New York: Part Two

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Day Three: Hostel Territory

I pooped roughly seven times the following morning. And by roughly seven times, I mean I pooped seven times and they were all rough. Presumably it was once for each buck of the seven dollar pizza. I hadn’t quite paid double for it at the time, but I definitely did in the end.

< Read New York: Part One

In spite of the day I had just endured, I was up before eight o’clock. Once I’d voided what I hoped was the last bit of liquid from my body and gotten my throbbing leg strapped in, I set off for nowhere; this was my designated full day for exploring and with my knee already slowing me down, I wasn’t interested in wasting a minute more than necessary. When I stepped outside I was pleased to find it brisk rather than frigid. I popped into a nearby grocery store for some of that Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt I hoped would reset my digestive system and headed for the trusty subway station. On the way there, my first destination came to me: Ground Zero.

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They say everyone remembers where they were on 9/11 and for me that’s true. I was in Ms. Biggs’ English class when an office aide came in and delivered the news that all after school activities were cancelled and briefly explained why. I also remember thinking, “Why should I care?” In my defense, I was an angry pop-punky teenager who didn’t know and didn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone I didn’t know (and not many of the ones I did either). Also I wasn’t really sure what the World Trade Center was. One of the many downsides of being from a tiny Texas town with no TV. Thankfully a decade of college, cable, and high-speed internet had changed that. Maybe it was residual guilt or maybe it was contemplative mood I found myself in, but I felt it was a good way to spend the first morning of the New Year.

It wasn’t. Turns out you had to buy tickets to see the memorial in addition to reserving them in advance for some reason. Yes the site still looked to be under construction, but apparently charging admission was going to be a thing even after it was done as a way to ensure it stays maintained (you literally pay your respects). Instead I found a good bench in the tower’s shadow with a view of Lady Liberty in the distance and had my moment of silence there instead. No one was out save a few dedicated joggers (or new ones making good on their resolutions). With a shopping center opening up in the future, I like to imagine that was one of the quieter mornings this spot would ever see. So it wasn’t a complete bust.

Afterwards I just walked the streets for a while which was equally as nice. It was undoubtedly one of the more upscale areas I’d been without being packed with people or commercialized to hell. The busiest spot was of course Wall Street where the tourists were out taking pictures for reasons I can’t fully comprehend. There was a really gnarly-looking old church nearby that was much more interesting to look at, though selfies with the tombstones is probably discouraged. At one point I ended up taking the train back up towards Central Manhattan and was pleasantly surprised to find little bronze sculptures strewn about the station. I later found out they’re the work of artist Tom Otterness’ Life Underground project with over 100 of these guys depicting life in NYC in comical/political fashion.

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Hey look, I wrote a new Fantastic Four movie

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Everyone’s a critic. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

People are judgmental by nature, from the early days when we judged whether or not to eat that sketchy-looking berry (don’t do it) to now judging whether or not we can beat that red light ahead (seriously, don’t do it). The thing is, as survival becomes less of a concern and more of a thing that just happens, that judgment is shifting to more and more trivial things. Like, for instance, movies.

The horrendously-titled Fant4stic was released this weekend and in an instant every critic regressed into primates who couldn’t wait to throw their word-poo at the lumbering monstrosity. If there were a way to harness all the hatred and bile poured onto that film, it could probably power the teleportation device it portrays. Admittedly I was among those naysaying the movie all the way up until its release. I wasn’t keen on the direction they’d chosen for the franchise and the near-constant reports of turmoil behind-the-scenes had me tempering my expectations for the project, along with that of anyone who would listen. I never dreamed it would be the mess it became.

I haven’t seen it, I have no plans to see it, and so I don’t have any real reason to continue deriding it. I’ve read the reviews though and I’m completely aware of its many flaws, most of which can be traced directly to “rumored” problems during production. The insane thing to me is how so many people profess that problem X, Y, and Z could have been solved if only they’d done A, B, and a little more C. Of course it seems that simple from the laptop they’re camped behind, but when you’re in the midst of a multi-million dollar production just trying to make it through the day, all those poor decisions become a lot more reasonable. I’m not trying to absolve anyone of blame here, because it’s obvious that there’s plenty to go around. But from my perspective, it all starts with the script.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written a treatment for Fox-produced Marvel films that had no hope of being made, bought, or even looked at. Yeah it’s a fairly pointless exercise, but I get to channel some frustrations with the real thing into something more creative. And hey, if it actually manages to entertain someone, even better. I am, however, deep in the throes of trying to write professionally, so I promised myself I would only spend a weekend on this (which I ended up doubling of course. In other words, a production weekend).

In an alternate timeline of real life, this is the movie that gets made by Marvel Studios to kick off their version of the franchise. As such, it is an origin story (wait, don’t go!) in that they start with no powers and acquire them during the course of the film. But really it’s a story about family. Assuming you’re a member of one of those, you know there is no real point of origin, they just flow from one generation to the next. Here our heroes aren’t teen prodigies anymore, neither are they full-fledged grown-ups, but somewhere in between trying to figure out how to interact with one another and find their place in the world (I’m almost 30, what did you expect from me?).  If you make it through all 4,500+ words, you should notice inspiration from films like Apollo 13, InterstellarIndiana Jones, and of course, parts of the comic books themselves. Also, dubious science. But that’s a given.

And I think I managed to avoid the dreaded “let me figure out how my powers work” montage, sans time jump. So there’s that.

Hope you like it.

Artist: Alex Ross
Artist: Alex Ross

“FANTASTIC IV”

Present day. A sandy beach looking out on the sprawling Atlantic Ocean. Two kids splash in the shallows, their skin deeply tanned from years of tropical sunlight.

One of them picks up a handful of wet sand and rears back to throw it when… the earth rumbles, the palm trees shiver in response. They look up: a mushroom cloud plumes from the center of the island. One of them stares in wonder while the other recoils in horror. They run into the ocean, swimming hard against the tide. The waves grow larger and larger as they get further out and they begin to tire. A massive wave threatens to push them under, when the trees on the shore are torn to shreds. The kids dive as the bomb’s impact washes over the shore and into the surf, flattening the wave.

One of the kids comes up for air, searching for the other in a panic and sighing in relief when they pop up nearby. They swim back to shore and follow the damage into the island, marveling at strange wisps in the air. When they reach the epicenter, they find a massive crater but no fire damage to speak of.

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The Worst Good Advice You’ll Ever Hear

It’s graduation season, and for many of you that means another big step in the ever-so gradual transition from dependence to independence. Take a moment to contemplate your achievements. No I’m not being sarcastic, graduating is a big deal. It’s one of those single-serving holidays where you get showered with presents from you family (and booze from your friends) in the name of maturity. It’s like some kind of scholastic Ba(r/t) Mitzvah.

Enjoy it while you can, because your accomplishments have your loved ones contemplating their existence and they are eager to dump some on you. In no time at all, the authority figures in your life will be trying to help you avoid the mistakes they made in their youth. Teachers, distant relatives, friends who graduated last year — they’ve all mastered the art of regret and are determined to find what’s best for you. Probably.

Not that there’s anything wrong with their good intentions. Passing on information in the name of progress isn’t just a noble cause, it’s human nature. But experience is the best teacher and biased opinions can be toxic to that learning process. So in truly ironic fashion, I’ve waded through the tropes and clichés and to help you figure out what’s useful and what’s not.

Without further ado, here’s all the great advice you’re going to be hearing and why it’s complete garbage.

“F*ck the haters.”

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and haters inevitably hating. That last one in particular has become increasingly apparent in my lifetime. The anonymity of the Internet set free the flying comment section monkeys, flinging their word poo to and fro without fear of repercussions. Some have evolved and shed their masks, building digital empires on their vitriol and smearing themselves in their own self-loathing like fecal war paint. Kids these days — raised on this behavior — are leaking the unmitigated hate into real life at an alarming rate.

It didn’t take long to figure out that acknowledging the hypercriticism in any way only makes the problem worse. No matter how well-worded or well-researched the response, it’s a reaction and that only feeds the machine. Better to ignore them completely. To turn a phrase, if they aren’t saying anything nice, pretend they didn’t say anything at all. It’s an elegant solution, at least until it too worms its way into real life.

Constructive criticism is one of those concepts they teach you in school that’s nice in theory is absolutely useless in real life, like the Pythagorean Theorem or getting good grades. In a perfect world, everyone you meet would wrap their comments in courtesy and send you scuttling into self-improvement with a pat on the back. But this isn’t a perfect world and if you want manners, you’re gonna have to pay for them.

They're not actually happy, just well paid.
Your money buys them happiness.

You know who gets hate dumped on them daily? The highly successful. Think they got to where they are by dismissing their detractors? Hells to the no. They’re the ones who figured out how to separate ‘brutal’ from ‘honesty’ and personal from business. They found value in the insults. They rose above the hate by standing on top of it, and so can you.

Real Advice: Every criticism is constructive if you build on it.

I must confess, I’ve been pretty damn good at every job I’ve ever had. Above average at least. And I’ve also been chewed out least once by every boss I’ve ever had, usually because I made a bad call. I could’ve turned around and bitched about it. I could’ve just ignored it. If I tried hard enough, I could probably lawyer the situation into being their fault. But I didn’t.

When someone criticizes you, there are two positive ways to handle it: you can accept what they’re saying is true and resolve to change it, or you can reject it and remember that one day when you’re in their shoes you’re going to handle things differently.

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New York: Part One

I’ve always wanted to go to New York. It’s basically America’s most famous city and the hub of civilization on the east coast, a place where culture is defined worldwide. Visiting has always felt like an inevitability for me, an obligation even. But for whatever reason by 2013 and the ripe old age of 27, I still hadn’t made it out there. Luckily two British senior citizens made me change my mind.

Pictured: inconspicuous, apparently
Pictured: inconspicuous, apparently

I’d seen this set of photos floating around the internet and like the rest of the world thought, “That’s so awesome, those guys are great.” But the bowler hats they’re wearing in all of them set off a tiny alarm in the back of my head. I thought, “Huh, that reminds me of Waiting for Godot. That would be so cool if those two did the play,” and went on my merry way. Until the day I die, I’ll never understand how it took me so long to make the connection that Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen had not only done the play before in England, but were doing it again in New York and would be finishing the run in March.

I had been saving to move to Los Angeles for close to two years by then and had an itch to do something semi-reckless with a portion of it. The play was the deal-breaker (or maybe deal-maker). After some deliberation of dates, I bought my ticket that night.

Somehow I didn’t get around to buying plane tickets until weeks later. I think part of me was hoping they would get cheaper but that was stupid. Another part of me thought there was no way this trip was actually going to happen. On the outside I might seem sunshine and optimism, but internally there’s a skeptic deconstructing my dreams bit by bit. I was sure I’d oversleep and never even make it to the airport. Then when I was on the plane I was positive there would be a mechanical issue and we wouldn’t leave the ground. And then during the layover in Boston I was certain something else would happen, maybe I’d lose my wallet or ticket and end up stuck there for a week.

Because that would've been awful, I guess.
Because that would’ve been awful, I guess.

Of course, none of those things happened. I made the flights, I didn’t lose anything, and late Monday afternoon, I touched down for the very first time…. in New Jersey.

Day One: Trial by Fire

I had made arrangements to spend the first two nights in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Newark International was significantly closer to that part of New York than JFK. I figured any time saved traveling was more time I could spend in the actual city, which turned out to be simultaneously true and false, but more on that later.

There is an incredibly convenient train that runs from Newark International to Penn Station I had scoped out beforehand online, so that’s where I headed. Waiting by the tracks with frigid wind whipping my face was a welcome respite from the stale, processed air on the plane. That was the moment I accepted that my plans had somehow managed to work out and this whole trip was actually happening. Felt good, man.

Of course, that was just the calm before the proverbial storm.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I stepped off the train and into New York, but what I got was one of the main hubs of public transportation in one of the busiest cities in the world. In layman’s terms, it was a f*cking madhouse. There were more people packed into that place than I think I’d even seen in my entire life. Seeing pictures and watching it on tv doesn’t prepare you in the slightest when you’re thrown into the river of bodies rushing in every imaginable direction that is Penn Station. I tightened the strap of my bags, took a deep breath, and plunged in. That was my first mistake.

You see there’s this popular perception that New Yorkers are all rude as hell and don’t give a rat’s ass about you or the horse you rode in on, and that’s not entirely true. The truth is, they’re in a hurry to get somewhere and you — the wide-eyed wandering tourist trying to figure out which way is up — you’re in the way. Finding a quiet corner or a place to sit and get your bearings amidst the chaos is not an easy task. My host had told me to get to the Lower East Side, I would need to take the F train. It seemed simple enough. Problem being the F train doesn’t run from Penn Station to the LES and telling me which one I needed to get on was beyond her abilities. Luckily I had installed a NYC Subway app that gave me an exact route and which trains would take me to which connecting stations to get to where I needed to go. That should’ve made things simple. It didn’t.

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As you can see in the picture above, subways can be a bit complicated. You end up on the wrong platform and the train is going to take you the wrong direction, and getting to the other platform isn’t as simple as action rolling across. If you’re lucky you can head back up the stairs and take a left or right to the other stairs that will take you down to the other side. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. The first train I got on was the right one, but it was headed the opposite direction. By the time I realized this mistake, I was several stops away from where I had thought to go, which meant a new route was now the fastest. No big deal, I thought, just go with the flow.

Helpful hint: when you’re getting on the subway and you’re not sure whether the name on the sign is the direction you want to go, just pretend they’re like you’re facing a regular street. The side you’re on is going to take you to the right, the opposite goes left. It took me at least three more trains to figure this out. Thankfully I’d picked up a tidbit to buy an weeklong unlimited rides pass so my many mistakes didn’t cost me money. Just my leg.

When I finally got off the F-ing train, my left knee was killing me. I’d worn comfortable shoes as recommended, but they weren’t enough when it came to the billions of subway stairs I had climbed. I’ve never torn an ACL or MCL or QCL before but I was pretty damn sure I had. Thankfully it was only another few blocks to the apartment I’d be staying in.

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Double Feature Sunday: American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks

[Editor’s Note: This was supposed to be written months ago but I’m just now getting around to it. That’s why it’s not Sunday when it’s being posted. Whatevs.]

Hollywood seems to have this love/hate relationship with films based on true events. On one hand, they love making them. Reality provides us with stories that writers couldn’t make up in their wildest dreams and audiences automatically get a movie they can invest in because it really happened. They’re basically witnessing history.

On the other hand, reality doesn’t always fit the traditional three act structure most movies adhere to. The heroes may not be heroic enough nor the villains villainous enough, or it might be missing some critical action beats and suspense. And so in the process of making a “better” picture, details get smudged and the truth gets bent.

I try to accept those taken liberties, just as long as the story itself isn’t whitewashed beyond comprehension. Little did I know this philosophy was going to be pushed to its limit this week.

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American Hustle follows a pair of mid-level con artists who end up working for an ambitious FBI agent in an effort to save their own skins. As they work to expose corrupt politicians and mob connections, they all begin to find they’re in way over their heads.

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Saving Mr. Banks chronicles the struggle of screenwriters, musicians, and Walt Disney himself to acquire the rights to the Mary Poppins film from the story’s eccentric owner. Enduring her nagging and nitpicking, they discover what the character means to her and how deeply personal it is.

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