reason could this mainstay in our lives abandon us? We certainly couldn’t ask him forthwith; our balls hadn’t dropped yet. Besides, it seemed it would have been impolite. Eventually he stopped coming around altogether. Or perhaps we all moved away. Nothing good lasts forever, but at least there was goodness to be had at all. The symbiotic relationship was good while it lasted. It’s better to reflect on that than the inevitable conclusion least such dwellings drive you mad.

I’m thankful for Mario’s venture into capitalism. He was always kind and always patient as my friends and I aggressively crowded his window, clawing at each other to be the first to order before something ran out. His persona, that corny carny music, that unmistakably box on wheels plastered with vibrant advertisements – for so long it was something certain in a world we hadn’t yet learned was completely bonkers. It was a simpler time, for sure, with no need to analyze the meaning of life, no deeper meaning needed to make sense of it all. Looking back I think we forget how much beauty there is in simplicity. A child needs little more than a shot of dopamine once the sugar hits their bloodstream. A loving family perhaps? A child can have both as long as there’s an ice cream man around.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) April 2020 John J Vinacci

Knucklehead Da Kat

Knucklehead Da Kat

He went out not at all like he came in; a crotchety old man who didn’t give a crap except to be brushed and fed on time, his wet food served exactly the way he wanted less he walk away with that perpetual look of distain upon his face. Yes, he always had that look on his face, not at all uncommon to cats, that you were a complete idiot. Perhaps he was right – humans, so foolish as to enter voluntarily into the co-enslavement that is pet ownership. People don’t always see it that way, but cats like Knucklehead are nobody’s fool. The closer the end got, the less he suffered them. Everyone’s patience runs out eventually.

The first time I met Knucklehead was when my future wife brought me back to her house after one of our dates. She informed me that her Maine Coon was quite skittish, perhaps something in his stray youth having scarred him so badly he was forever on guard. My future wife said I would never be able to get very close, but alas the first time Knucklehead and I laid eyes upon each other he did grace me with but a sniff, cautiously approaching me then backing away just as slowly as if to intone, “Conceivably, perchance, this one is not a complete moron.”

In the preceding years Knucklehead tolerated me, is the best way to put it. He would allow me to pet him for a few moments from time to time, at least until my wife and I got it in our heads that Knucklehead was lonely and needed a friend. We brought home Niles from the Humane Society one July day and it was hate at first sight. Perhaps in understanding that Niles was my cat friend, Knucklehead revoked my petting privileges for some time. No one speaks much of the memory of cats but they are on par with elephants. I was not allowed to touch Knucklehead anymore until I had learned to master The Brush, which I began at first by always catching Knucklehead when he was asleep. By the time he was roused, he was enjoying himself. Though I eventually redeemed myself, there would always be the Niles Incident between us. At least until my wife and I moved to Hawaii.

The weather in Hawaii agreed with Knucklehead, of which he spoke, “The weather here agrees with me.” Our first few nights in Hawaii he was quite vocal about this fact and strained through many a night to let his people roaming freely outside know that he had arrived. In the past seven years of living in Hawaii, Knucklehead grew less skittish and stopped running every time someone new entered the house. It was as if he reached a point and realized that no human bore him ill will, though to be sure, humans were still idiots but they were harmless enough not to walk away from out of feline nature. Who has that much energy? Kittens.

Feeling at home the last few years, Knucklehead settled into regularly schedule times he expected to be brushed and fed. I’d never known a cat to mark the shifting of the sun throughout the seasons and still know exactly what time it was. “Yes, I know it’s still dark out but it is 7:30am. Get the fucking brush.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

As the want to move back to the Mainland grew in my wife’s heart, so did Knucklehead protest by staging ‘die-ins’ in which he would give himself things like pancreatitis every four months thereby making us feel he was too sick to fly back to the continental U.S. But time caught up to him, like it will for all of us, and soon he was no longer pretending. Sometimes we’d catch him staring at the wall for unusually long stretches, no longer able to proceed down that already long flowchart cats keep in their head about making key decisions about whether to go to the bathroom. He kept eating, though, but also losing weight. He kept walking around, though, but was obviously uncomfortable sitting down. He kept sticking it to us humans, making us wonder, “Maybe he’ll be alright?” That’s a cat for you, keeping you guessing right ‘til the end because despite all their intelligence, they’re still jerks.

Except Knucklehead. He really was a good boy. He deserves his peace. I hope I was a good father, that I did make him laugh, that I did brush him well, and made his food palatable. If not he’ll be right there with Saint Peter at the pearly gates to whisper in Peter’s ear, “No, not this one. He’s an idiot. He thought I liked him.”

Knucklehead Da Kat passed away on Wednesday, 02.12.2020 after 20 some odd years of shedding wherever the hell he damn well pleased.

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On Villains and Villainy

On Villains and Villainy

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” – Gerald Seymour in Harry’s Game

When I first heard the Joker movie with Jaoquin Phoenix was being made, I admit I was disturbed in the slightest. Critics of pop culture have long criticized what has seemed like a gradual and unnecessary decent into what seems like an anything-goes mentality for entertainment’s sake. The inundation of sex, drugs, and violence in pop culture appears to be on one hand merely for the sake of titillation. Yet, on the other hand it may be a reflection of the Western world’s dark underbelly it seems the average citizen doesn’t want to concede exists nor accept their explicit or implicit role in.* It is, however, the glorification of the villain that has troubled me the most when it comes to pop culture. I can name countless movies, not to mention countless musical artists, whose villains and villainy outshine their protagonists.

[*Perhaps the same can be said for the world at large.]

To be clear, I prefer my villains to be complicated, for their motivations to be more than evil simply because that’s who the villain cannot help being. Certainly, the new Joker movie is a reflective character analysis in this regard. Even the long string of Marvel movies were part of a story arc that centered around stopping a ‘mad’ Titan, Thanos, from wiping out half the life in the universe. His murderous methods aside – which we assume are wrong – it’s difficult to say what’s wrong with Thanos’ motivations for those of you who are aware of them. I think it’s fair to want interesting villains – the world is not black-and-white after all – but we’ve reached the point where in America’s culture at least, we’re literally rooting for the bad guy.

Case in point; at last night’s WWE’s Hell In A Cell Pay-per-View (I apologize for still keeping tabs on professional wrestling at my age), a character called The Fiend did not win the championship match and fans in the audience were audibly upset. This Fiend character is very popular among the internet wrestling community to the point that fans would rather see him crowned champion than have a face (good guy) retain the gold. I agree that the character is interesting and that the heel (bad guy) needs to win on occasion to maintain the delicate and eternal dance between good and evil alive for the sake of storytelling, but for a crowd to nearly riot when the heel doesn’t win indicates something is possibly wrong with either the Western psyche, the current rules of society, or perhaps a matter of definitions. (It is possibly all of these.) I point to actual current events to make my case.

The election of Donald Trump to President of the United States in 2016 couldn’t make my point clearer, being of the opinion that Donald Trump is clearly a villain. Why; what has he done that is so wrong? I could name a number of things and not be nearly exhaustive: Asking foreign powers to interfere in U.S. elections, accepting the word of despots over his own intelligence community, cavorting with said same despots, backing out of treaties with traditional allies and treating them with contempt, rolling back environmental and civil protections, coddling white supremists and stoking xenophobia, ignoring the U.S. Constitution (this is perhaps because he’s clearly never read it), embezzling from his charities, doing nothing about gun violence, and generally acting like a third-grade schoolyard bully. While I understand the frustration of many modern American voters with the federal government, I was aghast to find out a large swath of the U.S. thought Donald Trump was the answer. In my opinion, I can’t say Donald Trump has never done any good as U.S. president – even a broken clock is right twice a day by accident – but does the good outweigh the bad? No, because all things considered, the person in question wouldn’t be a villain. Inevitably, then, we’re forced to think about what exactly makes someone a villain.

What is a villain? The definition of ‘villain’ is broad throughout various dictionaries, meaning anything from the antithesis of the protagonist in fiction to generally someone doing harm to others in reality. In either case, a villain is typically breaking the law. They are considered dangerous or have behaved heinously towards any given person or group of people. A villain is often considered immoral, and therein lies a problem.

To some people, Donald Trump is a hero, a freedom fighter even. He is a protagonist to all those who feel they’ve been ignored, stepped on, or otherwise aggrieved by the federal government. The current president of the U.S. doesn’t play by the established laws, traditions, or unwritten social contract. This makes him a terrorist to some (in that word’s broadest sense) and a hero to others who feel that the current laws, traditions, and unwritten social contract need to be revised or reset to reflect some unspecified glory somewhere in America’s history. (Possible interpretation: When they felt more entitled.) So if a villain can also be a hero, there must either be something wrong with our definition or perhaps there is no such thing as a villain, objectively speaking.

It’s easy to contend there is something wrong with the definition. Scores of English words are too broad in their definition to be of much use or are outright confusing; ask anyone studying the English language. I contend that in modern U.S. culture, the definition of ‘villain’ is so ambiguous as to be vague to the point that many people would not know when they are behaving as a villain. (I’m not sure which is worse, a villain who knows they’re a villain or one who doesn’t know they’re a villain.) It also seems wrong to label anyone who offends us or that we simply don’t like as a villain, but that does seem to be the manner in which many Americans now operate.

Do villains exist, objectively speaking? Not if all cultures are relative, something we have to assume if not all cultures can agree that murder is wrong. (There’s always a caveat.) Villains can exist within a given culture, certainly, as there is no doubt that people have existed that have flouted the laws of a society they are seemingly a part of. Again, though, this allows a villain to be a hero to society’s downtrodden or anyone outside of a society that would like to see that society fail. So it’s hard to say villains actually exist anymore than we can now say heroes exist. Now we can see that heroes merely prop up the rules of society, and this would make them villains in someone’s eyes somewhere.

My original feelings towards the Joker movie have to be misgiven. After all, what does his nemesis Batman do but prop up the rules in Gotham City? Imagine Batman having grown up in 1930’s Germany; what would he have been but a Nazi superhero come WWII? Thank goodness he’s not, but Batman must be seen as a villain by some law enforcement agencies; there are procedures for catching and detaining criminals and subsequently putting them on trial. When this sense of fairness is broken can we agree this is something villainous? In the Joker movie, the central figure that is Arthur Fleck is driven insane by a thousand unfair psychological cuts, so can we blame him for the anarchy that ensues?  Can we blame a mass shooter who goes on a rampage because they think they’ve been treated unfairly?

Hopefully you are saying ‘yes’ because you agree that murdering innocent people, people who have not directly affected the shooter, are being murdered and we have to agree this is wrong no matter what society we belong to. Breaking two fairness rules – making two wrongs – does not result in a right, correct? Unfortunately, any given mass shooter or lawbreaker will have sympathizers. (To say nothing of laws that should be broken either because they are apparently unethical or quite ridiculous.) It would make more sense for a mass shooter to only kill the people that have affected them assuming the punishment fits the crime against them and we’ve never seen that.

If we invoke this rule of fairness which we, Western culture, seem to have forgotten as of late it might be easier to gauge who the villains are when the doctrine of fairness is broken. Given the current impeachment inquiry regarding Donald Trump, his proponents can argue for an investigation into the Bidens ad nauseum, and I’d be okay with that, but so should there just as well be an investigation into Trump. The fact that Donald trump obstructs justice in a manner that most of us cannot violates the fairness doctrine. I think it therefore reasonable to construe him as a villain. Then again, his proponents see this ‘unfair’ characterization as exactly what’s wrong with current American culture (despite these same people not wanting to do anything about solving the problem of mass shootings, which I view as villainous). I can’t imagine asking a Donald Trump supporter what they think made Obama such a villain because it seems like their definition is going to wind up being arbitrary. In fairness, though, I am willing to hear them out. Villains on the other hand hear no one out and simply assume they are entirely in the right.

All Rights Reserved (C) October 2019 John J Vinacci

The Problem With Pens

What’s going on with pens?

There’s never one around when you need it. Moreover, heaven only knows how you’re going to get your hands on anything other than a black or blue one when it really matters. Do pen manufacturers not make that many red pens? When you take into account all the corrections we put to paper, you’d think red pens would be the third most popular choice. But it seems there is a red ink shortage. Is the ink made from the blood of babies and this is apparently unethical? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s don’t leave a red pen lying around because someone WILL take it. WHO IS STEALING ALL THE PENS? Someone, somewhere has A LOT of pens.

I know you know what I’m talking about. Ever notice that no matter how many pens you put out – on your desk, in a pen holder, chained to a brick – all of them will disappear? If it isn’t a single person taking all the pens then there should still be an equal distribution of pens throughout the world. Sometimes when I go swimming in the ocean I half expect to find a cache not far from shore. Alas, nothing. Honey, do you know where I can find a pen? I ask. Yes, she says, With the missing sock that was eaten by the dryer. Where are all the pens? They’re there when you don’t need them, of course.

The less you need a pen the more likely you are to see one. And how many you see rises in direct proportion to how little you need one. When I’m using Microsoft Word on my laptop, I can see anywhere from 5-10 pens from where I’m sitting. As soon as I reach for a pad of paper, though, they suddenly disappear or at least make themselves scarce. For instance, if I didn’t need a pen and saw one on the kitchen counter, the moment I reached for a piece of paper the pen would instantaneously travel through a wormhole into another room. Pens allegedly reside with us in the macro-sized world but they behave like they are both there and not there in a state of quantum flux. I don’t know why Schrödinger used a cat in his famous thought experiment; he should have used a pen. If pens are not disappearing on their own, we have to go back to assuming it’s a people problem.

If it is indeed a people problem, how long has this been going on? Was this a problem when people were still using an ink well and a quill? It seems like all that equipment would be too hard to steal; not worth the effort. I understand how easy it is to swipe a modern pen, on the other hand. Only…why? What is one’s motivation for swiping another person’s pen? Obviously, whatever one we had disappeared so we must obtain a new one by whatever means necessary in case we suddenly find ourselves signing the deed to a new home. Or perhaps the pen we’ve taken has the name of a Chinese restaurant we haven’t tried yet on it, and we need to remember the restaurant’s name. (We could’ve written the name down with the pen but taking the pen itself is WAY easier.) At least I hope these are possible explanations and not that these random pen thieves are taking pens as some deep-rooted and unconscious desire to make others suffer.

I think we should either start making so many pens that’s it’s impossible for one not to be in any given room at any time or we should stop making them altogether. I know it’s difficult to resolve world hunger but this seems like something we should be able to get a handle on. This madness needs to stop.

 

All Rights Reserved (C) September 2019 John J Vinacci

Spartan Race Sprint Hawaii 2019

Spartan Race Sprint Hawaii 2019

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For some time I’ve been wondering what it would be like to run an obstacle course race. It looks challenging and fun, but at my ripe old age did I even have enough gas left in the tank to actually do it? I’ve tried to stay fit throughout my years. This would be taking it to another level, though.

I would have already known what it was like last year had Hurricane Lane not interrupted and cancelled the race. Even though I was terribly disappointed by that, just as well because after running this year’s event, I felt like I would have been underprepared for the run. I did train last year but with my age advancing I wanted to train harder this year and see what I could still prove. (We all have issues with getting older. I suppose losing physical ability is mine.) And so I was off to the island of Oahu in the dead of August.

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I was quite nervous as I worked my way up to the front of the starting line. You can watch all the videos you want on Youtube; it’s not going to prepare you much for what actually happens. So I just wanted to go, go, go. But the event emcee kept my start group waiting. Start time was supposed to be 2pm but a lot of jawjacking kept us in the brutal sun and humidity for an extra 15 minutes. My full body compression gear was keeping me cool at first, wicking away the moisture, but it would become a liability later on.

Finally we were off! and at no point did I think about how much fun I was supposed to be having – it was all business for the next 3.7 – 4 miles. (Course length varied depending upon who you talked to. Official estimate is 4 miles, an extra mile I hadn’t counted on in training since the Sprint was advertised as 3 miles.) I was jogging most of the way seeking to keep up with many of the younger participants and service members ahead of me. I stayed with them through the first half mile, easily conquering the first hurdles. Then came the 8 foot wall.

My first jump to try and grab the top missed and this kind of freaked me out. This was the first ‘hard’ obstacle and many people were helping each other or cheating by using the frame on the side of the wall. I didn’t want that, though. I wanted to do this right. My second jump just got hold of the top and I was able to use my core strength to swing the rest of my body up and over. Phew! I was worried for a second. Then I did worry as I came to the monkey bars and saw a ton of people falling off. I was trying to avoid the burpees penalty for failing an obstacle at all cost, so I took a moment to clear my head. The strategy to wear gloves also came in handy as I got through this one easier than expected. My success buoyed me but it was getting hotter than hell by now.

9

After jogging for a while, I came to the Atlas Carry – a concrete ball about 115 pounds. I trained for this one by carrying my wife to bed every night and I’ll be damned, the training actually helped. Two more ‘carry’ obstacles waited in short order, though. By the time I got through the Bucket Brigade, during which I questioned myself as to why I was doing this, I was pretty gassed. (Whoever planned the three ‘carry’ obstacles in a row is an evil genius.) So I had to take off my top around now as it was just too hot. The heat was just absolutely brutal and probably the worst obstacle overall.

I was reduced to a fast walk now like many other participants save the occasional 100 foot jog. Then the rope climb came and I tried to be ‘kind’ and let some people coming up behind me go first while I collected myself. Oh, no, no, no; they insisted I go first. Damn. I looked up the rope and I though, This looks higher than in the videos. The rope felt real slick and I had trouble getting the right foot hold at first. Fortunately, I’d done a lot of upper body training and muscled my way up which again felt good. I felt my left hamstrings strain on the way down for some reason but I did my best to ignore it and carry on.

Some easy obstacles later I came to the Sled Drag and of course I picked the wrong lane and the sled I picked got stuck in a rut right away. I couldn’t get it out so I asked for the burpee penalty area but the observer saw what had happened and allowed me to pick another lane. Phew! That to me makes up for seeing people cheat earlier. Unfortunately the Spear Throw came next and I knew I’d probably fail this like almost everyone and I did. I headed off to do my burpees. As I was doing them, countless people were coming up and doing a penalty burpee or two and then continuing the race; you’re supposed to do 30! That really irritated me – were they going to go home and brag about how they did the Spartan Race? Maybe I was taking this too seriously. I suppose that’s okay for me and I guess for other people it’s a Fun Run. Whatever, I guess.

A little ticked off, I jumped into muddy water to scale the Mud Wall and…I couldn’t do it. It was SO slippery and I wasn’t wearing shoes with any traction. I couldn’t dig my fingers far enough into the mud to use my upper body. I started panicking because I didn’t want to do more burpees. I wallowed in the mud for some time until I happened to spot a rock I could get a toe on and it proved just enough. I really wasted a lot of time there. I was relieved to see the finish line ahead, though, as we came out of the brush.

With mud all over my gloves and hands I came to the feared MultiRig/O-Rings. I’d forgot my strategy having spent too much time trying to dry my hands to no avail – my hand slipped right off the second ring anyway and I was off to do burpees again, again to see most people failing not bothering. The Tower afterward was no problem and the Hercules Hoist was tough but the ending fire jump was ahead. As I jogged downhill I could feel my lower legs were not happy. Thank god it was over was what I was thinking. Good grief!

IMG_E3381

11Would I do it again? I dunno. The aftereffects were not pleasant at all as my legs are prone to cramping even on a regular day. And my upper body got more and more sore as the next day wore on. My race results make me feel better about it, though. I finished 12th out of 104 people in my age group for the Sprint, so, not bad for my first time. I would have preferred top 10, but I’ll take it. How much do I hate myself? If I do it again, that’ll answer the question.

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Obstacle Difficulty (to me) 1-5, 5 being very hard; 6 is failing.

Hurdles – 1

6’ and 7’ walls – 1

8’ wall – 3

Monkey Bars – 3

A-Frame Cargo Net – 1

Atlas Carry – 3.5

Sandbag Carry – 3.5

Barbwire Crawl – 3

Bucket Brigade – 4

Rope Climb – 4

Inverted Wall – 1

Sled Drag – 3

Spear Throw – 6

Mud Wall – 5.5

MultiRig – 6

Tower – 1

Hercules Hoist – 4.5

Fire Jump – 1

Doing the race in brutal Hawaiian heat – 5.75

Trying to find my wife after the race – 7 (She wasn’t where she was supposed to be!)

Barton Saves The World

Barton Saves The World

“Vern? Vern. Vern! Help! I’m being sucked into the light. I think them aliens got me!”

Barton, as a tractor beam tugged on his red-and-black plaid shirt and soil-strew faded blue jeans, pleaded to no avail as he sailed up and away on a stream of blue energy. Though unable to move, Barton felt like he was swimming in the ocean of the evening’s stars. After a few moments, the feeling was peaceful, though Barton worried his brother Vern would pop off his shotgun in his direction in an effort to shoot the flying saucer that seemingly stalled their vehicle. Barton looked down towards his feet and watched as Vern and their Confederate flag decorated pick-up truck shrank.

“WhereamI?” Barton blurted with a sudden shift in consciousness. His soothing ride ended abruptly, his feet landing him on the deck of an extraterrestrial craft. Except, the deck appeared to be made of some translucent material through which Barton could see the lights of his town far below.

“Shoot. I can see Springfield next door, too,” the country boy observed. Then Barton looked around.

Standing on either side of him were four ten-foot tall lanky humanoids with bulbous grey heads and dark, almond-shaped eyes. They had slits for mouths and noses and were draped in long, flowing technicolored capes. The creatures reminded Barton of a gay-pride parade he’d seen on cable’s number one rated conservative news channel.

“You ain’t gonna do no anal probe on me, ya hear,” Barton punctuated with narrowed eyes. “That’s an abomination to God, ya see,” the stubbly bearded Georgian felt like adding, nevermind what he got up to with Vern’s best friend that one night in the hot tub. They was drunk, ya understand. A man ain’t really responsible for what happens when he’s drunk. That’s what Father Charlie always told the brothers. That man always did have a bottle in his hand, though…

“Barton Winchester, you have been chosen.” The aliens simultaneously lifted their four-fingered hands and pointed at their captive audience.

“Chosen for what?” Barton asked as he stroked his rough chin. He wanted to ask how they had asked him since he didn’t see their mouths move but figured they were using that newfangled technology. What was it called? Bluetooth, he remembered.

“You have been chosen to represent your species. As Earth’s representative, you will now choose.” The aliens pointed from Barton to a set of spheres in front of him. One was red and one was blue.

“Choose the blue sphere and we will give your species the knowledge to combat global warming. We will also tell you how to end income disparity and poverty. And – today only – we’ll tell you how everyone on your planet can have access to clean water.”

Barton was silent for a few moments. “And the red sphere?”

“Choose the red sphere and 99.9% of all the people on your planet who share 99.9% of your DNA will perish when we use our mega-ultimate extreme death ray. If you do not decide, we will disintegrate you and choose another representative. You have one minute.”

Barton was silent a few more moments. “99.9% of 99.9%, huh?”

The country boy stroked his chin some more. For one thing, climate change was a liberal conspiracy concocted by rich scientists trying to scam more money out of decent, hard-workin’ folk. Barton knew only rich businessmen who knew the truth had the power to stop the scientists, so ending income disparity was out of the question. And everyone already had access to clean water. Shoot, all ya had to do was go down to Wal-Co and pick up a 24 pack of bottled water.

Now the red sphere; the red sphere would stop all those illegals from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border and taking away all them American jobs Americans want so much. The red sphere would also take out the Chinese and force everyone – even liberals – to buy American. And, by golly, if the red sphere eliminated 99.9% of all the people who shared a measly 99.9% of Barton’s DNA, the U.S. could annex the land of those pot-smokin’ hippies, the Canadians.

Communicating telepathically, the aliens let Barton know he was on the clock. “40 seconds lef…”

“I choose the red sphere, y’all.” The aliens stirred and looked at each other, then back to Barton.

“Are you sure?” they asked.

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Barton nodded. “Git on with it.” He poked the red sphere. “This one. This one right here.”

The visitors to Earth shrugged. It had been decided. There was a blaze of light, as if a million smartphone flashes had gone off at once.

Barton found himself standing beside his pick-up trunk. As quickly as he’d been taken away, he’d returned to terra firma. Vern was nowhere to be seen, though his smoldering work boots were left beside the vehicle next to Vern’s shotgun laying on the ground. Barton spat some chew hard at the boots.

“Dammit! Knew them gay aliens were gonna get carried away and screw that up!”

Barton grabbed Vern’s boots and threw them in the truck’s bed. He drove back home to find his wife’s empty gown draped over her McDonalds value meal. At his old man’s house, his father’s overalls and suspenders swayed in a rocking chair on the front porch, the pages of the man’s favorite newsletter, Info Wars, flapping with the breeze. Wherever Barton went in town, there was no one to be found. He even drove next door to Springfield. No one home there either. Them stupid gay aliens, Barton thought over and over.

Trying to find someone, anyone, Barton drove down to the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas. There were always people there flooding into America. But there was no one; no immigrants, no border patrol – no one.

Barton was about to turn around and head back to Georgia when through some wind-swept dust the county boy spied a brown-skinned boy – maybe all of six years old – walking into Texas from Mexico. The young kid was dragging his feet and his lips looked like paper. Barton gasped, jumped out of his truck and lunged for the supplies in the bed of his pick-up. He grabbed Vern’s trusty shotgun and leveled it at the other survivor.

“Not today, boy!” Barton shouted. “America’s full and we ain’t talkin’ no more. Now git! Git, ya hear!”

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2019 John J Vinacci

The Ballad of Evil Kim

The Ballad of Evil Kim

[A true story, and excerpt from my forthcoming autobiography. #WIP]

…My only real life post-Frenchy was the gym. I eventually worked my way up to assistant manager and I’d taken up bodybuilding, making me more confident about my looks. My sister was getting ready for her wedding to her terrific fiancé in six months, too, so I was feeling good about my family as well. Yes, I was feeling quite good about many things even though none of the many women at the gym were relationship prospects until I met Kim – evil, Evil Kim. Did I mention this girl named Kim was evil?

When I met Evil Kim, the young lady was 10 years my junior and the sound of her voice was enough to turn me into a quivering mess. When she first walked into the gym I was working at, that was the first time I’d ever seen and woman and based on looks alone said, “Wow.” To me, she was the physically perfect dream woman. As I mentioned, her voice was practically angelic (or demonic, in hindsight). And like Leila before her, she had that girl-next-door vibe that shut down any defense mechanism you might have had. But this quality of hers had its downside – every guy wanted to be with her.

I knew I couldn’t just go for it with Evil Kim; I’d be just another number and I didn’t want to be that. She was special so I wanted to be special for her. I began talking to her gradually then more and more so that with each visit of hers to the gym it certainly seemed like we were beginning to become friends. Some of my coworkers knew I had other intentions, though, I remarked that I stood no chance. One of my female colleagues even had the nerve to tell me that I had no game! Although I know my coworker wasn’t trying to be mean it really got under my skin and I told her in response, “I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But some day I’m going to get that girl.” I knew though that if I was going to land Evil Kim, I was going to need a miracle.

That miracle came in the form of two other women who were interested in me. One was a coworker, Sandra, and the other was Andrea, who was even younger than Evil Kim and almost equally beautiful. Sandra I had no interest in but the attention she gave me rose my stock enough to pique the curiosity of another gym member Andrea, whom I’d always been friendly with. Being Hispanic (assuming there was a cultural thing going on to my benefit), Andrea liked that I 1) was an older man and 2) was a gentleman who was courteous, holding the door open for her and not cussing in front of her, for example. Andrea and I eventually found ourselves on some late night coffee dates after I closed up the gym which never wound up going back to either of our places, honestly because I was too hung up on Evil Kim to pull the trigger. Fortunately, Evil Kim did catch the two of us out one night getting coffee which I know alarmed the woman of my dreams.

How do I know? The very next day Evil Kim wouldn’t leave me alone at the gym. Every few minutes she looped around from whatever she was doing to check on me, or maybe to see who I was with. By hook or by crook – or by jealousy – I now had Evil Kim’s attention. A week later I asked her out proper and she accepted without hesitation.

We went to go see a movie, The Princess Diaries, which is not something I would ever see on my own. My cousin from New York who had moved in with me for the summer remarked that this woman I was going on a date with must be a goddess for me to agree to do such a thing. I had Evil Kim come to my place before the movie, really so my cousin could see why I had agreed to see the movie. My cousin just laughed that Evil Kim and I had the same spikey black hair and that’s why I was enamored with her, because I was vain. After the movie we came back to my place, after my cousin had cleaned off a whole bottle of wine by herself, which I remembered impressed Evil Kim. (That should have been a red flag.) After a few drinks ourselves, Evil Kim asked if she could stay because she may have had too much to drive.

As I got into bed with her, I thought about being a gentleman and not taking advantage of the situation. The God honest truth is that I didn’t want her to be with me just because she was drunk. But we found ourselves making out anyway which led to clothes flying off, which led touching, which led to disappointing sex. Disappointing because I’d had too much to drink and was psyched out about whether I really wanted this to happen the way it was happening. I actually told Evil Kim all this post-coitus to which she was dumbfounded. We found ourselves awkwardly spooned in that friends-with-benefits kind of way that at least one of us didn’t want. She left early the next morning.

Evil Kim called me the next day to tell me no guy had ever said anything like that to her before, about a guy not wanting to take advantage of a situation like that. Allegedly, this left quite an impression. The cat that was out of the bag, though, was that in no uncertain terms did I want to be with her. My desires appeared to be an inconvenience to Evil Kim, who was still hung up on a felon ex-boyfriend. A felon? Yes, her latest ex had recently gone to jail for grand theft auto (not the video game) and I think to her that he was what she was to me. So I got the same thing that always happens to good guys, I got mostly friend-zoned.

I say mostly friend-zoned because Evil Kim would still call me and want to hang out, or make out without going all the way. I knew she just wanted the adoration and I knew this would only end badly for me but I just couldn’t say no. It would take me months to gather the willpower to weaken her grip on me and I did this by going back to Andrea. This led to one of the most wonderful, fantastically shallow moments of my life.

It was not unusual for Andrea to flirt with me at the front desk at the gym, but Evil Kim walked in one day while Andrea was doing it. Evil Kim immediately turned around and disappeared. She came back twenty minutes later with her adorable cat which she sat on the front desk and wanted us to play with the cat together. Andrea gave Evil Kim a look and I swear I thought there was going to be a cat fight without the actual cat. For about the next five minutes the two of them vied for my attention in front of a score of people. I couldn’t help but feel like a badass even if I had no idea how I came to be the center of this situation. I savored it, to say the least.

But now I had a choice to make. Andrea wanted to see me that night but so did Evil Kim. If I went with Evil Kim, she promised to make it worth my while. If I went with Andrea, who knows, but it’d be the smarter choice. So obviously I told Andrea I had already committed to seeing Evil Kim that night (though I didn’t say in what way). That night Evil Kim came over and I seduced her with some Jedi mind tricks I’d picked up from my sister’s fiancé’s friend, a guy who was nothing short of a scoundrel. We had sex and it was…not what I hoped for. It was kind of like being with a dead fish.

Despite all this disappointment, she was still probably The One in my eyes, though I thought it wise to pursue other women as a potential date for my sister’s wedding in a month. When Evil Kim got wind of this she wanted to be my date of course and insisted I not pencil her in, as I told her (which I should have done), but that I pen her in – she would be my date for the wedding. I thought this would turn the corner on our ‘relationship.’ Maybe the sex was bad because she hadn’t committed to us? Surely a wedding would change that.

The morning of the wedding I couldn’t get a hold of Evil Kim. I called and left two messages and thought about leaving a third but then thought that would be overkill. Had something bad happened to her? That’s what I wanted to believe because I didn’t want to believe she had simply flaked out on me. I went to my little sister’s wedding feeling awful, mostly because of the empty seat next to me. I had told my sister I had a date, to make arrangements for that, and now I felt like a fool when I should have known better. I was so mad at myself I couldn’t even be happy for my sister. I was a sourpuss the entire time. I beat myself up about that to this day.

The next day Evil Kim called to apologize but I didn’t call her back until the day after that. She explained that she (just happened to have) had a chance to visit her ex-boyfriend in jail; it was the first day he was allowed to have visitors. So like any normal person, Evil Kim went to go see him on the wedding day and didn’t tell me so that, I dunno, I might call in a back-up. (Which I tried on the morning of the wedding when I swallowed the bitter pill that Kim had flaked on me. No such luck.) I told Kim how furious I was and that I couldn’t speak to her anymore. After hanging up with her I didn’t see her at the gym for nearly a month.

When she did reappear, she was sheepish but brave enough to say that we should talk. Reluctantly I agreed, you know, as I massaged her since she asked to be stretched out before her workout. (I was such a goddamn idiot.) During our solemn conversation, we concluded that ‘we’ would never be a thing and that she was sorry for that since it was really her fault. BUT we could still be friends and crash at each other’s places from time to time seeing how sleeping alone is often so, so terrible. Would I settle for breadcrumbs? I didn’t love myself enough not to. But this idyllic arrangement wouldn’t last forever.

It wasn’t long after this that Evil Kim told me she was pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s child, who I guess wasn’t ‘ex’ enough to avoid having sex with him in jail. Upset because she was too young for this, she told me through tears that she wished it was my child. This blew me away. The sincerity was misconstrued on my part, though, as she explained a week later while I talked about us being together someday that she said it not because of her undying love for me but merely because I’d be a responsible parent. Goddamn it. I wanted things to be done with her by this point.

Some time had gone by day during which we hadn’t been speaking much. Then out of the blue Evil Kim called to say that she wanted me to come over to her new place so we could hang out, just us, which she seemed to go over the top in making clear since she often had people over. Interesting, I thought. So I go to her place and naturally she’s practically throwing a party. I was really miffed but didn’t let it show. Instead I flirted with some of the other girls with no success and chatted with some of the guys. Eventually it was down to me, another guy, and Evil Kim. Pretty drunk, I didn’t know if she was planning something wild or what, but it was clear she wanted to be with this other guy while unclear she wanted to be with me. I didn’t bother finding out. I made up an excuse and left, infuriated. I went straight home, heart torn asunder, and wrote perhaps the greatest putdown email ever written. I tore her to shreds over what a shitty person she was for lying to me when she knows how I feel about her, why no one treats her with respect, how she’s a fool for loving her felon ‘boyfriend,’ and even why her parents don’t love her half as much as her brother (which was true; she just didn’t understand why, but I did). Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy of that email which is still probably the best thing I’d ever written, if not the most cathartic. I’m proud to say we have never seen or spoken to each other since.

As terrible as all of it was, I learned never to let any woman (or person) have that much control over me ever again. My life – my sanity – wasn’t worth the kind of trauma Evil Kim put me through. What made it so bad is that we both knew what she was doing to me and she did it anyway knowing I was vulnerable to her charms, so as much as I still hate her, I know we’re both to blame. I’ll never allow that to happen to me again. And neither should you.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) May 2019 John J Vinacci