So long Old Friend

Tough day, boys and girls. Today I had to say goodbye to my sidekick and faithful companion, Rocky the WonderDog. Cancer and some other neurological stuff got the best of him. It’s too hard for me to say everything he was and everything I’ll miss. I’ll just say he was a good boy. Yes he was. Yes he was.

I’ll be back with my A to Z letter I, J and K. Promise. You just gotta give me a minute.

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Day 8: HAWKEYE #atozchallenge

hawkeye-5One of my favorite exchanges in the Avengers comes when Tony Stark is talking to Captain America and he says, “Following’s not really my style.” Cap responds with, “And you’re all about style?” And Tony says, “Of the people in this room, which one of us is a) wearing a spangly outfit and b) not of use?” Classic material. However, when considering the most useless Avenger, that distinction must go to Hawkeye.

Yes, friends and foes, heroes and villains, there is actually one relatively worthless hero in our supersquad. I loved the Avengers movie (surprise surprise) and I like Jeremy Renner. I even like the Hawkeye character, though I think his costume could use a little work. In the movie, they call him a master assassin but I see him as a bow-wielding, there-are-twelve-enemies? I-only-brought-eleven-arrows jackass with no sleeves.

That’s probably harsh, huh? Okay, I’ll give him his due.

In the comics, Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye is a little better than the bit part they gave him in the movie. He is an assassin of sorts, a superior marksman, and a former carny (for real). He starts out as a villain, crossing both the Black Widow and Iron Man before turning to the straight and narrow (because he got the cowboy shit kicked out of him). He gets sponsored to be an Avenger and becomes an integral part of the team.

Until his bow breaks.

Seriously, my man had his bow break in battle and adopted a whole new identity. Took somebody else’s powers and everything. And then he started going blind. Did I mention that he was deaf? What are you going to do with a deaf and blind archer? That’s like giving Helen Keller a weapon and a costume and calling her a superhero.  In the movie, they give him a little more: he shoots Sam Jackson and manages to take down the ENTIRE Floating Fortress with 2 arrows. He also sets up the best part of the movie: his exploding arrow tosses Loki into the hands of the Hulk.

In the movie, it’s worse. He ain’t deaf, just pointless. He was the first to switch teams when Loki arrived, got his ass handed to him by Scarlett Johannsen, and, rather than follow the fucking plan, got his plane shot out the sky while carrying the half of the Avengers that CAN’T FLY. I’m not a tactician but if a flying, bulletproof dude with a hammer forged in the heart of star is fighting another dude in a cape with a spear, perhaps you should let then do their thing and turn your air support on the invading aliens!

For all his snazzy arrowheads, my man has a limited supply of arrows. He’s forever going to be running out of ammo, sitting on the sidelines like he got hit first in dodgeball, leaving the heavy lifting to everybody else. In the end, there ain’t much use for Hawkeye (though he leads a couple iterations of the Avengers in the comics) and that’s his biggest villain: uselessness.

And if you’re wondering, I did the Hulk in last year’s A to Z Challenge. He was the villain.

Next up, Iron Man! Yeeaaaahhhh!

Day 7: Carl Grimes #atozchallenge

Carl-Grimes-Season-3I never do spoiler alerts. Ever. I figure if you don’t want to know what happens in a movie or TV show, don’t drop by somebody’s blog when they’re talking about it. Duh. However, this one time, I’m giving you fair warning: if you haven’t seen Season 3 of The Walking Dead or you might wanna catch up or you know somebody who knew somebody who talked once about watching The Walking Dead, you wanna move away real slow like. I’m gonna fuck it up.

Cuz today, I’m talking about Carl “Bad MF” Grimes. And I’m not talking about my usual put-a-hero-up-just-tear-him-down schtick either (I real wanted to use the word “schtick.” Don’t ask me why). This is real Carl-love. Well, as much love as a grown man can have for a fictional 12-year-old boy. Not like Arnold in the bike shop love–I mean…geez, that got awkward real fast, didn’t it?

How bout I have mad respect for Carl? How bout that?

So you know the premise of The Walking Dead, right? Zombie apocalypse. Gritty drama. Somebody’s gonna die every episode and they don’t give a shit about main characters. Yeah, that show. I’m not a zombie fan. I actually think this little genre’s been beat to death—by the time we have a zombie apocalypse romantic comedy, we have gone too far, people. Too far. But I like The Walking Dead for the human element. And for Rick Grimes, the police officer-turned leader of a rag tag bunch of people. I like Rick because, at the end of Season 2 and all of Season 3, Rick lost his muthafuckin mind! Like, seriously went crazy. I loved that about him, like Cuba Gooding Jr laughing at Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. I loved it!

Which brings me to Carl. Carl is Rick’s 12-year-old. In the span of months (I guess, I have no idea of time on this show), Carl has seen his father shot and put into a coma, THEN the zombies came and killed everybody, then he was on the run, then his daddy came back but his mama was shacking up with his dad’s best friend. You catch that? Talk about awkward—single moms, bring your new boyfriend to meet your kids for the first time. They show their asses, huh? Carl got a new stepdad who was his father’s police partner and best friend while his real dad was laid up in a hospital and zombies were running around eating everybody. But that ain’t it. Carl’s been through it: he got shot, saw the only other child on the show become a zombie (while he was looking for her), saw his father kill his own best friend TWICE (because people die and come back), delivered his own baby sister and then had to shoot his own mama because she was gonna become a zombie. Oh yeah, then his daddy went crazy.

You better not never bitch about ANYTHING that happens in your life again. Car broke down? Fuck that, you ain’t Carl. Had a bad day at the office? Carl’s day was worse. Somebody forgot your birthday? Ask Carl what he got his birthday: a fucking gun so he could shoot his mama in the head with it.

But that ain’t even my point: this kid is just taking it. Yeah he has his own 12-year-old bullshit but he’s rising to the occasion. He’s learning right and wrong and life and death in a new environment and making new rules. And he’s just rolling with it.

What I like about this character is actually what he’s becoming. I think about this character and what he’s going to be like as an adult, having grown up in this world, knowing what it was and seeing what it’s become. He’ll be jaded for sure, have a respect for life and a respect for death, and be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure his survival. Rick and the Governor and the zombies aside, I feel like I’m watching the most compelling character I’ve seen in a long time every time that kid is onscreen. And that, folks, is damn good television.

Day 6: FOGHORN LEGHORN #atozchallenge

foghorn_leghorn-5227I admit that I struggled with a likely subject for F. I only know a few heroes that start with the mighty 6th letter—I went over the Flash (whose comic I never read. I mean he only ran fast. LAME), then to ol’ Twinkle Toes himself, Fred Flintstone but I was never a Flintstones fan. I even considered Swiper the Fox but he’s only a villain and wouldn’t be appropriate. Then I thought about one character I love but never really talk about: Foghorn Leghorn, the big ass chicken from Looney Tunes.

I think I was in my 20s by the time I realized Foghorn even had a name—for me, he was always the big chicken. Then I had kids and had to distinguish between the big chicken on Bugs Bunny cartoons (because that’s what kids call them) and the Big Red Chicken on Dora. Anyway, I think it’s time to give the chicken his due.

If you don’t know him, just stop, go out to Wal-Mart or Target or freaking YouTube and just watch a couple cartoons with this big MF. His shit is HILARIOUS!! He’s the king of the yard but is disrespected by every other farm animal: the other chickens hate him, the dog keeps trying to kill him, and he’s hunted every other episode by a 3 inch high chicken hawk. He’s full of himself, arrogant, exceptionally proud—I can’t decide if this is his greatest flaw or the fact that he’s stupid!

Let me give you an example: the dog is working with the chicken hawk to fuck up the big ass chicken (I went back and looked at that sentence—grammatical travesties aside, you understood it, didn’t you?). We hear the dog say, “Chickens are naturally curious so…” Next thing we see is the chicken hawk building this huge contraption that has a pumpkin tied on to a catapult. Problem is, the chicken hawk can’t tie down the pumpkin. My man (the big ass chicken) comes by and says, “Now hold on, son, whatcha doin there? Step aside!” He ties down the pumpkin, walks away but has mad commentary: “I don’t know what’s wrong with kids these days, can’t tie down their own punkins. Back in my day, we didn’t need no help tying down our punkins, we just—hey, we never tied down no punkins. Hey Boy,” and WHAM! Face full of pumpkin! Cracks me up every time.

A few years ago, the Boy came strutting through the house, shirtless, like he owned the place and my wife said, “Hey Chicken-Chest, put a shirt on!” That’s what I think about whenever I think about Foghorn Leghorn. He’s both hero and villain, a victim of his own pride and arrogance. You like him because he’s funny, because he genuinely tries to do the right thing, but you cheer when he gets knocked down a peg. Getting his just desserts is what makes him endearing and tolerable.

Next, Carl Grimes from Walking Dead.

Day 5: ET #atozchallenge

ETI’ve missed a lot of things in my day. Trains. Planes. Taxis. Recitals (only a couple). TV Shows. Dinner. Plenty of things. I, however, have never missed my ride off an entire freaking planet because I was fucking with a flower.

When I was a kid, ET was an awesome, touching, magical experience about a boy and big-eyed alien. I felt for ET, so lost and alone, left behind by his compatriots, having subsist off the Reese’s Pieces generosity of an 11-year-old boy and building an interstellar cellphone out of a Speak-N-Spell and an umbrella. He was funny, his long neck was “interesting,” and I cried when they found him all ashy down by the river. ET was amazing. When I was kid.

As an adult, I really think ET was the dee-da-dee of the aliens. Seriously. Perhaps he should have had a helmet. And, to be honest, maybe none of the aliens were all that smart. OK, let’s say, this is a recon mission. The aliens come down into a Pacific Northwest forest to get some…plants? Plants? OK fine. Not as awesome as I would have expected but whatever. They get discovered by the human authorities and make a plan to leave. Now, when they sound the alarm because the police are coming, everybody manages to make it back to the flying Christmas ornament except one. AND THEY LEFT HIM!

And not just left him like, “Hey, we’ll be right back tomorrow. Meet us at the rendezvous point.” They left LEFT. These cats went home. Deuces. Sucks to be you, pal. Just left him.

I think it was intentional. And I think the other aliens are the real villains in ET.

When the military engages in clandestine operations behind enemy lines, there are some procedures they follow. It’s either “No man left behind” or, if you’re captured, we have protocols to get you back. Or, everybody goes on the mission with the understanding that, if you’re you’re caught, you are SOL. But those are military missions. Those involve us doing things we have no business doing in places we have no business. This is about plants. Trees. Dandelions. Shit, they could have called ahead. “Hey, we’re gonna swing by and grab some evergreens. Should be a couple hours tops.”

Instead, we’re supposed to believe this is a black ops mission behind some pinecones? Nah. I think our beloved character was voted off the island and left behind on purpose. “Don’t you hate, Gary? Yeah, I hate him too. I say next time we go out, let’s just leave him. Maybe some kid will find him.” Imagine how surprised they were when the Speak-N-Spell call came in: “Godammit! It’s Gary. How’d he get this number? We gotta go back!”

My point here is maybe ET was awesome to us as humans because he’s more advanced than us. But maybe he was the kid on the short bus on his own world. Maybe he wasn’t that fantastic and maybe they were trying to get rid of him. Maybe the other aliens are just jackasses. Maybe, just maybe, we sent back the weakest link. Just sayin…

That’s it for this one. Catch ya in F land!

Day 4: DON DRAPER #atozchallenge

don_draperI know I said I’d do Daffy Duck but…nah. Changed my mind. I can do that, you know. It is my blog. Not to say I don’t like the little black duck—and I especially love that he hates that long-eared bastard, Bugs Bunny—but I think I want to sink my teeth into something meatier: Mad Men’s Don Draper.

If you don’t know him or have never seen the show, Draper is a partner and the perpetually unhappy Creative Director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fictional advertising set in the 60s. The show’s five seasons (the sixth just premiered tonight) show Draper moving from his seemingly perfect life with a perfect wife and kids in the suburbs and his apartment and girlfriend in the city through divorce, changing social landscape, non-stop infidelity, to the launch of a new advertising agency amid the dawn of television. The show is all skinny ties and smoking in the office, two-hour lunches and full-service secretaries.

Advertising is about helping us find our deepest wants in the bottom of a bottle of beer or behind the wheel of an automobile. It’s about us finding happiness, about us buying happiness. Don Draper is one of the best ad men out there, he understands connecting a product to happiness. Problem is he cannot connect to his own happiness. He searches for it in work, women and drink and comes up short every time. This failure to be happy, to pursue but never attain happiness makes Donald Draper one of the most flawed characters on television.

But I don’t think that’s his greatest villain.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s very little to like in Don Draper and he’s the hero of the show. That means everyone else is not as good as Draper and he’s a jackass. He’s a womanizer, he’s condescending, he’s a liar, he’s good at what he does and an ass while he does it. His code of ethics is muddled at best, nonexistent at worst and right and wrong are fluid concepts to him. But he does make it all look so cool, doesn’t he?

I think Draper’s biggest villain is contentment. He has a lot to be happy about—he’s surrounded by beautiful women, he’s well paid, he gets to drink in his office, clients send him on trips, he gets to see the fruits of his labors on TV and in print, on billboards and in magazines. He stands head and shoulders above his peers. But it’s not enough. It only makes him content. Not happy. Content.

Contentment is being happy but not happy enough. It’s on the edge of something greater, something fulfilling. It’s something we cannot see, cannot define, something that lies on the tip of our tongue, urging us forward. In the Matrix, Morpheus called it a “splinter in your mind.” Many people stop at contentment, swallow life and call it enough. They settle.

Don Draper can’t settle. Enough is not enough. His problem is, this contentment, that dogged pursuit of out and out happiness doesn’t lead him anywhere. He’s running from contentment and has no idea what he’s running to. And this makes him a well-groomed, well-paid, highly effective fuck up. When the show starts, Don has enough—there’s nowhere else to go. The entire series sits on the shoulders of enough not being enough and that pursuit strikes a nerve in all of us. It’s why the show is as popular as it is.

I’m well behind but gonna catch up. Next is ET from…ET.

Day 3 (sorta): Captain America #atozblogchallenge

captain_americaAs much as I love the Avengers, I’ve never really been a Cap fan. He’s too much of a Boy Scout for me, he didn’t really have any powers, and he just had that damn shield. Throwing it never seemed that awesome to me. And he had wings on his head. Little bitty ones. It’s kinda tough to act like you’re all raw and you have little hummingbird wings on your head. I’m surprised no one ever brought it up.

Then I saw the movie. And what Captain America didn’t have in powers, Steve Rogers had in heart. He was a good guy who was willing to do what it took to make the right things happen. He lied to join the Army for the opportunity to die for his country, underwent a chemical transformation, fought the Nazis hand to hand, and got trapped in an iceberg trying to do the right thing. Problem is, he tried to do the right thing at the wrong time.

And time is, for Cap, his greatest villain.

Loki said it best when he called Captain America the “man out of time.” My man was frozen for 40 years in the comics, 70 years in the movies. He wakes up and the world he was fighting to save—and the morals he was trying to uphold—were gone. Think about this, think about those parents or grandparents who saw their entire adulthood defined by World War II and imagine if they weren’t around for what happened next. Steve Rogers, the kid from Brooklyn, gets frozen before WWII is over—he never gets to see the Nazis surrender, never sees the US drop the atomic bomb, never gets to come home to a hero’s parade. Never sees any James Bond movies so he has no idea of how awesome he could have been.

It doesn’t really matter who Captain America fights. In fact, the only villains I know that belong to him are as chronologically misplaced as he is: Baron Zemo, the Red Skull, the Winter Soldier. More often then not, Cap was fighting the very nation he swore to uphold. For a while he rejected being Captain America because he had a problem with what the United States did. Then, during Marvel’s Civil War series, he sided AGAINST the US government (and half the Avengers, including Tony Stark) in having superhumans register themselves and that stance culminated in his assassination. In the movie, he’s distrustful of SHIELD even though he’s the one meta-human that actually works for them.

Captain America is the right man in the wrong time. I don’t know what that says about him or us. Is his ignorance bliss? Is he better off for having missed what we’ve become? Did we stray too far away from what we should be? Is he the ultimate American, a physical embodiment of our nation’s values and purpose? Even with the wings? We’re having a love affair with Tony Stark right now, with his shiny new armor and witty disdain for structures and teams and monogamy. Tony Stark is us now. Steve Rogers is who we were supposed to be. And if that’s who we’re supposed to be, if he’s what it means to be an American, who’s really out of time?

OK, that’s too deep for me. We’re going to lighten it up with my favorite animated bird, Daffy Duck!