Monday, July 20, 2009

Old Man Sounds

Just found myself using the phrase "sheesh o'meesh". I'm pretty sure that's not actually a phrase, but it sounds like something you'd hear in a 'talkie' or perhaps a Bob Newhart comedy special (which are awesome if you check your irony at the door, by the way). I'm gonna go with it.

Pictured: Cary Grant in 'Arsenic And Old Lace'. Not exactly a talkie in the 'first movies with sound' sense, but I like Cary Grant, and he might've been persuaded back then to utter "Sheesh o'meesh!" if the script called for it.

Sheesh o'meesh!

Today I Wish I Was 46

Forty years ago, Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon. That would have been amazing to see firsthand. Here's a story about it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

If We Can Dream It, We Can Do It

Stay with me here. It's a bidet for babies. I call it a Bidet-by (biday-bee).*

Sure, right now it's in the planning stages, and since I don't have the start-up capital it's just a squirt gun filled with warm, soapy water, but think of it! The baby gets clean, and your chance for fecal contact is minimized!*2

What we do is, build a small walk-in shower-type dealie, put a slot at toddler eye level for the display of the kids' favorite toy, run a hose at medium pressure in through the floor of the device, and put foaming soap dispensers that shoot jets of cleaner at butt level.

Let me know, 'cause I've got investors who could be interested in this if I tell them about it if they return my calls.

* I understand that the spelling makes it seem like "Bidet By", but this is a whole different thing. I admit in retrospect that surprise ass washings might not be everyone's thing. The court has spoken, and I am listening. Strictly voluntary this time.........for the parents, at least.

*2 Of things that we all would like to minimize, fecal contact is pretty high up there. Am I right? On my list of things I'd rather not do, 'touch poop' is somewhere between 'run unnecessarily' and 'step on a cheese grater while running unnecessarily'. Probably closer to the latter than the former.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I/You Are Invited

So, two things.

One: I've got this stupid Black Eyed Peas "Boom Boom Pow" song stuck in my head.*

Two: Today has been a day of invitations. I was invited to head on over to a three day training session and then a job making more money per hour than I've ever made in my life (by 25%). It's no glamour position, but aside from superhero, what is? *2

Two-A: I've been invited to a music rock guitar funtime concert show featuring the new iteration of Alice In Chains. Now, I haven't heard the new singer, or any of their new material, but at one time I loved that band. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that they do Layne Staley justice.*3

In honor of my day of invitations, here's a song about invitations. Note that my daughter went batshit crazy at 2 minutes, 35 seconds.

* If I got it in your head by mentioning it, I'm not sorry. Why should I suffer alone?

*2 How come I wasn't created by Dan Jurgens? Why couldn't I get a job as a night watchman in a space museum filled with the gadgets of heroes from the distant past? Damn you, Booster Gold, you've got all the luck.

*3 Here's a bonus song! Gotta get that Black Eyed Peas song out somehow, right? Teenage me identified more with Layne Staley (minus the eventually fatal drug habit) than any of the other grunge-era exemplars.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Three Days In A Row Means This One Isn't Interesting

So, in an effort to continue the streak of daily posting here, I'll tell you what I did today.

Got up early and went to a job interview.

Aced the first part, tanked the second part to almost failing, came back strong on the third part, and split the difference in the 'tell me about a time when this happened, what did you do, and what was the result' section.

I should know tomorrow or the following day what will become of my aspirations.

Stay tuned, loyal readers!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Talkin' 'Bout The Good Ol' Days - M.U.S.C.L.E.

I've been getting these tiny figures for Neil lately called Gormiti. They're from Belgium or Zaire, or some other place. Of course, I get them because Neil likes them; my feelings have no place in the matter.*

But they'd set me half-remembering toys from when I was a kid. Being old, I couldn't quite get a handle on them. Google to the rescue! Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere. They were tiny and pink and seemed at the time to be wrestlers. Intergalactic alien, robot, superhero wrestlers.*2

Of course, nowadays, tiny figures have the luxury of being painted and existing to battle over the fate of Gorm. Gormiti belong to one of six tribes, each nature-themed.*3 There's epic destiny and ecological concern for today's five year old. Me, I just wanted to make weird guys beat each other up to prove their worth.*4 Take young me to the corner store, steer me past the Pocket Rockers*5 and over to the M.U.S.C.L.E. guys, buy me a Snickers bar I could stick in the freezer and throw in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book and I'm good.

With the recent resurgence of all things Eighties, from He-Man to The Smurfs, it's just a matter of time before M.U.S.C.L.E. returns. Maybe this time around they'll make the figures action-ready and forgo the 'hands on hips' pose of power that didn't allow for making the figure punch.*6

This has been "Talkin' 'Bout The Good Ol' Days", the preeminent thrice-apostrophized blog series on the interweb.

* That's the official line, but I'm enough of a geek that I look forward to new ones at least as much as he does.

*2 I don't know what 'Lurking' had to do with wrestling, but then again, there weren't 'Millions' of them either. Hundreds, maybe, but that would have made for an awkward acronym. H.U.S.C.L.E. connotes a different type of wrestling entirely.

*3 Yes, sectarian violence is everywhere. Even in Gorm. Give me the good old days when it was "G.I. Joe against Cobra, the enemy, fighting to save the day". You knew where you stood. You were "fighting for freedom over land and air". Never mind securing the oceans. The Joe team had Shipwreck, but he obviously wasn't a competent sailor. The first clue is that he was saddled with a codename denoting naval failure.

*4 I was a tiny roman emperor, but nobody won their freedom.

*5 I remember that the commercials for Pocket Rockers used CCR's "Down On The Corner", excising any reference to Willy and the Poorboys. Tragic in retrospect, but I was untroubled at the time, having no concept of John Fogerty's copyright battles with his record label. Now I know better and kind of hate Fisher Price a bit for forever linking the jingle with the song in my mind.

*6 Headbutts are a nice change of pace, but everybody knows that haymakers win intergalactic wrestling bouts.

Birthday and Daily Attempt

Two and a half months, you say? Bullshit. That can't be right. Anyway, here's some pictures of my babies and some cake. So begins the "Justin tries to update every day and probably stops after two consecutive days" TNOTBEM extravaganza*.

The badass sandcastle cake was baked by the lady of the house, but the pestle-ing of the graham crackers into a facsimile of sand par excellence was all me.

As my daughter Niamh turned a year old, I finally decided to help her with something. Prior to this, I had a strict hands-off policy in place. You'll notice that my "future glasses"*2 are hiding the shame in my eyes.

Niamh is about to go all 'Sean Penn'*3. Guess who's playing the part of the papparazzo?

Here's Neil. We go way back. Must be five years if it's a day...

Oh God, I'm so old.

Once I was a man (arguably). Now I am hammock.

* It's not going to be exciting, people. But then again, it hasn't been an exciting two and a half month silence, either.

*2 My future glasses are proof that not all drunken drug store purchases need be cause for regret. And they're red. Haven't worn red since the "Converse Debacle of 1996".

*3 No, she's not about to argue passionately for human rights. The other Sean Penn thing. With the punching and the yelling of obscenities. Tiny fists and "big girl" words are an adorably effective way to get knocked unconscious.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Why You Should Read Rival Angels

Shameless self-promotion time, loyal reader*. Monday morning on the Rival Angels web comic site, a little baby of mine will egg tooth the hell out of it's enclosure and breathe free among the internets for the first time.

What's Rival Angels? It's the web's number one wrestling comic. Created, written and drawn by my fellow Workshed Studio keyboard monkey, Alan Evans. I've helped out with storyboarding, editing, and some dialogue in the past (and will in the future), but this time the content is all-original, all-Justin. I promise, I will not let the awesome falter.

For those who follow Rival Angels, the long-awaited origin of Sun "Li'l Dragon" Wong will finally be told. For those who don't follow Rival Angels, give it a look anyway. What's the worst that could happen?

A postulation in steps:

1) You read Rival Angels at work.

2) Your boss finds you reading it.*2

3) He/she flips his/her lid and starts screaming "Porn Violation!"

4) You hurriedly try to explain that women wrestling doesn't always mean porn and lurch up from your desk only to knock over your coffee, scalding both of your groins in a feat of physic improbability.*3

5) While nursing your damp, toasted parts you are spied by a coworker who has long suspected panky of the hanky type between you and aforementioned boss and now has the proof, what with all the screaming and genital rubbing.

6) Your boss panics and wraps his/her lanyard around the throat of the ill-informed office gossip, ending their ill-informed life both easily and tragicomically.

7) You and your boss are now both on the hook for at least manslaughter.*4

8) While disposing of your 'prison ticket', you have ample time between grunts and daydreams of the Weekend At Bernie's variety to explain to your boss just what Rival Angels is all about.*5

9) Your boss is intrigued and reads Sun Wong's origin for him/herself.

10) A brief conversation ensues in which you tell your boss how to subscribe to the Rival Angels web comic.

11) A longer conversation ensues in which you explain to your boss just how to set up a Google or Yahoo homepage in order to receive no fewer than thrice-weekly updates from Rival via a blog aggregator.

12) Days pass, then weeks; you both realize that the office is a better place for the loss of that silly gossip your boss strangled.*6

13) Still enjoying Rival Angels, you come to form a close bond with your co-conspirator. You've gained a friend.

14) Years later, a man comes to you demanding hush money. He threatens to expose your murderous ways. Your boss rightfully lets you deal with it. After all, he/she has already killed someone for your benefit.

15) Upon delivery of the hush money, you take some initiative for once and follow him back to his den of thievery and find a flourishing white slavery operation.

16) Remembering some of the awesome wrestling maneuvers from Rival Angels, you clean house, setting free the grateful slaves and feeling real good about yourself in the bargain.

17) The police refuse to listen to the blackmailer; because really, who's going to take the word of a blackmailing white slaver as gospel?

18) In fact, the gossip who your boss 'instantaneously laid off' was wrapped up in the white slavery operation too.*7

19) You write me an email outlining the events of your life since reading Rival Angels and I fictionalize them in a blog post to solicit others to read Rival Angels.

20) Some other person begins back at step 1.*8

If that's the worst that happens as a result of reading Rival Angels (particularly starting Monday, April 27th), you've got no reason not to.

* Shame filled self-promotion is just too hard to fake.

*2 Say it with me; "Alt-T to switch between tabs".

*3 Why were your groins so close?

*4 Manslaughter could be parsed to read "man's laughter", but there's nothing funny about the word without that apostrophe and that space. English, huh?

*5 Rookie wrestlers living together; laughing, loving, learning, piledriving.

*6 The replacement is nowhere near as gossipy, buys you a drink occasionally, and does not smell of citronella. Maybe they're hot, but let's not get greedy.

*7 That was fortunate.

*8 Spoooooky.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Callisto - Torsten Krol

If Torsten Krol's debut novel went no further than the setup, a floundering young high school dropout getting in over his head in the go-nowhere titular town, it would be a great read. Krol has a fantastic gift for fleshed-out character creation and a command of quirk to rival that found in the best movies of the Coen brothers. However, like the Coens, Krol's story wades into the shallow end of strange and then something takes hold of its feet and drags it down into epic depths of weird and wonderful.

Odell Deefus is a loser by most objective standards. He's a drifter with no prospects who hits upon the terrible idea of joining the U.S. Army circa 2007 to fight "the mad dog Islamites" and gain recognition as a person who matters. His plan takes him in the direction of an Army recruitment center in Callisto, Kansas. Deefus's car, however, falls short of the goal by dying at a farm on the outskirts of town. You could call it fate, but only if you believe in a terrible God who enjoys laughing at the tribulations of the less fortunate.

This unscheduled detour assures that all of his plans, ill-thought as they were, have now gone off the rails, depositing Odell in a perfect storm of cross purposes and competing agendas. How does one man escape the entaglements of murder, lawn mowing, drug dealing, terrorism, local news, televangelism, small-town grudges, national politics and military "justice" armed only with a love of rum and Condoleeza Rice? Can not quite sharp enough instincts and a cracked spine copy of The Yearling guide Odell out of the troubles he's both fallen into and created for himself?

Callisto is a book equal parts George Singleton and George Saunders; exploring small town eccentricity and nation-sized paranoia; both a story of personal inventory and a chronicle of national dread. Far from another safe, 'there he goes again', funny, sad sack story, it's also a hilariously brutal indictment of a society too ready for story and not able to question what they're given. Odell Deefus is the post-9/11 Middle American Everyman, not stupid but unthinking; affable but less wise than the times demand. His journey may be highly improbable, but his part in the story rings true, God help us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Captain Freedom - G. Xavier Robillard

You've got super strength, superhuman reflexes, blistering flight, weather forecasting ability par excellence and a devastating eye towards fashion. You are globally known and celebrated, have a smoking-hot villainess girlfriend and have a secret headquarters requiring Segway use to traverse comfortably. Never mind that you can't connect meaningfully with an archenemy or kick this pesky cocaine habit; you're still on top.

Until you're not.

You've hit the bottom of the barrel, picked up the barrel, and chucked it into the engine of your corporate jet. It's tailspin time, and not even your talk radio-powered sidekick can help you now. What's a super powered narcissist to do? How can you see your name in lights again? Where's the exit to easy street?

Captain Freedom, he of the repressed childhood and urge for a good Q rating, begins this first-time novel from G. Xavier Robillard at a crossroads. What better way to find where you're going than by examining where you've been? In this clever satire, our (quasi-)hero is heavily invested in a life coach's instruction to explore his origin story. We're brought along on the ride through spot-on characterizations of callous celebrity mentality and image-conscious heroics to quest for the acclaim that's eluded the Captain.

For fans who can appreciate the absurdity of superhero comics and the dangers of living a life unexamined, Captain Freedom is a worthy addition to the growing canon of meta-comic novels. With a background in writing for McSweeney's and Comedy Central, Robillard comes well-equiped to dish out the snark, sarcasm and ridiculousness that his protagonist traffics in to great effect. While exploring the behind-the-scenes of superheroics isn't a new concept, Robillard's marriage of that start point and the behemoth industry of celebrity is a fresh twist of the knife that rewards us all for the inanity we've unwittingly absorbed through cultural osmosis.

Captain Freedom is a hilarious critique of what our heroes are, what they need to be, and what they are driven to do to stay on top. Remember; it's not how many people you saved from the volcano, it's how long you can wait until the news crews get there before going into action.

Friday, January 30, 2009


When listening to rap music (as I have been wont* to do as of late), you've got to come ready to hear boasts and brags about all manner of things. Clothes, jewelry, cars, jail time, body counts, bedroom conquests, mad skills that are capable of paying bills, etc. Sometimes this is good:

"Yo, I speak at schools a lot cause they say I'm intelligent
No, it's cause I'm dope, if I was wack I'd be irrelevant"*2

Sometimes it's good and terrible:

"Don't try to treat me like I ain't famous
My apologies, are you into astrology
Cause um, I'm tryin' to make it to Uranus"*3

More often than good or terrible, these boasts are tired. There's only so much you can say about how good you are, how good you have it, how good you can sex it up right. Particularly out of style and downright inappropriate are the money boasts. In today's economy, people aren't trying to hear how much money someone else has*4. In the months to come, the true revolutionary MCs will play up their shrewdness and frugality*5. I'd like to offer a helping hand in the form of recession-proof rap boasts*6:

Ain't got no love for Seamus,
This life I live is nuts,
Turns out that I'm so famous,
Get discounts on my haircuts

I appeal to your honey,
And you know I'm gonna,
She'll travel in style,
I'll call a cab if I wanna

Go 'head and call your boys,
You makin' all that noise,
I got the Pennysaver,
Found a discount on Ben 10 toys

Zirconia on my hand,
Sterling silver 'round my neck
Switch to the store brand,
Savin' up my rebate check

Cash put you up on that mountain,
But just now I ain't got any,
Yesterday, dove in a fountain,
Found three quarters and a penny

Girl, I'll treat you right,
Hop into my Saab,
Eat McDonald's tonight,
Then go look for a job (sing-song: In the mornin')

While you catalog shop,
Spendin' all that cash,
I'm at the co-op,
In the used menswear stash

Got a money market account,
I play it conservative,
The return isn't great,
But the stability's superlative*7

Note: If you're someone who came back to this blog after reading my previous post and expected a similar level of discourse, I have failed you.

* Wont is a word I have never heard in a rap song.

*2 Talib Kweli "Beautiful Struggle"

*3 Kanye West (guesting with Jadakiss) "Gettin' It In"

*4 See my previous post, and the lives of everyone you know who wasn't in Forbes magazine this year.

*5 The term 'shrugality' is ready for the streets.

*6 NOT recession-proof rap BOATS; buying a boat right now is ridiculous unless you plan to live on it.

*7 Yes, this is what I did just now instead of looking for a job. Why do you ask?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Few, The Proud, The Unemployed

Well, the other shoe dropped last night. As of March 31st, 2009, the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops will be closing. Among a crowd of almost all of their employees the announcement was made that the current climate is finally too much for Milwaukee's oldest and easily best-loved family-owned bookstore chain.

The Iron Horse of Independent Book Selling

I could say that I'm still processing the information, but that's not true. One thing I pride myself on is my ability to ingest and compartmentalize bad news like nobody's business. I've had enough practice in my twenty-seven years that this is old hat. In fact, this isn't even the first time I've been in a closing bookstore. Before coming aboard at Schwartz, I closed out a Barnes & Noble store, but I must say that this is different. While there were some coworkers at B&N who I enjoyed spending time with, my crew at the Downer Avenue Schwartz has been, to a person, the finest staff ever assembled for the purpose of book selling.

I have shared passion and excitement with each of them, but also worry and doubt. This group is not a collection of retail workers who happened to land a job in a book shop. We are intelligent readers (and in most cases writers) who honestly sought out the independence and alternative nature that this company has been known for since its inception. Some of us even started a book blog in an effort to increase that sense of community beyond the walls of our store. If you've never been, please go be. The Inside Flap.

What does it mean when the closing of a family-owned company, eighty plus years old, is met with acceptance? With words like 'inevitable', 'foreseen', and 'expected'? To my mind, it's just a fulfillment of the harsh reality that convenience trumps principle most often in this world. When you can cruise for your books, and you have no stake in community, why wouldn't you?

Here's my last-ditch effort on behalf of the myth of independent bricks and mortar. Given the choice, do you want to be an individual? Do you want to feel a sense of exploration and validation where you find your entertainment? Do you want to be able to carry on a five minute conversation that doesn't include stating your 'customer loyalty' number? Don't you want to use those minutes of your day hearing why a book is good rather than shuffling up to a register with one of the same twenty books that people all over the country are shuffling up to registers with? Do you realize that your independent booksellers are in most cases geniuses? These are people with deep convictions borne of extreme familiarity and a broad range of knowledge. These are people who care that their fellow thinking human beings have new synapses fire off in recognition of previously unheard ideas. These are people who can't wait to tell you about some guy who lives in Brazil writing words that speak to universal questions of the self. People who can recommend to you a poet beyond the canon of high school and college who deserves recognition that will never come in a large enough scale. They are not algorithms on a web page parroting best-seller lists. They are not wage slaves pushing the company's pet moneymakers or loss leaders.

But then again, the prices on Amazon are so cheap. Why, you can save six whole dollars on that twenty dollar book. All it costs in return is the erosion of individuality and the closing of four bookstores (today; more to come) filled with a resource that you don't miss until it's gone.

So, there's no way you can stop this. There's no wand to wave and keep my bookshop open. What there is, however, is the choice (losing substance daily) to support the worthwhile endeavor of community and dialogue. I'd ask that every time you see a book for sale online, you question why the reviewer doesn't have a link to BookSense (a collection of independent booksellers in America). When an author says "You can get my book on Amazon.", ask them where else you can get it. Ask them if they plan on going on a book tour sponsored by Amazon. Ask them what other books their latest is bundled with on a website that tracks sales but not content or style.

What will I do now? Well, I hear piracy in back en vogue, and I have always wanted to replace my left hand with a hook. If retail can be escaped after an adult life work history of eight years of uninterrupted book selling, then I'll claw my way to something else (hook hand or not). I know I won't be going back to The Evil Empire (that's the retail outlet based out of NY that's corporate with a capital B&N). I've been spoiled by the ease and humanity of Schwartz, and can't go back to being a cog. I can write, but writing doesn't pay bills at this point. For me, I see a stopgap sweeping floors in a warehouse. Don't feel bad. It's honest work, and I'm not a careerist who needs to be defined by his work. There is an attractive aspect to leaving work on the job and keeping my passions at home, pure and joyous. This is the economy we've been left by our benevolent dictator, and I can survive it. That said, if any publishing types are reading this and want to pay me a ridiculous amount of money to pontificate, I still have seven minutes left on my prepaid cell phone. Hit me up.

I must thank Carol Grossmeyer, owner and driving spirit of the shops for her tireless dedication to the ideal and the process of book selling. My hat is off to her for continuing the stewardship of a dream embodied by her late husband David and his father before him. Eighty years of struggle ensures that this company sets the standard for all others looking to swim against the tide. If you are looking for an example to follow, look no further.

Let's end for now with a list of the finest booksellers I know. All of the names on this list are diamonds waiting to be set in your rings, CEOs.

Doug James
Joe Lisberg
Conrad Silverberg
Stacie Williams
Carl Hoffman
Jay Johnson
Sarah Marine
Jordan Gower
Bayard Godsave
Myra Poe
Drew Blanchard

I remain Justin Riley, book lover.

The Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue, when it was still a game and money hadn't made it a business. Or the 1927 New York Yankees (aka Murderer's Row). It's one of those two.

(Edited to add:)

Bookselling was and is for me a cultural and political expression, an expression of progressive change, of challenge to oppressive authority, of a search for a community of values which can act as an underpinning of a better world. The true profit in bookselling is the social profit; the bottom line, the measure of the impact of the bookshop on the community.

-A. David Schwartz (July 15, 1938 - June 7, 2004)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Wisdom Of Crowds......Of Two

My almost six months old daughter has figured out that magic word: 'Mama'. She now uses it (almost exclusively in my presence) whenever she wants comfort or to register a complaint. She drags the second syllable out just long enough to sound urgent, but not so long as to annoy.

To mark this august occasion, I thought I'd present some of the wisdom and linguistic tactics she will be learning from her almost five years old brother in the years to come.

The Dairy Children
"I want milk!"
"I want cheese."

1) The 'Hallelujah Chorus' from Handel's 'Messiah' should be sung as "Halle-yua! Halle-yua, Halle-yua!"

2) Sesame Street takes place in 'Yew Nork'.

3) Asking 'Are you proud of me?' after farting is hilarious, and doesn't ever get old.

4) Whenever you don't get what you want, crib your arguments from teen television shows.

Neil: "Did you bring me anything, Dad?"
Me: "Nope. Not today. Sorry, buddy."
Neil (immediately): "You're not the only person in the world! I'm here, too!"
Me: "I don't know what that means."

5) If Dad ever expresses annoyance in regards to a song, it is a weakness to be exploited. Strike hard and often, barraging him with the tune at every opportunity. To get you started, try the "I like to move it, move it" song they used in 'Madagascar' and most of the songs featured in the Shrek movies.

6) 'Please' and 'Thank You' are often necessary in getting what you want, but don't 'give away the store'. Every time Dad has to remind you to say them, he will feel a little more like an authoritarian codger.