Saturday, January 28, 2012

Superheroes are part of the 1%. (Is This Art?)

The other day, I took a walk to the Museum of Modern Art, where I was horribly disappointed to learn that I was two weeks too early for the Houdini show. I don't know what Houdini art is, but I want to see it.

Which brings me to the Human Slinky: Like Houdini Art, I don't know what it is, but I definitely want to see it:

THAT, as I said, is Human Slinky, otherwise known as a guy named "Veniamin."

I learned about Veniamin because I heard that there was a Human Slinky costume for sale, and like everybody, I have always dreamed of being a Slinky. Who didn't, as a troubled kid growing up in the seemingly idyllic town of Hartland, Wisconsin, occasionally sit on the green-carpeted front steps of their house mulling over how much better it would be if, instead of being an overweight shy kid with a lazy eye, one could be a Slinky? Are you with me on this?

Really? Just me?

What if I left out the part about the lazy eye?

Still nobody else. Hm.

Anyway, I heard there was a Human Slinky costume for sale, and that is exactly the kind of thing that I would want, because not only would I get to say "Hey, guess what, I own a Human Slinky costume," and don't underestimate the power of that at parties -- I'm always looking for something to make me the life of the party -- but also consider the other things that a Human Slinky costume would let you do, things like:

(A) Really freak out your neighbors when you take the garbage out as a Human Slinky.

(B) Allow you to park in the handicap spots at the mall, since I assume that nobody is going to challenge a Human Slinky about whether or not it is handicapped.

(C) Be a superhero:

Woman in distress: "Help! I'm in distress, probably from a mugging or perhaps an assault of some kind!"

All Other Superheroes: "That's kind of penny-ante, isn't it? I mean, it's like the time Superman helped break up organized crime in Metropolis. Even Batman aims for bigger things, now, like terrorists. Call 911."

Human Slinky: "I'm on my way! Let me just tilt this giant 2x4 down from my perch atop this tall building where I have built the Slinky Lair. There! Now, here. Whoops. Start over. Hey, it's tangled. How does this... what... it's like it's tied in a knot? What? No, I don't want to just roll it down sideways. Hey, quit pinching me. Mom!"

All Other Superheroes: "That's why we didn't let him join our group."


There is a Human Slinky costume actually for sale, on eBay. List price:

No, seriously:

You may think that's kind of a hefty price, because it is. But consider this: 10% of the proceeds from the Million Dollar Human Slinky costume are going to go to benefit the American Cancer Society, so you could really help out cancer research by buying the costume.

You could help out cancer research MORE, of course, by simply donating your $1,000,000 to cancer research, but then you wouldn't have a Human Slinky costume, would you?

Besides which, have you considered that, as superhero outfits go, Human Slinky is really kind of a bargain? How much do you suppose the Iron Man suit cost? Or Batman's junk? And even Spider-Man's webshooters, because everyone knows he has webshooters and not gunk from his wrists, must have cost something.

As it turns out, someone has figured out about how much an Iron Man suit would cost for real, and the fact that someone has already done that is either proof of why America is great, or proof of why America is now a third-world country. I'm not sure which. It's probably both.

But someone has figured it out, and the total cost for an Iron Man suit, at today's prices, is:


Which seems surprisingly low, given that the same article says simply developing a fighter jet is in the $95,000,000-$113,000,000 range.

Which brings me to another point:

Where did Superman get his money?

Ma and Pa Kent were dirt farmers, right? And Clark Kent worked as a newspaper reporter, and then briefly a TV anchor in the 70s in the comics, and none of those spell superrich, at least not back then. So if we assume that Clark Kent was doing okay (although he lived in Metropolis, where one can assume the prices were equivalent to New York City, if not more expensive), Clark Kent was not rich.

But Superman was. He had his Fortress of Solitude, remember, and according to this site, which has "Superman" in the URL and so must be authoritative:

Here in this secret sanctum, far from civilization, are the fabulous trophy room, housing the hard-won memorabilia of more than a thousand adventures; the workshop and super-laboratory, where Superman labors in search of an antidote to kryptonite and performs other experiments; the gymnasium and recreation facilities, where Superman exercises, relaxes, and indulges in a variety of super-hobbies; the interplanetary zoo, containing live species of wildlife from distant planets; special rooms and memorials in honor of Superman's parents, foster parents, and closest friends; the bottle city of Kandor, a city of the planet Krypton that was reduced to microscopic size and stolen by the space villain Brainiac sometime prior to the death of Krypton; special monitors for communicating with Kandor, the undersea realm of Atlantis, the Phantom Zone, distant planets, and alien dimensions; Superman's Superman-robots and other special equipment; and numerous other rooms, exhibits, weapons, machines, and scientific devices. Indeed, since the invasion of the Fortress by an outsider could result in the placing of these devices in the hands of evildoers - as well as endanger Superman's secret identity - the exact location of the Fortress remains one of the world's most closely guarded secrets.

How is he feeding those animals? And building Superman-robots? And a lab? Batman has a lot of junk, but Batman at least has an explanation for his money: He earned his $6,500,000,000 (according to Forbes) by stealing military technology and exploiting it for himself.

But Superman? He doesn't even appear, I bet, on a list of richest superheroes. I would tell you for sure but the only list I found I can't get to load on my laptop, so let's just assume I'm right that Superman is not known to be wealthy.

So what's he doing to keep his living standards up? Part of Superman's secret may be moving jobs offshore. While it was always believed that the Fortress of Solitude was in the frozen arctic, scientists recently actually found it in Mexico:

Artist's rendition of Superman's

Actual picture of scientist
standing in the Fortress... in Mexico:

So the Fortress was built using the same techniques Apple employs to let you have a voice recognition system that is slightly more sophisticated than Moviefone. (Apple's constantly releasing new phones, as everyone does all the time, isn't responsible for just wrecking the lives of millions of workers everywhere; it's also going to bring about the end of major cell phone companies, which lose money when they sell you fancy phones at a discount. As phones get newer and better, cellphone companies' operating margins disappear, which is probably why they're paring costs by eliminating unlimited data plans and the like.)

(Just to be clear: Apple, and other tech companies, are wrecking the lives of millions of third-world countries' workers because despite their giving them wages and a job, they're also not properly monitoring working conditions, allowing the contract partners to get rich off exploiting people while Apple and other tech companies look the other way, and while that's going on they're helping bankrupt vital communications companies in America.)

So back to superheroes. For $100,000,000, you could be Iron Man. For the cost of simply your soul and some presumably-stolen goods, you could be Superman. For just a million bucks you could be Human Slinky.

And for less, you could be Veniamin's kind of creepy Human Blowfish:

Or the Octopus:

Is it just me, or are these getting less fun and more nightmarish? Before you answer, this:

If you watched that all the way through, you saw there were hot chicks in those costumes. And hence...

The Verdict: ART. And Congress needs to hold hearings about Superman.

I wonder whatever happened to the actress who played the mom in ET?

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Next Island for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

When I was a kid, I loved Dungeons & Dragons.

Okay, when I was a teenager… late teens, I loved Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games – all the way from grade school through early high school, I had D&D and others (a James Bond game, a Superheroes game, things like that) and I’d get together with friends to play them; it was almost exactly like that ET opening scene with the mom that was kind of hot only we never had pizza delivered and no aliens crash-landed near our house.  But other than that, it was exactly like the movie, right down to that mysterious van that kept driving by.

I wonder whatever happened to that guy?

Anyway, I got away from roleplaying games because they took a lot of time to set up and it was hard to get friends together, and who had the time for that in college? There was drinking to be done. Oh, and studying.

But now, I might be able to get back into roleplaying – no, not that way, weirdo—with “Next Island,” and, as you’d guess with anything that gets my interest these days, I might also make some money at it.

Next Island is this new free-to-play online game , an MMO role-playing adventure game that just opened to the public. I only just heard about it and am really new to it so far but it sounds awesome.

The basic storyline is this: A bunch of scientists found an island dedicated to scientific progress, and have discovered a way to travel in time, including to ancient Greece.  And now YOU join, taking part in what looks to be the kind of roleplaying game that goes beyond hack-em-ups and boring SIMS-suburbia to something that’s really fun and engaging.

On Next Island, you can set yourself up in an occupation, and explore the island and Ancient Greece, and interact with people to solve puzzles and have adventures, and of course have the social aspect of interactive games like this – it’s kind of like Facebook only with avatars and time travel, so it’s about a billion times more fun than Facebook – and all the while, you can earn real money for time spent playing the game.  There’s a feature that turns what you do and time spent in the game into real money, so the longer you play, the more fun the game is AND  you’re getting paid.

So you can tell your boss that you actually ARE being productive, and then go to Ancient Greece.  Works for me.

The really great thing about these MMOs is that it allows the visuals to help out my imagination – so I can flesh out the pictures I create – and also someone else is doing all the work to create the adventure.  I don’t have to get out my graph paper, twenty-sided dice, and books to find out how many ‘hit points’ I have.  I just create a character and get going, working and exploring and adventuring.

I plan on checking it out more; you should go sign up and locate me – but by then I expect to be an expert in Time Travel, which I plan to first use and find out what that guy in the van was up to.

Visit Sponsor's Site

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do you want to woo hoo? (Thursday Scramble)

On Thursday Scramble, I take an old post from one of my blogs -- my blogs currently make up 24.8% of the entire Internet -- and repost it to all my OTHER blogs. This post appeared in 2008 on my blog "Thinking The Lions." Thinking The Lions focuses on funny stories about me, and the things I do with my family, and the things I do when I'm supposed to be working, and the things I do when I'm supposed to be doing the things I do. Also, I post poems there on Fridays.


Always carry the pooping toddler behind you, not in front of you.

That way, when the pooping toddler poops, it will not fall directly into your path, causing you to step in it, which will cause you to think oh my god this is possibly the grossest but most hilarious emergency I've ever been a part of, and which will also cause you to stop, take that sock off, and then continue on your way to the potty chair, which you have left upstairs, and upstairs is an awful long ways away when you are carrying a naked, pooping, and now upset toddler at arm's length.

That's what I learned last night, as I was helping to clean up the kitchen after tacos and smoothies made in the new blender using the high-end "Whole Foods" fruit we had, both of which we had because Sweetie got them for St. Nick's Day.

I'm not sure why "St. Nick's Day" exists, or even if it does exist outside of my family. I always wondered if it existed outside of my family when I was a kid, too, when we would, in the beginning of December, get candy in our stockings. Never presents or anything, just candy, which always included one of those giant, straight-up-and-down candy canes, the kind that would splinter when you bit them, so that if you sat on the brown couch eating them and watching channel 18 -- channel 18 was the only channel worth watching most of the time back then, because it was the only non-network channel, so it showed reruns of shows and cartoons in the afternoon, as opposed to showing "Phil Donahue," a show that by my memories was on at least 17 hours a day on all three networks in the late 70s and early 80s-- if you sat on the brown couch eating your candy cane and watching Channel 18, you would have parts splinter off and fall on your chest and be covered with sweater-fuzz, making them inedible. You would also get little tiny peppermint shards sprinkled down your chest and stomach, giving you a minty smell and a crackly feel the rest of the day.

No other kids ever seemed to get stuff for St. Nick's Day, which was why I thought maybe it only existed in our family, but, then again, I was the kind of kid who never really knew what was going on, either, so maybe everyone was getting St. Nick's presents, and I just didn't know it because I spent most of my time in fourth grade reading the "Emil" books and playing one-on-one football on recesses with Kevin Donnerbauer, the kid with only one thumb, and what time I didn't spend doing that I spent drawing "vipers" from Battlestar Galactica and getting beat up by Dean Larsen. None of which really lead one to conversations about whether or not the other kid celebrates "St. Nick's Day."

When I married Sweetie, I learned that she, too, celebrated St. Nick's Day, and that she celebrated it through presents, which seems odd, since Sweetie is always telling me how poor she was growing up, stories about poverty that make me feel even more guilty than I do most of the time about my relatively-privileged background. I, as a kid, generally got presents like the Millenium Falcon with Actual Cargo Bays for hiding Han Solo, or my "official" Dallas Cowboys helmet, or the Lego set that let me build an actual Lunar Landing Module (which I still remember was called the "LEM," even though I don't remember why it was called the "LEM") or any of the the 1000 other toys and junk my parents got us for Christmas, and that still wasn't enough, as most years there were plenty of junky things we didn't get. Realizing that, that I was so spoiled and privileged and didn't appreciate it, serves the valuable purpose today of making me feel guilty, guilt that I channel into areas that society desperately needs, like "working hard" and "giving to charity" and "telling my own kids how lucky they are that they have so much stuff, compared to how little stuff I had," which is only true comparatively speaking, because I had a lot of stuff, but my kids have more stuff, and they, too, do not think they have enough. Yes, The Boy has a great big TV in his room and a DVD player and a Playstation 3, but he still pines away for an Internet connection that would let him play Playstation online against other players, even though the other player he would mostly play against is his friend, who lives next door, and who would probably come over to play anyway, bringing his own TV and Playstation 3, so that they could harness the awesome power of the Internet to play a game against each other sitting two feet apart.

So the guilt I carry around lets me lay some guilt on The Boy and his sisters for having so much stuff, something that I do to relieve my own guilt and also to make sure that they have guilt when they grow up, so that they will work hard and give to charity and be good people and guilt-trip their own kids, and the Circle of Guilt will continue.

I don't guilt-trip the Babies! yet, because they're too little to feel guilty about anything, and also because they don't really want anything. We have not yet bought them that many toys -- all of their toys except the slide and their car fit into a laundry basket -- but we have bought them toys, and they generally ignore those toys and play with anything else.

Mr Bunches, for example, carries around a small red practice golf ball that Middle gave him. It's made of foam rubber and he has it with him at all times. I've never known anyone to have a "Security Golf Ball" but he does, and he gets upset if he can't find it. He got so upset the last time it was lost (we found it behind the Only Surviving Plant in the house) that Sweetie took precautions and found a second one, a Spare Emergency Golf Ball that is kept carefully hidden in the Babies!'s room. We all also make sure, at all times, that we are aware of the Red Ball: "Where's his red ball?" we ask each other, when moving Mr Bunches from one room or level of the house to the next.

He can't be fooled, either -- give him a different color practice golf ball and he'll throw it aside. Give him a different kind of red ball and he'll squeeze it to test it out, and if it doesn't give a little like The Red Ball, he'll toss that aside, too.

Losing his Red Ball is one of the few things that upsets Mr Bunches. He's pretty easygoing. The only other things I've seen upset him are when someone leaves the room he's in, and being whisked away to poop on the potty chair rather than on the living room floor, where he thought it was okay to poop because, after all, he was naked.

Mr Bunches was only naked because I felt sorry for him and also because I needed both hands free to clean up the smoothie mess that I'd created making smoothies on the blender I'd given Sweetie for St. Nick's Day, a blender that was big and expensive and more big and expensive than a St. Nick's Day present should be, but I tend to give Sweetie big and expensive presents because, like I said, I feel guilty about my privileged background and Sweetie manages to dredge up more guilt by telling me stories about her own unprivileged background.

I might tell a story, for example, of how I had all these Star Wars action figures and I used to set them up in elaborate scenarios in my room in which the dresser with its four shelves was the Death Star, because the books on the bottom shelf could be the trash compactor, and then I might say that I wished I'd kept those Star Wars figures because maybe they'd be worth money, and then Sweetie will say something like this, a story she actually told us:

"I didn't have action figures or dolls when I was a little girl. We couldn't afford them. I had marbles, though, that my grandma gave me. I used to pretend the marbles were people and play with them and make them go shopping."

Imagine hearing that on the heels of your story about having an actual Boba Fett that shot missiles. Then imagine yourself standing in the department store thinking "Should I get her that blender she asked for even though it's very expensive?" and as you think that, you remember that Sweetie, as a kid, had to have her marbles have adventures, things she couldn't even dress up or fix the hair of or whatever it is that girls do with their dolls and toys.

And then imagine standing in that department store, pushing your Babies! in their stroller, and feeling terribly guilty about having been so privileged, and deciding that yes, you will buy her the blender, and you'll also get her some other stuff because she deserves it, but then you get distracted and think How would a marble be a person? And did they have names? Were they, like "Judy The Marble?" Did she make them walk, or just roll them to the Marble Shopping Mall? And then before you can get the blender or answer those questions, Mr F leans over and starts trying to knock over the pile of Christmas dinner plates you're stuck in front of.

Mr F got to try to knock over a lot of things last week, as we finished up the shopping for Sweetie's St. Nick's Day present. Her entire present was that blender that she asked for, and a bunch of high-quality fruit from Whole Foods, and a Whole Foods $10 gift card (which I threw in to top it off, but which is useless because $10 at Whole Foods will get you one grape) and a book of smoothie recipes that had lots of recipes for smoothies made without yogurt, because Sweetie likes smoothies but hates yogurt. Or I should say, Sweetie wants to like smoothies, something she tells us all the time:

"I want to like smoothies," she'll say, "But I just don't like that yogurt."

When I ask why it's so important that she like smoothies, she answers: "Because they're cool."

Finding the blender was the easy part -- the department store had blenders, lots of them, some of them as high-priced as $159. I did not get guilt-tripped into buying that. Marble People or not, I don't buy $159 kitchen appliances. I settled on a tough-looking red blender that had an "Ice Crusher" feature. That sounded good (if not very romantic or Christmas-y) to me. Getting the fruit was also easy. It was the book that was tough, because I had Mr Bunches and Mr F with me in their stroller, and I had to go to three different bookstores to find just the right book of smoothie recipes, which meant three different nights of pushing the Babies! through bookstores, bookstores with shelves that were very close together and packed with books that were ripe for the plucking, so that as we walked down the aisles Mr F and Mr Bunches would reach out and grab books and toss them on the floor, and I would quickly scoop the books up and put them back more or less in the region they came from, hopefully also getting all of the "Teddy Graham" crumbs and smudges off of them. So if you are shopping for a book at any of those stores, the odds are that the book you want is about five feet further down the aisle, and you'll want to wipe it off a little before buying it.

I also could not stop the stroller, because they'd get really antsy then, and start arching their backs or taking off their socks and shoes and throwing them, and if there's anything that gets you judged to be a bad parent, it's having barefoot kids out in a store in December in Wisconsin. Plus, people don't think it's so cute the third time a shoe gets flung at them.

Most of the shopping, then, was done with me handing them "Teddy Grahams" and trying to calm them down and distract them by talking to them and singing Mr F's favorite song ("All I Want Is You" from the "Juno" Soundtrack) quietly as we walked through the aisles, and when that didn't work, I'd try to quickly scan the books as we walked by. When I'd see a book I thought would be good, I'd scoop it up and keep pushing the stroller, checking out the book with one hand and pushing the stroller with the other hand, eventually looping back to drop the book off more or less where I'd gotten it (I could tell by the trail of "Teddy Grahams.")

I had to do that because in public, I'll do anything to keep the Babies! happy, and also because I'm a pushover. I think I'm a tough dad, but I'm not, and I just give in to the Babies! demands no matter what the cost to me personally is. I will let them, for example, out of the cart while we're at the drugstore picking up cold medicine, even though I know that it will be physically impossible for me to hold both of their hands and get out my wallet to pay. I let them out of the cart and hold their hands and then, when it comes time to pull out my wallet, I let go of Mr Bunches' hand for just one second I hope and pull out the $20 Sweetie gave me, but it's no use: Mr Bunches has taken off towards the back of the store, laughing, and I have to scoop up Mr F and tell the lady behind the counter "put the change in the bag" and then I carry Mr F with me while I chase Mr Bunches around the rack of cold medicines in the back of the store, twice, before grabbing him and going up front carrying both boys to grab the bag, which hopefully has my change in it, and head outside.

Even then, I'm such a pushover that I feel bad for Mr F, who didn't get to run around the pharmacy, and I wonder if I should give him a chance, too. But Mr F gets his own special treatment, like when I keep playing The Tackle Game with him even though I'm afraid that he's given me a concussion.

The Tackle Game is Mr F's favorite. He invented it, and as you'd expect of a game invented by a two-year-old, it's pretty simple and also violent. In The Tackle Game, I sit cross-legged on the floor, and Mr F goes into the other room and then comes running at me while I say "No no no no no" in a scared voice (note: I'm not acting) and he then plows into me and we fall over backwards and I tell him he's very strong and how'd he get so strong? Then we do it all again, for about an hour. And I keep playing The Tackle Game under the most adverse conditions, like when Mr F the other night caught me just behind the temple with his forehead, causing him to momentarily cry until I calmed him down by tossing him in the air a few times. He was fine. I, though, was seeing stars and had a splitting headache, one that instantly set in and spread down to my jaw and my neck, and one that I still kind of have, two days later. But I kept playing The Tackle Game, and didn't let on to Mr F that I thought maybe I had a concussion.

That pushoveriness is how Mr F and Mr Bunches ended up running around buck naked on St. Nick's Eve, or the night of St. Nick's Day, or whatever. We'd eaten dinner, which was tacos and chips and non-yogurt-containing smoothies that I'd made using Sweetie's new St. Nick's blender, and I was helping clean up before taking the Babies! upstairs for their bath, and Mr F started getting into the wedding cabinet, which is the only thing in our house anymore that both contains glass and is in arm's reach. It's a curio cabinet with glass doors that's filled with wedding mementos and champagne glasses and pictures from our wedding and things like that, and we'd move it, but it's really heavy and it wouldn't be right to put it in the garage, anyway, so we guard the wedding cabinet using the high-tech method of taking the piano bench and the round table and laying them down in front of it, a giant barricade that completely fails to slow down Mr F, who likes to open and close doors, hard, to hear the bang! they make. Mr F frequently gets into the wedding cabinet doors, which make a satisfying glassy sound. He hasn't yet noticed that every single thing inside that cabinet is breakable, but it's only a matter of time.

While I was cleaning up last night, Mr F got into the wedding cabinet, and I got him out and tried to distract him from that by dropping him on the couch. That's "The Treatment," a game he and Mr Bunches like. In "The Treatment," I hold them and swing them back and forth and say "1... 2... Treatment!" and then drop them on the couch.

And, yes, "The Treatment" is a lot like "Cloverfield," but there are subtle differences that experts will note. Differences like: In "Cloverfield," I'm a monster, who walks around roaring Cloverfield! and then picking them up and dropping them on the couch, while in The Treatment, I am just Daddy, or sometimes Dr Slider, and I do not roar, but I do count. Cloverfield The Monster would never count. He's a monster.

"The Treatment" did not work on Mr F, who headed back to the wedding cabinet, so I took the next most logical step, which was to strip him down to his diaper. You would have to live in our house for a while to understand why that was the next most logical step, but it was. And it worked: soon, Mr F was down to his diaper and we were hollering, as he ran by, "Woo-hoo!" which is what we do when nearly-naked two-year-olds run around our house. (We even call it "Woo-hooing." "Do you want to woo-hoo?" we'll ask the Babies!, who will answer with "guck.")

Then, Mr Bunches wanted in on the Woo-Hooing, so he came over to me and I stripped him down to his diaper, too, but that wasn't enough: he wanted the diaper off.

So I put my foot down. As he pulled at his diaper and looked up at me and made pleading noises that were kind of like words but not really, I said: "No. You've got to leave the diaper on."

He pulled at it more and pulled at my leg.

"No," I said, firmly. "The diaper stays on."

He whined a little, looked sad, and pulled at his diaper, forlornly. So I caved in and said "Fine," and stripped the diaper off, which Sweetie might have objected to but it was my day to be in charge, so she didn't say anything other than that I sure am a pushover, and I then stripped off Mr F's diaper, too, letting them run around naked while we continued cleaning. I figured, they'll get some naked woo-hooing in before their bath, and I can get this cleaned up so that we can just relax," and I went back to cleaning the blender, but within about two minutes, I heard Sweetie yelling that Mr Bunches was pooping, and I rushed out there to see Mr Bunches by the Only Surviving Plant, with Sweetie holding a magazine under his butt.

I picked up Mr Bunches, who looked surprised, and held him at arm's length as we went through the kitchen, where he dropped part of the load and I stepped in it, forcing me to stop and hold Mr Bunches in one arm while I took off the now-needed-to-be-burned sock, at which point Mr Bunches got terribly upset and started crying, so I got the sock off, and got him upstairs into his room and sitting on the potty chair.

By then, Mr Bunches was thoroughly upset and was bawling, and I didn't want him to form some kind of permanent negative pooping attitude -- what if he ended up always being constipated because he was worried that if he pooped he'd get scooped up and whisked around? What if he went crazy because he was so scared of pooping? How would that affect my plans to have him and Mr F star in their own show on Disney so that I can retire? -- so to fix that, I told him it was okay, and then when that didn't work, I cheered.

"Yay!" I said, and started clapping. He looked surprised, but stopped crying and looked at me. "Yay!" I said again, and cheered some more. "What a good boy! Yay! Hooray! Good job!" and I kept clapping while he sniffled and then cheered up and then he gave me a hug.

We cleaned him up and then, still naked, I took him back downstairs to clean up the mess. I forewarned Sweetie and Middle to cheer for him, too, so Mr Bunches walked, naked, into the kitchen, to a standing ovation of Mommy and his sister clapping and cheering, while Mr F looked a little jealous, like he was wondering if he should poop, too.

With a lot of bleach, we got the floor clean, and we got the Babies! up to their bath and got them dressed, and spent the rest of St. Nick's Night playing The Tackle Game and watching their new movies they'd gotten for St. Nick's Day, and I had learned a valuable lesson, which was this:

Next time, put more ice cream into the smoothie.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Pop Culture Graph: Vampire Movies.

Driving today, I heard lots of reports about the latest Underworld movie and how much it made at the box office, and that got me to thinking about vampire movies and how they relate to each other and other movies.

And that got me to making graphs instead of working.

Here is a graph of the percentage of total box office revenues earned by vampire movies:

What's surprising about that is not just that Twilight movies account for 46.1% of all money spent on vampire movies ever, but that Van Helsing is number five.

This graph may be biased by the source I used to get the info, which listed no box office receipts for any vampire movie prior to 1979. I doubt that no vampire movies were ever made before that year, but who am I to question the Internet:

I suspect, since I was measuring them by top box office, none of the pre-1979 movies made the list because box offices were lower then; box office receipts are not an absolute measure, because there are more people now, more movie theaters now, and mostly because movie ticket prices are sky-high now. (In 2010, the average movie ticket price was $7.89. In 1978 it was $2.34, so a movie seen by the exact same number of people in 1978 as in 2010 would have less than 1/3 the box office.)

So are vampire movies popular, in general? This graph is a little hard to read, but purple is the top-grossing non-vampire movie that year. Green is the top grossing vampire movie:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wherein I leave the world to defend itself against a newfound menace. (POP!Best!: Hot Extras)

Today's Hot Extra comes from the video for Fun.'s song We Are Young, which is only an okay song:

As an anthem, it doesn't have the same power as, say, Wavin' Flag or anything, but it's still better than Pumped Up Kicks, in the ranking of anthems/hot songs. If it matters to you, apparently the video is supposed to be an allegory of losing one's virginity, if comments on Youtube are correctly interpreting it.

As for the girl, I'm not exactly sure who she is. The question Who is the girl in the We Are Young video was asked on Yahoo! Answers, and the answers:

She's the image of porn star Lindsey Strutt.

Look at the video info. I LOVe fun. Omg im seeing them in march

Show why we are ranked about 375th in the world in terms of intelligence and productivity. Seriously, why log in to provide an answer if you don't know it?

Also: who knows what porn stars look like by heart?

So instead, I did a Google Image search of that picture up there to see what happens with that, but it was taking forever to load the image, so I gave up and instead watched this video of what happens when you do a Google Image search of a transparency, and then search that, and so on, recursiving yourself back to the dawn of time, or something:

Search by Image, Recursively, Transparent PNG, #1 from kingcosmonaut3000 on Vimeo.

Pretty cool stuff.

By that time, my image search had loaded and given me these results:

And if you look closely you'll see that some of those results are robots of some sort, and clicking that image led me to a site written entirely in a foreign language that featured pictures of robot action figures and umbrellas:

But they're scary foreign umbrellas, not good God-fearing American umbrellas, so I got really worried about what my search results might lead me to. Could I, by trying to figure out who this girl was, accidentally uncover some sort of Chinese plot to invade us with nonwaterproofed robots that require umbrellas to protect them from the rain, umbrellas which would (naturally) be equipped with pull-out swords?

I mean, if that's the case, don't I have a duty to try to figure out what that site says so that I can spread the word about the Swordfighting Chinese Robot Invasion, since Ron Paul's campaign literature doesn't mention that enough already?

So I was fully prepared to learn Mandarin Chinese and translate that page, but two things happened:

(v) I thought "What if that girl's not even 18? That makes this the creepiest possible way to spend a Saturday morning." and

(brown) Mr Bunches announced that he wanted to go play skee-ball, which sounded pretty fun to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thursday Scramble! Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World! (NSFW)

This is actually chapter 23; to begin the story at the beginning, click here. Or, to download the entire story in book form for free, click here.

WARNING: This scene is graphic!

Rachel, after awakening from her zombie state, fell in love with Bridget, who through the magic of a time warp, gave birth to their daughter Harper. Now, having been disintegrated by Harper to save her from the Bubbles, Rachel has been captured by Bridget's dad. No, that doesn't explain anything, which is why you should read the story.

"Let go of me," I said.

He pushed me back on the bed, his leering face only inches from mine. "No," he breathed. "Do you know what I've been through? I've literally been to Hell, died, had my body reconstructed into this monstrosity," and he pointed down at himself, "All to search for what is rightfully mine."

He paused.


Another pause, as he loomed over me.

"You, you are mine."

"I got that," I told him, trying to sound braver than I was feeling. He was lying on top of me and was heavier than I felt I could move.

"I created you, Rachel. Not literally. I did not myself carve up the women who would become your parts. I did not myself go and kidnap you from that concert. I did not drag your unconscious body down into the cellar where that mad idiot works doing things only he can do. I did not remove your chip and I did not pick out the limbs that would become the new you and then sew them together into this remarkably sexy package, binding them seamlessly by calling on energy from in between the dimensions."

He looked down at the stump of my left arm.

"Except for that one. I picked out that one, and that one in particular was the one that belonged to me." He stared back into my eyes and then put one of his hands, the one with the delicate nails, onto my breast, began kneading it and pulling it, roughly.

"Do you want to know why?" he asked.

"Don't touch me, please," I managed to whisper.

He took his hand and pushed harder against my breast, and I felt a cold sweat break out. Shifting his weight, he pressed his knee into my stomach, just below my ribcage.

"Don't tell me what to do, you lesbian zombie whore," he said, and my blood stopped in my veins at the threat in his voice.

With a tiny twitch of his weight, he pumped his knee into me. My breath whooofed out of me and tears sprang to my eyes and I gasped. He pinched my breast and then punched me in the face.

"Stop it!" Bridget yelled. I couldn't see her. I closed my eyes and tried to catch my breath as my legs were roughly pushed apart.

"You don't know what resources went into creating you, all to have a body that could hold on to that hand and all because that hand was the final ingredient in controlling the thousands of slaves we created," Bridget's dad said.

"Don't do this, Daddy!" Bridget yelled again.

"SHUT HER UP!" Bridget's dad roared and punched me in the face again. Before I could even catch my breath he pushed his knee into my stomach again and I gasped again, feeling emptied of air entirely. His hands were pushing in between my thighs and I wanted to fight him, I did, but I couldn't even catch my breath and my lungs were so empty it caused me actual pain inside my chest.

I heard a crack of metal on a head and Bridget screamed and The Me's voice said "Don't do that!" and there was a scuffle sound as Bridget's dad's hand pushed into me and I tried to fight and he said:

"Don't fight me. You have lost the one thing you were created to keep and since this body belonged to others before it became your demon soulless shell, you shouldn't care what I do to it." He pushed his knee down again and my body felt like it was turned inside out as I struggled to breath. He punched the side of my head and I saw stars.

"I would kill you, but I need the body alive. I must make sure you understand never to oppose me again," he said, and viciously raked his nails over my inner thigh. I would have screamed but I couldn't even suck in air, as he was keeping his knee pushed into my stomach now.

I began to black out.

I felt his hands in me, inside my thighs and on my breasts and one pushing into my mouth and the room went all spinny and then a voice crackled through an intercom:

"It's not here!"

Bridget's dad stopped staring at my pussy and turned his terrible face back to look at mine. Through blurred tunnel vision, I saw him purse his lips.

"That is very bad for you," he said. "But worse for your lovers."

He punched me again in the face, and said: "Kill them."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Now, I want some of ALL of these candies. (Off The Top Of My Head)

The other day, reader Anna Carrera and I mixed it up a bit on Twitter because she said that she loved Raisinets; as a firm backer of Boston Baked Beans, I took offense to the notion that something could best my beloved candy. Then, today, because I am theoretically working from home, I got to thinking, and what I thought, in order was:

I would like some Boston Baked Beans.

Come to think of it, I would like some French Burnt Peanuts.

Now that I ponder it, I'm kind of weird.
With that, I started trying to think of all the kind-of-obscure candies I'd ever liked and decided that I'd do a list of them, because you deserve to be constantly updated on whatever it is that crosses my mind. So here is the

Off The Top Of My Head List Of Kind Of Weird, Obscure Candies I Love:

Boston Baked Beans.
French Burnt Peanuts
Pop Rocks
Pixy Sticks
Chocolate Key Limes
Those little brown peanut-butter candies that come wrapped in wax paper at Halloween.
Charleston Chews
Zero Bars
Hot Buttered Popcorn Jelly Belly Jellybeans
Nibs, but only the black licorice kind
Circus Peanuts
Bit O'Honey

And there was a thing that was like caramel and nougat spiraled together on a stick and it was a square and I can't think of what it was called and it's killing me to not know, and I went so far as to ask Sweetie but she doesn't know and Google was no help, and yeah, I know I'm not supposed to Google things for these lists but what're you going to do, call the Internet cops?

Also, I just found them. They were
Slap Stix. Turns out they have banana in them.

I asked Sweetie if she wanted to do a list, but she just got a weird look in her face, one that seemed to say something like "What in God's name am I married to?" only I'm sure that's not what it was really saying.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bacon double cheeseburgers also interfere with my ability to determine what is, or is not, a science. (Awesome Covers Of Already Awesome Songs)

I didn't exactly fit the mold of a typical fan of The Cure back in the 1980s, although at one point I did have spiked hair on only one side of my head. It's hard to be goth and grim when you're fat, I suppose. Doesn't quite work.

Nonetheless, I loved The Cure, and still love The Cure, even though I'm no longer angst-ridden as I was back then (for no reason whatsoever, I should add. I was angst-ridden about being a superprivileged suburban kid), and that brings me to Tanya Donnelly & Dylan At The Movies' cover of The Lovecats,

which cranks the theatricality of that song up to 11 and makes it into almost a performance art piece, thereby making this song less accessible than ever and further marking just how far away from the mainstream I am.

Which would be enough to feel angsty about, if I were still the angsty type, but it's hard to be angsty when my life is going so well and I'm full of the bacon double cheeseburger I got from Sonic today.

Bacon double cheeseburger cancels out angst. It's science. Or math. Maybe geography. Is that a thing?

Bacon cupcakes are the only thing that'll cheer me up about this news.

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Walgreens for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I thought I’d take a moment and do one of those off-the-top-of-my-head lists of things.  Today it’s

The List Of All The Things I Like About Our “Health Care” “System.”

So there’s…



Okay, I’ve got it: Bacon Cupcakes.  Don’t tell me that’s not part of the health care system.  It probably is, given how screwed up health care is in this country.

And the latest screwing-up of a necessary component of any advanced civilization (i.e., “health care”)? The insane demand for profits by a middleman company that is at the heart of the Walgreens and Express Script dispute.

Express Scripts is this company that does nothing and creates nothing and provides no meaningful services.  It is a Profit Troll, a company that exists because it can, not because it should.  What it does, to the extent it does anything but drain our society of resources, is act as the middleman between drugstores and health insurance companies.

And what Express Scripts, Profit Troll, does recently is demand ever greater concessions from companies like Walgreen’s; the latest round of contract negotiations between the two saw Express Scripts (Whose profits grow at 2x the rate of other industry companies) demanding that Walgreens take huge losses and give unilateral control over things like naming what’s a generic drug to Express Scripts.

And in the end, Walgreen’s couldn’t do that, so Express Scripts (as so many “health care” companies/Profit Trolls do) put profits ahead of health and has no deal with Walgreen’s.

The upshot is Walgreen’s customers who are Express Scripts members may now have to go farther away to get prescriptions at other drug stores: all Walgreen’s and some Duane Reeds are affected. And they’ll probably pay higher prices.

One particular group will almost certainly pay higher prices: Military families. Express Scripts contracts with Tricare, which provides insurance to military families. Walgreen’s offered to guarantee the lowest prices in the country to Tricare, and Express Scripts said no, because Express Scripts likes profits more than it likes than our military.

So with all that going on, two questions remain:

Can you prove that bacon cupcakes aren’t part of the health care system?

And what can you do?

The answer to the second question is: join Walgreens Prescription Savings Club

For January, you can do that at a discount: $10 per family in ($5 for one person), and you get discounts on 8,000 different brand-name medications, low prices on generics, Walgreen’s discounts on flu shots, pet scripts, nebulizers and other things. Members also get bonuses for using other Walgreen’s services, like photofinishing, so you can continue to save on medications and still do one-stop shopping at your local pharmacy.

And you can show your support for the companies that are trying to do the right thing: Pick sides, like me:  Stick up for Walgreen’s: Like Walgreens on Facebook and follow Walgreens on Twitter (@Walgreens), and help make things better.

Visit Sponsor's Site

A Random Number Of Words About "Fright Night" (Movies)(Random Number Of Words)

(What's this about? Click here.)

720 Words About “Fright Night.”

We watched the remake of Fright Night on Christmas Eve, as is our habit: every year since the first year we did this, we have watched a horror movie of sorts on Christmas Eve as our family movie, with the sole exception being 2010, when we watched The Other Guys, which was not in any sense a horror movie unless you count the fact that it begins with two men jumping to their death horribly, which is kind of funny to think about in the sense that it’s not funny at all that two men jumped to their death in a comedy and we called that a comedy while in Fright Night, which is a horror movie, we don’t actually see anyone die except [SPOILER ALERT!] McLovin’, who is turned into a vampire early on and who I’m pretty sure dies of being decapitated later on even though he didn’t have to because the end result of the movie is that everyone is cured of being a vampire.

Here’s your very-spoilery plot of the movie: A single mom is raising a kid who has inexplicably become popular and gotten a superhot girlfriend:

over the summer, and like everyone who suddenly becomes popular, the newly-popular kid has problems that geeks like me can barely understand, in that he doesn’t want to have sex with his superhot (and, they kind of hint, slutty) girlfriend

and also the guy who just moved in next door is not just Colin Farrell, whose name, it turns out, isn’t even kind of spelled like ferret, although it seems it should be, but also a vampire.

What really jumped out about this movie to both Sweetie and I, as we watched it on Christmas Eve (remember?) while the Babies! Slept in their room: Man, Colin Ferrell doesn’t even try to hide that he’s a vampire, does he? The movie jumps right in with a bunch of vampire-y stuff and about halfway through it Colin The Vampire is not just slinking around trying to be creepy, he’s ripping up gas lines in the backyard to blow up the house (because he can’t come in as he hasn’t been invited, see, so if he blows up the house, then he can just eat them all, a plan Edward Cullen would have never moped his way into thinking up.)

I do not remember the original Fright Night very well, although I’m sure I saw it. Why I’m so sure I saw it, I don’t know, as I haven’t seen practically any of the iconic 80s movies that everyone my age talks about loving. I spent the 80s reading sci-fi books and comics and being unpopular, and not the kind of unpopular that leads one to get a superhot and kind of slutty girlfriend. The kind of unpopular that leads one to, 25 years later, watch Fright Night and think, of the scant few high-school scenes, “High school was not like that” but secretly worry that, yes, it was, for everyone else.

Beyond Colin Ferrell imprisoning strippers (the movie’s set near Vegas, which kind of confirms what I secretly think about people who live around Vegas) and trying to molest teen boys, Fright Night doesn’t offer much: There’s a half-hearted attempt to throw some mythology into it (Vampires are dirt-dwellers, or something dumb) and the de rigeur self-referential thing horror movies have to do because Scream existed once (a vampire killer stages a Vegas show about killing vampires but he doesn’t really, unless he does really, kill vampires.) There is a car chase, a cameo appearance by Vampire From 80s Fright Night, a not-so-great fight in the Hall of the Vegas Vampire Killer, but the end result is entertaining enough to pass.

And, in the end, the teenage boy has his slutty girlfriend turned into a vampire and has an excuse to actually not sleep with her:

but he comes up with a plan to save everyone by lighting himself on fire and hugging Colin The Vampire to death, which really happens in the movie and which causes all the people Colin made vampires to become not vampires anymore, and so everyone is as happy as can be expected.

Except for McLovin’, who they decapitated and who is still dead at the end of the movie.

A Random Number Of Words About... the Introduction And List Of All Reviews!

370 words about "Oculus," by Michael Offutt

283 words about "The Possession"

71 words about "The Many Lives Of Yelena Moulin"

720 Words About "Fright Night."

222 Words About "The Avengers"

57 Words About The Bacon Sundae From Burger King

58 Words About "The Dark Knight Rises."

72 Words about "Plants vs. Zombies." 

320 Words about "Phineas & Ferb"

Those of you who follow my 38,000,000,000 ...howmanyzeroesinazillion...000 blogs know that I used to do something I called the "Rum Punch Review," which were extended book reviews that explored not just the books but anything that came to mind while reading or writing about them.

Then I got bored with that.

And then I tried to write a 500-word short story that ballooned into 58 pages and while that story is probably the greatest story ever written and will make you laugh and make you cry and make you do long division in your head which will make you doubt your answer, it's also not really a short story.

And I've tried from time to time to write other reviews -- like Indie Book Reviews and Random Blog Reviews -- but I've never really gotten into the "movie" or "book" or "thing" reviewing world as a regular thing.

Until now: I've read so much phenomenal stuff lately, and seen so many movies that deserved comments, and found so many podcast... and ... you get the picture... that I'm going to start reviewing them, and the twist, to make it interesting, is that each of my reviews will be a random number between 1 and 1,000 -- I'll go to, get a random number assigned, and write exactly that many words about the subject.

For no particular reason. Just to see if I can do it. (In case you didn't know, this is my new experiment this year: hitting an exact target of words. Like Ezra Pound, who [possibly mythically] wrote a sonnet a year before he decided to write free verse, I am going to do this as an exercise to keep writing fun and interesting for me.]

This'll be fun. Until I get bored.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Best Worst Story: An Ongoing TBOE Investigation (Books, and Other Smarty-Pants Things)

Part 3 of my Pulitzer-prize mentioning investigation into what makes a good, or bad, book. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.

Today: Do you have to call a novel "a novel?"

Author/Secret Agent Patrick Dilloway, who prompted this investigation by posting what he said might be the worst story ever, has written thirty-one different books, by my count. His latest (or latest that I know of) is called Back To Life, and I am in the (very slow) process of reading and reviewing it, but I keep getting sidetracked from that process by (D) Other stuff and (2.7) the fact that every time I start to read it get caught up in the question of what makes a book truly good or truly bad and so I start to deconstruct books and this time the question on my mind is what I started the post with: why call a novel "a novel?"

I started thinking this because I am putting the finishing touches on my own next book -- details soon -- and when I started writing that one, four years ago (!), I put the words "a novel" after the title.

I didn't at the time know why I did that, but I do now, after thinking about it and investigating what it means.

I didn't know what I meant by that at first because as I look back now, the words "a novel" didn't need to be there. I mean, the book is a work of fiction. When published, it will sit on the (virtual) fiction shelf, it will be tagged as fiction, and, when read, as I've no doubt it will be by millions of people, it will be seen as fiction, clearly, or I expect it will because in it William Howard Taft tries to convince a housewife to help expel everyone from Heaven, which is not something I've heard happened in real life.

So because I didn't know why it was there, before setting this book up to publish I deleted that little phrase, "a novel," and went on with my life, but it got me wondering: why bother saying on the cover what it is?

Only books seem to do that, when I started to think about it. You never see "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, A Film" or the like. U2 never released "The Joshua Tree: A Sound Recording." Picasso, so far as I know, never made "Blue Dog: A Painting."

True, movies sometimes say "A True Story" or "Based on a true story," a tagline that automatically irritates me ever since I saw The Strangers, which was a great movie about a brutal home invasion said to be "Inspired by true events," only the true events that inspired this movie were simply "a guy knocked on the director's door once and then left."

The director rejected "Girl Scout Cookies: The Movie"

Seriously: That's what happened, and he used that guy as the inspiration for what was ... was... one of the more chilling movies I'd ever seen, a movie that got that extra fillip of scary because of the thought that some of it had happened, only none of it had happened and if people got a refund for having bought that James Frey book because it was supposed to be true but wasn't, then I'm owed $2 for The Strangers.

So: Calling a book "a novel" seems to have no real point, given that while when you look at a book in isolation, it's not immediately apparent whether you're looking at a novel or a memoir or a cookbook, books aren't in isolation, they're in sections, and also, when you look at a book, while you almost certainly make a great many judgments about that book based exclusively on the cover thereby belying that old saying about books and their covers, I don't know anyone who only reads the title and then buys the book.

Everyone I know who shops for books does this, either in real life or the virtual equivalent:

(17.) They see a cover of a book they like.

(17.) They pick it up and look at the back cover (or page down and read the description, online).

(C.) They shrug and go looking for something that promises to have more sex scenes in it.

(That is why Dilloway's Back To Life, despite not having "a novel" in the title, still has marketing genius behind it; to get to the book online, you have to agree that you're over 18 because the book apparently has so many NSFW scenes in it.)

(The necessity of an early sex scene in a book is one that should be obvious: A great many terrible books-- there was a book I read once about a Tom Cruise-like star in a haunted mansion or something in Hollywood that met this criteria-- have been read all the way through because despite the fact that they were not very good books, they had a sex scene early enough that readers [not just me, necessarily but probably other people] slogged through them in hopes that at least there would be another sex scene to break up the tedium. That's why the Internet will kill reading; people used to go on reading terrible books in hopes of getting to another sex scene. When you're reading online or on a tablet, you're never more than two clicks away from porn and can give up on a terrible book faster.)

In other words, nobody says "I'm going to only read the words on the cover, and I am only interested in books that are clearly novels," so from a marketing standpoint, the words "a novel" appearing on a cover of a book appear to be completely unnecessary.

Or are they?

Does the word novel mean anything anymore? Or is it a code that is meant to appeal to a certain kind of book buyer... let's call them snobs, the kind of people who say things like "Oh, I don't really watch TV" and who eat things that originated (they think) in Eastern Europe but which are actually from a factory in North Carolina.

Here's an interesting fact, if by "interesting" you understand I mean "probably not very interesting to anyone but me": the word "novel" wasn't used to describe a book at all until the 18th century, which is clearly an error on the part of this website that I used as my source for any actual information in this post, because everything was invented in the 16th century, but let's go with it.

The idea of a novel, that site says, came from the Italian word novella, and was used to distinguish a new sort of story from the old sort of stories that humans had been telling until that point. Novels back then were primarily character-driven, 50,000+ word stories. Or, as that site puts it more academically:

The novel places more emphasis on character, especially one well-rounded character, than on plot.

Another initial major characteristic of the novel is realism--a full and authentic report of human life.

The traditional novel has:

-- a unified and plausible plot structure
-- sharply individualized and believable characters
-- a pervasive illusion of reality

Here is another "interesting" fact: Some people are paid to research things like this and do that for a living which is kind of proof, I think, too, that we have more than enough money to do things like "provide free health care to anyone and everyone" because when you live in a society where you can pay people to research novels and other people will pay to learn about that research because those other people want to go on to make their living thinking about novels you are talking about a society that has a serious amount of leisure time and leisure money, so let's get with it people, and start having the kind of country where poor people don't die in the street while we squabble about whether Mitt Romney likes to fire people. (He does.)

I don't just point out that studying novels makes our society "capable of providing health care and education" and "stopping being selfish and stupid" because I'm a jerk. (I am.) I also bring it up because novels are a sign that society is progressing: in the 18th century when novels were not actually invented because everything was invented in the 16th century, the growing middle class was (again according to that site) demanding more literature, which is funny because now we have a shrinking middle class which is demanding more Jersey Shore, although as I look at that sentence nothing is funny about it at all, so I'll move on.

They did some pretty
weird stuff in the 16th Century.

While people back then had "literature" such as autobiographies and memoirs (which for some reason people think are two different things) and biographies and romances -- romances being not Fabio-covered women swooning books but grand adventures -- and allegories, people wanted something more real, more lifelike, and so the novel was invented; according to most sources,the "first" novel ever written in English was "Le Morte d'Arthur" in 1470, which is clearly wrong on so many levels that we can go back to ignoring most sources: "Le Morte d'Arthur' is, for one thing, a collection of short stories, so it's not a novel at all and people are ninnies.

Answerbag ("Where the answers are submitted by the same people who didn't know stuff in the first place!") says Cervantes Don Quixote de La Mancha was the first "novel" as we think of it, and actually cites to something that's not Wikipedia, but that site I've been relying on says it's actually Samuel Richardson who "created the novel of character" by writing "Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded" which is a novel told through letters, sometimes called an "epistolary novel" but more often called "an annoying literary device" which didn't get any better when Nicholson Baker transformed it into the all-conversation erotic story Vox in the 20th century, although you can clearly see the trend of novels from that transformation: virtue rewarded to phone sex describes the path of all civilization (hence: Jersey Shore)

Not that the 21st Century is much better,

But then, too, that site I've been relying on goes on immediately to say that Henry Fielding wrote the first novel, so let's just say "Benjamin Franklin wrote the first novel" because in the United States, that's how we solve everything: attribute it to Benjamin Franklin, a fictional character if ever there was one because by now, to achieve everything Ben Franklin was to have achieved he'd have had to live 300 years and be four people, which he could clearly only do if he'd discovered the Fountain of Youth and used his vast lifespan to acquire huge amounts of wealth and build a mountaintop laboratory in the Appalachians where he discovered cloning and sent out an army of Ben Franklins to alter history from time to time, and I've just plotted out, I realize, the sequel to my previous historical novel ("John Tyler: Space President"). I'll call it "Ben Franklin: Science Warrior". Look out, George R.R. Martin, here I come with the next phase of gritty, realistic, Lord Of The Rings ripoffs.

Add a dwarf, and HBO will
be calling me in 15 minutes.

I'm getting bored with the history, as I always do. Let's fast-forward:

After novels were invented by Ben Franklin, Science Warrior, they went through a couple of phases that can be described as "18th Century: Bronte-izing the Novel and Making It Boring", with a side trip into "Charles Dickens Writes The Only Christmas Story Anyone Will Ever Hear Again" to the 20th Century Novel, which that site that I've been relying on describes as "we can't really say anything about it" (seriously) (so now people are getting paid to not be able to talk about the thing they get paid to study, so, honestly, I should be able to get a free kidney transplant) to "The Postmodern Novel", 'postmodern' being a term only academics use because "modern" means "relating to recent times" and you can't postmodern is therefore a moving target, but that site that I'm no longer relying on says that the characteristics of the postmodern novel include:

playfulness with language

experimentation in the form of the novel

less reliance on traditional narrative form

less reliance on traditional character development

experimentation with point of view

experimentation with the way time is conveyed in the novel

mixture of "high art" and popular culture

interest in metafiction, that is, fiction about the nature of fiction

Which, if you look at it closely, means that the characteristics of a postmodern novel are that it is not at all a novel.

If, that is, novels mean "character studies that are fictional but which are meant to seem very realistic" which is what I gathered a novel was (because that was what people said it was.)

So, we're back to this:

A novel is a lengthy character study meant to be highly realistic and depend more on development of character than action-driven plots, unless a novel isn't any of those things at all.


So why do people still put a novel on their cover? I think it has nothing to do with making sure you, the reader/buyer (as I've pointed out, book publishers are far more interested in buyers than they are readers) know that a particular book is a character-driven realistic story (unless it isn't), and more in appealing to a certain class of reader: snobs.

I say that because the other history of the novel begins with one of the single-most overrated figures of the 20th century, ranking right up there in overratedness with Kurt Cobain: Andy Warhol.

Pictured: The Death of Culture.

Andy Warhol wrote a book. He called it "a, A Novel." It was not a novel. It was, according to Wikipedia which is fine for dreck like this, a word-for-word transcription of tapes Warhol made with Ondine, and I'm so uninterested in Warholesque Boomer Art that I'm not going to look her/him/it up.

Warhol talked with Ondine for two years (presumably, not straight through, but you never know) and then transcribed it as "a, A Novel" and it got published because publishers even then were trying to kill off reading.

"a, A Novel" is not at all pretentious *where is that sarcasm emoticon when I need it?* in that ... and I'm going to quote Wikipedia directly for the full impact... it is:

Warhol's knowing response to James Joyce's Ulysses [and] was intended as an uninterrupted twenty-four hours in the life of Ondine, an actor who was famous mostly as a Factory fixture, Warhol film Superstar and devoted amphetamine user

That is to say: She was famous for being around Warhol, who was famous for being around people like her. Also: "knowing response to James Joyce's Ulysses"? I've never read Ulysses and don't intend to because I was already burned when people said to read David Foster Wallace's unreadable garbage, but I do know that it's not worthy of a response.

Wikipedia goes on:

A taped conversation between Warhol and Ondine, the book was actually recorded over a few separate days, during a two-year period. The book is a verbatim printing of the typed manuscripts and contains every typo, abbreviation and inconsistency that the typists produced. Ondine's monologues and disjointed conversations are further fragmented by Warhol's insistence on maintaining a purity of the transcriptions.

a, A Novel was the second of several publishing projects Andy Warhol produced in his lifetime. ...Warhol wanted to write a "bad" novel, "because doing something the wrong way always opens doors."
Yes, that is the excuse I use when what I turn out is terrible: "I did it on purpose because doing things badly opens doors," something that's apparently only true for Tim Tebow. Who knew that "hiring bad stenographers and then hanging around drug addicts" would get a publishing deal?

Wikipedia has more:

Four typists were employed to transcribe the Warhol/Ondine tapes. Maureen Tucker, the drummer for the Velvet Underground was an expert typist.

Emphatically, she was not, unless the previous paragraph about errors was completely wrong, which, maybe it was, if it was entered into Wikipedia by Maureen Tucker.

However, she refused to transcribe the swear words and left them out. Two high school girls were hired to work on some of the tapes. When one girl's mother heard what they were listening to she threw out the tape, losing several hours of conversation. All four hired typists transcribed the dialogue differently, some identifying the speakers, others not. The editor for a, A Novel, Billy Name, preserved the transcripts as is, with every typo and inconsistent character identification, and even moving from two column pages to single-column based on each typist's style. The final printed version was identical to the typed manuscripts

Sounds hellish, doesn't it? It gets worse:

In his glossary for the 1998 edition of a, A Novel, Victor Bockris cites Billy Name as the source for the title; "a" refers to both amphetamine use and as an homage to e.e. cummings.The title in both editions published by Grove Press in 1969 and 1998 use the a, A Novel format.

Excuse me? "An homage to e e cummings"? Which, I'll note, Wikipedia misspelled as cummings did not use punctuation in his name. (Unless he did?)

Enough. Warhol was beloved by Baby Boomers, which was enough to make him famous and to permanently warp history, the Boomers warping culture the way gravity warps space-time, and by calling "a" "a novel," Warhol, my thesis is, stamped with cultural approval the words "a novel", marking that phrase with a certain kind of cache that is meant to convey, to the buyer -- people who are swayed by the words a novel on a book cover are far more likely to be book buyers than book readers -- that the book on which the words a novel appears is in the same category of things like "documentaries mostly containing subtitles," "Saabs", "things that make me think of lower Manhattan," and "wine country", the message being: "This book will convey to your friends and associates that you are cultured and intellectual."

Lest you think I am too hard on authors who use "a novel" (because I was going to), consider this: I was going to because that particular a novel I thought had a higher literary significance than the other stuff I've written, which is not a hard mark to achieve to do when you consider that "some of the other stuff I've written" includes "a story premised on a joke about Godzilla and Jesus," but the point is that I was trying to be pretentious when I typed that (and trying not to be when I deleted it), and lest you think I am overstating the impact of putting the words a novel on the cover, consider "the Prius Effect."

The "Prius Effect" is an actual thing: It refers to the oddly-shaped Prius car, and the fact that the Prius was oddly-shaped to emphasize that it was a hybrid, which, in turn, made people who wanted to buy hybrids more likely to buy a Prius, not because they were better cars but because they were immediately recognized as green: by buying a hybrid car, you are helping the environment, but by buying a Prius, you are helping the environment and telling everyone that you are helping the environment, the latter being very important to almost everyone who wants to buy a Prius.

The "Prius Effect" means that some people put solar panels in less-than-optimal spots because it's more important to them that everyone knows they have them than that they work, and in terms of a novel means that by slapping a novel onto the cover of your book, you will ensure that potential buyers, and even some readers, of your a novel will be able to advertise to people that they are buying (and maybe even reading) a novel.

That is, when they sit in Starbucks "reading" their new book, people who look at the book will know instantly that the buyer did not buy some trashy romance or boring nonfiction book: the buyer is a serious person who is reading something that hearkens back to literary answers to James Joyce and etc. etc. something art.

In that sense, the words "a novel" are simply, now, a marketing tool, similar to putting "from Steven Spielberg" on a movie poster or "Whole grain" on a box of food: it's a meaningless code phrase meant to convey a certain association to people who don't really care about the contents but who do care about what other people think about the contents.