Thursday, December 11, 2014

Choose From One Possible Ending

Note: I know this post is almost a month out of date, but it's all part of my goal to hit as many lingering post topics as I can this month. So start getting your Thanksgiving travel plans in order and pretend that you're in early November.

A big part of my childhood, and no doubt the childhoods of countless others, author R.A. Montgomery recently concluded his own adventure the other day. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was a massive fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series growing up. I would probably say that the series has a whole (of which I read clear over a 100 entries, the overwhelming bulk of the series) was the most influential piece of literature I ever read. They instilled in me an early love of reading and writing that continues to this day (despite how infrequent I update this blog). They where my first exposure to literary genres like science fictionwesternsmysteries, and metafiction (I could write a whole post alone about what a mind fuck"Hyperspace" was to an 9 year old). Plus they provided me an unflinching introduction to my own mortality. However most importantly the CYOA series, with their trademark second person narrative and ability to choose different story tangents, taught me to view the world with a different perspective; that everything didn't have to follow an ordered linear narrative, and that many things you thought were impossible or you never even considered could become reality if you would only make the effort to choose.

Considering how many of these books I've read, R.A. Montgomery and CYOA creator Edward Packard are from a pure numbers view the authors I have read the most in my life. I suppose that's the case with children's book series with many people; I'm sure if you were a hardcore Goosebumps or Fear Street reader growing up, you've read more books by R.L. Stine than any other author. It's just a matter of quantity. Still, it felt like kind of a big deal for me when I heard that one of the authors of whom I so prodigiously consumed their bibliography had passed. So I figured as a little tribute to one of the main architects of the CYOA series and of the game book genre itself, I'd try to recall my top 5 most memorable Montgomery books.

A word of warning, I haven't read any of these books in about two decades and childhood memories could sometimes be unreliable, so if you're some CYOA expert or a modern day kid who just read these books for the first time please forgive me if I get a detail or two wrong or I miss out on some important plot point:

5. House of Danger
If Edward Packard was the father of the CYOA series, then R.A. Montgomery was the weird uncle. Truth be told, going by total body of work Packard is my overall favorite CYOA author. However, while Packard cranked out solidly plotted, fun, interesting stories, his stories never went off the rails or took crazy risks (with the exception of a few standouts like the previously mentioned "Hyperspace"). His stories were usually based around standard genre narratives like solving a murder or searching for buried treasure or landing on an alien planet. Montgomery in contrast would have some of the most straight up bizarre setups, which sometimes would come at the cost of making a coherent or fair story . Case in point is "House of Danger". Just look at that dogeared cover and try to figure out what the hell is going on here. There's a sadistic Confederate general, crazed apes, murderous neanderthals, a runaway stagecoach, a modern home, and a cut rate Scooby Doo team. As I recall all these things do show up in this book. I believe the general idea was that you and your friends investigate a mysterious house that has rooms that lead to different times and dimensions. I also recall that this was a brutally difficult game book with very few non-death or generally successful endings; which was sort of a Montgomery trait.

4. Trouble On Planet Earth
It's like "House of Danger" but everything is set to 10. Instead of some mystery house on your block, you and your friend who kind of looks Paul from the Wonder Years meets Shock G get involved in a bunch of potential conspiracies that threaten the entire Earth. I know there were some plots that involved aliens and the Pyramids and often times you would end up abducted on a spaceship. The grotesque fat and his buddy Joe Biden were part of some other story line where they reveal themselves to be from some sort of secret Illuminati-type society with plans of world domination. I would also say that I can't recall ever getting a good ending in this mad fever dream of a book. This was Montgomery at his absolute craziest. It's not the best written CYOA adventure but it's one of the most unique.

3. Journey Under The Sea
R.A. Montgomery's first book, and the second book ever in the CYOA series, Journey Under The Sea is one of his most straight forward books (and possibly his best plotted). One of the great things about the early CYOA books were the high volume of endings they contained. With most long running series the writers just had more ideas early on. Some of the later CYOA books started to repeat stories and barely contained double digit endings. At a whopping 42 possible endings, this may be the most prodigious book in the series. The story was pretty straightforward, you are some underwater explorer searching for treasure and new underwater discoveries (think Bill Paxton in Titanic). I think the main victory story line involves finding the lost city of Atlantis. I recall you might also fall in love with a mermaid. Of course there are plenty of grim drowning deaths also waiting for you.

2. The Race Forever
Another fairly straightforward effort by Montgomery. The premise is you're a race car driver competing in two different marathon races in Africa. There's an off road race involving jeeps and a faster 24 hours of Le Mans style race with smaller race cars. The first decision you make is choosing which race to enter then which one of two cars; and assuming you're not gored to death by a rhino or your aren't immolated when your car bursts into flames you get to do the other race afterwards. In fact, you can technically put yourself in an infinite loop of races by always choosing the other race after finishing one (I always suspected that's why the title was called "The Race Forever"). Here's a spoiler: the car you choose totally determines if you win the race. In the jeep race pick the Toyota over the Land Rover and in the small car race I think it's the Saab over the Lotus. You're not guaranteed to win with those cars, but at least you won't be guaranteed to lose as is the case with the other cars.

1. Escape
One of my all time favorite CYOA books and probably my favorite Montgomery contribution. Escape takes place in a dystopian America sometime around the mid 21st century. The United States is split into three separate nations (kind of like the Hunger Games) and you are a member of a group of spies from the one democratic state who have to escape the hostile territory of the evil totalitarian state to warn your state of an imminent attack. This was most likely my first introduction to dystopian fiction and the idea of a book set ever so slightly in the future rather than a distant Buck Rogers rocket ship future. I remember the first page had an alternate map of the US split into three and the whole idea fascinated me. I recall plenty of action and surprises in this one and overall the book had a sense of suspense given the high stakes and dangerous situation. You never knew who to trust (potential spoiler, I believe the guy with the glasses in your party turns out to be a double agent) or which path to go as you tried to make your titular escape. Interesting note, this is one of the few CYOA books to have a sequel, the not as memorable "Beyond Escape". I think with a few tweaks this story could be modified into a successful modern teen dystopian trilogy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent-ture Time

November is just about over and I just realized I haven't written anything in this old blog since the end of August when I was writing about the commercials I kept seeing during the Simpsons Marathon (ah memories). Seeing as how 2014 is almost up and given my natural inclination to do everything last minute I figured I'd attempt to use the next month to prop up the end of the year post numbers. Not counting this post, my year end tally stands at an anemic 10 and by all indications it looks like I'll be falling way short of the record year end low of 27 posts, which occurred twice in 2013 and 2010.

So in the hopes of avoiding a sad new low or at the the very least attempting valiantly to avoid a sad new low, I'm going to dedicate the following month to emptying the "to-do" bin of post ideas that have been piling up in my notes and in the back of my mind. This means that I'm freeing myself to address all my backed up topics regardless of how irrelevant or outdated they may have become. My predictions on the upcoming Broncos/Seahawks Superbowl? Sure, why not? My Oscar picks? Come on down. What's the deal with all these ice buckets? Well, here's my take on it.

And those are just from this year! I've got stuff about a random local ad I saw in 2012. Obituaries to long dead celebrities. Not to mention the usual esoteric nonsense I tend to write about anyway (remember that random sketch from that 1996 episode of SNL when Danny Aiello hosted?).

Additionally this is also kind of part of my New year's resolution to write overall. I figure you start most of your resolutions a month early, avoid the rush in January (plus if you fail in December, you get another reset when the real New Years comes; pretty slick). Now will I end up going on some kind of blogging tear, posting a piece a night like some sort of twisted blogging advent calender? Probably not. However I would like to hit at least double digits from now until the end of the year, get a few lingering post ideas off my chest (oh that Danny Aiello sketch post is coming), and not have this place turn into my old Livejournal. I think these are pretty reasonable goals.

Get ready for a long December, folks.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Guarantee Void In Tennesee

Hard to believe it but as of this writing we still have a full 24 hours left of  FXX's record breaking Every Simpsons Ever marathon. And if you're still watching these season 24 episodes with the same level of enthusiasm as the Simpsons fare from last week I have to at least admire your fanatical dedication to the series (or maybe you were born in 2000 and you just don't know any better). Much like most "classic era" Simpsons fans I for one have transitioned to an increasingly casual viewing schedule since about season 10 or so wrapped up, popping in sporadically to experience the odd novelty of watching a totally unseen episode of the show (though I am surprised at how many later era episodes I have actually seen). For me this whole marathon has kind of been like Homer's experience with eating his inherited 10 ft hoagie from "Selma's Choice". I eagerly consumed it for about the first week until its quality began to turn. Then despite it getting into a state far past its sell by date I still kept sneaking in a couple of bites. Eventually some of the episodes left me feeling a ill. However in the end I could not continue to stay mad at something I loved so much.

Laughter and tears and some mild laughter aside, my other lasting memory from this wild 12 day run would be the commercials, oh my goodness those commercials. Hours upon hours of Simpsons binge watching also comes with it the terrible, irritating price of being exposed to the same group of advertisements over and over again to the point where you wish you had the short memory of an NBA great like Charles Barkley. I cannot recall any other situation where I was exposed as many times to the same limited number of TV ads in such a brief span. The repetitive spots you get while watching playoff sports have nothing on this marathon.

So I figured just for the fun of it, and perhaps in a possibly futile effort to exorcise them from my subconsciousness, I'd list a few of the highlights that many of you fellow marathoners may be all too familiar with.

This spot was the undisputed king of the early third of the Simpsons marathon. Fortunately these have sort of faded away at this point. There were commercial breaks where it ran twice! My opinion of it? It's pretty awful. I found the shirt guy unsettling, his couch buddy overly condescending and that third guy who doesn't talk superfluous. Additionally his "punchline" ("but I got it off SkyMall) is a lame non-joke. I only later found out that this was the shortened 15 second version of the original ad. The full 30 second spot is actually a little better; they give the third guy a line and long time Hanes pitchman Michael Jordan makes a random cameo (though I'm not entirely convinced that he's not just a figment of Kitten shirt dude's warped mind). Still, I'm sticking to Fruit of the Looms.

Don't say you never learned anything while watching this marathon. I don't know about your TV market but the first week or so of this marathon dropped some serious knowledge on me about the horrors of Risperdal and gynecomastia courtesy of the firm of Pulaski & Middleman. Actually it is quite frightening that a drug meant to treat a mental disorder could lead to such an unexpected and bizarre side effect like making boys grow female breasts (they really emphasize the "female breast", I suppose big male breasts won't cover it). This must be a huge source of litigation, I found dozens of similar legal ads; with various "sad teenage boy" stock photos. Of course when I hear boys with breasts I immediately pictured Homer bullying Uter (note: weird edited clip).

The NFL continues its undisputed dominance over all forms of American culture, including the Simpsons marathon. Between round the clock commercials for Madden 15/GameStop, the digital HD and Blu-Ray release of Draft Day, and the countless ads for the new season of "The League", football related ads may come out as the biggest commercial presence of the whole marathon. The Madden ad's one note joke would have been okay a few times around but did not hold up to its excessive replays. At this point the ad have thankfully mostly gone away. Draft Day sneakily continues to be played at basically the same rate as when the marathon began, which is ad nausem. The ad makes it seem like the movie is 60% archival footage of the actual draft. I still have a hard time believing this movie isn't just an SNL parody. As for "The League", it continues to be pushed hard. I do have to give it some credit for having at least a variety of spots, though they're all not that funny. Truth be told, I have seen a few seasons of the show and it's really not that bad, but none of the ads give any indication of that.

Of all the ads I've seen, this is probably my favorite. Despite the overplaying I still find it unobjectionable, funny even. James Harden's role in all these Footlocker ads is kind of interesting. He plays everything so unbelievably deadpan. There's no change in emotion or anything coming off him, all the humor is derived from other guest athletes or by his straight faced reaction to an exceedingly bizarre situation. I imagine there might be a much darker side to Barkey and Pippen's short memories like Memento where they have to rely on a complex series of self written notes and mementos just to get through the day. Despite historically playing second to Jordan, Pippen comes out on top when comparing their respective Simpsons marathon commercials.

Microsoft left their mark on this marathon with a pair of commercials promoting their new products via dissing on Apple. In the ads supporting their Surface Pro 3 they employed Wendy's girl level passive aggressive dumping on Apple, basically showing off how their tablet is superior to their laptop (in whatever white room Apple used during their Mac and PC campaign). It seems Microsoft is really picking their battles with their tablet, since they can't actually compete with other tablets they pit their tablets against other laptops. The second ad showing off Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri, made me wonder what kind of absentminded husband needs his phone to remind him to tell his wife happy anniversary and to give him alerts whenever he passes ANY flower shop? Why bother even remembering his wife's name when he can command Cortana to remind him whenever she is around. This ad gave me an idea or a possible sci-fi screenplay where a man falls in love with his phone and plots with it to kill his wife; like a film noir "Her".

I still have no idea what this Destiny game is all about. It looks like a fancy version of Halo to me. Given the excessive amount of advertising, this game must have some serious hype. The ad for the PS4 release of Blizzard's Diablo 3 comes off totally like a movie trailer. If it weren't for the bumper at the end I would have never known. On the whole I'd rather be playing Lee Carvello's Putting Challenge

Speaking of Blizzard (see that slick transition there?) Dairy Queen's ad for their Chips Ahoy Blizzard has been coming on strong in the later seasons. Maybe it's just me but every time I tuned in for a later era episode, I had cut-rate Alexander Skarsgard giving me his two cents on how to properly get the chocolaty word out. I don't mind the commercial that much. The irritating, over-the-top, English soccer announcer (shades of the Simpsons take on hyperbolic international soccer announcing) kind of grew on me ("MAGISTEEERIAL SOFT SERVE!"). My only problem is why is the guy imagining all this in an empty stadium? From what we gather, this man's fantasy is eating the Blizzard in an empty soccer stadium while a football announcer watches and commentates. Where are these roars coming from? How is eating the Blizzard in an empty stadium a good way to get the word out? 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Victor's Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix '14

I know, I know. You've been jamming out non-stop all this week to the blissful tunes of this year's edition of the Mega Mix and the last thing you want is the harsh buzzkill of the Ultimate Birthday "Meh"-ga Mix. Well, listen up joy boy, life is all about the highs and the lows, the sweets and the sours, the season 4 Simpsons and the season 24 Simpsons. It'd be against the laws of nature to just have the hits, one has to recognize the misses.

As much as this year was the most difficult yet in terms of picking the top four songs, it was even harder picking the bottom two. After three previous years of mix making, my friends are getting annoying good at this business. The overall quality improves every year and picking the duds is becoming increasingly a game of inches. At this rate I may have to give some consideration to dropping the category all together (although one or two tracks still usually come along each year to renew my commitment to this mix). Perhaps one day there will be a haul of mixes where the task of culling the worst would be too difficult to attempt, but until then enjoy the blah.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Victor's Ultimate Mega Mix '14

It's been just over a month since that bleak day in May when I turned thirty. I am still waiting on that wisdom and insight stuff that supposedly comes with old age. In the meantime I have an assortment of birthday mixes to keep me entertained.

I know I say it pretty much every year, but this year's haul of five mixes have been the strongest group yet. I don't know, maybe it's because of the milestone year, but I felt that my friends really put in an extra effort here. Great job everyone; though this is setting up the mixes for my 31st birthday to be quite underwhelming (I guess the silver-lining would be a really strong class of "worst of" mix songs). Bonus kudos to everyone for not kicking a sad man when he's down and loading up the mixes with depressing tracks about aging. I know I definitely would have if the roles were reversed (and I most likely will for your milestone birthday mixes; I even keep a running stockpile of those kinds of songs to use on all birthday mixes).

Before I get to the big reveal I just wanted to note a few interesting observations about the mixes this year; actually these sort of coincidences happen every year but I never bother to make a note of them. In the case of tracks repeated across multiple mixes, the simultaneous track of the year award goes to "Move That Dope" by Future featuring Pharrell, Pusha T, and Casino. I really did enjoy this fantastic piece of coke rap and it fell just shy of making the top four in both mixes. Another song appeared twice but under two different versions. The original 1982 version of "Mama Used to Say" by Junior made it to one mix while a 2009 cover by the group Jupiter made it to another. I enjoyed both versions (it really is a sneaky good birthday song) and it was hard cutting both of them from their respective top 4s. Finally, I had two different songs by Chance the Rapper on two different mixes. My quick review on him is, interesting style and lyrics and hip-hop is all the richer for having a unique artist like him, but I find his voice fairly irritating.

Speaking of irritating, remember to keep an eye out for the "worst of" mix in the next few days.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Twenties Victor, 2004-2014

Twenties Victor Lee, 29, of mostly New Jersey and sometimes parts of New York, passed away at midnight May 7th, 2014 on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail en route from Hoboken, after a long battle with aging.

Twenties Victor was born May 7th, 2004 in New York, NY at Lafayette Hall where he was residing in the waning days of his sophomore year at New York University. He was the only child of Aughts Victor and Teens Victor, who very much loved him and worked tirelessly and selflessly to support him in everything he did. Through them he learned much of the world and all the wonderful knowledge that helped shape him to be the man he was. To them he would be forever grateful and he always hoped to have made them proud.

His life like many lives was a mixed bag of joyful highs, disappointing lows, and a whole bunch of fairly average everyday stuff in between. He only hoped that through it all it would be at least an interesting mixed bag. Among his experiences in his brief decade long journey: he learned to drink (and proudly claimed he never vomited once), he traveled a little (though too little in his estimation), somehow became a barred attorney, and took way too long to get his wisdom teeth out. He never met a sandwich he didn’t like or a bag of jerky he could not finish in one sitting. He savored every brunch, volunteered for every road trip, and agonized over every mix CD.

He gained love and lost love. Managed to lose touch with old friends and made unlikely new ones. He won a small fortune over four game shows and accumulated a slightly larger debt over two colleges. In work he wore many hats including aspiring adman, E list game show celebrity, “Lockhorns” comic paradoist, and terrible lawyer; though he never found any of them all that comfortable for too long. Late in life he developed a curious interest in romantic comedy films and proudly completed his first feature length screenplay in 2013. At his passing he was working on his second one. It was one of his wishes that Thirties Victor would complete it in a timely manner.

Victor never married and had no children…to the best of his knowledge. He is survived and mourned by his friends both real and facebook, and Thirties Victor who will especially miss him but hopes to carry on his legacy and spirit. Wherever Twenties Victor may be in the Great Perhaps, he is most likely wearing a comfortable hoodie, reunited with his favorite cap that he lost on that fishing trip when he was 14, sipping a bloody mary and reveling in the fact he doesn’t have to get up early for work anymore. Services will be held this Saturday evening at numerous bars around the Lower East Side, perhaps maybe a brunch the next day, but that’s up in the air.

Twenties Victor in 2013

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Card Subject To Death

This post would have been a lot more relevant about three weeks ago, but I since I have some time now, why not knock out a backlogged post before the end of the month?

If there was anything more shocking than the end of the Undertaker’s undefeated Wrestlemania streak at Wrestlemania 30, it was the announcement of the sudden passing of the Ultimate Warrior only two days later. He had returned to the WWE after putting aside decades of bitter acrimony with the company to be inducted into WWE Hall of Fame that Saturday and appeared on Monday Night Raw the day after Mania; the following day he would be dead of a heart attack.

The Warrior’s sudden passing was reminiscent of the unexpected death of another wrestling icon of 80s and 90s, the Macho Man Randy Savage in 2011; also from a heart attack.

Thinking back I was filled with much sadness upon realizing that everyone involved in their famous match at Wrestlemania VII was now dead: Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, Macho Man’s valet Sensational Sherri (drug overdose, 2007) and Macho Man’s former valet Miss Elizabeth (drug overdose, 2003) who would reunite with Macho Man in the ring after the match. Given the circumstances of their separation two years earlier and fact that Macho Man's loss meant he had to retire from wrestling (spoiler: he didn't), the reuniting at the end was pretty much the most dramatic moment in Pro Wrestling history (though I heard a lot of those shots of crying fans were planted).*

Even sadder than the grim legacy of this match is the downright ludicrous death toll of the rest of the card:
  • Both wrestlers from the second match of the night, the Texas Tornado and “Canada’s Strongest Man” Dino Bravo, would be dead by 1993. Tornado would take his own life (becoming one of the five Von Erich wrestling brothers out of six that would tragically die before their father) while Bravo would (as bizarre and as sordid as it sounds) be murdered by Canadian mobsters relating to his involvement an illegal cigarette smuggling scheme.
  • Both wrestlers from the Intercontinental Championship match, The Big Boss Man and Mr. Perfect would pass away within a year of each other; Mr. Perfect in 2003 from drugs and steroids and Boss Man from a heart attack in 2004. Mr. Perfect’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was diagnosed with throat cancer since 2007 but is fortunately still hanging in there.
  • The British Bulldog Davy Boy Smith, who defeated The Warlord, would die of a fatal heart attack in 2002, possibly related to past anabolic steroid use. Both wrestlers were absolutely roided up to the gills during this period, just massive.
  • Monster heel Earthquake (who broke into the WWE with Dino Bravo) who defeated the ever unimpressive Greg Valentine in a squash would pass away from bladder cancer in 2006.
  • As for tag teams, one half of the tag team Demolition, Crush, who lost to the team of Genichiro Tenryu and Kōji Kitao, died of possibly steroid related causes in 2007. 
  • The Legion of Doom demolished Power and Glory but both teams would later lose a member within a year of each other. Road Warrior Hawk of LOD would pass away from a heart attack in 2003 while Hercules would also die of a heart attack in the following year.
  • As for non-wrestlers: commentators Gorilla Monsoon would pass away in 1999 at age 62 and “Lord” Alfred Hayes passed away in 2005 at 76, both were due to generally declining health. Monsoon’s son, referee Joey Marella would sadly die in a car accident in 1994 at age 31. In contrast, of all of the celebrity guests only George Steinbrenner (2010) has passed away so far. Some are still going strong in their 70s (ring announcer Alex Trebek, Chuck Norris), and 80s (national anthem singer Willie Nelson, guest commentator Regis Philbin). Although I do always worry about Macaulay Culkin’s health these days.
  • The Undertaker, who made his Wrestlemania debut and started his famous streak with a squash win over Jimmy Snuka was technically already dead to begin with.
While some of the deaths are unforeseeable disease, other natural causes, or random accidents, this is way beyond the standards of any actuarial table. Unfortunately, Wrestlemania VII isn’t just a grim statistical anomaly, pretty much every Wrestlemania up to the death of Chris Benoit (which really become the ultimate example of the horrifying physical consequences of the profession) has had someone who died. I can’t imagine that sort of death toll when thinking back at all the Super Bowl teams or World Series participants. Things seem to have immensely improved in the modern WWE with wellness programs and awareness of medical issues like concussions (the 80s and early 90s was sort of a perfect storm of hard partying, institutionalized steroid use, and ignorance of long term health affects.) but wrestling still often extracts a brutal cost to those who choose to make their living in the squared circle.

*I also want to note that it was a complete and utter travesty that the Ultimate Warrior got up after Savage nailed him with FIVE CONSECUTIVE diving elbow drops. Imagine someone getting up after five Shawn Michaels Superkicks, five Stone Cold Stunners, five Attitude Adjustments. There was no need to make Macho's finisher look so weak or Warrior that outrageously strong.