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logarithmic monsters

EV and I are headed to the Jersey Shore today for a stay of between 16 and 36 hours.

That’s more intimidating to me than a descent into the mouth of hell in the style of Dante’s Inferno. It’s an inferno plus a trip to a zoo plus sand. I have already packed five bags and I am still certain that I’ve forgotten something. If you were to pass our car en route to our destination you would assume we were on the final leg of a cross-country trek rather than a 90-minute drive to interact with throngs of primarily South Philadelphians enjoying an early start to a long weekend.

It’s been thoroughly well-established at this point in CK’s nearly two decades of history that I do not travel well.

More accurately, I am totally cool with traveling but I need several days to exhaustively pack at least half of my worldly belongings for the trip such that my internal OCD Godzilla is satisfied I am prepared for every possible contingency, and since I usually don’t have the time or ability to do that I make up for it by not traveling especially well.

I’d call it “traveling exceedingly grumpy.”

I don’t exactly mean a trip to Europe here. We’re talking about any excursion longer than an hour car ride or 12 hours in length. Having a laptop and a carry-on travel guitar has slightly eased my anxieties, but there’s still the clothes. I mean, the shoes alone are at least a suitcase’s worth for a two-day trip. More if there will be formal dining.

Thus, as you would expect, traveling with a toddler opens up whole new realms of my innards for OCD Godzilla to stomp and thrash through, giving me untold additional amounts of agita about leaving the house. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled about traveling with a baby, the possibilities were finite. N hours away from home was X number of cloth diapers + Y amount of outfits + Z cubes of frozen pureed food. All of the options of Xs and Ys and Zs were interchangeable. It was a fixed, linearly progressing equation.

Not so with a toddler. It’s fucking logarithmic and that’s not just my OCD Godzilla on a rampage talking – it’s reality.

A perfect example of this going well was a recent 6-hour trip with EV to a farm to pick berries. I figured EV needed an outfit to travel in, something lighter if it got much hotter, her swimsuit, a second set of clothes to change into post-farm if she got very dirty or interacted with animals, PJs for if we stayed out late enough that she would fall asleep on the way home, and an emergency change of clothes. That doesn’t even account for food, a book to read in the car, hair ties, et cetera, but let’s stay focused on clothes for the purposes of this example.

Somehow, we used every outfit by the time we got home. I actually had to dip into the emergency stash! It’s not as if I kept changing her clothes for fun or just to burn through them, as I do personally just to keep things theatrical. These were outfit changes necessary for the health, comfort and safety of a toddler.

What if she got irrecoverably dirty a second time?! (As for the first: don’t ask). Then she’d be walking around just in the spare set of underwear I keep in the car just in case.

And, though the farm was dusty, there wasn’t any sand there.

So, if you happen to be driving through New Jersey today and you see a steel blue Toyota packed to the gills with a toddler in the backseat who demands that Aimee Mann be played at all times while driving on a highway, please wish those travelers godspeed and hope that the purple-haired guy behind the wheel has a internal King Ghidorah who can temporarily block and tackle his OCD Godzilla long enough for him to get all of the sand out of his shoes.

Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Vaughan & Chiang

E and I had our first DVD player when we lived in Pine Street, just after I graduated college. I suppose it was in a laptop of hers, because we didn’t have a television and I remember watching movies in bed.

I was excited to reclaim some of the films of my youth long since lost on the beta tapes they were captured on, so between that year and the next I filled them all in. Dark Crystal, The Lost Boys, Labyrinth, and more.

The thing about these nostalgia viewings is that you can re-watch the thing you once loved, but it might not produce the same magic. I was so excited to show E The Lost Boys, labelling it as a sort of proto-Buffy as we settled into bed to watch it, but it was laugh-out-loud lame. Yet, there are still new layers to unravel in Labyrinth.

The 80s produced so much of those wonderful coming of age stories, and I don’t think I’m saying that because I was young at the time. Actually, I was ignorant of most of the stuff like Stand By Me and The Goonies, because at the ripe old age of seven I already felt I was too old for their messages. The Lost Boys, at least, had vampires. Yet, looking back there are so many seminal movies in that Amblin Entertainment model set by E.T. and Goonies that are still referenced today, right down to their feel being aped by films like Super 8.

Paper-Girls-vol-01I’ve never seen Stand By Me or The Goonies. I know, I know – it’s sacrilege. Just now I looked them up on Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t mistaking them for something else.

It’s odd for me to watch this new generation of media being produced by the folks who came of age with the first set – usually a few years older than me, probably old enough to have seen these films in theatres on their own.

The 80s vibe is unmistakeable, but I don’t know all their influences by heart the way I do things that reference David Bowie or Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Paper Girls, Vol. 2 2.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects issues #1-5 written by Brian K. Vaughan with line art by Cliff Chiang, color art by Matt Wilson, and letters by Jared K. Fletcher.

Tweet-sized Review: Vaughan and Chiang’s Paper Girls tries for all-girls Goonies but maybe foregrounds too many monsters too soon

CK Says: Skip it (for now)

Paper Girls is the newest Brian K. Vaughan jam to hit its first collection, but I think you’d be better off waiting for a second trade paperback before you start reading.

Vaughan is the master creator of critical hits like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Marvel’s Runaways, The Private Eye, and the still-running deeply personal space fantasy Saga, which is currently the biggest independent comic after The Walking Dead. Vaughan is joined on this creator-owned Image Comics series by artist Cliff Chiang, directly from his run on DC’s Wonder Woman, and uber-colorist Matt Wilson, from everything.

Paper Girls promised a return to normalcy after the devious Saga, focusing on a group of girls on their 1988 paper route. Of course, Vaughan would never go full-normal on us – these girls would surely tangle with something fantastical. (Continued)

Crushing On: “Ain’t I” – Lizzo

In a major shock, Sleater-Kinney reassembled in 2014 and released a new album in January 2015.

This is not a post about Sleater-Kinney. It could not exist without them, though.

Being a massive, massive Sleater-Kinney fan and working with another one, I decided we absolutely must see their show despite it being sold out. I procured a pair of tickets, and David and I found our way to my favorite spot in just about any venue – the back left corner of the soundboard.

(Totally by coincidence, both my friend Jenn from high school and CK hall-of-famer Aim were standing within ten feet of us. People with good taste in music always stand behind the soundboard.)

I had never heard of the opening act, Lizzo, and hadn’t bothered to look into her much further past divining she was some form of rap artist. I thought: Good for SK for bringing something different on tour with them, I thought.

My body was not ready. Nothing about me was ready. Lizzo’s set was one of those soul-devouring sets you get lucky to see from time to time, where you don’t know one note of a performer’s music and it doesn’t matter a damn bit because they come out on stage and swallow the audience whole.

I have never danced so hard at a concert. I have never heard anyone so effortless swing from an emcee flow and dance moves to ridiculously amazing vocals. Like, diva-level vocals. I could not believe they were even happening, on top of recorded tracks, a DJ slash emcee, and an incredible live drummer.

As soon as Lizzo left the stage and the lights came up, I SPRINTED into the lobby to buy a copy of her CD. It was in rotation in the car for a little while and it featured a ton of the songs from her set, but they mostly just didn’t PUNCH like she did live. They had the same beats and samples, but not the same raucous energy. They had the same explosive vocals, but without the visual of Lizzo cutting back and forth from rapping to belting.

I’d straight-up pay $100 just to see another Lizzo set, so when she released another album – for free! – in December 2015 I was all over it. “Ain’t I” is the first track from Big Grrrl Small World.

This feels a lot more like her set to me than the material on her first LP. It’s a little less festooned with stuff – the entire first verse is only drums and a fuzzy two note bass, but it’s still head-noddingly catchy. If this comes on while I’m driving I reflexively reach over to crank the volume. (Continued)

Who you gonna call? Not the plumber.

2016-03-27 11.19.42

EV being an oddball while not dancing on any graves on a walk through the cemetery three months ago.

What I didn’t mention when I described my uneventful call to the plumber on Friday is that it occurred in the midst of a walk with EV through our local cemetery, and that during the call I saw what E has now convinced me was a ghost.

Possibly two ghosts.

I didn’t think they were a ghosts at the time. As I was talking to our plumber, the first appeared sort of out of nowhere and began walking very briskly toward me. He was older, but not as old as my parents, and in a neon colored t-shirt shirt that seemed to indicate that in some capacity he was trying not to be hit by a car.

“Shit,” I thought as I tried to keep up the conversation about faucets with our plumber while the man closed the distance between us with purpose, “he must be a groundskeeper or someone else who is going to chastise me for letting my toddler run around while I make calls in this sacred space.”

(To be fair, I am usually fairly reverent when walking around the cemetery. I’m really not the kind of person who makes calls anywhere but the controlled environment of my office, but the plumber called me back and I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity.)

And then… I don’t especially recall what happened. He never walked up to me or said anything. I think he smiled? EV and I were standing towards the middle of the drive walking north but I don’t remember him circling to either side to move past us to the south. But, who knows? I was trying to overcome my renters’ mentality by making arrangements for home repairs while ensuring that toddler didn’t literally dance on anyone’s grave. I’m sure I just wasn’t paying attention.

Except, then we saw him again and he was with another ghost.

I ended the call with the plumber and EV and and I swung west around the disused greenhouse attached to one of the cottages on the property. She wanted to “sneak up on the house” (which involves her running up a walk to try to jump off a step or touch the siding), but I saw that some of the basement windows were broken through and was trying to wrangle her back to the curbside.

“Oh, hello,” the older man said as he approached us from the road to the north. I think it was the same man. He was the same age with the same leathery-skin tanned look about him, although I was sure that his neon shirt had been a different color a moment before. There was also the fact that he had been headed south at least 500 feet behind us and hadn’t passed us.

Maybe, but not with the child he now had in tow. The boy was just stepping away from a low headstone he had been examining closely. He was wiry and a few inches taller than EV, with an equine nose upon which rested a very unchildlike pair of square-framed, polarized glasses. He was staring at me from over their rims.

“Ah,” I said brightly, tugging EV away from her act of trespassing. “It’s such beautiful weather.” I decided that this was vague enough that it couldn’t possible offend them if they had been visiting the grave of a loved one.

(Or, upon reflection, their own.)

“It is!” the man replied cheerily as the boy moved to idle by his side. “My grandson is showing his ol’ pops around the place.” Which immediately made no sense to me because pops had just been wandering around by himself without the grandson a moment ago. How did he have enough time to circle back, retrieve the boy, circle ahead of us, and examine tombstones? But, I have a certain way that I talk to children like little people adopted from my own years of precocity, and I already launched into it.

“Oh, do you know it well?” This directed at the boy. “I’m always getting turned around when I walk through here. I don’t understand which roads connect to the others.”

“Sure I do,” he said. “I live in the house over there.”

He gestured and I followed his finger while he continued to chatter. The house he was pointing to seemed like another one of the dilapidated cottages on the grounds – not one I’d expect a young boy to live, although I supposed a groundskeeper could live there with a little family. As I listened to him speak I noticed that EV had taken leave of me and was continuing to walk a few steps past where we had stopped to chat with each other.

The boy was still speaking, but the man interrupted him.

“How old is she?”

I took my customary pause to see if EV would respond, but she made no motion to turn around. “A few weeks shy of three,” I answered, drifting slightly in her direction. “How old are you?” I said, indicating the boy with my chin.

“Oh, he’s three, too,” the man answered. I squinted down at the boy. He did not look or sound three. He was articulate and self-possessed. He was dressed like a slightly miniature seven or eight year old who had just discovered he could stand out from his peers with a slight sartorial tweak. He continued to watch me over the rims of his tinted square glasses in a distinctly un-three-year-old like way.

EV was now three body-lengths from me along the road. There had been no cars in sight so far, I knew that distance to be the point where I cannot wind sprint to scoop her up in less than a second, so I hurried to catch up with her. Maybe I called out, “sorry,” over my shoulder.

I caught up with EV and put my arm around her shoulders. She giggled up at me. “EV, you were running away from our new friends,” I glanced back at the man, waving jauntily at EV, and the boy, as still as a portrait. “That little boy lives here.” She paid me no mind and kept walking up the road.

It wasn’t until much later, in describing our encounter to E over dinner, that I realized EV never once acknowledged the pair of them – not with a glance or with her typical shy toddler routine of standing slightly behind my leg.

I don’t think she ever saw them.

Review: Black Magick, Vol. 1 by Rucka & Scott

I am a contrary person and at times in my life I have totally given up on certain things that other, normal people find it totally okay to engage in with moderation. For example, I went through a period where I felt slow-dances were “boring, rotating hugs,” and used such time to rehydrate for the next uptempo set of songs.

There was a period in my life where I had completely given up on movies. They were necessarily assembled by committee and that meant they couldn’t be perfect. Who would want a story spoon fed to them visually for two hours when they could read the same material four times as fast?

Our movie collection makes obvious that I overcame my discrimination, though if you example that large library you’ll see that the films they largely fall into one of two camps. One is special-effects or period films like Star Wars or Braveheart, which present a reality I could not otherwise witness. The other are the finely coordinated works of auteurs like Wes Anderson. Some are both, like Primer and Donnie Darko, or most of Christopher Nolan’s films.

I still don’t see the point of watching a two hour comedy or drama that it took hundreds of people to produce unless I am watching it for some spectacle, whether that’s visual or in caliber of performance.

Yet, the sheer scope of film cannot be denied. That widescreen window on the world and its beautifully pushed colors – that is a thing to covet and convert to other mediums. It is why television shows and advertisements and comic books yearn for that stamp of cinematicism.

black-magick-vol-01That wasn’t always the case for comics. I’m not sure when it started – perhaps with David Finch’s widescreen take on The Ultimates, which ultimately informed Marvel’s The Avengers film. Now it has infected the entire medium. No more caption boxes or thought bubbles, because movies so rarely have narrators and voice-overs. Massive establishing shots with no text, despite the fact that each panel tells the geography of a scene in miniature. Glossy colors that cram in reflections and lens flares, because only movie magic can help you suspend your disbelief.

Every comic book wants to be its own film, but very few of them actually feel like one.

Black Magick, Vol. 1 4.0 stars Amazon Logo

Collects issues #1-5 by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott, with color assistance from Chiara Arena.

Tweet-sized Review: Black Magick v1: spellbinding cop procedural w/dose of magical ritual, but only half of Act 1…I want the whole play!

CK Says: Buy it.

Black Magick is an entrancing, deliberately-paced dose of witchy mystery, like Homicide: Life On the Streets crossed with The Craft, by a pair creators at a newfound apex of their powers.

Not a word more can be said for this book without talking about artist Nicola Scott’s grayscale, ink-washed artwork. It is a sight to behold. Black and white major label comics are few and far between, but this isn’t true black and white – her flood of gray inks have tone and depth. They give her figures a sense of texture and weight that would be hard to replicate with typical digital coloring. Chiara Arena contributes only occasional splashes of color – a bloodshot eyeball, a burst of flames, or a green mist of spellwork.

Scott’s world is filled with so much detail and organic motion that panels seem to sweep from one to another like a strip of film passing across the bulb of a projector. At points, I honestly forgot I was reading a comic book with static pictures and tangible pages. Scott’s art transported me. (Continued)

a few small repairs

"Broken Toilet" by Siobhan McKeown. Some rights reserved.

“Broken Toilet” by Siobhan McKeown. Some rights reserved.

Last week was the six year anniversary of our buying this house and I still don’t know how to do anything.

Seriously. I still haven’t replaced a single fixture in six years. I’m great at fixing electronics (ask me about that one time I baked our television) and cleaning, but my list of house projects goes something like, “get poster framed and then beg E to hang it for me.”

Meanwhile, E has hung many pictures, replaced fixtures, painted whole rooms, installed complex wall-hanging laundry systems, supervised the replacement of no less than four doors and fourteen windows, and personally sourced and laid a set of slate steps.

Yes, she is a badass.

As for me, I refer to my combination of reticence and inability as “renter’s mentality.” This is the first home I’ve ever owned. My mother and I lived in three different rented homes, including one house for almost fifteen years. The only thing we ever altered – and I mean the only thing – was paying someone to paint-and-popcorn-ceiling a back room for me in a vomitous seafoam green when I became a teenager so I didn’t have to have a tiny shoebox of a bedroom with a connecting door to her room.

The wallpaper was uniquely hideous in every room, as if there was some sort of game of ugly oneupmanship going on when the house was initially decorated. The sole light source in the living room was a dilapidated chandelier missing several of its dangling crystals and bearing the tattered streamer of a long ago party. It had a certain Miss Havisham quality to it. The kitchen … it was the worst kitchen you can possibly imagine. I still have nightmares about it. It was carpeted, and that was the least-bad thing about it. We didn’t have much money, but I’m sure we could have done something about some of it.

Yet, we were paralyzed in the middle of the renter mentality triangle – decision-paralysis about changing something we didn’t own, lack of budget and hesitance to sink money into something we didn’t own, and lack of knowledge of how to do anything because we weren’t the owners who had to deal with it.

Even though E and I owning our house removes all of the “didn’t own” aspects of that vicious triangle, I’m still stuck inside its three walls, held hostage by the tiniest of options. We want a new faucet for our kitchen and the idea that I have to choose a semi-permanent fixture for our home and then see through its installation was paralyzing.

I kind of sort of committed to a style and then stalled. What if the finish didn’t exactly match the rest of the kitchen? How could I pick a new handle I’d be interacting with dozens of times a day without an intense, hands-on study of UI, UX, and ergonomics?

(Are you beginning to understand how hard it is to be married to me?)

This past Sunday, E looked me in the eye and spoke in the kind of calm, measured voice you use when you’re trying to approach a wild animal without spooking it.

“Peter,” she crooned, “we really need to replace the toilet in the master bathroom.” She saw the fear in my eyes. The toilet. That’s permanent porcelain piece of furniture!

“The tank does not fit into space between the bowl and the wall,” she continued, soothingly, “and so it has a bad seal to the floor. The plumber said he couldn’t fix it again with caulk. It’s time.”

I gulped and nodded imperceptibly. It was a perfectly good toilet! How could we throw it away? It would probably cost untold thousands of dollars to replace and could result in the demolition of the entire bathroom – we might have to knock down a wall in the back of the house and get a crane into the back yard to winch it out.

“You just have to talk to the plumber.” This is the part where you have locked eyes with the animal and are slowly backing it towards the cage in which you are trying to capture it, for its own safety and yours. “Just find out what we need to do.”

Today is Friday. I managed to be busy enough with car repairs and writing and hanging out with our little scamp that I avoided the call all week, but this morning I knew I had to bite the bullet and talk to our plumber – not the hardest call, since he is the most patient human being in the universe who once had to respond to my emergency call after I crashed our car into our house.

I made the call. I described the problem and braced for impact. Would we need to move out of the house for a week while he did the repairs?

“Oh, I could stop by with the toilet on Monday if you want,” he responded.

Did he mean, stop by with his team of burly men, fleet of construction equipment, and double-wide trailer for porcelain throne hauling?

“No, just me.”

I was in awe. How much would such a feat cost? Could we afford it and continue to feed EV her diet of copious fresh fruits and vegetables, or would she spend her fourth year of life eating ramen, exclusively.

Let’s just say, replacing a toilet costs less than my typical monthly order of new comic books.

I was so relieved, I followed up with, “Hey, do you replace faucets?”

Review: The Private Eye by Vaughan, Martin, & Vicente

Lately, I trust journalists less than ever before. Or, maybe I trust them, but I don’t trust the stories they’re telling.


Last week during the gun control filibuster on the Senate floor I compiled the names and demographic information from all the participating Senators, and my friend Lauren created an interactive infographic with the information. I did not read a single media story that named all of the participants after the fact.

I know this is a theme in conservative American politics right now – the bias of the mass media. I’m not talking about bias. I’m talking about facts.

The past few weeks have been full of big new stories nationally (Orlando and gun control) and locally (sugary drink tax and the DNC), and the biggest of those stories have been missing so many facts. They’re all headlines and quick hits. Hot takes with no depth. No quoting from primary sources. Lots of people coming away with incomplete ideas and parroting them as reality.

Those same weeks have also been full of truth. I become deeply invested in last week’s filibuster from the floor of the Senate and did not consume a single pundit’s take on it. I watched it live and was my own pundit. Yesterday’s sit-in in the House circumvented pundits even further – it couldn’t even be broadcast by networks because the House was out of session and cameras were off, so representatives broadcast it directly to the public via Periscope, cutting all all possible middlemen.

Of course, the next day journalism swept in – but, as a first-hand witness to the events in question, I found the subsequent coverage lacking. Where were the names of the participants, the lengths of time they spoke, the information they shared? I put more information together about the filibuster with data visualization from my friend Lauren than I saw from any news site!

I don’t trust journalists or I don’t trust the stories they tell, but I can hardly blame them. After all, I have a journalism degree and I never set foot into that field. I went CorpComm because I wanted job security and a standard of living, and that was before online outlets were effectively subsidizing their print editions and running on pay-per-click ad units. But I still believe journalism should represent unfiltered truth with a neutral point of view, unless it professes itself as opinion. I had a lot to say about the filibuster, but none of it made its way into the data.

What if journalists didn’t have to worry about the funding and the hits, and could focus on terrific journalism? There are some outlets today that fit the bill, and I don’t think it’s coincidence they produce some of the most thorough reporting. I know it’s hard to picture state-run journalism, because so often it’s journalists who expose the flaws in the state, but that’s one version of what I’m talking about. Instead of asking journalists to make personal sacrifices to do what they love and write for maximum eyeballs, imagine a minimum number of reporters guaranteed on each beat, with job security, fair pay, and a retirement plan.

Do you think the journalism would get better or worse? Does it take sacrifice to want to dig as deep as journalists dig? Or, would the skill and commitment increase?

The-Private-Eye-hardcoverThe Private Eye 3.0 stars Amazon Logo

The Private Eye collects the 10 chapters of a complete web comic story by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente.

Tweet-sized Review: The Private Eye finds Vaughan & Martin a bit too clever for their own good; I liked the world better than the story

CK Says: Consider it.

The Private Eye is a much more interesting world than it is an interesting story – and, it’s a pretty decent story.

Private Eye is an Eisner and Harvey Award Winning comic story conceptualized by Brian K. Vaughan and created in collaboration with Marcos Martin and his wife, colorist Muntsa Vicente. It was initially released beginning in March 2013 as a web-only comic via Panel Syndicate, with its 10 chapters released across 24 months. Each chapter was available as a DRM-free as a pay-what-you-will download.

You can still purchase it that way, or you can opt for a gorgeous $50 hardcover version released in December that includes the complete Vaughan/Martin email chain conceptualizing the story and their method of release (complete with fretting over what to call the website and how to make a profit from it).

The story of Private Eye depicts an America where the press has taken over peacekeeping for the police thanks to a landmark omni-leak of every possible piece of data. The event, called “The Cloudburst,” exposed everyone’s online information to everyone else. It wasn’t the leaked account balances or private nudes that did everyone in, but the search histories. It turns out that was as close as you could come to knowing what was going on inside someone else’s head – their deepest fears and desires. A lot of those heads were pretty dark places. (Continued)