Monday, April 26, 2010

Motherf#$king epic

Greetings traveler,

Between reading Charlie Huston’s new novel, Sleepless, the gift of a World of Warcraft pre-paid game card from your sister and recent unemployment you have decided that the time has come to resurrect your long-dormant WOW account. Congratulations! You are about to embark on a series of quests to rival any in-game experience that follows. Have a look at the quest tree:

1. Birds and worms

1a. Reinstall both World of Warcraft and Burning Crusade expansion pack the day before logging back into game. (You put this off after the last computer wipe.)
1b. Redeem your game card.
1c. Download the 3.1GB patch needed to update game.
1d. Bed down for the night.

2. Everything old is new again

2a. Finish installing the rest of the patch. (Windows decided to block update when nearly complete)
2b. Try to log into game, but discover you now need a account.
2c. Try to re-register your games on only to have it tell you your authentication codes have already been claimed. (Duh, by me.)
2d. E-mail support to see if they can load old info into new account.
2e. Discover that there is already a way to merge accounts.
2f. Merge accounts.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


David Sherman is a man of many disguises: Batman, the Joker, Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, a squad of Stormtrooper variations and a Ghostbuster.

Those are just the ones he can actually wear.

"Until a few years ago, I was over 300 pounds. Always a big guy, but it got to a point where I realized if I didn't make a change I'd probably end up with diabetes like all the other men in the family. Part of building a screen-accurate, movie replica costume is being able to portray the character as seen on screen, and being a very large guy - no way that was going to work. Batman was my motivation to lose the weight," Sherman said.

He shed 110 pounds in 2.5 years by overhauling his eating habits for a proper diet and "surprisingly little" exercise. He suited up as Gotham's guardian for the first time in summer 2008.

Once relegated to the din of comic book, horror and sci-fi conventions booked in whatever hotel was willing to host them, pop culture costuming has seen a popularity surge in recent years and Sherman welcomed it with open arms.

"In the third grade, I had to write a letter to someone famous. I wrote a letter to Michael Keaton asking about the special effects from Beetlejuice. I wanted to know how they made things pop out of his head and spin around," Sherman said.

How NOT to forge a check

Want a demonstration of the limits of of Google and the Internet?

Type "how to forge a check" into a search bar. Try "counterfeiting a check." Try "making a fake check." Go ahead, look at page 10 of the search results, we'll wait.

It's nigh impossible to find a single useful link more recent than the 1990s.

"That's good. That's the way we like it," said Detective Mike Korcek.

That's one way to look at it. Another is that maybe it simply isn't that hard to do. Advances in home computer equipment like scanners and laserjet printers lower the cost of entry to a life of check-forging crime. Given the choice between trying to replicate the paper of U.S. currency (a federal crime in itself) and walking into Office Max to purchase a box of decorative paper that looks vaguely check-like, it's easy to understand why criminals are choosing the latter, but even Korcek was surprised at the size of the ring he and a group of law enforcement officers busted up in the waning hours of 2009.

Death protocols

When Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery learns of his new assignment, his stony expression cracks like poorly struck granite.

Montgomery, played by Ben Foster in "The Messenger" opening January 1 at Salem Cinema, is to become part of a casualty notification team (CNT), the men and women dispatched to notify families of active duty soldiers when they die.

That's their duty, "but the job is about something else," says Capt. Tony Stone, Montgomery's team partner played by Woody Harrelson, recently nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the film.

"We're all ill-equipped to deal with sudden death," said Oren Moverman, director and co-writer of the film.

Salem noir

I was talking with Emily one day about life and journalism in Salem and she made the comment that Salem has never had anyone to tell it's story well. The Salem noir story idea had been percolating since I started NVR, but it was only after I bounced it off her during that conversation that I got up the nerve to try it. One of the comments on the website said it read like a dime store novel. While the commenter meant it as a slam, it was the highest praise I could have imagined. I also want to heap praise on artist Scott Lakey who put together the cover of the issue. He had been going with a more traditional Sam Spade-esque figure, but when I sent him early drafts of the story he switched over to his interpretation on Frank Ivester as described in the opening graphs. After I got it back, I immediately called him because it's uncanny how perfect his illustration is to Ivester himself. I wish I had a picture of him to show you how close he got.

The meet goes down at a North Salem hash house that smells faintly of urinal cakes.

Frank Ivester, private eye, has shoulder-length silver hair with a matching French fork beard. His small eyes hid behind gold wire-rimmed glasses are shadowed by a tall forehead. He wears a tactical vest and black trenchcoat over a CIA T-shirt. Not used to being the one on the receiving end of an inquiry, he orders a Coke and asks:

“How did you find me?”

A single question validating the level of paranoia pervasive in classic noir fiction.

Media portrayals from the prose of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to Rockford, Columbo and Neptune’s Mars Investigations, paint a portrait of a private dick’s work that is most often thought of as taking place in other, bigger places - Portland, L.A., New York.

Their counterparts in the legal system are police detectives and CSI teams - media darlings - but in a town where the ratio of inmates to free-birds exceeds the norm, P.I. work is plentiful. Doesn’t hurt that most major criminal cases in the state eventually end up in Oregon Supreme Court Building downtown.

Their cases don’t typically begin with a femme fatale on great pins sauntering into the office, but private investigator work in the Cherry City may be no less intriguing than a great noir mystery.

Monstrous mushrooms as the social other

For author Jeff VanderMeer, some organisms in our ecosphere are plain otherworldly.

"Squids and octopi are two and mushrooms are another. Some of the most recent research classifies mushrooms closer to animal than plant," VanderMeer said. "They're the perfect representation of the other - the thing we fear because we don't know it."

Mushrooms don't possess chlorophyll or the vascular structure to move it; neither do they dine on other plants and animals. The liminal space mushrooms inhabit made mushrooms the perfect choice for the fungaloid overseers, grey caps, in VanderMeer's latest novel, "Finch."

Vandermeer stopped at Willamette University last month to promote the book and speak to classes about his writing process.

"Finch" is Vandermeer's third foray into the fantasy/science fiction world of Ambergris. This time the story follows John Finch as he tries to unravel the mysterious death of a human and one of the grey caps. Tackled as a noir detective novel, Vandermeer takes Finch and the reader on an exploration of the seedy underworld of a seedy overworld, but Vandermeer relied on two modern cities when creating his vision.

"Paris during occupation of the Nazis during World War II and Baghdad over the past eight years were the source material," Vandermeer said.

While some might read the book as a commentary on U.S. involvement in the Middle East, Vandermeer said that wasn't necessarily his point.

"When you pull the circumstances out, it becomes much less message and, instead, it's a way of examining the world that Finch moves through. Making it fantasy gives you that leeway," Vandermeer said.

Bring in 'da fear

There were many surprises for the Fearleaders when they took the floor during the Cherry City Derby Girls Black and Blue Debut last month.

There was the packed-to-the-rafters crowd.

“That was the biggest X-factor. All the ideas we had changed because there were so many freaking people,” said Shawn “Shawn of the Dead” Cruz, Fearleader captain.

The deejay that started remixing their big dance number on the spot, much to the chagrin of Ben “Money $hot” Wiebe, who was concentrating on screaming out the step count.

“We're not the Jackson Five, we've practiced the dance twice,” Wiebe said.

But it was the spanking that topped the list.

Blurring the lines

If there is a line labeled "too far" in the Willamette Valley art community, the Emerge art show would like to pour bleach on it.

Maybe set it on fire.

"We reserve the right to refuse submissions that don't go far enough," said Jonathan Boys, Emerge founder.

Boys' attire on the evening of Emerge's opening at Coffee House Cafe was a yellow polyethylene coverall with fake blood splatters and "I killed the Willamette Valley Established Art Authority" scrawled on the back.

"Have you seen the other art outlets in the area?" asked artist Jesse Lindsay. "It's all landscapes, but there's a fringe element to every art scene and that's who Emerge is for."

The status is not quo for race relations in this country

What if Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous speech ushered in an era of color-blind racism?

In the run-up to last year's presidential election, I talked with an African-American friend about how we expected the news coverage to turn back to the race factor as the pundits ran out of hot-button policy topics to overanalyze.

I was taken aback to hear him put forth the alternative theory on the impact of the "I Have a Dream" speech. The crux of the contention is a simple matter of word order. King dreamed of his four children living in a nation where they were not judged by the color of their skin. That was all most of the audience heard.

It became unfashionable, after that speech, to proclaim racist feelings, but people still harbored them. Individuals would tell friends, neighbors - and pollsters - that they had no problem with people of color, but their palms started sweating as soon as they got in an elevator with two black men. The essence of color-blind racism is saying one thing and doing another.

The need for President Barack Obama's beer summit, the faux pas of “wise Latina” and even the hostilities at recent town hall meetings are likely manifestations of color-blind racism. However, calling someone a racist (yes, Mr. Carter, I’m looking at you) doesn’t move us any closer to solving the problem.

Haunted eats

I found out after we went to press that the woman who was playing cards at Thompson's was one of our ad sales people.

Julie Darrow went flush with fear the first time she encountered Franklin.

Darrow was busing tables in an upstairs room at the Thompson Brewery and Public House when she heard a pitter-pat on the table.

"The weird thing was I was cleaning up after a family whose child had asked me if the place was haunted," Darrow said.

The tapping was followed up with a loud bang that sent chills up her spine and drained the color from her face.

"I ran downstairs and paid someone else to finish busing the table," Darrow said.

Franklin is the entity that both employees and patrons believe is haunting Thompson Brewery. Franklin Thompson was a Civil War veteran and farmer who, along with his wife, were the first inhabitants of the home at 3575 Liberty Road S., in Salem. Franklin, staff believe, has taken to playing tricks on visitors since his death in 1923.

"I had one customer who was sitting upstairs all alone playing cards who swears she saw a child playing peekaboo with her," Darrow said. "Another woman brings her grandson in here every time he visits. He's completely convinced this place is haunted."

Franklin might be one of the busiest ghosts in the area, but he's far from the only ethereal inhabitant of local eateries.

Resurrecting a language

In speaking the word for owl, Bud Lane, one of about 10 remaining and fluent Athabaskan speakers, reveals the importance of saving languages.

When spoken aloud, the word, svs-tee-lii-chu, starts out quietly, progresses to a drawn out, almost surreptitious emphasis on the “lii” syllable and finishes quickly. It gives the listener a sense that owls are best spoken about in whispers, lest the speaker draw the attention of one.

“Most Siletz people don’t even want to see an owl,” said Lane, a member of the Siletz Nation. “It’s a scary thing.”

The English translation of the word reveals more. Svs-tee-lii-chu means “the big cold one.” Historically, Siletz people considered sighting the bird of prey an omen foreshadowing bad luck, and at the very least, a reason for pause or concern. While the roots of the owl’s symbolism have been lost over the last 10,000 years, Lane suspects it’s due to the raptor’s nocturnal nature.

Sita Sings

I first head of Sita Sings the Blues back in 2006 when boingboing started following the film's development. I said to myself I would love the chance to tell that story. It was no small joy when the owner of the local art theater announced she would be showing it, and gave me the excuse to contact Paley.

For anyone planning to attend a screening of "Sita Sings the Blues" at Salem Cinema this month, here's a hot tip straight from writer/animator/director Nina Paley:

Sit as close as you can to the left rear speaker.

"During the intermission scene the audio track plays four different conversations, each from a different speaker," Paley said. The left rear is her personal favorite, though for Hindi speakers, she recommends the front right.

The film portrays parts of the Indian epic the Ramayana through the eyes of Sita, the hero's wife, from a kidnapping by the demon king to birth of her sons. Interspersed throughout the film are animated scenes from Paley's troubled marriage.

"Sita" is Paley's first feature, but the story behind the film is just as rich with heartbreak and triumph as anything onscreen.

In 2002, Paley was living in Trivandrum, India with her husband when she returned to the U.S. for a business trip. She was pitching a new comic strip in New York when her husband notified her, via e-mail, that their marriage was over. Devastated, and with nowhere else to go, Paley started sofa surfing at the homes of friends in The Big Apple.

While staying with a record collector she heard Annette Hanshaw's "Mean to Me" for the first time.

"Her voice is sweet and vulnerable even when she's singing about men doing her wrong. There was just an innocence and directness about [her songs]," Paley said.

Chamber of Horrors

Published in Salem Monthly, May 2009.

Once in a while someone takes a look at Toby Wayne Larson's sculptures and asks, "Will you sculpt my child?"

In a perfect world, Larson would respond with a few questions of his own:

"Can I deform them a little?"

"Rip their cheek?"

"Put a dent in their head?"

Often he just smiles and moves on to small talk about other subjects, but anyone with a jones for horror flicks is likely to know exactly where he's coming from.

Larson's sculpture subjects, which include major horror villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers, aren't typically considered beautiful, but it's hard to deny his talent for capturing the macabre, terrifying or horrific in clay. The mini-busts might fall outside traditional beauty conventions, but Larson's creations and interpretations of them possess a strange, alluring - if sometimes off-putting - charm.

"You don't have to sculpt cutesy things. Sculpt what you want, but do it well," the Albany-based sculptor said.

Falling hurts, but there's nothing like getting back in the saddle

It is said, once we learn, we never forget how to ride a bike. Sadly, there's an exception to every rule.

It was a constellation of reasons that finally got me through the doors of a downtown bike shop last year. Skyrocketing gas prices were one piece, a desire to reduce my carbon footprint was another, but the straw that broke this camel’s back was spending my lunch hours in a weight room.

I loved how I felt after working out, but I absolutely hated doing the deed itself. I was desperate to find some way to enjoy it, so I bought a bike with the intent of riding it to and from work at least three days a week.

My wife and daughter went out of town a few days after I brought the bike home. It was perfect. I would be able to ride my bike to and from work and escape the ridicule of my spouse when I came home dragging ass and looking like a pathetic excuse for manhood.