Sunday, October 31, 2010

Look! Horsey!

I've seen several of these around town, and the gag is hardly original, but I think it's funny every single time I see it. Honestly, I kind of wish every horse tie had some variant of this going on.

Update: Apparently this is a thing! Like, an organized thing! A friend of mine on Facebook alerted me to the existence of the Horse Project. Check it out!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Some Underrated Monsters

It's Halloween, which is objectively the best holiday all year. It's not nearly as stressful as Christmas, it's sexier than New Years, and is barrels more exciting than Flag Day. It's also the holiday where we'll all be reminded how pervasive two of the most popular monsters are- vampires and zombies. I guarantee you that every single Halloween party you go to will have, at the very minimum, three people dressed as these things.

It's easy to see why. Vampires are an excuse to dress up all sexy-like. Dracula and Co. have always been distinguished by their nifty clothes, deathly pallor, and sexy neck-biting business. That's all well and good, but vamps are a tad overexposed. As for zombies, they're a super-easy costume to do: just slosh some blood on yourself, and, boom, you're a zombie. You don't have to have a particular clothing style or anything; all you need is gobs and blood and maybe a bit of putrescence. Boom. Zombie. Done.

The great pantheon of other monsters, though, seem to be sadly ignored. Not just in terms of costumes, but in general. What follows are a few monsters whom I think are just as creepy as the popular dead guys.


Yes, I know. Werewolves are in everything. They were in Buffy and they're in True Blood as well. The problem with the wolves, though, is that they've sort of become a foil to vampires. Every other bit of vampire media seems to set up werewolves as the natural enemy of vampires. The World of Darkness did this, as did Underworld, as did that horrible Van Helsing movie.

I've got no problem with the Wolves Vs. Vampire thing, but the raging furry dudes ought to have a chance to stand on their own. The werewolf is basically about how scary it is to flip out and lose your shit, giving into rage and emotion. That's something worth developing. Instead, they've just been a beastie for vampires to fight.

The Phantom of the Opera

This another instance where the creature in question is pretty popular, but not used to his full extent. The Phantom today is best known for the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, which establishes him as a romantic lead first, and deranged killer second. People tend to think of the musical before they think of Lon Chaney's freakish and psychotic Phantom, if they think of that at all. This is a guy who's grossly deformed, gets obsessed with starlets, and then hangs people for his own enjoyment. He could be right up there with the Frankenstein Monster as a freakish horror, but instead is viewed as being all romantical and misunderstood. Rightly, he should be viewed as the aristocrat-killing opera-haunting all around murderous badass that he used to be.

Entities From H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos That Are Not Cthulu

Cthulu gets way too much attention. He's everywhere- movies, games, t-shirts, toys. You can't go into a comic shop without tripping over a bunch of tentacles. As much as I like Cthulu, though, he overshadows the other nasty elder gods that Mr. Lovecraft bequeathed on us- grotesque beings such as Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat With a Thousand Young; or the King in Yellow, an eerie being who makes a memorable and hugely creepy appearance in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. The big green tentacled dude has been overexposed to the point where he's almost a parody of himself, but the rest of Lovecraft's pantheon is still genuinely creepy.

Pretty Much Everything From Japanese Mythology

One of the better books of ghost stories I've read was Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan. Hearn was one of the first Westerners to be nationalized as a Japanese citizen, and he loved the folklore from his adopted land. Most people now think that his wife, a Japanese woman, had just as much to do with the book as he did, but he was a dude, it was barely the 1900s, and his name was put on the book.

Anyway, the thing that I find sort of creepy about Japanese mythology is that there are a disturbing amount of stories where a guy marries a lady, and then the lady turns into an ice witch or crane or fox or some other variant, often abandoning her husband once he learns her secrets. One can play armchair psychologist and wonder what this says about Japanese culture, but the idea that beasties are actually in your living room rather than out in the dark woods is niftily squicky in a pod-people sort of way.

Hungry ghosts are also genuinely spooky. Vampires are supposed to illustrate the horrors of thirst, hunger, and general lack of satiation, I suppose, but anymore they're way more about leather and sexy times than anything else. Hungry ghosts, dried out husks forever trying to satisfy themselves, seem actually damned.

Anything William Blake Ever Painted

William Blake is one of my favorite painters. He was also probably insane, and his paintings of scenes from Dante's Divine Comedy are fairly creeptacular.

Actually, paintings aside, he himself was probably pretty monstrous.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

About A Certain Urban Nickname...

I've never liked the name "Rose City."

Portland, to me, has never been the "City of Roses." That name reeks of airbrushed idealism, it seems forced and false. The idea of this place as some sort of fragrant garden, some sun-dappled manicured lawn redolent of blooms and buds seems hugely false. The region is fertile, yes, it is green, certainly, but it has never struck me as particularly rosy.

The everpresent evergreens seem a better symbol, as do the layered and enveloping clouds. This city isn't suggestive of brightness and perfumed plants. This place is rain-soaked. It is green and awash more with the scents of coffee and hops than any ornamental plant. Roses are an ignored ideal. Portland deserves a sobriquet.

"Puddletown" is more accurate, but there are rainy cities everywhere. Such a name is not terribly unique. A better fit is "Bridgetown," a name that brings to mind our wonderful and inspiring urban infrastructure. "Stumptown" speaks to the actual history of the place, and is a reminder that we stand in the middle of what once was a dense forest. Even "Rip City" works better than the floral monikers. It is full of nonsensical bravado, reminiscent of Drexler-era games of NBA Jam. But, it calls to mind something real, a time when the Trail Blazers were a force to be reckoned with.

All of these are good. All of them are better than the too-cheery names "Rose City" or "City of Roses." All of them seem to have more of that very in-demand commodity; authenticity.

I hope that the roses fade, that "Stumptown" and "Bridgetown" gain primacy. A stand of evergreens or the spires of the St. Johns Bridge are more real and more inspiring symbols of our metropolis than any non-native flower will ever be.

We are Stumptown, Puddletown, Bridgetown, even Rip City. Roses, it seems, just happen to grow here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"I Don't Create. I Own.": In Which I Finally Watch Wall Street

Goodfellas is, ultimately, a movie about how hollow and empty the life of crime is. Chances are, says Goodfellas, that you'll probably end up dead. Or, if you don't, you'll at least end up washed up and existentially empty.

Yet when watching it one thinks, "Being a gangster sure looks like fun, what with all the snazzy suits and easy money."

Wall Street is, ultimately, a movie about how hollow and empty the life of stock trading is. Chances ares, says Wall Street, that you won't produce anything and you might go to prison. Or, if you don't, you'll at least end up washed up and existentially empty.

Yet when watching it one things, "Being a stock trader sure looks like fun, what with all the snazzy suits and easy money."

I finally sat down and watched Oliver Stone's eighties epic this evening, and while I enjoyed all 125 of its minutes, I couldn't help but feel that the movie kind of misfired. Reason being, I ended up being utterly charmed by Gordon Gekko, the slimy stock trader who was really supposed to be the villain.

Make no mistake- Gekko is presented as a reprehensible person. He's a lying, manipulating bastard who plays other people to get his way, and wholly owns that. The "greed is good" speech has been widely touted as summing up the movie (and in context, it is pretty badass) but when Gekko proclaimed "I don't create. I own," that really summed up his character for me. He owns his leechlike state. He touts his non-contribution to civilization as a point of pride.

He does not provide any good or service to anyone. He enriches himself on the labor of others. He can decide the fate of thousands of people, yet in the end he's little more than a petty oligarch.

Yes. I got it. I was totally on board with Wall Street's anti-corporate message.

The problem, though, is the Michael Douglas, as Gekko, is pretty damn charismatic. He eats up the screen, chews up and spits out the scenery, dominates the entire film, and is ultimately just bigger than anything else around him. He's huge, vibrant, attractive, and looks like he's having a great time. I had a hard time hating him, even though he was so obviously a son-of-a-bitch.

This is why Wall Street, at the end of the day, is something of a failure. At least ideologically. After seeing it, I kind of wanted to go to New York and blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on steak dinner, hookers, cocaine, and abstract art; all the while surveying the Manhattan skyline from a lofty perch. I will bet you anything that there are swarms upon swarms of WASPy little douchebags infesting trading floors and financial institutions because they were inspired by this movie.

Hell, I'm super-liberal, borderline-socialist, tree-hugging, crypto-hippie, and I was nearly inspired to go put on a pair of suspenders and become a professional swindler. Imagine what it could do to someone more nastily disposed. At Goodfellas is about the mafia, an organization that is sort of hard to join. Wall Street, though, is about the financial service industry, an industry that hires people all of the time.

And that's why Wall Street is, ultimately, a failure. Its heart is in the right place, but its inspiration points staunchly in the other direction.

In Praise of the Satchel

Bookbags are heavy, unfashionable, and reminiscent of Mormon missionaries and high school students.

Messenger bags, while wonderful, are sizable. The whole thing is vaguely fashionable and utilitarian, but in the end is a very large bag. For a day on the bike, they are great. For a night out, they are not.

A briefcase demands to be carried, and having one's hands free is a plus.  What's more, it is far too businesslike for social occasions.

What is a guy to do for those times when he's going out, but doesn't need a huge carrying case? How can one carry around a say, book, phone, iPod, and notepad, but not have to carry the aforementioned pieces of luggage?

The answer is simple: the noble (and unfairly maligned) satchel.

Call it a man-purse if you like. You may even shorten that to "murse," if you so choose, or make a facile scrotal pun but calling it a "man bag."  Call it whatever the hell you want. I don't care. Your complaints that my trusty shoulder bag looks sort of swishy and effeminate are dwarfed by the sheer functionality of the item.

What do you need when you go out? I always carry a book with me, for those times when I'm waiting for/riding on public transport, or in the event that I simply want to spend a bit in a park or coffee shop reading. Not having a book make me feel naked and exposed, like I'm missing something essential.

I also carry around my iPod. You know, for music and podcast whilst walking. Striding through the streets of Portland, satchel on my shoulder, with the dulcet tones of either the Dirty Projectors or NPR's Planet Money in my ears truly does put me in a specific demographic, one which I completely enjoy occupying.

In the off chance that I need to write something down, I carry a pen and notepad. This is a very, very handy item to have on you. When someone says "do you have something to write this down on?" I can say "Yes. Yes I do."

All of these handy items (and oftentimes more!) are toted around in my trusty black satchel, an oiled-canvas bag that I've had for a few years now. I got it as a going away present, and it is, far and away, one of the most useful gifts I've ever received. It has been to Japan, China, Korea, and even as far as California. It's held a camera, voice recorder, bottled water, an amplifier, and even a marriage license. When handed a stray piece of paperwork, I need not fold it up awkwardly- it goes in the satchel.

I am proud of how danged handy, how wonderfully useful this item is. As widely-used as it might be, though, by urban types such as myself, the satchel is unfairly spurned. There seems to be a stubborn subset of men who reject its use because it vaguely resembles a purse.  Certain kinds of men, insecure in their masculinity, deny the obvious usefulness of the satchels.

On the off chance that any of those guys are reading this, I would like to address them specifically for a moment. All of you guys who, for some reason or another, think that the satchel is vaguely girly.

Guys, let's talk about that for a moment. Women, you might have noticed, wear pants. So do we. They wear shirts, just like us. They also get haircuts, much like we do. Would you walk around sporting women's pants, shirts, or haircuts? Okay, some guys would, but for the most part, dudes, you'd get pants, shirts, and haircuts designed for you. Our pants are designed for a dude-waist rather than lady hips, our shirts are made with guy shoulders in mind, and our haircuts are generally a different species than those the ladies favor.

Thus it is so with the satchel. The satchel is no more a purse than any other dude-designed item. Try it! It is useful! No longer will you have to stuff paperwork in your pocket or keep five things in your hands at once. No more will you be without a writing implement or reading material. Your iPod and phone will not rest awkwardly in your pockets, and if you get sick of sitting on your wallet, it can go into the satchel. Glasses and sunglasses fit easily inside it, as do any other doo-dads or whatever you might have on you at the time.

Men, do not let this obvious bit of utility pass you by. We have the technology to carry around day-to-day items. You need not shirk from this innovation, this satchel. It is useful, it is nice looking, and (don't worry) it's definitely not a purse.