"I wonder if that was from the pastrami rueben I had yesterday?"

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Monk Above

... Is Thomas Merton.  I chose him, and the name, forgetting that Merton died by accidentally electrocuting himself by knocking a fan into his bathwater.  Some may speculate it was suicide.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was indeed an accident.  Better to be clumsy than to be hopeless.  'The Hopeless Monk' would be a different blog entirely.  I may have written just such a blog in my teens, back when I wore a black trench coat and scowled a lot.  Well... at least the trench coat is gone... and my penchant for reading Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

Merton is worth looking up, I think, if you're not already familiar with his work.  He was a brilliant writer and his perspective is unique and worth investigation IMO.  I was introduced to him by one of my atheist friends in the 90's.  I've been a Catholic my whole life, but for some reason or other my friends always seem to be predominantly atheist.  (This has become a problem recently when I started thinking about the baptism of my 2 month old daughter, as the Church frowns upon non-Catholic God-parents... actually, their stance is that non-Catholics as God-parents are right out, and you can't get baptized without one.)

I've never screened my friends (likely anyone who does doesn't have any friends to begin with), and from time to I've wondered why I tend to gravitate towards people who have such disparate world-views from my own.  It could mean I'm ambivalent at heart, or just an outright bad theist. I rejected elements of faith that I found inconvenient when I was younger, but never could shake the feeling that there was Something - a Something very different than what was proclaimed to be worshiped at the churches I attended in my youth.  I thought the Gospels attested to this, for the church in the time of Christ was at odds with Him as well.  I thought the people who went to church were hypocrites, who very demonstrably did not practice what was preached in the edifices they attended every Sunday.  Most priests struck me as loveless and perfunctory, while the ones who did seem sincere seemed on a plane I could never reach even if I wanted to.

I finally realized one day that I was never going to be any better than the hypocrites I was rejecting.  I believe in Love, but ask me on any given day if I've managed it to practice it consistently.  Maybe on a good day I'll say yes.  I work at it.  Loving friends and family is easy.  I trust them to forgive me despite what pains I may give them, for they have forgiven me time and time again in the past.  And I forgive them as well, for I am greedy and unwilling to part the joy that they bring me.  But loving those who slap me in the face with a look or cutting words?   That's a different story. 

I'm rambling now, and I'm not sure where I was going in the first place.  Full disclosure, I guess.  I've erased a lot of similar posts from this blog.  I'm not erasing this one.  One of my favorite pieces from This American Life on NPR came from Dan Savage.


He proclaims at the end that he is not capable of belief.  He talks about his mom on her death bed.  I think it's such a beautiful piece for the honesty and the love that is present in his words and his voice, even as he says he cannot believe.  That's exactly what the God of my understanding is made of - honesty and love, and I find Him everywhere....

Saturday, June 16, 2012


5 Years ago today, my wife foolishly signed a contract without reading the small print.  Actually, she married me willingly and I didn't even have to trick her.  We planned on going to Hawaii for our honeymoon, until we looked at prices and went to San Diego instead (which was amazing).  We promised ourselves we'd go to Hawaii on our 5th anniversary....

Well, our 5th has rolled around and we had the cash this year, but that plan was torpedoed by the arrival of our 6 week old, Lily (who is amazing).

I'm just one more guy who's the luckiest guy on Earth.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tales from the Founderland

“Old Three-Fingered Rub”
(Pt. I)
 As told by Jezzrik Toeman
Regular patron at the Copper Kettle Inn

            “You’re not from around here I can see, so I’ll give you a bit of local lore for nothing (or for an ale if you’re the generous type).  Here it is, strangers:  Three fingers is bad luck, as anyone in the Founderland can tell you.  Hold up three fingers on any street in Coddleton and men will turn their heads and spit.  Just ask Old Rub if it’s unlucky, though he’s like to throw you out of his pub if you do.  Lost all five of his sons to the Deadcliff Caverns, he did, or so the tale is told.
            “Old Rub was a blacksmith from the Old Lands just West of here.  You probably don't need my telling you that Dwarves are renowned as fine smiths, and their work is coveted by all, but most dwarves don’t take to a big city like Coddleton.  So he ran a good bit of business as a smith and a tavern owner and did quite well for himself.  His wife gave him 5 sons while he dwelt here among men, but she died with the last.  Rub’s made a fortune making weapons for the gladiators of the Arena and exotic armors for the fighting animals at Tyson’s Farm. 
“You’ve… you’ve never heard of Tyson’s farm?  Never you mind, that’s another tale, and Old Rub’s tale is already long enough.  Anyhow, Old Rub had 5 sons (which is an exceptional brood for a dwarf - Old Rub had the fire, that's for certain, but never mind that). They grew up as strong and stout as Rub himself, working the forge with him day in and out.  But the sons had their father’s hot blood in them as well.  See, Rub was a warrior in the Old Lands before he settled down, and whenever dwarves come East to visit our fair city they’d pay a visit to Rub’s Tavern (‘Old Rub’s Brew Pub', that is – fine ale but a sad place, as you'll soon learn).  They’d drink enough to drown a stable full of horses and tell all the things Old Rub had done in his youth.  Well, the sons, they heard all this, and they got the idea in their heads one night to make their own name for themselves as adventurers.  They bought climbing gear with the wages Rub gave them and girded themselves for battle and then made their way by moonlight to the Deadcliff Caverns.
“If you've never even heard of Tyson's Farm, you won’t have heard of the Caverns as well,  I wager.  Well you won’t hear of them from me, either.  Men come from miles around seeking them out, hoping to find some artifact or bit of treasure not looted by the hundreds who came before them.  It’s said the Caverns were home to an ancient people, dead before the Founders ever set foot in these lands – I know, I know, it’s a tired tale told of many places, but that’s what the Caverns are, a tired tale set in the cliffs to the North of Coddleton.  That’s where Rub’s eldest three went that night, Jonquil, Haddock and Tate, there heads dancing with all the wealth they’d bring back and the monsters they’d slay with their mighty arms.  Their arms and necks were thick, and so were their wits.  All I can say is, well, perhaps you've been young yourself once.
“The next day, Rub was running all about town asking if anyone had seen his three boys.  When he found the man who’d sold them climbing gear, he beat that man senseless and toothless.  The next morning, Rub and his friends srearched and they found his boys alright - found them at the bottom of the Cliffs, their ropes cut and their bodies crushed by the fall.  Old Rub, he doesn’t howl or even shed a tear; he just binds them up in sheets, lays them gently on his cart, and takes them back to town to prepare them for burial.  Paid to have them all shipped to the Old Lands, he did to be laid in his family’s tomb.  Didn’t say a word of it to anyone, though many told him how sorry they were for his loss.  Rub was well liked about town, you see, even if he was an old dwarf.
             “Now everyone knows the Birdmen live in dwellings above the entrance to the Caverns, and everyone knows they’ll make trouble for all comers if they’re able.  Oh, they’re a cowardly lot to the last, and bear no arms save beak and claw, but a man or dwarf scaling the cliff - well, it’s hard to fight and climb at the same time.  The birdmen cut their ropes, you can be sure of that.  Think of that before you decide to go treasure hunting yourselves, and think whether a fall from 500’ suits your fancy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Night of Mario Van Peebles

I am a new dad, and as such I have been spending more time watching television between the hours of 1 and 5am than I have since... well ever.  My infant daughter hardly wakes for her 3 feedings/diaper changes during my shift, and I'm left holding the bottle and staring at the screen (which is muted) in the dark.  Last night was a rare treat - a Mario Van Peebles double feature.  This event was not planned either by myself or the networks who aired an old episode of the Outer Limits (staring Mario) and the early 80’s film “Exterminator II” (in which Peebles plays a well-muscled villain who leads an evil street gang that leaves a big ‘X’ on all their victims).  This type of fortune cannot occur through the planning of executive bigwigs but rather is the perfect concordance of luck, sleep deprivation, and the fact that Mr. Van Peebles had to pay the bills somehow at both ends of his carrer.

Now, my knowledge of the plot of either of these delicacies is going to be very limited since the volume was muted and for some reason no one thought either of these gems was worth closed captioning.  The first feature I saw was the Outer Limits episode (the 90’s remake, not the black and white original although I have the option of viewing that every night as well).  I learned through Google that this was titled “Bodies of Evidence” and first aired in June of 1997.  Jennifer Beals costars as a lawyer charged with defending Peebles who is accused of murdering three of his subordinates while serving on the space station Meridian.  Peebles was already a bit past his prime at this point, and the contrast between old 90’s Peebles and early 80’s Peebles had me wondering at first if they could really be the same guy (thanks again Google).

Anyhoo, I really dig the 90’s Outer Limits.  There’s always a bit of a mystery to unravel, even if it’s ineptly presented more often than not, and I’m a sucker for all things fantasy and sci-fi.  The mystery in this episode (and the unfolding of events aboard the Meridian in reverse throughout the trial) is whether or not Peebles was driven crazy by ‘space psychosis’ (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this is not a real disease) and killed the crew himself, or if, in fact he is telling the truth when he states that a shape-shifting alien with psychic abilities tricked them all into killing themselves.  I’m going to go ahead and spoil everything for you because unless you are an insomniac who just had their cable shut off you are never, ever going to see this episode.  If you bet on shape-shifting alien being the whodunit, you win a kewpie doll.  This is not revealed until after Peebles is exonerated of all crimes but then committed to a mental institution for his insistence on the existence of aliens when the alien in question shows up at his cell to give him the raspberry as Peebles is dragged away in a straight jacket.

The second film (the silent version on my TV) got all of one and a half stars in the IMDb database (and worthy of every half-star in my opinion) and stars John Eastland (never heard of him, not going to Google him) as a garbage man or possibly and out-of-work steel worker who confronts a New York drug lord (Peebles).   Peebles has one expression throughout the film, which I interpreted as wide-eyed and crazed contempt for anyone watching network television this late at night.  Eastland is a blue collar type who's had enough and welds a bulldozer blade and several machine guns onto a garbage truck to turn a street gang into an instant barbecue.  If I am any judge of a film from which I never heard a single syllable of dialogue, the writers drew heavily from Taxi Driver and Mad Max.  De Nero and Gibson could only wish for the body count Eastland achieves with grit, a little elbow grease, and lots and lots of flamethrowers and bazookas.  (Another spoiler ahead, so please avert your eyes if you are masochistic enough to still want to view this film in its entirety.)  Peebles finally gets his wide-eyed come-uppance in the form of a booby-trapped bag of stolen loot that explodes, sets him aflame, and then impales him on a steel girder.  My daughter was actually asleep for the thrilling climax, but even sleep deprived as I was I couldn’t tear myself away.
I’m told this phase in a baby’s development is over quickly.  I can only assume that persons with experience are also victims of ‘baby psychosis’ – a condition that causes parents to forget what having a newborn was actually like for the sake of duping them into furthering their own gene pool with additional progeny after the first.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to change into a shirt that has no spit-up on it for work.

All of the things worth saving from 4e

All of the players who still like 4e. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Bad Review


...Of a bad film.  My wife and I dropped Lily off at my parent’s house earlier this week with the intention of seeing a movie - any movie.  We'd been out of the house together a total of 3 times in the last 6 weeks, so we weren't too particular.  Our choices on Wednesday afternoon were MIB III, seeing Avengers for the second time, or Snow White and the Huntsman.  I can only blame the fact that I'd only had 4 hours of sleep a night for the last 6 weeks on my decision to go with... Snow White. 

I thoroughly got what I deserved for my choice.  Christin Stewart wasn't awful, but she really only had about 4 lines in the entire film.  Most of the time she's in a scene the audience is treated to seeing her reactions to what's going on around her:  Ms. White reacts in terror to her cell mate's fate; Ms. White watching helplessly as others fight to defend her; Ms White setting her jaw as she leads her forces into battle.  Okay, she does have an 'inspiring' soliloquy where she rallies the troops (Christin Stewart is no Winston Churchill, and neither were the script writers) but for the most part she's scenery.  Charlize Theron doesn't help, going over the top with every syllable, and Chris Helmsworth just left my wife wishing he were 'more like Thor' in this film. 

It wasn't terrible.  Parts were entertaining and harkened back to classic faerie tales (including actual faeries - possibly the best part of the film).  But man, I started to cringe every time someone opened his or her mouths to deliver the next speech.  I blame the script.  No, I blame myself, for I chose to watch.  This is the sort of film I would highly recommend if it happens to be on cable and you are stuck at home giving a bottle to a newborn on a Saturday afternoon.  I am only mildly disappointed in myself for seeing this in the theater as it was a matinee and I paid half price. 

(Yes, apart from being caustic in my poorly expressed opinions I am also an unrepentant tightwad.)

All your base are belong to baby

My first child, Liliana Lenore Cook, was born 6 weeks ago on 04/25/12 at 12:37am.  She was born 6 weeks early (due tomorrow, June 9th).  She didn't need help breathing at all and sucked down 60oz of formula the first hour after she was born.  Since that time, every waking moment is spent either sleeping, taking care of the baby, or thinking about the baby and my wife while I'm at work.  We divided up the night into two shifts:  I sleep 8pm to 1am, and she sleeps 1am to 6am.  We keep the baby in the living room so the other can sleep. 

Taking care of Lily is a wonderful thing, but of course, leaves zero time to game.  I haven't met with my gaming group for about 3 months now.  I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, of course.  She's changed me so much already, I wonder if I'll even want to game once she's old enough to sleep though the night and we're not feeding her every two hours.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In the beginning

The first time I DM'd a game of 1st edition D&D, I didn't own a rule book, I hadn't prepared an adventure, and I'd never met all but one of the players I started with.  There were no minis, it was all 'theater of the mind', and I'd only played the game as a player 3, maybe four times.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?  I don't remember much of what happened.  I let each player start with two characters with the understanding that there would be a high mortality rate.  Two characters did die that night, one turned to stone by a basilisk and one eaten by a black pudding that dropped from the ceiling over a pile of bones and a few coins (no one looked up).  I had no concept of what challenges were appropriate to a 1st level party.  There was a little griping, but mostly the players liked the session, and we kept playing for nearly 5 years afterward.  Some of the players said I was the best DM they ever had.

From that brief experience, I'd already become frustrated with some of the mechanics of the game (the monster's taken 50 points of damage, but still functions the with the same effectiveness as when he had taken no damage?).  But I didn't care about mechanics, except as they affected the players feeling like they were having a cinematic experience.  I wouldn't have put it in those terms then.  What I wanted was to evoke the kind of reaction I had had like the first time I saw the movie 'Highlander'.  I wanted their imaginations firing on all cylinders.  I wanted them to feel at least on some level that they really were in another world, being another person, experiencing things that couldn't happen in the real world. 

I've continued to play this way up through 4e.  I ignore or modify rules when they don't fit the experience I want to create in the mind of a player.  Wealth by level is a good way to keep a gauge on the relative power level of your players.  A better one?  Through monsters at them with varying power levels and see how they do.  I've never been a system master.  Oh, I read the rules through, many times, and I reference them often - there has to be a common framework that the players have the same access to as I do or the game is just arbitrary with no way for the players to meaningfully interact with the fantasy setting I create.  But if there is no magic carpet available at an appropriate level for my party in 4e rules and I want a flying carpet shop in the town my players are entering, I make something up, rules be damned.  Does this render some challenges like trying scale a cliff irrelevant?  Perhaps, temporarily.  But how hard is it to bypass?  Can I still invent challenges that are appriopriate to their capabilities despite this?  Of course.

The system doesn't matter to me.  The game and the story has always been inside my head.  I play the game/edition that my current group plays.