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AvengersSome random thoughts about some of the greatest superhero teams of all time:

The Avengers… Their famous rallying cry is the title of this article, but I’ve never quite understood it.  I realize that before they can avenge, they have to assemble, but when they assemble, what exactly are they avenging?

The Fantastic Four… modesty, anyone? Norm MacDonald’s sketch about the origin of the team’s name is essential listening.

Justice League of America… are non-Americans welcome?
the Defenders… good, solid name… for a bunch of freaks and outcasts
Teen Titans… save the world, and deal with this problem acne?
Alpha Flight… does anyone without security clearance understand the meaning of this name?
the Starjammers… good spacey name
X-Men… maybe the best name ever
New Mutants… they never actually called themselves this, did they?
X-Force/X-Factor… let me get this straight, they thought no one would connect them to the X-Men?

Justice League of America… are non-Americans welcome?  I understand if they don’t want to let Russians or the French join, but have any Canadians been able to sneak in and have success, like in Hollywood?

The Defenders… good, solid name–for a bunch of freaks and outcasts.   Let’s take stock… giant green monster, sorcerer in leggings and a cape, blonde woman with pigtails and a sword, geriatric gargoyle, Batman wannabe.  Why didn’t this title sell well?

Teen Titans… save the world, and deal with this problem acne?  These are the real heroes.

Alpha Flight… does anyone without security clearance understand the meaning of this name?  I think that if they wanted a name that would resonate with Canadians, they should have gone with the Maple Leafs.  Of course, that probably wouldn’t have played very well in Montreal, or anywhere outside of Ontario…

The Starjammers… good spacey name, and best theme song by far of any comic book team–“Jammin’ Me” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

X-Men… maybe the best name ever.

The New Mutants… they never actually called themselves this, did they? “How can I ever thank you?”  “Just doing our jobs, ma’am… the New Mutants are here to help.”  “Mutants?!  Aaahhh!”

X-Force/X-Factor… let me get this straight, they thought no one would connect them to the X-Men?

One of the most awesome things I’ve ever heard of is The Brautigan Library. Inspired by Richard Brautigan’s novel The Abortion, the Library comprises books whose only criterion for inclusion is that they’ve never been published (the authors must pay the costs of binding).  Books are organized in the unique manner of The Mayonnaise System; examples of categories are “Love,” “The Future,” “Adventure,” and “All the Rest.”  The Library is/was in Burlington, VT and grew to include 325 books.  A visit to the Library must have been a random and surreal experience, as described here.  As of 2004, it was scheduled to be moved to the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch. The Abortion also inspired The Library of Unwritten Books in the UK, which consists of ideas for books, but no actual books.

Pixie GeldofA short checklist of the properties of Pixie Girls:

-Short, tousled brown or black hair (rarely blonde)

-Larger than average eyes (brown or hazel are most common)

-Arched eyebrows

-Small, pouty mouth

-Button nose

-Pale skin, perhaps freckles

-Short, but well-proportioned

-Small hands

-Quirky fashion sense

Short, but well-proportioned, almost always thin
Almost always brown or black hair–short, tousled and off the neck works best
Arched eyebrows
Larger than average eyes, especially the coloured portion (brown and hazel are best)
Small, pouty mouth
Wear hats very well, especially knit caps
Small, adorable ears
Button nose
Pale skin, perhaps freckles (but just around the nose)
Small hands
Little if any makeup, nail polish, etc. and nails are not long

KesI can’t picture any thirty year-old Pixies.  Maybe they transform into an entirely different state of being, much like the Ocampa from Star Trek: Voyager, upon reaching a certain age.  Maybe they simply leave this tedious realm of ours, never to return, because they’re just too adorable for this world.  Do age and the normal vicissitudes that the flesh is prone to hit them like a ton of bricks, and all traces of their former super-cuteness vanish?  I honestly cannot think of one aged Pixie (alright, Audrey Hepburn), and now that I’ve put my finger on this enigma, I’m going to start paying special attention to the Pixies around me.  Can they be spotted when they’re young, before they become Pixies at the crucial 15-20 window?  Can they remain Pixies after college, or when they leave Soundscapes to find a grown-up job?  Do they retain any hints of Pixie-ness past their 20s,  into marriage or even old age?  Is true Pixie-ness predominantly a factor of age and less about looks, intelligence and attitude than one might have expected?

“If you’re wondering if people are talking about you behind your back, the answer is yes.  If you’re wondering why people are talking about you behind your back, the answer is: you’re an asshole.”

When I was young I used to worry about falling asleep.  It would literally keep me up at night.  I didn’t understand what being unconscious meant, so I imagined that I would still be aware of myself, just not moving for eight hours. This seemed like a tremendous waste of time, and I hated wasting time when I was young.  Sleeping meant I wasn’t reading comic books or playing with Lego or watching TV.  I thought sleep would be like having to lie still for eight hours at a time.  I couldn’t imagine anything more boring.  And even though that’s not what sleep was like at all, I kept being afraid of it.  This fear of sleep seemed to plague me for a large period of my youth, and may have been tied in to my obsession with death.  I tried to figure out what happened when you died, and I can remember that I didn’t really think–even at that young age–that you’d go to heaven.  Instead I usually tried to imagine what nothingness would be like.  Even then I’d started to believe that nothing happened to you after you died–no heaven, no hell–you just ceased to be active (much like I imagined sleep).  But if you believe the afterlife is nothing, what is nothing like?  It’s hard to imagine not existing anymore, so I would imagine a kind of void which contained me and nothing else.  But that’s not really nothingness–that is in fact existence in its purest form, the continuance of the only thing anyone can truly say exists with any authority, your Self.  The rest of the universe may melt away, and the mind can deal with that, because it’s easy to lose the sense of the faraway–tell someone that the Crab Nebula no longer exists, and what impact does that really have on their life or sense of place in the universe? Even tell them that China is no longer there, and they’ll adjust, because after all China for most people is just an abstract concept–something they’ve read about, seen on TV, maybe even met someone who says they’re from there, but never experienced personally. Keep drawing the circle in tighter and people will learn to accept the loss of things they were truly never sure about in the first place–Rio de Janeiro, that great souvlaki place across town, the emotional state of their closest friends–until the last thing that will remain and be held on to with the greatest possible tenacity is the Self.  It’s the one thing we imagine we can be sure about, even if when we’re being truly honest we realize that even our Selves can be mysteries to us.

ZwinkyZwinkys.  Those loveable, dressable, virtual cutout dolls that are all over the Internet.  What makes them so damn sexy?  Why am I attracted to a crude representation of a human being that, if made flesh and blood, would be a hideously bug-eyed and encephalitic-headed monster? It’s not a new phenomenon for me.  Like R. Crumb, I very early found myself sexually attracted to cartoons.  In his case it was Bugs Bunny (more than one person has noted the frequency of Bugs dressing in drag in his battles with Elmer Fudd and even the Tasmanian Devil, and so you can form your own conclusions about Bugs’ proclivities, and also take a moment to ponder the cross-species obsessions of Pepe Le Pew while you’re at it–I feel less lonely about my interests when I consider the unusual forms that sexuality takes in Warner Brothers cartoons). For me it’s always been attractive human female superheroines* or, at the extreme end, hyper-anthropomorphized cute animal characters like Babs Bunny (check out the rabbit rack!).  Zwinkys, though.  They’re obviously designed to stir erotic feelings: they’re curvy, busty, have beautiful big eyes and knowing grins.  And they first appear to you in their underwear.  If that’s not a come-on I don’t know what is.**  So, I’ve come out of the Zwinky-loving closet, and soon, no doubt, I’ll be changing my name and moving to another town to hide my identity.  But for one brief moment I spoke truth and felt freedom, and no one can ever take that away from me.

* A random list of comic book superheroines I was devoted to: Dazzler, Invisible Girl, Rogue, Aurora, Batgirl, Raven.

** Note: based on my romantic history, there’s a very good possibility that I don’t know what a come-on is.

Oh Rainn Wilson, what must I do to get your attention?  I have faithfully followed your tweets for almost three months now, chuckled at your wry observations, pondered the mysteries of your Baha’i faith, signed your petitions to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and dutifully added my own #topics based on your suggestions.  I’ve happily counted myself amongst your throng of loyal twidiots.  And what do I get in return?  You won’t follow me, you won’t RT any of my tweets.  I scan every one of your tweets for an @robertjamesbell, to no avail.  Oh cruel fate!  To love so much, to feel my loins twitter with every tweet, but to be ignored nonetheless…!  If I actually understood the point of Twitter, your intransigence would surely drive me to desperate acts!

Vanessa HudgensVanessa Hudgens, star of High School Musical, has recorded the best dance song ever, and on this opinion I will not be moved!  From the 2008 album Identified, “Sneakernight” is pure magic from start to finish, and leaves all of her challengers in the dance-pop milieu far behind. Britney, give up!  Lindsay, concentrate on what you’re best at: being confused about your sexuality!  Avril, just shut up!  Vanessa is officially on top, and she’s here to stay!  A no-holds-barred paean to fun, “Sneakernight” keeps it simple, explaining that basically what we’re gonna do is dance.  Have you eaten?  Do you have the energy?  Are you reloaded?  Are you able to stay on your feet?  Important questions all, because the last thing that Vanessa wants is for you to pass out after a couple of hours of this. “Sneakernight” asserts that it’ll come easy when you hear the beat, because all you gotta do is take a chance, and that is exactly the right attitude for any dance song to take.  And after all, what are we here to do?  Basically, dance. Vanessa knows the importance of comfortable footwear when the weather is nice and you want to take it outside–don’t worry about other plans!  The song is uncontrollable, unstoppable, addictive!  What are we gonna do when we hear this song?  Basically, dance.  Put your sneakers on!  Let’s go all night long!  Tee-hee!

The White AlbumOtherwise known as The Beatles, this 1968 double album is more popularly referred to as The White Album, for obvious reasons. (Incidentally, I have always hated the tendency to refer to albums with no text except the name of the band on the sleeve as “self-titled”–to me they should properly be labeled as albums with no title.  I actually call this album “the white album”–no capitals–because in fact there is no title listed on the album, and “the white album” just describes it for the sake of convenience.  Similarly, Peter Gabriel’s first three albums are not 1, 2, and 3–they simply have no titles, and the numbers are just shorthand for fans to tell them apart.  To me, an album isn’t eponymous unless it has the name of the artist twice, or is R.E.M.’s cleverly titled collection of IRS singles, Eponymous.)  This is the only Beatles album my parents owned, and they were in the 20s during the 1960s.  Why they bought this notoriously difficult and uneven album over something as solid and acclaimed as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a mystery, but I’m glad they made the choice they did, since it’s allowed me to claim The White Album as my favourite, granting me the kind of cachet that comes with preferring more obscure songs or albums than most of the population for my entire life.  I believe their choice also set me off on a more liberal path to music enjoyment than if the one Beatles album they owned was Please Please Me.  I grew to love every song on all four sides of this album, from “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to “Piggies” to “Yer Blues” and even “Revolution 9”, which must have been about as crazy a listening experience as could be for a child used to listening to American Top 40 disco hits in the late 1970s.  Listening to The White Album gave me a headstart on being open to challenging music, and for that I have to say thanks Mom and Dad, for buying The White Album before I was born!

Gary SiniseIn Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto there’s a video billboard that often plays advertisements for upcoming concerts at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, which is apparently the last refuge of musicians that I didn’t realize were still performing and/or alive, as well as a haven for musicians I had no idea were musicians.  In the former category are acts like Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Doobie Brothers, and Colin Hay of Men at Work (critically, without the band), while the latter tends to include celebrities like Billy Bob Thornton, The Bacon Brothers (How many degrees from a musician I’d actually pay money to see is Kevin Bacon? Four.), and the spiritual blues-rock stylings of Steven Seagal.  I can understand having some kind of morbid curiosity about what kind of musician/singer these actors make, and I can even envision paying the ticket price to satisfy that curiosity, if I happened to be in the Fallsview Casino, having already spent $180 of a slot machine jackpot on getting drunk or high.  After all, how many people can say they’ve seen Steven Seagal warble “Hoochie-Koochie Man”?

But now Fallsview has taken the joke too far.  On July 24, 2009, please welcome to the stage Gary Sinise and The Lt. Dan Band!  Tickets $20, call to order in advance. Gary Sinise?  Gary Sinise?!  Billy Bob and Seagal are freaks and egomaniacs and have got to be worth the price of admission because they’re either going to be surprisingly good or such a train wreck that you’ll never forget the experience, and Kevin Bacon just seems like a decent guy and what harm could it do?  But Gary Sinise has no discernible personality (even when the roles he’s playing actually call for personality, Sinise stubbornly refuses to offer it up).  I’m trying to imagine someone thinking: “I like him on CSI or Law & Order or whichever one he’s on, I bet he’s also entertaining on stage!  Playing bass, apparently.  I would imagine that he can keep a steady beat–he’s such a professional and I’m sure he practises very hard.”  I can’t do it.  And The Lt. Dan Band?  Really?  “Hey, remember the only movie you actually remember me in, Forrest Gump?  The band’s name is a reference to my character!  Nice, huh?  No, I actually do have legs… it was all done with special effects.  I know!  Incredible, huh? Anyway, please come see my show.” You’ve hit a new low, Fallsview.  Although I see that next week, you’ve paired up Cyndi Lauper with Rosie O’Donnell.  I’ll bet those two sparkplugs really light up the stage!  How much are tickets again?

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