Year’s End, Your Beginning

Christmas is done and with it that all pervasive spirit of “not being an asshole” that follows most December holidays around with loving alacrity. But I’m here to tell you folks that it doesn’t have to be that way. Not at all, not ever. Together you and I and others from sea to shining sea raised almost $3,358 to buy gifts for Toys for Tots. Then a few late donations came in and got us to just under 3,400! You’ve seen the pictures and must know the impact you had in hundreds of lives in the weeks leading up to the 25th. Dinosaurs, dolls, puzzles, princesses and pilots, cars and crafts, bots and kid friendly versions of the goddamn Batman. Things to roll, things to ride, things to stack, things to pass, kick and throw. Things to hug and all these things to bring comfort…Angie and I’ve smiled a lot lately when thinking of all the adventures we’ve had a hand in encouraging thanks to the mighty charity of so many supporters. Feels good to have put the call out, feels good that the call was heard, embraced and explored more fully than I would have ever cynically expected. The secret to that success is really no secret but it’s one that in my age and fear I had simply forgotten.

 

Generosity.

 

When you are generous, with your words, your ears, your blood, sweat and tears, when you are unabashedly giving of that which you might usually cling desperately on to, you will discover a peace within and in the world around that is without comparison. Because everyone was picking up so much of my old shit I had to dig deep to find more shit to get rid of lest a bunch of deserving kids end up shit creek without a paddle not covered in shit! I pulled out more and more boxes (from places around my house I’d forgotten about) followed by some big gun items turning my attentions (most hesitantly) towards a few pieces that held immense value both on a monetary scale and once gauged solely in sentiment before I dragged my emotionally bloodied body towards what was truly one of my most prized and desired possessions: my San Diego Comic Con Exclusive Transformers 25th Anniversary Soundwave. He even came with Laserbeak, Buzzaw, Ravage and Ratbat.

 

Fuck!

 

Fuck was right. And I was that fuck. If I played with just the toys I still have displayed in my house at the moment, one new toy every day, it would take me months before I’d hold a repeat in my hands. Take in to account everything that isn’t displayed and we’re talking years. That I would even hesitate to part with a piece that could do so much good by going (and not a damn thing by staying) was the ultimate reminder of the greed that lurks alongside the benevolence in my heart. I wrestled long on this subject. Kept the damn box near me for days as I did so. Thankfully, the more altruistic angels of my nature won the day. And the rest is history. But you don’t know all the history just yet, so here’s where it gets really historic and more than just a little humbling.

You already saw my “Captain America/hero” post (and if you didn’t, c’mon man, keep up…this is important! I mean at least moreso than “What ‘Force Awakens’ character am I?” quizzes and the like) so you know how I feel about being pedestaled in that way. In part, it was the strength of Angie’s belief that lead me to give up (Soundwave) and go beyond (my miserly mentality), ensuring a confirmation that my recent toy drive was meant to be extraordinary.

And driven I was. This year, the last few months in particular, have been a brutal slap upside the head that life is brief. Full of sound and fury and, if Facebook is any indication, signifying nothing. But not this time. This time life, my life, would be more than just pissing off and pontificating. I took one pic, me in Cap’s shield with Soundwave ready to go, and wrote out my heart. And I saw my heart return to me. I posted my offer late at night, challenging anyone who read it to step-up (out of true desire) and step-out (of their comfort zone) to change not only the lives of countless children but to challenge themselves into some fantastic personal growth as well. I went to sleep. By the time I woke up one single donor had given $500. At my insistence, one particular robot became his as he’d secured so many others a Christmas they could never have dreamed of. Five hundred bucks from one guy of humble means who you may never personally know and didn’t expect anything in return. Just a few hours after “giving up” something I’d held so dear the generosity of another had made it possible for the hopeless to know hope. That day was grand. Another young lady and her husband, who had forgone giving each other presents for the holidays in lieu of finding something worthy to pour into instead, threw another several hundred dollars our way. Person after person after person gave and gave and gave.

 

One small generous thought had cascaded into a defining moment. And then the next morning came…

 

We we’re on our way to spend the day playing cowboy in Frontierland and were meeting and old friend to deliver the items he’d picked up in our purge. After I’d given him his gifts, he said he had something for me. Something from his own collection he knew I was a fan of and thought I might enjoy. He handed me a package, wrapped with holiday cheer. I knew immediately what it was but wouldn’t allow myself to assume. He implored, I opened. And held in my hands something that cemented for me, forever, that giving fully and from the heart is never without reward:

 

 

For anyone who doesn’t know, that is one of the exact figures I had just given away a little over 24 hours before. I let mine go, no heart strings attached, and was immediately blessed to find it back in my hands. Whatever you believe in, God, the Universe, Buddha riding the flying spaghetti monster around Loch Ness, you’ll have to admit, that’s fairly fucking coincidental. I don’t often adhere to coincidence. No. What I was moved to do had blossomed into so much good for so many people and someone sent me a reminder that this, this right here, was the way to go through life. When we give, freely and without expectation, when we give of our money, our time and our talents…can’t you see?

 

It is always worth it.

 

I don’t say this because I got Soundwave back. That was just a glorious goddamn bonus. No, I say this because when our hearts grow stingy, whether by design or ambivalence, those opportunities for the miraculous to occur vacate the paths we tread. We walk through an average life, filled with average moments all the while longing for the extraordinary. We hold back, clinging to fear of the unknown and grasp at so much for ourselves we never notice everyone else living in this world along side us. We do ourselves and all those others a great disservice. In diminishing ourselves, we diminish the world. This year has reminded me, in a terribly beautiful way, to stop holding back and if you’ve read all my words thus far I would encourage and challenge you to do the same.

The holidays are over but kindness knows not the date or time of year. Having a generous spirit on Christmas day is expected. Having a generous spirit everyday is exemplary. I’m here to tell you, it will change lives for the better. Yours and countless others.

Here’s to this day then. Not because it is particularly special, but because the magic in your heart can make any do so. 

The 12 Days of (Making Someone Else’s) Christmas

 

Season’s greetings folks! That right there is the elevator deck from the U.S.S. Flagg. In 1985 she first shipped out across millions of collective imaginations and, if you were lucky enough, your living room as well. That piece is all I have left of mine but it’s better to love and lose than to never love at all I do believe. I’m glad to have sailed with her on many occasions and although the rest is long gone I can never lose the memories of the adventures we had nor that initial feeling in my heart when I first saw one enormous red present placed beside our Christmas tree. “Beside” because the Flagg was huge, six feet in length, with packaging to match. That moment forever looms large in my child’s mind and often brings a smile to my face even to this day. The memory of receiving and enjoying a beloved toy has magic in it. A special and lasting magic.

I love toys and if you’re on my friends list chances are you do too. That said, there are a lot of kids (actual kids, not 12-year-old 40-year-olds like many of us) but real damn kids having some bad damn days and, with the promise of presents right around the corner, this time of year can seem extra damn rough for those who don’t have multiple repaints or re-issues of the same toy to wallow in, on or about with abandon. 

So what do I have planned to help change that?

Well, I’ve gone through my own collection handpicking a great many toys that I’m glad to part with. Starting tomorrow and running through December 12th there’ll be a pic up on my page everyday with 12 curios for you to peruse. If you see something you want for your own collection, or someone else’s, just PM me. Offer a fair price and the toy is yours. Once a toy disappears a new toy will take its place and a new pic will be posted keeping an even dozen gifts up for grabs throughout the run. Simple Santa right there. The good news is that something nifty I don’t need gets to go on to a new life in another loving collector’s home. The better news is that loving collectors will be procuring some really nifty stuff. The best news?

All the money that’s raised from this event will be in hand when Angie and I go shopping for toys, toys, toys, buying as much as we can for a happy huge donation to Toys-for-Tots!

My house becoming more minimal and your collection growing more complete feels pretty good. A whole mess of children that will get to open a present, maybe for the first time ever? Well that feeling is indescribable. Knowing that, minimum bid on everything is $10. You low-ball me, that’s a dick move. You low-ball this gift for a child, that’s a huge holiday dick move covered in slimy Santa sap! All the items are small-ish and/or light ergo the winner will cover shipping too unless you’re local and we can arrange a pick-up/drop-off to save you a few bucks and me a trip to the post office. Minimal effort on all fronts, maximum smiles on several young faces.

It’s easy for us to take for granted how much we all really do have. If this is in your budget and in your heart please consider grabbing one of these memorable treasures of mine.

In doing so you’ll be giving some children the chance to play, making memories of their own as they do.

No Half Measures

Hear ye, hear ye! As in everyone else yells here on blogs and The Book so it’s time I tossed my kepi just some hat into the ring! A dear friend of mine, you might call her a “close female friend” or even “a naughty lover” or “my wife” perhaps, has pontificated with a post both sarcastic and solemn in that since we’re all jumped up on the banning wagon in the name of ending hate, racism and maltreatment of other human beings that mayhaps, despite a flag coming down in South Carolina (and Disney) along with the removal of the bigoted benchmark that is The Dukes of Hazzard, we as a society have not, dare we dare say it, gone far enough!

These things were stricken from history as of late, tossed unforgivingly into the black hole of current public outrage, because they were seen to idolize and celebrate a treasonously dark and terrible time in our past. A time when some of us (not me, I was born in Ohio!) saw fit to use our numerical and technological advances to squash an entire race of people in the hopes our tight fisted trampling would further our own dreams at the cost of those trampled. “Step in line” was the word of the day and any deviation brought swift punishment, even unto death. The South, and by default all Southerners (including transplants from Ohio that may or may not have a battle flag pillow and/or belt buckle in their possession) are absolute pieces of shit bent only on keeping “the man” down. No, no…this can not be argued!

And it presents to us all a unique and upsetting challenge.

Which I will get to, monumentally, in short order. But! Being a man of humble of heart I realize that even though I am overly blessed in the realms of intellect, event hosting ability and physical fitness, the grasping of such a delicate and time trodden affair might indeed escape me so I turn briefly now to look for guidance from a great man, a hero to one and (most) all, whose thoughts on the subject will surely elucidate these issues with a kind clarity

Abraham Lincoln.

He may have said it best when he uttered “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”

And who could forget those equitable, progressive and healing words “As long as blacks continue to live with the whites they constitute a threat to the national life. Family life may also collapse and the increase of mixed breed bastards may some day challenge the supremacy of the white man.”

I can’t be too sure what all this means as I’m a modern, college educated man after all and thus at odds with the delicacies of discernment however, the one thing I can gather, the one aforementioned monumental conclusion that I in my limited faculties can arrive at, is this:

Disney must close.

This may seem ludicrous, reactionary, even sofa king 2 pid, but when you consider the righteous groundswell that has brought such radically overdue reformation to the backs of pick-up trucks and T.V. Land’s evening schedule these past few weeks it become stupendously unarguable and not as 2 pid as you might have at first thought.

The Confederate Battle flag and all its ilk are now effectively outlawed as our country takes a stand against inequity. Lifetimes of hurt feelings hand in hand with a whole bunch of “I’m really mad right now because social media sure is” are walking towards a bright new tomorrowland. A tomorrowland that ironically should not include the House of Mouse. Just look at their “Tomorrow Land” for example.

Besides being Brad Bird’s weakest offering to date, the actual place offers nothing but a white-and-chrome-washed version of the future. Remember how fun the worlds of Elysium and Battle Angel Alita were for the common man kids? Then let’s go and have that Wall Street wet dream of a utopia shoved down our throats like some kind of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (percent am I right?) The whole right side of both flagship parks flaunts a lifestyle that none of us will ever be able to afford. And that’s after we walked down mainstreet.

“Mainstreet U.S.A.” Does it get any more exclusionary? A lot of minorities live in or near cities. Not in the suburbs and never on any Main Street. So hurry, get the hell out of there. Quick! To Fantasyland! A entire world populated by…fairies? But, that’s a pejorative in some circles. Even their leader Tinkerbell has had her good name tossed about as an insult in the past so here, now, at the happiest place on Earth we’re reminded that this glossy, kid-funded empire featuring finely flitting fun-loving friends is just a cover so that secret slandering can occur daily, and right in your face! Off to Adventureland I supposeeaaaoooSHIT!

Another prime example, forced down our throats, of white European privilege. Look at that “Swiss Family Robinson” house built all up in those trees. Sure Disney, remind me again how easy it was (and still is!) for White America to insert themselves into and subjugate “the jungle”. No nudging or winking needed here you crass, corporate curs. We all know exactly what you’re saying with this kind of display. Moving on then I suppose, to the biggest offender of them all.

Frontierland.

Fun fact: Thunder Mountain is built on an Indian burial ground. Well not really but seeing as this country was ripped from the hands of those folks who already lived here when we whites, blacks and every other color but red showed up hundreds of years ago it sort of is. Nope, living together, sharing the resources, that wouldn’t be good enough for the founding fathers. Time to manifest some motherfucking destiny and decimate and entire culture along the way. All this took place under Spanish, British and yes, American flags but strangely no one is calling for a ban on those. You could fill Splash Mountain ten times over and the Rivers of America while you’re at it with all the tears shed from the Native lives, the Native families, the Native generations shredded in the name of our collective bright new day. Frontierland  is a giant playground celebrating a time when our journey was beginning just as so many others were coming to an end. Under the heels of our boots.

My tongue has been nestled in my cheek for much of this Disney diatribe and while you could make several humorous cases that the parks point out what you can’t financially attain tomorrow or today while questioning your sexual proclivities and asserting Anglo-Saxon dominance, the woeful reality of that there Wild West wonderland is striking in just how hard it’s overlooked. Folks will bitch up the biggest bitchstorm in recent memory to the point that some executive somewhere preemptively pulls a harmless old series off the air in the fiery name of fairness. But I’ll bet those same folks couldn’t tell you one goddamn thing about Geronimo. And they would stand there on property waiting for the afternoon parade gleefully washing their ignorance down with a side of pulled pork.

We are so absolutely vitriolic about 1865 but completely untroubled by 1885.

If we’re banning shit, let’s ban all of it no?

Western Watchins #126

 

Something like this starts and you know inevitably that it’s somehow got to end. Justified began in 2010 and over the course of six seasons took us all on a ride through the hills and hells of Eastern Kentucky with almost eighty episodes of the best television you’ll ever get a goddamn look at. Most of my Watchins are around twelve or thirteen hundred words long and feature a dozen pictures or so. I could write ten times as many words and not fully explain my appreciation for this show or properly caress you into watching it if you haven’t already done so.  I could post a panoply of pictures to expose you to the epic shit-tons of guest stars piled high upon an already outstandingly impressive main cast, but again, my thoughts on the images might not move you to invest the time to see any of them in action. So I’m left, here at the end of my day, seated and solemn like a distiller ready to boil down this meaty masterpiece unto its purest and most convincingly flavorful form. Justified had seasonal story arcs and a few more series spanning main arcs but the soul that lived in the heart that beat in the breast of this, the lord of all lawman shows, is one simple, time tried relationship between two men.

Marshal Raylan Givens and outlaw Boyd Crowder.

 

 

Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins in what might be the performances of their lives. These two were born for these roles harder than Ben Affleck was born to never play a superhero. For more than half a decade, Oly and Gogs took each other to so many different deadly dances that the will they/won’t they/wtf-did-they-just-do dynamic almost takes on a life of its own. And this story is brimming full with life. Several lives in fact. And the hero and the villain are touched by them all and touch them all back, some more violently than others. But for a white hat chasing a black hat in a gray world kind of show populated by guns and gusto Justified never slips into cliché, is rarely predictable and remained fresh throughout its run. Henry Winkler never once appeared in an episode because no sharks ever needed jumping. In a world of Dexters and Sons of Anarchys that sought to convince us the only way to write a series finale was to hire writers who had never seen the show, Justified‘s end was a happy slap upside the head reminder that great entertainment still wanders the wilderness along with lumberjack serial killers and the worst, unnecessarily computer generated biker gang boss in history. And unlike Jax Teller’s last, this ride was always fun.

There were of course serious times and sentimental ones and a heavy sadness grew in every dark corner of those Kentucky hollers we came to love over the years but in the end there was always at least a little bit of hope. Elmore Leonard, who created Raylan Givens and wrote the original novella upon which this show was based, liked his good guys to win even if things got bad along the way. Breaking Bad began as a Disneyland fantasy only to end in a damnation that forced you to feel every damnable act. All merriment was exorcised from that show like a demon. Thankfully the better angels of Justified‘s nature proved ”gritty” could still exist in a narrative that kept well outside of the godawfully depressing. Justified always managed to keep its heart light which is an admirable undertaking considering that heart’s size. I rode along for all the concern and for all the carefree too, and I’d enjoyed every country mile. It was mentioned, at least a few times, that Raylan and Boyd used to dig coal together. By sticking close to those two, the producers made sure that no matter how big the world felt you realized this tale didn’t much meander outside of one small town. You moved in as a new resident during the first episode and were sad to be packing up and moving on come the last.

But knowing when to go, and doing that on your own terms, brings its own joy. And that’s why weekly editions of Western Watchins end here today.

I know. I can hear the collective gasp of all four of you as you wonder what you’ll do for five minutes every Thursday morning now but don’t worry…I’m not done writing. Not even done with reviewing westerns. But there is a time for everything and now these wonderful reviews have had theirs. I kept my promise and never once stopped a one of them once I had begun. Sometimes they were fantastic, a few times I was delightfully surprised, more often than I’d wanted all I got was garbage and the stench of that pile wasn’t worth the sniffin’. I’d almost wrapped things up at 100 with Josey Wales but a new reader left me a simple comment that encouraged to me to continue. My words are marked with humor and their own inspiration. That’s a gift I don’t take lightly, a blessing I gladly share and the drive to do so weighed on me so much that the thought of ending my Watchins would bring furrows to my forehead and knots to my gut. I had to understand that it’s not the subject matter being discussed as much as it is the man behind the discussion who truly matters. I’m proud that for more than two years I’ve used my beloved westerns as a springboard to crack jokes and wax poetic about everything under the sun. I’m proud that I’ve made you laugh, moreso that I’ve made you think. You keep on coming back here and, in one manner or another, I’ll keep doing both. Now, before we ride off…

Justified is an undeniably outstanding show and one that’s incredibly special to me on a personal level to boot. My wife and I started watching this show with a dear friend of ours and finished it off the exact same way. That man is one of only three in this world I know who, beyond any shadow, would be there for me no matter the cost to himself physically, emotionally or financially. Unplanned, he and I both drained the remaining whiskey from our glasses just as Raylan and his Chief did the same on screen making for one culminating toast I’ll never forget. Then it all ended. Just as it had begun. With Raylan and Boyd on opposite sides of that proverbial coin. How do you even rate the kind of emotion I feel for all of this?

With something as unique as the show itself.

Timothy Olyphant had starred in Deadwood, a glorious show that never got the glorious send off it deserved. This time around I think Sheriff Bullock via Marshall Givens would have none of that. One shining Silver Star then is what I’ll leave here for Justified. The cylinder sits empty, no more triggers need be pulled, the smoke will clear and that star will forever shine. I’ve seen some tremendous T.V. in my day but nothing as good as all this, to say it’s once in a lifetime viewing is not at all an exaggeration.

And I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that it’s been my pleasure to write these 126 reviews, for myself and for all of you. Finding the right place to stop was a decision I did not take lightly and once I’d set my sights on Justified the additional burden of not only giving it a perfect sendoff but one for the Watchins as well sat with no little weight upon my mind. I’d already delayed it by a week and even contemplated pushing it off again doubting my abilities to compose, at the current moment or any future one, the perfect goodbye. But perfect is just an excuse. Wait for perfect and you’ll die having gotten not a damn thing done. I will never write the perfect review. I will never draw the perfect picture. I will never run the perfect race. I will never be the perfect husband. I will never be the perfect friend. And neither will you. But that’s a wonderful reason to get up tomorrow and every day thereafter my dear amigos.

Just to see if, on that particular day, you actually can.

Western Watchins: It’s time

 

Got me a busy week ahead, got a busier weekend on the tail end of that and I got a feeling in my gut that next week’s Watchins is gonna be something special. I didn’t feel justified in rushing it out the barn door so allow me instead seven days of delay along with the following insight.

If you’re in a room with other people and you’re the only one talking, no one is listening.

We all know folks like this. The moment they’re in earshot they’re shooting and it’s an unassailable barrage about what they’ve been up to, how great they are and what they’ve been up to makes them even greater. Even preachers, motivational speakers and candidates for public office pause and whether through direct conversation or simply casual eye contact they’ll confirm that you’re hearing them and, more importantly, they are hearing you. Good public speakers acknowledge you, are interested in you. The bad ones aren’t interested in much past the edge of the stage. Someone who listens builds a rapport and earns your respect. Someone who never shuts the fuck up will never be afforded these treasures.

And treasures, I can tell you, they are.

When someone shares with me after an event, in person or online, about how much fun they had, how inspired they’ve become or perhaps just how they felt noticed for the first time in forever, well that right there is my definition of success. And it’s a success more valuable to me than any gold. Anyone can talk into a microphone but it’s another thing entirely to change someone’s life for the better while doing so and have your own life change in return. It’s a tremendous gift, one I’m terribly thankful for, and it all comes back to listening. To the audience as a whole and to each individual heart in attendance.

I’ve stood in front of thousands over the years at so many outings I’ve lost count. As an established attention whore my breast, along with other more manly sounding parts, has always swelled with excitement. Excitement knowing that I’ll soon be bathed in fleeting admiration and cell phone flickerflash sure, but also so excited, more excited, the most excited…that right then and there I’ve got the opportunity to make a lasting connection to anyone within the sound of my voice. I’m here for you, you’re here for me.

My thunder cracks, and the room goes boom!

I stand in front of you all now in much the same way. For years a few of you have faithfully read my reviews. You all know my favorites, the rest and the worst. It’d be a real shame if I went on ranting and never took a moment to quietly see what y’all have to say. That’s important. Bein’ pals is a group effort else we’re just a gang of miscreants with a mal appropriated mouthpiece that never lets another open theirs. Everyone’s got a voice and while we all use them in different ways not a damn one is any better than any other just for being louder. So for a week I’m gonna go silent on the subject of that there western genre instead hoping you will do the kindness of sharing with me, here or on Facebook, what your favorite western is. Or the one that should be avoided at all cost. Or one of both flavors if’n you’re feeling inclined.

Know how very much I appreciate you, the dedicated, that have kept with me for so long. Hell, I don’t even know how many of you are really out there but figure if I just sit still for a bit, I might just find out.

Gracias, mis amigos, muchas gracias.