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two zoos in two days (and one terrifying capybara)

E’s sister Jenny has stayed with us many times since we’ve lived in this house and they’ve all been pretty boring.

This is completely paradoxical, as Jenny is a professional museumologist (I should probably ask her what the real word is) and world traveller who loves nothing more than a zoo – or, even a safari (the non-violent kind). Both time I’ve visited her in California have been filled with an assortment of jogging, yoga, movies, dinners, and museums. Yet, E and I are usually exhausted from work and willing to be the ultimate homebodies, so having Jenny stay with us in Philly tends to turn into a lot of lying on the floor and watching Netflix all day. I’m pretty sure we’ve literally done nothing with her on any occasion of her staying here other than leave the house to get food.

Of course, now there is an EV in the equation – we can’t lie on the floor and watch Netflix all day because (a) she isn’t permitted to watch TV and (b) she would spend the entire time walking all over us. Also, (c), you have to feed her something other than tea and cereal. Plus, sitting around the house all day is a little less attractive when you have every day off from work because you quit your job to hang out with a toddler.

Thus, for this Jenny-cation I swore that we’d do some adventuring together with EV. I didn’t intend for that to be entirely crammed into a single 48hr period, but this week’s excessive heat left us with a small window into which we had to cram all of our outdoor action.

2016-06-15 11.30.23We wound up doing two zoos in two days, and despite hitting various zoos over a half a dozen times in my 10 weeks of toddler concierge service, these past two days were some of the most fun. Jenny provided some much-appreciated tag-teaming, knows a seemingly endless amount of animal facts, facilitated thoughtful engagement with the elements of instructional design that I normally ignore, and even figured out that we got a massive discount at one zoo due to being members of the other one.

Due to Jenny’s zoo obsession and world-traveling habits, it is really hard to find an animal she has never seen before or an animal experience that is completely unique for her, so I pride myself that we were able to tick both boxes yesterday at the Elmwood Park Zoo.

First, there is the peccary, also known as “the skunk pig.” They are the weirdest thing. It’s a slender pig on high, spindly legs with a coat of bristly fur that is nearly reminiscent of a porcupine. When I was first researching Elmwood Park with Mother of Krisis for a visit last month, I was sure that the peccary’s entry on their site was an overripe April Fool’s joke – surely this oddball thing wasn’t an actual animal!

Not only is it actual, but Jenny had never seen one before. They’re honestly not all that exciting to look at, but their slightly ominous, Lord of the Flies dead-eye gaze in photos doesn’t really portray how ridiculous they look in person as they shuffle around to dig in the dirt with their snouts.

2016-07-20 14.12.40In addition to introducing Jenny to peccaries, we also got closer to a capybara than either of us had even been before. Due to it carefully balancing itself on the edge of its tiny, artificial lakeland home, we were barely an arm’s length away from the creature, and I return to inform you that as the largest rodents in the world capybaras are fucking terrifying.

Like, sure, from afar when they are napping (which is pretty much ALWAYS in my experience) they look like a cute, pillow-sized guinea pig hamster sort of thing that you could snuggle at night, but when you are up close you realize they are a rodent that half as big as you and as solid as a bulldog and they do all of those twitchy little rodent things you’ve seen a hamster do except at about ten times the scale.

That little nose-wrinkle that is so adorable when held in the palm of your hand? When you see it magnified 10x by something that could probably chomp clean through your arm it activates base fight-or-flight instincts in your subconscious lizard brain. They are downright disturbing. It occupies a sort of uncanny valley of unreality that, combined with my terror, made it a struggle to keep my eyes affixed on it for more than a few seconds at a time.

Jenny is with us for a few more days and I’m sure she’ll create many more memories with EV, but for me it will be hard to top that wild kingdom double-whammy on this trip – plus, it gives me something to try to top for the next time she’s in town, and we all know there’s no one I am more competitive with than myself.

This is not a review of Ghostbusters and I don’t like things that are funny

Last night Jake, Ashley, and I enjoyed an acoustic rehearsal on Ashley’s roof deck (sans Zina, whose drums would never make it up the four flights of stairs) followed by a band trip to see Ghostbusters!

Ghostbusters-2016-posterLong story short: Ghostbusters was a slightly better-than-average summer blockbuster.

Almost entire unrelated to that fact: I loved it. I think all four lead actresses were phenomenal and I am now obsessed with Kate McKinnon.

Before you all say, “Duh, Peter, you are a feminist fanboy, this was bound to happen,” let me tell you the longer story about how I legitimately had no reason to like this movie yet still managed not to be a total tantrum-throwing child about it.

The original Ghostbusters is one of a group of sacrosanct films from my youth that I loved not just for the kid-friendly silliness, but for the references and adult themes that would continue to reveal themselves to me as a grew older. It’s also probably my most-quoted movie of all time thanks to “There is no Dana, only Zuul” and “Don’t cross the streams!”

Despite that, and being a white male in my 30s, I didn’t see the coming of a new, all-female Ghostbusters flick as some sort of threat to my precious and beloved film or my childhood memories. I saw it as what it seemed to be – a cash-in on ripe intellectual property by a relatively hot director and his major star.

That I find Paul Feig and his entire cast to be completely and totally unfunny just meant I assumed this movie wouldn’t be for me.  (Continued)

Review: Netflix’s Stranger Things, Season One

As with the release of any of Netflix’s “bing it all at once” television seasons, this weekend my social feed went from a stray mention of Stranger Things on Friday to a steady stream on Saturday as more and more people began to sample the eight-episode thriller.

I didn’t want to be a late adopter this time around (or: be spoiled!), so I jumped onto the bandwagon on Saturday night – and wound up finishing the entire show within 48hrs!

That’s not just because I love to binge on TV. In many ways, Stranger Things is Neflix’s most cohesive and successful original work yet. While the performances might not be of the raw caliber of acting as those in House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black, they all work perfecting in the unflinching service of this period 1980s thriller.

Stranger Things, Season 1 4.5 stars 

stranger-things-animated-logoThere are very light, “this is the concept, these are the characters, this happens in the beginning of Ep1” spoilers in the first section; a more spoiler-filled take for those who’ve already seen the show follows, below.

CK Says: Watch it!

Stranger Things is a Netflix original that’s obsessed with the 80s work of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and Amblin Entertainment. It’s about a hidden horror, a terrifying secret, and how a group of kids bear the burden of both on the behalf of an entire sleepy town.

While Stranger Things is reverent of those influences, the show rarely feels derivative as it unfurls a sci-fi plot that is as human as it is creepy. The focus is always on the characters and rarely on the fantasy, even though the fantastical element are a seamlessly-executed success.

The opening frames introduce us to Hawkins, Indiana in November of 1983. We briefly glimpse a terrified scientist fleeing through the abandoned, flickering halls of a research facility on the outskirts of town before he is captured by an unseen creature.

The rest of Hawkins seems none the wiser to these events – it could not be more average. The geeky kids play Dungeons & Dragons and are obsessed with Star Wars. The teens are shot-gunning beers and talking about sex without consequence. The parents are stringing together jobs and cooking dinner without worrying too much about where their kids are hanging out and with whom. A surly sheriff hasn’t had to deal with any major crime – the last notable one was in the 20s!

Anything past idle teenage vandalism would be notable in this tiny ville. Yet, it’s also idyllic enough that a missing child can be chalked up to a wrong turn on a hike or deciding to take a Greyhound for an adventure to the city. That disappearance is accompanied by the appearance of a seemingly-mute young girl with a shaved head. She’s desperate to escape an anonymous group of men and women in black who want to haul her back to that same mysterious lab. When she encounters a trio of nerdy kids searching for their missing friend, it acts as a flashpoint that begins to unveil the horror that’s been unleashed on the small town. (Continued)

New Collecting Guide: Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger (and an explanation of who they are)

I’m happy to share The Definitive Cloak & Dagger Collecting Guide and Reading Order! It includes every Cloak & Dagger appearance ever published – both together and apart – with notes on trade-reading order and the importance of guest appearances.

Cloak_and_Dagger_Vol_4_1_TextlessI know what most of your reactions will be – “Who the hell are Cloak & Dagger?” They’re not exactly Marvel’s most-prominent characters and they haven’t had an ongoing series to call their own since the 1990s, but they happen to be Marvel’s most-recent property to garner an order for a television season – on ABC’s Freeform network.

Bright-eyed readers may have seen this guide already, but as of today the guide is officially out of its beta-release phase and ready to help you collect Marvel’s pair of would-be-mutants who recently garnered an order for a TV show!

This is one in a series of new and revised collection pages I’ll be highlighting; last week I covered Doctor Strange, and you can already see several of the others in action in Crushing Comics.

Who are Cloak & Dagger?

The short answer is that they were writer Bill Mantlo’s insertion into Spider-Man of a pair of teens whose lives were altered by the prevalence of street drugs in blighted, early-80s NYC. They adopted the powers of darkness and light and briefly took on a life of their own for the next decade.

Marvel was having a bit of a younger-character resurgence in the early 80s, with Chris Claremont spinning New Mutants off of X-Men and Louise Simonson launching Power Pack. Cloak & Dagger were conceived just prior to those two moves but offered a terrific contrast to them both. They were more rough-around the edges than either team, and lacking in the scholastic environment of Xavier’s school and the familial love of Power Pack. (They would make guest appearances in both series.)

Cloak & Dagger first spun off into a 1983 mini-series after their Spider-Man debut, and then into a 1985 ongoing title that was released bi-monthly. In 1987, they were relaunched into Strange Tales, Vol. 2, a monthly title they split with Doctor Strange.

Then there was the little matter of mutant hysteria. (Continued)

Cover songs or originals – which are easier to play?

We held an unusual rehearsal in our dining room today – three hours of running through the Smash Fantastic cover song repertoire, but as fronted by my Arcati Crisis co-writer and BFF Gina.

gina-peter-1997-sharks-cant-sleep

An incredibly rare, one-of-a-kind shot of the first time Gina and I performed music together on stage (also the first time I sang solo in public!) This was in 1997 at Masterman, peforming “Sharks Can’t Sleep” by Tracy Bonham. From left to right: me, Joanna, Lucy, and Gina.

The strange arrangement is the result of being asked to play a big benefit show during a week where Ashley will be on vacation. It’s a fun show and we love donating our time to it, so Ashley gave her blessing for us to play it with a fill-in vocalist.

Despite you all knowing Gina primarily for her amazing songwriting and intuitive harmony vocals, she is an awesome interpreter and karaoke veteran. It helps that the rest of the band – Jake, Zina, and I – is the same for both Smash Fantastic and Arcati Crisis.

It was a rollicking rehearsal full of surprises – for example, after over 20 years of friendship I found out that Gina loves “Because The Night” as much as I do, but she does not quite know how to sing Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” We also played a rare pair of our own “Holy Grail” and “Better” with Gina on vocals but not on guitars!

The most interesting part for me was the conversation while we packed up. As we were coiling wires, Gina mentioned off-handedly that she found getting the cover songs right to be much more challenging than playing in an original band.

That took me by surprise! Gina is a confident, experienced singer – I would never expect she would be stressed by cover songs. In fact, I invited her to fill in because I thought she’d find singing two hours of covers a relief in comparison to the stress of shredding through our own songs. However, her reasoning resonated: when you’re covering a song, there’s an existing standard to be held to. As great an interpreter as you may be, you’ve got to get the lyrics right and hit the expected high notes before people will even begin to consider if your performance is any good.

I know that’s the reality, but I’ve never considered it that way. For me, cover songs are a fun vacation from the intense challenge of playing original music.

With cover songs, you simply have to capture the spirit of a song people know well. While Jake tends to hew closely to the real basslines of songs, Zina and I approximate their drum fills and guitar riffs. It’s about verisimilitude. If you give a crowd a hint of the real thing, they don’t notice all the elements you leave out.

That works in our favor on songs for which we can’t quite assemble all the elements of a recording, but it also works in our favor – our covers of “Bang Bang” and “Uptown Funk” dress up the more bare originals considerably with additional passing chords, while even on a classic like “The Way You Make Me Feel” Jake has installed a more propulsive bassline that is only implied in the original.

gina-peter-1998-with-or-without-you

The first time Gina and I played guitar together in front of people! This was in 1998 at Masterman, playing U2’s “With Or Without You” for the departing senior class. Psychedelic water damage courtesy of my Sophomore year apartment.

By contrast, playing originals is terrifying! The only context the audience has are the notes coming from the stage. There is no earned good will or existing song that will put a smile on their face. And, even when you’re in top shape with a set of good songs, it’s impossible to know when they’re good enough.

It’s like doing yoga – you can always challenge yourself to sink deeper into a pose. I have songs that are nearly 20 years old that I still haven’t mastered playing; I found extra harmony on one just a few weeks ago that makes it sound more like itself than it ever has before.

Gina doesn’t have that anxiety. To her, an original song is something entirely under her control not only to interpret, but to shape and transform. The entire point of the thing is that it belongs to you and it might continue to evolve. That’s nothing to be afraid of – it’s a joy.

I was so intrigued that as best-friends and co-writers Gina and I could differ on this point, but it explains a lot about our relative comfort over the years as performers. There’s no disputing that I’m more vivid and energetically myself on stage in Smash Fantastic, just as Gina is obviously transfixing in Arcati Crisis when she settles into playing an original like “Song for Mrs. Schroeder.”

It will be an interesting eight weeks of getting 30 songs ready for this cover gig, but I think I’m even more intrigued by what Gina and I will know about ourselves afterward when we turn our attention back to originals for the first time in three years.

our supersized supermarkets

I’ve been thinking about groceries, scale, and the American way.

Last night, while our daughters napped under J’s watch, Lindsay and I absconded to Wegmans for a quick shopping trip slash Pokémon catching session. Yes, you read that right – we had an hour to ourselves and we went grocery shopping for amusement. To be fair, Wegmans is definitely like an amusement park for hungry adults recovering from five hours swimming in a lake with two boisterous young ladies.

Photo by Flickr User Seuss. Some rights reserved.

You could fit an entire French supermarket into this Wegman’s photo. Photo by Flickr User Seuss. 2008, some rights reserved.

I know I’m a little late to coming around to Wegmans – heck, Lindsay grew up shopping at one! Even as I marveled at how Wegmans has every possibly thing (Six different kinds of raw shrimp to choose from! Three different kinds of Tahini! Every single organic vegetable! Liquor and Beer!), I also reflected on the very middle/upper-class American condition of being excited to visit a grocery store that’s as much about leisure as it is about subsistence.

My grocery situation as a small child was all about subsistence. For deli and packs of cigarettes, we had a tiny Vietnamese bodega on our corner, and for other groceries a smallish Stop and Save and Shop or Something on the next block that accepted our food stamps. I remember being mystified by the cheap brands of frozen foods like waffles or steaks that I had never heard of before – because they didn’t advertise on TV.

When an Acme was installed on 80th street it was big news, and the long aisles full of expanded cereal choices and real meat counter seemed like luxuries – likely combined with the fact that we had graduated from welfare with my mom getting her degree and could more readily afford such things.

In college we alternated between a newly-opened Fresh Grocer, which was like a slightly watered-down Whole Foods, and a local Thriftway that Lindsay, Erika and I re-christened “Theftway” for its sometimes-shady customers and peculiar aisle arrangement. Theftway was great for getting cheap name brands, but for anything special, fresh, or healthy we’d take the four block walk to Fresh Grocer.

On our honeymoon the tiny Paris apartment E and I were renting had an impossibly small miniature refrigerator, which meant we needed to restock our food options every other day. That wasn’t so unusual, and the local grocery store reinforced that – it was no bigger than a suburban Wawa and didn’t contain a single super-sized portion of anything. Juices topped out in half gallons, and paper towels came in a max three-rolls-per-pack. When it came to wide varieties, the selection focused on fresh things like cheeses, breads, and juices rather than 100 different kinds of cereal.

We loved it. Bigger doesn’t always have to be better.

Now my local haunt is an impossibly large Giant, which has nearly put our local Acme out of business – it looks dismal by comparison. Not coincidentally, it’s now completely devoid of the upper-middle-class suburban shoppers that used to clog its aisles. After all, Giant has not one but two aisles of healthy and gluten-free foods!

That’s not meant as a knock on GF stuff, since it’s a requirement in our household – more an acknowledgement of the kind of choices that become important to you when you’re not looking for the foods that your WIC check will cover. Recently EV and I had a long wait behind a couple who were trying to figure out what they could cover with WIC checks and what they needed to pay in cash.

After they were finished, the cashier fixed me with a grimace and apologized for the wait. I responded, “No worries, I remember what that was like.”

She gave me a puzzled look in return and started ringing my groceries.

These were my thoughts as Lindsay and I wandered through the stadium-sized Wegman’s. Do we need all of this super-sized choice to be satisfied as consumers? How lucky are we that buying our meals is an act of amusement and convenience? How lucky are we that we can buy them at all?

Marvel Now! 2016 – a book-by-book break-down

It’s that time again!

Marvel Now 2016July brings us the October comic solicitations, and that’s the month Marvel uses each year as their launchpad for a new wave of books. That’s the result of an increasingly network television influenced strategy for Marvel’s comic publishing, which sees volumes of books as seasons of a show that it makes sense to renew regularly – sometimes each year.

With their 2016 Marvel Now! initiative, Marvel has so far announced 62 titles, including a stunning 33 new launches or limited series (and that’s with only one X-Men title so far on the slate!). This post covers every single title, detailing what it’s replacing, the creators, how hyped I am, and what it will be about – plus, it points you to the collection & reading order guides where each title will be recapped.

Basically: this is your one-stop resource for all things Marvel Now! 2016.

If a title isn’t on the Now! list, is that a smoking gun that it’s cancelled without a replacement? That’s unclear. For example, Moon Knight releases issue #7 in October, but the issue listed for Now! is #10 – so, these new jumping-on points will be staggered. It could be some of the unlisted books are mid-arc and didn’t make sense to label as Now, or it could be they’re due for a relaunch in the new year. Of course, I expect some of them will simply wrap up in the three months of Now launches.

Here’s the list of titles so far absent from the Marvel Now checklist: (Continued)