Live in a major city and you will be forced to confront homelessness and poverty. On a daily basis you will be asked for money, either directly or through plaintive cardboard signs, by some of the most pitiable people you will ever see. Depending on the type of person you are, your reaction will range from sympathy to annoyance, concern to anger, frustration to apathy. Your general attitude will likely vary over time and even from day-to-day.
When I was 18-years-old in Washington, D.C., I met a homeless man named Piotr Lekki who became, really, one of my only friends in that town. I would buy his drawings, take him for coffee, practice my German with him, and mostly lend an ear to his insane and delusional stories about being a doctor, a king, and the Pope himself. As lonely and broke as I was, I empathized with this man and with his desperation and isolation.
When I moved to New York City, I actually had friends and a life, though I was even more broke. The upturn in my social life and my inability to give away any money at all, combined with the sheer overwhelming size of an even more desperate homeless population, fostered an apologetic "sorry, man" response that persisted for a decade. What's the point in sparing my few precious coins when it won't even make the barest dent in an obviously unsolvable problem?
Then I moved to Portland, without question a kinder city, which attracts and fosters a general populace that is friendlier and more considerate. The amount of people on the street asking for money were far less than in New York City, and most of them were of the silent, cardboard sign variety. My income was also more substantial and I started being more willing to give out a dollar here and there. I frequently bought copies of Street Roots, the local paper advocating for (and usually sold by) the homeless population. I started donating to the local mission and asked others to do so as well.
But... with time, as the monotony of the homeless presence persisted and even increased, and after several incidents of being deceived and disappointed, my acceptance and empathy began to wither. If I saw someone sitting on a corner with a sign, I avoided that corner. I started saying "sorry, man" to the Street Roots vendors. I looked the other way, but all the while I kept wrestling with my guilt.
Ho-hum. Anyone who's read this site for any length of time is aware that I have no love for the Bayformer movies. As is now our tradition, Dollface and I sallied forth to the theater, armed ourselves with beer and snacks, and dug in for yet another installment. I went also armed with the foreknowledge that Age of Extinction was garnering the lowest rating yet in the series on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic — which, considering how poorly reviewed the previous three installments were, is almost a feat in itself. But perhaps my greatest dread was watching my most-disliked actor, "Marky" Mark Wahlberg, for over 150 minutes.
So what did I think? Spoilers ahead ...
Honestly, I'd have to say that more than anything I was bored. There was barely anything interesting about what was going on. I knew the core characters were never in any real jeopardy — hell, they barely got dirty. I had no investment in any of the Autobots, they were just hollow tin men (the gruff sergeant, the wildly stereotypical samurai, the Aussie hothead, etc). Stanley Tucci had the best dialogue in the film and his character had a little bit of depth, but not enough to carry things. It's always nice seeing Kelsey Grammar play a bad-ass, but his role had little meat. In general, the movie was just an excuse to go from one pointless action scene to another. I was bored.
When the first version of Masterpiece Optimus Prime came out waaaay back in 2003, despite the adulation heaped upon that figure by so many Transformers fans, I wasn't interested. It wasn't that I thought the figure was bad or that upsized, high-quality renditions of classic Transformers wasn't a great idea. It's just that one of the things I enjoy the very most about the Transformers is their diversity. Cars, jets, dinosaurs, tanks, cassettes, spaceships, microscopes, monsters... the sheer variety of forms is part of what originally drew me to them. A standalone Optimus didn't interest me without the promise of future accompaniment. After all, what good is a military leader without soldiers or an enemy to combat? Sure enough, it took 3 years before Starscream, the next Masterpiece figure, was released. Megatron was released the year following, then the next two years were occupied by the obligatory repaints of Starscream into Skywarp and Thundercracker. A Grimlock appeared in 2009, then a disappointing Rodimus Prime in 2011, but 8 years had passed since the initial release and I was not regretting my decision to pass on the thinly-numbered (and expensive!) Masterpiece line.
In the meantime, the Classics line was putting out figures rapidly. Though smaller and arguably less exquisite than their Masterpiece counterparts, they were far more numerous and I was steadily building a large collection of modernized versions of the vintage toys I so loved. I had my armies! What did I need with a few isolated specialty pieces?
But when I learned of an impending Masterpiece Soundwave figure, my love of the character and of his cassette minions made the figure difficult to ignore. Plus, an unofficial Masterpiece-scale Shockwave was being produced by a third party company, and he's pretty much my favorite Transformer ever. The pace and variety of new Masterpiece figures was improving as well: Sideswipe and his remold of Red Alert; Prowl and his remolds of Bluestreak and Smokescreen; impending releases of Wheeljack, Bumblebee and Ultra Magnus. Add to this the fact that revised and improved Masterpiece versions of Optimus Prime and the Decepticon jets had been recently released and it was starting to look like two diverse armies were being built. Two armies I could get behind.
As an atheist, I have no fear of Hell or the Devil any more than I might fear the wrath of God. Neither threat is real. However, like many teenagers who rebelled against their mostly-Christian family and community, I took a certain delight in playing the advocate for Our Father Below. What started out as simple rascally fun grew more sophisticated as I got older. I enjoyed studying, discussing and defending the Devil. In William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, I saw wisdom in the "Proverbs of Hell" such as "The cut worm forgives the plow." In John Milton's Paradise Lost, when Lucifer says, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven," I related to his preference for freedom and independence over heavenly comforts. In The Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey describes a philosophy of humanism and pragmatism that resonates strongly with me.
For instance, several of the "Seven Deadly Sins" are instrumental to my psychological make-up: greed, envy and lust keep me motivated to always achieve more; wrath can be a wonderfully motivating emotion; and pride, well... pride is my backbone, the pillar of resolve and driving force that makes everything else in my life happen. Calling these things "sins" is short-sighted. How can one have honor without a sense of pride? Where would romantic love be without lust? How can we celebrate life without a little gluttony? What others might call "sins" I call "living."
The Devil and I see eye-to-eye, you see. You might even call me an atheistic satanist.
I hope everyone had a great Christmas! I got a shit-ton of cool stuff, especially lots of great books. Transformers-wise, Dollface got me a set of unopened vintage Transformers View-Master reels. Of course, this leaves me with the quandary of whether or not to de-virginize and enjoy this set or leave it in its pristine state. (Hint: toys are made to be opened, no matter how long the wait.) I also got this awesome Decepticon-loving shirt:
One fun aspect of being a Transformers fan over the years is that many friends and acquaintances have given me their old childhood Transformers and Transformers-related items because they know that my adult self will appreciate them tremendously more than their adult selves do. From Skywarp to Ramjet, from Skids to Wheeljack, from lunchboxes to freakin' Piranacon, I have gladly received these tokens of their childhood, each now imbued with a little story of their acquisition, and each containing an insight into what type of young Transformers fan that person was. Did they add the stickers, and if so, were they done correctly and well? Were they compelled to gnaw on swords and antennas? Did they manage to keep all the guns and accessories? Or did they just smash them to bits?
Sadly, the number of friends who still have old TFs to part with only diminishes with time. Furthermore, as my G1 collection has reached voluminous proportions, the odds of acquiring something I don't already have are slim. Which brings me to Howie!
I love new art of our site mascot, Botch the Decepticon Cassette-Crab. I've had some of these for a while and have been remiss in promptly posting them. I'm happy to finally share them with you!
First up is a sketch of Botch that I commissioned from Matt Kuphaldt, a TF fan who is actually responsible for some official Transformers artwork, including some Dreamwave "More Than Meets The Eye" profiles. Matt was doing sketches and selling prints at CybCon this year and I introduced myself and requested this Botch sketch:
There's no question I've been horribly delinquent in updating this blog. I've been really focused on my band, social obligations, house stuff, etc. Still, I'm averaging less than one posting per month for 2013, and I should really do better than that. I have things to talk about, both Transformers-related and personal! I just haven't been in the mindset to talk about them.
In the interim, to tide you over, let me present this video by Romain Revert that features box art from this site. It is short but sweet. Other people have created montages of the box art, but somehow for me those montages always served to reinforce the unavoidably static nature of the images: individually they seem dynamic, but grouped they inexplicably seem frozen in time. This video doesn't suffer from that. Enjoy:
Isn't it amazing how much personal technology has advanced in just the last 10 years?
For example, back in January 2005 when I hit my head on the sharp corner of a low-hanging aluminum awning while walking down the street on my way to work, this is the best picture we could get using our digital camera of the two staples the emergency room doctor put in my scalp:
I've spoken before about my great love for BLACK SABBATH, how I discovered them, and why their sixth album, Sabotage, is my favorite album of all time. They are my bedrock, my musical foundation, and directly or indirectly continue to inform all the music I make.
Imagine, if you will, finding a band that you quickly realize is your favorite band of all time... and that they had made their last album 12 years earlier. Their body of work was finite. Yes, I could listen to these albums over and over my entire life... but they would never change. No more surprises. Like an ancient holy tome, you could try finding some previously unnoticed nuance or detail, but The End had already been written and there would be no sequel. As a 16-year-old Sabbath neophyte, I remember gradually acquiring the 8 albums of the original line-up and eagerly popping each one into the cassette player for that irreproducible first listen. Those sirens of "War Pigs" that begin Paranoid; the coughing that abruptly starts "Sweet Leaf" and Master of Reality; the rain, thunder and tolling bells of "Black Sabbath", their signature song that opens their first album... That was 20 years ago. I would never have that "first listen" feeling again.