2009 December

December 2009

[This song makes me a little teary because I'm a sucker. I feel like I've never made it out, but it's not my mom's fault.]

We walked through parts of the city that were kicked down, and sometimes marginally repaired with bits of plywood. Everywhere, plywood. We walked across the cracked and twisted sidewalks between buildings that slumped into each other, roots from trees destroying the symmetry of the walkways, and brushing into your eyes and mouth as you moved past. Sidewalks where groups of people set up chairs, cooked things on small barbecues close to the ground, and didn’t bother to shift when you needed to walk by. People who were happy, and who didn’t like you, and would watch you walk away.

Through sections of town where you heard nothing but the sound of rushing cars and loud Jamaican accents, into a little eatery that made its money by selling a wall of mysterious beers I’d never heard of to the local college students. White letters pressed into brown grooves above the counter spelled out, without punctuation or a breath, the food that they could make for you. I ordered a burger and fries, because it seemed safe, and she bought a beer that I’d never heard of and something without any meat in it. We sat at a table in the back, thick with grease and filth, while a partially obscured television played something in the kitchen, and the old locals debated, and the teenagers outside the window climbed up onto stone planters and groped each other and let their bikes fall on the ground.

They forgot my fries, and decided to charge me again when they finally delivered them ten minutes later. I didn’t argue. The atmosphere was angry, like I didn’t belong there because I had never been there before. The burger couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and it was a challenge to get packets of ketchup to try to disguise it as something edible. Why couldn’t I just buy beer and get out like the rest of the white kids?

We took a trolley across the city on her birthday to go to a fancy restaurant called ‘The Saloon’. I’d called everywhere I thought we could get to in order to find her the perfect eggplant parmesan, and we finally settled on this, after some debate. There was always debate, and it was unpredictable. It could be about a pause, or a word, or the absence of a word, or some personality quirk or failing that had been imperceptible until now. We wore nice clothes. She was beautiful and I watched her perfect, jet black hair cascade down her back as we walked, and I couldn’t wait to get her back to the apartment. We sat in wooden chairs and we felt like kids playing as adults. Our waitress was pretty and bright, and things felt right, for a few minutes. The food was delicious, and the meal came to $100 or so, and I paid, and we left, and I was glad that I could give her something special to remember. This was going to be her new life. She cheated on me a few months later.

I don’t think that the night went well. Sleeping arrangements required that I stay on a bloated inflatable mattress in the middle of the floor with a small fan directed somewhere between us, because her small mattress wasn’t large enough for two, and she had very precise sleeping needs. Mathematical pillow positioning, exact temperatures, no light touching, a specific blanket in a specific place. You could not shift without disrupting the entire order of things and the ritual had to start anew, so I slept elsewhere. It was simpler.

We walked around the corner from her apartment, past the Blockbuster and the colorful fruit truck that was always there, give or take a few feet. We ordered ‘sour cream and onion’ fries, and a sandwich. They advertised ‘flavor fries’, and as a fan of french friend in general, I felt an obligation to sample their wares. A young black kid was painting a giant pizza on the wall and getting it terribly wrong, but talking about going to art school. His plastic box of paints and brushes took up a table, and he offered to move them for us to sit down. Some arcade game squatted in the corner, and the cashier would disinterestedly wander out every so often to plug in a quarter, and walk away again when the phone rang. An obese, grey, unfriendly couple took over the other booth.

The fries arrived in a round foil container, wet, in a pale, off-white gnarl of sour cream and onion dip. We ate them anyway, and threw most of the mess away when we were sure they weren’t looking.

My favorite dining in Philadelphia was eating sandwiches out of paper bags or Chinese food with plastic forks, on her filthy couch, watching really great or really awful movies on TV, dozing off with a full stomach and feeling her fleshy stomach under the side of my face, trying to ignore the piles of garbage and dirty dishes that her and her roommates let infest the breadth of the apartment. I was inclined to never walk barefoot there, but the food, safe in paper bags from someplace outside of the apartment, was great.

On the morning of the winter Solstice, I was dusting off my car with an old broom from some corner of the house. The car was idling, and the whole world, despite it being around 9:30 AM, was sleepy, except for the sound of a new engine and the snow under my boots.

I see something dark flash by the side of my head, and I feel the single beat of a wing, and like an angry fist, something careens into the glass behind me, resonating through the old, dry wood of the garage door. Breathing heavily, lying perfectly in the snow was a bird much smaller than my hand.

I let it stay there as I finished dusting off my car. I didn’t want to scare it, and I didn’t want to give in to the very human reaction of wanting to comfort it somehow. My presence was probably far less comforting than just being left alone. It stopped breathing after a few seconds, its eyes wide open, my car idling behind me. I picked it up and laid it in some leaves close to the house, where at least it stood a chance of not freezing to death, if it were still deeply stunned. There’s really nothing that you can do for a bird. When I left it, it was still warm and very soft.

As someone who looks for signs in everything, as if the universe has a greater purpose that it’s subtly ushering me towards (mostly because I can’t figure out my left from my right most of the time without holding up my hands to see which one makes an ‘L’ shape), I’m trapped dwelling on what this means.

A month ago, I was leaving for work and I found a similar bird trying to get out of the garage, though there were no open doors or windows anywhere for it to have found a passage in, so I escorted it out at the cost of being late for work.

Were this a positive sign, I assume that the universe would have sent me this bird to alight on my hand and sing me a song, and not on a kamikaze death mission that narrowly misses my forehead. Maybe this is akin to the Death card in the tarot – a sign of new beginning, falling on the shortest, coldest, most hopeless day of the year. Maybe this past week has been so violently disappointing that the only way I’d perceive anything was if it hit me upside the head and scared me. Maybe a bird hit a window and I watched it die, helpless to do anything about it.


Tonight, I got an amazing little present from a French girl who seems to have an innate understanding of my soul.

Thank you.

The difference between paranoia and prophecy is what happens next.

There is a reason I’ve always felt a sense of deep geek-shame when I’ve walked into a toy store looking for a new Batman. There’s a stereotype of toy-collecting geeks that, unfortunately, rings true in many cases. I might even fit some of the outward appearance cliches, but I assure you – I bathe, I can carry on a conversation, I’ve had girlfriends, I’ve seen them naked, and yes, they were hot as hell, and you wish.

I won’t go into the stereotypes here, or why I collect a few toys, but let me assure you – my development is not arrested. And I have a job that pays me to do these things.

skeletorOnce a month, Mattel releases web-exclusive items into their online store. These are generally things that are produced in a limited edition, as a typical retail environment couldn’t support them properly. Items are scheduled to be released, the collective nerd populace with credit cards flocks to their website, buys a few things, and disperses. Sometimes, this makes the website perform slowly or temporarily crash.

I accept these digital hurdles as a simple fact of the internet. Other toy nerds take them as cues to hurl anger, vitriol, and abjectly ridiculous threats. Yesterday had a few very intense hours – all because the website’s current allotment of a Skeletor action figure sold out before some people could get him. Personally, I bought a B’Wana Beast and Animal Man 2-pack, and a Ghostbuster. It took a few minutes, but the order went through just fine.

The internet has recently caused many friends, acquaintances and otherwise to act out of character – or perhaps more in character than I previously perceived. I feel like I need to record some of the comments left on Mattel’s Facebook page for posterity, and as a lasting example of exactly why we need to calm down over tiny plastic men. I post these without editing for clarity.


Jeno B. : by back up and running, you mean the site is a fucking mess that doesnt work, right? just like every month when you release stuff and it doesnt work,

Mike V. : every month you have an issue fuck you..i ever see you anywhere im putting my foot up your ass
Steven Z. : liar liar lair lair lair lair lair lair lair lair
Justin S. : what pisses me off the most is that i wasted my damn lunch hour to come home and order skeletor, and then they don’t have it. bastards anyways [because toys are more important than food]

One fine chap suggested that ‘someone’ start a website called ‘I hope Mattel dies in the next 9/11 dot com’. And he was serious. We have reached a point of fevered insanity over a Skeletor action figure that provokes us to wish another horrible tragedy on our country, and the deaths of thousands of people, just so that one person at Mattel will lose their life. Or perhaps this person thinks that Mattel IS a person. At this point, it was difficult to see through the geek froth.
Either way, people, life is full of disappointment. A little evil skeleton dude that fought all sweaty ‘n’ bare-chested with another dude with a bowl cut isn’t really a great thing to start threatening people over. And tough words on the internet are just that.
Well, THAT, and hilarious.

[Part Two]


Nothing much to say here but COLOR-DELIGTH VARIED!


I especially love the cyborg ‘Imitator’ and ‘Captain Hook’, who they are sure to define as THE PIRATE. In case we thought we were getting Captain Hook : The Optometrist.

These are not, in fact, poseable. And they have sculpted nipples. I especially love the fan in the background with the banner that simply says ‘WIN’. He doesn’t care who comes out on top, as long as he sees someone get hit. Truly a man’s man.


I don’t know what this is, but I think I just peed myself out of some unnamed emotion that is a pure mix of terror and complete amusement.

[Part One]

Oceans of raccoons. A camera that can anoint you. Multiple win.

It’s like they tried to mix kaiju with Barbie and made something that appealed to no one, ever. And that skirt leaves nothing to the imagination.

Another couple of warriors intent on going beyond the century. Considering that I probably purchased these somewhere around 1999, I say that they achieved their goals. These are actually very cool kaiju pieces.



Just what every warrior who depends on stealth and the dark of night needs – glowing powers.

More to come.

I found a large box in my closet. Well, I’ve found many – but this particular box is completely full of a few years worth of dollar store toys.

Things that can cut you. Things that can blind you. Things that have no grasp of copyright or spelling. Things that are potentially hilarious. If Toygiants taught me anything, its an appreciation of every toy in its rawest, sloppiest form – smeared with paint and harboring visible seams.

He’s the king of adventure, defending the stars. How awesome is that? You know, if it didn’t suck so intensely and come with torso-sized Liefeld guns? It’s worth noting that the illustrations are madcore awesome.

With real, live Zone Power Of Spinning. This was probably from that bygone era when Pokemon were still an infectious disease that was slowly devouring America and ruining Saturday morning cartoons forever.


An unfortunate mistranslation that steals from both Lisa Frank and Disney : My Lover Mermaid, because ‘My Mermaid That Has Sex With Me’ was already taken.

A snowstorm can be exciting! Water skiing is of the newest in the family of sports! Move over, sonw on skis! It’s like a collage was brutally sodomized, and this is the evidence.

Transformers : Robots in Denial. It actually changes into an even less attractive pile of junk.

More to come.

While I can’t pin down the precise date, and it’s been blogged about ad nauseam, the FTC is dropping regulations on blogging. These regulations say a lot of things, but what directly effects me is the fact that any ‘free’ or ‘review’ items which I write about for any of my freelance gigs need to be disclosed as such within the article itself, or a disclaimer at the end.

For a long time, I really thought that this was just the default. People got free stuff for talking about it. I’ve been ‘blogging’ since before the word existed. I embraced the world of the internet very early on as a vast plain for positive expression of all manner of ideas, and free stuff for being a popular writer was just a given. Unfortunately, and I should have anticipated this, many people are disingenuous, and the plains of the internet which were once ripe for exploration have become a dangerous, deceptive wilderness. This is really unfortunate. Like many things, the internet is a tool, and it’s only as good as how you yourself use it. I’ve spent plenty of time defending Facebook to older co-workers who can’t really grasp the fact that I’m putting any aspect of my life online, but if you’re reading this, you probably get it and I don’t need to explain that posting a status update is not the equivalent of inviting violent rapists to dinner.

I won’t lie – I get a LOT of free stuff. My DVD collection has exploded over the past year, and I’ve hardly had to buy a thing. Indiana Jones, The Godfather, Justice League, Dr. Who, Iron Man, UP, the complete Farscape, the complete animated Ghostbusters and even Rocky on Blu-Ray, just to name a few of the fancier, more expensive things I’ve obtained. Toys, books, and other little weirdnesses are everywhere – so much so that I’ve started to just give them away to friends. I get press releases every day asking if I want stuff, and nine times out of ten, I say no. They don’t fit into what I do, and I’m not going to pretend they do.

None of these things were obtained out of avarice. They were all completely appropriate to the writing situation, and I only request things that I really feel that the audience would be interested in learning more about, or that I feel I could write about in an entertaining, attractive way. On rare occasions, I get things that I just can’t find enough to write about, and I simply don’t write anything.

I’ve been doing this long enough so that getting something for free doesn’t change my opinion of it. I called out Disney on the hypocrisy of packaging an iPod-only disc with Wall-E, a film that actively opposed a society that lived their lives through tiny screens. I don’t think I’ve ever compromised my integrity, for the simple fact that I’m able to extract a molecule of goodness out of even the worst, hilariously bad THING. It’s not a lie if this is what I want to talk about. I don’t feel that I intentionally omit fatal product flaws in any review.

I don’t mind adding a disclaimer to my articles about all of this. I do mind the fact that I could be slapped with an immense fine if I forget to.

It’s also journalistic integrity that calls into question the practices of a friend of mine that have recently resurfaced. I won’t name any names, because he’s genuinely a nice guy and I enjoy our interactions. As someone who writes professionally, I can’t help but feel a little rattled, however.

D. works PR for a company. It’s a good company. Sometimes, we work together and I write articles about their products, though they’re more like press releases than reviews. I guess that lends them credibility – I just do what I’m told.

I’ve known for a long time that D. also writes under a pseudonym, which is also fine. I don’t think that he knows that I’m aware of this situation, but he used to submit articles to my old blog and ask to be paid for them. Of course, this was my personal blog, and I wasn’t making money off of it, and I had no interest in running other people’s stuff in my writing portfolio space, and I certainly wasn’t able to pay for it – so I rejected it all, sometimes with helpful comments about fixing grammar or a title. After a while, something clicked and I realized that this pseudonym and D. were the same person.

Here’s the problem – D. is writing articles about his own company in the third person, going as far as describing meeting himself. He also reviews his own items on Amazon as different names. These things are now encroaching into my territory and income.

So, my question is this – is it fair, as a PR person, to write fake articles and plant them in different publications without disclosing who you really are? It only seems to discredit the entire online writing industry, which is already folding underneath me. And this is precisely why the FTC is doing what it’s doing to EVERYONE right now. Corporate dishonesty and the rampant abuse of ‘viral’ marketing disguised as organic marketing makes it impossible for people who just love to write… to WRITE.

And that’s disappointing.

Good blogs are closing up shop everywhere because the economy can’t pay for writing anymore, and as much as I love to write, I also can’t write for free. This is why ToyCyte folded, as much as I wanted to continue writing there (in addition to technical issues that rendered the back end totally broken that were not addressed).

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