Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving is more than turkey. It's more than football, seeing that distant cousin that never calls or grandma's pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is reflection, and contemplation. It's about gratitude. It's pausing to tell the universe that you're glad to be born in this time in history. It's about hugging your loved ones, including that douchebag cousin and letting them know you appreciate them. It's about breathing in and out and enjoying your health. It's thanking the soldier for fighting for you, the policeman for protecting you and the millions of others toiling away in less glamorous jobs to keep civilization humming. Thanksgiving is a prayer and a candlelit vigil. It's feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Thanksgiving is when you show humility. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Philcon 2009

Went to Philcon, the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in beautiful Cherry Hill, NJ. This is the second year the convention moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey, a strange but necessary change to keep it going.
Friday night I attended a reading of author Keith R.A. DeCandido, who read an upcoming Zorro tale ("Letter from Guadalajara") and an excerpt from a Star Trek story ("The Unhappy Ones").
Then was the Meet the Pros party and the Social Network Social. I had to forego the Eye of Argon Reading because I was so damn tired.
On Saturday, I attended a workshop on The Art of the Audio Drama, an interesting examination of radio plays now harnessing the Internet and sound production software to create a new wave of audio dramas. Next was The Editor's Panel, where editors to science fiction anthologies and magazines explained what they're looking for. Very informative. I attended a similar panel at last year's Philcon. After lunch, I attended Your Internet Presence and You, and learned about promotion through websites and social networking sites. Then it was the Dr. Horrible Sing-A-Long, a fun event where an audience of Joss Whedon fans sang aloud to Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, a funny musical starring Doogie Howser, MD's Neil Patrick Harris. Then it was the Agents and Editors Panel, similar to the Editors Panel but with more good advice.
Then it was time for my panel - Pulped! - a discussion on the classic pulps and the pulp literary style. The panel consisted of moderator Michael J. Walsh, C.J. Henderson, Jared Axelrod, James Daniel Ross and myself. It was a lively discussion about pulp, what worked and didn't work and examples of pulp writing and its illustrious history.
After that, I had my second panel - Who Are You When You're Not Yourself? - a panel on creating characters in gaming and consisted of moderator KT Pinto, Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, J.R. Blackwell, Neal Levin and myself.
Late night on Saturday I attended two panels: one on flirting and dating and the other on sex and the single fan.
On Sunday, I attended a panel called The Importance of Cash Flow For the New Author, which gave pretty sound and practical advice and scared me into keeping my day job. Following that was a Lost panel humorously titled Kaaaaaaaate! We Have to Go Baaaaaaack! The last panel I attended, What My Cat Had For Breakfast, examined the pitfalls and rewards of blogging.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Echo of Summer

North Wildwood's Boardwalk was deserted on a November morning, which began under hazy skies with the sun a blur behind a shroud of fog. During the summer months, the Boardwalk is choked with people, tourists from Philadelphia packing into honky-tonk shops and eateries serving fried delicacies and sweets. The amusement rides fill with screaming children and muscle-bound men win prizes for their girlfriends at game booths. They spend $20 to pop balloons or squirt a water pistol into a clown's mouth for the reward of an ugly stuffed animal. Yet after the summer fades into autumn, the crowds vanish, the lights dim and the rides are shut down. The once vibrant carnival atmosphere transforms into a ghost town, a garish village of leering clowns, shuttered storefronts and rusty padlocked gates. Rollercoasters resemble the backbones of gargantuan prehistoric snakes left to bleach in the autumn winds. The stores and shops empty and bereft of life, and the curious painted signs appear dull and grey in the cold winds.
Ten years ago I wrote for a small newspaper in North Wildwood. It was a career low point, because nobody there really respected each other much less me. How frustrating it was to go to work and know that you're in a grinding job where you're verbally insulted by the people you work with. The newspaper building is long gone, turned into condos during a better economic time. 
Despite having worked in a toxic atmosphere, North Wildwood proved visually interesting and stimulating. The Boardwalk is a combination of low-rent Coney Island and Venice Beach, a mish-mash of junk food, amusements and entertainment, packaged and sold in a loud, colorful array that's both tacky and traditional. 
The clown sat on the platform, precariously perched over a dunk tank. A wire mesh cage separated him from a crowd he incidentally insults and berates. Hotheads, mostly working class men with chips on their shoulders and general insecurities, pay to lob softballs at a target, which will send obnoxious clown tumbling into the tank. In that stupid game, with its insults, sophomoric humor and vehement anger, one can see America's social structure playing out under the carnival lights. It just takes one wiseass in greasepaint and baggy pants to set off a nerve, and violence borne out of frustration results. 
Now the cage stands empty in the grey midmorning, devoid of animosity and cutting jabs delivered from a fat clown. 
The amusement piers resemble scenes from a post-apocalyptic disaster film: abandoned, empty and silent. The aroma of funnel cakes, cotton candy and French fries aren't in the air. The only sounds are music from arcade games standing behind shuttered stores, their jaunty melodies muffled but recognizable along the barren Boardwalk. 
The automated, muffled calls of "Watch the tram car, please," coming from the tram car's speakers, is silenced as the tramcars themselves are in storage. Only a few joggers and a lone cyclist traverse the lonely Boardwalk as I take photographs. 
So many memories in a shore town during the summer, yet on the off season, with go-kart tracks desolate and water slides dry, the Boardwalk elicits feelings of odd tranquility. 
Visiting this place again, under these conditions reminded me of my reporting beat there ten years ago. Those were unhappy times, working for a place where I went unappreciated and undervalued. Yet that's in the past, and the present is just a series of rides, booths and stores in deep hibernation, waiting to ride out winter's frosty grip, and longing for warm weather when the Boardwalk comes alive again with colorful laughter. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bacon Flavored What?

After combing through the Coca-Cola website and finding no mention of Diet Coke with Bacon, I want to officially log this as an Internet rumor.
I mean, come on: Diet Coke with Bacon?
Just what fat ass America needs: sugar water that tastes like processed, fried pork. What's next? Twinkies that taste like Steak-umms?
What an inspiring site: a nation of lard butts slurping soft drinks that taste like breakfast meats.
The problem with the mythical Diet Coke with Bacon is that, despite its preposterousness, it could be a real product. That shows you just how fucked up America is today: when a spoof like Diet Coke with Bacon could actually be real.
The most amazing thing is that many people think Coca-Cola is coming out with a bacon flavored Diet Coke. They post comments on blogs, describing their joy and saying they can't wait to taste it. Are you people completely insane? Did the shortbus from Bellevue let you out? The thought of a bacon flavored cola doesn't sound appetizing at all.
Does this reflect a growing trend in the lack of taste with the American palate, or a lack of common sense with the American mind?
Bacon flavored Diet Coke? What fucking trailer park are you people from?
Current Coca-Cola products include Lime Coke, Cherry Coke, Lemon Coke. There's even a Vanilla Coke and a Raspberry Coke. Overseas they have Citrus Coke and Orange Coke.
In fact, browsing the Coca-Cola website and doing a Google search for Coke flavors, I have yet to encounter accurate or official information about bacon flavored Diet Coke.
So yeah, it's a joke.
And people fell for it.
Bacon flavored Diet Coke. The thought of bacon in an effervescent, carbonated form tickling my nose is repulsive. Why stop at bacon? Why not Philly cheesesteak Diet Coke? Instead of pizza and Coke, how about Pizza flavored Coke? Can't you taste the tangy mozzarella and tomato sauce along with the baked dough mingled with the refreshing taste of that All-American beverage, Coke?
Of course you can't, dipshit! They're not making Pizza flavored Coke!
Hey, now that we're on a roll at making preposterous shit up, why not Lobster flavored Sprite, Cheeseburger flavored 7Up or Garlic flavored Dr. Pepper? How about a Fanta that tastes like Megan Fox's vagina?
It's only a matter of time, America.
And also a matter of taste.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Election 2009

Another election is over. To the victor go the spoils and also a state hemorrhaging debt and a budget so bloated it makes Kirstie Alley look like an Ethiopian.
Okay, so I made a fat joke. So what? Corzine's campaign attacked Chris Christie because of his weight. A serious-sounding announcer in the Corzine ad said "Chris Christie is throwing his weight around." Why didn't Corzine just come out and say, "Chris Christie is a fat fuck who's connected to special interests and doesn't practice the laws he enforced as a federal prosecutor. And he also so fat that he hasn't seen his penis in years."
Take the low road and see what happens.
Actually, I wished Christie had called Corzine out on the fat ads. I wish Christie began playing the bald card with Corzine.
An ideal Christie ad might have gone, "Jon Corzine. More bald face lies from a Wall Street crook. Oh, and he's also fucking bald."
I covered the election for the paper and spent the entire night at Republican headquarters in Middle Township. The two Democrat Assembly incumbents, Nelson Albano and Matt Milam crushed the Republican challengers, Michael Donohue and John McCann. Democrats usually fare poorly in conservative Cape May County. For two Democrats to win re-election must be a prophetic sign, like the Mayans prognosticating the end of the world in 2012. Two Democrats win in Cape May County? Yeah, we're hopelessly screwed.
Anyway, the Assembly race was nothing compared to the gubernatorial race. Corzine lost big because his solution to a financial crisis was to raise tolls on the Garden State Parkway. In a cash-strapped state, where pensions and benefits for state workers are through the roof, he chose to attack the motorists. He chose to raise money through property taxes and a toll increase. He chose wrong.
History will show that the toll scheme on the Garden State Parkway was Corzine's Waterloo, a misadventure in governance that elicited more outrage and rippled through the remainder of his administration. He'll be known as the Nero who fiddled while New Jersey burned, the well-heeled, well-connected financial egghead of Goldman Sachs who failed to attract businesses to the state and fumbled while the people went broke and suffered under a colossal mountain of taxes.
Ironically, while voters kicked Corzine out, the Democrats still retained their seats in the statehouse. Seems the Republican National Committee's claims of a banner year for Republicans was total bullshit. While voters were pissed off and took out their aggression on Corzine by booting his ass from Drumthwacket, they kept their Democratic legislators.
Now Christie is Governor-Elect Christie. Enter the fat jokes. He's a boon for political humorists, political cartoonists and political writers. Yeah, it's easy to take the low road when poking fun at the new gov's massive paunch, but nothing this guy will ever do will be easy. He's got an awesome responsibility ahead of him, trying to bring New Jersey back from the brink of radioactive wasteland and onto the path of fiscal certainty.
I've heard the usual criticisms from the left, that Christie is an anti-abortion, homophobic buffoon. I suppose he's only toting the party line, after all. I'd be surprised if Christie divorces his wife and marries another man. I mean that's never happened in New Jersey before apart from Jim McGreevey.
No, Christie is not a Renaissance man. He's no deep thinker. He's not attending faculty parties at Rutgers and milling about the cheese tray while discussing Werner Heisenberg. The guy is a lawyer and he sees things in black and white. If you're not for us, you're against us. Basic, childlike logic of good versus evil.
And after years of listening to the rational and intellectual Corzine postulate, blather and analyze, I think four years of rolling up the sleeves and getting to work with Boss Hogg is just the thing the state needs.
Though his campaign was short on specifics, Christie now is in the driver's seat. I don't know how Gov. Christie will do in office, but I think four more years of Corzine would have been an unmitigated disaster.
See, Corzine governed like Doc from the Seven Dwarfs. Clearly the leader, Doc was in charge, but nobody really cared because they were all dysfunctional dwarfs. If they were really productive miners, they'd have hit the mother lode and moved to a swanky duplex instead of a cottage in the woods. Yet every day, Doc and the rest of the dwarves toiled and frittered their time away without clear-focused direction or leadership. Hell, when Snow White crashed at their place, they were all petrified of her. Doc didn't do shit.
Now Christie, he'll govern like Evil Alternate Universe Biff Tannen from Back to the Future. He knows how to transform a quaint, Norman Rockwellesque town into a gambling paradise/toxic waste disposal industrial park. He doesn't mess around. If there's something to develop and if it makes money, he'll do it. And if some kid or a wild-eyed scientist asks any questions - Bam! They're dead.
So the election was a choice for New Jerseyans to become mired in the routine, bumbling around with a bunch of midgets who think wealth is a grueling, back-breaking endeavor, or to take a leap of faith and go with a mean bastard who knows how to get things done and who persuaded Lea Thompson to get a boob job.
Governor Evil Alternate Universe Biff Tannen it is!