Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Can You Solve the Famous Sideshow Murder?

Since it’s Halloween, I thought I'd try my hand at creating a little adventure. At a recent party, I came up with a Murder Mystery game that was tied to a series of Sideshow Carnival posters I happen to have in my collection. (See photos in sidebar. You can click on photo to make it bigger.)

The premise of the game was that the party was a reunion of Circus Performers, who had all once worked in the Sideshow as a Featured Attraction. As the guests arrived, they were each given an envelope with a number on it. The number corresponded with one of the posters that were hanging all over the house. (See Sidebar for poster images)

Once each of the guests figured out who they were, they were allowed to open their respective envelopes. Inside was a document containing a series of clues only they were privy to. With only these clues as their guide, they had to mingle with other guests, figure out who everyone was, and then try to figure out who the murderer was and who the victim was. (It is not stated specifically in any of the clues. But based on what you found out from other people, you could piece it together.)

So here’s your challenge. Below are all nine sets of clues. You have the advantage of seeing them all at the same time. From these clues and the posters on the right, you should be able to figure out who the Murderer and Victim are, and WHY the person was killed. Along the way, you will also discover many “secret” or “public” relationships that exist between the various party guests.

When you think you’ve figured them all out, click on the comments area below. The first comment will contain the answers.

Good luck! And no cheating.

1. FIFI—
You only want to speak to Frog Princess and Devil Child
Avoid Alligator Boy and Sword Swallower
You know something scandalous about someone you loathe
You feel very light-headed tonight, but don’t know why
You have asthma

2. Alligator Boy—
There is something obvious about the murder victim
One of the guests is your sibling, though you both keep it a secret
You had an affair with a man who’s still in the closet
You’re attracted to someone with special powers

3. Smoking Joe—
A clear head is very important
Avoid FIFI and Sword Swallower
Your ex-lover is here, and you had a very messy break-up
You like to hang out at sleazy establishments and pay for sex
You have a big secret you don’t want the public to know

4. Devil Child—
You are a psychic
You find FIFI to be fascinating
You’re having an affair with someone similar to you
Gay people make you uncomfortable
You sense a ghostly presence in the room

5. Viper Girl—
You have a similar skin type with a boy. Why is that?
You never talk to Fifi
You confronted someone you love about their homophobic boyfriend
Your best friend told you something shocking about another guest
One of the guests is an undercover reporter

6. Sword Swallower
You know one of the guests was blackmailing someone else, but who?
Avoid Fifi and Devil Child
You are married to someone who is very spiritual
You’ve hired a private detective to see if your partner is cheating

7. Fire Eater—
Someone lost something that is very important
You think Frog Princess is a phony and don’t mind telling her so
Sometimes you sell your body for money
Avoid Joe and Fifi
Your family has a history of respiratory problems

8. Frog Princess—
Two of the guests are brother and sister, though they keep it a secret
You are a Ghost Whisperer
You are married to one of the guests
You are having an affair with another guest

9. Worm Boy—
The murder victim was looking for something
You’re a private detective tailing someone to see if they’re having an affair
You met the killer in a sex club once
Avoid Fifi and Frog Princess
You have something in common with a critic of Frog Princess

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Case of the Dueling Frankensteins

This season, Broadway audiences have two versions of the Frankenstein story to choose from. Both are musicals, and both ironically, star one of the famous Foster children, Hunter and Sutton. And while each production is an original interpretation or reinvention of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, I don’t think either lives up to the hype surrounding it.

First, let’s start with the Off-Broadway production of “Frankenstein,” which was developed as a “bold new theatrical experience.” I think they’ve since dropped that tagline, calling it simply a “musical” instead. (After all, “Bold” and “Experience” is a lot to live up to.) The first thing one notices is that the set is constructed of what looks like wrought iron and piping. It is very stark, black and unnervingly dull, a foreshadowing of how the rest of the evening will play out. For this musical is not your typical uplifting songfest, but rather a bleak, stripped down version of a book that “tells” us more than it “shows.” So in a sense, the actors are reading us the book rather than actually showing us anything that happens.

The dramatic highlight of such a show might be the moment where the monster first comes to life, seeing how the doctor achieved such a feat. But in this version, that pivotal moment is glossed over with little more than a song telling us it happened. (And don’t expect any great make-up on the Frankenstein monster, either. He looks more like a bald leather man you’d see at a local gay bar, his green pallor traded in for a shaved head and some fetching chaps.)

The color palette for the show is black and grey, with a little white thrown in to make sure we can see the actors. The lighting is stark, the sets are dark, the costumes are dull, and the music is tediously slow. I will never understand why a musical interpretation of a gothic novel means the songs must be slow and plodding as if the only thing people sang in centuries past were ballad songs and funeral dirges. I’m not saying a musical about a living monster has to be upbeat, but at least throw in a tune once in a while that will keep us awake. With the black set, black costumes, slow music and little action, the show offers little to keep audiences in their seats. (At the preview performance I attended, many people left at intermission, including myself.)

Am I being unfairly mean to the musical? After all, it’s Off-Broadway. You can’t expect it to have the lavish production values of its older, bigger sister. But you can expect it to be entertaining. Or at least riveting. And though the stage was filled with talented performers, Hunter Foster and Christiane Noll among them, they couldn’t rise above the dreariness of the production.

That leaves us with “Young Frankenstein,” Mel Brook’s big sparkling new musical adaptation of his classic movie. The show has generated a boatload of hype, as anything connected with Mr. Brooks tends to do, and is easily one of the most anticipated shows of the season. So I went to see it expecting to be blown away, or at least have an evening full of laughter. And that is, I’m sorry to say, what’s sadly missing from this huge Broadway extravaganza. While it’s undeniably a lot of fun to watch, it’s just not that funny.

The sets are amazing, the costumes are great, the actors are all very talented, and the show is guaranteed to be a huge hit. Especially with out-of-towners. But the classic lines we’ve heard so many times in the famous films tend to sound flat when delivered on stage. The audience still laughs, but it’s more out of obligation. After all, there is nothing subtle about this production. The actors try very hard to punch the lines, deliver the gags and keep the action moving. But with little heart underneath it, there are long sections where the show is actually rather dull. Even with all the high tech scenery and effects to distract us.

Roger Bart is fine as the lead, though at times he seems to be channeling Mario Cantone with his high pitched screeching. Everyone else in the cast is also very talented, and sometimes there are moments of sheer brilliance (the hay ride scene and “Putting on the Ritz” number are highlights of the show). But the overall effect is like eating cotton candy. There’s a lot of fluff to look at, but not much substance when you actually begin eating.

But that's just me. If you have a different opinion about either of these shows, feel free to share it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

You Have No Idea, I Think I Peed a Little, and Other Overused Jokes in Film and TV

Ever since Jeremy Irons uttered the famous words “You have no idea” in the movie “Reversal of Fortune,” the phrase has become a standard punch line in hundreds of movie and television scripts. It’s an easy joke, as you can put almost any question in front of it and you’re guaranteed a laugh.

“You’re a rather odd person, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea.”

“Is your mother a bad cook?”
“You have no idea.”

“This phrase is horribly overused, don’t you think?”
“You have no idea.”

You’ve probably heard this expression many times without even realizing it. Maybe you even laughed at the reference in every single sitcom it’s ever been employed in. But now that you’re aware movie and television writers use it repeatedly, you’ll be more tuned in to how many times you actually hear it.

Another phrase/joke that has been drummed into our heads is “I think I peed a little.” I can’t even remember what movie or TV show this first appeared in. But soon after that, the joke was used so many times it wasn’t funny anymore. The saying usually occurs when someone is laughing very hard and can’t seem to stop long enough to control their urinary functions. The first time it was used, it was very funny. The second time, it was mildly amusing. But now that it’s become a standard expression in pop culture, I’m beginning to wonder if our nation has a much more serious problem on our hands. Since so many people seem to be affected by Uncontrollable Bladder Syndrome.

My point is, I’m tired of writers going for the easy joke. When I hear the same kind of dialogue and jokes used over and over again, it’s an insult to my intelligence. It’s like saying “You’ve heard this joke before, but you’re so dumb, you won’t realize it’s the same joke if I change the words around a little.” Well, guess what? We’re not that dumb. We know when someone is ripping off an old joke to fill a space. It makes for boring television.

Sitcoms are the worst examples of repeated dialogue. The same writers tend to be moved around in Hollywood, shuffling from one sitcom to another, or one drama to another. So it’s understandable that they bring their same style with them from project to project. But do they also have to bring the same jokes? Can’t they come up with something original they haven’t used before? No wonder there aren’t many sitcoms on television right now. The writers have obviously run out of fresh ideas, and the public is tired of the same recycled material.

But that’s just me. What overused phrases have you noticed on TV or in films?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Confessions of a Closeted Collector

Some call it “nesting.” Others call it an “obsession.” Still others consider it a mental disorder and give you the number of a nearby psychiatrist. Whatever it is, the process of “collecting” has always been a part of my life. Even before I was consiously aware of doing it.

As far back as I can remember, I have been assembling items in groups. Comic books, movies, Disney memorabilia. Growing up, my room was filled with a mélange of items culled from various branches of my collection. Whatever I couldn’t put out on display was carefully packaged up in boxes and hidden away in the back of my closet, never to be seen from again until my mother forced me to clean it out.

You see, my mother had a philosophy that if you put something in a drawer or a closet, and you didn’t use it for more than a year, than you no longer needed it. Personally I never subscribed to that philosophy. I liked collecting things, so I would certainly never consider throwing anything away. Everything I bought, everything I owned, everything I was ever given, all became part of my massive “collection.”

The first thing I collected was Hot Wheels. They were my first true passion. I liked the pretty colors and the interesting designs on the cars. Lightning. Fire. Sparkles. The cars themselves were secondary. It was the paint job that took my fancy.

Then came the baseball card stage. Only I didn’t really collect traditional baseball cards, but rather the baseball card spin-offs. Things like Wacky Packages and Superhero cards. Or cards from popular movies and television shows.

I was manic about collecting them too, and sometimes couldn’t sleep until I’d successfully completed the latest series. But once the sets were complete, I usually put them neatly in a box and rarely looked at them again. I never ate the gum, either. It tasted like crispy chalk.

After the baseball card derivatives, I moved up to Scholastic books. Mostly because I really liked the process of ordering and receiving the books. I sort of lost interest when it actually came to reading them.

The process worked as follows: every two months or so you’d get a little flyer at school along with your Weekly Reader. The flyer would be filled with all the new books that Scholastic had for sale. You checked off the ones you wanted, handed the form back into your teacher, and four to six weeks later a big brown box arrived in your classroom filled with the books. Sometimes I didn’t even read them; I just added them to my “collection.”

After scholastic, I had an uncomfortable run-in with the Franklin Mint, which permanently stopped me from filling out order forms. Especially for things I couldn’t afford. Those “easy monthly payments” aren’t so easy when you only have a paper route for income.

So to avoid becoming financially bankrupt at the tender age of twelve, I finally settled on collecting simple things. Inexpensive things. Like comic books and plastic toys. Posters. Records. Tapes. Magazines.

When I first started making money as a graphic designer, I splurged on a number of Disney high-end porcelain figurines. They were so colorful and life-like that I just had to have one. Then one led to two. Two led to nine, and then seventeen, and then a hundred and forty, and that’s when I finally needed a storage locker. As well as someone to consolidate my credit card debt, because all those statues had apparently maxed my collection of VISAs to their limits.

On top of that, I had no room in my apartment to display any of these magnificent pieces of art, so most of them ended up in the storage locker. Their boxes collecting dust, their beauty hidden in the dark. My mother would have had a field day in that storage unit, tossing everything that didn’t move. Including me, no doubt, if I happened to get in her way.

But now I’ve moved into a new phase of my collecting. The selling process. I’ve finally managed to weed through some of the older branches of my collections to find things I can actually part with. And you know what? It’s quite lucrative. Some of my collections from childhood are reaping big rewards. Which means I’ve finally become something I never aspired to be—a smart businessman.

But that’s just me. What about you? What do you collect?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Totally Corny and Thoroughly Addictive World of “Dancing with the Stars”

By now, you’ve no doubt seen the very uncomfortable footage of Marie Osmond fainting into a messy slump on this week’s “Dancing with the Stars.” As millions of people watched on live television, America’s former Princess of Paper Roses did what every professional dancer hopes never to experience—loose her footing.

But oddly enough, that’s far from the most shocking thing we’ve ever witnessed on this television show. How about macho football stars like Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith prancing around in sparkly outerwear? Or Beatles extortionist Heather Mills doing the quickstep with only one leg? But my personal favorite was witnessing Mario Lopez pull himself up from “Saved by the Bell” obscurity to emerge as one of television’s hottest hunks. (I still think he was robbed of the title, though.)

When “Dancing with the Stars” first premiered several years ago, I greeted it with all the enthusiasm of a root canal. The cast list reminded me of the formula they would use on the old “Love Boat” or “Fantasy Island” shows, when they would stuff as many TV and movie has-beens into an episode and hope someone would remember them. The term “Star” had eventually gotten so tarnished from over-usage that anyone who appeared in even one national commercial could be featured as a major talent.

So I gladly skipped the first few episodes, not wanting to waste my time witnessing such an obvious train wreck. But then something weird happened. I turned in one day when nothing else was on, and found myself fascinated with the process. Not only did we observe stars humiliating themselves while learning the Tango, but we also caught glimpses of them tripping and falling down in the rehearsal rooms. I wouldn’t call it ground-breaking television, but it was certainly captivating. To see these B or C list celebrities showing such raw vulnerability while learning to do the Cha Cha provides some of the best behind-the-scenes exploitation since Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” in 1991.

After that, I was hooked. I even ventured into watching “So You Think You Can Dance” during the summer hiatus just to get my fix of sweat and adrenaline. And what I realized was that these two shows had single-handedly taken dancing out of the dark ages and given it a fresh new spin for the 21st Century. Not only that, but the often maligned art of Ballroom Dancing was suddenly cooler than Krumping. Dance studios across the country that were once in danger of cobwebs and wrecking balls suddenly saw a resurgence of eager novices dying to learn the intricacies of the Paso Doble.

And that’s what I find so entertaining about the show. It not only gives us weekly lessons on proper form and technique, but it’s also taught us a very valuable lesson--Dancing is not just for Sissies. There’s a lot of hard work and effort that goes into making it look so easy, and I have to admire anyone who attempts doing it. Even if I’ve never heard of them before. Because it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a celebrity, a quasi-celebrity or someone like Mark Cuban learning the dances, I will gladly cheer them on for their bravery and determination. After all, it takes a lot of guts to wear spandex and sequins with a straight face on national television. And if it weren’t for “Dancing with the Stars,” I might never have known who Drew Lachey and Sabrina Bryan were. (Who?)

And don’t even get me started on the judges. Forget Len and Bruno, who seem to squabble more than an old married couple, the real star of that panel is Carrie Ann Inaba. If for no other reason than her name, which is so much fun to say. (Try saying it five times fast and you’ll begin sounding like a native Bostonian.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Codgers, Geezers, Biddies, and Bags

I've always liked this poem.

Codgers, Geezers, Biddies, and Bags,
Such horrible names for bodies that sag.
Surely their presence reminds us how we,
Will all soon become what we fear them to be.

What we see is a shell that is falling apart,
But inside remains the same mind, the same heart,
Their strength is in living, Their wisdom is age,
So do not dismiss them by turning the page.

They need to feel wanted, they want to feel need,
It’s a human desire, a hunger to feed,
Tap into their love, embrace what they give,
By using their knowledge, you’re making them live.

So give me a purpose to live all my years,
A dream to hold on to, to conquer my fears,
I’ve so much to offer, so much still to give,
Don’t count me out yet, I’m still here to live.

This poem is from the play "Quicker's Crackers" by Michael Latshaw. Poem used here with permission by author.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Is Lisa Williams the Next Jennifer Love Hewitt?

Is psychic ability real? Can people actually communicate with the dead? And most importantly, do Ghost Whisperers really exist or is Jennifer Love Hewitt the only one?

I’ve always had a fascination with psychic phenomenon and paranormal experiences, hoping that one day I might have a mystical encounter of my very own. But it seems like my psychic abilities are somewhat lacking, as the only thing I’ve ever been able to conjure up is a really bad case of acid reflux. And I don’t think I necessarily had to be psychic to do it.

So when Lifetime television began airing the Lisa Williams show, My Life Among the Dead, I was very curious to watch it. Though I must admit, I approached the show with a healthy amount of skepticism. After all, many famous psychics in the past have been publicly discredited. Or they’ve been shown to selectively edit their programs to make it look like they hit the mark 100% of the time. When in actuality, they were just guessing, hoping to strike a nerve with a general statement that might apply to anybody.

“Do you have a father?”


“And a mother too?”

“Yes. One of each.” Cue for eyes to begin watering.

“Was your father taller than you when you were growing up?”

“Yes, Oh my God!” Cue tears rolling down the face.

“And did your mother ever cook dinner for you?”

“Yes. Wow! How could you possibly know that?” Cue total breakdown and wild audience applause.

Of course I’m being simplistic here, but you get the idea. With these kinds of generalizations, anybody could be psychic. Even George Bush.

So anyway, I began watching Lisa's show and found myself laughing more than disbelieving. Lisa herself is quite a jolly soul, her constant smile reminding me of the Cheshire Cat from "Alice in Wonderland." And I certainly can't deny her likeability. With her English accent and perky/nerdy personality it's impossible not to be fascinated by her.

Especially when she “randomly” approaches people on the street or in her local bakery. Those are my favorite sequences, because I sort of believe them and I sort of don’t. Particularly because she “casually” walks into these venues with an entire crew of lights and cameramen following her. I mean, are we really expected to believe she just happened to find a spirit playing among the donuts and bagels? Would the same thing happen if she went to the Korean Deli next door, or would there be some sort of language barrier?

I also love when people come to her office to be interviewed and she begins talking to spirits who are apparently in the room with her. “Thank you. Yes, thank you, I was wondering about that,” she says to voices that apparently only she can hear. And there I sit, mesmerized that there might actually be spirits guiding what comes out of her mouth. Because she “allegedly” pulls out some pretty intimate details from people’s lives.

The thing I want to know is how much information is Lisa actually given about the person she’s giving a reading to. Does she have their full name and where they’re from? Because the internet is a valuable resource and it would be so easy to find some kind of information on nearly anybody.

I do believe in spooks. I do. I do. I do believe in spooks.

I want to believe Lisa, because I certainly enjoy watching her. But I’m a skeptic at heart. How about you? Have you ever been to a psychic? How was it? Did you believe what he/she had to say, or did it feel like they were guiding you to reveal things before they actually pinpointed them? I’d be curious to know.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fast Food is Slow Because of the Cashiers, the Cooks or the Customers?

Have you ever been to a fast food restaurant when the service was anything but fast? Instead, you stand in line for what seems like hours waiting for the cashier to take your order.

And though you try to remain calm, anger begins to build up inside you as you wait for one of the following: 1.) the newly trained cashier to figure out which button to push, or 2.) the overtaxed cooks behind the counter who like to throw food at each other while they’re working, or 3.) the other annoying customers in front of you who still haven’t figured out what they want, even though they’ve been standing in line for the last ten minutes staring at the menu. And then there's the customer who forgot they actually have to pay for the items they are ordering, so then you wait another five minutes while they dig in their purse or pockets to look for the exact change they need to pay for the meal.

I HATE FAST FOOD! And not just because it contributes to the obesity of America. I hate Fast Food because somewhere along the line it stopped being fast. Somewhere along the line, the fast was replaced with lines and apathy and boredom. We don’t go to fast food restaurants anymore because they’re fast; we go because we like to wait in line and be served by people who hate us for expecting speedy service.

But the ironic thing is that most of the employees who work behind the fast food counters are usually slow. They either look like they’re tired, or falling asleep, or actually sleep walking. There is nothing in their energy or work performance that suggests you are here for a quick meal. In fact, most of the time, they do everything they can to slow down the process.

One of my good friends used to work as a Manager for a Burger King restaurant when he was in college. And even though that was more than twenty years ago, he still feels the need to train fast food employees on what they’re doing wrong. (As if they really cared for his opinion.)

Recently, we went to a local Burger King for lunch, and when we finally got up to the cash register to order, the counter girl didn’t even greet us. She didn’t say “hello,” she didn’t say “may I take your order,” she just stared off into space as if our order was going to be transmitted telepathically.

But since my friend had no intention of ordering until the cashier greeted him properly, he simply stood there staring at her until she finally turned to look at him. She didn’t say anything, though. She just stared back, as if she was goading him to get even angrier.

“Hello, May I help you?” my friend finally said sarcastically, hoping this would jog the girl’s memory of her role in this transaction.


“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to say? Hello, may I help you?”

“I guess. What do you want?”
My friend took a deep breathe before continuing. But not to place his order, mind you. He would rather spend his time at the counter making a few corrections to the girl’s work habits.

“You know, it would be much more efficient if you took several orders while you were waiting for the food to come up. That way you could move this big line along, instead of taking one order at a time and having us all wait while you slowly assemble their meal.”

The girl didn’t respond to what he said; she just stared at him with a blank expression as if he were speaking in tongues.

“But I suppose you already learned that in Burger King College, right?”

“What kind of drink did you want?” was the only response he got.

This launched him into a three minute tirade on the intricacies of good customer service that I had no intention of listening to again. It’s embarrassing enough when he complains about the service, but then when he actually confronts the cashiers with the complaints, I get queasy.

I left the restaurant and walked over to Outback Steakhouse, where I managed to sit down and have an entire meal before my friend was finally out of Burger King. (Apparently they’d messed up his order several times, and he was not going to leave until they got it right.)

So who do you think is to blame for poor service at most fast food establishments? Is it the cashiers, the cooks, or the customers?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pardon Me Boys, Is that the LindsayBritneyParis?

(Sung to the tune of "Chattanooga Choo Choo")

Pardon Me, Boys,
Is that the LindsayBritneyParis?
All clubbing at Hyde,
Boy, can you get me inside?

I want to see…when they start dancing on the tables,
Snorting up Coke,
Or maybe taking a toke.

They cause immediate sensation when they go on the town,
The paparazzi treat them like they’re some kind of clown,
Photos are a mainstay,
Even of Vajajay,
Nothing is off limits with these girls around.

When the party’s over and they go to their cars,
Inebriated bodies that won’t get very far,
Someone drops a doobie,
Someone shows her booby,
Boy, these girls are better than a stripper bar.

They’ve gotta be…the favorite train wreck of the nation,
Six o’clock News,
Their stories give me the blues.

Hearing them speak, you’ll think they all came from the same damn clone,
Oh LindsayBritneyParis, won’t you please just stay home?

Celebrity Stalking in Reverse Leads to Humorous Complications

The term “celebrity stalker” takes on a completely different meaning in the popular weekly web serial “It Happened in Plainfield,” when actual celebrities like George Clooney and Julia Roberts are the ones doing the stalking. This is part of the premise of the fictional comic-mystery, which follows the quirky adventures of an average guy in NJ who discovers a secret society of celebrities watching him from the house across the street. Not only watching, but secretly helping him as well.

Besides Clooney and Roberts, other real actors like Tom Selleck, Ben Affleck and Ellen Degeneres also make appearances in the story, as does the Queen of Media herself, Oprah Winfrey. But what are all these famous faces doing in Plainfield? And why are they so interested in Henson? Finding out is half the fun, as readers come back each week to download the latest free chapter in this ongoing saga.

Since the website’s launch in April, “It Happened in Plainfield” has been entertaining a growing and loyal readership with its humorous narrative and unusual take on suburban living. Thirty-odd chapters have been released to date, with a new episode being posted every Monday. The story is expected to wrap up sometime in December.

“I look forward to it every week, like a soap opera,” says reader Miriam Ricker, who first learned about the story through a co-worker. “But I think the celebrities that are included should get a hold of this and just read the concept. It’s fascinating.”

The concept revolves around a group of famous movie actors who secretly form a philanthropic organization to help affect positive change in society one person at a time. Henson is one of the people they have chosen to help, though at first he doesn’t know it. Then a series of mysterious events take place that eventually lead him to the truth. But that’s only half the story. Along the way, Henson discovers a rival faction that is systematically trying to destroy everything the celebrities have tried to accomplish. But who are they and why is Henson caught in the middle?

“The premise of the story is purposely ridiculous,” says author Michael Latshaw. “And I think that’s why people are enjoying it. You know it’s not true, but there’s still a little part of you that wonders if it could all really happen.”

To find out more about “It Happened in Plainfield,” or to access the ongoing story, please visit

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why I Don’t Play Video Games

I am always amazed when someone is willing to sit in front of a television set for hours at a time just so they can get to the next level of a video game. I myself have never been interested in this type of activity, because you don’t really win anything when the game is over. Sure, you get a cool cyber car to drive in, and you may live in a very expensive cyber home, with beautiful cyber kids and all the cyber money you could want. But so what?

Once you leave the television set, you also leave all those exciting acquisitions behind. It’s like the old adage, “you can’t take it with you.” Only in this case, you can’t take it anywhere, because none of it really exists to begin with.

Now if video games were constructed differently, and you really won something at the end of every game, I might never stop playing them. After all, I love to win stuff. I just like the stuff I win to be made out of physical materials, not colorful animated pixels.

It doesn’t mean I look down on anyone who spends their time this way, though. I just don’t have the energy myself to fight an army of cyber villains when there are so many other things to occupy my manpower. Like fighting an army of mounting bills, or slashing through an overgrown lawn. These are the true villains I fight on a daily basis. And the cool thing is, when I defeat them, I really do get satisfaction at the end. Because that’s one less bill to pay and a few more weeks respite from lawn mowing.

But I know I’m in the minority here. I have plenty of friends addicted to Playstation or Xbox who constantly tell me about their latest challenge or recent victory. Which is fine, except when they start talking about these cyber victories as if they were actual accomplishments, like going to Harvard or finding a cure for Cancer. One of my friends even went so far as to plan an engagement party for his upcoming nuptials to Princess Zelda of the Hyrule Royal Family. And he was serious about it too. (He has since been diagnosed with a complex psychological disorder, though he assures me he’ll be fully recovered before the wedding takes place.)

I do like the graphics in video games, though. As a graphic artist, I know what kind of work is involved in creating those incredible images. It ain’t easy. And the detail and imagination that goes into some of these games is incredible. But I’d much rather sit and watch the graphics go by, like watching a cartoon, than have to pick up a gamepad and participate.

But that’s just me. What about you? What do you like best about video games?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Is Big Brother Watching You Through Your Cable Box?

My friend Ramona is an avid web-surfer, and has discovered a theory about the cable industry that seems fascinating. The idea is that the cable industry is in cahoots with the government, and your average ordinary cable box is actually used for monitoring people in their homes. It all sounds very "Big Brother" to me, and I'm sure there's nothing to it.

But being the creative individual that I am, I decided to explore what would happen if such a premise were true. So I wrote a one-act play called "Clark's Cable" that sort of explores this issue. It's short and sweet, so if you have a couple minutes, why not take a gander? (To access it, please click on the link below.)