Friday, May 29, 2015

Somethin's Happenin' Here: Manifest Ambiguity in Helfer-Baker's The Shadow

A telling exchange occurs in the second chapter of Shadows & Light, Andrew Helfer's first six-issue story-run for The Shadow, rendered by Bill Sienkiewicz. It follows the conclusion of the previous issue's cliff-hanger, Cranston-Shadow commenting on the hair-raising escape with a blithe near-indifference. Mavis, a newer recruit who has just pulled his fat from the fire, snaps:

It doesn't seem like much -- it's possibly the quietest moment in a story bracketed by considerable flash and snap -- but it's remarkable nevertheless.

Howard Chaykin's resurrection of the Shadow posited Cranston as an uber-Alpha Male, against whom no regular human could offer anything but superficial resistance. Helfer retains the Shadow's uncanny powers of persuasion, but makes it clear it has limits -- limits which Cranston-Shadow is aware of, thus making him reliant on agents who, of their own free will, choose to call him "Master." Their limits are the hero's limits, also. Good thing he has a "contingency plan" for when things get unruly.

By the time Kyle Baker takes the artist's chair, "unruly" is becoming the norm. Agents are getting increasingly uppity:

And circumstances seem to require "The Master" to initiate contingency plans with greater frequency. At one point, The Shadow fires his Uzis on yet another washed-up loser he's recruited, fully intending to kill the man -- The Shadow doesn't recognize him, because this is the first they've met. The master-disciple relationship is off to a rocky start.

Cranston-Shadow's chess-piece maneuvering is looking decidedly rusty. Fortunately, his chosen nemeses -- an Irish-mafia family named the Finns -- possess no chess-playing skills whatsoever. Here the six surviving Deadly Finns "mourn" the first Finn the Shadow has dispatched, a lethargic and indulgent slug -- Errol, who represents "Sloth," of course.

Perhaps this is the moment to explore how Kyle Baker enlivens Helfer's scripts and story-boards. This is the next eight(ish)-panel page:

Reading Helfer-Baker back in the day left me with a distinct sense of on-the-fly improvisation. Reading them 25 years later, it's clearly nothing of the kind. Baker's literalist approach to Helfer's story-boards provides a comic framing that is the cool precursor to Seinfeld, which was still a half-decade to come.

That sense of improvisation was probably encouraged by Baker's skills as an artist, which he freely admits were rudimentary at the time. His characterization does have a childlike simplicity, but it contributes to the cheekiness of the humor. Facially, Baker's characters either speak with closed mouths, or howl with enormous gawps. All figures have an absurd plasticity, including The Shadow. Only when he appears as Cranston does Baker bother to render him remotely realistically, penning him in rough approximation of the Chaykin style.

This is not the preferred representation, however -- for The Shadow, or (one senses) for Baker or even Helfer. Although Baker's Shadow can still muster a threatening mien, more often than not the cloak and hat take on a swaddling characteristic, suggesting their implied threat and mystery mean more to the (often shrunken) man within them than to the world at large.

In the 80s, the Brooding Hero was on the ascendant, thanks to Frank Miller's surly Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. But no-one did "brooding" quite so petulantly as Helfer-Baker's Shadow. Thus is our near-anti-hero transformed from fascist with a rocket launcher to puppet-master of dubious qualifications.

The villains are certainly "bad guys," selfishly committed to the propagation of their representative vices. But in their pitiful defensive improvisations they become as humanely sympathetic as the Shadow and his agents. It's as if we're watching a Chuck Jones cartoon show, with the roles reversed: Wile E. Coyote is catching and roasting every Road Runner in the desert.

By story's end, The Shadow's manipulations appear to be largely victorious -- the Finns are all felled, and dozens of their minions are mowed down by the Shadow himself. Throughout the bathetic romp, Cranston-Shadow recites his own chorus of triumph and self-glorification, made ironic by his evident lack of awareness. He remains a deadly presence, to be sure, but much of the triple-digit body count is unrelated to his activity. It's like Maxwell Smart has gone psychotic.

The Seven Deadly Finns concludes in the manner of all great story-arcs: betrayal at the hands of a follower, then death, followed by . . . six issues where his corpse is subjected to one indignity after another, while his followers grow ever more erratic in their behavior.

End-note to follow. If your appetite has been whetted, you may read these adventures in print, available at Amazon, among others. Or, take the more highly recommended route, and get the digital editions, brilliantly recolored in high definition, at Comixology, here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Promissory Notice

Not to worry: I've still got Shadowy thoughts -- life is just getting in the way of their expression. Go here for the three-page lead-in to the splash page of the first Helfer/Baker free-for-all: The Seven Deadly Finns. I'll do my best to explicate by next Friday. Cheers.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

To my surprise and delight, the movie is as unhinged and intense as advertised.

It brought back memories of 1981, when I persuaded a friend that if we acted mature, we'd be mistaken for 18-year-olds, and allowed into the Restricted Adult fare that was The Road Warrior. The matron in the ticket booth took pity on us, and let us in. And our minds were blown.

Fury Road out-furies that movie by a very wide margin, and even manages to scorch out most of the sad and curdled memories from my one and only viewing of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Most, but not all. Honestly, the scenes that brought me right to the edge of my seat were those quiet interludes between the 30-minute chase scenes -- scenes when the actors started talking. Would Miller keep the pontificatin' down to "You're out there among the garbage," or would he succumb to a lengthy "Time counts and keeps countin'... etc"?

Good news: all pontificatin' is super-brief. Also simplistic, fueling the sort of gender-politics flame-wars that get ignited over such things. And, sure, it's a little rich to suggest women would never fuck up the planet as badly as men have, but within the framework of the film, it's an argument that persuades. What we see in 110 minutes of car chases is the masculine id completely freed of feminine tethers. Who does not feel genuine horror while watching all this feral masculine energy bear down on a truck full of girls? Just a glance at today's news headlines more than confirms that this scenario plays itself out in real time, again and again.

So, yeah: it's a message movie. And if you're feeling the thrill, you're getting the message.

Locke Petersheim pens my favourite review, over here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Shadow As Silli-Putti: The Resurrection! And Second Death! And Second Resurrection! And Final(?) Death Of A Pulp "Hero!" Brought To You By: Andy Helfer & Kyle Baker!!

Truthfully, the initial resurrection of Lamont Cranston, aka, "The Shadow" was brought to us by Howard Chaykin. Chaykin was still gathering kudos for his hyper-stylized and (to one, somewhat fixated, way of thinking) sexualized American Flagg! when he picked up The Shadow for DC's "Suggested For Mature Readers" line of comics.

Flagg was set in a nearly-conceivable future, 50 years from the then-present (2030); Chaykin's Shadow plucks a character from the 1930s and deposits him abruptly across 50 years of history into contempo-1980s NYC. In Chaykin's hands, the fascist tendencies of the title hero are brought to the fore. Although present-day characters act as an ineffectual chorus, complaining of the man's brute behavior, it is an incontestable fact that the man and his methods are right at home in this supposedly more enlightened age.

If Chaykin's stylistic and thematic template strains, or perhaps signifies the sort of growing rigidity that frequently consumes a successful "breakout" artist, we nevertheless owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for pulling the title character into the age of continuous Soft Cell airplay, and introducing rocket launchers and Uzi machine guns to our hero's arsenal.

Chaykin's deal with DC was for four issues; he moved on to more enticing projects, while DC passed the script and story-boarding reins to Andy Helfer, whose concepts were engagingly rendered into the brown acid stylings of Bill Sienkiewicz.

"Mature readership" still very much suggested.
Helfer had a remarkable eye for the long story-arc. Consequently there was no way he could completely buy-in to Chaykin's conceit -- the sum of which, once expressed, can only be repeated until boredom sets in (the Achilles Heel to all pulp writing).

At the outset of his six-issue run with Sienkiewicz (Shadows & Light) Cranston-Shadow is still a grim and imposing figure. His team of operatives, however, expands to include increasingly eccentric, erratic, even pathetic characters -- most notably the pharmaceutical expert (and indulger) "Twitch" Twitchkowitz, and his paramour Gwen, a fired nurse and retired wrestler.

"The Master" might retain his unassailable and perversely beguiling sense of entitlement, but to the reader his wisdom and overall game-plan look increasingly suspect.

Sienkiewicz's star was really taking off by this time -- and so did he, to other projects (including Elektra: Assassin). Helfer followed Shadows & Light with a one-off, Harold Goes To Washington, penciled by Marshal Rogers and inked by Kyle Baker.

Harold ties up some loose ends from the earlier story-arc and does a little ground-work to situate the next, but struggles to find its "tone." It is a morbidly weird and unsettling narrative failure, frankly. But something must've clicked, because Rogers disappeared, and Helfer and Baker launched the next 12 issues into the giddy ether, doing stuff that nobody has seen -- till then or since -- in comic book pages.

Still "Suggested For Mature Readers"

Next: Bathetic Romp? Jacobean Farce? Or...?

Monday, May 11, 2015

"I think we've learned a little something about human nature, haven't we?"

Back in the '80s, most of my favoritest people in the world were in the habit of watching David Letterman.

A life of late nights, free of regret.
No such habit for me. Not that I was ignorant of his shtick (how could I be?). I'd watch, alright -- sometimes several nights in a row. Then I'd flee.

His guests were frequently unknown eccentrics, with dependably strange, even alarming proclivities. But it was Letterman's behaviour that rattled me the most.

To wit: here we have 17 minutes of television history, from 1982: Put-On Artist Andy Kauffman re-connecting (and how) with wrestler Jerry Lawler, arguably another variety of Put-On Artist:

Winner-by-a-melt-down, David Letterman -- Put-On Artist, nonpareil. That was several degrees cooler than I cared to get comfortable with.

"Cooler than being cool is ice-cold," said OutKast, in 2003 -- probably the same year I discovered that yet another pair of my favoritest people in the world had established a nightly habit of watching Letterman -- my parents.

What else to add, now that he's retiring? I wish him well, I suppose -- to roughly the same degree I once wished he hadn't been quite so universal in his appeal to my late-adolescent peers.

H/t to Scott Dagostino for the found footage.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Bellowvian Vapours

Saul Bellow seems to have been blessed with more personality than he could responsibly deal with -- he, and anyone who spun into his orbit.

A week or two ago, my usual daily clicks were linking up with quite a number of "My Time With Saul Bellow" accounts. Quite a number, but so very little to differentiate one from the other. I'd say Lee Siegel embodies the extreme -- by the midway mark, my body was in a permanent muscular clench thanks to all the cringing his admissions induced, and it didn't let up until I closed my browser and refreshed my coffee -- but even the normally steely gaze of Martin Amis turns hazy with nostalgia as he meditates on the man he met, the man he knew.

"Zachary Leader met Bellow only once. That was in 1972, at a party near Harvard, where Leader was a graduate student and Bellow was being awarded an honorary degree. Leader says that Bellow seemed bored, and he remembers nothing of what Bellow said. In the genre of Bellow biography, this counts as a credential." So says Louis Menand, as he warms up to his review of Leader's new biography of Bellow, the stimulant to this public resurgence of memory. Menand's gaze does not get blurry in the least, not when staring at Bellow and his foibles, nor when appraising the man's work -- and Leader's. And for that, "Young Saul," his review at The New Yorker gets my recommendation.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


I've noticed my Facebook feed has become increasingly parsimonious about what it bothers to share with my friends. And vice-versa, natch -- which means I'm missing some primo links-of-note. As are you. Surely this provides the incentive we need to slip the surly blue-and-white bonds of that juggernaut corporate algorithm and get back to our humble blogs, with their charmingly retro HTML feeds?

Alright, I'll go first -- here's some of the internetty goodness you may have missed:

"Infomercials of the gods!" "As sacred texts go, the Bhagavad Gita (“song of the Lord”) is notable for both its brevity and the relatively straightforward relationship between doctrine and narrative. It has a plot" -- Scott McLemee reviews Richard H. Davis' biography of the Bhagavad Gita.
"It was all really bad and scary, and kind of broken, and everyone loved it, especially me" -- Leigh Alexander explains why the demise of Silent Hill, video gaming's most successful (in every sense of that word) horror franchise, matters.

2015 is the year I finally got on-board Quartz. If you don't know what I'm yakking about, check Quartz out. The past week alone has yielded some trenchant stuff: Forbidden from riding bikes, fearless Afghan girls are skateboarding around Kabul -- photos; Michael Smith's applied wisdom re: the artist's life is getting lots of link-love, for very good reason; and RIP Dan Fredinburg, a Google engineer killed on Everest who photographed some of the world’s highest peaks for “Street View.”

Speaking of Nepal, my wife's organization is involved. Good people, already there, already doing good things. You've done the research and have your charities, I'm sure, but I'd be thrilled if you gave CBM some thought as well.

If you are ever a Mennonite, you will never not be a Mennonite:
A shot from my childhood town. A museum piece, in fact.
"I am an atheist. I am also a Mennonite." So concludes Robin A. Fast, (despite his grandmother's fervent protests).

PopMatters has a spanky new website template -- a genuine improvement on their old one, for once. Now, thanks to them, I've discovered The Dirty Aces:

Assuming these guys can get a distribution deal worked out for our side of the pond, their album From The Basement could well become this summer's Roll Down The Windows soundtrack.

Finally, RIP, Grace Lee Whitney, Star Trek's "Yeoman Janice Rand." My inner 12-year-old will forever have a crush on your outer 35-year-old.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Bob Dylan, Pugilist At Large

My first Bob Dylan "Live" experience was in the Winnipeg Arena, 1988. Timbuk3 opened for him, followed by a merch booth break, then the headline act. It was a "band" show, with SNL then-staple G.E. Smith keeping the train on the rails.

It struck me at the time as a perfunctory bit of business. I can't recall if the set lasted an hour, but there's no way it exceeded it. While the crowd whistled and stomped for the expected encore, Dylan and band took a smoke break. The most memorable visual I have of that evening is of the sparks flying off Dylan's discarded turkey-butt, which he flicked out before him onto the stage, then crushed with his Frye boot.

Two more songs, and the show was over.

It came out later that, following the show, Dylan and Smith high-tailed it to Corner Boys, a struggling dive owned by famed "Golden Boy" Donny Lalonde, where they delivered the more memorable show, to a considerably smaller audience. Lalonde was apparently, as the parlance goes, "a close personal friend" of Dylan's.

Me and my mates had a lot of fun improvising conversations between the singer and the boxer. But nothing so strange as what probably did, in fact, take place. Anyway, this weird little echo from a distant corridor of my mind comes tumbling into the foremost chambers thanks to Sarah Kurchak's profile of Dylan's lifelong love (and practice) of The Sweet Science -- "Cassius Clay, Here I Come: Bob Dylan and Boxing" -- over here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

From The Forest To The Sea: Emily Carr In British Columbia, at The AGO

Yesterday I took the younger to check out the Emily Carr exhibit at the AGO.

Being a member of Trudeau Generation, receiving my education from the church and CBC, an awareness of Carr was deeply embedded within my consciousness. Not so my daughter, however, so this introductory exhibit came at an ideal time: at the crest of a teacher's strike. Off to the city we went.

From The Forest To The Sea is well-executed -- a brisk tour of Emily Carr highlights, peppered with well-chosen arcana to draw out a nuanced sense of the woman's character, inquisitiveness, even bitchiness.

I could have stood to see a bit more of the latter, frankly. Carr evidently had quite the life-force. In her later years her neighbors regarded her as an off-putting kook -- the old gal with a penchant for donning a hairnet and walking her assortment of pets in a pram. The curators took pains to prevent this late-in-life behavior from becoming the definitive portrait of Carr. Which led me to wonder: when did the Eccentric Artist cliche become a liability?

Another curatorial tic that induced me to eye-rolling: an apologetic stance toward her "cultural appropriation" of indigenous artifacts -- via her (voluminous) portraiture of totems, masks, and the like.

To be fair, our contempo cultural babysitters took pains to present Carr's penchant for "speaking on behalf of my Indian brothers" within the context of the times. At the turn of the 20th century, official government policy regarding the country's First Nations required absolute assimilation -- children who didn't fall to malnutrition or the plagues of the day were rounded up and deposited in residential schools, while totem poles and canoes were physically appropriated and shipped to approved cultural institutions, or simply destroyed. Carr responded with outspoken horror and defiance, devoting herself to portraiture of the disappearing totems in a personal effort to keep the artform alive -- a person, a woman, whose moral sense was out of sync with her time. That she was too obsessed/obtuse to note any misgivings the people she was keen to "save" might have had toward her enterprise is hardly surprising. One shudders to think what virtues our grandchildren will be apologizing for in three generations' time.

That being said, the display as curated was a personal revelation.

Two late-mid-career works, Indian Church and Wood Interior, are presented as keys to the larger body. It's an astute bit of positioning.

Indian Church, 1929
Wood Interior, 1929-1930

Here we have Carr's studied aesthetic and moral indignation displayed to great effect, in a manner that perfectly suits our precious contemporary palate. Instead of her usual reverential treatment of totems, Carr presents the incongruous clash of a victorious Colonial religion, with its overflowing graveyard, its absurd angles and coloration, braced against the sweeping grandeur and impenetrable mystery of the forest -- the original source of religious reverence for indigenous peoples. And who among us isn't up with that, really?

Seeing these pieces first does have an unsettling effect on the rest of the exhibition. The earlier pictures and mock-ups of "Indian" artifacts make up the bulk of the show -- and this exhibition presents just a well-culled sliver of her vast collection. Many of her most recognizable pieces are there, as well as the lesser attempts that lead up to these triumphs. After a while, it gets to be a bit much. "Really, Emily: another canoe?"

"I mean, it's beautiful and all, but..."

I imagine her friends among the Group of Seven must have felt some of that. Late in life, Lawren Harris apparently gave Carr a hard nudge to focus exclusively on landscape. And it is these final paintings of Carr's that resonated most deeply with me. She shifts into a mode strongly reminiscent of Van Gogh -- somewhat surprising, given how she was, at this late point in her life, happy to remain ignorant of artists she'd not actually met.

In a landscape like Stumps and Sky (1934), I got the sense that this clear-cut forest is releasing an anarchic apocalyptic energy to the four winds.

Similarly, my personal favourite, An Upward Trend (1937), which viscerally communicates what our very elderly often speak of: a perceived internal prompting to exceed the limits of the sky.

Sounds New Agey, I know. I expect Carr would have fostered the expectation, then crustily asserted she was no such thing, dammit.

The kid enjoyed Carr's early sketchbooks, tiny things with incredibly articulate pen-work.

Presented here in an artfully-rendered crappy phone shot.

From The Forest To The Sea is at the AGO from now until August 9, 2015. Bonus: until May 10, you can also check out this sassy Basquiat exhibit.

Sleep Paralysis, Night Terrors, What-Have-You

Sleep Paralysis is something I'd given zero consideration, until I read Regan Reid's timorous review of The Nightmare -- "the terrifying doc I could have starred in."

After reading this peaking-between-her-fingers account, I wondered if I couldn't also qualify, not as a star, but certainly for a bit-part. I was surprised by how many phenomena I could tick off as stuff I'd experienced. "Dark presence" -- check. "Creature squatting on my chest" -- check. "Can't seem to move" -- check.
"OK, good news, bad news. The good news is... No, wait: I started wrong."
Most of this was in my 20s, mind you. These episodes slowed in my 30s, even moreso in my 40s. I'll be 50 in June, and the last time something like this happened was two years ago, in the summer. And while I'd never characterize these events as "pleasant," they were never awful enough to inspire an actual fear of sleep.

Rather, much of the ephemera was cause for curiosity. Exactly where is all this fear coming from? I could often pinpoint the source of my anxieties, sometimes even as the events unfolded. The last episode, for instance, occurred shortly after I'd returned from a family visit on the prairies. A Dark Presence hovered over me, pinning my shoulders to the mattress, and telling me awful things. "Your father will die," he said, "then YOU will die!" The physical sensation of actual tears cooling on my cheeks woke me up.

When I was able, I sat up and mulled it over. There wasn't much to argue with, really. Anyone with an eye on the event horizon would have to agree with my faceless tormentor -- in fact, since death is inescapable, he was articulating the desired order of things.

So it has always been. I've had the general sense that these phenomena could needle me, torment me even, but do no real harm. What else you got, there, bub? Grinding of the teeth -- now that's genuinely worrisome (and addressable).

The people who endure these trials all have different stories and various causes for concern. It's a solo journey for everyone, alas, so you learn your psychonaut jiu-jitsu on the fly. But psychic self-defense is a learnable skill. The plasticity of consciousness is really quite marvelous.

Karen Emslie has intuited a way to transition from paralysis to lucid dreaming -- which can be a lot of fun, but also beaucoup scary in its own right. It is, however, greatly preferable to lying passively and taking whatever your id is keen to throw at you. Dream-life as dojo. PJs as gi.

Friday, April 17, 2015

An Open Letter To Ms. E, aka, Ellen Etchingham

So here it is, third day into playoff season, and I'm already digging my trenches for a prolonged social media flame-war over violence in hockey. I'm an enlightened, sensitive sort: no place for it on the ice, sez I. Now there are some who say I don't know balls from pucks, so I work myself up into high dudgeon, begin composing a response to the tune of, "Look, Herr Troglodyte: hockey is an evolving sport. If you don't believe me, just consult the eminently wise and super-informed Ms. E., over at her pro blog. Link to follow:"

My reaction?

Followed by an hour of frantic searching for cached sites of those postings. Alas, such were not to be found. It seems you have been reduced to a Twitter feed, and the occasional spirited exchange with ... Colby Cosh? Say it ain't so!

I mean, not the Colby Cosh part -- he's a blowhard, enjoys a good tussle, so hey: go, E., go. And I am grateful for the archival trove you and Google have left intact. But the stuff you wrote for The Score was primo material, E. Most of it transcended -- way transcended -- the immediate concerns of embroiled hockey fans watching from the stands and sucking on their sweater-sleeves. It had djenn-yoo-wine historical perspective, the heat of true love and the cold steel of informed conviction. It had snap and vigour, and to casually-engaged readers it connected like a hay-maker to the chops. Responses were either wild and foolish swings from the punch-drunk, or the "No mas" of the wiser combatant -- there was no third way.

We need that material, E. -- now more than ever. Surely your agent has worked out a deal with Random-Penguin? Or, failing that, couldn't you assign some minion to format these pieces for self-published glory? I, for one, commit to purchasing a copy for the reference libraries of every household in my extended family. That's, uh ... fifteen copies -- plus another dozen (no, make that fifteen, for an even thirty -- to begin with, of course), to inflict on unsuspecting newcomers.

Please, E., for the love of hockey -- re-release that material.

You're our only hope.

Sincerely -- W.P.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Walk Among The Tombstones

This isn't the sort of review that would ruin my initial viewing of any movie, but it does contain mild spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

I recently watched the duration of A Walk Among The Tombstones, despite the fact that it relies, heavily, on two tropes that usually qualify a movie for immediate ejection: female mutilation, and child endangerment.

Admittedly, its use of those tropes also heightened my emotional investment in the narrative. These were bad guys I really, really wanted to see "get theirs." And I was fairly confident they would, because the movie is based on a Lawrence Block novel, and though Block can be gritty and grim, he's not one to indulge in tragic conclusions.

In fact, Block was another reason why I kept watching. I've read a few of his books -- he's a deft pulper, an estimable hack. If you've been reading me for any length of time you know those are qualities I generally admire. But Block's never quite become a habit for me, because his heroes can read as so damn tough -- often too damn tough to relate to. This could be a problem in a movie like Tombstones, because once the people start talking, they're speaking vintage Block dialogue.

Enter the third reason I watched this movie to the end: Liam Neeson. When Neeson's "Matt Scudder" corners a pervy suspect, who wonders why bad things keep happening to him, Scudder simply says, "You're a weirdo." On the page, that reads as cold. But Neeson's delivery, while blunt, contains just the faintest trace of empathy, if not sympathy. It's enough to get the suspect to disclose a key revelation -- and enough to keep me watching, because I'm becoming increasingly invested in Neeson's character.

Things end where we expect them to in a movie like this -- very violently. It's not a cartoonish Taken sort of violence, either, but rather the more genuinely physical violence that Neeson displayed in Rob Roy.

Which, now that I think of it, is probably the movie that launched Neeson's improbable career as the single most convincing action star to hit the screen since Clint Eastwood.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Closer to Ringette Closure

Easter Saturday. The elder girl took off with her mother to check in on Nana. The younger was ensconced in her room, attending to homework.

The perfect opportunity for Yours Truly to slip downstairs, get the laundry going, and engage in a little cathartic blubbering.
Gentlemen, retrieve your hankies.
I tossed the elder's ringette jerseys and equipment -- everything but the skates -- into the washer, hit "power," then sat and watched the cycle begin. And, yes, there were a few tears, some whuffling sobs, but nothing close to the head-in-hands-go-to-pieces episode I'd anticipated.

This was likely her final season of organized ringette. There's an outside chance she'll sign up again in the fall and play with some variation of the team she knows and enjoys. Were that to occur, I could envision getting lured back into the coaching staff. But a number of girls are moving on to higher ed, international travel, or some combination of the two -- the new team would be a markedly different set of girls than the one she's grown up with, so I'm not expecting it to appeal. Another option: she could join an open team in a house league, just for the joy of the game.

There's also a guy in town who's formed his own ringette league, on behalf of his university student daughter. He's a solid character I've got a lot of admiration for, but man oh man -- that strikes me as just a bit extreme. I can't help wondering if, had he not been able to add just one other daughter in his otherwise uninterrupted brood of boys, he mightn't be devoting his off-hours to some other passion. Maybe not. In any case, I won't be following his example.

Memories like this one kick-spurred the tears.

More recent memories, however, kept the floodgates from opening.

This was partially due to an absolutely sensational Ottawa tournament we'd enjoyed three years earlier. In the penultimate game, the girls pulled off an entirely unexpected win that had all the cliched elements of a sports weepie -- facing off against a larger, more aggressive (French, even!) team strongly favoured to win; coming up from behind; still down by one goal with less than two minutes left in the game; a tying goal scored by the centre-sniper; winning goal, mere seconds from the end; and above all, a depth of character that surprised everyone, including the coaches. Back at the hotel, we lit for the pool -- coaches and parents nursed drinks by the side, the girls took over the water and horsed around, not like 15- or 16-year-olds, but like they were eight years younger.

We got clobbered the next day's game, but it didn't matter.

That lightning doesn't fit inside a bottle, of course. A subtle sense of diminishing returns was almost inevitable, really. And it was helped along by growing evidence of other coaches and managers cooking circumstances to give their teams an edge -- including one idiot who swapped in a bunch of A-players, but kept the regular names on the game roster (had anyone been injured in that game, he'd have been sued into oblivion, because league insurance quite reasonably does not cover falsified rosters). Close it all off with a final tournament on the other side of the city, organized so ineptly as to suggest malign intent (cause for brooding meditation, as we painfully navigated rush hour traffic -- twice -- on Thursday, and the hours between bracketed games in the morning and evening of Good Friday(!)) and I was frankly relieved to be doing laundry while the play-offs took place 150 km to the west.

Besides, I'd been coveting my daughter's newer, lighter, more compact hockey bag for the last two years. It's daddy-o's now, heh heh!

So thanks for the bag, kiddo. And thanks for the memories. Your passion for this sport pulled me into experiences I'd never dreamed of exploring -- or enjoying -- as deeply as I did. I am one blessed dad.

I am a blessed man -- period.
To wit.
Oh, hey -- where'd that hankie go?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


I pulled on my boots and hit the asphalt. A quarter mile out of town, a black RAV ahead of me slowed down and came to a stop. It was O__, the retired teacher. She rolled down the window.

“You walking, now?”

“Trying to get back into the habit.”

“Well, watch out for the turkeys.”

“It’s a small town, O__; you’ll bump into them sooner or later.”

“Smart ass. I’m talking about wild turkeys. Keep heading west, you’ll see ‘em.”


“Maybe take a stick with you. Or just tell ‘em another dumb joke. That might get ‘em running.” She made a point of peeling off, and I resumed my walk.

Fifteen minutes later, I spotted the birds. They’d left the ditch for a field of levelled corn. They didn’t look dangerous to me, but they were certainly large enough to pose a threat, were they of a mind to.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rattling In My Brain Pan: The Nostalgia Circuit

I've been reminiscing with Joel how, back in '77 between viewings of Star Wars, I'd mull over the little visual garnishes George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie lavished on that movie. Like this turrety thing -- I don't think it had more than 15 seconds of screen-time, but that was more than enough to spin the wheels of a 12-year-old's imagination throughout the weeks and months that buffered visits to the cinema in the shabby end of town. What the heck was that thing? Why was one Storm Trooper in white, the other in black? Were the black Storm Troopers even more bad-ass than the regulars? Etc.

The creative relationship between Lucas and McQuarrie was long and productive (longer and more productive, alas, than George's marriage to Marcia, who was almost certainly his best editor), and did more to get bums in seats for the increasingly dismal sequels that followed. In hindsight, the movie trailers that preceded these dud spectacles are finally the most potent distillation of what the Lucas/McQuarrie collaboration did best: suggest something fabulous up ahead. Once the lines got filled in with plot and exposition, the magic disappeared.

Which leads me to this week's discovery, via Boing Boing, of this fan's hand-drawn Star Wars animation short.
With fab poster!
Artist Paul Johnson produces a stunning mash-up of '80s anime and Star Wars, which, with its attention to detail and its absence of wooden dialog, perfectly captures what's been missing from this movie franchise: the suggestion, and formative exploration, of unplumbed depths and drama.

Matters Star Trek: over at Grantland Dave Schilling wonders if Idris Elba mightn't save Star Trek 3 from self-destructing -- a question that strikes me as so wrong-headed, I hardly know where to begin addressing it. Look, Elba is a beautiful man and terrific actor -- but so is Benedict Cumberbatch, and his best efforts did little to save the second movie from its compound defects. The most accomplished actor in the world can't take a dud role and pull an entire movie up by its bootstraps. And if you think Elba is the exception to the rule, just watch his thankless turn in Prometheus.
"I'll let my flaming little buddy here do all the emoting."
I've changed my tune somewhat on this business of "saving" Star Trek (as I am prone to do). We have a bold new look, and a brave new timeline -- now's the time to launch a corresponding television series, focusing perhaps on the crew of the USS Defiant, or some other Constitution-class starship, so that personnel from the Enterprise can drop by for the occasional tie-in episode. Because doncha know: Star Trek has been, and always will be, a concept that works best as television.

Admiral Archer is ready for his close-up.
And finally, UHF -- the only Weird Al Yankovic feature-length movie ever made, turns 25 this year. The AV Club provides an epic (and how!) oral history of the film. I found it all engaging, but if it's too much for the casual reader, just skim to the (dependably entertaining) Emo Philips bits. Example:

Interviewer: How did [real-life shops teacher Joe Earley] feel about your portrayal of his . . . name?

Philips: Well, you know, how would Alexander Graham Bell have felt if he had met Don Ameche? I'm assuming very flattered.