Friday, March 30, 2007

Cap'n Obnoxious

I've been in an odd mood the last couple of days. Not quite the usual black mood, but not exactly a happy, chipper, sunshiney mood either. Maybe it's best summed up as an anti-social mood; I don't particularly want to be around people, and when I am, I find myself antagonizing them without meaning to. It's that "without meaning to" part that gets to me; I mean, my friendship with PigPen thrives on our near constant, deliberate mutual antagonizism, but last night I found myself being what I can only describe as downright obnoxious -- it was only when I heard a bit of an edge in PigPen's tone that it dawned on me that I had slipped into Cap'n Annoying mode, and I quickly removed myself to the other room to keep myself from inadvertently pushing him to acts of violence.

It's been known to happen.

Let's take a trip back to Parker Hall, Spring semester, 1994. It was around the time that we were playing The Assassin Game, and everyone was walking around with faux weapons like stage knives, disc shooters, and, of course, water guns. The exact details leading up to the incident are hazy in my mind, but from what I can recall, I had been haning around in the first floor lounge, messing with Special K, swiping his gun, shooting him with it, being an all around pest. Special K told me to quit it, but I guess it didn't quite register with me how serious he was about it. Finally, I went to the "swipe the gun" well one too many times, as I grabbed it, took off running, and was almost immedatiely slammed into the tile of the Parker lobby by a flying tackle from Special K. At first, I thought it was all part and parcel of typical guy rough-housing, until Special K wrestled me onto my back and I looked up into a fire red face contorted in rage. I immediately stopped struggling and meekly handed over the gun. Special K headed to the stairwell, hollered over his shoulder at me "When I say stop, you better stop, punk!" and stormed upstairs while everyone on the first floor stared in shocked disbelief.

You see, Special K was a front-runner for "The Nicest Guy in the Dorm" award; and now suddenly, I was front runner for "The Obnoxious Jerk Who Managed to Piss Off the Nicest Guy in the Dorm" award -- not exactly my proudest moment. But it was one I would be forcibly reminded of for a few weeks as I discovered that Special K's tackle had bruised my ribs, and I was unable to take a deep breath without wincing in pain for quite a while. I apologized to him for being an obnoxious twit (by note, of course), and he apologized for losing his temper, and everything was copacetic, but the thought of that encounter still makes me cringe -- not because of the brief skirmish (which is, incidently, probably the closest I've ever been to being in a real fight) but because of how I was able to drive someone to such a rage without realizing it. I like to think I'm more perceptive than that, but there are some times when, for one reason or another, that section of my brain shuts down, and I wind up pushing my friends to the breaking point. Honestly, it's like there's a part of me that wants to pick a fight, which is insane, since I'm pretty sure I don't know a single guy who couldn't beat the ever-loving crap out of me if provoked, but there you go. As with many of my neurotic quirks, this doesn't happen as often as it once did, but it still rears its ugly head now and again, at which point I just have to shut my trap and sequester myself until it passes -- either that or let someone beat the mood out of me.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Zero at the Bone

Yesterday I referenced one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems* in the subject line of a post.

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,--did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,--
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.
Thinking of that poem always takes me back to my undergrad days, since I was first introduced to the "narrow fellow" poem in my Intro to Literature class my first semester as a full-fledged English major.** That was one of the few college classes where I ever felt like I was singled out as "the smart guy," or, less charitably, "that #$&# suck-up brown-nosing #@$(&@#$."

You see, in general I never felt comfortable speaking up in class because I usually felt like my thoughts on a work were pretty obvious, and I didn't want to speak up and have people rolling their eyes going "Well, duh!" Not that that ever happened, but when has paranoia ever bowed to logic? Anyway, in this class, I never worried about that for a few different reasons.

First of all, the professor was a highly intelligent woman, who often had trouble scaling her comments down to fit the lowest common denominator. In a class filled with people looking for an easy humanities credit, that's not exactly a good fit; at one point, as she handed back papers she remarked that a good portion of them were filled with grammatical errors that should have been corrected in grade school, and that to those offending papers she had attached a flier for the college's writing center so that the poor souls responsible could seek help -- fliers, I must add, that were a bright neon color, and thus easily picked out by anyone sitting near the recipients of what a friend referred to as the professor's version of a Scarlet Letter -- only instead of a scarlet A it was a neon I for "illiterate."*** Quite often her call for input would be greeted with a sea of silence, and I would feel duty-bound to speak up lest she think we had all been struck mute.

My confidence in speaking up was magnified by the fact that I had actually taken the professor before for an Honors section of Freshman Comp a couple of years earlier, and so felt pretty comfortable that I knew what she was looking for in terms of completing assignments and in-class comments from day one Probably the biggest overtly brown-nosing comment I ever made in class capitalized on this fact. We were discussing Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," and when she asked for thoughts on why the narrator didn't fire the shiftless Bartleby I spoke up with my thought that the narrator obviously enjoyed creating fantasies about the private lives of each of his employees, and that his fascination with doing so was even stronger with the quiet, bland Bartleby, who was practically a tabula rasa. My use of the phrase "tabula rasa" perked the professor right up, who congratulated me on my insight, asked "Does everyone know what that means?" and then headed towards the black board to write out the Latin phrase and explain that it meant "blank slate." I could feel the dagger stares at me from all over the room, but I couldn't help it because (a) it was honestly what I thought, Latin phrase and all, and (b) I knew that in my previous class the professor's favorite phrase had been "If you know the Latin root, all becomes clear." Wrath teh Berzerkr can back me up on that one.****

And finally, there was the makeup of the class. As stated before, it was mostly folks looking for an easy credit; it was also primarily Education majors and, well, let's just say that many's the time I have wept copious tears at the thought that those people would be responsible for shaping the minds of future generations. Case in point: while discussing the Dickinson poem, our professor asked what we thought the last stanza meant. After the usual bit of extended silence, I proffered that I had taken the "zero at the bone" line as a reference to feeling chilled to the bone; someone else then spoke up and said they thought it meant that encountering the snake made Dickinson feel as if she were nothing compared to it. And then, one of the future teachers put in her two cents: "I, like, thought it was because, y'know, snake don't have any, like, bones? So, y'know, zero bones?"

Seriously: copious tears.

Of course, Little Ms. No-Bones was one of the worst about giving me the stink-eye anytime I would say something moderately intelligent; her best friend was a close second. I remember one day after the professor had returned a paper to us, and then left the room for some reason; one of the Stink-eye Sisters glared across the circle of desks***** at me and spat out "I bet you got an A, huh?" A bit surprised by the venom in her tone, I matter-of-factly replied "Yeah." Her friend then asked me "How?" in such a tone that made it sound like getting an A from this particular professor was akin to a miracle.****** I responded that I knew what she wanted to hear, and that's what I wrote. Both of them recoiled as if I had uttered some sort of blasphemy, like catering to the professor was a horrendous sin. But I learned early on in my college career that there are professors who wanted you to make passionate, well-reasoned arguments about your personal opinions, and those who just wanted you to regurgitate what they had fed you; the trick was figuring out which was which and acting accordingly*******. And, to be honest, this professor was closer to the former than to the latter; you just had to know how to speak her language.

Unfortunately for many in that class, speaking her language required a polysyllabic vocabularly . . . not to mention a Latin root or two.

*For extra fun, try singing it to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas." Heck, try doing that to any of her poems; it almost always works
**I later revisited the poem in my Creative Writing class when I wrote a poem calling G'ovich "the narrow fellow in my house." Yup, doing writing assignments where I compared my roommate to a snake; good times, good times.
***Didn't think that sentence was ever going to end, did ya?
****A close second for her favorite phrase in that earlier class was "Okay, class that was a good discussion, but maybe next time we can actually focus on the essays?" which was said at the end of almost every class period. Wrath can back me up on that one too.
*****It was a college English class for underclassmen; of course the desks were in a circle
******To be fair, for many people, it was; I got the impression that I was one of the rare souls brave enough to take her for more than one class.
*******I know there are folks who balk at "playing the game" in college, but I always just saw it as part of the whole package and didn't sweat over it too much.


Writing Challenge: Super Tiger Dragon Edition

The second round of the Write in the Thick of It writing challenge is now open. For those of you who don't know, I pulled out a victory in round one by the skin of my teeth, narrowly edging out Bubblegum Tate and Diva who were nipping at my heels. As winner of the challenge, it was my privilege to select the random words for round two, which you can find right here. Of course, the words aren't totally random, as three were selected in honor of fellow HyperForce 3000 members, and the very last one I pretty much had to include for all of you blog monkeys out there.

Remember, this challenge is open to anyone and everyone who would like to stretch their creative muscles. This round is open until 8PM Central on April 5th, so you'd better get a crackin'.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass Occasionally Rides

The duplex where I'm living right now doesn't have much in the way of a front yard, but what little there is had become a mini-tropical jungle over the past month or so. The Anti-Cap'n was finally able to get a weed-whacker from his dad and, after a delay due to rain on Monday, last night PigPen set to work on clearing away the out of control flora. He told me to head on to racquetball with Trouble (who we had inadvertently stood up the night before because she thought we were going to be there when we were actually out playing b-ball) and that he'd join us after he was done. So, after getting ready to go and limp around the racquetball court* I walked out to my car and started to wave goodbye to PigPen, who hollered something at me. I couldn't quite understand what he was saying until about the third time: "Baby snake. By your left foot." I glanced down and, sure enough, there was a small snake right by my foot, twitching around on its back. Apparently PigPen had barely gotten started when he saw it slithering through the grass and speedily weed-whacked it onto the driveway.

To fully appreciate the situation, you have to understand that PigPen is horribly, horribly freaked out by snakes; he changes the channel if one pops up on a TV commercial, and his enjoyment of Survivor this season has been severely compromised by the abundance of sea snakes on Exile Island. So, knowing how much snakes skeeve him out on the tube, I could only imagine how he must have reacted when it came out of the grass towards him.

Man, I wish I'd been there with a camera.

Being careful not to step on the still writhing serpent, I started to get in my car and head to racquetball. PigPen hollered to The Anti-Cap'n and me "Hey, would one of you guys mind picking that up?" I glanced down at it, said, "It's still moving, I ain't touching it**," hopped into the car, and proceeded to back over the pitiful thing, leaving The Anti-Cap'n the thankless job of scooping up the remains.

The Boys of Benjiman Street are all about teamwork

*I seriously need a knee brace that fits; the last one I bought acted more like a tourniquet.
**Hey, just because I can stand to watch them in movies doesn't mean I like the danged things.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Racquet vs. Basket

Last week there was no racquetball, since UNT closed the courts down for Spring Break. Instead, one of the usual racqueteers -- who also happens to be a high school coach -- opened up her school's old gym so that we could play basketball. And now, after having played full-court basketball four days in the past week, I present to you my Top Five Reasons I Would Rather Play Racquetball Than Basketball*

#5. I'm Not in "Basketball" Shape: The brief sprints and bursts of speed** required in racquetball have done little to prepare me for the continual running up and down the court in basketball; I'd hate to think of how horribly I would have done if I hadn't been playing racquetball regularly for the past few months. And yes, I know that basketball is great exercise, and if I keep playing then I will get in better shape; I'm just saying that, right now, when everyone else I'm playing against is running circles around my wheezing, out-of-breath frame, it's a bit depressing.

#4. Just Call Me Cap'n Lone Wolf : I think one of the biggest factors in me enjoying racquetball so much is that it's a solo sport; if I screw up, I don't have to worry about letting down anybody but myself. But in b-ball, I suddenly have three or four people depending on me to carry my weight on the team, so that every missed shot, every botched pass, every lost rebound reverberates in my neurotic little mind. I'm often too worried about messing things up for everyone else to really enjoy myself.

#3. I Actually Know the Racqueteers: You have absolutely no idea how much my heart sank that first night of playing basketball when I realized it wasn't just going to be just a few of the Singles playing, but a wide array of people I'd never met before. Call me crazy if you must, but I really don't relish the thought that the first impression someone is going to have of me is going to be derived by how I play basketball; at least with the Singles I know that they know more about me than just "wow, that guy stinks at this game." Take this and mix it my fear of dragging the team down, and suddenly I'm even more self-conscious than usual.

#2. Simplicity Over Strategery: Another thing I like about racquetball is how straightforward gameplay is: I hit the ball, my opponent hits the ball, I hit the ball, etc. until one of us misses. Sure, there are angles to consider, and your opponent's strengths and weaknesses and court position and all that good stuff, but when there's just two people hitting the ball back and forth, I can kinda-sorta focus on that stuff. But with basketball, you suddenly have all of these other people involved, moving around constantly, trying to coordinate a plan of attack and hoping that their teammates are on the same wavelength. Defense I can handle, since all I have to do is focus on my person and stick to him or her as best I can but on offense, I'm practically useless; while some may look at the swirl of bodies in motion and be able to formulate the most effective play option, all I see is mass chaos. Most offensive plays see me standing out to the side, hoping that someone else on my team scores quickly so I can go back to guarding someone and feel like I'm on solid ground again.

And the number 1 reason I prefer racquetball to basketball is:

#1. I Suck Less at Racquetball: I may not be the best at racquetball, but at least I can hold my own with most of my regular opponents; and, even when I get my butt stomped, I generally make my opponent work for it. But in basketball my skill level is so far below that of everyone else I'm playing with and against that I have a hard time enjoying myself because I feel so out of place. The reason that my basketball skills are practically non-existent is that I never really learned how to play. Remember, young Cap'n Neurotic avoided all physical activity like the plague growing up, and therefore was never tutored on the correct mechanics of shooting or dribbling; heaven help me if I try to actually run with the ball. Things that are second natue to everyone else are like a foreign language to me. Yeah, I learned a little bit of how to play when I was in college, but (a) it's not like my friends gave me long coaching sessions on proper shooting techniques and such and (b) prior to last Wednesday it's probably been about 12 years since I've played a game of full-court basketball, meaning what little skill I may have developed at the time has definitely atrophied. So, my lack of offensive strategy and failure to hone the most basic techniques combine for much suckage on my part.

All that being said, I'm still going to keep playing basketball as long as they keep inviting me along. After all, it's good exercise, and a good way for me to work on combating my self-consciousness regarding physical activities. I just wish I could find a group of people who were closer to my level to play against so that I could have a better chance to improve my skills.

Unfortunately, there just aren't that many opportunities for pick-up games with 3rd and 4th graders.

*Why only five? Because I'm pretty sure having reasons 6-10 be "I totally suck" would be a bit redundant.
**And, since it's me we're talking about here, I use the term "speed" very, very loosely


Friday, March 23, 2007

Challenge One is Done

The first batch of stories for Diva's writing challenge are now up at the official writing challenge blog, Write in the Thick of It. There are entries from CoIM frequenters such as Diva and Bubblegum Tate; entries from frequenters of Diva's blog such as Hillbilly Mom, Cazzie, and Lisa; and, of course, an entry by yours truly. Please take a few minutes to head on over, read the stories, and vote for your favorite; don't feel any pressure to vote for me just because you're all loyal blog monkeys, just vote for whichever one you think is the best.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Avoiding Real Blogging

Got this one from Diva. I don't usually do these sort of memes*, preferring the ones that act as springboards for my ramblings, but for some reason this one called to me, and I answered.

01. Where is your cell phone? In my pocket
02. Boyfriend/girlfriend? still extremely single
03. Hair? just got cut
04. Your mother? ready to retire
05. Your father? he's ready too
06. Your favorite item(s)? new cell phone
07. Your dream last night? don't remember them
08. Your favorite drink? coca cola classic
09. Your dream guy/girl? haven't met yet
10. The room you are in? near empty office
11. Your fear? Big unfamiliar dogs
12. What do you want to be in 10 years? very well off
13. Who did you hang out with last night? several Church Monkeys
14. What are you not? very well rested
15. Are you in love? only with Flixster
16. One of your wish list items? nice new car
17. What time is it? time to rhyme
18. The last thing you did? chatted with Wrath
19. What are you wearing? shirt, pants, shoes
20. Your favorite book? King's The Shining
21. The last thing you ate? roast beef sandwich
22. Your life? slowly getting better
23. Your mood? feeling sorta mischievous
24. Your friends? make me laugh
25. What are you thinking about right now? that Chemistry post
26. Your car? surprisingly still running
27. What are you doing at this moment? not doing work
28. Your summer? no big plans
29. Your relationship status? see number two
30. What is on your TV screen? The Matrix Revolutions
31. When is the last time you laughed? home during lunch
32. Last time you cried? all too recently
33. School? no, never again!

*Unless they're a MySpace bulletin, but I haven't done many of those for a while, either.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Speaking of Addictive Excuses . . .

In addition to wasting time with social gatherings, racquetball, and Peggle, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time on Flixster. Specifically, I've been wasting away my days and nights partaking of Flixster's Never-Ending Movie Quiz -- as have both PigPen and The Anti-Cap'n, although my addiction is a bit more advanced than either of theirs. The questions for the quiz are all submitted by other Flixster members, which would be kind of cool, if not for the fact that apparently 99% of the Flixster members creating questions are 14 year old girls. How else to explain the fact that the vast majority of the questions revolve around one of the following:

  • Johnny Depp
  • Hilary Duff
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Lindsay Lohan
  • Channing Tatum
  • Amanda Bynes
  • Chad Michael Murray
  • every teen romantic comedy made post-2000
Honestly, due to the quiz I will have the names of the cast and characters of High School Musical burned into my brain forever. So, taking the quiz becomes a matter of slogging through endless simplistic and repetitive questions in hopes of finding a semi-intelligent or interesting one.

The quiz does give users a chance to give a questions a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" after answering it, with the idea being that after a certain number of "thumbs down"s the question gets yanked. My policy for giving a thumbs down to a question is that it must meet one of the following criteria:
  • Be written with such horrible grammar or spelling as to be nigh unto incomprehensible
  • Have the wrong answer selected as the correct one*
  • Be so vague that the question could refer to more than one person or film**
  • Be about something other than movies
However, there seem to be a good number of people whose criteria for giving a question a thumbs down is "Hey, that wasn't about [insert teeny-bopper idol here]!" or "I would actually have to watch something that wasn't on the Disney Channel to get that right!"

And how do I know this? Because I've submitted a few questions of my own to the quiz, with the sole purpose of making sure there are some actually challenging questions out there. Not that my questions are all that challenging; you just have to have actually seen the movies in question. So far, the number of thumbs up on each question is almost equal to the number of thumbs down, which tells me that there are a few people out there who also appreciate a break in the monotony of tween-centered questions.

So, what are my questions?

One about my favorite part of Idiocracy
One about dwarfs in red raincoats
One about the song I start to sing when I'm riding with PigPen
One that practically nobody but Rebel Monkey will know***
One that's just for my mom****
One that's just for fans of quirky tongue-in-cheek 50s sci-fi b-movie spoofs

Outside of the question for Rebel Monkey, I don't think any of them are super-obscure, only relatively obscure. But, if you want to see stats on exactly how obscure my questions apparently are according to the other Flixster quiz-takers you can click here.

And, if you happen to answer any of the questions, I would appreciate a thumbs up if you don't mind; need to keep moderately challenging questions alive as long as possible before the hordes of High School Musical fans drown them out with "What movie do Zac Efron, Ashley Tisdale, and Vanessa Anne Hudgens star in where they're in a musical in high school? (Hint: the answer is in the question!)" style questions, and I finally lose my mind.

*You would not believe how many people ask "How many tentacles does Doc Ock" have and then put 6 or 8. It's 4, people, 4!!!!!!!!
**The prime example is "Name that movie that had two guys dress up like girls" and then a fill in the blank. I can think of several options for that one, but since the question maker was obviously a moron, I put "White Chicks." Not surprisingly, I was right.
***This one was a documentary she and I saw at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham in 2002; the actor in question was actually there for a Q&A afterwards.
****The answer to this one was oft-references around our house when I was growing up


PItiful Excuse for a Blogger

I should have the first of several follow-ups to my Chemistry post ready to go by tomorrow, but several factors have gotten in the way of my blogging, including a visit with the Parkerites on Saturday, hanging out with the Singles on Sunday, Main Event on Monday*, followed by PigPen and I staying up until around 2:30 in the morning playing this horribly addictive game I downloaded and then staying up another 2 hours or so talking about all sorts of things, the end result of which was PigPen declaring that we were going to break me of my negative self-image and pessimistic outlook even if it killed me. My thoughts on this are three-fold:

  1. I was tempted to tell him that better men than him have tried and failed, but that seemed ungracious
  2. The fact that I never actually agreed to participate in his Todd Improvement Program doesn't seem to have deterred him from moving ahead with it full-steam
  3. I have a strong feeling that he's going to focus more on the "killing me" portion of that statement, especially since I've been taking delight in provoking him with self-deprecating declarations and pessimistic proclamations.
Anyway, I'm still trying to get caught up on sleep,** and when I do, then I should be able to tackle actual post topics again. Not that anyone reads these things; I mean, who really cares what I think about anything? I should probably just quit wasting everyone's time . . .***

*Surprisingly, my bowling score actually went up each game, instead of starting strong and then going downhill.
**I know, what else is new?
*** [waves "hi" to PigPen]


Monday, March 19, 2007

Going to Be a Long Week

The good news: it's Spring Break, and most of UNT is closed.

The bad news: my office is not included in that "most."

The worse news: custodial services are.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Racking Up the Racqueteers

The ranks of the racquetballers are swelling with each day; we've gone from just PigPen and me to around 11 or 12 people Singles and Former Singles who want to play. On the one hand, it's cool that there are so many people to play against, since they all have vastly different playing styles, forcing me to adapt my game accordingly. Also, with such a large pool of possible opponents, I don't have to worry about not being able to play because PigPen and The Anti-Cap'n have softball practice or the like. On the other hand, when the courts are busy, having such a large group can reduce the amount of time I get to play, as we try to accommodate everyone. And of course, there's also the "oh, great, now here come even more people to kick my butt" factor going on. I can still hold my own with most of the crowd right now (on Tuesday night I won 3 and lost 3), but I can see that the newcomers' skills are improving quite rapidly; Cap'n Bumper, who had never even touched a racquetball racket before a few weeks ago, handed me one of those aforementioned defeats. I told PigPen that I was worried that everyone else was progressing while I had plateaued. His response? "Oh, Todd, you haven't plateaued." And then, before I could thank him for his words of encouragement, he continued with, "you're actually going downhill."

I then chastised myself severely for not only leaving myself wide open, but for not even seeing the blow coming . . . which is a pretty good example of how most of our racquetball games go as well, I suppose.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Getting the Words Out

I mentioned last week that Diva is trying to organize a weekly writing challenge; well, yesterday she posted the first set of words for the challenge. So, if you'd like a chance to flex your creative muscles, head on over there, give the words a look, and let the composition start percolating in your head.

I, meanwhile, will now head back upstairs and resume me effort to catch up on sleep after my roadtrip to Austin to help out Papa Lightbulb with the first preview service of his church plant.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Todd Test Revealed

As promised, here's the answers to The Todd Test; Li'l Dill, stop reading immediately until after you take the quiz. Everyone else, feel free to proceed.

Question #1

Which of the following was I not president of?
Technology Student Association (high school)
Honors Society (high school)
Student Council (high school)
English Club (college)

Correct Answer: Honors Society. This was one of the tricky ones that pretty much only people who knew me in High School would know, since only they would know that Wyandotte didn't have an Honors Society with officers at the time I was going there. A lot of people picked Student Council, which is understandable, since in a lot of places StuCo elections are popularity contests and I wasn't exactly king of the school; however, when I ran for prez, nobody ran against me, so I didn't have to worry about experiencing the agony of popularity-driven defeat.

Question #2.
Most kids have security blankets: I had a security what?
Teddy Bear
Stuffed monkey

Correct Answer: Security stick, as I described in this blog post about weird things I did as a kid. Most of the folks who got it wrong fell into my trap and picked "Stuffed monkey," so I shall take this chance to say yet again that the monkey obsession is not inherent in me, but rather a byproduct of my friendship with Rebel Monkey, as explained here.

Question #3
I took first place at the TSA national conference twice in what event?
Prepared Speech
Technology Bowl (Quiz bowl)
Extemporaneous Speech
Chapter Team (Parliamentary procedure)

Correct Answer: Chapter Team (Parliamentary procedure). The Wyandotte team took first place at nationals twice while I was involved, once my 8th grade year when I was Sergeant-at-Arms, and once my Senior year, when I was president. In fact, the first year we won, the heads of the Oklahoma TSA delegation had our team come to Stillwater to video-tape a demonstration to distribute to other TSA chapters wanting to do Chapter Teams. For the record, I did compete in all of the events listed at least once, but only really enjoyed Chapter Team and Extemp.

Question #4
What is the only Competitive Speech piece I ever qualified for State with?
"Jack and the Beanstalk" by Roald Dahl
"The October Game" by Ray Bradbury
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
"The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" by Weird Al Yankovic

Correct Answer: "The October Game" by Ray Bradbury. Love this story; very dark and twisted. And, although I was nearly sabotaged by Mr. Green Rabbit's Foot, I did manage to qualify for State with it my Freshman year. I did perform each of the other pieces listed, and have discussed each of them here at one point or another, but although I qualified for Regionals with each, but wasn't able to make it to State with any of them.

Question #5
How many stories did I have published in Papyrus, the OSU undergraduate literary publication?

Correct Answer: 2. The first piece was one of the two short stories I've posted here, Moving On.; if you want more info on the writing process and how I nearly didn't make the cut for Papyrus, you can go here. The second piece was called "Neat Freak," and was a SF tale set in the same world as the Painkiller and Nature Boy segments of In a Cabin in the Woods. Surprisingly, it was easier getting the SF story in than the slice-of-life story, but I think the selection committee had a lot to do with that.

Question #6
What is my favorite Stephen King novel?
The Shining
Needful Things

Correct answer: The Shining. Love this book; the other three listed are high up on my list as well, but each of them sort of fell flat for me with their endings, while The Shining was solid all the way through.

Question #7
How long have I been teaching Sunday School?
approx. 2 years
approx. 2 1/2 years
approx. 3 years
approx. 3 1/2 years

Correct answer: approx. 2 1/2 years. In retrospect, I wish I had approached this question a bit differently, but oh well.

Question #8
What is my favorite Shakespeare tragedy?
Romeo and Juliet
King Lear

Correct Answer: Macbeth. I was very surprised that my mom got this one wrong, as it was her Senior English class that first introduced me to The Scottish Play; to this day I'm disappointed that Kenneth Brannagh never tried to do a film version of it. Runner up for favorite tragedy? King Lear, which I gained a special appreciation for when I had to do a scene from it for class.

Question #9
Which of the following movies did NOT cause me great mental pain?
A Sound of Thunder
Meet the Parents
Do the Right Thing
Death to Smoochy

Correct Answer: Death to Smoochy. Yes, that's right: Death to Smoochy. Lots of folks hate it, but I actually liked it. The other three films though . . . sheesh. Sound of Thunder drove me insane with its faulty time travel theory, let alone stupid character decisions; Do the Right Thing's ending ticked me off to no end because they played it off like the destruction of the pizza place was somehow justified; and Meet the Parents caused me intense pain throughout almost the entire film with people lying for no reason and jumping to conclusions and being total jerks beyond measure. HatehateHATE that movie.

Question #10
Where was my first full time job?
Telemarketing firm
Chemical plant
Public library
University library

Correct Answer: Chemical plant. The summer between graduating from high school and heading off to OSU, I got a job at the chemical plant where Frost-E-Frost's dad worked. Seem like an odd choice for me? Not when you consider that at the time I was thinking about pursuing a degree in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering. It's a toss up between whether I consider this job my worst job of all time, or if my few months as a telemarketer win that title; on the one hand, there were aspects of the chemical plant job which made me miserable, not the least of which was that I was always being unfavorably compared to my predecessor in the position, a man who had spent most of the time he was supposed to be training me just showing me where the best spots were to go and take a nap so you wouldn't get caught. But, he was able to stand around and tell dirty jokes and swap tales of drunken conquests with the other guys, so he was golden; quiet, introverted, still-in-my-shell Cap'n N. was not so favored. Still, working at the plant didn't make me physically ill at the thought of going in to work, so telemarketing might have the edge. Most people picked one of the library jobs, but I didn't get a job at the public library until after I quite telemarketing, and even then it was part-time; the academic library job came even later, after I graduated college.

Question #11
What instrument did I play in band?

Correct Answer: Saxophone. Alto Saxophone, to be precise. I remember coming home from our first day of band in 5th grade and telling my mom "I'm not sure what instrument I want to play, saxophone or drums--" "Saxophone," my mother responded quickly and with finality, having been beset with visions of my younger self walking around the house with drum sticks banging on everything in sight. So, alto sax it was. I can't remember the last time I played; probably the summer between Freshman and Sophomore year of college when I would occasionally play during church.

Question #12
What was the title of my college essay where I began to explore my neurotic tendencies?
On the Outside Looking In
Of Prisms and Plotlines
The Nerd's Soliloquy
My Own Worst Enemy

Correct Answer: "Of Prisms and Plotlines." I know this threw some people off because it doesnt necessarily sound like it's about neurotic tendencies, but really, why would you expect me to approach things from a normal* P.O.V.? I mentioned this one a couple of times in the blog, one during the Secret Origins series, and once in the intro to In a Cabin, where I talked about the plotline aspect of the title; the prism aspect comes from this passage:
One of my biggest problems has always been that I think too much about everything. Not too hard, just too much. I picture my mind as some sort of prism which separates future possibilities in much the same way as a regular prism separates visible light into the colors of the rainbow. Right before any decision my mind is suddenly paralyzed with what seems like an infinite number of possibilities, all of which are disastrous and sure to lead me to my doom. Faced with certain failure I'm usually unable to act until the situation in question is over. Then the prism in my mind shifts ever so slightly, and I am inundated with a flood of new possibilities, all of which are perfectly happy, perfectly fabulous, and by that point, perfectly out of my reach. Which typically sends me hurtling into depression.
Ah, the good ol' days of rampant paranoia, huh? As for the other titles, the only one that was ever a real work by me was "The Nerd's Soliloquy," which I wrote for an Original Oratory for Competitive Speech -- the morning of competition. Have I mentioned I'm a horrible procrastinator, or have I been putting off talking about that?

Question #13
What recurring cast member of Buffy the Vampire Slayer did I meet at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham?
Emma Caulfield (Anya)
Marc Blucas (Riley)
Amber Benson (Tara)
Danny Strong (Jonathan)

Correct Answer: Amber Benson (Tara). Holy cow, I can't believe I've never really talked about my Amber Benson encounter here outside of a passin comment or two; this one is worthy of a full-fledged blog post for posterity's sake. The title is already determined: Incidence of Coincidence.

Question #14
My Honors Thesis dealt with the use of supernatural themes in the work of a well-respected multicultural author. What was it called?
The Ghosts of Toni Morrison
The Ghosts of Amy Tan
The Ghosts of Leslie Marmon Silko
The Ghosts of Maxine Hong Kingston

Correct Answer: "The Ghosts of Amy Tan." I did write papers about two of the other writers mentioned ("Yellow Woman and Woman Warrior: oral storytelling tradition in the works of Leslie Marmon Silko and Maxine Hong Kingston"), but it was the evolving use of ghost stories and supernatural themes in Tan's first three novels that became the focus of my honor's thesis. For a while my thesis abstract was up on the OSU Honor's program website as an example for others (as was the abstract for Coronela's), but alas, it has since been replaced. I think I got more compliments for the presentation I gave about the paper in front of other thesis candidates than I did for the paper itself; one of the people there ran into my years later while I was working at the OSU library and recognized me, which was cool.

Question #15
What class in college did I barely manage to pull out a B in, wrecking my 4.0?

Correct Answer: Chemistry. "But wait," the more observant among you might be saying, "didn't you just say five questions ago that you had thought about being a Chemistry major?" Yes, yes I did; please note that my final major was something totally different. To be honest, my grade was not a result of me not being able to do the work, as much as it was me being too dazzled by my first semester of college and not applying myself to do the work. Plus, my professor didn't allow partial credit because, he said, "they don't allow partial credit in the working world" -- an argument I felt lacked solidity due to the fact that he also insisted we memorize all formulas and constants, not to mention the Periodic Table, a requirement that I'm pretty sure wasn't enforced in the working world. I barely scraped out a B in the class thanks to cramming hard for the final and doing well in the lab. Surprisingly enough, it was the lab, which I generally did well in, which convinced me to pursue something other than Chemistry, as the experiments bored the living daylights out of me. Oh, I also wound up with Bs in Calc and Stat, but they were high Bs, and the fact that I had already gotten my first B out of the way my first semester kind of took the pressure off of maintaining the As across the board; as long as my GPA was high enough to keep all my scholarships, that was all I cared about.

Question #16
Which of the following is NOT a pet peeve of mine in movies/TV?
People lyling for no good reason.
Non-linear storytelling
Doing a "Rear Window" homage as a red herring
Misrepresentation of dissociative identity disorder

Correct Answer: Non-linear storytelling. The fact that I love movies likeGo, Pulp Fiction, and (most tellingly) Memento should say all I need to about why that one doesn't bother me. As for the others . . . The "lying for no good reason" thing just bugs me on an almost primal level; misrepresentation of DID bugs me because of the research paper I did on it, back in the day when it was still known as MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder); and the "Rear Window" thing bugs me because it's always a red herring, taking away any dramatic tension it might hold. The lying thing is the only one that can completely ruin a movie for me, but the other two do grate as well.

Question #17
How many times have I been asked to be a groomsman for a friend's wedding?

Correct Answer: 1. It amazes me how many people put 3 as their answer (including my mom); apparently y'all think I'm more popular than I actually am. No, the only wedding I've been in was Wrath teh Berzerkr's, and that was largely due to the fact that I was rooming with him at the time.

Question #18
Out of the following performers my parents subjected me to as a youth, which can I not stand?
Linda Rondstat
Neil Diamond
Kingston Trio

Correct answer: Neil Diamond. Nothing much to say about this one; just don't care for Neil Diamond's music. I can tolerate it, but not happily. As for the other three, I own a "Best of" album of each.

Question #19
I was once ticketed for wreckless endangerment; what acquaintance from college was driving the other car involved?
A former professor
A former roommate
A former R.A.
A former Hall Director

Correct Answer: A former Hall Director. Also surprised I haven't talked about this incident at all; going to have to get to blogging about that soon as well. Oh, and despite people calling foul, there is a difference between R.A. and Hall Director, so deal with it.

Question #20
For those who actually read "In a Cabin in the Woods," Caleb's cat is named for one of my favorite fictional characters, and is what I plan on naming my next pet. What is it?

Correct Answer: Tenzil. Named for Tenzil Kem, one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite comics, Legion of Super-Heroes.. Nevyn is a character from Katherine Kerr's Daggerspell series; Matrim is from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series; and Zoidberg (who almost everyone guessed) is by far my favorite character on the excellent animated series Futurama.

And there you have it, your guide to the wonderful world of Todd. Maybe you'll all do better on the next quiz . . .



Friday, March 09, 2007

Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On

I had a really bad dream last night, the gist of which was that I was trapped in an enclosed space with bloodthirsty dogs snapping at my face; as you might expect, I don't feel particularly well rested after that. But, at least it gave me something to blog about: my dreams.

Back in Parker we had a "graffiti wall," which was basically just a huge piece of paper hung up in the first floor lounge where people could write inspirational messages, funny quotes, controversial and inflammatory remarks, etc. One day someone put up the quote "All men are great in their dreams -- Sigmund Freud" I wrote the following response directly underneath: "Obviously, he's never seen my dreams." Now, while there was a bit of smart-assery involved there (surprise surprise), there was also a bit of truth; in the majority of my dreams I am lost, powerless, totally at the mercy of outside forces.

Shocking, I know.

I don't really have recurring dreams where the same series of events unfold the same way each time. The last recurring dream that I remember having was when I was around 4 or 5, and I had a series of dreams in which I'm viewing from a distance a family, all in silhouette, running down a winding path with a burning house in the background; not too long ago I re-watched the old Disney flick The Black Hole and realized that the dream was inspired by a sequence with the silhouetted crew running down a bridge with a flaming meteor rolling towards them. Kind of surreal.

But, while I don't have recurring dreams per se, I do have recurring themes in my dreams:

  • When I was younger, I would have dreams where I was endlessly falling; one that stands out particularly vividly was one where I was a firefighter, running up a spiral staircase only to reach the top and realize it went nowhere. Then, as I fell into the awaiting abyss, I tried to use the firehose I had been carrying as a lasso to hook onto something and stop my descent -- didn't work. I only remember ever hitting bottom once in this sort of dream, and it woke me up as my body reacted to the dream jolt. Strange feeling.

  • I don't have flying dreams; I have floating dreams. They always start out with me running, with my stride turning into bounds that start to launch me higher and higher a la a young Clark Kent learning he can defy gravity; only, in my case, I always reach the point where I am suddenly stuck in the air, drifting along, unable to get back to the ground or even control which way I float. I think I got these dreams the most in college, but they still reappear every now and again.

  • I also have never had a dream where I've shown up at school buck naked; no, I always show up at school with at least my underwear on -- apparently even my subconscious has body shame.

  • Another variation on a popular dream theme is the "forgot I had a test" motif, but I, not liking to do anything in half measures, don't just forget I have a test -- no, in my dreams I suddenly realize that I had forgotten about an entire class I was signed up for, and it's time for the final and there's no way for me to salvage my grade. I'm always thankful when I wake up and remember I'm done with school.

  • I often have dreams where I get into fights with my friends, which one might be tempted to see as a sign of me subconsciously working through feelings of frustration and anger towards them, but the fact that in pretty much every dream of this sort* I have I wind up getting my butt kicked probably suggests something else . . .

  • Surprisingly enough, I rarely have what I would consider full-on nightmares; I've had stressful dreams, depressing dreams, and downright disturbing dreams that leave me shaken for days at a time, but almost never any that would qualify as terrifying, wake-up-screaming nightmares. You might think that growing up on a steady diet of horror films would have left a little bit more of an impression on my young psyche, but nope, very few visions of demons, monsters, or serial killers plague my dream life, and even those that do are more of a curiosity than a source of fear.
My dream life goes in cycles; I'll got months without dreaming (or, at least, without remembering my dreams) and then hit a patch of time where I wake up with vivid memories of my dreams almost every single day. Very few of those dreams leave a lasting impression, though; there are maybe a handful of dreams that still retain any sort of emotional resonance to me today. And, I might talk about those later, but right now Zinger is calling me a lazy bastage for not posting anything, so I'd better wrap it up.

*I can only think of one occasion off the top of my head where my dream ended up with me getting the upper hand, and even in the dream I thought to myself "Well, this isn't right, he could totally kick my butt." Self-esteem, thy name is not Todd.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Return of IMP

While working on my MLS, I took a website development class. For our final project we had to construct a website that met some bare minimum requirements; I, being bored out of my skull at having to listen to the T.A. repeat the same basic instructions to people over and over again decided to go a little overboard with my project. Using a few faux comic book solicitations I had written as part of a fiction writing challenge thrown at me by the Book Monkeys on the now-defunct Book Monkey Message Board as a springboard, I constructed the Infinite Monkeys Press webpage; later, when it came time to name this blog, I decided to keep the Infinite Monkeys motif.

The page was housed on UNT's servers for quite a while after I finished the class, but alas and alack, they eventually wiped IMP off of the drives. I kept thinking about reposting it somewhere, but never got around to it. However, a few days ago, Diva made a post about starting a writing challenge which sounds a lot like the challenges which inspired IMP in the first place. With this sparking my memory, I decided to transfer most of the IMP stuff to a blogger page; sadly, most of the formatting went the way of the dodo when I transferred it over, but the text is all the same, and that's what really matters, right?

So, without further ado, here is the stripped down version of Infinite Monkeys Press.

Warning: Inside jokes abound.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Movie Mon. - If You Haven't Rented Stranger than Fiction Yet, Go Do So Now; I'll Wait.

Full Metal Jacket: Stanley Kubrick's look at the horrors of war, not to mention Boot Camp. Yes, this was the first time I've ever sat down and watched FMJ; Zinger's been bugging me to rent it forever, and I finally broke down and moved it to the top of my queue. And the verdict? Awesome movie; wish I would have seen it back in the day so that all the zillions and zillions of lines which have seeped into pop culture would have seemed fresher, but even that couldn't dampen my enjoyment of the film. I know lots of people love the first half of the film and don't care for the second, and I can understand why, as the shift between Boot Camp and the Drill Sgt. From Hell to The War Itself is pretty severe. But, while I do think the first half is a bit more enjoyable, I found the film as a whole to be a solid piece of work. Vincent D'Onofrio was great as the first pathetic, then psychotic Pyle. My biggest shock in watching the film was finding out that it featured an early performance by Adam "Jayne on Firefly" Baldwin, who could have been one of Jayne's ancestors with the size of gun he was toting.

Flags of Our Fathers: Clint Eastwood's look at the history of the famous picture of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, and how affected the men involved. A well done film with some fine acting all around; I did feel that it was a bit character-heavy at times, especially when the soldiers start dying during the battle scenes and I had trouble telling which were named characters and which were just red-shirts. Still, if nothing else it got me thinking about the power of propaganda and just how difficult it would be for a stationary image to capture the imagination of our current society the way that one did.

The Return: Snooze-inducing "horror/thriller" about a woman who has been suffering from visions of murder since her youth, and who finally finds herself drawn to the scene of the crime. I see this one as proof that Sarah Michelle Geller really needs new representation that can actually screen out the crap scripts; bland and unappealing film which literally put me to sleep.

Babel: Slow moving drama which focuses on three separate stories: an unfortunate American couple who are the victims of a shooting and the perpetrators of the crime; a Mexican nanny whose decision to take her charges to her son's wedding leads to difficulties with the law; and a deaf-mute Japanese girl with a rebellious streak. So, have you ever watched a critically acclaimed film and wondered what the heck everyone was so excited about? That would be the Babel experience for me in a nutshell. The story of the American couple held no emotional resonance for me, while the story of the Mexican nanny just made me frustrated. I was interested in the story of the Japanese girl, but in the end even that story was not enough to make me willing to say I liked the film. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood to watch it, but there's no way you'll be able to get me to sit through it for a second chance.

Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny: The story of the formation of the most awesome rock band in the world and how they decide to hunt down the mythical Pick of Destiny so they can win an open mic night and pay their rent. First of all, your enjoyment of the film will be directly proportional to you enjoyment of Jack Black and his antics; if you don't care for J.B., give this film a wide berth. And, even if you are a J.B. fan, your mileage may vary; I thought the first half of the film, chronicling how J.B. and K.G. formed The D was great, but once they started their search for the Pick, it went downhill fast. I think my biggest problem was that hardly anything in the film felt as fresh or funny as the short lived D series on HBO; there's enough here to recommend this to fans of The D, but others should probably save their money for other things.

Stranger Than Fiction: Inventive story of an IRS agent (the unusually low-key Will Ferrell) who wakes up one day to discover that he's hearing a disembodied voice narrating his life, which is only an inconvenience up until the point the narrator announces he's going to die. Loved this movie with a bloody passion; great writing, great acting, great directing. It made me briefly think "Was this a Charlie Kaufman script?" and as someone who lists Being John Malkovich and Adaptation among his favorite films, that's high praise indeed. This is one of those rarities in life: a film with a message which doesn't jam the message down your throat and never devolves into saccharine schmaltz. Highly recommend this to one and all.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Question of Chemistry

I've been thinking a lot about chemistry lately. And no, I don't mean titrations and moles and endothermic reactions and whatever other scientific mumbo jumbo I no longer retain from Chem I my Freshman year; no, I'm talking about how people interact, how people bond, how person A can get along with person B and person C while persons B and C loathe the sight of each other. In other words, what is that intangible factor that makes people (for want of a better term) "click?" How much is unconscious and out of hands, and how much is under our control? These are the sort of thoughts that have, on occasion, kept me up all night.

Out of curiosity* how many of you blog monkeys lurking out there have ever experienced that instant chemistry, where you meet someone for the first time and by the end of the encounter you feel like you have a new B.F.F.? I’m wondering how common such an occurrence is outside of works of fiction, since I’ve never had the pleasure. No, for me, the formation of chemistry is a more gradual process, since I usually put my guard up around new people, and it’s kind of hard to bond with someone when you’re hiding in your shell. Then, after a period of days or weeks or months or, yes, even years, some window of opportunity will present itself, the guard will drop, and the groundwork for a new friendship will be laid. For some friends there are certain moments burned into my brain forever which make me think “This is the moment when we clicked; this was the word/phrase/action that put us on the same wavelength.” Sadly enough, 9 times out of 10 these moments are of a "hey, they just caught the movie/TV/comic reference I just made" variety: Flunky joining in on "Downtown" from Little Shop of Horrors, Papa Lightbulb picking up on my quoting of Clue, The Cardinal's propensity for Weird Al related answers in Beyond Balderdash, etc. Of course, for other friends there is no such “Oh, in-X-s!” moment -- just a slow, gradual connection which sneaks up on you so that you’re never sure exactly when the bond solidified.

Which brings us back to the question of what exactly causes that feeling of good chemistry; what specific attributes are most integral to making two people click? I’m not foolish enough to think there’s only a single universal answer to the question; the human psyche is too wide and varied for that to be the case. In my experience, the biggest factor in fostering that bond is a compatible, if not necessarily comparable, sense of humor. While I might get along fine with someone I don’t find all that funny (or vice versa), without that ability to make each other laugh the odds of me developing anything other than a shallow acquaintance are slim. Sure, there are other factors interwoven with that; similar interests, similar backgrounds, shared experiences, etc. And for some people, one of those other factors might be the key factor in any friendship.

And then on the other end of the spectrum you have the chemistry killers, those personality traits that destroy any chance of a strong bond forming. These chemistry killers don’t have to be big things like racism, misogyny, untrustworthiness, or the like; as countless episodes of Seinfeld have taught us, it’s often the little things that act as stumbling blocks. I’m not saying that the little things are enough to make you write somebody off completely; however, they’re often enough to make you think that you’d much rather be out of a person’s presence rather than in it. I think these Chemistry killers are a big factor in cases of lopsided chemistry where person A is drawn to person B, but person B doesn’t give a flip about person A’s existence; never a fun thing.

Up until now I’ve mainly been thinking in terms of individual chemistry, the way two people interact with each other independent of any other influences. But no discussion about the mysteries of chemistry would be complete without talking about the ins and outs of group dynamics.

So, um, I guess this post isn’t complete. Maybe next time.

*A curiosity which will probably never be sated since the odds of people actually responding to questions embedded in my posts are only slightly better than the odds of PigPen making it a full day without mocking me.