Thursday, February 28, 2013

Doing My Part To Reinforce Stereotypes

To All My Fellow Awkwardians, I Bid Thee Hello!

They say that if you haven't used or looked at something in over a year then you should probably get rid of it.  If that's the case then I really need to get rid of a lot of crap.

Unwilling to immerse myself in the spiritual nadir of a flea market or a swap meet setting, I decided to post some of my loose detritus on Kijiji.  So far, this has been a tremendous success.  In selling some of my unwanted crap I've made enough money to purchase a new board game and procured the budget to acquire each new ship in the ever-expanding X-Wing fleet.   

One of the things I put up for sale was my Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition Player's Handbook and the intro module Keep on the Shadowfell.  This is no big loss since I've wanted to turf this stuff ever since I cracked the cover of the Type-Four Player's Handbook.  At the risk of inflaming the Edition Wars: Fourth Edition sucks Herculean amounts of ass.

Actually before I get a bunch of geek-rage-marinated posts and emails sent to me, let me qualify that statement just a little bit.  Fourth Edition would actually be a tremendous system for, say, a superhero role-playing game.  But, for me, the Fourth Edition ruleset is about as good a match for D&D as raisins are to...well, just about anything.  Seriously, why ruin a perfectly good dessert by including something that has the consistency of a cured booger?

Heh.  If you didn't agree with my militant anti-raisin stance before, then I bet you do after reading that last line, huh?  One of us!!!  One of us!!!    

Anyway, Monday night I got an email from a nice lady who expressed an interest in buying the Player's Handbook and the aforementioned module.  Here's how the email trail went down:

HER:  I would like to buy the books!
ME:  Sure!  I'm at _____________.  TEL ________.  I'll be around anytime tomorrow if you want to pick it up.
HER:  Can I come by around 330/400?  Also do you have a DM guide?

To this I thought: 'Wow, she actually knows enough about the game to inquire as to whether or not I have a matching Dungeon Master's Guide.  I wonder if she's getting it for herself?'

This is what I wrote back:

"That time is okay for me!  I'm afraid that I don't have a DMG.  Sorry (insert lame sad smiley emoticon thingie).  Having said that, between the Player's Manual and the 'Quick Start Rules' included in Keep on the Shadowfell, you should be able to get started at least.

"Hope to see you later.  Take care and have a great day!"  

With these arrangements made, I promptly went to work editing the audio for our latest entertainment-related podcast.  Now, I tend to get pretty engrossed in what I'm working on, especially if it's something that I'm really invested in.  This seems to happen to the detriment of everything else, including arrangements I've made hours ago for someone to come by and pick up an item that I no longer care about.

Oh, and just a quick word about working from home.  Since, as a boss, I'm kind of a slave-driver I like to give myself a bit of leniency when it comes to the dress code.  Now, please don't think for a moment that I don't wear pants when I'm working.  I usually wear pants.  Usually.      

What I'm trying to say is: I have a tendency to let personal hygiene lapse a bit when I'm working from home.  Not for days mind you.  I brush my teeth twice daily and floss every morning lie a good little obsessive-compulsive.  But since I really sincerely believe that daily maintenance is actually kinda bad for you, I sometimes go a day without washing my hair.  This usually necessitates wearing a scruffy-looking Guinness baseball cap that my beloved wife brought back for me from Las Vegas in 2007.  As you can well imagine, after wearing this hat every other day for the past seven years, it's starting to look a tad threadbare

"Why don't you get rid of that ratty old thing?" she'll ask occasionally, sounding slightly cross.  "One of these days you're gonna put it on and require a tetanus shot."

In response to this I usually remind her about my odd-shaped cranium and how difficult it is to find a hat that doesn't make me look like a pinhead ("One of us!!!"  "One of us!!!").  As such, I'm probably destined to wear this hat until it looses structural integrity and disintegrates like an over-chewed stick of Beeman's gum.

Shaving's is also a bit of a bugaboo for me.  In fact, this clip from The Simpsons nicely illustrates the futility of shaving for me: 

So, this was me last Tuesday afternoon: a day's worth of Unibomber-ish beard growth and my unkempt hair concealed by a hat clearly liberated from Dublin's dodgiest Value Village.  Given my own draconian work ethic, my personal appearance was pretty much the last thing on my mind that day.  The only thing I cared about was reviewing, editing and then writing the accompanying post for an entry that I was hell-bent to complete by day's end.   

While feverishly hammering away at this, I caught myself scrubbing away at an itchy spot just underneath my nose.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a giant gout of warm liquid sprang from my nose and started streaming down my top lip.  I reflexively dabbed a fingertip there and it came away scarlet red. 

'Fiddle dee dee,' I thought to myself.  'I appear to be bleeding.  A lot.'

I rushed to the washroom, trying not to drip gore everywhere.  I looked in the mirror, took my hand away and was immediately shocked as a veritable geyser of blood left from my face like Regan's spinal tap pre-op scene in The Exorcist.  I quickly put pressure on the area with a piece of tissue paper and then promptly began the process of wondering what the f#@k had just happened.    

Now I know that, for a lot of you out there, the inimitable words of one Ralph Wiggum have probably spring to mind:

"The doctor said I wouldn't have so many nosebleeds if I kept my finger out of there."  

Um, yeah, thanks.  

Like all classic geeks, I will admit to a history of nosebleeds.  In fact, I had so many of them as a kid that I daresay that only Eric Northman is more familiar with the taste of blood.  But between a strict regimen of using a vaporizer to soften the dry winter air and a strict regimen of...*a-hem*..."keeping my finger out of there", thank you very much, I haven't had one in at least five years.  

After taking a closer look I noticed that the blood wasn't even coming from my nose.  It was coming from just below it.  I've always had a predominant and oh-so-sexy red vein perched close to the skin just underneath my snout.  While rubbing it absently I must have brought it to the surface and caused a rupture.  

So there I was, frantically trying to stop the bleeding like Dan Aykroyd in his French Chef skit when, all of a sudden, the phone rang.  Then, and only then, did I remember that I'd made arrangement for some sweet anonymous lady to stop by and surrender her hard-earned cash for my unwanted D&D swag.

With a swiftly-saturating piece of toilet paper plastered onto my face I ran to the phone and picked it up.  Sure enough, it was my unsuspecting Kijiji customer.  My heart sank. 

"'Ullo?" I managed to grunt through my not-so Kleenex.

"Hi!  It's _____!  I'm here for the D&D books!"

"Oday, ahl be dowd in a minnud!" I managed in reply, knowing damned well that I wouldn't be down in anywhere close to a minute.  

I ducked back into the bathroom and tried some last minute Hail Mary / Florence Nightingale shit in a vain effort to impede the hemorrhaging.  No matter what I tried, nothing worked.  With a perforated vein as the culprit I just couldn't get it to stop.  All I could do was grab a relatively unsullied piece of paper towel, run downstairs and then hope to complete the transaction before I ended up looking like an extra in M.A.S.H.     

Now, what I've been describing thus far sounds awful, but as I opened the door to the lobby it actually got a lot worse.  As it turns out, the person with whom I'd been corresponding wasn't buying the books for themselves.  They were buying them for their kid.  The same kid who was standing expectantly in the foyer with his moms right now.  Honestly I have no idea how old the kid was, since I'm really a poor judge of this sort of thing.  Just suffice to say that he was very young.  Way too young to see me in the state I was in, that's for sure.

Both of them looked completely aghast as this bleeding, vaguely-transient-looking weirdo whipped open the door to the foyer and practically threw a bag filled with books at them.  Books, I will remind you, that help people pretend to be elves and wizards and instructs them on how to go about slaying orcs and dragons.

"T...thank you," stammered the mom.  "Um...okay, honey...go ahead and give the nice man his money."

I'm pretty sure that I heard her add a barely-audible 'BE CAREFUL' under her breath as the kid shuffled incrementally towards me.  Wearing a facial expression suggesting rigor mortis, the child shakily offered me a handful of bill, stretching out his arm to the full extent of his reach.  I immediately snatched the money out of his clenched paw and then quickly turned to leave.

"'Tank 'oo," I blurted out from behind my increasingly-scarlet gore-rag.  I heard the mother remotely parrot back the same statement as the front door clicked shut behind me.  I quickly ran back to my domicile, hoping and praying that I wouldn't run into and subsequently spook any of the easily-startled senior citizens in my building. 

The bathroom mirror confirmed the worst.  I cursed under my breath as I took stock of my frightful appearance.  I looked woefully at the ratty, dirt-smudged beer hat crammed atop my birch-broom mop.  I silently chided myself for the day's worth of beard growth that might as well represent a week.  I grimaced at the sight of my nose, upper lip and chin cleft painted with dried hemoglobin.

To my poor traumatized customers I have only these three humble things to say:
  1. I'm sorry.
  2. Mom, please don't think that playing Dungeons & Dragons necessitates your child participating in some sort of blood-drinking Satanic rituals.
  3. I assure you that I'm not selling all of my stuff to support a raging cocaine habit.        

The French Chef by y10566

FAIL-ING THE PHYSICAL   See?!?  It's medical, dammit!!! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Romancing Your Inner Extrovert

 Olá, Fellow Orators! 

Although most of my previous jobs have been pretty craptacular, I'm thankful that at least one of them forced me to get over my paralyzing phobia of public speaking. 

It was during my University tenure when I first discovered my crippling fear of group presentations, as detailed here and here.  Although I managed to avoid the cold, communal eyes of my fellow classmates for most of my education, I couldn't avoid it in the workplace.  When I became a manager at Sears I was forced to do training for the staff.  Eventually I got over the thought of being silently appraised by my peers and, in turn, I soon discovered the power and reward inherent in becoming an effective orator.

So, when I began my monthly readings as part of the Left Bank Poetry / Open Heart Forgery group I already had somewhat of a leg up.  Having conquered my reptile-brained fear of public speaking I could now read in front of a group of strangers with relative ease.  Although it's a daunting prospect for most people, the rewards are considerable.  Honestly, there's nothing sweeter then applause, even if it comes from a charitable crowd who are already somewhat predisposed to what you're doing.

Ever since I was told that people have to hear about your book seven times before they consider buying it, public readings are indispensable to me.  Personally I try to do at least one a month but in all honesty, I'm such a ham that I'd probably do one every day if I could.

Although I personally don't do a lot of prep work before a reading, I certainly don't expect you to follow that particular lead.  In fact, if you want a few pointers from someone who's actually done this a coupla times, you're more then welcome to these tidbits: 
  1. What strikes fear into the heart of Fear?  Two words: preparation and knowledge.  Quite often the training material that I was given at Sears was so poorly written and organized that it would have been a slow motion train wreck if I'd been stupid enough to present it as is.  Without altering any of the actual content, I always tore it apart and re-arranged it so that it was easier to present, conducive to memorization and didn't bore the bejesus out of my audience.
  2. Talking to yourself isn't as nutty as it sounds.  Do some out-loud practice reads before the big show.  This'll help you uncover any potential verbal snares and it may even inspire you to do another round of editing.  And trust me, for most of us, that's not such a bad thing.  
  3. Spalding Gray you ain't.  Time yourself while doing your practice runs.  DO NOT, for the love of everything holy, read the lion's share of your latest unpublished novella out loud.  DO NOT overstay your welcome.  Try and limit your time to around five minutes or so.  Remember what the frozen head of Walt Disney says: "Always leave 'em wanting more".  That or, "Can a brotha get some robotic legs all up in this bee-yotch?"      
  4. Don't go to a coffee kegger before your reading.  Even if you're tired and logy, try to avoid the temptation to guzzle a gallon of liquid motivation.  Trust me: once you get up there sheer adrenaline's gonna kick in and carry you through.  You're gonna be nervous enough without the completely useless ability to vibrate your physical body into another plane of existence.
  5. Make 'em laugh!  Humor is an indispensible tool for snagging the audience's attention and holding onto it for dear life.  Having said that, make sure that what you intend to read is actually funny.  P.S. your best judge of this is probably not your mom.
  6. Be Great-(ful). When you get up there, thank your host for the opportunity to speak and then thank the gathered for agreeing to listen to your lame ass blather on and on about some pointless crap.  Also remember: confidence.   
  7. PROJECT, DAMN YOU, PROJECT!!! Unless you're working with a sound system that would make Iron Maiden proud, you're gonna hafta do it the old fashioned way.  See that sad, squinty, spectator in the back of the room with their hand cupped to their ear and the look of frustration etched onto their face?  If you can get that person to hear you then everyone else should be gravy.  As a corollary try not to yell so loud that the audience pees a little.    
  8. E-NUN-CI-ATE!!!   E-NUN-CI-ATE!!!  Lack of volume is bad but mumbling is even worse 'cuz then even the poor shlubs sitting next to you can't hear anything!  Although it's wise to make each word sound distinct, try not to over-emphasize every single syllable.  You want to sound clear and concise, not like your at the reading only because the facility you're staying at let you out on furlough.  
  9. Take a seat or just retreat.  If you find yourself on the verge of fainting then sit down or drape yourself over the parapet-like defensive wall of a podium.  Although shaking like a cat dipped in icewater will probably engender considerable sympathy from the audience it also inspires feelings of pity and pity is the last thing your want.  Typically, people have a really hard time multitasking pity with anything else.  This includes listening to someone who's speech is clearly equivalent to the act of public self-flagellation.   
  10. Don't be a READ-BOT 2000.  Go out of your way to vary your pitch, tone and volume.  When you do dialogue, try to speak like your characters would speak.  Speed up the pace during action scenes and slow down for quiet moments.  Blurt out a sound effect.  Use your voice to establish a mood.  If you sound bored by what you're reading, then what are your listeners to think? 
  11. Where's the fire, sonny?  You win at public speaking by successfully conveying your message while entertaining the audience, not by blasting your presentation out like a radio ad, stumbling back to your seat and then passing out from asphyxiation.
  12. Find your oasis of tranquility.  Periodic eye contact with a friendly face in the crowd make it feel as if you're talking to a single person.  This can really put you at ease.  I'd also recommend that hoary old chestnut of picturing everyone in the audience nekkid but you're probably doing that already, ya pervs. 
  13. Be an extrovert, even if only for a few glorious moments.  Assuming that you're not tethered to a mike or frozen in place like a rabbit in the middle of the TCH, you really should consider moving around a little bit.  Break away from your podium-perch and wade out amongst the people like a literary Ellen Degeneres.  Use gestures to illustrate the actions that you're reading about.  If you're feeling particularly frisky, why not lick one of the audience members at random?  Y'know, just to make sure they're paying attention
  14. Remember: pain is temporary  Although it may seem like you're up there forever, I promise you it will end.  And when it does you'll fee invincible.  So why not have some fun while you're up there? 

One of the greatest things about going to these readings is watching people improve as public speakers.  It's great to see folks who were once barely audible or shook like they were afflicted by some terrible, anxiety-fueled palsy,  blossom into confident, relaxed and highly-effective speakers.   It's all very empowering. 

Honestly, if you consider yourself to be a writer or have ambitions about being one, you really need to learn how to do this.  It isn't just a handy skill, it's downright mandatory.

So, my last piece of advice: just go ahead and push yourself out of that open airplane door and start getting better at it tout suite.

EPIC SPEECH  For actors, the power of public address is indispensable.  Here's an oldie but a goodie: Charlie Chaplin's closing monologue from The Great Dictator.  

IRRATIONAL FAILURE  There's probably some deep psychological underpinnigs as to why I was completely terrified of group presentations as a kid I also loved my pet tarantula.  Here's a list of the Top Ten Common Phobias

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Can We Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

Salutations, Self-Satisfiers!

More then any other age group, it seems as if Baby Boomers have linked their jobs to their identities and subsequently, their feelings of self-worth.  I'm not even talking about the doctors, lawyers and action heroes in this age group, I'm talking about the sixty-eighty year old customer service rep sitting across the aisle from you in the call center.  You know the guy, the two-pension-collecting multiple retiree who seems to have an inexplicable, masochistic desire to be screamed at by strangers.

If you ever get a chance to ask him why he's still slaving away at some crap job I'll wager that he says something like:

(best read in the voice of a grizzled 1860's prospector)

"Tarnation!  It beats sittin' 'round at home watchin' Kojak.  'Sides, if you aint workin', you might as well be DEAD!"

And herein lies the crux of my point.  Of all the current generations still chippin' away out there, it's the venerable Baby Boomers who still cling doggedly to the whole "JOY THROUGH LABOR" lie propagated by our corporate taskmasters.  So, why is that?

In once sense I really can't slight them.  After all, one of the first things we ask people upon meeting them is "So, what do you do for a living?"  Unless you just bumped into that dude from the Dos Equis ads, 99.9% of the time the answer to that creatively bankrupt question is gonna be more boring then a Taylor Swift interview. 

Personally I'd much rather learn about someone's creative talents.  Or what book is currently getting them through their morning commute.  Or their ideal travel destination.  Or what television show they prefer to spazz out on.  Or what their favorite childhood toy was.  Answers to questions like this allow you to really peek into the window of the soul, as opposed to scrying the boring details of some obligatory task that most people feel obliged to perform just to prevent themselves from starving to death.

Well, at least the Baby Boomers believe that face-to-face interaction with real, bona fide, flesh and blood human beans is a mandatory catalyst for entertainment.  This is important to me since I really do believe that technology is making us more and more socially retarded and physically disconnected from one another.  Unlike people my age and younger, Boomers don't seem to mind the "pop in" and they actually seem kinda wistful that impromptu social calls don't happen anymore.  These people seem to be at their happiest sitting around a kitchen table just havin' a yarn.  The only conversation lubrication they require is a cup of tea and maybe a deck of cards if they're feeling particularly wacky.

This is in direct opposition to Generation X and onward.  If I invite a bunch of my friends over to my place, invariably their next question is: "Okay, so what are we doing?"  Beyond triggering feelings of conversational inadequacy, I can't help but think: 'Jesus, can't we just sit around and talk like civilized adults?  Why does there always have to have a friggin' AGENDA, fer Crissakes?"

Our ability to find distraction everywhere is arguably our greatest talent, but for many Boomers, this just isn't an option.  Since many of them eschew the bugbear of technology in lieu of a good old-fashioned chin-wag, Boomers seem notoriously difficult to entertain.  A lot of them dismiss current movies and music as worthless.  Hand them a video game controller and they recoil as if you're offering them a dead vole.  Many of them are convinced that the the only decent analog games involve a crib board or wooden letter tiles.  And although they tend to avoid cable networks like the plague, they still watch the bejesus out of network T.V., which I think may be the real leading cause of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Sorry, but if I thought that the shite peddled by the major television networks was my only valid entertainment source, I'd probably lose touch with reality pretty damned quick as well.

For the past three years I've had no boss to answer to, no schedule to adhere to and no performance appraisals to be threatened with.  Because of this some people would liken my current existence to retirement and I think, to a certain extent, that this is a fair cop.  But these same people also need to know that I haven't been bored for so much as one millisecond in the past three years.  The most difficult challenge I've had to grapple with is a bout of temporary paralysis in the face of what fulfilling and awesome thing I want to do next.

Now, don't get me wrong, as a boss I'm a bit of an asshole.  I definitely work longer and weirder hours then I ever have.  I could be composing a blog entry here, volunteering for a good cause, crafting a movie review, recanting a session report, doing background work, editing travel footage, researching alternative news, hammering out the latest chapter in my next book, drawing some freaky picture, providing content for a friend's iPad ap, tapping out a short story, figuring out how to do a better podcast, filming a boardgame tutorial or creating a poem.  There's no shortage of things to do, just the amount of time I have to cram it all in. 

That's doubly true for my so-called "down time".  During the summer I can flake out at the beach, take a nature hike, hop on my bike, go swimming, pitch a tent or biff a tennis ball around.  Granted, my options are a bit more limited during the winter but I can still can catch a documentary on Netflix, play a solitaire boardgame to learn the rules, indulge in a Game of Thrones marathon, lure my unsuspecting friends into a Google + Hangout dungeon crawl, plan my latest road trip, get my ass beaten senseless by some Malaysian kid in an X-Box Live Halo match, bliss out to the tune of an iPod playlist, blast through several years worth of webcomics, listen to a gaming podcast or read one of a trillion different books. 

Unfortunately, for many Baby Boomers, many of the pursuits that I've just cataloged are completely Greek to them.  Except, of course, for Greek Baby Boomers in which case many of the pursuits I've just cataloged are Double Dutch.

But look, younger people don't have a monopoly on such diversions.  Don't give up on pursuing new things.  Or more precisely, don't give up trying to figure out how to do new things.   

Now, do I think that every single person over the age of fifty adheres to the tenants I've described here?  Hells to the no!  There are plenty of tech-savvy, dialed-in, pony-tail-wearin', wireless-networkin', smart-phone gropin' seniors out there.  I also know full well that the 2008 economic crash unfairly gutted many a senior's life savings and robbed them of their pensions, tragically forcing them to postpone their well-deserved retirements.

This post isn't directed at those people. 

It's directed that all those selfish idiots who still labor under the misconception that society might degenerate into anarchy if you abdicate your pivotal role as a Wal-Mart greeter.  It's directed at those cranky oldsters who linger around like entitled wraiths, surrounding themselves with co-workers they can barely tolerate just because they'll listen to how things were "so much better" back in "their day".

Please, please, I beg of you...just go home.

But first, swing by the store and pick yourself up a decent video game console.       

Photo credit:

EPIC ADMISSION STRAIGHT FROM THE BOOMER'S MOUTH   I'm so not motivated by money that this angle hadn't even occur to me. 


AGEISM FAIL   See, Boomers can be cool!  And let's face it, ain't nobody gonna replace these guys when they retire...   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Not Everyone Is A Critic, But They Damned Well SHOULD Be

Hey, All You Siskels and/or Eberts!

As a member in good standing of several communities on Google + I'm constantly amazed by what people consider to be good creative works.  Now, I'm a big proponent of the concept that every movie, game, book, comic, band and T.V. show has its own built-in audience but I also know that sometimes things just plain suck.

My dad, bless his heart, used to take me to the theater quite a bit as a little kid.  Unfortunately his taste in movies was questionable at best.  I remember, even at that discriminating young age, sitting through such diverting but sketchy dreck as The Cat from Outer Space, The Land that Time Forgot, Caveman (starring Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach!) and the truly deplorable Hangar 18.  This last one was a particularly memorable experience for two reasons:
  1. After being knocked out and slung over the hero's shoulder, an anonymous goon reaches up to keep his hat on his head.  Ohhhhh...
  2. Before the movie started the theater inexplicably decided to show what amounts to a modern red-band trailer for a British sex comedy.  Since the audience that day consisted mainly of hormone-addled, desperately horny pre-teen boys who had never seen boobs before, the denizens of the theater (present company included) promptly lost their shit without further ado.    
As a kid, if someone asked me about a film that I was lukewarm on I'd often say something boring and non-committal like: "Well, yeah, I guess it was alright."  Looking back on it now, I'm convinced that what I really wanted to say was "that movie sucked like a Hoover".  I think I served up these milquetoast dismissals mainly because I was too polite or lacked confidence in my own judgement.  Honestly, there's nothing wrong with saying "it blows", "it rawked" or even "it was m'eh" just so long as you can articulate your position reasonably well.  Until you can do that, then you're just kidding yourself.  

So why do we do this?  Why do we have such a hard time admitting when something is wrong and/or terrible?  Perhaps it's because we've just laid down our hard-earned money for the privilege of hearing new music, reading the latest bestseller or catching up on last week's home video releases.  Even though I firmly believe that we shouldn't pirate stuff and that artists should always get paid, sometimes I can't help but feel that, half-way through a crap movie, I've been hoodwinked somehow.  After all, a fool and their money will inevitably be parted.

My interest in formal criticism was sparked years before I read the works of John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Martin Heidegger in University.  In fact, it all began in 1983 with the release of a little indie picture called of the Jedi.  Now I've already recanted my troubled relationship with that flick in anal-retentive detail elsewhere (here and here for all you completest types) but a brief summation still bears repeating.

In 1983 I was totally obsessed with all things Star Wars.  I completely and utterly enthralled by the first two parts of the saga.  But after watching the final film of THE HOLY TRILOGY, I was left feeling strangely cold somehow.  It was if my best friend had been replaced by one of the Pod People from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  

I couldn't put my finger on it by I felt let down by the film somehow.  The revelations seemed ludicrous, not to mention kinda icky.  The movie looked relatively cheap and slapdash.  Compared to the modern mythos established by the first two films, the tone of Jedi felt completely juvenile and flyweight.

Since I was still completely under the thrall of Lucasfilm, I had a really hard time giving breath to my secret misgivings. If one of my friends tried to solicit my opinion about Jedi, I'd always play the apologist.  "It's good!" I'd enthuse, sounding suspiciously Stepford Wife-ish.  "I don't know if it's as good as the first two but, y'know, it's...good."

And then came that fateful day when I picked up the November 1983 issue of Starlog Magazine.  I didn't know it at the time but this historic periodical would also soon introduce me to the wild and wonderful world of Dungeons & Dragons.  But even before that happened, I bought this issue purely for noted sci-fi author Norman Spinrad's review of Return of the Jedi.  

As soon as my thirteen-year-old self was ensconced in the back seat of the family car for the return trip home I whipped open the magazine and went right for the review.  Since everything that Lucas and company had touched thus far had immediately turned to gold, I fully expected that Norman's review would act as a positive, geeky bulwark to protect my unflagging Star Wars fandom against the rising floodwaters of doubt.  But as soon as I read those first two paragraphs, I began to feel a cold chill creep over the sub-cockle region of my heart:

"I had my trepidations about reviewing Return of the Jedi and by extension, the completed Star Wars trilogy before I saw the film, and now that I have, I'm even more nervous about committing the act of lese majeste that honesty requires.  This is a dirty job but someone has to do it.

"Not to leave you in suspense, let me say at the outset that, in this reviewer's opinion, Return of the Jedi is a bad film.  It is bad on almost every possible level.  As science fiction, it is massively illogical.  As drama, it is anti-dramatic.  As action-adventure, it manages to make about two hours of almost continuous fast action and spectacular effects boring.  And as the capper to the Star Wars trilogy, it is a dreadful letdown that betrays most of what virtues the first two films in the trilogy had.

"On to the sad task of autopsy."

I was complete gobsmacked.  Over the course of four vitriolic pages, Spinrad went on to mercilessly savage the film.

At the time, I remember thinking to myself: 'Well, clearly this guy is an idiot.  He doesn't even know anything about Star Wars!'  After all, Jedi had a lot more plot then Blade Runner, which Spinrad had positively orgasmed over in a prior review.  Far from having "little or nothing to do with the rest of the film", the rescue of Han Solo served to illustrate the maturation of Luke Skywalker and his marked development as a Jedi Knight.  And never in the entire saga have the words "nuclear power" ever been uttered.       

I remembered throwing the magazine down in disgust.  If Spinrad likened his review to an autopsy then I was convinced that he should be sued for malpractice.  He even went so far as to raise the nasty specter of incest.  Incest?  In a Star Wars movie?  Seriously?  At the time I felt like a devout Muslim who'd just watched someone defile a copy of the Qur'an right in front of me.

But eventually I started to calm down and I read it again.  Yes, a lot of what Spinrad had written was ill-informed and inflammatory, but it also made me think.  The script did kinda suck.  The Luke / Leia / Han love triangle had been boringly dispensed with.  The second Death Star was a creatively bankrupt concept.  Jabba's courtiers were disgusting, the Ewoks were transparent marketing ventures and every alien looked woefully fake.  And if Lucas was aware of the relationship between Luke and Leia all along, why the hell did he let them make out with one another?  Seriously, that's just gross.

I'm telling you this because I know that it's difficult to dislodge our entrenched perspectives, even in the face of irrefutable evidence.  Slaying sacred cows often leads to irrevocable complications.  But I'm here to reassure you that it's downright imperative to do this from time to time.  Every day that goes by I grow increasingly terrified that society is getting more and more ill-informed, narrow-minded, obstinate and less discriminating.  We're far too willing to accept things at face value and embrace the mediocre.

I also know that the sort of paradigm shift that I'm proposing won't be easy since the exact same thing happened to me again as an adult back in 1999.  It took months for me to admit that The Phantom Menace makes Return of the Jedi look like friggin' Shawshank Redemption.

The moral of the story is: ask about the source of your pablum.  Take a peek behind the curtain.  Don't let your scared inner child force you to bury your head in the sand when you know full well that something is undeniably bad or terribly wrong.

EPIC REVIEW  Here it is folks, Norman Spinrad's historic diatribe against Return of the Jedi, in all its gory vitriol.  Man, talk about your Rancor monster...

(Make sure that you right-click and open each page in its own tab to read it better.) 

EPIC PLUG  You can catch my own brand of persnickety at my sister blog Entertainment Tourettes.   

THE CONSEQUENCE OF FAIL-URE  Not only will listening to our inner critic save our world, it might also cut down on some of these godawful parody movies...