Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Zander Cannon

Photo via Wikipedia

I went to a small liberal arts college in Iowa, the sort of place where everyone dreams of being published one day. As such, my classmate Zander Cannon was the subject of great envy and admiration when we all found out he'd gotten a comic book published - in our junior year, even! Zander was both writer and artist for the first issue of Chainsaw Vigilante, a Tick spin-off, in 1993. It was just the beginning of an impressive career. In the years since graduation, he's worked with some big names in the industry, including Alan Moore (V for Vendetta) and Bill Willingham (Fables). He and another fellow alum have their own publishing company: Big Time Attic.

I haven't seen Zander in many years but having recently entered the comics hobby myself, I've kept an eye out for his work. I figure as long as I'm spending money on this stuff, some of it should be going to the one person I actually know in the business. I recently picked up two collections of his older projects: The Replacement God, for which he was again both writer and artist, and Top 10 Book 1, for which he served as layout artist. Obviously, I was predisposed to have a positive opinion. That said, in total objective honesty, I was extremely impressed by both...

Title: The Replacement God
Writer/Artist: Zander Cannon

Image via Open Library

The Replacement God was Zander's first publication after Chainsaw Vigilante. This was a black-and-white series distributed by Amaze Ink. To me, what is most impressive about Zander's career is his success as both artist and writer. Even the biggest stars in the comics biz have generally stuck to one or the other. The Replacement God is a delightfully irreverent take on fantasy narrative, the classic tale of a reluctant hero. The artwork is stunning. I'm particularly fond of several panels in which the speech bubbles are obscured by the same heavy rain as the surrounding image - very clever, sir!

I have gathered from his Facebook postings that Zander is trying to relaunch this title and I hope he does. All of the characters are engaging and the end of the first series left plenty of openings for further adventures.

Title: Top 10 Book 1
Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Gene Ha and Zander Cannon

Image via the Negative Zone

While Zander has continued to get writing work - in recent years, he was the writer for both Star Trek TNG: Ghosts and Transformers: Bumblebee - most of his higher-profile efforts have been as an artist. I was first introduced to the work of Alan Moore with the film V for Vendetta which was based on his graphic novel of the same title. I liked the movie a lot more than I expected and was very impressed when I learned that Zander had worked with the story's creator.

Zander was the layout artist for Top 10, whereas Mr. Ha was the finishing artist. As a newbie, I had to learn what that means. According to Wikipedia, a layout artist "deals with the structure and layout of images and text in a pleasing format." From what I can gather, the finishing artist would be in charge of creating and refining the images themselves.

Whatever it all means, Top 10 is top-notch, the most enjoyable non-Japanese title I've yet encountered in comics. Moore is a master storyteller and the artwork is beautiful, greatly enhancing the narrative and the reader's investment in the characters. Not only am I inspired to follow more of this story (there's a Book 2 and spin-offs as well), but also to seek out Alan Moore's other work and other Eisner Award winners, too, as those folks clearly know a good thing when they see it.

Most of Big Time Attic's work these days is in graphic non-fiction but Zander still has his hand in the comics game. Most recently, he was a contributing artist for Fables #113. I've yet to pick up a copy but I certainly will. One of the most gratifying aspects of the comics hobby for me has been exploring Zander's work and I intend to continue. I hope some of you will, too!

The Liebster Award

A big thank you to Heather Murphy for presenting me with the Liebster Award! Heather's blog is Random Interruptions. Go check it out. Meanwhile, the award details...

The Liebster Award is for "the best kept secret" blogs with less then 200 followers. It's a great way to find new blogs and help others get discovered.

To accept the award you must do a few things:
1) Thank the person that nominated you on your blog and link back to them.
2) Nominate up to 5 other blogs for the award.
3) Let them know via comment on their blog
4) Post the award on your blog

So here are my 5 winners:

Wikes! Hikes on the Long Trail - My Wife's blog on hiking, books and food

Stay on target... - My dear friend Mock's blog on sci-fi, comics, baseball and so forth

Exclamation Point (!) - My dear friend Mrs. Mock's blog on books, toys and such

inspire nordic - A blog brimming with enthusiasm for all things Scandinavian

thecontemplativecat - A blog by writer Susan Kane

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Star Wars Is Vitally Important

Image via

In 1977, 20th Century Fox released a film then known simply as Star Wars, a film made for a scant $11 million which would revolutionize the industry. In 1977, no one could possibly have predicted that George Lucas's little movie would become one of the most powerful forces in worldwide popular culture. No one could have foreseen the economic empire built upon a brand to rival Disney and the Beatles: sequels, prequels, books, video games, cartoons, toys - oh, so many toys! In 1977, I was four years old.

I didn't even know what I was getting into. Seeing the movie was my mother's idea. I had no clue as to the treats in store: lasers, droids, light sabers, Wookiees. Holy cow, Wookiees! How could I possibly have known of the central role this story would play in shaping the cultural vocabulary of my life?

At its heart, the original Star Wars is such a simple story: a hodgepodge band of adventurers pitted against seemingly irresistible evil. Indeed, elements of the tale predate written language. For all of the fireworks, I believe it is this very simplicity which is the secret of Star Wars's appeal. If no sequels or prequels were ever made, the magic of that first film would be no less for me.

Image via

But there were more. I remember the sheer delight of seeing the trailer for The Empire Strikes Back for the very first time. There was going to be more! The second one was even better. Only after years of watching other films would I appreciate the rarity of a sequel improving upon the original. Then, with a single line of dialogue, George Lucas shattered my notion of the static nature of a character's place on the moral spectrum:

"No. I am your father!"

Well, if I wasn't hooked on the story before that, I sure was after! The resolution in Return of the Jedi was icing on the cake. Three epic films in just seven years. Then, radio silence for the next 16.

Image via Crash! Site

In my life, I've found that I am a sucker for all invented worlds: Narnia, Pyrdain, Dungeons & Dragons, Middle Earth, Star Trek, Hogwarts, whatever. Once I get pulled into one, I want to feast upon all of its intricacies. My recent exploration of the comic book medium has reminded me once again that my curiosity about Lucas's galaxy far, far away has never been fully sated. Only now do I appreciate that this realm has been thoroughly explored in print since 1978. I think I may even have picked up one of the comic books back in the day and was disappointed that it wasn't exactly like the story I knew. More than once, I've tried to make it through the novelization of the original film, though not with much success. I think it's high time I renewed my efforts with both.

Talk about a cast of thousands, the Marvel Universe has nothing on the Star Wars comics. On my last trip to Earth Prime in Burlington, I picked up books from nine different Star Wars series. All told, the comic book stories span thousands of years of invented history. Evidently, George Lucas has always maintained some control over what is known as the "Expanded Universe" and has also on occasion drawn upon the stories and characters invented by others. Only two of the nine books inspired me to seek out further installments: Legacy #18 and Knights of the Old Republic #26. But just as with the Marvel characters, I was encouraged to go back to the beginning. And so, the omnibuses (omnibi?) are going on the old wish list. I am aware, going in, that the Expanded Universe may never measure up to the original trilogy for me. But I am hoping it will deepen my appreciation for the saga as a whole.

With comics, film and science fiction all taking on more prominent roles in The Armchair Squid over the past year, Star Wars is sure to be a unifying theme going forward. Sometimes I envy that four year old kid for all of the discoveries he had before him. Luckily, he left a few stories untouched for me to enjoy now.

May the Force be with you all!

Monday, February 27, 2012

I've Been Tagged!

inspirenordic tagged me with the ten questions below. Now, I must answer, then tag seven more people. Here we go...

1. What is your dream vacation?

Photo via Traveler Guide

I've wanted to go to southern Spain for a long time: Cordoba, Seville, the Alhambra and so forth. But if I could go anywhere in the world with time and money presenting no limits, I'd take my wife and daughter to Japan to show them my old haunts and perhaps explore some new areas of the country as well. Japan is central to who I am and it is only right that I should share it with the people most important to me.

Photo via BUGBOG

2. Are you spontaneous or do you like to plan ahead?

I'm definitely a planner and I believe in contingency plans, too.

3. Tell us one thing you want to do but don't dare do it.

I would love to go scuba diving again. I dove in the Philippines and Malaysia during my Asian adventures. Both my wife and daughter have asthmatic tendencies so it's not a hobby we'll ever be able to pursue as a family. No worries - hiking and birdwatching satisfy the same needs for me. They're cheaper, too.

Photo via Sea N' Sand Scuba

4. What's your biggest phobia?

I am afraid of heights. The most terrifying experience of my life was driving Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. No guard rails? Are you serious?!!! I still shudder when I think about it - and that was almost 20 years ago!

5. If you were stranded on a desert island-what three things would you want with you? (Not including your laptop or family)

a. a really good book - a very long one, preferably
b. a deck of cards
c. a Swiss army knife

6. Name three blessings in your life.

a. I am well-loved.
In fact, I always have been. Mind you, it hasn't always felt that way. There have definitely been times when it felt as if everyone were against me. Junior high school comes to mind. But from my parents at the beginning to my wife and daughter now, I've always had people firmly in my corner. I've known plenty of love in between as well - often more than I deserved and certainly more than I fully appreciated.

b. I have always had enough.
During my childhood, my family was not rich but we always had enough. In my adulthood, there have been times when we have been stretched thin. But we've always managed and we've always had enough. The first blessing has certainly helped with the second.

c. I live in a beautiful place.
The first two blessings were largely accidents of birth. The third was a deliberate choice. Vermont takes my breath away on a regular basis. On a recent evening, as I was picking up my daughter from her after-school program, I happened to look up and to the east. The nearly full moon was shining above a mountain dusted with snow. With the sun setting behind me, the sky was a rich purple. It was one of those moments in a life when you know you're in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

7. What was your nickname in High School?

For over two decades now, my brother-in-law has called me Scooter. I have no idea why. And yet, it is the only nickname anyone has ever given me that stuck. He first came into our lives when I was in high school so it qualifies.

Photo via Aveleyman

8. If you could meet the President of the United States, what would you say to him?

I believe very strongly in leaving both politics and religion out of my blog as much as possible. But given the opportunity, I would say this: "Mr. President, I am extremely proud that you are the first President of whom my daughter has had meaningful awareness."

9. If you could be any literary character, who would you be?

That's a hard one. I'm going to go with Huckleberry Finn. Huck enjoyed none of the blessings I described above, save the last. But is there a greater adventure of mind, body and spirit in American literature than his? I have always wondered what happened next for Huck. One could imagine his journey was just getting started.

Image via The Project Gutenberg

10. What is your favorite quote?

How long can my quote be? I've always been very fond of the baseball glove story in The Catcher in the Rye but that seems a bit cumbersome for this exercise. Most of my favorite quotes are from movies. The best of the best:

Wouldn't you know, you'd have to be as rich as the Lords to live in a dump like this?" - Liz Imbrie, The Philadelphia Story

Photo via

I am tagging the following people:

Grumpy Bulldog
Heather Murphy
Nicki Elson
Mark Koopmans

Family Adventures: George Clooney's Disastrous Tailoring

We went to an Oscar party last night, our second year in a row attending this particular affair. The golden boot above was my door prize from last year's soiree. Vermont is a state of small towns and it's easy to feel that everyone in the state knows each other, or at least isn't separated by more than two or three degrees. We have, in fact, two separate connections to our Oscar hosts. I taught all three of the children in high school choir once upon a time and My Wife worked with the mom at the same company for several years.

I didn't do too well in the pool, only picking eight of the awards correctly. I don't know if My Wife did much better. We were somewhat hampered by the fact that we've only seen one film that was nominated for anything: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But the Oscars are always plenty of fun regardless. My Wife taught us about proper hemming. Apparently, American men (like George Clooney) never get their pants properly hemmed whereas European men (like her boyfriend, Colin Firth) do. Apparently, this is how it should look:

Photo via Threads Count

We had our own little party on Saturday night, entertaining the Mocks for another game night. The main attraction was a new addition to our collection: Pandemic.

Image via Wikipedia

It's a cooperative game - not in the everyone holds hands and sings "Kumbayah" sense. Rather, it's get in gear, people, or the whole world dies in puss-running agony. We played through, I believe, three times and finally managed to save humanity on the last attempt. I think Mock is now as obsessed as we are. The game is designed for 2-4 players but, as he pointed out, one could probably play a satisfying solitaire game.

We had a nice lunch in Waterbury on Sunday at Arvad's Grill & Pub. It was our second time there and, while I intended to order something different from before, I think I got the Roadside Chicken Sandwich last time, too. No matter - it's excellent. The Chocolate Mousse Torte was a great choice for dessert, too.

Finally, I have a link to recommend, sent to me by Kaitlyn Cole: 12 Colleges Bringing Comic Books into the Classroom. If you're interested in either education or comics, check it out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The X-Men

Title: The X-Men (Marvel Masterworks, Volume 1)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Image via BARNES & NOBLE

After making my way through the stack of Spider-Man books Mock gave me a while back, I started on a couple of superhero teams: the Avengers and the X-Men. Having grown to appreciate the beauty in simplicity of The Amazing Spider-Man, I was overwhelmed by the cast of thousands in the group stories. Once I'd finally feel invested in a storyline, it would end and the next issue would move on to something completely different, centered on characters I didn't even know yet. As a newbie, my head was spinning. Not only did I feel the need to go back to the beginning with these stories. I felt I should do so with scorecards in hand just to keep track of everyone!

Masterworks, Volume 1 includes the first ten X-Men comic books, covering September 1963-March 1965. The group is consistent to that point. In addition to the leader/paternal figure of Professor X, there are five X-Men by the end of the first issue:

Cyclops/Scott Slim Summers
Iceman/Bobby Drake
The Angel/Warren Worthington III
The Beast/Hank McCoy
Marvel Girl/Jean Grey

The Beast image via Comic Vine

In issue #4, an arch-nemesis group is introduced: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. I love bad guy teams. The old Hanna-Barbera Super Friends show improved tremendously with the addition of the Legion of Doom! The Evil Mutants lineup:

Magneto (leader)
The Scarlet Witch

Evil Mutants image via The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century

As I've written before, Marvel's greatest advantage over DC Comics is superior character development. It was all part of a creative philosophy launched by Stan Lee and his colleagues in the early '60s. The benefit of a team title is seeing the impact of various personalities on group dynamics. Each of the X-Men is distinct, and not just in mutant powers (though, in my opinion, Iceman and Angel are more or less interchangeable - at least in the early stages). If anything, the group dynamics of the Evil Mutants are even more interesting. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are both reluctant followers of Magneto and the X-Men make their pitch to the pair to join their side instead.

There are definitely some signs of the times within these issues. Nuclear missiles, for instance, are referred to as "democracy's silent sentinels" in The X-Men #1. You've gotta love the Cold War! There's no shortage of Mad Menesque sexual politics, either. The boys can't help but openly and shamelessly slobber over Marvel Girl every time she appears. And, naturally, she's the one who must fill in when the cook has a day off in issue #6.

As with the early Spideys, it's fun to see some of the early ideas. In the first issue, the X-Men, Angel included, have to drive to the airport before they jet off to save the world. Mind you, they get to ride in a Rolls Royce but the idea of superheroes having to fight their way through Westchester County highway traffic like everyone else is highly amusing.

Image via Alternate Cover

Thank goodness the Department of Special Affairs donated a convertiplane for the team's use in issue #2.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Family Adventures: Miyazaki

Image via GeekTyrant

If you feel that there are no children's films sophisticated enough to hold the interest of adults or that there aren't enough strong female lead characters in such movies, then you have not yet been introduced to the extraordinary work of Hayao Miyazaki. We are devoted fans of the Japanese anime directing legend at our house. Our Girl has declared his films her "favorite kind of movie." She has manga comic books for several of them and loads of toys from the movies. Each of us has a favorite. Our Girl loves Castle in the Sky best. My Wife likes Spirited Away. I'm partial to Howl's Moving Castle. Bottom line, the entire opus is outstanding.

Miyazaki photo via Wikipedia

Until this weekend, we had never seen one of Miyazaki's films on the big screen. Miyazaki serves as director for many of the Studio Ghibli films but for The Secret World of Arrietty, he handed over the reins to Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Miyazaki maintains screenwriting credit, though, teaming with Keiko Niwa in adapting The Borrowers, the children's novel by Mary Norton. From the Ghibli logo at the opening, it was clear we were not the only longtime fans in the audience. My Wife overheard many whispers of "That's Totoro!"

Image via The Mary Sue

We love Miyazaki films for so many reasons. The artwork is beautiful, the stories rich and the characters nuanced. One of the big draws for us, though, has been Miyazaki's strong female leads. Arrietty is typical of his protagonists: adventurous, daring, neither exceedingly girly nor overly tomboyish. She's like a real kid, difficult to pigeonhole.

The film is wonderful - 4 out of 5 stars from me. We ran into Orange Man and his family at the theater. Touching base afterwards, he asked if I managed to stay awake through the whole thing. That is his measure for kids' films. Last year's Winnie the Pooh movie? Not so much. But he stayed awake for Arrietty.

Image via

I won't spoil too much for those planning to see the film but towards the end of the story, the cat leads Sho, Arrietty's human friend, to the Borrowers. We have a cat. Affectionately, we call him The Big Lug. He's a sweet kitty but not the sharpest tack in the drawer. If one of us is on our way to the kitchen, he runs in ahead excitedly, as if he has something to show us. He then invariably gets distracted by his food dish. We've been trying to figure out what he's trying to communicate to us with this display (never mind the obvious - there's always plenty of food in the bowl). As the closing credits were rolling, I leaned over to My Wife and said "I think he's trying to lead us to the Borrowers..." She laughed, clearly having thought the same thing.

It was an Asian-themed weekend for us. In addition to the Japanese film, we went out for two meals - Thai on Friday night and Chinese on Saturday after the movie. Our closest Thai restaurant has just come under new management. What was Tiny Thai is now Sukho Thai Restaurant in Essex. We had a loooong wait for a table but it was well worth it. My go-to dish in Thai food is Pad Kee Maow (aka Drunken Noodles) and Sukho's is excellent - wide noodles and plenty of heat. My order at Joyce's on Saturday night was less successful: the House Lo Mein. It did pair nicely with My Wife's order, though: Mongolian Lamb with Hot Chili Garlic.

On the broomball front, we lost again, 2-0 this time. Still no goals for me (obviously) but I can smell one coming soon. My shoes arrived in time and they're awesome! One can actually run like a normal person with them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The Amazing Spider-Man

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 1)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Image via

When Mock began indoctrinating me into the world of comic books, he gave me three boxes filled entirely with Marvel titles. I decided to begin with Spider-Man as he was the character most familiar to me. As it turned out, The Amazing Spider-Man was a great series to begin with for other reasons. It is the one book in either the Marvel or DC universes which has stuck most faithfully to the traditional comic book formula: one hero with one alias, a small supporting cast and a self-contained story in each issue. Spidey is very tidy.

I soon realized that what I really wanted to do was go back to the beginning, to read the Spider-Man saga from his first appearance in the early '60s. The Marvel Masterworks series has provided me with just such an opportunity. I was delighted to find that the writing was every bit as hokey then as it is now. I got to read the origin story and to see the first super villain (Chameleon), the first crossover (The Fantastic Four) and the first girlfriend (Betty Brant). I love that they've left the typos and other mistakes as they were. For instance, in one story, the character is consistently referred to as Peter Palmer.

While the stories in each issue are a bit formulaic, the gradual development in the broader stories helps to maintain interest. As issue #10 wrapped up, I was genuinely curious as to what comes next in the Betty Brant story. I also think that Flash Thompson's changing attitude toward Peter Parker is intriguing. I'm definitely up for Volume 2.

I am glad that some ideas have been scrapped. The underarm webbing in the original Spidey costume is just weird - not that it isn't already plenty strange for a guy to be climbing up walls in full-body spandex! I'm not even sure what it is about the webbing that bothers me. It just doesn't fit with the rest somehow.

Image via

As with many of my generation, my personal history with Spider-Man goes back to The Electric Company.

The Electric Company - Introducing Spider Man

I also had a friend in college who would make appearances around campus in a Spidey costume. He even made his own movie of the origin story - quite a high-budget operation for a student film. He rented a crane for swinging from building to building. Marvel actually sent him a cease and desist letter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Following Up on '80s Crushes

My Tumble 4 Ya Blogfest experience was so much fun that it merits a follow up. Connecting with other bloggers is always rewarding. I appreciate all of the feedback on my post and have likewise enjoyed learning about everyone else's youthful yearnings.

Image via

First, I must address a question posed by both Suze and Jennifer Lane regarding WarGames. Prior to 1985's The Breakfast Club, Ally Sheedy's biggest role was Jennifer Katherine Mack, love interest of David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) in the 1983 cyber-terrorism thriller. As I commented on the original post, WarGames was a serendipitous discovery for our family. We only went to see it because we arrived at the theater too late for our first choice (no idea what it was). All worked out fine as we all enjoyed the film.

Truth be told, it's been years since I've watched WarGames and I don't remember much about the love interest aspect of the story. It is possible that I was a little too young to appreciate it. The Pentagon hacking angle was far more intriguing to my 10-year-old mind. But I also think it says something for Matthew Broderick's talent that even in his earliest roles, he managed to be the screen presence in his films. Broderick was occasionally touted as a Brat Packer by association but let's be honest. As an actor, he was and is in a higher class than most of his teen idol contemporaries.

I haven't seen St. Elmo's Fire in a long time either and, in fact, have little desire to watch it. In her Tumble 4 Ya post, Julie Flanders cited the film as cringe-worthy and I have a sneaking suspicion that I also would find it unbearable now. I wanted to post the following clip in my original post but our Internet connection wasn't very cooperative that day. In trying to play it, I just got the first line over and over again: "Alec was the first love of my life...Alec was the first love of my life...Alec was the first love of my life..." Painful!

On the other hand, I'd happily watch Some Kind of Wonderful anytime. I was tempted to give Watts top billing for my crush post but Ally Sheedy came to mind first so it seemed only fair. But I consider SKoW to be the great, under-appreciated work of the John Hughes opus. With justification, it has been called a recycled Pretty in Pink, albeit with the sex roles reversed. However, I've always felt that version 2.0 is superior to the original. Role by role, I think all of the actors are stronger:

- Eric Stoltz over Molly Ringwald - Both are redheads - interesting.

- Mary Stuart Masterson over Jon Cryer - Sorry, Ducky fans. I like him, too. But Watts is my girl.

- Lea Thompson over Andrew McCarthy - The closest call of the bunch, though I think the extra wrinkle with Thompson's character - girl from the wrong side of the tracks hanging with the rich crowd - pushes her over the top

- Craig Sheffer over James Spader - Sheffer's a great heavy, especially interesting in light of the completely opposite role he plays in A River Runs Through It.

- Elias Koteas over Annie Potts - That one's a slam dunk.

Also, this is a great screen kiss:

The Armchair Squid began as a sports blog and as such, it seemed only appropriate to feature an athlete. My crush on Katarina Witt was quite genuine and she would have made an excellent top choice. Recent photos would suggest that she is still one of the most beautiful women in the world.

Photo via

Much was made of a "rivalry" between Witt and American Debi Thomas in 1988, especially when they chose the same piece of music for their long programs. But was there ever really any doubt? Here is Witt's gold medal-winning "Carmen":

In perusing the other blogs in the hop, I have learned much about the women of my generation. I always knew that Top Gun was a big deal for the Cruise and Kilmer crushers but I had no idea that the beach volleyball scene was the main draw. I am most definitely not too proud to pander so here you are, ladies (I think this is an Italian dub but come on, you're not really in it for the sparkling dialogue, are you?):

Finally, a little gift for Annalisa Crawford, though really for all of you. Ms. Crawford chose Morten Harket, A-Ha's dreamy lead singer, as her '80s crush. I must credit My Sister for this wonderful find. Enjoy:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Off My Duff: Spreading the Faith

Inspired by our students who wear their jerseys to school on game days as a sign of team unity, all of us teachers on the broomball team wore our shirts to work on Friday. The kids were fascinated! For starters, the shirts are awesome, as readers of previous posts already know:

Also, we all have funky numbers. Mock is 3.14. Blue Liner is 007. I'm 4 over 4, as in the time signature:

But mostly, they were amazed to realize that we have lives beyond the school. I tell my students that I sleep in a bed that descends from a secret compartment in my classroom ceiling. I'm pretty sure at least half of them actually believe me. Even more than with their other teachers, they were shocked that I, the music guy, have any interests beyond my subject.

One class of fifth graders peppered me with questions. Despite living up here in the frozen north, most of them have no idea what broomball is. A few had it confused with curling which is certainly understandable. I laid out the basics: it's hockey with broom-shaped sticks, sneakers rather than skates and a ball instead of a puck. They wanted to know everything...

Q: Do you guys usually win?
A: (laughing) No, we usually lose.

Q: How big is the ball?
A: About the size of a large grapefruit.

Q: Does it hurt when you fall down on the ice?
A: Um, yes. Quite a lot.

Q: Can kids play?
A: Yes, but not in our league.

Q: How much time do you get to practice?
A: Apart from warming up before a game, none.

Q: Can we come watch you?
A: Uh, sure (thinking I must learn to clean up the expletives when the other team scores).

Q: Is the stick blade curved at all?
That one came from a particularly thoughtful student and he was completely serious. I suppose he was thinking of the slight curve in a hockey blade and wondered if the broom blades were the same way. I had to admit that I wasn't sure, but I'd check and tell him later. As it turns out, the answer is no - flat on both sides.

They kept me going for 30 minutes. The Blue Liner joked later that they'd found my weakness for distracting me from the lesson plan. True enough, but I'm willing to invest that kind of time for the kids to get to know me better, potentially see me as human. Besides, I love a good chat. I managed to squeeze in my syncopation intro and a dancing game in the last 15 minutes. It was a fun class - no harm, no foul.

As for Friday night's game, we got killed: 6-0. I played mainly forward again and while I'm getting pretty good at being in the right place at the right time, putting the ball in the net isn't quite as reflexive as I would like it to be. I always seem to smack it right at the goalie. I know, I know, the shot goes where your eyes go. I know...

It was great to have my new helmet, which brings to mind a song I'll save for the end of the post. Shoes are in the mail. As long as they get here before Friday, I shall tread the ice without fear in our next game. The Bobs know what I mean.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My '80s Crush: Leslie Hunter

For me, the '80s were the heart of adolescence. Crushes were like pimples, popping up all over the place. For the Tumble 4 Ya Blogfest, the hard part was coming up with just one. Leslie Hunter, Ally Sheedy's character in St. Elmo's Fire, came to mind first so she wins top billing.

Photo via Tee Shirt Soup

My choice of the character rather than the actress is deliberate. At the time, I would have said that my crush was on Sheedy but thinking back now, she never did much for me in her other films. I tried. The Breakfast Club is outstanding, of course, and she deserves a lot of credit for creating a believable character. I knew girls like that in high school, the ones who worked a little too hard at being invisible. But Allison Reynolds wasn't exactly crush-worthy. Stephanie Speck in Short Circuit? The whole film was a bit too precious and Sheedy's character especially.

So, why Leslie Hunter? Well, she was darn cute for starters. The eyes, the hair and the impish smile just made you want to gather her up in a blanket for the evening. I suppose, too, the protector within me wanted to save her from her womanizing boyfriend, Alec (Judd Nelson). In fact, I suspect that my crush on Leslie may have had its roots in my sympathy for Kevin, Andrew McCarthy's character. He was her trusted confidant, secretly in love with her. That's a role I knew well at that age.

There are many others worthy of honorable mention. Watts, Mary Stuart Masterson's character in Some Kind of Wonderful, was a big one.

Photo via Trespass Magazine

Masterson was also great in Heaven Help Us, another Andrew McCarthy picture and an under-appreciated film if you've never seen it.

Among athletes, East German figure skater Katarnia Witt was without equal, on the ice or in my heart.

Photo via Nick Verreos

I had a Sports Illustrated subscription for most of that decade and the arrival of the swimsuit issue was a deeply spiritual annual event. Now, I recognize that the issue is completely gratuitous, though far from the most objectifying rag on the newsstand. But at the time, pictures of scantily-clad supermodels delivered to my mailbox were like manna from heaven. I believe Ric Ocasek when he says he's the luckiest man alive for being married to Paulina Porizkova (cover model in '84 and '85). My favorite SI model, though, was Kathy Ireland ('89, '92 and '94).

Photo via My Fashion

Curious about other '80s crushes? Take a stroll through the participating blogs listed below.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Family Adventures: Suckers for a Theme

We went to the Village Cup for dinner on Friday night. They are holding a year-long promotion entitled Routes of America, featuring a specials menu each week representing a different area of the country. Each month, in fact, has its own sub-theme. February's is musical cities, beginning this week with Nashville. My Wife and I are both suckers for a theme so we both ordered the fried chicken special. The restaurant is a bit expensive for a weekly visit but we may keep our eye out for particularly intriguing regions. Next week is Chicago, My Wife's longtime home. We're genuinely curious as to what they see as Chicago cuisine. Pizza? Brats?

The fried chicken, unfortunately from my perspective, was not quite what one would expect. I'm a purist. Southern fried chicken should look like this:

Photo via STARCH: a gastroblog

Instead, this was a boneless breast cutlet. It was well cooked, I suppose, but it didn't quite do it for me - more what one would expect from German cuisine, rather than US southern. I didn't try the peas underneath - not my vegetable of choice - but My Wife thought they were undercooked. Specials are chancy by nature. My usual order at The Village Cup alternates between the burger and the duck confit panini and both are excellent. It's worth taking a chance on something else once in a while. We'll be back.

Friday night's broomball game was a lot of fun, though yet another 2-1 loss. The ice was much choppier than it was for our past two games - ideal. I played wing for most of the game and really enjoyed it, even got a couple of decent shots on goal. I did my best to plant myself in front of their goal for rebounds. It really made them nervous, too. I got to feel notorious - always fun. It was the Blue Liner's maiden voyage with his new broomball shoes and the report was positive. I did pick up a helmet from Play It Again Sports on Saturday, on sale for half off. Shoes are next for me.

Saturday was mainly a shopping day for me - comic book shopping! We all headed to Earth Prime Comics in Burlington. In size, Earth Prime is closer to the small, Big Planet Comics (DC) end of the scale than the enormous, That's Entertainment (Worcester) end. For all of the many knocks on Worcester, Mass., That's Entertainment is spoiling me for comic shops elsewhere. Earth Prime has a decent selection, though, and they've recently rearranged their space and things are easier to find. They don't seem to carry manga anymore, though. Barnes & Noble had quite a broad selection but unfortunately not the title I was seeking. Between the two stores, I was able to find some excellent treasures.

Follow Up: Honey Tasting

Shannon Lewis, co-host of the A-Z Challenge, asked to hear more about last week's honey tasting, particularly about tasting the pollen. I thought I'd post my response for the benefit of all:

The pollen itself was quite bitter - not unpleasantly but also not the sort of thing you'd eat by the handful. The point though, was that even tiny, individual pellets were subtly different from one another, ultimately accounting for the variety of flavors in honey. To me, this begged the question as to how commercially produced honey managed to achieve such consistent flavor. Our tasting hostess suggested that it's likely a result of blending honey from various sources, but in fact they might not actually be as consistent as you'd think.

A-Z Update

My Wife has signed up for the A-Z Challenge. She's #496 on the list. Head on over and give her some encouragement at...

Wikes! Hikes on the Long Trail

Evidently Mock and Mrs. Mock are in, too, though I don't know if they've signed up yet:

Mock - Stay on Target...
Mrs. Mock - Exclamation Point (!)