Sunday, June 26, 2011

"What if it stops up the toilet?"

I spent my weekend at the Ignite Summit, a fantastic summer event at work where we take some of the incoming freshmen class into the woods for a weekend and put them through some teambuilding, some fun, some of both (this, for example:


is a minefield made of rubber pigs and softballs; it is both amusing and, in the right context, completely terrifying),

some leadership development, some tradition building, and some hardcore bonding. This is the first year I've been invited to help facilitate, and this was the best weekend I've had in a really long time.

I don't want to post too much about the summit itself for two reasons:

1) What happens at summit stays at summit. There is a bond of trust and shared experience, and while I can say that I had a lot of fun and the best team ever:

my team

(one of whom is not pictured because she's holding my camera to take that picture) there are also a lot of things that are only for us. I laughed a lot, I cried a little (which was kind of horrible because it made some bug spray get into my eye and that hurt A LOT), and I hope I get asked back next year.

2) There's a second summit in August for an entirely different group of freshmen, and just in case someone googles the summit I want them to still be surprised rather than them seeing a picture of all of us playing "Ride the Pony" or working on the challenge course. I won't be at the August summit because it's right before the buildings open, and I'm usually pretty busy then.

Given that, here are some random photos. I didn't take very many pictures this weekend, anyway, because I was busy participating, but I did take advantage of our afternoon free time to shoot the windmill and fire engine on the property.

windmill (1)

retired fire engine (1)

retired fire engine (2)

windmill (2)

I also took this one of people learning to line dance at the hoedown on Saturday night:

hoedown (1)

Since I don't want to talk about the summit activities themselves, I'll instead share a tale of terror from the camp bathrooms.

The retreat center is pretty far out in the country; so far out that there is no cell phone service. You know that scene in "Friday the 13th" or "Cabin Fever" or "Wrong Turn" or any horror movie made post-1990 or so where all the characters hold up their phones and complain about getting no service and the viewing audience always accepts it as a suspension-of-disbelief genre conceit, because we know that the movie would actually be over in about twenty minutes if they could call someone? That actually happens. Today on the ride back, there were multiple beeps and dings in the van when we crossed a magical line and everyone's phone suddenly started working again.

I bring that up because I'm trying to say that the facilities are a little rustic. This, for example, is where I slept:



You can't see it in that picture, but that is a cabin for eight with one shower, one toilet, and no latch on the plywood bathroom door. It was kind of full of spiders and the floor was kind of dirty and the tub kind of had a fine layer of topsoil in the bottom that didn't wash out, ever, but at least we had a bathroom, and at least it was attached to our cabin and not in another building.

Anyway, Saturday night I was walking back up to our cabin and was intercepted by Richie and Mark, two of my cabin mates.

"There's a dead mouse in the toilet."


"There's a dead, drowned mouse in the toilet."


I've traveled all over the North American continent. I've been to 40 or so states (I've lost track) and most of the Canadian provinces. I've gone to the bathroom in some really, really sketchy places. When we lived in Alaska, many of the places we stopped had outhouses, and still, I don't remember ever seeing a dead mammal in any of them.

"It's, like, floating with its legs up and stuff," Richie said, demonstrating.

"Let me get my camera!"

drowned mouse

Of course, that still left us with the question of what to do with it.

"Let's just flush it," Mark suggested.

"What if it gets stuck?" I countered. "What if it stops up the toilet?"

"It won't get stuck," Richie asserted, based on zero evidence.

"I'm gonna flush it!" Mark announced, heading into the bathroom. A moment later, we heard a flush. "It went down."

And I didn't go back in the bathroom again all weekend.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pride Month Special: Wonder Woman and the Drag King S&M Street Gang

I read a decent number of books and articles about comic books, as well as a decent number of books and articles about gay topics, but I read a much smaller number of books and articles where the two areas overlap. When they do I take note, and over the past year or so I've read three different things that referenced "Wonder Woman" #185, "THEM!"

Or, as I've seen it referred to: the one where Wonder Woman fights ssome lesbians, the one with the drag kings, and the one where someone was bound in a Wonder Woman comic who actually wasn't Wonder Woman.

Intrigued, I attempted to track a copy of the book, but an issue of "Wonder Woman" from December 1969 isn't always the easiest thing to come by, or the cheapest. Fortunately, DC Comics reprinted it fairly recently in Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 2, a series of compilations chronicling the period when Wonder Woman gave up her powers to live as Diana Prince among the common people of Man's World. Like most common people in the early 1970's she dressed in white jumpsuits a lot, acquired a blind sensei and became proficient in martial arts, and opened a dress shop in "The Village", a neighborhood in a large city on the east coast that's never actually identified as Greenwich Village but clearly is.

For me, the high point of this period in Wonder Woman's life has always been the story in "Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane" (also reprinted in this volume, but I've read it before) where the depowered Diana Prince falls in love with Superman, and Lois is forced to document their romance for the Daily Planet, sobbing behind her camera lens and dying inside. In typical Silver Age fashion, Lois decides that the best way to settle this is to challenge Wonder Woman to a fight for Superman's love.

Wonder Woman responds by straight up beating the hell out of Lois Lane:

wonder woman smacks lois lane

until Lois can't even stand:

lois lane, beaten numb

and then, since Lois lost, Superman is totally fine with leaving her crying in the dirt and flying away:

wonder woman and superman depart

It cannot be stated enough times that the Silver Age Superman was kind of a dick.

Now that I've read "THEM!", though, I have to say that my favorite story from this period of "Wonder Woman" is still the one where she beats up Lois (it turned out not to be Wonder Woman, anyway, and was instead Kryptonian criminal and Phantom Zone escapee Ar-Ual in disguise; you may remember the Phantom Zone criminals from that time they used the telepathic metal alien bust of Superboy to try to murder his adoptive father), because "THEM!", while interesting, is also just not a very good comic.

Our story opens with Diana Prince returning to her dress shop from a trip home to Paradise Island and discovering a blonde teenaged runaway hiding in her dress shop, which was somewhat common in the 1970's:

Them! (1)

The girl is so terrified of THEM! that it's practically all she can babble about, in bold red letters as Diana attempts to question her:

Them (2)

The art is a little unclear there, but is that girl crawling across the floor of the dress shop in terror? I picture her skittering away from Wonder Woman while babbling, but it does her no good, because Wonder Woman has been followed into her shop by THEM!:

It's Them! (1)

Is there a ramp in that picture that I can't see? Because the doorframe of the dress shop is parallel to the top of the panel, but THEM! are angling away to the upper left, against the laws of physics as I understand THEM! In any case, let's take a closer look at our adversaries, since I've read so much about THEM!:

It's Them! (2)

The one on the left is called Moose Mama, but it wasn't until I learned her name a page or two later that I realized that the character was female. She has no obvious female secondary sex characteristics, and in the full page picture it kind of looks like there's a bulge in her jeans. I totally read that as a male until they said her name, and many commentators say that she's supposed to be a butch lesbian. It's true that she could be, and the Comics Code would not have let them say so (no character in a code-approved comic was ever explicitly stated to be gay until Northstar did in "Alpha Flight" #106 in 1992), but I think the commentators are also making an unfair assumption that a masculine woman must be a lesbian. Given that this is Moose Mama's only appearance, ever, and she is such a secondary character that she doesn't even have any dialogue, we'll never know.

The one on the right, in the cowboy hat, is called Pinto, and she is probably a drag king, given her outfit. She could just be a cowgirl, but she's chosen a name that leans more toward the masculine side to go with her persona, so I'm going to say yeah, she's a drag king even though walking around dressed as a cowboy isn't really all that odd in a universe where a man dressed as a bat regularly fights a woman dressed as a cat and a man dressed as a clown. She's a woman impersonating a male, but that still doesn't make her a lesbian. Drag kings and drag queens are often gay, but not always. Like Moose Mama, Pinto is a secondary character, so we'll never really know.

We do know that Top Hat, the one in the middle and leader of THEM!, is apparently not 100% straight. Other commentators have pointed out that she's in drag king dress, too, and I'll agree. She's wearing a pretty masculine outfit, and the pink glasses, big rings, and fancy hat give the whole thing a kind of disco-pimp look. We know that she's probably not straight because Cathy, our teenaged runaway, is also her slave, and we know that because Top Hat has brought along Cathy's collar and would like for her to put it back on:

slave collar

Top Hat, clearly, is also into some bondage and domination.

Wonder Woman is having none of this, and beats up the three of THEM! as handily as she dispatched Lois. She takes Cathy in, and then Top Hat and THEM! begin a campaign of terror where they throw a brick through the window, stand outside yelling all night, send gang members into the shop to slice up the merchandise, and have Mingo, one of their male gang members, knock groceries out of Diana's hands:

dropped groceries

Mingo is suddenly terrified into buying Diana and Cathy new groceries by the appearance of a mysterious stranger:

Tony (1)

and here's two of the reasons why this is a bad comic:

1) We never find out, ever, why Top Hat and THEM! are scared of Tony. There's a lot of sneering and retreating:

Tony (2)

but never an explanation of why.

2) Wonder Woman, a superhero who handily beat up three gang members at once less than five pages ago, can't handle a guy knocking a grocery bag out of her hands without a man to step in and save her. Yay, feminism!

Since their annoying pranks aren't making Cathy come back, Top Hat and THEM! decide to ramp things up by burning down the dress shop:


at which point Tony steps in and saves the helpless Wonder Woman again, by having his mother invite THEM! (ooops, sorry) them to stay in his sister Angela's room:

Tony's mother (1)

In another plot flaw, the story makes a point of having Mrs. Petrucci explain with a sad faced that Angela is "away", but never says where she went or why. This would have been the perfect time to tie together the issues of Top Hat's mysterious fear of Tony and Tony's mysteriously missing sister by revealing that Top Hat IS Angela, but this doesn't happen. We find out much later (not even in this volume) that there's a whole other story with Angela and Tony that this was just foreshadowing for, but we never find out why Top Hat and THEM! were scared of Tony.

Anyway, after a good night's sleep in Angela's room, Diana wakes up to discover that Cathy is gone:

a note about Them

and also that Angela kept both a black pen and a thick red marker in her room next to her writing paper.

Diana goes out searching for Cathy and Mrs. Petrucci goes searching for Tony:

Tony's mother (2)

and then for a washcloth since her hair dye is melting down her face. Diana doesn't have to look very far, though, because Top Hat is parading her slave through The Village with an entourage of THEM!:

Them, on parade

Again, if you didn't know Moose Mama was a woman, she'd blend right in with the rest of the henchmen. Diana confronts the entire gang, Top Hat starts monologuing like villains almost always tend to do, and Tony and his guys use that time to somehow silently overpower and disarm all of THEM! while Diana has Top Hat distracted:

Tony's friends disarm Them

because, again, Wonder Woman needs a man to save her in her own comic book.

She does manage to give Top Hat the "full Lois" herself:


slapping her hard enough to add some extra letters to the word:


and that's when the police reveal that in addition to being a kidnapper, rapist, human trafficker, gang leader, arsonist, vandal, drag king, and probable lesbian, Top Hat is also a robber:

false bottomed hat

She's carrying the loot inside her hat.

That, I think, is the biggest flaw in this story. Rather than waving her knife-tipped umbrella around through the story, Top Hat should have been pulling crap out of her hat. It's like the author was confused about how comics work. Kite Man uses a lot of kites (or did before he died), Stilt Man commits crimes on giant stilts, Catwoman always uses a cat motif, Sun Boy has solar powers, Invisible Girl turns invisible, Aquaman lives in water, Green Arrow shoots green arrows, and Top Hat... uses an umbrella.

Comic writing fail.

I guess I was mostly disappointed about this issue because I was expecting so much more. As a gay man, yes, I recognize that this issue is full of gay subtext that couldn't be explicitly stated on the page, and expresses a lot of it really well given the boundaries that the creative team was working under. From the perspective of a comic fan, though, this is a pretty bad issue, and it's no wonder that comic fans never again saw Top Hat or THEM!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Remember that time I won the Murder Game? I'm sure you do, since it's one of the defining moments of our generation. People are always asking each other, in hushed and slightly reverential terms, "Where were you when you found out that Joel won the Murder Game?"

I know I'll never forget where I was, mostly because I won.

Recently (like within the last few hours), Kristin has accused me of cheating at the Murder Game, and has suggested that I might have googled "Murder Game Lethal Luau" and then watched a ten minute video of the important parts of the Murder Game on YouTube several times before attending the birthday murder dinner. She also alleges that I allegedly confessed watching this alleged YouTube video to her, and then she posted the alleged details of this alleged confession on her alleged Facebook page. She's thrown out a serious allegation about this alleged cheating that I allegedly confessed to, and now I have no choice but to respond.

How best to do so, though?

I could start by attacking my accuser and attempting to cloud the issue. I mean, sure, Kristin says that I cheated at the Murder Game, and maybe I did, but let's not forget that Kristin... is a smoker. She smokes cigarettes, and sometimes, she puts them out and leaves the cigarette on the ground and just walks away. Nevermind that birds might eat them and die, or they might drift into piles on people's lawns or porches. Small children might pick up those littered butts and put them in their mouths, and won't somebody think of the children? Am I the only one here who's worried about them? I believe that children are our future, and they shouldn't have to live in a world of discarded cigarette butts.

Kristin says "cheating" and I say "children", and which of those do you like more?

Please, think of the children before you answer, and also think about another way that I could respond, which is by trying to claim the moral high ground. In Victor Hugo's immortal classic Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is relentlessly pursued for nineteen years by the obsessed policeman, Javert, for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. It is the story of a man who is completely destroyed by his accuser just for trying to survive, and in the end the actual crime of stealing bread is insignificant compared to the cruel and relentless pursuit of "justice" and "punishment". In thinking of the tragedy of one decent and caring man torn to shreds for the pettiest of crimes, all I can do is ask, "Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family?" Of course you would, but what if your family didn't need bread? What if your family needed to win the Murder Game?

Exactly. You'd do what was best for your family.

On the other hand, I could just respond the way Batman would. A few years ago, the Justice League fought a villain named Prometheus. He was a master strategist, but he was also a master fighter, because he had a special computerized helmet wired into his nervous system, and he used that helmet to download the fighting styles of the best martial artists on the planet, including Batman. The problem was that while Prometheus was throwing Barbara Gordon out of a window she managed to snap a piece off of his helmet, damaging it, so Prometheus had to break into the Justice League base to steal his backup helmet from the trophy room in order to fight Batman. Anticipating this, Batman hacked the backup helmet and waited for Prometheus to put it on and get overconfident, at which point Batman downloaded the physical skills of Professor Stephen Hawking into Prometheus' nervous system and then punched him in the face.

Batman and the Huntress discussed this for a minute while the defeated Prometheus lay on the floor:

cheating, winning

Did Batman cheat? Or did Batman consider the problem and implement the best possible solution without worrying about whether it was fair?

I'm going to go with Batman's answer to that one, and not just because I like him. However, I am going to consider yet another alternative response, which is that maybe in the long run cheating at the Murder Game makes us all better people. It's like in the movie Bring It On, a compelling drama about cheerleading, teamwork, and a little bit of cheating. See, the captain of the award-winning Rancho Carne Toros, a somewhat abrasive girl who "puts the whore in horrible" known as Big Red, had for years been driving out to East Compton to videotape the cheerleading routines of the East Compton Clovers and then pass them off as the Toros' own, winning them a number of national championships. When the Toros' deception is revealed by surly new girl Missy, who is either bank or bank-rupt depending on which Toro you ask, they end up working twice as hard, banding together, and learning about what's really important.

Cheating, although morally wrong, actually helps them to grow and become better people, and really, isn't that what everyone wants? To become a better person? I know that's all I really wanted, which was to become a better person.

And also to win the Murder Game. Which I did.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

All Around the Town

I haven't really been happy with any of the pictures I've taken for over a month now, and I'm not sure why. There's some decent shots in there, but nothing really pops out to me and makes me feel like I really nailed something. I'd say that I need to get out of town, and see something new, but I'm pretty sure that almost all of these are things and places that I've never photographed before, or at least not for a few months or years. I've played with color, played with black and white, tried to shoot outside my normal box, and nothing feels satisfying.

Maybe I'm just stressed and tired. Who knows?

At any rate, here's a random selection of photographs of Knoxville. I hope you like at least some of them.

more color (1)

torchbearer with flag (2)

sax player

watch for pedestrians

OK, I lied a little. I actually do like this one:

smoking in designated areas

I don't usually take pictures of people, but I think I really caught Kristin there.

Back to photographs that leave me vaguely dissatisfied, like this one of a fireman rescuing a zombie baby:

knoxville firemen memorial

and these:

18th Street IGA (1)

love never fails

railroad bridge (1)

railroad bridge (2)

I like this one as well:

the star of knoxville (2)

I pulled the car over on the side of the road to take it today, when I saw that I was driving past the paddleboat. Then I took these while I was out:

varsity barber shop

pedestrian bridge

Like I said, they're not terrible pictures. My finger isn't over the lens and they're not blurry, but they're not really doing anything for me, and they're the best ones out of about a hundred rejects.

Maybe I'm just in a funk.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Staycation Day 5: I Had All These Plans

I had all these plans for my Staycation. There was a bunch of stuff I wanted to do because I'm not really going to have another vacation until November, when I go home for Thanksgiving break. I was going to go on photo walks, I was planning to visit two different museums, I thought about hiking, I was going to go to the roller derby championship, and instead I went to lunch twice, went to a movie, and went to McKay's twice to turn in books and finally get rid of the VHS tapes taking up space in my apartment that I don't even have a player for.

So what happened?

Well, like I said on Day 1, it is swelteringly hot. It's too hot to walk around outside taking pictures, or to go hiking. I probably should have checked the weather before I scheduled time off, but I've been wanting time off since March or so, and I just went for it.

The other reason my plans fell apart after a day or two of a five day staycation goes back to what my friend Rod phrased as "the freedom of utter slothfullness". Once I got settled in, I didn't want to go anywhere, and I ended up not leaving my apartment from Friday night until Sunday night, when I ran out of milk. I tried to sleep in (unsuccessfully; my body apparently no longer believes in sleeping past nine), read a book, watched some movies, played video games, and basically did nothing.

And it was wonderful.

On the other hand, this bodes poorly for my later years when I am old and retired, as it now seems 99 percent likely that I will become a shut-in and start hoarding cats and dressing them in little outfits:

dex-starr and streaky

Should I just start sewing the outfits now, or give it a few more years?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Staycation Day 2: 2 Fast and 2 Furious in the Love Garage

Yesterday afternoon I decided to go to the mall to take in a matinee-priced showing of "X-Men: First Class". That third X-Men movie was abominable, but the Wolverine one was sort of tolerable, so I went in with low expectations which were handsomely rewarded. The only real problem I had with the whole experience, other than sitting through the credits for a bonus scene that never came after drinking a "medium" Diet Coke the size of a newborn baby and having to pee so bad that I thought I might rupture, was in finding a decent parking space.

There were lots of spaces outside, given that no one but the elderly and the unemployed are at the mall on a Friday afternoon (or, I guess, people on vacation), but after yesterday's experience with the sun I didn't know if I really wanted to leave my car outside to melt in the heat. Given the choice between parking outside and parking in the Love Garage, though, I decided to just risk the sun rather than risk getting run over or accidentally catching an STD just by walking through the aisles.

I don't know for sure if the Love Garage really has a name, but I refer to it as that after the bizarre experience that Kristin and I had leaving "Thor" a few weeks ago. We were running a little late to see the movie, although you have to realize that my concept of "a little late" and Kristin's are two wildly different things, and Kristin came to pick me up maybe seven minutes later than agreed on, which she thought was practically on time. I was already having a bad day, so the seven minutes threw me into high-maintenance meltdown ("We had a schedule! What if I don't have time to buy candy now? What if we get bad seats because we're not twenty minutes early?") and Kristin tried to manage it by suggesting that we park in the garage, where we could walk right into the theater.

"I've never parked in the garage before," I blurted, momentarily short-circuited. I didn't know how I should feel about this. Do I like the garage? Would it give us more time to buy candy? Or would it take us even longer now and make us have to sit in the very front and tilt our heads way way up toward the screen until our necks hurt?

"Neither have I, but, you know, we'll be fine," Kristin said, and it seemed like we were fine, until the movie was over and we tried to leave.

The first indication of trouble was the loud revving of several engines and the squealing of tires on the level above us. Kristin and I both looked at the ceiling several times as we made our way back to the car, sticking to the sides of the aisle in case one of the cars came whipping around the corner and tried to run us over.

"I think they're drag racing on the roof."

"Jesus. It sounds like 'Tokyo Drift' up there. What the hell?"

Vroooooom! Squeal!

"They really are! Oh my God!"

"Let's just get out of here."

Easier said than done. When we got to the car, Kristin was digging in her huge purse for the car keys, and I noticed some... "action"... on the trunk of the car across from us.

And by "action" I mean a high school girl with her legs wrapped around the waist of a high school boy in the throes of heavy duty fully clothed grinding.

"Look. Over. There," I Cameron Fry-ed to Kristin.

"I'll find the keys in a second! Stop ye-- Holy shit."

"Don't stare! Are they, like, actually doing it?"

"They're damn close." Vroooom! Screeeeeeeeeeech! "Let's get out of here before that girl ends up pregnant."

"Seriously. It's like ten different movies at one time."

And then on the way out, we accidentally drove into Cougartown. Somewhere on the third level we spun around the corner and the headlights washed over another couple making out against the walls and they pulled apart in surprise and she was over 40 and he didn't look old enough to drive after dark and VROOOOM! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAL!

I'm convinced that we barely escaped with our lives, so yesterday I parked outside in the sunbaked parking lot.

Then I went home and made Ten Minute Pea Soup for dinner. According to the recipe, it was light and summery, and it looked super-easy. I needed:

2 tablespoons of butter
1 clove of garlic, minced
8 cups of frozen peas
5 cups of chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

The recipe said to gently melt the butter in the pot:

gently melting butter

I assumed this meant to use really low heat, so that the butter melts but doesn't burn or brown. It would have happened faster if I cut up the butter a little first, but that never occurs to me until after I've dumped butter into a hot pan and it's too late.

After melting the butter, I was advised to gently fry the garlic in it until translucent:

gently fried garlic

and then to add the frozen peas for two minutes:

frozen peas

I guess this was to partially defrost them?

Let me add that you do not want to spill frozen peas across your counter while measuring out eight cups of them. It's like a bag of tiny frozen marbles, and much cursing will follow.

After two minutes of stirring the peas, I added five cups of chicken stock and brought it to a boil:

with chicken stock

then reduced the heat to a simmer, covered it, and ignored it for six minutes. After that I was supposed to put it in the blender, but didn't feel motivated to slowly spoon eight cups of peas into the blender, so I used the immersion blender instead after salting and peppering:

immersion blended soup

Then I topped it with a sprinkle of parmesan, since I had no croutons and didn't want to make any:

pea soup with parmesan

It didn't really taste like garlic, just like a lot of peas, but it only took a couple minutes longer than opening a can of soup and heating it, and isn't homemade always better?

I saw that in a movie, but not any of the movies that I saw in the garage.