Afternoon Baseball in Woodbridge

It’s a toasty 91 degrees here at the Pfitz (or more grandly and gracefully: Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium) for the 63rd home game when the first pitch kicks us off just after noon local time. Starting pitcher for the Nats is Joe Ross, on rehab assignment from the big club after Tommy John surgery. The Potomac Nats in their home whites jump to an early two run lead in the bottom of the first and knock the Myrtle Beach Pelicans starting pitcher out of the game before he could record three outs.

It’s another summer camp day game so there are a bunch of kids in the stands. I came prepared this time with a music player and earplugs if needed. Last week I was run out of here before the sixth inning by the screaming kids, a bleating chorus of vuvuzelas, and the bizarre chants of tiny but vocal Sponge-Bob Square-Pants cult members.

Bottom of the second and the Pelicans relief pitcher Leal is struggling. Seven balls in a row before he got one over. Jakson Reetz (“Puttin’ on the Reetz!”) is the Honey Baked Home Run Hitter of the game and everyone in Section H (for Ham!) is rooting for him to go deep but he draws a one out walk. Edwin Lora comes up with two on… I can only hope he doesn’t strike out as usual. Well, he does anyway… and a baserunning snafu ends the inning. Way to look like High-A ballplayers, guys.

To be fair, the P-Nats have played some good defense so far. David Masters is a lock down at third. Lora, despite his miscues at the plate, is a pretty solid shortstop. My music mix is so weird: on shuffle, it goes from Slayer to Jethro Tull and off into some weird Viking folk metal and then Bandmaid, my favorite Japanese band. It’s so hot I’m sweating down like a sad beast. The kids are doing the We Will Rock You footstomp-handclap thing and I fear the stadium, which is no longer up to the standards of the Carolina League, will collapse in a pile of dust and rust. The Pelicans steal second with two out but for my money he was out. It doesn’t matter as the next batter is easily retired.

It’s weiner toss time now, sponsored by Flying Dog Beer (Good People Drink Good Beer, Bad People Drink Bad Beer… Think About It. I hate that tagline). I don’t even bother to stand up. We got one one Tuesday and it was at best disappointing, even for free. But it’s not like we did eat it…

Bryan Meija leads off the bottom of the third, hitting .265 on the season but with a respectable 45 RBIs… and strikes out swinging. Sagdal reaches on an E-5 with two out and takes second on a past ball. The smell of sunscreen and little kid sweat permeates my world. Sags almost gets picked off second. White Zombie (“Black Sunshine”) comes on and it’s the perfect music for the moment… but Nick Banks spoils it with a long fly ball to the warning track that doesn’t have enough juice to get over. Next time, Banksy.

Brooke is our guest announcer for the entire fourth inning. The ushers are tossing water balloons at the kids in the stands, which is good solid fun and the kids are screaming to be soaked. Not a bad job if you can get it. I’d sign up just to be the Water Balloon Tossing Guy. Another good play at second by Meija. I hope he gets moved up soon, he’s languishing here in High-A and has the chops to play in Harrisburg or Syracuse.

Uriah Heep is in my ears and I can guarantee none of the players have ever heard “Rainbow Demon”. It’s all hip-hop, bro-country, or Latin trap for these boys. Another good play by Meija, diving to his left and throwing from his knees. The batboy looks like a chunky ice cream soda come to life. A quick mound visit from pitching coach Sam Narron and our pitcher is back to throwing strikes but is struggling here to get Galindo out. Galindo fights off pitch after pitch. Too many for Coach Keister, Joe Ross is done but had a solid rehab start. Coach K calls in the rangy A.J. Bogucki (3-2, 1.35 ERA in 20 innings) to finish off the top of the fourth and he induces an out to foul ground in right field on one pitch. Time for a beer… a Tropical IPA and a bottle of water. What I really need is a hog waller to, you know, waller in.

Bases loaded with one out. Base hit, error, and a walk. It’s the little things that will sink a team. One of the songs I played bass on comes up at random on my MP3 player and it is, as usual, weird to hear myself playing. 3-0 to “Strikeout” Lora and somehow I know he’ll still manage to KO with three balls to work with. That foul ball was closer than any this season! Just a few rows away. And Lora strikes out, as predicted. The Pelicans gather on the mound to discuss what to get Jimmie and Millie for their wedding present and sacrifice a live chicken. My feet are toast, I shouldn’t have worn sandals. Meija up with two outs… and grounds out. Runner on third with less than two outs? You have to score. Coach Keister is jawing with the umpire about something, and manages to avoid getting tossed… this time.

It’s one dollar cookies for the entire 5th inning, and for once there is no sponsor for it. I guess they ran out of businesses to soak for sponsorships. They keep playing Aretha Franklin on the PA, much respect for paying homage to the Queen of Soul who passed into the great cornfield at the edge of the outfield today. Bogucki gets his first strikeout (brought to you by Orion Home Improvement: Roofing, Siding, Windows, and Gutters). The Pelicans bullpen throws a ball into left just for lolz. Base hit to center, one on two out and the Pelicans light hitting short stop is up. The infield grass really looks like crap, I guess they’re waiting for the playoffs before they try to fix it.

Bree is trying her best to sell $1 cookies. But then again it’s the same spiel she’s used all season and we’re not enthused or responding, except for the summer camp kids, who will scream for damn near anything if asked.

Third pitcher for the Pelicans. Garcia leads us off in the bottom of the fifth as the DH. The Washington Nationals are a National League team, but the High-A team is in a majority American League farm system, so they utilize the DH. This annoys me on some fundamental level I can’t explain. Solid defense from the Pelicans this inning. It’s down to Nick “Banksy” Banks to do something with two outs… and he strikes out. Coach Keister has some words of wisdom for him as he walks past… “Don’t strike out next time,” probably.

Our favorite commercial… the Virginia Birth Father Registry.

Top six and Kyle Johnston takes the mound for the P-Nats. He gets a KO despite an ERA closer to 4 than 3. It must be hot out on the field, as I’m melting in my seat. Some of the kids are leaving… too hot. Two strikeouts! Johnston is dealing. Good scoop by Sagdal at first and it’s 1-2-3. Now it’s time for the Sweeto Burrito toss… not an actual burrito, which could be awesome and disgusting, but just a coupon, and once again I sit quietly. I’ve been eating those things all summer… enough to build a pyramid of burrito shit.

Bottom six and “Sunny” Jack Sundberg leads off hitting .280 but flies out to left. David Masters (“Master, master, where’s the hits that I’ve been after/master, master, promised all the RBIs”) comes up and knocks a double up the middle. Rhett Wiseman (“Do it for Scarlett and Tara!”) has 20 taters this year. I don’t expect to see him next season in High-A. Everybody clap your hands? Fuck you, I’m not your puppet, Mr. PA Announcer guy. Master pops out to short. It’s up to Jakson Reetz. The Pelicans pitcher digs into the mound like a bull in the ring and gets the third out.

Sports fans, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The grounds crew is really hurting, they pulled a couple of servers out of the stands to help them drag the infield dirt. Three guys in front of me are getting smashed at 2 in the afternoon. Pelicans are at bat; Johnston gets a KO on an appealed check swing and the batter is bitter. A walk and then Cruz hits a right field line drive homer to tie the game… sigh. He got the silent treatment from the bench! Psych!

Seventh inning stretch and the derigeur “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, though I’d really like to hear “Shadows In The Deep”. Sue me, I’m an unrepentant metal head. More summer campers are bailing and I can’t blame them. Lora almost hit the batboy… that’s the most he’s hit the ball all day. Well, he didn’t strike out at least, just popped out to short. The guys in front of me are bragging about their softball glories. I swear I’ll never do that again now that I hear how dumb it sounds.

Top 8; I’ve made it this far. Extra innings though and I’m out of here. There’s probably 50 people left in the stands. Quick top of the inning and it’s time for the Prince William Recycle Roundup Race. And Andrew wins… the PA announcer sounds like he’s channeling his inner Brockmire when he thanks the young lady who runs the between inning games: “Thanks a LOT, Bree,” and you can hear the drool dribbling from his flaccid lips and he strokes the microphone.

Big hole on the left side for the left Ian “Sags” Sagdal but he goes to right for an easy out. Coach should make these guys take BP after the game. It’s more fun at this point watching the kids search for foul balls in the stands than the play on the diamond.

Top 9 and I’ve shed 18 ounces of water weight. Two quick outs and what’s this… a light breeze caresses the stands! It’s only minor relief but still welcome.

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Luis Garcia, who delivered the game winning base hit. He got belted with a little bit of everything… Gatorade and water and chalk.

Bottom 9 and they’re playing the inspirational bullshit on the screen. It’s about heart. We’re gonna be winners. Don’t let anything come between us. Shut them down because we can. Well… that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? Masters leads off. Single to left… winning run on base. Wiseman sort of blunts the runner over… not really a bunt but not a full swing either. One out. Reetz comes up. No pressure. 2-1, hitters count. 2-2. Strike out. Two out. Pinch hitter is Aldrem Corredor, and we’ve seen him walk it off before. Intentional walk, 1st and 2nd with 2 out. Meija up and takes a swing for the fences and misses. 2-2. 3-2 with 2 outs… most exciting play in baseball. Foul ball sponsored by Metro Pawn. And a walk! Meija walks and the bases are juiced. Ducks on the pond sponsored by Duck Donuts! To the plate comes Luis Garcia  hitting a very solid .307. He looks like he wants it, so let’s see what… oh! And just like that, base hit to the hole between third and short, walk off, game over! I did not see that coming. That’s how you end a ball game, boys. Good job.

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The Grand Design

(I ran across this on a flashdrive. I think I wrote this 2009, when I was still working for Unisys – contracted to GSA/PBS Property Disposal. Maybe meant to be lyrics for a song that never quite happened? Maybe. Strong influence from the mighty David Foster Wallace.)

Cruising on the neon river
Reach out and touch the skyline
Back again for more my friend
Never heard such commotion

Streets littered with casualties
Of the Grand Design
How did we get it so wrong

Stop by the sign of the serpent and vine
Just to see if the Doktor is in
He’s got a fresh crop of eyes
And is ready to make a deal

Never mind we’ll get lost in time
Another casual victim
How could we get it so wrong

I know a place we can go
It’s just up the freeway
Halfway to Edge City
There a cradle full of dogs and babies

We’ll stay for a while
From up here the Grand Design
Is obtuse and oh so wrong

DFW are you receiving
I know it’s very late in the evening
We’re on a quest, we’ve got questions
About the nature of the jest

Nothing but static up the line
Random clicks bouncing
All part of the Grand Design

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To Raise the Cup of Stanley, To Drink the Sweet Nectar of Victory At Long Last

(This was an email reply to my dad but it also works well as an essay on my odd relationship with hockey. #ALLCAPS #WEGOTTHECUP)

Hockey… the sport of kings. Or at least, the sport of those with winter bound hides who revel in any opportunity to smash into each other at high speed while on ice skates, chasing after a hardened piece of rubber known affectionately as the “biscuit”. Growing up in California and Texas, hockey wasn’t a part of my sports DNA because the rink at the Galleria Mall discouraged fore-checking into the boards. Ironically both California and Texas have healthy hockey cultures now, and in fact, my first hockey game was a Houston Aeros minor league match. I found it intriguing but also utterly foreign, somewhat akin to the first time one tries sushi. Why wouldn’t you just dip the whole thing in batter and deep fry it? It makes no sense.

NHL_Hockey_CoverartHowever, enter the world of video games sports. While attending Florida State (and a quick but heart felt shout out to the FSU Softball team for earning their first national championship) and working at The Mill Bakery, Eatery, and Brewery I fell in with some enthusiastic young men who introduced me to the Sega Genesis version of hockey, NHL Hockey 1991. Weekend long tournaments were held. Brackets were created. Bets were made. Drinks and other substances were consumed. Some people won, others (like me) lost but had an amazing time and started to vaguely get a grasp on the rules of this sport. Icing was no longer something reserved strictly for cake. Boarding wasn’t giving the ne’er-do-wells a place to live. Two-man advantage wasn’t just a bad ass punk band from New York.

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I hated the Penguins even back in 1993. HATED.

When I moved to Houston after graduating college, the first major purchase I made with my JC Penny credit card (the only card I qualified for at the time) was a Sega Genesis and the first game I bought was NHLPA 1993. This game featured stellar hockey stars in their prime and even without a license from the NHL (no team names or logos) it provided hours upon booze-and-drug soaked hours of entertainment for me and my equally insane roommates. I may or may not have smashed a few controllers over my head after particularly heartbreaking loses at the hands of that bastard Wayne Gretsky.

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Frenzy, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks mascot. Yes, your mascot well never be as cool as this… thing.

Flash forward several forgettable years and I found myself back in Tallahassee. Expansion hockey had moved into town in the form of the ECHL’s Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. Already primed to enjoy the fastest sport on ice (sorry, curling fanatics, but you play with brooms and there is no cross-checking… in fact I would watch curling if one were allowed to hook the opponents legs out from under them as they mosey down the ice strip, sweeping away) I went to as many games as I could (turns out taking ladies from exotic up-north locations such as Chicago or Boston to a hockey game is the equivalent of giving southern women tequila) and even got to mingle with the players at the bar of the restaurant that curried my employment at the time. The players were smaller in person than I imagined, had outrageous accents (more exotic locales such as Czechoslovakia, Minsk, or Bangor, Maine) and usually walked away from the bar with all the women and left an enormous tab for someone else to pick up. I was hooked.

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Ray Ferraro, the Thrashers first captain, bobbling his head.

When the ever expanding fortunes of the NHL came to Atlanta, Debbie and I were quick to attend many of the Thrasher’s home games of the inaugural season. Tickets were reasonably priced, the arena was brand new and very nice, and as long as you didn’t mind being constantly abused by Toronto Maple Leafs fans during a game, it was a congenial atmosphere. The Thrashers were never a good team despite some first round picks of Russian vagabonds, but they did manage to make it to the playoffs one year. Of course we had to go. We took the kids and were treated to a sweep out of the playoffs by the Rangers from New York and it wasn’t too many years later that the Thrashers folded up shop and moved to Winnipeg where they became the Jets (again) and are now poised to make deep playoff runs (having lost to Vegas this year).

We moved to the DMV in 2013 and I was very happy because DC had a hockey team. I’d never paid that much attention to the Capitals, outside of knowing that Peter Bondra was a fearsome opponent in the Sega Genesis NHLPA 1993. But we embraced the Caps as our new home-town hockey team and have gone to at least a couple of games every season… and, given our history in Atlanta, were well positioned to root for a team that performed well in the season and folded in the playoffs. I became familiar with the “close but not quite enough”, the playoff runs that went 7 games only to be lost by the slimmest of margins. I also renewed my hatred for the Pittsburgh Penguins, in particular that son-of-a-bitch Sidney Crosby who is by all accounts a nice guy but he’d better never end up in front of my car in the middle of a busy intersection. When it came time to renew our license plates, we debated between going with the Nationals or the Capitals and ended up going with the Caps. Of course, this is why the team won the Cup this year. To suggest anything different is just ludicrous.

There was talk the window was closing, that Ovi was going into a decline, that he would be a Hall of Fame player but never have the team around him needed to win the Cup. They couldn’t find the chemistry, that mystical combination of skill and talent and luck that would turn it all around. The first time I saw Kuznetzov on the ice I said to anyone who would listen that he was the piece they’d been looking for to compliment “the Great Eight” and Nick Backstrom. They added piece after piece… Burakovsky, TJ Oshie, Bruce Orpik, Devonte Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller. We went to the final game of the season this year and watched Ovechkin chase 50 goals and just barely miss the mark… but they easily won the game. I had a good feeling.

This post season the Caps seemed to be poised for another quick exit, down two games in the first round to the John Tortarolla (a persistent thorn in the Caps crown) and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’d lost two overtime games when the “puck luck” had gone against them. Then they changed goalies, righted the ship, and dealt the Blue Jackets as sound a defeat as Nathan Bedford Forrest ever had (a cheap but historically relevant shot). Next up were the hated – HATED – Penguins, who have historically had the Caps number come post season. And as quickly as you could say “Sidney Crosby has a venereal disease which has disfigured his ball sack in such a way as to render it unrecognizable as a human sexual organ” the Capitals had dispatched their rivals.

An odd thing began to happen. People around here started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this was the year. But hockey disappointment around here is a structurally sound part of the fan base. The frustration of the early expansion years. The sweep by the Red Wings the only time the Caps made it to the Finals in 1998 (the Red Army line was still clicking for the Wings). Playoff bounce after playoff bounce even though the team seemed better than that. I can’t speak for long time Caps fans who have waited since 1974 for something to finally go their way. I don’t feel their pain, as I’ve only been a fan since 2013 and honestly these have been pretty darn good years to root for them despite their lack of the ultimate playoff victory.

The prognosticators said that we couldn’t beat the Tampa Bay Lightening. They were too fast, too skilled. But the Caps went out and played a style of hockey I hadn’t seen in years: a variation of the neutral zone trap, which forces the opponent into playing dump and chase and takes away the speed factor. Rough forechecking and backchecking, smash mouth hockey, coupled with skilled goal tending and a powerplay that featured Ovechkin lurking around the right faceoff circle ready to unleash his deadly one-timer. We were in the Cup.

Vegas had a storybook year. As someone who watched an expansion team struggle to win even a handful of games in Atlanta, it was really cool to watch from afar as Vegas lead their division all year. They had a great playoff run. They had a goalie in Fleury who had bedeviled the Caps before when he was with the Penguins. They were a high scoring offensive machine. But the hockey gods are as cruel and capricious as Crom or Cthulhu. Shots rang off the post. Open chances were blown. Those crazy bounces that always seemed to go against the Caps finally started to go their way. We won a road game. The two wins at home were dominating. Even the one loss at the Medieval Times – I mean Vegas Knights – home rink was a barn burner. And then came game five…

We went to eat at the Bungalow Alehouse, a local pub here in Prince William County. Arthur the Bartender has been an ardent Caps fan since he moved here from Georgia. He even went to Vegas and saw game one. He also made a $1,000 dollar bet on the Caps to win in 5 games at 35:1 odds… and couldn’t find his betting stub, lost somewhere in transit. He chastised us for not staying for the game, but we had tickets to the Potomac Nationals (minor league affiliate of the Nats) and left the bar before the puck dropped but promised to return if it looked promising. While watching the P-Nats drop another game to some damn team or other, we kept an eye on the ESPN scoreboard. 1-0. 1-1. 2-1. 2-2. 2-3 at the end the second period and I said, “Well, let’s just go home, I don’t know about this.”

When we got home, I took off my Caps gear because whenever I wear the shirt and hat and all that we seemed to lose. We sat down and watched as they tied it up on a Smith-Pelly goal that he scored falling onto his face. Then Lars Eller poked one in and we were up 4-3 with 7 minutes left. We were on our feet and like the song, breathless. Fleury was pulled from the goal and we missed several chances to salt it away but the clock kept running (even if the arena clock didn’t, a last minute bit of magical buffoonery that could only have been the work of Penn and Teller). I knew they’d won it, even before the final faceoff with .6 seconds on the clock.

USP NHL: STANLEY CUP FINAL-WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT S HKN VGK WSH USA NVI’ve watched the Cup raised many times (in video games and on TV) and always liked the notion that the names of the players were on the trophy. That’s just cool. No one else does that. And when they won… well, I was… I was perhaps a little underwhelmed. But hear me out. I’m a johnny-come-lately. I’ve only been a fan for a few years. I have a lot of admiration for the team but even in the few years of my fandom, they’ve really let down the side and that got to me. I had to put some distance on it this year, my blood pressure couldn’t take it if I was too invested. I was resigned to yet another fateful ending. Only this time, the hockey gods decreed it was the Capitals year. The puck luck was on their side. I was happy, but not in tears. And yet…

Seeing the look on their faces as they hoisted the Cup over their heads was priceless. It’s such a hard thing to do and it really is a great accomplishment. I’m so happy for the fans who have been with them since 1974 and never wavered. I’m happy for DC, which really does need something to celebrate in this Era of Idiocracy.

But I’m really sad for Arthur the Bartender. $35,000 dollars just went up in smoke even though his dreams of a Cup came true. The vagaries of life… now that’s something to ponder.

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It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…

…Dr. Satan told the band to slay
They’ve walked down the Green Mile
Still sharp as a crocodile’s smile
So may I introduce to the world
A band you’ve known for years
Seabass and His Clan of Merry Misfits!

The first person to wish me many happy returns on the day this morning was my lovely wife Debbie, who sang Happy Birthday as I crawled out of a dream about flying around in a car above the streets of San Francisco while being menaced by shadowy and sinister forces. We still don’t have flying cars. I just knew we would by now… but I digress.

The second person to wish me happy birthday was Google, which seems strangely appropriate given our current state of technological mania. Google was also happy to inform me that I share a birthday with Don Rickles, Harry Truman, Enrique Iglesias, and Chiu Yi the muckraking Chinese legislator. Germany surrendered to the Allies on this day in 1945, so that’s a good thing. In addition, Google was kind enough to tell me about two new inmates to the Manatee County Jail: Elizabeth Duerr, on warrants for providing false owner information on pawn items less than $300 and dealing or possessing stolen property, $18,000 bond; and Covington Raney, on contempt of court, no bond. Elizabeth! What were you thinking? You’ve tainted my birthday, shame on you.

Shout out to my birthday buddies Don York, Masuhara Iwasa, and Anthony Reidler. Happy Birthday, guys. Let’s show this day who’s boss around here!

Since I’m unlikely to ever return to my birth weight of seven pounds/fourteen ounces, I’m making up for it by letting my hair return to my birth hair of seventeen thin follicles held in place with superglue. It’s been 17,897 days since the fateful May morning in Sonora, CA in 1968 but if I’m to count my age by beers it’s been 19, 438 so make of that what you will. By shoes, it’s 56 pairs and 14 cleats. By guitar strings… well, you get the idea.

As I ate my hale and hearty morning cup of plain, no-fat, utterly tasteless yogurt made the Greek way (which I hope means it was whipped up on the thighs of Spartan women but it probably doesn’t), which I eat because my cholesterol hangs in the balance between vaguely healthy and OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO DIE, I was given to contemplating what has transpired in the five decades since my birth.

Hits on parade: heavy metal, the Star Wars original trilogy, Swamp Thing, Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers, video games, Tina Belcher.

Swing and a miss: eternal war, Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, bro-country, prescription drug advertising on television.

Rooster Cogburn once told me that looking back is a bad habit, but I mean to make a liar out of that one-eyed fat man. I somehow managed to avoid joining “Club 27” though I did make a run at it. When I realized my life would last longer that twenty-seven years, I did my best to have fun within reason and get a few things accomplished. I’m proud of the words I’ve written, the comics I’ve drawn, the music I’ve played, and the the lines I’ve spoken on the stage. I know I’ve made a few enemies along the way, and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve tried to make more friends than enemies and treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve.

If it’s all a slippery slide from here toward the inevitable date with death (I’m buying, but it’s going to be at the original Eddie’s Pizza so I have some leftover to take with me), then I’ll try to make the balance of my life as fun, loving, productive, and silly as the first part. I look forward to more sun filled days on the diamond scooping up grounders and making weak, off target throws to first. Long walks with my wife. Getting published (finally). Being kind to cats. Sharing my extensive knowledge of obscure cultural references with anyone stupid enough to get within earshot. And of course, more pints of fine ale shared in the company of hobbits.

Time is like a river of green sliding unseen beneath the trees (© Alan Parson/Roger Waters) and I have enjoyed punting down it, occasionally dipping my hand into the waters and letting the fish nibble on my fingers. Tomorrow may creep along at a petty pace from day to day (© Bill “Noodles” Shakespeare) but I plan to make the most of the ones I have still to come.

Cheers, well met, hail and fare thee well. Until we met again, may the hair on your toes fall out and somehow be magically transported to the top of my head.

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For Metal Fans Only

MordorO Father Befouled,
Hearken to the Witchcryer
Chanting the grim
Incantation of the Nihilist,
Who has Unleashed trve Mayhem
And Pestilence upon the outcast dead
Who would seek to
Dismember those once Entombed.

Slayer of the Haunted,
Be not Illdisposed toward the
Circle of Dead Children who open
The Paths of Possession to bring forth the
Morbid Angel to Swallow the Sun
And Master the Rotten Sound.

Drown the Human Remains in the
Cradle of Filth and spatter Carnage over
The Blood Red Throne;
Let the Immolation of the Cannibal Corpse
Be done upon the Altar of Hate Eternal!
For surely Daylight Dies when the
Knights of the Abyss tear down the Despised Icon
Once and for all time.

Bring us to the Edge of Sanity and usher in
An Epoch of Unlight, Terrorize the masses,
For we have Exhumed the Grave of the
Malevolent Creation and carouse in the
Gorguts of the Carcass, exposing the Brutal Truth
And the Hypocrisy behind the Fleshgod Apocalypse.

Heaven Shall Burn when the Gates of Ishtar
Are open to the Nile, and we have
Sentenced to Death the Sons of Azrael,
And Misery of Winter rides through a Bloodbath
Upon a Behemoth, lurching Into Eternity
Under the sign of the Hellhammer.

A Cancer upon those who oppose the
Legion of the Damned! We shall Raise Hell
And Salt the Wound from the plains of Gorgoroth
To the Bloody Shore, and we will see through
The Eyes of the Dead as the Skinless, Septic Flesh
Flows Upon the Deadtide to forever infest the Soils of Fate.

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The Comic Shop Conundrum

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Don Simpson’s Yarn Man. This is where my sense of humor resides. I’m weird.

As I browsed the latest and greatest news articles that the mysterious Google algorithms had deduced were what I wanted to see, I ran across this story on Gizmodo.

I’m not going to quibble with the author, a Mr. Charles Pulliam-Moore. And by that I mean, I am going to quibble, but I’m not going to try not to be a jackass about it. His experiences are his experiences, and I have no doubt that any attempted argument on my part to dissuade him from his opinion of comic book stores would come to nothing. And it may just be that’s how Charles is; he enjoys reading trade paperbacks and online comics and he finds little or no joy in the retail side of it. Even if I can’t change that – and I know I probably can’t – well, it makes me a little sad. And perhaps a little defensive.

Part of the problem here is that, in spite of how I feel about the medium of comic books, the specialty shops that sell them, or the people who work behind the counter, Charles has a point. Some, but by no means all, comic retailers have shops that are cluttered or disorganized. Sometimes you run into people who are working there to feed their own comic book habit or because they are missing whatever genetic marker it is that makes people have the ability to tolerate putting in 40+ hours in an office and not go fucking insane. They may have zero interest in helping someone who isn’t already immersed in the somewhat arcane world of comics and don’t want to just be nice.

It happens. I know. I’ve been in those shops myself, and it’s fucking annoying. The only thing worse than a shop of unresponsive, mouth-breathing fanboys is a staff of unresponsive, mouth-breathing fanboys.

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The incredible Troy-David Phillips of Flashback Comics in Woodbridge, VA. Go see him!

I’ve been in stores where I walk in the first time and say, “Hi, I’m Sebastian. I really like stuff like Sandman, Preacher, Strangers in Paradise, Hermes the Eye-Ball Kid and anything drawn by Don Simpson, Barry Windsor-Smith or P. Craig Russell, any suggestions?” And if they say something like, “Dude. Marvel is over there. DC is over there. Image is over there…” well, I vote with my feet. You don’t have to blow my mind with your encyclopedic knowledge of story lines, or know who inked issue 182 of Fantastic Four (yes, Troy at Flashback Comics, I know you know it was Joe Sinnott, and that’s why you’re the MAN). That doesn’t hurt, of course, and I will be appropriately in awe of such minutia, but what really makes a store work for me is that the person behind the counter gives a shit. Those are the stores I go back to and open up a subscription.

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Richard Evans at Bedrock City Comics in Houston, TX. As I like to call it, “The Center of the Comic Book Universe”.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked in a comic book store a while back. Bedrock City Comics in Houston, to be exact. When I was there, it was a small but thriving operation. The main store on Westheimer hadn’t expanded yet and it was one of those intimate retail specialty stores Charles might have hated. I like to think he wouldn’t, however; besides being well-organized, the owner (Richard Evans) and the manager (Mike Steenbergen) had a philosophy that it wasn’t just about retailing funny books, and it sure wasn’t meant to be some repository of arcane lore  and “over stuffed museum shop”. They taught me that building relationships with the customer was the foundation of a successful shop and if it wasn’t a place were people enjoyed themselves, they wouldn’t come back. Oh, and that playing Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Karn Evil 9 Pts. I-IV on the store jambox was NOT conducive to a fun atmosphere no matter what. Point taken.

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It was never as fun as the picture made it look. EVER.

Comic books should be fun. I remember buying comic books at the grocery store. Okay, I’m old. I’m not saying I took my dimes down to Mr. Cacciatore’s Green Grocer and Liquor Emporium to buy the latest issue of All-American Comics or Outlaw Kid! But when I was a bit younger there weren’t that many comic books stores around so if I wanted a fix of Captain AmericaFantastic Four, or Thor (I was a Marvel guy even then – never mind my obsession with Superman’s cousin Power Girl) I’d toss one into the cart when my mom wasn’t looking. Thanks, Mom. Getting home and reading it cover to cover was a joy. Learning to draw by tracing the characters was awesome. Spending a couple of bucks on those “100 Piece Toy Soldier” sets (comes packed in it’s own footlocker!) was a lesson in expectation vs. reality (and the evil world of misleading advertising). I still have some of those 1970’s gems, and if I hadn’t read them to pieces, they might be worth a bit more.

Going to buy new comics, or to discover old ones, should also be fun. Maybe because I have a couple of degrees in English and spent an inordinate amount of time in libraries (those weird buildings where they store actual books? yeah, told you I was old) I like comic book stores. Talking with the staff, finding out what’s new, browsing through overstuffed and heavy long boxes, ogling the high-grade Golden Age or Silver Age books, admiring the toys and statues… man, that’s a blast. Do I occasionally have to deal with over-exuberant customers who break into my conversation or clog up the aisle? Well, sure. That happens. And it happens in lots of other places, too. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy eating a burger at a bar or standing in line at the post office.

This sounds like an attempt to justify my own good experiences, both on the retail side and the customer side. Perhaps. I do wish I could bring Charles to one of the stores I enjoy and see if maybe, just maybe, he could share in my enthusiasm.

 

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Black Sabbath – The Eponymous First Album – Review

Black-SabbathThis came out 48 years ago today and in honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve resurrected a review I wrote way back in the early days of the 21st century.

“The cataract of darkness form fully, the long black night begins, yet still, by the lake a young girl waits, unseeing she believes herself unseen, she smiles, faintly at the distant tolling bell, and the still falling rain.” – Part of a poem on the original album sleeve.

On February 13, 1970 Warner released Black Sabbath’s debut album and rock ‘n roll was forever changed. Black Sabbath played a new form of rock that was heavy, evil, and loud, and along with bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Blue Cheer, helped give birth to heavy metal. Black Sabbath has the distinction of being one of the few bands that can claim to be a huge influence of two different genres: metal and doom.

The first album is as a menacing a piece of music as one could hope to find in the saccharine world of early ’70’s rock. It was meant to be; the idea was to write scary music, the rock n’ roll equivalent of a good horror film. Even the name of the group was taken from a (crappy!) 1930’s Boris Karloff film. The new songs the band were creating dealt with the occult, war, and the nature of evil, subjects which have gone on to be fertile ground for heavy metal. By today’s standards, it may all seem a bit tame, but in 1970 people weren’t used to hearing Satan and Lucifer mentioned in rock.

 

For the first time songs that were frightening and intense both musically and lyrically were making their way onto the world’s stage. It’s the subject matter that sets Black Sabbath apart from Deep Purple’s “In Rock” or Led Zeppelin’s first two albums, both of which were more contemporary and less fantastic in theme. The lyrics aren’t totally over the top evil, but just dark and sinister enough to thrill the kids and scare their parents.

Tony Iommi, despite a severe accident to his right hand prior to the recording of this album, creates the prototype for heavy metal guitar. Down tuned and thick, the sound is a paradigm shift for rock n’ roll guitar; still based on the blues but now roaring out of over-driven amplifiers, loud, heavy, and distorted. Ozzy Osbourne’s distinctive voice makes up in charisma for what it lacks in range, while behind those two Bill Ward and Geezer Butler pound away on drums and bass. Rodger Bain’s production on the original is competent for the era, and surprisingly good considering the incredibly short time spent in the studio.

 

“Black Sabbath” the song is audio dynamite: after a brief intro of rain and thunder, Iommi’s massive guitar pounds that slow, evil tritone riff into the listener’s skull. Ozzy has a unique voice. He manages to sound both like the “great black shape” and scared of this apparition at the same time. “The Wizard” has an Ozzy harmonica bit in front of another great riff punctuated by Ward’s drums. Geezer Butler slips in a fluid bass solo before the crushingly heavy “N.I.B.”, which despite the sinister lyrics didn’t stand for Nativity In Black (as some proposed) but rather was a nickname for Bill Ward’s beard, which looked like the nib of a pen… or so the band insisted. Accusations of Satanism brought the kind of attention and press coverage no mere drinking binge, groupie sex acts or dangerous practical jokes could ever hope to equal. The bluesy “Evil Woman” is on the British release but on the American release the Ansley Dunbar song “Wicked World” is included instead; both are good examples of how Black Sabbath grew from their origins as a blues cover band. “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep” seems like a bit of a toss off, but it’s wrapped in a classic Iommi riff and Bill Ward’s swinging drums belie the jazz influences behind his style. “A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village” is a bit of a sleeper, perhaps, but oh… that riff. Tony can make five notes downright inspiring. The song merges almost seamlessly into “The Warning”, a ten-minute opus that allows the band to open up, especially Tony Iommi. But without Bill Ward and Geezer Butler providing a solid foundation, Tony’s meanderings wouldn’t have nearly the same impact. Geezer Butler is, without a doubt, the most underrated bass player in the long history of metal. I can’t imagine hearing these songs without him.

Controversial in their day, Black Sabbath were reviled by parents and conservative religious groups, again breaking ground for metal groups which followed in their wake. This first album, rough around the edges as it may be, remains at the heart of a genre that has branched out far from its roots and humble beginnings. It’s dark and scary and loud, and damn if that’s not what a metal fan wants on a Friday night!

But excess alone doesn’t explain the kind of hero worship Black Sabbath has inspired.  From the very beginning they had tapped into a source that resonated strongly with a certain segment of the population… and spawned, as Iron Maiden dubbed them, the Earthdogs, Hellrats, Rivet Heads and Metal Maniacs of the world. Both loved and loathed, it’s a sound that once unleashed has yet to be reigned in.

(I wrote this back in… gulp… 2003 when I was trying to get a foothold with the mighty Deadtide.com crew. I remember where I was when I wrote the original draft, which I revised a bit here. I had a computer, a pallet to sleep on, and a bunch of CD’s. That was about it… sigh.)

 

 

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