Musings

Schrodinger’s Sink

There’s a sink outside my classroom. Or maybe there isn’t. 

Depends on how you define a “sink.”

And that’s just how my district wants it.

My school was built when small learning communities and “academies” were all the rage. My school wasn’t built to house any of those academies, mind you, but the cheapest option was probably to let the construction company use the same plans they’d built elsewhere, so welcome to pod-land. 

Each set of classrooms surrounds a meeting area where teachers can congregate to talk shit about students and other departments. My social science department uses it as a makeshift lunch room in lieu of the mythical “teacher’s lounge.” Those don’t really exist at the high school level because, you know, if they let teachers congregate together, we might realize we have stuff in common with each other. Camaraderie begets humanization. Classic anti-Marxist strategizing there. Let the history and English departments fight over precious copy paper lest we realize we have more in common with each other than not. Before long we’ll, I don’t know, band together and ask for raises. Or copier codes.

The pod has our printer and a couple cabinets where we keep the few supplies we’re granted. Red pens, Expo markers, and whatnot. Number two pencils. Other extravagances, like mechanical pencils or black and blue pens, we’ve gotta purchase ourselves. The good news is we can deduct them from our taxes. But only up to $500 a year, a number that hasn’t changed in the twenty years I’ve been teaching despite inflation roughly doubling the price of most goods and services. Don’t start buying books or a Netflix subscription for use in school and expect to deduct those.

We did get electronic hole punchers, despite not asking for them, from Covid funds. Because we all know that hole punchers are the number one transmitters of disease. I assume the porn industry will start requiring its actors to electronically hole punch any day now.

We also have a mini refrigerator in our pod. It’s against code. We’re only allowed to have Star Authorized appliances, which means they use less of the district’s energy. I mean, technically the mini refrigerator uses less energy than a full-sized refrigerator, but it uses more per cubic inch. The district doesn’t care about wasting money, they care about making things difficult. Because mini fridges cannot be designated efficient. So yes, if you’re following the logic, we can only have an appliance that doesn’t exist. At least the district isn’t being unreasonable.

We also have a microwave, similarly unapproved. Again, if teachers start thinking they’re worthy of heating up their lunches, what’s next? Getting paid for running clubs after school? I mean, if Mr. Scopes Monkey Trial taught without a microwave, we can, too. But no using chalk like in those days, as the chalk dust is hazardous. Oh, and the Expo pens need to be non-toxic. No getting high in front of class! Gotta wait till we’re proctoring those clubs for free before you get lit.

Our pod also contains a kettle for brewing coffee pour-overs. I think an actual Mr. Coffee might be against code. Damn, us teachers are rebels. Good thing the district never follows through with any of its initiatives. We might as well throw a keg in there. At least it wouldn’t catch fire.

There’s also a sink. 

Sort of.

Not sure why there’s a sink in the pod. We are a social science pod. Maybe they’re hoping it’ll form the basis of an epic history vs science conflagration. Unfortunately for our future science department warlords, the sink doesn’t work.

Technically, I suppose, it works. Depends on your definition of what a sink is for. If we turn on the spigot, water comes out. We’re just not allowed to.

The sink leaks. After some contemplation, we alerted custodial. It wasn’t an easy choice. They don’t take kindly to being notified that something needs custodializing. They’re busy emptying our trash cans once a week and sweeping our floors once a month. And really, teachers, you need ANOTHER roll of toilet paper? That’ll come out of your pay raise. 

So something along the lines of “There’s a puddle forming under the sink here” gets met with a hefty round of “Well, what the fuck do you expect us to do about it?”

We should be happy they responded at all. Even if it was just placing a bucket underneath the s-curve that was leaking. Problem solved?

This was back in the Obama administration.

Sometime during the Trump administration, that bucket overflowed.

The water was nastier this time. Brackish, miasmatic, the attack of the black mold! So glad I’m eating my unrefrigerated, unmicrowaved leftovers in here. 

Perhaps we shoulder some of the blame for round two. We could’ve stopped using the sink. Anyone who thinks a bucket is a permanent solution to a leak has never sang any kids’ songs. We could claim ignorance about what happens after five years of standing water. It’s not like we let the science department this close to our supply rations. But we are government teachers, so we should’ve known with perfect certainty that the custodial staff would never return to fix the problem after hours or anything. 

This time, fortunately, they came up with a more long-term solution. 

Let’s see how many of you can play “school upkeep” properly.

We could a) empty out and replace the bucket. Or b)…

Actually, a is pretty much out only option. If you thought a $5 run to Home Depot to get a new s-bend was an option, then you aren’t playing the school repair game. A new pipe today and those rascally teachers might ask to control their own thermostats next. So emptied bucket it is! 

Unless… unless…

The pipe only leaks when there is water going down it. If we could prevent water from descending the pipe, then the problem might solve itself. Like fixing the glitch in Office Space. 

Et voila…

For a while, we thought this was temporary. Until the work order got fixed or something. Escalator out of order, please use stairs. 

Then again, the sign doesn’t mention anything about a timeframe. It just says to not use the sink. The only thing that leads us to doubt its veracity or longevity is that it’s written on a flimsy sheet of paper, adhered via Scotch tape. But what other option did they have? A permanent sign might require a trip to Home Depot. On the aisle next to the sink pipes.

Note, however, that the sink is not “out of order.” We are simply instructed not to use it. 

And you know what? It’s worked. For five-plus years, we haven’t used the sink. And the bucket is almost dry. How’s that for government efficiency?

After a few months, we put money on it. Over/under when will the sink be fixed? We’re well past Price is Right rules. Even the guy who humorously picked a date four years out was wrong. There are no students at this high school who has ever attended while the sink “worked.”

Although maybe we’ve been looking at this the wrong way. We keep waiting for the problem to be fixed. But it already has been. The problem wasn’t the sink not working, it was the pipe leaking. And that pipe hasn’t leaked in close to six years! Mission accomplished. We assumed some work ticket was hanging in the district office stamped with “Waiting for part” hanging in the district office. In reality, it’s was stamped “Completed” and stabbed on the little rod back when the senior class was still in elementary school.

All it took was a piece of paper and tape. Even better, those supplies came from our cabinet, so it comes out of the social science budget. That’ll teach us to complain. My globe’s so groovy it’s got TWO Germanies for the price of one. 

Who says schools can’t think outside the box and find edgy, twenty-first century solutions to problems? It’s like the new SAT policy. Too many students are failing the SAT? How about we stop taking the SAT. Problem, solution.

Shit howdy, that custodian deserves a medal. I think you can find some at Home Depot.

If we wanted to rebellious, we could turn that sink on and to hell with the consequences. Except the consequences will be more black mold creeping across our linoleum floors. And we all know what the district’s response will be if we complain about the bucket being full again. “You didn’t follow directions. We aren’t liable for your medical bills. And is that a non-Star-compliant refrigerator I see?” 

So now we’re faced with a dilemma. The problem is fixed. The pipe is not. As long as we never use the sink, the sink is no longer broken.

We are now faced with Schrodinger’s Sink. 

I never really understood the whole Schrodinger’s Cat thing. Something to do with some fourth dimensional, Quantum Leap shit, where Jesus and Hitler are still alive, sipping Mai Tais in a secret plane on the moon. Or maybe that was a Weekly World News headline.

While I know it’s a physics experiment, it is usually explained as a philosophical question. The cat is both alive and dead until the door is opened. Cause it was alive when the door was closed? It’s what happens when you invoke Einstein to answer the old “Does a falling tree make a sound?” 

But now, I think I finally understand Schrodinger. While the water is turned off, our sink is both fixed and broken.

Turns out the poison that killed the cat was slimy water.

Connery vs Craig, the Finale

I thought about naming this post “A Good Time to Die” or some other play on the recent Bond title, but didn’t want to freak anybody out. Or, worse, make you think this was a review of the late-1980s thriller Flatliners. Nice and timely.

A few years ago, I ranked the best James Bond actors. At the time, I ranked Daniel Craig two, or more precisely 1a. The jury was still out on whether he could eclipse a certain Scottish knight. Well, now that Mr. Craig has finished, it’s time to reassess my rankings.

So, you know, spoilers and whatnot ahead. The movie’s been out for a month, so if you wanted to see it, I assume you have.

But, you know, while I’m letting you think about if you want to hit the back button in lieu of forging on. Assuming you’re one who wants to wait six months to see a movie but also avoids spoilers. But, like me, you also want general reviews, so you click on the tantalizing links promising you some, but not too much, of a preview. Give yourself a few paragraphs. Above the fold, as we used to call it. I guess it’s above the scroll now. So I’m giving you a few more paragraphs before I get into James Bond’s gender selection party where he and Blofeld have a glorious three-way with Desmond Llewellyn’s reanimated corpse. Bond will come again.

Even before this film, Daniel Craig had two of the four best movies. Note, I didn’t say “my favorite,” but “best.” I’ll broker no debate nor discussion here. The four best Bond movies, in no particular order, are Goldfinger, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Skyfall. Okay, that was in a particular order, but it was chronological. But it should not be construed to imagine Goldfinger is better than Skyfall. 

And really, Goldfinger only holds its spot on this list if you skip the rape scene. The wrestling in the hay is fine, but then hit “forward fifteen seconds” twice and assume it was consensual. 

The fifth best movie is a tie that stretches on for decades. I could make a reasonable argument for From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or The Living Daylights. If I wanted to be magnanimous and throw a top-ten bone to Roger Moore, it won’t pain me too much to say The Spy Who Loved Me is tolerable. (And I also secretly like For Your Eyes Only, but that admission causes physical discomfort).

No Time to Die doesn’t belong in the upper echelons, but it fits with that other group. Certainly the first one to avoid the “last movie curse” that afflicted every other Bond actor with more than one title to his name. If I were to compare it to any specific movie, it would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which they even acknowledge in the movie itself with the “We Have All the Time in the World” homage. More on this later when I can be sure those spoiler-free people aren’t snooping around. 

The other two Craig movies weren’t enough to supersede Sir Sean. Quantum of Solace, everyone can agree, was terrible. Blame it on a writer’s strike if you must, but it belongs squarely at the bottom of the heap with the likes of Octopussy, Moonraker, and Diamonds are Forever. Spectre was mediocre. Indistinguishable and forgettable, especially for a movie that’s supposed to reintroduce the franchise’s biggest baddie. In fact, I spent a good portion of No Time to Die wracking my brain to remember what the hell happened in Spectre, because the previous movie plays into the current movie. In fact, it’s the same Bond girl. I feel like that’s a first.

Speaking of Bond girls, Ana de Armas was phenomenal. And underused. Stop the search for the new Bond right away and just give Poloma an entire franchise. 

Under normal circumstances, ie for the first twenty-ish films in the franchise, not remembering the contents of the last movie made little difference. I’m pretty sure every Pierce Brosnan movie after Goldeneye was the exact same movie, loosely named The World Dies Tomorrow Not Enough. But Pierce Brosnan’s Bond never (are we alone now? SPOILER!) had a child with the Bond girl from the last movie. Even Denise Richards’ dingbat of a “physicist” was smart enough to be on birth control.

And okay, now that we’re into spoiler territory, let’s delve into the biggest spoiler that wasn’t even really a spoiler if you’ve been paying attention to the five-film Daniel Craig arc. Right around the time the first trailer came out, which was back in 2019 because the movie was supposed to come out in May, 2020, I made the bold prediction. If, for the first time, they were treating an actor’s movies as sequels instead of stand-alones, and if they started the run with Bond’s first mission, then it stood to reason that they’d end with his last mission. And there’s only one way you stop a guy like that from coming out of retirement. 

I mean Craig, not Bond.

Can’t wait to see how they pull the Daniel Craig version of Never Say Never Again. But I have the feeling that, whoever becomes Bond next, they’ll pale in comparison and we’ll be clamoring for just one more go. Maybe make him a zombie Bond? Or how about a clone? Blofeld held onto his DNA and….

Oh right, they killed off Blofeld, too. Then how about his good friend Felix…

Wow, they went all scorched earth on this bad boy, didn’t they. No time to die, unless you’re any Bond character outside the office with the padded door. Then you’ve got all the time in the world.

I’ve got minor squibbles with No Time to Die. Safin was utterly pointless, a throwback to the boring Pierce Brosnan bad guys. I think at least one of those guys had a messed up face, too. Not sure what the disfigurement added to the plot. The fact that he was the only survivor when the rest of his family was murdered might give him plenty of vengeance points without fucking up his face. I heard England was contemplating a law that disfigured people couldn’t be shown as evil in movies anymore. Not sure it needs to go that far, but fucking up their looks for no reason seems pointless. Unless you’re hoping for a makeup Oscar.

At least Safin’s plan to destroy the world was great. No, not great. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right: Horrifying. Don’t go checking my Google history or anything. 

But seriously, poison tied to your DNA, so it can be released into a population but only kill certain people? That might be one of the most Bondian villain plots of all time. Way more intriguing than media moguls with stolen nuclear bombs. Or space lasers. 

So again, why did his face need to be all pock-marked? While we’re at it, why have Safin anyway? You’ve got the definitive Bond villain of all time in the movie already, just to kill him off? Have Blofeld break out of prison and put the plan in motion. Then the final confrontation in the pool would bring a stronger catharsis. Given their history, Blofeld seems like the one who would, upon realizing he wasn’t going to survive, would release Madeine’s DNA, thus bringing Bond down with him. Nothing about Safin’s story made me believe he’d pull the “Well, if I can’t win…” move.

The American who kills Felix also seemed bland. He’s a badass mastermind in Cuba, then only shows up one more time when he drives into a totally obvious trap. What’s the point? Combine Safin and Ash, give the denouement to Blofeld, and maybe you could’ve had a run-time less than the average bladder size.

So some good and some bad, but overall, No Time to Die hits its mark, breaeking the curse of final Bond movies (Diamonds are Forever, A View to a Kill, License to Kill, and Die Another Day are usually listed among each actor’s worst films). It works primarily because it was approached as a final Bond movie. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. Please, please, please don’t turn this into every new actor getting a four-movie arc to show his first and last missions as Bond.

In fact, maybe we could use a cleanser before we get another long-term Bond. Maybe it’s time for another George Lazenby. I’ve heard Idris Elba was in the running but he’s too old. Nonsense. Have him be Bond, but only for one movie. Then give one to Tom Hiddleston. By then, maybe I’ll be ready to invest in another long-term Bond.

So yeah, I guess you can figure out where I come down on the whole Daniel Craig vs. Sean Connery debate. It’s not entirely Sir Sean’s fault. We can do more with movies these days. Moviegoers can be expected to follow from one movie to the next. We waited thirty years for a sequel to Star Wars and were still able to pick it right up, debates over midichlorians and all.

In the 1960s, you couldn’t pull Goldfinger up on demand for a rewatch before seeing Thunderball. It’s hard to believe, but even TV shows had to be episodic, not serialized. You couldn’t expect your viewers to stay home at the same time every week and there was no way to catch up on missed episodes. 

Plus, you know, consensual sex is wonderful.

What Craig does get credit for, however, is playing the character as he should be played. No, I’m not talking about true to the Ian Fleming character (although he probably is), I mean truer to life, truer to reality. James Bond would be one fucked up individual in real life. Vulnerable and raw. The cool, quippy murderer who never thinks twice always rang hollow. Sure, that’s what was so great about him. But in the long run, Die Hard lives on longer than Commando because of how raw, how prone to mistakes, John McClain was in that first movie. All his choices had consequences. By Die Harder, he’s turned into Rambo.

Rambo, who started out as a visceral, psychological thriller about PTSD and the systemic failures for our Vietnam veterans. 

Bond pretended to go this route before. Good old George Lazenby showed a more human, more humane Bond. Complete with his new bride dying at the end, with the final line of, “We have all the time in the world.” It’s almost like they could’ve had a grittier Bond fifty years ago, but opted to go full schmaltz, first by ruining Connery’s legacy then prat-falling into the lap of Mr. Moore.

In the end, I don’t know if Daniel Craig is the “Best” Bond. Lazenby is still the only one who never had a bad movie. Think about that before you poo-poo my idea of having a few one-offs before giving the keys to the franchise to another relative unknown.

What Daniel Craig represents now, though, is the definitive Bond. He’s played Bond’s entire career, he’s shown us beginning and end. He lost a lover, he lost an M and ushered in a new (acknowledged) one for the first time in the franchise. And in the end, he sacrificed himself for the world, as we knew he would. Just didn’t expect it to happen with his daughter’s stuffed animal on hand.

Prior to last weekend, when I closed my eyes and imagined a generic Bond, when I read something from Ian Fleming or John Gardner or whoever the hell is writing them these days, he was still a lanky brunette with a comically long gun barrel, speaking with a Scottish brogue. Now he’s a gritty blond with piercing blue eyes.

But seriously, regarding Flatliners. Kiefer Sutherland in a trench coat? Really?

Why I’m Skipping The Eternals

For the first time in a long time, I’m not planning on seeing the next Marvel movie in theaters. 

Really, I don’t think there’s a Marvel movie I’ve set out not to watch since the Incredible Hulk, which precedes the MCU but is still somehow counted in it. And nobody who had seen the original Hulk, with its horrible opposite of uncanny valley CGI, was hot to see if Ed Norton could pull it off. We were pining for the return of the quality special effects of Lou Ferrigno.

With The Eternals, however, I think I’ll take a pass.

Granted, I don’t actually see them all in the theaters, but the intent is always there. Sometimes real life gets in the way. Wife and I can’t coordinate schedules. To say nothing of a child who probably doesn’t need to see half the superheroes dissolve into dust. 

Or maybe she should see it, based on the Halloween costumes in our neighborhood. Are this many kids really watching shows like the Mandalorian? Sure, Baby Yoda’s cute and all, but I’m steeped in forty-plus years of Star Wars lore and even I found some serious snoozefest episodes. I can barely get my kid to watch anything non-animated. Not to mention the violence.

And was that kid dressed from Dune? I feel like I have to watch it three more times just to figure out what the hell’s going on. Are you telling me this eight-year-old figured out the entire caste system?

Squid Game? Come fucking on.

You know what costumes I didn’t see? Ikarus or Athena or, wait, is that Hyperion in the ads? Is Marvel actually trying to sneak their Superman rip-off into a movie and think we won’t notice?

Okay, I just checked IMDB and no Hyperion character is listed. Perhaps that’s Ikarus shooting lasers out of his eyes. Does he have that power? As a lifelong Marvel reader, I couldn’t tell you. I figured he just flew on wax wings that melted on hot days.

Now that I think of it, maybe they should put Hyperion in a movie. Marvel has the Squadron Supreme, which is a knock-off of the Justice League. Not only does it contain Hyperion, but Nighthawk (a rich guy whose hawk looks suspiciously like a bat), Dr. Spectrum (who has a prism that shoots out multi-colored energy beams like the Green Lantern), Princess Power (from Utopia Isle), and the Whizzer (who either runs really fast or has the power of urination). How great would it be for the MCU to finally bury the DCEU by making a better Justice League movie using only the cheap knock-offs.

So long as they don’t make that movie like Eternals looks to be. 

Not that they need to stick with the obvious choices all the time. Shang-Chi was hardly on anybody’s list of Marvel properties, but the movie was solid. Of course, everybody was skeptical when they went from the Big Four (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk) straight to the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy. That skepticism lasted about as long as it took to watch the first trailer. That’s when we realized how much fun they can have with more obscure characters. We don’t need to show origins or stick close to a well-known character archetype. Nobody knew who the hell Star Lord was, so might as well make him obsessed with late-1970s pop music and a Walkman.

Guardians of the Galaxy, in fact, laid the groundwork for the rest of the MCU. Sure, there had been quips and comic scenes in the first few movies, but Thor: Dark World is true to the comics character and boring as hell. Thor: Ragnarok is not, and it is not. Marvel movies before Guardians were more fun than funny. Or maybe I have that reversed. Regardless, post-Guardians, they’ve mastered the sweet spot between the two.

My skepticism returned when Eternals was announced. They’re effectively gods, except not those fun Asgardian gods with their personal foibles and tendency to self-sabotage. More like those gods who have no weaknesses. Or interest.

One of the big draws of superheroes of old, particularly those of the Marvel variety, is their weaknesses and humanity. Human Torch is a hothead, Iron Man is an obsessive alcoholic, Spider-Man always gets in his own way. It got even better, even darker, with the X-Men. Storm can’t be in enclosed places and Rogue can’t touch anybody without potentially killing them. Yikes. 

The DC heroes have their drawbacks, too, but they aren’t as integral to their characters as most of them were added after the fact due to changing societal norms. And better Marvel writing. Flash is always late to everything. Superman, like Captain America, is unwavering and overly optimistic. And Batman, of course, is an asshole. So is Green Lantern. 

It’s no crippling claustrophobia, but it helps move the story along.

Newer heroes don’t tend to have the pronounced weaknesses anymore. And a lot of the old ones don’t crop up as often anymore. Thor never gets stuck in human form for being unworthy anymore. Iron Man kicked the booze close to fifty years ago. Storm never manages to find herself in closed areas and even Rogue has managed to get married and have sex. The only character who seems destined to never lose his weakness is Cyclops, because if he could control his eyeblasts, he wouldn’t need the visor anymore and would cease to be Cyclops.

Oh, and Batman’s still an asshole.

Origin stories seem to be lacking these days, too. No more gamma explosions or radioactive spiders, no more exploding alien planets or parents killed in crime alley. While the X-Men have been great for diversifying the Marvel Universe, but for a thirty year span, whenever they wanted to make a new character, there was just a general shrug about how. Make them a mutant. Mutant, mutant, mutant.

Then Marvel sold the movie rights to mutants and stopped making new mutants. Then came the Inhuman push, which was even worse. At least with mutants, the powers usually manifested during puberty. So you might not get an in-depth “how they got their powers” story, but you’d still get the occasional “how awkward the first manifestation was.” Remember when you popped that awkward boner in the middle of fifth grade and didn’t know how to hide it? Now imagine that boner was starbursts of light that knocked out half the class.

The Inhumans didn’t even get that origin story. Instead, a mist covered the entire Earth causing some people to go into a cocoon and come out with powers. No awkward classmates, no stand-in for systemic racism. Just wake up one day with powers and everybody’s cool with it. 

The new Ms. Marvel is one of the characters introduced during this glut. A lot has been made recently about a promotional photo for her upcoming Disney+ show implying she has a different power from the comics. I’m more curious as to the origin story. If she spends the entire first episode in a cocoon, not sure I’ll be coming back for episode two.

Come to think of it, Inhumans was the last major MCU flop. They might claim it’s not a flop because it was a tv show, not a movie, but make no mistake, the intent was for that to become the flagship property of the future. They released the first episode or two in IMAX theaters, but the plug was pulled before they made it to episode six. 

The basic problem with the Inhumans tv show was that it was based off the Inhumans characters, which are pretty friggin’ boring. Their “leader” can’t speak and the queen’s power is prehensile hair. The only interesting character is a dog. Plus they live on the moon, so they virtually never interact with supervillains, or Earth and humanity in general. These are the main reasons, when they realized Inhumans were the only way to introduce new characters that were eligible for the MCU instead of Sony, they knew they had to make a slew of new Inhumans.

In the end, Disney bought out Sony, which was much more feasible than making Crystal a worthwhile character. 

Unfortunately, Eternals seems to be doubling down on most of the mistakes of Inhumans. Uninteresting characters, far removed from the rest of the Marvel characters. Uninspired powers. If I wanted a bunch of Greek mythology, I’ll watch Wonder Woman.

Seriously, is their only flaw that they’re arrogant a-holes who don’t get involved with humanity? How is that fun to watch. It’s made even worse by the fact that, according to the trailer, they sat on the sidelines through the whole Thanos snap and Endgame. But they’ve decided that now is the time to make their presence known? It’s like watching a History channel documentary about aliens who showed up the day after the Egyptians finished the pyramids.

That trailer was the clincher. Unlike Guardians, the Eternals trailer didn’t make me any more inclined to watch it. If anything, it verified all my skepticism. Is there a single joke in any of the three trailers? Do we get any glimpse of characterization other than “attractive”? It feels bloated and confusing and, worst of all, boring.

You can tell by the casting that they knew it was a snoozer even before filming. Angelina Jolie AND Selma Hayek? Clearly they’re there for the mass audiences. But Kit Harrington proves they were worried about losing geekdom, too. Unfortunately, if the buzz I’m hearing is any indication, I don’t think it’s going to work. The only one of my geek friends who’s planning on seeing it has an annual movie pass that he’s desperately trying to get worth from before the end of the year. My non-geek friends aren’t even aware a Marvel movie is coming out.

I’m just glad that the first flop won’t be Shang-Chi. That was a worthwhile reach into an obscure character. Had it failed, we’d be in line for ten different Wolverine & Spider-Man buddy movies. If there’s going to be a flop, let it star big Hollywood names. Let there be no doubt that characters and story matter more than the name on the marquee.

Wait a second, isn’t the name of the movie on the marquee, not the actors? Meh. Story matters more than the name on the IMDB.

Don’t worry, though. I’m sure I’ll watch it once it’s out on Disney Plus. And the good news is Spider-Man is only a month away.

To Be Continued

I’m thinking of writing a serial.

Or maybe not.

Come back next week to find out.

Okay, fine. We can talk about it now.

With the exception of an occasional vacation description too unwieldy to fit into one blog post, my writing doesn’t really feature a “to be continued” vibe. First of all, hyperlinking is a pain in the ass, especially going back to edit part one. Secondly, it’s not like a Disneyland trip can end on a cliffhanger. We went up one side of Splash Mountain. Did we come out the other side? Tune in tomorrow. Same brer time, same brer channel.

Then Amazon invented Kindle Vella.

It’s not the first product catered toward serialization. Wattpad and others led the way, but it never seemed like a good fit for me. I’m not exactly a pantser (somebody who writes “by the seat of their pants,” as opposed to a planner), but my characters and setting definitely morph as I join them on their journey. No biggie if I can go back and fix Aside from the fact that I randomly change character’s names and attributes as my story progresses, only to double back and fix those inconsistencies on the second pass. But if those early chapters have already been published, then it’s going to be a little weird to have the guy who banged the hooker in chapter one now reveal he’s been gay since high school. 

Besides, who reads serials? Then again, if Amazon would be suckling up to the teat…

I heard about Kindle Vella back in the spring. I hmmed and huhed, checking in the nether regions of my brain from time to time, seeing if their was a serial book hidden there. Nothing jangled free, so I forgot about it.

Until the day Kindle Vella launched when, wouldn’t you know it, an apple fell out of my brain tree. Just like my students who have a week to work on a project, then “just need to glue on a couple things” the day it’s due, taking out a blank piece of paper and spending the next hour doing it. At least, unlike my students, I didn’t then rush to create crap in order to “beat the deadline” on Vella opening day. As of now, I’ve got about four chapters (sorry, “installments”) of a time traveling thriller.

Still not sure if I’m going to play the Vella game, though. I only started writing the serial because I was getting bored with my work-in-progress. But switching formats (say, blogging) isn’t the same as giving up on a project. 

Problem number one is the format. Vella is designed to be read in an app. On the go, as it were, which makes sense for serialized storytelling. There are plenty of times I’m sitting around with my phone, enough time to read a thousand words or so but not enough to bust out whatever novel I’m drudging through. 

Yes, I’m mainly talking about being on the shitter.

Maybe the Vella app is really nice. Fancy, even, Unfortunately, I’ll never know. It’s only available on iOS. Nothing says they want this thing to be successful than immediately precluding half the public from accessing it. Then again, iPhone and iPad owners have proven they’ll pay twice as much for the same mediocre quality, so long as it comes with the air of exclusivity. Maybe I should start charging for this blog? Apple fans only.

It’s not even an anti-Google thing. Have you ever heard of a Kindle Fire? Clearly, Amazon hasn’t, because the Fire doesn’t use iOS.

That’s right, you can’t access Kindle Vella on your Kindle. Seriously Amazon, if you want to know which customer set is willing to give you more money for content, shouldn’t it be the people who bought your own damn tablet, despite the fact that it’s missing most of the bells and whistles of its brethren? 

I should’ve known this was coming. When you buy a Kindle Fire, you can’t read books straight away on it. You have to download the Kindle app… onto your Kindle. Fuck it, I’ll just play some more Crossy Road.

So who knows? Maybe the Kindle Vella app is fantabulous and splentacular and everybody who downloads it spends bazillions of dollars going right into unknown authors’ bank accounts. Maybe it’ll be included on every iPad going forward and people will be drawn to it like I was with the Marvel Strike Force game preloaded on my android. Remember when Microsoft got sued for including Internet Explorer with Windows? Captive audience for the win!

The good news is that, even if you don’t have an Apple product, you can still read Kindle Vella entries. All you have to do is go the the Amazon website. On, like, a computer or something. I don’t know. Dial up? Then search for Kindle Vella, because they aren’t advertising it. Then keep strolling, because your first few results aren’t Kindle Vella titles, but third-party “guidebooks” on how to make money via Kindle Vella. 

I assume step one is buy Apple stock.

Eventually, I was able to navigate to an area of the website with actual Vella titles. Some of them already have 50+ entries, others have one or two. The reading experience on the website is underwhelming, like I’m reading a news story or a blog. Not exactly something I want to pay for. Good thing I don’t have to.

You can read the first three installments for free. Then you gotta pay. Except you don’t pay for individual items. You buy tokens, then exchange said tokens for access to chapters. The tokens are super cheap. The lowest amount is 200 tokens for $1.99 or you can buy in bulk, like 1700 tokens for $14.99. I think it then costs one token per 100 words, so you’ll always either be a few tokens short or have leftovers, like hot dogs and buns. That’s how they get you to buy more hot dogs. 

If my math is correct, buying your fiction in dribs and drabs seems to… have little effect on the price. Two hundred tokens equals twenty thousand words for two bucks. So a “standard” book with 80k-ish words will cost eight bucks. Hell, that might even be more expensive. If you like your epic fantasies, that fifteen buck draw will get you 170K words. Most of the Wheel of Time books run over 300,000 words and sell for $10.99. Even better, you can read it from the comfort of your Kindle or android device.

Not that I want to discourage people from Kindle Vella. Lest I lose a penny or two some day. I’m not being metaphorical. I don’t know what “regular” authors make on Amazon, but the pay scale for Vella seems miniscule. It’s also based off of how much the reader paid for the tokens. So readers that buy in bulk, the voracious readers, send less money along to the author. The ones who are probably only going to read Hugh Howey, and are thus only buy 200 tokens at a time, are sending more money their favorite author’s direction.

On the other hand, they do give the author 50% of what the reader spent. The example they give is a story that costs 30 tokens. If those thirty tokens came out of a $1.99 batch, the author gets 14.9 cents. If it came out a $14.99 batch, the author only gets 13.6 cents. Doesn’t seem very much for 3,000 words of content. Then again, I wrote close to 12,000 words on my Disneyland trip and didn’t get any money. Maybe 13 cents ain’t too bad?

Incidentally, they give you 200 free tokens when you join. I assume if you use those tokens, the author gets nothing.

Oh, and don’t forget, the first three installments are free. 

I might be misremembering, but it seems like when Vella was first announced back in February or March, the business model showed only the first chapter being free, then people would start using tokens on chapter two. I suppose I understand. You want to be sure the author isn’t dazzling you with a 200-word intro only to have you waste your money on some 5,000-word unedited drivel in chapter two. Now they must dazzle you with THREE polished snippets before hitting you with the balloon payment.

As you might tell from my blogging, it’s tough for me to describe even a bowel movement in less than 1,000 words. The story that popped in my head (the day the Vella went live, not the day it was announced, thanks a fucking lot, brain!) would’ve started, James Bond style, with an action sequence. Our intrepid hero narrowly evading Russian spies, complete with a cliffhanger to end it all. In chapter two, he escapes and makes it back to base, where his boss helps put things in perspective in chapter three. But I can’t very well have the last free chapter be an info-dump. Something needs to entice readers toward that first locked chapter. 

After 5,000 free words, I need my 13 goddamn cents!

I’m rearranging some stuff to start with a mini-mission, then the debrief in chapter two, and the big cliffhanger in part three. I could cut the debrief chapter, but that would only foster confusion about why the hell the characters have skipped from one random mission to another. Chapter 4 and 5 will go straight from one mission to the next, because “episodic” is what the iOS heathens demand! 

And yeah, I have a newfound appreciation for TV and comic book writers who manage to always hit the wrap-up or cliffhanger at the precise twenty-two minute or twenty-two page spot each time. In long-form fiction, you’re supposed to vary the chapter length, but if they’re paying for the length of each installment, I doubt readers are going to want to bite off Game of Thrones-esque 50 page chunks.

Is that other project looking any better now? Nope. Damn, hopefully this Vella shit works.

Of course, the fact that I’m four parts into something I’m nowhere close to publishing flies in the face of the spirit of serial. It’s designed to be published as it’s written, more or less. One of the guides I read said readers of serials were “more forgiving” of typos and other snafus, since it’s supposed to be published fast. 

Similarly, Kindle Vella is selling the interactiveness of the format. The authors will react to thumbs ups and other virtual cheese chunks to get us through the maze. I plan on allowing a certain “choose-your-own-adventure” elements to the story, polling my readers about which time period they want the characters to travel to next. But if nobody votes, what the hell am I supposed to write?

That’s the biggest drawback I see. Let’s say I publish the first three chapters, what happens if I get no thumbs ups? Do I continue on with part four? Part five? At what point am I publishing into the void? Especially if I’m waiting on them to vote on Berlin Blockade versus Berlin Wall.

Not that I can blame the readers. Why get vested in an unknown author whose project only has three or four installments? You never know if they’re going to follow-through. I used to play an online story-telling game, Storium, where everybody creates a character and writes out the story in segments. But virtually every game/story played out the same way: everybody’s gung-ho at the beginning, then after a week or two, there are only two players writing anything and the game fizzled out.

Even I, who have every incentive to make Kindle Vella work, found myself skeptical of the people who only have a handful of posts. Some posted once a week for four weeks, then stopped over a month ago. Why would I pass them a token when Hugh Howey is sitting at twenty chapters? Plus I know he can write.

On the flip side, why would I expect these writers to keep writing if nobody’s spending any tokens on their work? This circle of life contains a great disconnect in the circle of life. I have friends who refuse to watch a tv series until it’s been picked up for a second season. I know where he’s coming from, having been burned by countless unresolved series, but on the flip side, not watching a show increases the chances it will be canceled.

Especially when you add in that whole iOS-only bullshit. 

Not to mention you’re losing the rights to your work with each post. If I post five chapters and it flames out, I can’t pull the plug and put them up on Wattpad or my blog. They belong to Amazon. I can put them all together into a book, as long as it only sells on Amazon.

In the end, it seems to have all the drawbacks of self-publishing. On the plus side, you only have to provide a small picture instead of a full cover. That takes away one of the biggest headaches of self-publishing. Although I assume ninety percent of the pictures from the internet are copyright verboten. 

Still, I’d have to edit it myself. And if I’m editing my own, so is everyone else, which means there’s gonna be a lot of shoddy content out there. That would seem to depress the demand a bit more. Is it going to come across like fan fiction?

Even worse, I have to market it myself. How the hell does somebody with no name rise up against established authors? Also, as far as I can tell, it won’t link to your regular author profile. I just searched Hugh Howey on Amazon, and I got all his regular books, but only get the Vella one if I go to that portion of the website. And on his Vella book, I can’t click on his name to see his non-Vella books. They’re separate entities.

So I’m still on the fence. A lot of agents won’t look at you if you’ve self-published unless you’ve sold hundreds of thousands. Will they hold Vella authors to the same regard? Amazon implies no, that this is a fun Wild West where we can try new things.

Maybe, instead of posting my serial to Amazon, I can just post it to my blog. Sure, I’d miss out on tens of cents at a time, but at least I’d be able to look at the stats and see if anyone’s reading it. And if that answer is no after a few installments, I can go back to opining on COVID and flatulence. 

Or maybe I should just go back to writing the book I got bored with before.

Nah.

On the Cutting Edge of Music

I’ve been going down some obscure musical rabbit holes of late, and, contrary to my norm, I’ve found something newer than “Go Ask Alice.” So I figured I’d let y’all know about a couple of bands that I might be on the cutting edge of. At least in America.

The first is a couple of lasses from England. Or maybe one of the other UK countries? Hell, they could be Irish for all I know. 

Yes, despite being American, I’m aware that Ireland’s been independent for a century or so. My last name’s Kelly, after all. I even know that Jameson’s a Catholic Whiskey and Bushmill’s belongs to the heathens. (Although I kinda like Bushmill’s a little more – don’t tell my dead aunt).

Anyway, I first came across Wet Leg when somebody posted their video on Twitter. As far as I can tell, they only have one or maybe two songs. Like I said, cutting edge stuff. Not like the last time I found “new” bands (Vampire Weekend and Nathaniel Rateliff) that turned out to have a decade of back catalogs. 

But, boy howdy, Wet Leg’s one song is pretty kick ass.

Check out the video.

Tongue in cheek lyrics, driving bass line, kick-ass guitar riffs. Count me in.

Most will note the lyric from the first refrain, “I went to school and I got the Big D.” Despite her taking the time to explain otherwise, I don’t think she’s referencing her degree. But I’ll  take the third verse: “Is your mother worried? Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother.” That’s some Grade A mirth right there. Or maybe Grade Big D, as the case may be.

Not to be overlooked is the refrain of “Excuse me… what?” In the recorded version, the “what?” is restrained. But if you check out a live version (go ahead, I’ll wait), there’s more emotion to the second one each time. As in, “What the fuck? I already responded the first time.” Because how else does someone respond when someone interrupts you twice with the same “Excuse me” without getting on to whatever the hell they’re excusing? Come to my classroom sometime and see. The name I respond to most often is Mr. Um, Um, Mr. Um.

I’m so enamored with the smirkiness that I’m overlooking the obvious faux pas of mispronouncing the song’s title. I mean, come on, it’s clearly a chaise LOUNGE, not a chaise longue. We lounge upon it, do we not? Is this some European versus American thing? Are those limey bastards siding with the French? A faux pas indeed! 

Please pronounce that phonetically, not that “foe pa” bullshit. A fox pass whilst waiting for our whore’s deo weevers.

I looked up chaise longue and chaise lounge. Both are accepted. Whereas the definition for chaise longue, which first appeared in 1800, is a “long, reclining chair.” The definition for chaise lounge, from 1804, is “a chaise longue.” Meaning as soon as that word started being used, we fixed its pronunciation. Yay, ‘Murica!

You can learn so much from a neo-punk song! Now where’s my Big D?

Lyrics aren’t enough to warrant more than one or two re-listens, though. You gotta have great music. 

I didn’t come by that “neo-punk” designation randomly. The first time I heard the song, my mind immediately went to early Police. Back when they were shit-kicking pseudo-anarchists. Not Sting’s easy-listening “phase,” which has lasted longer than three decades. I’m talking about “I Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely.” “I guess you’d call it suicide, but I’m too full to swallow my pride.” If that doesn’t sound like assigning someone to butter your muffin, I don’t know what does.

Not to mention, those bass and guitar riffs could give late-1970s Sting and Andy Summers a run for their money.

When I first played the song for Wife, she went a different route. Not The Police, but The Go-Go’s. At first I thought she was being a little sexist, until she narrowed down her comparison. “The bassline is from “Our Lips are Sealed.” And holy shit if she isn’t right. Go ahead, listen again. I’ll wait. Give that bad boy more YouTube views. Do you hear it now? It could be “We Got the Beat,” too. Maybe an amalgamation of both. Drums and beat from one, progression from the other? Certainly not a straight rip-off, but in the same vein. 

While the Go-Go’s seem like quaint bubble gum 1980’s pop to a modern listener, an all-female band was cutting edge at the time. Similarly, if your first thought when you hear Sting is the tantric singer of a homoerotic trio with Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams, it might be hard to conceive of him as front and center in the avant garde, but that’s where they were.

Unlike the Go-Go’s, Wet Leg has dudes in their band. Or maybe they just do backup when they’re playing live. Not sure. Another band I’ve recently found, Lake Street Dive, also seem to be fronted by two women (only one sings, the other plays a kick-ass stand-up bass) with dudes playing percussions and keyboards and whatnot. It’s a trend I’m enjoying.

Uh oh, should I talk about Lake Street Dive? Three new bands? Nah, they’ve already got at least one bona fide hit. They don’t need my help. (But, if you’re curious, here ya go.)

Regardless of which punk Wet Leg is reminiscent of, Wife and I both agreed that “Chaise Longue” belongs firmly in 1982. And that’s a great thing.

Can there perhaps be another Bertie Higgins on the horizon?

After all, over in Russia, they’re fusing together 1990s dance music with 1970s fashion and, uh… Spanglish?

Let me tell you about the band called Little Big.

First of all, these guys aren’t new. They’ve been around for close to a decade, and if YouTube and Wikipedia are to be believed, their videos have millions of views.  But at least on this side of the Atlantic, they’re still what we’d call “niche.”

They have so many entertaining videos that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s go with the big one, which by all rights could have and should have won Eurovision 2020.

A decade ago, I might need to delve into a doctoral thesis on Eurovision, but it feels like it’s mainstream enough that most Americans are at least aware of it. Nothing like a Will Farrell movie to get some increased exposure. 

For those unaware, each European country sends one new song to a continent-wide competition. In May, all those bands “perform” their songs, then the entire continent calls in votes a la American Idol (except you can’t vote for your own country). The country that wins Eurovision gets to host the competition the following year. Not very socialist, but whatever.

Have you ever noticed that the European sports leagues are cut-throat capitalistic while the American ones do shit like revenue sharing and salary caps? Kinda odd. Maybe that’s a post for another time.

Speaking of differences twixt two sides of the Atlantic, I don’t understand why we can’t do something similar to Eurovision here. Sure, West Virginia and Wyoming might have trouble putting together a bona fide song played by talented musicians, but if you’ve seen the average Moldova entry, I think Wyoming would be fine. 

(JK. I love the Moldova entries. Come for Epic Sax Guy, stay for a lady riding around stage on a unicycle in a dunce hat. I’ll take twenty Moldova entries over one overly warbled French ballad.)

In 2020, the preliminary rounds, where the individual countries vote for who will represent them, had already occurred before the world ended. So we can see all the videos and performances we might have expected if May, 2020 had existed in a standard timeline. In the running was a quirky Icelandic band who all wear aqua sweaters with 8-bit-animation versions of themselves. Evidently Geek Culture loves them. Britain was planning its usual phone-it-in performance of a boring pop song. It’s better than their nudge-nudge, wink-wink song featuring flight attendants asking if we wanted something to suck on for landing. The country that gave us the Beatles, Stones, and Zeppelin (to say nothing of Coldplay, Radiohead, and Mumford) only shows up to Eurovision for the participation trophy. 

Then there was Little Big’s “Uno.”

Sadly, when Eurovision came back around in 2021, the songs that were supposed to be in the 2020 competition were not allowed. The rules state that songs must be released in the calendar year of the competition and somehow, those assholes didn’t amend the rules for a global pandemic. The European Soccer Championship and the Olympics both saw fit to keep the 2020 designation while in 2021, but a competition that sometimes features stripper poles and glowing ass cheeks making smiley faces needs to maintain some standards, amiright?

So unfortunately, Little Big’s “Uno” never made it to the voting stage. I think it’s fair to say that, despite five million deaths, a year spent without seeing loved ones, a generation of children unable to engage in social interactions (or math), the untold suicides and mental breakdowns, not to mention the still-unknown long COVID effects, the generation of children unable to learn social interactions (or math), that THIS tragedy, the cancellation of Little Big’s performance upon the Eurovision stage, is the worst thing COVID took from us

Before I do the link for the video, I must warn you. They’re a Russian band that sings in English. Except for when they’re counting, which is n Spanish. Minus the number three.

Oh, and evidently in Russia it’s still 1978.

Don’t worry about Putin getting pee tapes of you for watching the video. It’s been viewed 216 million times. Only about a million came from me. And if Putin’s seen me pee that many times, he should be blind by now.

Ready? Here you go

Did I forget to mention you’ll never be able to unsee it? Oops. My bad. 

In case you’re wondering, the fat guy does those moves when they perform it live, too. Because if you’re like me, you thought, “Yeah, I could do that move. Once.”

Beyond that, I really don’t know what jumps out the most in that video. The first time I saw it (hell, the first ten times I saw it), I could only stare, agape. Somewhere around viewing number twenty, I began formulating questions. Is that a tattoo of a bear peeking through his very translucent shirt? And what’s the deal with the dude’s black lips? It’s like reverse blackface. Is that still offensive? And how the hell do they do that thing with their legs? All while keeping a straight face.

But similar to Wet Leg, once you get past the gimmicks of the video, the music’s pretty good. It helps to have a proclivity toward 1990s dance music in the vein of La Bouche and Real McCoy. There were a few musical movements in that decade that I feel didn’t overstay their welcome. Those brief flirtations with swing and ska and dance were fun. I might not want to listen to them all the time, but I’ll take that over fifty bands chasing the same sound all day, every day.

Shit, remember when Tony Bennett was “hip” for, like, a minute? Did that really happen?  Maybe I was just taking better drugs back then.

A good further introduction to what Little Big are all about is the song “Hypnodancer.” In the video, they rob various underground casinos by hypnotizing all the other players with his dance moves. Except they’re playing Uno instead of poker. And they’re smoking and/or snorting those mini pencils you normally find at bowling alleys or mini golf. At the end, they encounter another hypnodancer and have to decide if they will compete or combine forces (which includes lots of two dudes pelvic thrusting each other).

Not all their music is as catchy as “Uno,” and some of their videos miss the mark, but dammit if they aren’t trying.

I might or might not have introduced some of my classes to Little Big. Sure, when the lead singer sashays around in “Uno,” he’s holding the microphone at a very phallic angle, but it’s far more appropriate than some pseudo-sexual limey winking at us while asking if we’d like some salty nuts. Little Big has a song called “Sex Machine” that’s actually about as tame as “Love Machine,” which has been in the zeitgeist for close to fifty years.

I now have students coming in to tell me when a new Little Big video is being released. Of the recent additions, our favorite was “Mustache,” a beach mystery wherein all the women have mustaches, but two of them, jealous of another woman’s award-winning facial hair, shave it off and steal it. Then it’s up to the usual Bear Tattoo and Black Lips guy, clad in 1920s era lifeguard uniforms, to “solve the crime” by finding a bevvy of razors. 

Quality. And the music’s fun, too.

We all were a little disappointed by their latest entry, “Turn It Up.” It’s really just people jumping up and down a lot. Maybe the next one will be better, since Little Big seems fit to keep entertaining.

There are a few of their songs I won’t show my students. Even if it’s being performed sarcastically, songs about drinking and/or body parts are still a no-no. Tongue in cheek is fine. Stick that tongue anywhere else and I might get in trouble. But I’ll show “Uno” and “Hypnodancer” all day, every day.

That being said, their tribute to last year deserves a special mention. It’s called “Suck My Dick 2020.” At first I thought this was on par with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86.” You know, a remake of their previous song, named “Suck My Dick,” using their current sound. But as soon as you turn on the video, you see them all wearing Christmas sweaters (with testicles), opening “presents” from the year 2020, showing fires and riots and viruses. And the lyrics bring it home. 

We have many anthems in this world. National anthems, Rock anthems, Generational anthems. We ought to have an anthem for the shitshow of the last eighteen months.

If anyone has reason to take special umbrage with the previous year, it’s Little Big. And me, because it took me a whole extra year to find them. 

Suck my dick, 2020. 2020, suck my dick.

Bathtub Oasis

I broke down. Succumbed to a vice. Totally knew I shouldn’t have done it, but my baser instinct was called out and, dammit, I caved.

I took a shower.

If you don’t live on the West Coast of the United States, particularly California, that might not seem like such a terrible thing. But out here in the wild, wild west, a frontierland of scarce resources and harsh realities, we’re faced with the ever-present knowledge that the next drop of water might be our last. Hey Florida, the next time a hurricane hits, can you bottle some of that water and send it our way?

It sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not. Okay, maybe I’m joking a little bit. But if we have another winter like the last one, this shit’ll be as unfunny as a goiter.

Wait, are goiters funny? They seem like they should be funny.

We had a pretty bad drought a decade ago. Four or five winters in a row with less than average rainfall. No one particular winter was catastrophic, but the cumulation over time led tosome parched reservoirs. Somewhere around winter number four (or more accurately, summer number four), we entered the first round of water restrictions. They were as asinine then as they are now.

I’m not critiquing the idea of water restrictions, per se, even if the collective water wasted by the citizens seems paltry beside the farmers and construction and government entities. I swear, if I walk past one more broken sprinkler gushing water into the street while attempting to maintain lush green city parks, I will lose my shit. 

Fortunately, my lost shit will be washed away by a government-funded bidet.

The water restrictions are usually to the tune of “use 20% less water than last year.” Easy enough for people who were wasting water before. For those of us doing the voluntary restrictions in years one through three of the drought, not so much.

I remember a feature on the local news, showing how a Sacramento woman was making the cuts. She opened her dishwasher, filled with maybe five plates, a few cups, and a handful of utensils. “In the past, I would run this, but now I’m going to wait until tomorrow. See how easy that is?”

All I could think was who the fuck runs a dishwasher less than one-quarter full? Even when we’re flush with water, it’s a waste of electricity.

But instead of critiquing her wastefulness, we were applauding this woman for wasting less water than in the past. Meanwhile those of us who did what we were supposed to, waiting till the dishwasher was filled in the beforetimes, now must resort to “If it’s yellow, stay mellow.” Hey local news, wanna come film me on the shitter?

And don’t get me started on the Baby Boomer assholes across the street who still use the fucking hose to clean off their driveway once a week.

What made it more difficult for us during that last drought was that we had a baby between the base year and the twenty-percent-less year. A third member of the house means more bathing, more laundry, more dishes. Not to mention the occasional two-diaper-blow-out days, which require twelve extra showers and fifteen loads of laundry all in the same 24 hours. Plus maybe some napalm.

The city didn’t give a shit that we were now a larger household. Twenty percent is twenty percent. If Dishwasher Lady has to wait until her dishwasher is half full, then it isn’t too much to choose between the life of my newborn or the century-old oak tree in the yard.

I thought at the time (and still do) it would make more sense to focus on who was wasting water beforehand. Shouldn’t be too hard to get a spreadsheet that shows average water usage versus size of the household. Instead of twenty percent cuts across the board, you could make people above the mean cut thirty percent and those of us who weren’t wasteful in the first place only have to cut ten. 

I know, I know. Equal protection, blah, blah, blah. But what else are those Water Board employees supposed to do with their time when we aren’t bathing?

Back then, you see, we actually heeded the call and stopped using water. And the water board thanked us by raising our rates. They were having trouble filling their budget because we did what they told us to do. And dammit, exorbitant government salaries ain’t gonna pay themselves. 

That was 2015, though, not 2021. The last year has shown us that nobody will follow the government’s suggestions anymore. So hopefully my rates won’t go up again. Then when I run out of water, I’ll drink from the Baby Boomer driveway.

And this drought is a bad one. We’re only one year in. The winter we just had was the driest I’ve experienced in my thirty years in Sacramento. I had snow camping plans in Yosemite in January that was canceled due to COVID, because we all know that camping in late January is tantamount to the Sturgis festival. A week or two before it was canceled, I noticed we hadn’t had a storm yet. So it wasn’t going to be “snow camping,” just “really cold camping. Not nearly as fun. So yay for COVID cancellations, I guess?

We finally got a storm in mid-February. Note the singular. One storm. Granted, it lasted for the better part of two weeks, with maybe nine days out of fourteen giving us rain in the flatlands which translates to snow in the highlands. But even those “bad drought” years a decade ago gave us four or five of those stormy stretches per winter. 

We’re already seeing the repercussions of this dry winter. Normally our fire season doesn’t start till September. Yes, we have a fire season. Five straight years of everything from Daughter’s cheerleading practice to my school being canceled due to “smoke” means it’s a season. As predictable as flowers coming out in spring and (at least in theory) rain and snow in winter. But this year, the fires started in July. If you live in the continental United States, I’ve heard you’ve become aware of our smoke, as the wind decided to blow east for awhile. In the past six weeks, two of Daughter’s four cheerleading events have been canceled, plus her Girl Scout “bridging” ceremony. My high school has canceled a football game, too, and if COVID taught us nothing else, it’s that high schools really, really hate canceling sporting events. Cancel class? Sure, no problem. But what if one of our athletes makes it big? What’s our nerdy valedictorian going to miss out on with no classes, failing to save the planet or cure cancer? Big fucking deal. Our linebacker might mention us on ESPN!!!

Regardless, these cancellations usually don’t happen till October or November, when what remains of the foliage is nice and crunchy. These cancellations started in August. If there’s anything left in the state to burn, the next six weeks might be one hell of a hellscape.

Made even worse by my selfish decision to take a shower. 

For real, this drought is extreme. I won’t inundate you with all the easily googleable pictures of what our lakes are supposed to look like and what they actually look like. Suffice it to say that many of the hydroelectric turbines in our dams are no longer running. Ghost towns that were flooded when the lakes were made close to a hundred years ago are all of a sudden above ground and, let me tell you, those ghosts are PISSED!

Actually, it’s the government that’s pissed, because people are taking olde tyme tools and shit from these towns and we’re being told, “No, no, those are historical artifacts. Bad people. No taking them from their watery graves. They need to be studied by historians!”

To which we’re all like, “If this shit was so important, why didn’t y’all scuba to the bottom of the lake over the last eighty years to get them?” 

After all, some of these were gold rush towns. If I find any gold, historical preservation can kiss my ass.

So here we are, once again, with the water restrictions. We have to reduce our water usage by twenty percent. If they set the high water mark (pun intended) to what we used in 2019, I’d be fine with it. But they didn’t. They set it to last year.

Does anyone remember what last year looked like? Hindsight being 2020, and all that.

If you’ve forgotten it, put it all out of your mind like the trauma it was, I’ll remind you. We were in the middle of a pandemic. I know, it seems so long ago now that we all got vaccinated and no longer have to worry about… 

What’s that? Barely sixty percent? And the rest are taking horse tranquilizers instead? I assume they’re taking it suppository style? Horse sized?

Regardless, some of us are at least heading back to work. As a teacher, I spent August and September of 2020 averaging 2-3 showers a week. The only people who might be offended were contractually obligated to live with me. Now I’m in front of classrooms containing 40 teenagers at a time. No Zoom filters for blurring out my grungy hair.

Daughter’s going to school now, too. Wife, similarly, is attending more meetings in person. The social contract dictates showering, y’all.

I came up with a little bit of a workaround. On Wednesdays, we do college day at school. Years ago, I bought hats for a bunch of minor colleges like the Kansas City Kangaroos and the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks to wear on Wednesdays. Not because they’re good colleges or anything, but because I liked their logos. Back then, I wore a tie to school every day and wearing a hat with the tie once a week was my rebellion against a self-imposed dress code.

That’s all gone out the window in COVID teaching. If I have to wear a mask, I’m not wearing a tie. Seems overkill. But like a preacher’s daughter in college, now that the restrictions are lifted, I’ve become like every other history teacher in the world. Cargo shorts and flip flops for the win. I have yet to decide what, if anything, I’ll reverse when the masks come off. But now that Newsome survived his recall, I don’t see masks coming off for a few years.

But since we still allegedly have college day on Wednesday’s (not that it’s ever announced or adhered to by administration or other teachers anymore), Iwent back to wearing my college hats on Wednesdays. Which means I can usually escape without a shower on Wednesdays. Isn’t that why God invented hats in the first place? I can also try to go the weekend without showering. Saturday isn’t too bad but woe unto the poor soul I encounter on that Sunday evening trip to the grocery store.

Unfortunately that’s still four showers a week, double the amount I took last year. And that was before I broke down last Wednesday. It had been a long night and it turns out I use those showers for more than cleanliness. Sometime nothing opens those eyes quite like the stream and the steam. I also use that time to mini lesson plan, in the form of “what the fuck am I teaching today?” Oh right, government policy.

It’s an odd juxtaposition from last year, when that very grocery store trip was the most exciting outing of the week, necessitating not only a shower but maybe a shave and a tuxedo. Not a shave and a haircut, mind you, as the latter required human contact. Nowadays, I’m doing my weekly grocery shopping going on 72 hours of funk. Complete with sweaty ash from brief stints outside

I feel sorry for all the old folks also doing their weekly shopping on Sunday nights. Hopefully they can’t smell me over their arthritis cream. Otherwise they’re in for a rude awakening.

Meh. It’s their own damn fault. They were probably watering their driveways all day.

Long Live Henry Weinhard

Henry Weinhard is no more.

Pour one out.

So long, Henry, we hardly knew ya!

Except for me. I knew Henry very, very well.

For those who don’t know, Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve is a beer. If you aren’t familiar with their beer, you might recognize their sodas and root beers. It’s the good shit way down at the end of the soda aisle. None of that A&W bullshit. Six-packs only, bottles only.

Ironic, considering the beer was at the other end of the beer aisle. Hack, a six-pack of their root beer might cost the same as a twelve-pack of their beer.

Private Reserve got me through most of my twenties. While not my only go-to beer, it was part of the regular rotation. True, twentysomethings aren’t generally known to be concerned with the quality of beer. Bang for the buck was my maxim, so a steady supply of the Bud Lights and MGDs of the world were on order. And that was the good stuff. 

Never was a fan of Coors, which totally cuts against my west coast bias. Then again, I started drinking after they had nationwide distribution. Hard to believe it was a forbidden fruit, the In n’ Out of its day. If they remade Smokey and the Bandit today, he’d be smuggling double doubles.

Scratch that. The dumbass voters in my state passed a proposition to make bacon as difficult to come by in California as Coors was in 1970s Georgia. If that isn’t call for a reboot, I don’t know what is. They’re hungry in Fontana and there’s grease in Texarkana.

I also drank quality beer when I could get it on sale. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sam Adams Boston Lager. Microbrews, too. Nothing like a liter of Marzen from the local German-themed sausage restaurant, half-price on Thirsty Thursday or College Night or whatever the fuck night it was. 

Speaking of which, I recently looked up the Oktoberfest numbers in Munich, as it’s one of my dream destinations. In 2019, they had 6.3 million visitors and sold 7.3 million liters of beer. Am I the only one thinking there’s a lot of people not carrying their weight? That’s less than 1.2 per person. At a festival that pretty much exists only for drinking beer. 

Regardless, even if I drank my fair share of PBR, I knew what beer was supposed to taste like. 

Enter Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve. Flavor-wise, it was closer to Sierra Nevada, while price-wise, it was a Budweiser. Even in my twenties, I knew a perfect combination when I saw it.

You know those trendline graphs with individual plot points scattered around the average line? For instance, they’ll have percent of a state’s 2020 vote for Biden on the y-axis and COVID vaccination rate on the x-axis with an upward diagonal showing the average. We’d expect a state that voted 70-30 for Biden should have a 90% vaccination rate. But then there are the outliers, like New Hampshire, where Biden only took 52% of the vote but they’re, like, the most vaccinated state.

If you were to plot beers with price and quality on the axes, you’d see a similar trend. The higher the price, the better it tastes. Henry Weinhard’s would be the New Hampshire in that example. Priced down by PBR, quality up by Sam Adams.

Yes, I had these conversations while drunk in my twenties. I also once, while drunk in the red light district, opined that whatever the prostitutes were charging, it was above the quilibrium price for a Tuesday night in Sydney, because damn if there wasn’t a surplus of hookers on that strip of land. 

Some of y’all get drunk and get in fights. I sing karaoke and discuss social sciences. 

I don’t remember outgrowing Weinhard’s. There was never a time I proclaimed it no longer a go-to, but I certainly bought it less. Maybe I didn’t find myself strolling down that end of the aisle as often opting for craft six-packs instead of piss-water thirty-packs. But every once in a while, I’d see a Weinhard’s and have fond memories. If there was room in the fridge, maybe I’d buy a twelver as a palate cleanser. And every time I’d say, “Yeah, that’s still solid.” Then I’d forget about it for another eighteen months.

Not so with my other twenties go-to beer, Rolling Rock. I remember it being cheap and crisp. Then they were bought out by Anheuser-Busch, which promptly raised the price to be more in line with the craft brews. And I swear they changed the flavor, too. Maybe it’s psychosomatic and the $9.99 six-back doesn’t taste as good as it did at $5.99.

But man, over the past decade, every time I’ve tried a Rolling Rock, I’m flabbergasted I ever liked it. It barely even tastes like beer. It’s like bitter seltzer water. Whether that can be blamed on aging taste buds or Budweiser, I don’t know. Probably both. I also might have been duped by fun commercials, a distinctive bottle, and their fascination with the number 33.

Earlier this summer, while preparing libations for Camptathalon, I passed by the Henry’s and I equivocated. I didn’t want to be the asshole who brought lousy beer camping. One of the other guys busts out Miller High Life once every few years. It would be one thing if he sat in the proverbial corner and kept it to himself, but instead he always throws down with a “You know you want to see if it holds up.” To which I want to reply that Miller High Life never held any elevated position to which it might still “hold up” to. If he’d brought an MGD, maybe we could talk.

Incidentally, we all have fond memories of MGD. We have looked for it. It doesn’t exist anymore.

As for the High Life he brought camping. We all agreed it sucked and he had to finish the case by himself.

So I was gambling with the twelve-pack of Weinhard’s. If it was lousy, the most I’d be able to pawn off is one per person. 

The other campers’ reaction started the same as with Miller High Life: “Whoa, you brought Henry Weinhard’s?” But instead of segueing to “What the fuck were you thinking?”, the next line was along the lines of “Where the fuck did you find Weinhard’s?” As we talked about drinking it in our younger days, almost to a man, their reaction was the same as mine. The perfect intersection of price and quality. Everybody grabbed one. Willingly, unlike the High Life.

The verdict? It holds up. Bright, crisp, a little bit malty. Not “good” beer, but nothing you have to chase with an entire bottle of whiskey. Beforehand. If I had to choose between a Weinhard’s and a Sam Adams, I’d go Boston all the way. But up against every beer in its own price range, give me a Henry’s.

Although not anymore. Of course, right after I rediscover this gem of a cheap beer, they yank it from me. Did I mention it was bought out by Coors before being shut down? I can think of at least two other beers that Coors could stop producing instead of Weinhard’s. One is the champagne of beers and the other is the silver bullet. 

One Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve remained when I returned from Camptathalon. Now I’m faced with a dilemma. Like a Death Row inmate ordering his last meal, I know that the next time I drink a Weinhard’s will be the last time I drink a Weinhard’s. I ought to wait for a special occasion, a solemn occurrence.

But I shouldn’t wait too long.

After all, it’s a cheap beer. Those don’t tend to age well. 

Splash Mountain, Post-COVID but Pre-Remodel

During my long polemic last week about my latest trip to Disneyland, I briefly mentioned Splash Mountain. Despite rumors of it immediately shutting down for de-racisting, turns out it’s still open. And if it took close to a year for them to get rid of a couple of shrunken heads on the Jungle Cruise, I figure it’ll be a decade or two before they change Splash Mountain, since they’re redesigning the whole shebang

In fact, they just announced they’re closing Big Thunder for refurbishment, so Splash Mountain wasn’t even next in the queue. Let’s start a race: What comes first, the Harriet Tubman $20 bill or the Princess and the Frog Splash Mountain?

Calibrate your watches.

In the meantime, are there other ways to maybe de-racist it. And ideally keep “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

The problem with Splash Mountain, of course, is that it’s based off the racist 1946 movie Song of the South

Even when the ride was built back in the late 1980s, it felt an odd homage. We might not have been in the ultra-woke 2020s yet, but Song of the South was already the movie version of your racist uncle. I mean, one of it’s vignettes features tar babies, for Chrissakes! It wasn’t banned yet, but Disney was already downplaying its existence. There was talk they’d eventually pull it altogether, disavow it. The last thing one would expect them to do was build a brand new ride based on it.

The Little Mermaid came out the same year as Splash Mountain opened. I know the ride was likely planned long before the movie, but it seems a natural pairing, what with both entities containing water. Maybe Disney worried that movie would flop, seeing as it was the first of the new style musicals. But wouldn’t it be better to remind people of a minor failure of a film instead of a definitely racist one? People love Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride despite never seeing the movie it’s based on.

Still, Disney is profoundly slow to incorporate their movies into rides, as is evidenced by the fact that there are still no Frozen rides (in the U.S., at least), and that they think they’re being cutting edge by switching Splash Mountain to Princess and the Frog, a movie that came out in 2009. 

Sorry, *planning* to switch Splash Mountain. Because as of right now, it’s still Song of the South. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind it staying that way. If only they could separate it from its racist roots.

Nothing against Princess and the Frog, but it’s hardly the movie that rolls off your tongue when asked to list Disney animated films. Part of that, I’m sure, is the systemic racism that they’re trying to combat, but I think it’s a general ho-hum movie. More in line with, say Tarzan or Hunchback of Notre Dame, as opposed to Frozen or Beauty and the Beast. I mean, the princess is a frog for a large portion of the movie. So maybe the color of her skin isn’t what causes low sales of her dolls? And Disney doubled down in Soul by turning their second Black lead into a white ghost for most of the movie. Can’t just make a character Black for the whole movie, huh? 

What’ll come first, Harriet Tubman, Splash Mountain, or Elsa coming out of the closet?

But it’s okay, because at some point in the next decade or two, they’re going to take Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah off one of their rides!

Except I kinda like Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. I hope that doesn’t make me racist. 

And while I’m asking, what about Br’er Rabbit?

I’m not being facetious here. I’m trying to figure out if there’s some way Splash Mountain, instead of being redesigned, could be made less racist.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Song of the South before, but it would’ve been forty years ago when I was only a child. The basic premise, if I remember correctly, was that an old African American man, named Uncle Remus, sat on a porch and told kids old folk tales about Br’er Rabbit and others. Those stories were animated, starting with Uncle Remus doing a voice-over introduction before the characters took over the narrative. Splash Mountain is based on one of those individual vignettes, not the movie as a whole.

The problem most people have with the movie, aside from the tar babies, is the character of Uncle Remus, who is little more than a stereotype of an “old Black dude.” Also, since the movie takes place in the Reconstruction Era, that makes Remus a former slave, but he seems like he’s in a good mood. I don’t know if the movie ever makes specific reference to slavery. Maybe he refers back to his youth but doesn’t specify he was a slave at the time? Personally, if I were a former slave, I don’t know if I’d want to constantly bring it up. I know many Holocaust survivors didn’t bring it up voluntarily.

I don’t think the lack of slavery references is what rubbed people the wrong way. I think it was that Remus was seen as uneducated, perhaps stupid. Comical? I feel like he was reminiscent of Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Jr. as they aged. White society wanted to see its Black men acting a certain way, as a docile minstrel. 

These racist portrayals of African Americans were inexcusable then and even moreso now. In one of the World War II era comics I use in my U.S. history class, there’s a character that, I shit you not, I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a monkey or an African American. I think it’s a monkey, but it has pronounced white lips and talks similar to Uncle Remus. And he was supporting the “good guys” against the Nazis. It’s embarrassing. But at the same time, it’s a powerful demonstration of our nation’s sordid past.

But I’m not here to defend Uncle Remus as a museum to our past. That portrayal might very well belong in history’s trash bin. My real question is if he’s even necessary in the movie. 

Could they remake the movie, but leave out the narrator and make it “The Adventures of Br’er Rabbit”? I don’t think there’s anything inherently racist about the character. Is the fact that he uses wit to get out of jams a dog whistle for “shifty minorities”? If my understanding is correct, the stories of Br’er Rabbit weren’t made up by Disney, but were old folk tales told by southern Blacks, both before and after emancipation. I kinda feel like they could be presented in a more respectful manner here in the 21st century?

Okay, maybe not “respectful,” because somehow even He-Man causes social media vitriol. How about “contextually aware.”

This seems a much simpler task than shutting down Splash Mountain for a year or two to rebrand it. Bring back “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” but take away the stigma. Tell the story of a rabbit and a bear and their friends as they work their way through a world made difficult by systemic racism. Highlight them as symbols of African American resilience and perseverance when the deck is stacked against you. 

Seems like something we ought to be applauding and promoting, not ignoring because some racists appropriated it for themselves seventy years ago.

And maybe get rid of the tar babies this time around.

Disneyland 2021: The non-COVID Stuff

Welcome back to part three of my Disney recap. Last time I wrote about the changes most likely inspired by COVID. Today I’m focusing on the random Disney observations, regardless of origin.

New Lands and Rides

I was skeptical about Rise of the Resistance. I was skeptical about Star Wars Land as a whole. Sorry, we’re supposed to call it “Galaxy’s Edge.” Screw that, it’s Star Wars Land. 

To be fair, the land was a ho-hum. Both new ones were. Marvel Land (sorry, “Avengers Campus”) has more potential, as it’s not tied to any one movie or era. Star Wars Land is modeled after Episode VII (I think). The stores and stuff were cool. You can buy the blue milk from A New Hope and the green milk from The Last Jedi, although you can’t squeeze them out of an alien alpaca’s teat like Luke did. You gotta buy them from the Milk Bar, which totally sounds like the name of a topless club. Now served in jugs.

If you’re expecting Galaxy’s Edge to look like a space station, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t look like Tatooine, per se, but it’s that typical run-down, dirty, depressing kinda place. The dominant color is brown. They could’ve called this Casablanca Land and not changed a thing. Except making the Milk Bar into Rick’s. I know a lot of the spaceports in the movies had that look, and the theme tends to run along “broken down technology,” but c’mon. You could’ve gone with Endor. There’s the casino planet. It was over 90 degrees the day I was there, so I would’ve loved a Hoth theme.

The Rise of the Resistance, on the other hand, was fucking awesome. To call it a ride is demeaning. It’s a fully fleshed-out experience. You move from place to place, vehicle to vehicle, with the story emerging as you go. Only after ten minutes of “transports” and “detention cells,” you get the typical whirl-around ride.

It starts out like Star Tours. They put us all into a “transport ship” that magically lands in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Clearly Star Wars transport companies need to work on their routing options. Why is every damn commercial liner another Lusitania?

During this part of the ride, my skepticism only grew. Really? I had to wake up at 7:00 am to go on Star Tours 2.0? I can ride the original with only a five-minute wait. Even worse, this ride didn’t move much. It shimmied and grumbled, but we were standing the whole time, and you can only see the battle footage through a little window at the front, with fifty other passengers in the way. Boring.

Until the doors open. Holy crap! I didn’t even realize we had moved locations, but when the door opens, you’re on a fucking space ship. With rows of Storm Troopers and that giant window looking into space. This picture doesn’t do it justice because my camera was collecting blur from all the lights, but holy shit. Those Stormtroopers are human-sized, to give you an idea of the scope.

The Disney employees at this point are acting like First Order assholes, so they get to be rude. They still do the same rigmarole, how many are in your party, stand in this line, but they get to command it instead of request it. Instead of “follow me,” it’s “get out.” I’d wager that every employee wants to work this ride.

After being “forcefully” removed from the “captured” transport, we’re put into detention cells to be tortured until we reveal the location of the resistance base. Then someone with a lightsaber cuts a door in the side of the detention cell, at which we FINALLY get on the “ride.” It’s part Indiana Jones ride, part Star Tours now, where we and one other car are moving around on a magnetic track, swerving in and out of each other’s way. I took the ride twice and the path changed each time.

The set pieces our car went though were fucking awesome, with the same grandiosity of that spaceship hangar. You go through the feet of fucking AT-ATs! You also drive underneath cannons shooting lasers and the battle going on out the window correlates with their firing. The cohesion is absolutely phenomenal. At another point, an off-course space ship runs into ours, causing the hull to rupture and gusts of wind feeling like we’re being sucked out into space. I don’t know if the physics of it work, but allegedly lightsabers wouldn’t work either, so I guess I shouldn’t be relying on Star Wars for my hardcore sci-fi.

And remember that I’m a curmudgeon, y’all! Rise of the Resistance wasn’t a ride, it was an all-encompassing experience. It probably lasted a good fifteen to twenty minutes.

Webslingers, by comparison, is… also a new ride.

As I predicted when I heard about it, it’s basically the Ninjago ride at Legoland. Rise of the Resistance and a few other outliers aside, the trend in amusement park rides over the past few decades has been to make us shoot at things and give us a score at the end. If I wanted to play video games, I’d stay home.

Even worse, Webslingers is a workout! Instead of pulling a trigger, you have to shoot your arms out like Spiderman firing his webs. And there’s a lot of shit to shoot your webs at. Early on, they talked about how you could web an object, then whip your hand to pull the object across. I did that once or twice, but for the most part there are, like, fifty little spider bots on the screen at any time and you’re just flailing both arms out like you’re training on a boxing speed ball. If I wanted a workout… well, I didn’t want a fucking workout, okay?

Old Rides, New Experiences

We took Daughter to Disneyland once before when she was on the cusp of turning five. This time she was seven and, more importantly, over forty-eight inches, which is the last barrier to entry. 

Disney’s actually better than most amusement parks about rides for short stacks. The only two rides that were off limits last time were Incredi-coaster and Indiana Jones. 

If you haven’t been to Disneyland in the last three or four years, the Incredi-coaster used to be known as California Screamin’. It’s the giant wooden roller coaster in California Adventure with a Mickey Mouse face on it. But that wasn’t cross-promoting enough Disney properties (they don’t, technically, own California yet, although it’s only a matter of time), so they painted it red to coincide with the release of “Incredibles 2.”

Daughter loved it. She’s a daredevil. The faster the ride, the more curves and loop-de-loops, the happier she is. She also loves Big Thunder and Space Mountain, the latter of which was closed for remodeling last time we were there, so she finally got to experience her dad’s favorite ride. Not sure how they refurbish a ride that’s all in the dark, but whatever.

Indiana Jones, she wasn’t such a fan of. The motion, she was fine with. The visuals, on the other hand, forced her to put her head down in her lap, hands over ears, for the majority of the ride. I remembered and prepared her for the “arrows” flying past you at the, I remembered the famous bolder rolling toward you. Kinda forgot about all the skulls and demon tribes and whatnot. Oops. Bad dad. 

She’s less enamored with scary storylines. She wasn’t a fan of the revamped yeti on Matterhorn, nor most of Rise of the Resistance. Pirates of the Caribbean freaked her out a little this time. Even Haunted Mansion was one and done this time.

The last one surprised me. When she was four, Haunted Mansion was a hoot. Stretching photos, cartoonish ghosts, singing gravestones, what’s not to love? And you get to take home a hitchhiker! We rode it four times over two days last time.

This time, she was quiet when we left the ride. Same as at Pirates. It was only when we asked if she wanted to ride again later in the day, with less than a 15 minute wait, that she revealed her less-than-enamoration with the ride. 

“Do the ghosts scare you?” I asked.

“No, it’s not really the ghosts,” she answered. “It’s just that they want us to die.”

You see, when she was four years old, the “story” didn’t resonate with her. Now she has an imagination. And the ghosts were the same as Kylo Ren cutting into our escape pod. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy ride, meanwhile, she’s fine with. Because the monsters are fighting the Guardians, not going after us, I guess. And Rocket Raccoon is helping us escape. 

She wants to hurtle through a loop-de-loop at 60 mph., as long as nobody’s chasing after her. Thrills are fine, storylines and visuals are a no.

This might play into my long-term plans. I was never a big Disneyland guy. My favorite amusement park was Magic Mountain. All thrill rides, no plot. Might be right up her alley. I just need to wait until she hits 54 inches.

The App

Everything’s on the app now. Disneyland was trending that way before the closure and it’s only been exacerbated. Food, ride photos, virtual queues. There’s an app for that.

There’s also an app to play games in line. Not the same app, mind you. You’ve got to download two apps if you want to enjoy your experience. No surcharge to yell at your kids for being annoying in line.

In the line for Space Mountain, for example, it’s a bunch of “pass the phone” games, like Guess the Character or “hold the phone in between you” games, like Pong. But they’re made to seem like you’re in space cadet training, and after each game, you “upgrade” your ship. Then every 15 minutes or so, everybody in line who is playing races their upgraded ship against each other. Kinda fun.

There are “hidden” codes written on the walls throughout the line, also used to upgrade your ship. The problem was sometimes we walked past them while playing pong. The Indiana Jones line moved so fast, I only saw one set of runes and couldn’t stand there long enough to copy it down. But I guess they’re there for when the park returns to full capacity with no FastPass.

The problem is you have to give the app access to your location. Fine, whatever, I set the app to access my location only while the app is open.

Then I saw they have badges. Badges are my great weakness. Gamify my life and I am putty in your hands. Have I mentioned this multi-part, 10,000+ word blog series was written on 4thewords, where I defeated monsters by writing? Damn you, Disney, how can I get more badges?

You get badges by, of course, riding the rides. Not sure how it triggers. When we stood in line, got on the Matterhorn, were released to the edge of the mountain, then taken off, I didn’t get the badge. You also don’t get the badge if you close down the app. 

Unless… Go ahead, the app tells you, give me access to your location ALL THE TIME!!!

So my options are to leave the app open throughout every line and ride or have it access my GPS constantly. Both of which suck battery like you wouldn’t believe. And I need my battery if I want to make it to my virtual queue. Or, you know, eat some time over the next twelve hours.

Not a problem, my app tells me. When my phone dropped below 30%, the app popped up to inform me of, I shit you not, where I could go in the park to purchase a recharge.

At least you can use the Play App to get your fortune from Esmerelda. In fact, you must use the app to get your fortune from Esmerelda. She doesn’t take quarters anymore. Disney doesn’t waste time with chump change when they can get the essence of your existence.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. Use the app, give them access to your entire life, waste your battery and then give Disney more money to keep your phone working. Well ha ha, Disney, I brought my own portable battery! You don’t get my money. You only get all my micro-data. My credit card number, location, sperm sample. I wonder if Bill Gates gave Disney access to the 5G in my COVID vaccine.

Booze

Odds and Ends

The last thing they said when we got off the raft onto Tom Sayer Island was “Stay on the trail, no climbing.” Isn’t climbing the entire point of going to Tom Sawyer Island? Daughter loved it, by the way. Amazing, huh? No computerized graphics, no thrills, just scrambling through rock caves and across rope bridges. As if it was 1955. Unfortunately, she wanted us to follow all of her tunnels but, man, them weren’t made for 21st century adults. 

The line for Rise of the Resistance featured three types of people. Those wearing Star Wars merch, staring around in wide-eyed wonder. Others, like me, wearing regular gear and doing our best to enjoy the scenery, hoping for the best. Then there are the little girls dressed up like princesses, every one of which had a look of abject torture on their face. And no, I don’t think they were reenacting Princess Leia’s time upon the destroyer. Or Amidala’s exile. Or Rey’s time in the cave. Man, marginally royal ladies have it rough in the Star Wars universe. Maybe they ought to stop having democratically-elected monarchies.

If you’re interested in keeping your teeth, don’t order any ice cream from the carts. Holy crap, that shit’s kept close to absolute zero. Takes about ten minutes to thaw enough to chisel away with your canines. Unfortunately, by then the chocolate chip cookie “sandwich bread” is soggy. And it all tastes vaguely of dry ice. 

Most places I go, I’m the dorky one. Shocking, I know! So imagine how out of place I felt in California Adventure when I was, like, the only guy not wearing some sort of Marvel gear. I felt like I needed to walk up to strangers and share my thoughts comparing and contrasting the negatives of Spiderman’s “Clone Saga” versus “One More Day.” Can I gain back some credibility if I remember the original Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring 31st century Vance Astro instead of Rocket and Groot? Seriously, y’all, I know I’m repping a brewery on my t-shirt, but I have the entire Mr. Fixit run in Incredible Hulk, bags and backboards, back home.

Speaking of Marvel, they had some great cup holders in the shape of Iron Man’s forearm, complete with Infinity Stones in the knuckles. On the plus side, the holder literally goes up to your elbow, so it’s his whole forearm. On the negative side, the hand portion can’t be flexed or tightened. There was a plastic cup in the hand that worked like a koozie. Another major drawback was the price. Thirty bucks! That included a drink, but to quote Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, they don’t put bourbon in that or nothin’.

I spent most of the day seeing them on people’s arms, the angel on my shoulder saying it’s a lousy deal for some cheap plastic that probably won’t last the plane ride home. The devil on my shoulder opined it would be fun to take camping, before doing a spit-take. “Holy shit, thirty bucks? I’m with the angel on this one.” So I decided to skip it. Then, right before closing, I saw that the motherfucking Infinity Stones light up. So shut the fuck up, devil and angel, I’m pulling out my plastic and running back to the… closed down drink cart. Well, shit. Maybe eBay has some? Eighty bucks? All of a sudden, that thirty doesn’t sound so bad.

Story of my life. I shoulda bought Bitcoin at $5, too.

Finally, booze.

I think I mentioned this last time I went, but they serve alcohol in California Adventure, but not in (the public areas of) Disneyland. I feel like they might be missing out on a goldmine. The first time I saw booze at an amusement park was Universal Studios in Florida. They sold beer in the fucking lines. Brilliant! So I figured it was a state law thing, since the nanny state I live in loves nothing more than protecting us from ourselves. In my state’s defense, if that Iron Man cup holder had been $30 with soda or $40 with beer, I wouldn’t have spent the day equivocating. But I don’t think my wallet is the part of me that California is concerned I might damage. California does plenty of damage to my wallet.

And honestly, whether it’s Disneyland or the state of California that’s trying to limit the sale of alcohol to maintain a “family-friendly” environment, the prices they were charging should be enough. Anybody who’s likely to abuse their alcohol ain’t gonna do it at $15 a pop in addition to the $150 it took to get into the park. I didn’t see people sloshing all over the place at Universal in Florida. If you buy one in line, you’re still waiting an hour before your next one. If you wanna buy three watered-down light beers to the tune of $45, be my guest. But are you going to double-down for $90 in the next line? You know there are bars outside the park, right?

And the Disney quandary makes even less sense when you consider they serve booze in one park but not the other. It isn’t just beer and wine, either. They’ve got legit booze, leading to this exchange between my wife and I when ordering coffee from the app.

Her : “Do you want Bailey’s in your coffee?”

Me, blinking… processing… “What the fuck kind of question is that?”

Way better than the Starbucks I had in Disneyland. Is California Adventure less family friendly? I didn’t see a PG-13 rating as I entered the park. And I didn’t see any fewer kids. Nor did I see any lushes. So add booze to Disneyland. Preferably in an Iron Man holder.

Post-COVID Disney Trip: The Changes

As I wrote last time, our last Disneyland visit was scheduled for the week after the whole world shut down. We returned this summer.

After an adventurous first day around the hotel and Downtown Disney (complete with 3:00 AM projectile vomiting!), we finally made our way into Disneyland proper. On Day Two, we went to California Adventure, and then back to what Floridians call the “Magic Kingdom” on day three. What follows are some of my observations. Today will be mostly COVID-related, while later this week I’ll post general “old curmudgeon in the Land of Forced Happiness” thoughts.

Openings and Closings and Maskings, oh my!

We went to Disney the last day of June and first of July, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. It seems to be in constant flux as they expand capacity. Rides that were closed one day were open the next. There weren’t going to be fireworks, but whatta ya know, at 9:00 on June 30, ka-BOOM! Too bad we weren’t in good position to see them. The next night, we made sure we could see the fireworks and then, wouldn’t ya know it, no Ka-Boom 😦

So if you’re coming here for guidance on what is open and closed, or where to find the best deals on… ha ha, just kidding, there are no good deals at Disneyland. But if your search engine sent you here because I referenced Disneyland COVID restrictions (I assume I must be within the top three results when googling Disney), then I apologize. But welcome! 

If, on the other hand, you’re here for snarky explanations of what it was like a couple weeks ago, then welcome back.

Nobody’s saying what the current capacity is. Before June 15, they were limited to 25%. After, they said they were “lifting all restrictions.” But they’re still not at 100%. Nowhere close. They have to hire back all the staff they’ve fired, for one thing. July 1 seemed a little more crowded than June 30, which might be based on a monthly payroll issues. Even so, I’d guess they were between 50-60% capacity when we were there. 

Many rides were damn close to walk-right-on. Most were in the 15-25 minute range, and even the biggies rarely popped above 45. As a result, even the longer lines were almost constantly moving. Forty minutes might seem a long time to wait, but the Space Mountain line is made to house a two-hour wait, so you don’t have those moments where you wait five minutes only to take two steps. Daughter will be forever ruined for future Disneyland visits.

Except for the Monsters, Inc ride, which strangely, is one of the slowest moving lines in either park.

Let’s see, what else? Monorail was closed. Lotta germy, germy spreading there, what with the five people riding it at a time. Or all day long. 

All the shows were closed down. Even shows that nobody ever goes to like the Hall of Presidents. 

The fireworks and water shows and parades were all down to prevent crowds. Except for when they shot off the fireworks. But if they don’t tell us it’s going to happen, we won’t congregate. 

Unless it’s the Matterhorn.

Almost all the rides were open. The ones that were closed seemed not for COVID reasons, but for regular “updating.” Sure, the park’s been closed for fifteen months, why not spend the first month after reopening to close down a major attraction like the Matterhorn. Can’t imagine some other time they coulda done that.

The good news is that the Matterhorn did a soft reopen our last day there. In the morning, it was still listed as closed for refurbishment, but when we hit Alice in Wonderland, we noticed it was running. Checked the app and, wouldn’t you know it, a 40 minute wait. Obviously we weren’t the only people who discovered it opened.

We stood in one of the longer lines, got all the way to the front, got IN the damn ride, were already released from the boarding station and were stopped right before we went into the mountain. Ride broken. Sixteen months well spent. At least we weren’t in the middle of the ride. About five minutes after we were taken out, they were still announcing for people stuck on the ride to wait patiently and they’d get them out. 

They were nice enough to scan a FastPass onto our ticket (the technology is still there) that we could use to go to the front of one ride, including the Matterhorn if it ever reopened, but at the rate the last reopening took, that would be October of 2022. Unfortunately, none of the FastPass entrances were open, so we were told to hunt down a ride employee to get to the front. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to stand in line to find one. Still, better to be us than those poor schlubs who were next in line, who had waited just as long as us, but didn’t get a FastPass scan out of it. 

In the end, the Matterhorn was only closed for a couple hours, so we used our FastPass on it, because ten minutes after it reopened, the wait was back up to 40 minutes. The Yeti’s been updated. Way more realistic, looks like he’s grabbing for you. Pretty solid, but I don’t know if it represents sixteen months of progress.

The only other ride that was closed was Jungle Cruise, but that’s racism, which might take more than a week or two to fix. Splash Mountain, however, was still open and still featuring Song of the South. I mean, we can’t expect Disney to close ALL its racist rides at the same time, can we? They’ve got a Yeti to upgrade! Even after they eventually change Splash Mountain, the recordings on the train and steamboat still reference “Indian shamans” and “savage natives,” and the train was closed while Star Wars land was being built, so they could’ve updated that within the past five years, but chose to keep the recording.

Most of the eateries were open. They encourage mobile ordering, but it’s not a requirement as long as you’re willing to wait an hour for your food. Most places had 3 or 4 mobile pickup spots and only one line, so the line stretched somewhere into the neighboring land. 

They seem to be on limited menus, too. For instance, I remember Cafe New Orleans serving a Monte Cristo sandwich, but it wasn’t on their menu. The Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland once had an extensive menu, but this visit it was pretty much burger or fried chicken sandwich. 

The limited menu helps, as nothing needs to be made to order. When the app tells you your order’s ready, that doesn’t mean it’s waiting for you. When you get to the employee, they look up your order, then go collect the disparate parts from various bins with dozens of the similar product. So I’m not sure why I needed to pick a specific time and then wait to be told it was ready. 

They had mobile orders for the Dole Whips, for chrissake! They serve one damn thing there. After the App told me my food was ready, I still had to stand in a line full of people whose orders were also ready. When I got to the front of the line, they asked for my order number, then handed me one of the twenty or so Dole Whips that were ready to go. I don’t have a problem with the mobile ordering. It’s so much easier than exchanging money at the sale sight. What I have a problem with is the ten minutes I had to wait before the app told me my food was ready if it’s going to be assembly line anyway.

Their mobile order system comes from the same laboratory as their…

Virtual Queues

The two new rides in the two new lands (Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars Land and Web Slingers in Marvel Land) use virtual queues. As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like Disney should’ve used most of the pandemic to implement virtual queues throughout the park. People could use virtual queues to pick a time to go on the ride, then go eat some food or buy some merch, sit for a spell, meet the characters. You know, enjoy the experience instead of spending the whole damn day with somebody else’s elbow up your ass. 

Instead of using the pandemic to go universal FastPass, Disney opted to to remove FastPass, which allegedly is going to be replaced by a pay-to-play system with surge pricing. Because of course.

Instead, Disney uses the virtual queues to drum up demand sounded the same as the Nanjago ride at Legoland. But if we DON’T drag our asses out of bed at 7:00 am, we’ll never know. 

There are only two times during the day you can sign up, 7:00 and noon. Obviously, the park isn’t open for the first one, but we’d heard a rumor you’re supposed to be near the park to be allowed in. Can’t confirm that, but the two times we stepped outside our hotel room (across the street), we got in. The day we didn’t, we didn’t. It’s okay. We got in at noon that day.

In fact, noon now has a distinct feel inside the Disney parks. People who missed the first virtual queue won’t get in any real-life line after 11:30. They all hover about, staring at their phones, waiting for 11:59 to turn over. A woman near the bathroom said it felt like the longest minute in her life. Then, precisely at noon, you hear whoops and cheers from far and near, like being in a sports bar when the home team wins. Followed ten seconds later by the groans of the vanquished.

One of the days we got the 7:00 am queue, I tried to double dip at noon. The app told me it was only one ride per person per day.

Once your virtual place comes up, though, it’s not like you walk right onto the ride. Far from it. This ain’t FastPass. The virtual queue only gets you past the bouncer, after which you get to stand in the normal ride line. Huzzah! Doncha feel lucky, punk?

To be fair, the Rise of the Resistance line still moved pretty fast. We zoomed right past benches and fancy decorations that were built to be enjoyed. So I assume at some point they’ll do away with virtual queueing and go to the standard American “line.” Why the hell did we switch to British when we went all fancy and “virtual”?

The Webslinger line after the virtual queue was still brutal. Well over a half-hour. Reminded me of the Monsters, Inc ride.

Reviews of both rides forthcoming.

Character “Meet-ups”

You’ve likely heard that character interactions have changed post-COVID. You can’t run up and give them hugs. No sneezing on them. No groping the princesses, although technically that was frowned upon before the plague, too. 

The “no hugging” isn’t only a suggestion, it’s a physical impossibility. No fistbumps or patting them on the shoulder. You can’t even stand next to them, much less breathe your nasty vaccinated breath upon them. They’re hermetically sealed like bubble boys.

They’re always behind fencing with a Disney employee acting as bouncer. The more popular the character, the more children aren’t able to control themselves, the farther they are removed from the populace like 1970s Elvis. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were only available on the landing behind the Main Street train station, twenty feet in the air, waving from afar.

The other characters, the Chips and Dales and Plutos that nobody gives a shit about, are behind a smallish barrier. Ironically enough, the characters we got closest to, maybe only three feet away from, were Jasmine and Moana, two characters who don’t have the added barrier of a mascot uniform to protect them from our bad mojo. Then again, I’m guessing those clunky costumes have shitty air circulation, so they’re probably sitting in a cesspool under normal conditions. 

Since they can’t interact with the public, their job includes a lot of waving and posing. They do a marginal job of posing seven feet behind the barricade while you yell at your child, “Just look at the camera and pretend he’s right behind you. No, don’t look at the character! Look happy, dammit!”

But overall, the characters look bored. There’s only so many ways you can wave. If you can’t pat a kid on the head or point to their shirt or, gasp!, give them a hug, then what are you going to do? At one point, Jasmine and Genie looked at each other, shrugged, and then started dancing either the hand jive or the Macarena together.

I feel sorry for the Disney employees. I grew up in Orange County, where being hired by Disney was basically a five-and-a-half month prison sentence. You won’t see your friends, they’ll work you to the bone, then they’ll fire you right before you start getting six-month benefits like reduced-price tickets. Add in the fact that it’s often ninety degrees and those characters are freaking saints. So maybe a little boredom is good for them? Or maybe it makes a tediously long day longer. I hope it’s the former.

Opening Times

The last change I can presumably tie to the COVID opening was the actual opening. By which I mean when we first entered the park.

I feel like when I was growing up, Disneyland always had the same hours of operation. Whether it was a Tuesday in November or a Saturday in July, it was open till midnight. There were fireworks at 9:00 and the electrical parade at 11:00. Or maybe those two were reversed?

Nowadays you need an advanced degree in abacussing to figure out if there’s enough time to get on one more ride, much less when you’re allowed to come back tomorrow. 

The first two days we were there, the park opened at 9:00, the third day at 8:00. It’s okay if you can’t keep track, though, because on Disneyland time, 8:00 and 9:00 openings are the same thing. 

Let me explain. 

Both of the 9:00 am days, they let people into the park before 9:00. Not sure how early, but I’m guessing 8:00 because by the time we got there at 8:30, people were meandering down Main Street 

This isn’t uncommon. Disney’s always let people onto Main Street early. Better to get some early shopping done. Our first long line of the day was the “coffee shop.” I put that in quotes because, despite looking all olde tyme signs denoting “roastery,” it’s a fucking Starbucks. Good thing, too cause I wouldn’t trust some 1950s soda jerker to make my upside down triple latte.

In the past, though, you couldn’t go beyond Main Street before the official opening time, leading to body-crushing mobs against the rope barriers and doors into the various lands.  But this time, when we finally made it past the Coffee Ride to the end of Main Street, nothing prevented us from getting into the lands. I guess letting us stroll in promotes social distancing. Better than the mad Black-Friday-esque stampede that one normally experiences at Disneyland opening. Less chance of COVID and less chance of trampling.

Of course, once the masses are allowed into the various lands, what’s the first thing they’re going to do? Get in line for the rides, of course. So it stood as no surprise that there were already twenty minutes or so of people in line at Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland when Daughter decided to veer toward Fantasyland instead of our pre-draft strategy of Adventureland. In her defense, the Castle was closed off last time we were there.

When we finally joined the line at Alice in Wonderland, which seems to have an hour wait anytime of the day so might as well pull off the band-aid early, it was maybe 8:55 and the ride was already running. Did my eyes deceive me? Did they shit-can the “Magic Morning,” where people paid to get in an hour early, then do it on the down low and not charge extra money for it? That seems very un-Disneylike.

The next day, the same thing was happening at California Adventure, so we made a beeline for Radiator Springs, a ride that normally requires either a FastPass or really, really strong bladder. You can watch the entire “Cars” movie while in line. Maybe the sequel, too. 

They didn’t let people into the Radiator Springs line until 8:40, but we figured even if they didn’t start the ride until 9:00, that’s only a twenty minute wait. Barely enough time for the coming attractions. But they actually put us on the ride. I think we were off the ride before the park was even open. We pressed our luck, heading over to the Toy Story ride, which also usually has an hour-plus wait. Walked right on, then doubled back and did the same for Incredi-coaster.

It was 9:30 and we had already ridden three of the longest lines. At this point, we were on borrowed time. We could’ve gone back to the hotel and called it a day, and nobody would’ve faulted us. Or we could go ride Guardians of the Galaxy three times in a row. Not the most step-economical course through the park, but who the hell cares when the lines are all ten minutes long?

Me. That’s “who the hell cares.” Or would care when I was on my third straight day of 24,000 steps. But at the time…

Our third day, the park opened at 8:00. Fortunately, we were back at Disneyland where we’d already ridden most of the rides, because we didn’t want to get there at 7:00 am after closing the park two nights in a row. Good thing, because when we walked up at 7:50, nobody was allowed in the park. Not even onto Main Street. They were holding everyone at the ticket stands.

Starbucks would have to wait. 

So whether the park opens at 8:00 or 9:00, it seems to open at 8:00. Not sure how long that’ll continue, but use that as my one guide, your one reward for muddling through my 10,000 words of Disney drivel.

Don’t fuck with closing time, however. I tried to go back and buy that Iron Man drink holder at 9:02 pm and things were closed up tighter than a nun’s coochie.

I’ll be back on Friday with some non-COVID reflections on Disney 2021.