Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Welcome to the Toy Store of the Real.

Between the two most recent Penny Arcade strips – “Retales,” Part 1 and Part 2, both of which are hilarious and ring true – and Adam’s Black Friday blog entry, I’ve been thinking about the old days at Children’s Palace.

Yes, it’s true, kids: Once upon a time, Toys ‘R’ Us wasn’t the only big-time massively-awesome-to-a-kid all-toys-all-the-time store. Hell, Geoffrey Giraffe didn’t even have turrets on his building, unlike the Fortress of Toyitude that was Children’s Palace. When we got a Children’s Palace in Canton – years before TRU invaded the Belden Village area – it became a freaking destination. Toys and games and bikes and crap just piled to the ceiling. You’d see employees on these towering ladders up among the haze, mining through boxes and descending with treasures.

I think it was the Christmas of 1988 when I started working there, and my perception forever changed.

I remember only bits and pieces from the newspaper ads and the TV commercials, but what I know for certain is that at some point in the early 1980s, all mankind was united in Rubik’s Cubes, Ataris and Star Wars toys. G.I. Joes; Transformers; Barbie’s perpetual tidal wave of pink. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to animation and cinematic tie-ins and toy property empires.

There were piles, endless piles, where Cabbage Patch Kids were no longer sold but ripped from red-vested clerks by bloody-toothed moms. For the longest time, I wouldn’t believe it, and then I saw the towering stacks of The Real Ghostbusters figures brought low in frenzy. Watched shoppers shred the Pee Wee’s Playhouse shelves to reach the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles endcaps where they found no Heroes in a Half-Shell, but only row upon row of April O’Neils mocking their ambition.

Standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. Children’s Palace was a plastic-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this:

(Apologies to the Wachowskis. Yes, I still love Christmas and no, Children’s Palace wasn’t always that bad. I just couldn’t resist.)

November 30, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, geek, Ohio | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Little by Little, I roll my eyes…

Dear Robert Plant,

Out of respect for your legendary rock status, we hereby apologize for making you think this video was a good idea.

Sincerely,

The 1980s.

November 28, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Music, Television | , , , , | 2 Comments

GeekDad post: The Ants Go Marching

I have a post up at GeekDad about a very cool Robert Krulwich NPR piece from earlier this week about an experiment testing to see if ants can count. (For some reason, the video embedding is glitchy, so here’s a link to the National Public Radio story itself, too.)

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, geek, Science | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rumors in the Imperial Senate: Star Wars Celebration V

UPDATED 12/3/2009 – Celebration V set for Orlando!

Along with thousands of other Star Wars fans, I’m already geeked about next year’s Star Wars Celebration V, even though we don’t know where or when it’s taking place.

Me, I loved the years it was in Indianapolis, though I’m probably biased because that made it just a five-hour drive for me, and I missed out on Celebration IV because a west-coast trip wasn’t in my budget.

The most-often-mentioned finalist cities for the 2010 edition (Happy 30th Birthday Empire Strikes Back!) have, for months, been Orlando, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

Orlando’s bid for next Aug. 12-15 has gotten the highest-profile press, and with Baltimore’s announcement that they didn’t land the con, the odds seem to be shifting in Florida’s favor: Not much has been noted regarding Indy and Chicago. Worth noting – although the Indianapolis Convention Center still has that same weekend open on next year’s calendar, Wizard World Chicago is booked for those dates, too.

The Baltimore Business Journal broke the story of that city’s failed bid, so naturally, that was the lead that most people focused on, but this morning, I noticed the according to this cached version of the entire article,  Minneapolis is off the list, too. (The article explicitly notes that Minneapolis lost its bid without addressing Indianapolis, but also lists only Chicago and Orlando as “still in the running.”)

As long Celebration V is east of the Mississippi, I’ll be there, but I admit, I’m pulling for Orlando  – and yes, having lived there for six years, I know how damned hot it’s going to be, and that it’s hurricane season – since my good friend and fellow Star Wars nut Jim lives all of five minutes from the convention center.

It’s a long way off, I know, but when we covered Celebration III, we had our room more than a year ahead of time and were able to start planning and saving well in advance.

We’ll have a blast wherever and whenever it is, but I just want to know, y’know?

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Film, geek, Travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s not always writer’s block or video games.

 

"W-W-W-dot-I-C-A-N-H-A-S-C-H-E-E-Z - No, wait, let me finish!"

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, photos, Weblogs, writing | , | Leave a comment

Veterans Day 2009

Despite the fact that my Dad served overseas during the Vietnam War, I never really thought of him as a “veteran.”

He’d been stationed on a base in Korea near the DMZ. He never told “war stories.” I don’t remember groups of old Air Force buddies visiting the house when I was growing up. No medals or mementos around, unless you count the tables and lamps he had shipped back home as gifts for mom.

TigerCoat

It also says "Tiger" over one pocket.

I was only two years old when his four-year service in the U.S. Air Force ended in 1972. He came back from South Korea to Lima, Ohio – I honestly don’t remember him being gone, though I do remember being small enough to wear the jacket in this picture – and he and mom and I went about our lives.

Among Dad’s pictures from overseas is a shot of him yelling across a crowded bar that always reminded me of a scene from M*A*S*H, and in the background is a sign reading, “Pardon me, sir, but you’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit.” I always liked this picture because a) Dad looks like he’s having fun, and b) the sign said “shit,” and swearing was funny, especially when I was little.

After this recent post, my mom commented that she and Dad were supposed to get married in October of 1968, but they had moved the wedding up to early September after Dad was drafted.

This was news to me, and didn’t seem to make sense, since he’d been in the Air Force, so I visited mom yesterday morning to find out the story.

It goes like this, give or take:

Dad graduated from Upper Sandusky High School in 1965 and took a job at a manufacturing company, painting auto parts: one of the pieces that held the grill of a Pontiac Tempest in place, Mom thinks.

On the job, a piece of heavy equipment fell on his ankle and lopped off that bone that sticks out the side. He had it fixed with a pin, but the injury was enough to earn him a deferment when his number came up in the draft for the first time.

He spent a year at Bowling Green State University, but didn’t have the money to keep attending, so he returned to Upper Sandusky and got another job.

Mom, who went to nursing school right after high school, remembers the U.S.S. Pueblo’s capture in January 1968, and said suddenly it took a lot more than a pinned ankle to get a deferment, and when Dad’s number came up after that, he chose to enlist in the Air Force rather than be drafted into the Army.

He was barely six months past his 21st birthday.

When he was doing basic training at Sheppard AFB in Texas, Dad decided he wanted to be a medic.

This was an odd choice: All through her nursing school education, Mom said Dad never showed any interest in medicine.

In fact, he had apparently always planned on being an accountant. (This image of my Dad as a numbers-cruncher is so out-of-whack to me that I have trouble drawing even a remotely appropriate parallel.) Mom says Dad had even begun correspondence courses in accounting, and they bought an adding machine which she stuffed into his duffel bag so he could keep up with his schoolwork when he went into the service.

So now, here he is calling to let her know he checked the “medic” box, and her mind is immediately filled with images of Dad hauling injured guys from the battlefield under heavy fire, and she kind of freaks out.

After basic, they were transferred to Kincheloe AFB in Michigan’s upper peninsula, where Dad met a guy who told him about this thing called “anesthesia,” and about how being an anesthetist looked like a good career choice, and that’s where Dad decided what he’d do after finishing his Air Force service. (He also got papers todeploy to Turkey while he was at Kincheloe, but those were rescinded due to me arriving on the scene in November 1970.)

Not long after that, Dad wound up serving in South Korea, but I’m a little fuzzy on where, exactly. I always thought he was stationed at a place called Kojin – I have a baseball-style cap embroidered with “Kamp Kojin Korea” on the front, “Doc” along one side and “Commander USAF Hospital” on the back – but I can’t find any references to such a location online. Another cap I have says “USAF HOSP Osan ’71-’72″ on it, and along the back edge, “Johnny”, “Rich” and “Pam.”

My Dad, Richard Earl Booth, returned home in 1972 and became an anesthetist and a tremendously awesome father of three, and

DadsTrenchcoat

This coat even made a goof like me feel cool: Thanks, Dad.

despite his pre-Air Force aspirations always referred me to Mom for math advice once I was past Algebra I.

When I was about 16, he gave me the heavy wool Air Force trenchcoat he got when he enlisted, which I absolutely loved.

Dad died of complications from kidney cancer on May 12, 1993, one week after his 46th birthday. I think of him regularly, though until this year, for some reason, never really in the context of Veterans Day.

He always gave the impression that his time in Korea was no big deal; that he never did anything “heroic”; that he only did what he needed to do to take care of his family in the long term.

But what gets to me now, as a father coming all-too-rapidly to the end of my thirties, is thinking about the choices Dad made when was only 21, and then having to leave Mom and me an ocean and a continent away, and comparing that to where I was when I was that age, and wondering how in the world he ever did it.

I miss him. And I’m thinking of him today trying to truly appreciate what that choice meant.

Addendum: I would also like to thank my editors at GeekDad for compiling this Veterans Day list and including my father.

November 11, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, Ohio | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hey, Good-lookin’! We’ll be back to pick you up later!

Seriously – I love living in an age where a single phrase from an old commercial can pop through my head, and thirty Internet seconds later:

November 10, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Television | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to fantasy land.

It’s kind of an odd thing, maybe, since I enjoy a good adventure including mythical monsters and swordfights and demigods and magic, but there’s never been much fantasy on my bookshelves: The Lord of the Rings has been there since around 1976; so is The Sword of Shannara (but none of its sequels, of which I read only one); and Dragons of Autumn Twilight; and The Princess Bride. Once up on a time, you would have found the Dungeons & Dragons choose-your-own-adventuresque Pillars of Pentegarn and Mountain of Mirrors there, too. The only newer entrants in the genre are the seven Harry Potter books.

I think, though, the last fantasy I read was in January 2008 – the fourth book in Lian Hearn’s Otori saga, Harsh Cry of the Heron.

This year, though, I’ve wandered back into fantasy courtesy of Jim C. Hines and his Princess novels The Stepsister Scheme and The Mermaid’s Madness.

They don’t look like the kind of books I’d have stumbled onto – when I was reading Stepsister, my wife’s first chuckling reaction was “What’s up with the girls’ book?” and I can’t blame her, really, given that the cover image really doesn’t look like anything she’s seen me read before:

Stepsister - Lg

"What's up with the girls' book?"

Now, when I started reading this, it was in large part because a) Jim was just a really nice guy when Kelsey & I met him at Penguicon, and b) I wanted to check the book’s suitability for my daughter. What happened, of course, was that I totally got sucked into the story, digging Hines’ weaving of the dark side of fairy tales into new takes on old favorites Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

While there are rescue quest at the heart of both Scheme and Madness, I thought the unfolding of the princesses’ back stories and their evolving relationships was as engaging as the main storyline in the first book.

Mermaid - Lg

"The Little Mermaid?" I think not.

That said, I enjoyed the sequel even more, I think, precisely because the primary tale – a meaty mix of love, powerlust, magic, warring kingdoms, and some land-and-sea battle action -  really carries the day here. Not that the heroines don’t grow significantly along the way, but we get to see them much more as they are in the story’s present, if that makes sense, as opposed to hearing the tales that shaped their lives.

I also found the sequel easier to read because I already knew the characters, and as the story gained steam, I wasn’t losing track of which princess was which. (This was a problem for me toward the end of the first book, because when the action was really cranking up, I had to constantly slow myself down and make sure I understood which Hines’ character equated to which “real” fairy-tale character – which matters because of those interlocking backstories – what with three princesses and assorted stepsisters and mothers all kicking ass all over the place.) In Madness, Talia, Danielle and Snow all hold their own places from the start.

I’m glad to have crossed paths with Mr. Hines this year, and to have gotten back into the fantasy realm through his stories, and I’m looking forward to the sequels, and to sharing the series with Kelsey.

(On a semi-related note, his “20 Neil Gaiman Facts” – the literary equivalent of those Chuck Norris hyperbole lists – is one of the funnier blog bits I’ve read in a long time, and when it comes out on a T-shirt - yes, Neil’s given permission! – I’m all over it.)

November 9, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Fiction, geek, writing | , , , , | 1 Comment

On the road again.

I actually had to search for one of my running shoes yesterday morning.

I’ve worn them once or twice since the marathon, but only in a “running errands” sense, and not for actual, you know – running. But with today marking four weeks beyond the finish line of my seventeen Saturdays, I felt like it was time to get out there again.

One shoe was in the closet – where it belonged – but the other had snuck under my side of the bed.

So just before 7:30 a.m., on a bright and clear morning with the air just over 40 degrees, I headed out the front door for my first run in a month.

And it felt kind of strange, going out with no stopwatch and no real goal in mind. Sunday, May 31 – more than five months ago – was the last day I went out for an unplanned run that wasn’t a number to be crossed out on a training chart.

I covered 3.56 miles on a well-worn loop through a nearby housing development, past some fields, and up a hill I really, really hated on more than one morning.

Most of the trees have gone bare since the last time I ran, although there were still a few stretches of maples with bright red leaves standing out in the muted morning. There are still a few unharvested cornfields, too, acres and acres of stalks and leaves the color of old book pages rattling over hilsides and along the woods’ edge.

I have trouble figuring out why I run.

I don’t think it’s the sport or the action itself, though the journey wouldn’t be the same if, say, I walked or biked. I could see the same sights, hear the same sounds, smell the same air, and though all of those are also part of why I do it, none of them are the reason, either. I love the way my mind wanders and refocuses and explores and, yes, gets bored, too, but again, it behaves similarly when I’m driving with the windows down or mowing the lawn or sitting in our back room listening to the rain. It’s never the same, though, as when I’m running.

There’s a quote I often use about writing that I sometimes think fits my running habits, too. It’s attributed to screenwriter Michael Kanin: “I don’t like to write, but I love to have written.”

It’s kind of like that: I haven’t enjoyed every run I’ve ever taken, but I have always been glad I put the shoes on and hit the road that day.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

“I have an existential map …”

… it has ‘You are here’ written all over it.” (Stephen Wright)

Maybe that’s what Google Maps needs to shoot for, seeing as how a search for Canton, Ohio – while correctly labeled itself – once  again leads to Massillon.

You are here. Or not.

It’s also been brought to my attention in the comments on a previous post about this that at least the error is balanced somewhat:

Click to enlarge.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | geek, Ohio, Travel, Web/Tech, Weblogs | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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