Archive for February, 2013

A Car Chase in Camas

The only time I would ever be caught dead in a place like Camas, WA. would be to visit friends. That said, I never thought I’d come close to actually dying in Camas. I was lured from my hermitic, lazy day-off at home by the friendly promise of tortellini and lobster bisque soup. Never would I claim to have foodie sensibilities, but I can be easily coaxed from any activity by the word “bisque”. Another minor miracle was how quickly it took me to actually get to Camas from my burb to the west of Portland. A half-hour; that’s it. Usually, it takes an hour.

In short, the evening of fancy-ish feasting was meant to be. Good food was had with good friends, geekeries were discussed. And I departed – or rather rolled – out of the house duly satisfied.

But that wasn’t the real “fun”.

I’ve left my friend’s house on a number of occasions, and – even with my crappy sense of direction – managed to drive home with relative ease. Not sure what happened this night. Either it was the immenent carb crash, or the fact that it was midnight, but I took a wrong turn about two streets away. I “thought” I was on the right avenue leading down the hill and onto Highway 14, but apparently I was a block off. Or more.

Not sure how, but I ended up in some affluent part of the neighborhood. The average house was three stories high. Cars along the curbs outclassed my five-year-old Focus by a good $20K, at least. In my attempts to leave the lavish but labyrinthine neighborhood, I ended up at the top of a hill – tailing a beat-up Subaru Forrester/Volvo-ish-looking car. The driver seemed to take notice and…stopped, blocking my egress.

I waited a good three minutes for him to either (a) continue driving or (b) turn off the road. He did neither; he simply waited there. Lights on. A part of me wanted to honk the ol’ horn, but it was late at night in a rich neighborhood. So, I did (what I thought was) the only sensible thing. I flashed my brights at the guy.

That got his attention. He turned his car a tad to face me- squinting. The driver was a gravelly-faced, goateed mess of a man. Far different than what I expected to find in this neighborhood in specific, but…strangely fitting for Camas in general. He squinted at me; I waved for him to move.

After a moment or two of pantomiming, I gave up on the stopped Gravel-Faced Goateed Guy, and turned my car around to find another route. Then I saw something behind me – the same beat-up Subaru/Volvo-ish car Gravel-Faced Goateed Guy was driving. It was him, and he was in hot pursuit. This instantly gave me (and my car) pause.

I pulled over. He pulled up next to me. I raised my arms and pantomimed a “What?!”.

He yelled out, “Roll down your window!”

Aaaand I went from curious to scared shitless in .05 seconds.

Putting foot to pedal, I hauled arse away from him. Gravel-Faced Goateed Guy was right on my tail. I swerved in and out of every twisty road in the Street of Dreams-esque subdivision. He angled and dodged to keep pace. Another car – a Sable, I think? – was parked up ahead. A driver occupied it as well. I wondered if it was GFGG’s back-up. I sharply turned to avoid hitting it, narrowly missing the front bumper. GFGG’s beat-up-mobile dodged to the left. Now, we were neck and neck, side-by-side. It was an honest-to-Yahweh race across McMansion row.

When we were window-to-window, he shouted at me again, “Pull over now!”

Obviously, I didn’t adhere to his request. Instead, I picked up speed. All the while, fumbling with my Droid to dial 911. Have you ever tried to dial on a smart phone in the middle of the car chase? It’s not possible; I’m convinced. Unless you have it on speed-dial, which I didn’t. I tossed my phone away and continued attempting to shake my pursuer.

For what seemed like eons, I darted in and out of cul-de-sacs and cross-streets with GFGG parallel to me. A couple of times, he hugged so close to my car, I thought he would ram me. All I could think was, FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK! Where was a bloody road I recognized?!

One more turn…and I gave up.

GFGG skidded his car to a stop, blocking the road like some sort of redneck cop. He stepped out, flannelled, breathing heavily…and pissed. This time, I rolled down my window. I held up my hands in surrender and repeatedly stumbled the phrase, “I’m sorry, I’m lost. I’m lost. I’m lost!

He stopped within a few feet of my driver’s side window and sternly said, “I’m not going to hurt you. Turn your dome light on. Now.”

Hands shaking, I obeyed. GFGG checked my passenger seat. Then simply left. Once his beatmobile was gone, I slowly rolled up my window. Heart still thumping a mile a minute, I started the Focus back up. The entire way home, I kept asking myself, Dafuq just happened?!

Three days have passed since then, and I have a theory. I believe that GFGG lived in the neighborhood, saw me tailing him and assumed I meant him ill-will. He was probably some sort of…uh…Neighborhood Watch Hick. Or something. When he checked the back of my car, he was probably searching for weapons. What made him assume I was a threat? Well, it certainly wasn’t the Focus I was driving. But the fact that I flashed my brights at him from the start probably didn’t help matters.

All said, we were two scared-shitless men at midnight assuming the other was a danger. I can say this with a certainty, though, I won’t be getting lost in a rich neighborhood any time soon. Ghettos are safer.

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Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 Musings 12 Comments

Top 90s Anime You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I’ve been an anime (read: cartoons from Japan) fan for most of my life. If there’s one generalization I hate hearing, it’s that the 90s were considered the “dark age” of anime. That is, until the advent of Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star and their ilk. Since my otaku (read: geek) side blossomed during this decade, I get rather defensive when I hear 90s anime being derided. Sure, there was a lot of crap. (I’m looking at you Genocyber.) However, there were several gems, too. Many of which most normal folks have probably never heard of.

So, I thought it high time to list off a few of my more esoteric favorites from the dark-aged decade that was.

Here are:

My Top 90s Anime You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

In no particular order.

Combustible Campus Guardress

I would never have heard of this OVA (Original Video Animation) if it weren’t for an anime group I was loosely affiliated with in high school. It was released in Japan in 1994, but never jumped across the Pacific pond. And, to this day, I’m confused as to why.

Billed as a parody of the “supernatural high school” genre, the story centers around Hasumi – the titular “guardress” of the title. Her high school is built over a “hellmouth” of sorts, and her duty is to protect her step-brother – the key to unlocking said gate. Demons called Remnants repeatedly invade the school to take said key out. Luckily, the students and faculty are trained in supernatural combat.

Sounds a lot like Buffy, doesn’t it?

Highlights:

The animation and fight scenes are incredible for the time. And despite its lampooning style of storytelling, some of the characterization is rather well thought out. Hasumi remains one of my favorite female protagonists in all of animedom.

Lowlights:

At only four episodes, it’s painfully short.

The Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors

In the early-to-mid-90s, Pioneer (yes, that Pioneer) tried to get into the anime game. Many of the titles under their umbrella were rather impressive. El Hazard, Tenchi Muyo, and Bastard!!! were all thanks to them. However, the series they hyped up as one of their flagship titles never got much fanfare after its initial release.

The Hakkenden is based on a 200-year-old Japanese novel originally titled Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (or “The Eight Dogs Chronicles”). The story is long and epic. To summarize, it deals with eight samurai half-brothers who are all part-dog. I’m…not kidding. The chapters focus on their attempts to find one another, and their quest to bring the Satomi clan back to prominence and prosperity. It’s all very Bushido.

The animated version took a more surrealist and subversive turn, emphasizing the horror elements of the series. It also added a bit of grey to the normally black-and-white/good-vs.-evil events of the story. Clocking in at only thirteen episodes (and one clip show), the sprawling epic was sometimes difficult to follow. I had to re-watch it twice to finally pin all the plot points down.

Highlights:

The animation, the music, and the characters. The story has a very deliberate pace, and the visuals are always striking. The eight protagonists are some of the most fascinating and diverse of all the samurai fiction I’ve absorbed.

Lowlights:

For some reason, directing duties for some of the episodes changed hands, leading to dramatic shifts in animation style. The experience wasn’t too jarring, but two episodes in particular stood out as complete eyesores – “Horyu Tower” and “Hamaji’s Resurrection”, episodes 4 and 10 respectively. The former’s style was too cartoonish compared to the rest of the series, and the latter opted for hideous rotoscope animation. Never a good idea.

Sol Bianca

Three words: Female. Space. Pirates.

The story centers around the crew of the pirate ship for which the series gets its name. Said crew are also named for months out of the year – Janny, Feb, April, May and June. The ship itself is an ancient vessel of unknown technology with the capability of “diving” into hyperspace, as opposed to warping like normal vessels. It is also implied that the ship is biotech in origin.

The series only spanned two episodes; the first was a bit of a stand-alone, while the second tried to set up a larger story-arc. Unfortunately, NEC and AIC – the corporate entities funding the project – scrapped any future development, leaving several plot threads dangling.

In the late-90s, the female crew were given a second lease on life with the Pioneer-backed, six-episode Sol Bianca: The Legacy. The series had nothing to do with the previous incarnation. Aside from the ship design and the character names and likenesses, everything else was changed.

Highlights:

Everything. Simply everything. The first episode of the original series was lightning in a bottle. Storytelling, character development, scenarios, everything about it worked. The second episode was a tad weaker, but still held up to the first.

Lowlights:

Everything about Sol Bianca: The Legacy. God, what a celluloid abortion that was.

Toki no Tabibito: Time Stranger

Yet another anime that never saw a stateside release. I first caught wind of it when I saw various scenes in an AMV (anime music video) a fan had made. The animation was so breathtaking, I had to track it down. Keep in mind, this was 1993. Pre-Internet. By “track it down”, I had to beg a smelly bearded man for a bootleg VHS.

Thankfully, it was well worth the awkward effort. The story focused on a youth from the 25th century who escapes his despotic world. Unfortunately, his vehicle is damaged in the escape attempt, and he makes a pit stop in the 20th century to jury-rig his time machine to a bus. Unlucky for him, though, the bus is already occupied by students and a teacher who join him on his time leaping against their will.

The movie actually came out in 1986, but since I didn’t discover it until the 90s, I’m flimsily including it on this list. It was far darker a story than I’d anticipated, but I rather liked the direction it took. Some of the events play out far differently from other time travel tales.

Highlights:

The animation. Man, this was a fluid piece of work. The detailed art was impressive as well, especially considering that this was pre-Akira.

Lowlights:

The pacing and the 20th century characters – particularly the women. They were annoyingly, stereotypically Japanese. That and the movie ended on a rather open-ended, abstract note. A trope in anime I never liked.

***

There are plenty of other anime from this dark age I could recommend, but I’d better cut this short for now. That’s enough geeking out for one entry. I may jot down more at a later juncture. Do give those titles a looksy if you find yourself in need of a good time-waster.

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Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

Work Rallies, Book Launches, Epic Nachos, and Facestalking without Finesse

Friday The Work Rally

When everyone else on the planet was enjoying Friday like it’s a Friday, I – and several others at my job – were toiling through it like it was our Monday. In other words, it was busy – unusually so for this time of year. Added to that was the announcement that we were having a “work rally” in the middle of the day. One that would take up about an hour or two; a lot of productivity lost.

I had next to no desire to attend, but we had no choice. It was mandatory. One thing many of my compatriots were looking forward to was the prize drawing. Raffle tickets were handed out to see who won an iPad 2. Shrugging, I also took a ticket.

I thought to myself, Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I – the Droid/PC user – won it. Then scoffed.

The drawing was made.

And I won the iPad.

You win this round, God/Fate/Universe/Whatever.

SaturdayThe Book Launch

A good friend of mine, Justin W. Price beat me to it. He published an actual book. Not an ebook (anybody can do that), but an honest-to-Hemingway, in-print book. To celebrate the occasion, he was having a launch party at a bookstore in the middle of the quaint little burb of St. Johns. Several friends of his were also performing poetry and music live at the event.

The whole time, I sorta kept to the corner of the bookstore by the food. One particular musician caught my eye, though – a gorgeous redhead with a voice like Tori Amos’s and Reginka Spektor’s lovechild. Her song “Imagine” really tugged at the ol’ heartstring. Naturally, I wanted to know more about her.

After her set was done, I did the only thing a red-blooded, shy geek would do. I surfed around for her Facebook on my phone. As I was doing so, though, someone addressed me.

“Are these cookies?” a feminine voice asked.

I looked up. It was her. I clumsily put my phone down and hastened an, “I-I think so?”

The continued conversation was awkward on my end. It was like being caught with your pants down. It didn’t help that the book corner I was occupying was the Young Adult section.

The final poetry performer was Justin himself, reading some poems from his book, Digging to China. My favorite of the set was “The Battle of Bunk Bed Ridge” – mainly for the childlike aspect on display. Before I departed, I congratulated him…then thought to myself, What was keeping me from finishing something like that?

Sunday Epic Nachos

It was Super Bowl Sunday, and I had to work for part of it. Normally, I could give two shits about football, or football-related events. But my friend JL throws an awesome party every year for said game. What draws me every time, besides catching up with old friends? Nachos.

JL makes the most epic nachos on the planet. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.

It didn’t matter to me which team won or lost, Epic Nachos always won.

Many people were in attendance for the occasion – fifteen-to-twenty by my “beer maths”. As I devoured nachos by the plateful, I noticed a couple sitting in the large easy chair in the living room. The girlfriend/wife/er-something – Italian to the core – was being very highly sociable. She “seemed” familiar.

On a number of occasions, JL had mentioned a gal that was his go-to drinking buddy. I wondered to myself if she was the one he referred to. To Facebook, I went. I noticed that JL had tagged her in a status update, and I “investigated” from there. In the process, I had “LIKED” said status update.

Moments later, I received a friend request from her. I accepted. Mere seconds after that, there was a message on my Wall:

It’s been a pleasure Facebooking with you from less than 2 feet away.

It was the second time that weekend my attempts at Facestalking had been noticed. Clearly my FB-ing skills aren’t that ninja. I should work on that.

Or not.

Monday, February 11th, 2013 Musings 4 Comments

I work for tea money.

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