1000 Faces (Part 47)

I’ve got this idea in my head. It’s not fully formed yet, but there are inklings.

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It’s going to require a lot of snappy humor and visual one-liners.

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I’m thinking of calling it Two Panel Pictures.

Maybe.

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The Comeback Kid

Years ago, I had this friend named Jimmy. Jimmy was earnest, kind, and just a little bit slow. I met him on the bus to school. He had heard of me from a mutual friend and thought my being in honors classes made me the smartest guy ever. Immensely wrong but I did have good grades at the time, I suppose. Throughout the two years that we went to school together, he would always bug me with questions about his homework as we rode the bus. I obliged as much as I could, part of me unable to comprehend how he was unable to comprehend such basic material. He was always the talkative one, I not so much. I wasn’t very social at all back then. This is important.

During one of our conversations he found out that I lived quite close to him— three or four blocks. One day, he asked me to help him out with something because I was an expert in computers. I didn’t really know what that meant. I was twelve and had used a computer before. If that was criteria for being an expert in computers, Jimmy could have solved the problem himself. Instead, he said to come over to his house and that it would only take a few minutes.

We went to his house after school. Nice place, very homey.  He offered me saltines and rummaged through his fridge for something more. I said I wasn’t hungry. He asked if I wanted to watch some TV before I fixed his computer problem. I said there wasn’t anything good on. He took me to his computer and said there was something wrong with it because he couldn’t install his new video game. I tried installing his game. The only problem was that the next button on the Terms and Agreements page was greyed out. I read the Terms and scrolled down. The button ungreyed itself. I clicked next and installed his game. Jimmy looked at me like I was some sort of wizard. He then asked me if I wanted to play the video game with him. I said no, because he said this would only take a few minutes so I had told my parents I’d be home soon. He looked disappointed as I walked out oblivious.

It was only some time later that I realized Jimmy probably just wanted to hang out with me and manufactured a reason to get me to his house. Who’s the slow one again? Take that situation, replace well-meaning friend Jimmy with whatever girl’s name, playing videogames with something more intimate, and you also have a summary of my love life for the past decade. I don’t think I’m an expert in computers but I am definitely an expert in missed connections.

But that’s enough self-deprecation because this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about Jimmy.

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Everyone likes to think they’re the hero of their own story. I suppose they are, no matter how interesting or uninteresting that story may be. But that also makes everyone the supporting cast to someone else’s story. And there have been moments in my life where I realize I’m not the main character of this plot thread, like Ben Affleck’s character in Shakespeare in Love. Moments where I wish I could break the fourth wall and ask “wait, what do you mean I don’t have any more lines?”

The scene is this: 7th grade gym class, waiting for class to start, two kids looking for something dumb to do. Jimmy and I were big fans of professional wrestling. One of our favorites was Kurt Angle, who was known for his devastating Ankle Lock maneuver. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the most simple move in the world. Kurt grabs his fallen opponent’s ankle and twists until they submit from the pain. Immediately understandable and imminently imitable.

Jimmy and I were talking wrestling and he comes up with the great idea for us to wrestle. I thought it’d be fun so I agreed. I didn’t realize that by doing so I was volunteering as tribute. He immediately put me in an ankle lock and started twisting. That was when part of the illusion shattered as it didn’t really hurt much at all. When he twisted one way, I just tilted the other way. Overall, it was slightly ticklish. But from a distance it looked like two kids getting in a fight.

By this time our gym teacher had come up the stairs. Mr. Meneses was typically an easy-going guy, full of laughter and warm regards. But it was also well known that he trained in multiple martial arts and was a legitimate badass. So when he yelled “Hey! What are you two doing?” we thought we were in so much trouble.

Jimmy let go of my ankle and explained that we were just play fighting, like the wrestlers on TV. He was sweating bullets the whole time. The typical response to students fighting was suspension for everyone. But Meneses just laughed and said that the stuff on TV was not even close to real wrestling. And then he offered to demonstrate what a real ankle lock was like. Jimmy and I looked to one another and back to Meneses. I said yes first. I didn’t realize that by doing so I had volunteered as tribute. You can sense a pattern emerging.

Without warning my gym teacher flipped me onto my back, intwined his legs with mine, locked his arms in, and before I could process it he was already applying pressure. It was only the slightest torque but I tapped instantly. The pain was over and we were left awestruck. That was the coolest thing our teacher had ever done. Jimmy was through the roof and excitedly asked if he could learn how to do that. I didn’t realize that by doing so he had volunteered me as tribute. I spent a good part of that class period being twisted like a pretzel.

Mr. Meneses was also Coach Meneses, as in the coach of the wrestling team. That day Jimmy joined the team. I started seeing Jimmy less then. He now went to wrestling practice after school instead of riding the bus with me. We were the same height but after puberty and a couple months of training, he was a walking tank. High school completed the split as we went off to different, far-off schools.

In my senior year Jimmy messaged me on Facebook and we finally had that previously aborted hangout. I learned what had happened in the intervening years. He got onto the varsity wrestling team as a freshman and always performed very well in competitions. He finished his senior year first in his division. His house now had a trophy cabinet. After high school he attended a university in Montana on a wrestling scholarship. He got a degree in kinesiology and now works as a personal trainer. On the side he cuts trees for a lumber company and fixes cars for an auto shop. He volunteers as a high school wrestling coach. He lives a relatively simple life. He’s incredibly, enviably happy. I’m really proud of that kid.

From time to time I wonder how things would have turned out for Jimmy if our gym teacher hadn’t basically assaulted me that day. Maybe he would have just joined the wrestling team later on. Or maybe he would never have found that spark. I don’t mind being a plot device in someone else’s story, as long as it’s a good story in the end. Puts life in perspective.

Now that was a story about Jimmy. But the titular kid making a comeback is me. I’ve been down but never, ever out.

Good things coming.

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Chasing Windmills

These are formative moments— moments that contributed to the everything that I am. This is a history of me, and a history of him. It might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

Let’s start at the beginning.

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When I think of my father I think of Terminator 2. Dad had no idea what the movie was about and didn’t even speak English at the time. His friend said I’d probably enjoy it, lent him the VHS, and that was good enough for my dad. I was eight years old and my father looked entirely uncomfortable as the movie started off with a sweaty and naked Arnold Schwarzenegger. By the end we were both in tears over the T-800 giving the thumbs up and sacrificing himself.

Terminator 2, for those unaware, is one of the most perfect movies ever. It is just the right mix of action, humor, and earnest feeling. Forgiving time paradoxes and predestination, it’s just a story about a kid growing up. John Connor connects with the T-800 because he’s never had a father and he teaches it what it means to feel and to be human. It’s absolutely heartbreaking when they have to part.

Every year since, I’ve thought my dad resembled the T-800 more and more. Because that was my dad in a lot of ways— a stoic man who finds it hard to express himself but always well-meaning in the end.

I can’t bring myself to watch that movie these days.

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When I was young my father would take me to the park every weekend to play basketball. I always hated that. I was lousy at basketball and all I wanted to do on the weekend was wake up late and play video games. But he pulled me out of bed every Saturday morning anyway and drove me to the basketball court. I didn’t get it at the time. Kids rarely get anything and always think their parents are wrong about everything. Then kids grow up and realize how stupid they used to be.

My dad never said he loved me. But I never questioned that he did. That was just his way. If I’ve inherited anything from him it’s a weakness for words. I find it hard, at times, to convey the entirety of what I feel. Of course it’s difficult for the mouth to speak for the heart. Actions always speak louder and his actions seem so obvious in retrospect. He wanted to spend time with his son while he could, in the limited fashion that he knew. When he started having to work weekends, I suddenly missed being terrible at sports.

When it was still a regular occurrence, the basketball was always followed by a lot of reading. That was the silver lining in it all— the library was right next to the park and while I wasn’t very athletic, I was an avid reader. In the early years, it was books about science, with diagrams and pictures for kids to understand. I wanted to know everything there was to know about the earth. I grew up a bit and the earth wasn’t as interesting any more so I read about other worlds. I lost myself in the fantasy of Hogwarts, and Narnia, and Middle Earth.

My parents liked it. By all indicators I was a gifted young student. I was doing well in all my classes. I was engaged in productive outside activities. I was reading nonstop and always bugged them for new books.

And then I fell in love.

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It was lunch time on the yard. I was eleven years old. I saw my friend doodling away in his notebook and in my arrogance I thought to myself that I could do better. I tried. I couldn’t. Nothing has ever motivated me more than having my ego shattered.

When I was twelve I took an art class during an afterschool program. The teacher, Daniel, was a talented young cartoonist, fresh out of college, and eager to work with youth. It occurs to me now that I have become Daniel, minus the beard, French caps, and a large degree of his talent. I was Daniel’s favorite student because I actually spent the hour drawing instead of milling around with friends. I wasn’t much of a talker then. That old weakness for words.

Daniel took it upon himself to get me to open up. I told him what movies I liked, what kind of books I read, and that I wanted to draw like him. Sometime later he placed a big book in front of me and asked me to tell him what I thought of it next week. It had a striking cover— a big smiley face, specked with a dash of blood and the title in big bold letters: Watchmen. I read it all that night. It was the first comic book I’d ever read and it was like I had stepped through the wardrobe into another world. I liked to write. I liked to draw. Comic books seemed so obvious.

It was the little things that got me. The way a scene can be set with no words, just a picture and some colors. The minute visual details that aren’t apparent until a second reading. The difference in pacing and the importance of composition. The juxtaposition of a speech bubble and a thought bubble, one betraying the other. Big panels, small panels, no panels. It was an open canvas, free for experimentation. Even now I don’t think the medium has reached its potential.

That weekend I went back to the library, on my own this time. I read all the comic books they had to offer. I was introduced to Shakespeare via Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I learned about folklore from Hellboy. A lesser known work called The Coffin blew my mind with its musings on the nature of the soul. And in between I read the superhero pulps, the real whimsical stuff that reminded me that behind it all it’s about having fun. Stuff like the X-Men shooting the living island Krakoa into space by reversing the magnetic poles, because yeah that’s how science works. I would know. I read books with diagrams when I was a kid.

The drawing led me to comic books. The comic books influenced my drawing. I was drawing nonstop then. My family had bought a stack of notebooks for my sister and I to use in class. I burned through half the pile with just doodles and drawings. By whatever windfall, this time coincided with a sharp decline in my academics. Across the board my grades were dropping. I almost failed math twice. My parents weren’t happy. They blamed it on the video games, the comic books, the constant doodling. They were probably right, as usual. Dad asked me what was going on, he said I loved math. He was wrong. Comic books were my first love. They’ve broken my heart many times over and I’ll always crawl back to them.

By the time I was in high school my grades were better. But I never wanted to be academic again. I wanted to write the next great American novel. I wanted to direct a blockbuster film. I wanted to be a renowned artist. I used to want a lot. Some dreams are just that.

There was this one day. I was locked up in my room, feverishly drawing away on another notebook. It was a drawing of some monster or whatever. Utter dredge. Dad had stepped in and was watching quietly over my shoulder and said that it was actually pretty good. He said maybe I should go to art school, if that’s what I wanted. I never did end up going to art school, but it still meant a lot that he was okay with me pursuing it further and that he understood how important it all was to me.

I remember visiting home from college a few years ago. I had recently changed majors and felt completely lost. I was out shopping with my dad and we bumped into a family friend who asked what I was studying and what I was going to do after graduating. As I struggled to answer what I wanted to do with my life, my dad stepped in and said whatever it was, he was sure it would be alright.

Everything would be alright.

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Two years ago I read this amazing comic book called I Kill Giants. It was the most intense feeling I’d had reading a comic book in a long time. The short of it is that it’s about a girl who fantasizes about— you guessed it— killing giants. Eventually it becomes apparent that her adventures were her way of coping with the reality that her mother was on her deathbed. Reading those final pages of young Barbara Thorson confronting her giant and accepting the inevitability of loss devastated me.

It was only a few months prior that my dad had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. You can probably see where this is going by now. I felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness at the end of the book. It was a cathartic reaction to a pain yet unfelt. I read and watched a lot of things along those lines at the time. I thought that would make it easier when the end came.

It didn’t.

Rest in peace dad.

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Everything is Red

I’m just gonna keep drawing Cyclops because as much as people bag on him he’s one of my favorite X-Men.

And now a poem from Scott Summers, Cyclops:

Roses are red

Violets are red

Everything is red

Oh God, what’s wrong with my eyes?!

This almost works for Daredevil too.

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Cyclops once saved the day from Sentinels by convincing them to fly into the sun. Wolverine can’t even get through airport security. Who’s the better X-Man now?

Fight me, nerds.

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We’re in This Together, Except When We’re Not

He loved her from afar and left much unsaid.

She saw something in him when all he saw was red.

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Scott and Jean’s wedding song was One by U2. A strangely on point look at their complicated relationship, but probably too bittersweet for a wedding. Then again, considering their children are time-travelers they probably knew how it would all end.

One is actually a pretty appropriate song for the couple overall when trust issues (and death) tore them apart. But I think We’re in This Together by Nine Inch Nails works beautifully for them up to the Dark Phoenix Saga. In an alternate universe, Scott fighting to the death on the Moon for the woman he loves is the music video for that song.

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1000 Faces (Part 46)

So there’s that saying “when one door closes, another door opens”.

Sure. A motivational quote. A great sentiment. Whatever.

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I want to look past the metaphorical and delve into the literal here. What kind of asinine construction is going on in a room where closing one door opens another door? There’s always going to be at least one door open. That is frankly unsafe and irresponsible.

Let’s look at the mechanics of this room. Barring some electronic automation, the only way one door could open due to another closing is if the doors are 1) in close proximity to one another and 2) light enough that the force of the air current from closing one opens the other.

I figure the minimum number of doors required for such a set-up would be three, arrayed in a triangle. Of course the more doors you introduce, the more circular the room gets, which further begs the question: why?

One possibility is that due to budget constraints or whatnot, this singular room is unable to be wired with electricity. Lacking light bulbs, the only source of illumination would be from open doors. The revolving door set-up allows for light at all times. This supposes that this room is deep within the interior of a building, because otherwise normal people would just put in a window.

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Another possibility is that this is a room meant for low-grade psychological torture. Assuming an individual is trapped within this building, the impossibility of closing all the doors for peace of mind would gradually drive one mad. The question again is why?

Enter Rod Serling stage left. “You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. Where when one door closes, another door opens. And through that door– the Twilight Zone!”

Rod steps off scene to the sound of a door opening and a chorus of boos for wasting the audience’s time.

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The Butterfly

The butterfly is a transformative creature. And not just in a biological-metamorphosis-cocoon-party-type-way. Sometimes the butterfly is just some small thing that flutters in and changes your day.

Now the other day I was having a rather bum time. I was too tired, too stressed, and too put upon. Not much to do but ruminate on my probably-possibly overblown and yet all too real hardships. Human nature.

And then the butterfly flew in. I was walking up the street and coming down were two kids, one on a bike and one on a skateboard. The kid on the skateboard was holding onto the kid on the bike, moving along in dangerous tandem. Things you would do too if you were ten years younger and dumber.

And as I stepped to the side to let them pass, skateboard kid extended his hand and shouted “high five!”

I didn’t think anything of it. Society’s shaped me to respond instinctively. I shot out my hand and for a brief second five and five was ten. The kid yelled “alright!” and was past.

I couldn’t help but chuckle. Such a small interaction instantly brightened up my day. That kid had the gist of it. No matter what else was going on, it would be alright.

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That’s how I feel.

I’m a fan of idiosyncrasies, laughing at jokes no one else gets, and Oxford commas.

Happy New Year, from my heart to yours.

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Danger (Part 5)

You probably thought I forgot.

I mean, it has been more than two years.

But that’s the thing.

I never forget.

The best things in life are worth remembering.

When I went back to this file I found it had twenty-six layers. That’s absurd. Present me is disappointed in past me.

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By whatever providence, there will never be a better time to mention that Danger 5 is the best show ever. Check it out. It might make your brain explode.

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Never Grow Up

Whatever happened to long summer nights?

I remember talks about the future,

and dreams of something more

The days seem shorter than they used to be

Life was supposed to be an adventure

Now there are too many bills,

the kids aren’t alright,

and the magic is gone

Never grow up

You’ll only be let down

They say I’m a man now,

that I should know what to do

But I’m really just a lost boy

Aren’t you one too?

NeverGrowUp

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1000 Faces (Part 45)

I can’t recall the last time I said I was going to do a particular post next and then actually did it. It was probably a long time ago. I still intend to do those posts about Dichotomous Prime, and the ballad, and the love story, and everything else I’ve promised because I keep my promises. Eventually.

But in this moment I had to get this out of my system because it’s become so routine that it’s therapeutic. It helps me find the beauty in things when everything seems ugly.

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In this moment, everything is awful and I hate everybody.

Just another Saturday.

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