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.

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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!

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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

Avengers: Endgame Review

It is a best to go into this movie with at least two things: 1) no expectations and 2) a working knowledge of comic book lore. Given everything that has happened in the MCU movies, would this movie be the coda we all needed? Yes and no.
SPOILERS AHEAD: The first 45 minutes of the movie is bogged down by the survivors of The Snap coming to terms with what Thanos did at the end of Infinity War. This stands to reason though it goes on a too long, a sharp departure from Infinity War’s quick pace. (For those of you familiar with Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, you may understand the kind of contrast I’m talking about.) Given the overall scope of what the MCU movies were ultimately trying to accomplish, this emotional ride is necessary and therefore forgivable. It’s hardly the worst part of the movie.
The entire middle of the movie is a muddied mess involving time travel which goes off the rails the more it involves the major characters’ pasts. (You’ll also be sorry if you forget the timelines of everyone’s pasts, otherwise the plot is going to leave you in the dark.) The Avengers travel to the past in an attempt to gather the stones before Thanos does which was probably the worst thing they could have done given Thanos’ intelligence.
Once they do acquire the stones, though, the movie finally gives us the action we’ve been aching for the entire movie. Thanos attacks Avenger’s HQ with our mercy, leading to the absolutely fantastic opening confrontation between, Cap, Iron Man, and Thor. (My favorite moment of the entire movie? When Captain America picks up Thor’s hammer as they battle Thanos. Damn, what a moment. My second favorite was the shot of Tony and Pepper fighting side by side.) As it goes on, the battle swells entirely too much, involving everyone you can possibly imaging since the first Iron Man movie. Even given a running time of three hours, even this amount of time doesn’t seem enough to do the final battle justice to everyone involved. Especially troubling is the lack of any punch out between the Hulk and Thanos, as the Hulk has been reduced to a joke for the entire movie and never gets a rematch from Infinity War. I think it would have been more appropriate of the script to reduce the battle to a few participants and have them outwit Thanos seeing how none of the heroes alone are a match for The Mad Titan. Instead they beat Thanos in a most unexpected way, unexpected because we all should have seen it coming at that moment. (But when it happens, we’re given a really great line.)
The movie doesn’t end there because now we have to deal with the cost of having defeated Thanos and wrapping up some of the major players’ histories. The movies mostly succeeds here, especially on Cap’s behalf, while Iron Man and Black Widow are grieved for. The completion of Thor’s story arch ultimately remains to be seen, strangely enough…
The movie worked on several accounts; following through on the most important Avengers’ histories, utilizing the MCU movies trademark humor, and all the Easter eggs only die hard fans of Marvel comics would understand. On the other hand, no pun intended, the script is not nearly as tight as Infinity War and gives us hardly any action until the climax. There are also some rather large plot holes. (Um, Thor’s two hammers for starters.) Does this mean that Endgame is that satisfying coda I asked about earlier? Sort of, but it could have been so much better. All things considered, Avengers: Endgame gets three and a half infinity stones out of six from this fanboy. Excelsior!
Oh, and for Pete’s sake, pee before the movie starts.

My First Crush

My First Crush

I was watching an episode of Malcolm in the Middle on Hulu yesterday. It was the episode in which Malcolm finds himself confounded by the new girl at school, Cynthia. Malcolm finds she makes him happy, angry, amused, upset, and confused – worst of all, he just doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Talk about identifying with a character.

Christine Hodgekiss was my first crush. This was back in 7th grade I believe and she was one of my dance partners in my music class. I didn’t actually like her when that class began; she was just another classmate I knew who might as well been a GI Joe or Barbie doll from the waist down. Even as we danced – we did a lot of dancing and hardly any music appreciation and never played instruments – it was all completely innocent.

Then a new kid showed up, just some guy who had the misfortune of walking into a situation where he didn’t know anyone. As fate, or stupidity, would have it some of my friends and I got the bright idea to write the new kid a note saying Christine wanted to ‘meet’ him after school at the football field. Keeping Christine in the dark, naturally he would get stood up. For reasons I can’t explain, this idea was hilarious to us; maybe we were just dicks. But as the time approached to actually give the new kid a letter, I started to reconsider the idea, though I couldn’t place my finger on the reason why.

One of us went through with the note anyway and wouldn’t you know it, the poor sap bought it and got stood up. I remember seeing him walking down my block on his way home while some of my friends and I played football in the yard. (Your Honor, if it helps rehabilitate my character at all, when I saw him that day I felt like a jerk for helping to pull this prank on him.) A few days later – or maybe it was the next day – Christine caught wind of the prank and started talking to the kid. It was like someone lit a fire under the cauldron of my belly.

I remember sitting in the cafeteria one day, trying to eat but finding myself too confused to have an appetite. I kept asking myself, Why do I care? Do I ‘like’ her? Wait; what? That doesn’t make any sense. I went back and forth on this until it dawned on me and I accepted the fact that I did like her and not in the same way I liked my other friends. This made me petrified of Christine. What do I do now? Do I tell her? What do I say? How does this work? I had no clue. I didn’t have a whiff of a clue. And then we had to dance together.

When we started to dance and we held hands like we’d already done at least a dozen times, I must have been acting oddly because I remember her asking me if I was alright, or words to that effect. Jesus, no, I’m not okay. Total system failure in your proximity! But I can’t say that, can I?! Whatever the song was seemed to last FOREVER and I think I broke out in a sweat at some point. It was so bad I started to look forward to dancing with another girl I hated for being too tall for me. The class ended a few weeks later during which time I was a total basket case and never told Christine.

The crush didn’t last long after that. I soon found myself attracted to every girl who breathed my way. To quote a classic 80’s song, “I’m in love, yeah yeah, at least every minute or two / Until the next time a girl walks by, I think I love her too.” Oh, the names I remember. Unfortunately, if love were a game of chess, I finished out high school barely able to play checkers. As I would find out from some platonic girl friends years later, I had no game. As It turns out, I’m good with my hands so the jokes on everyone who missed out! Sigh, the wonder years.

What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Comment below.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) December 2018 John J Vinacci