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Friday, February 26, 2016

Get Cracking: A Cautionary Tale

As you may have noticed if you've been paying attention to my blog over the years, I have a, shall we say, staggered posting schedule. You may be tempted to chalk this up to laziness, but the narrative that I'm going with is that I'm not the type to just toss a few sentences about my lunch up online and call it a day. I want to make sure that every single one of my posts is fully realized and interesting, so I space them out and give each one a lot of thought. Quality over quantity, as it were. Trust me, I've made nearly $5 off my blog's ad revenue. Clearly I know what I'm doing.
This sort of thoughtfulness goes into my social media posts as well. To wit, the subject of the day: my Instagram. Or more specifically, a set of circumstances surrounding an Instagram post that taught me a valuable lesson using one of the most effective educational tools of them all: crushing disappointment.
Our story begins on a little avenue near my apartment that links a main street to the freeway. It's an unassuming road that I have traveled down and back again with pals and/or confidants on many occasions, without much of interest other than a smog check shop, a couple storage facilities, and a Motel 6 that I think someone got stabbed at once. There is one thing, though, that caught my attention. Someone living on that road has a four foot-tall nutcracker standing guard in in their front yard. Now, it is common knowledge that nutcrackers are generally pretty creepy, with their amphetamine eyes, gaping mouths and penchant for shattering hard objects with their jaws. Their military garb insinuates some sort of cannibalistic super solder program and no amount of Christmas ballet can cover up their wantonly destructive nature. This inherent creepiness only get ratcheted up when said nutcracker is the height of a child with a mouth big enough to crack skulls like so many filberts.
But the icing on the creep cake is what piqued my interest in this particular nutcracker. Someone had gone ahead and carved words into his forehead. Was this was the home of a retired Aldo Raine? It made no difference. It was the words themselves that mattered. Specifically, the 'cracker's wooden forehead was adorned with one simple phrase: "Bring on the nuts." And when I beheld this phrase, my eyes lit up. Inspiration shook me to the deepest recesses of my corpuscles, and I squealed with glee. I had a dynamite idea for an Instagram post.
The idea was as simple as it was ingenious. I was to take a photo of the nutcracker, making sure that the "Bring on the nuts" phrase showed up clearly on camera. Then, after choosing the optimal filter to emphasize my subject's aesthetic qualities, I would post it with the following caption:

Looks like this guy's ready for election season. #politicalhumor #nailedit

I don't think I need to tell you what an incredible, next-level Instagram post that would have been. To be frank, I fully expected it to eventually establish a precedent for awarding an individual the Nobel prize based largely on their Instagram posts. It was as slam-dunk-can't-miss-brains-exploding-out-of-the-back-of-your-skull-but-not-in-a-way-that-makes-children-cry-unless-those-tears-happen-to-be-tears-of-joy-at-the-beauty-unfolding-before-them as it gets. All that stood between me and certain rapturous acclaim was a short walk down a sidewalkless street to snap the photo. No problem.
OR WAS THERE? Here's the problem with any idea, even a great one: until it is actually acted upon, it remains just that-an idea. An intangible thing that only exists as part of a neurological process that can be altered or halted at any moment. In order to give an idea value, it has to be put into action, and in the case of an artistic idea (and the nutcracker Instagram post is unquestionably artistry with a capital ART), it must be created in order to mean anything, to bring it to life. Otherwise it's just hilarious hot air.
But hey, that's fine. I had the utmost confidence in my concept. And the execution was so simple that there was really no rush. I had important things to do, after all, like try to get a gold trophy in every single Grand Prix in Mario Kart 8. Besides, the location was so close that I could walk there from home, getting my daily exercise and exemplifying 21st century efficiency. And so the weeks flew by, as every day I would drive past the nutcracker and every day I would think about my prospective post of astounding hilarity and every day I would put it off until later. No big deal; procrastinating is one of the hallmarks of a true savant, after all. I didn't attain my coveted position of Prime Minister of the Nation of Procrastination by just sitting on my laurels. Wait no, that's exactly what I did.
Anyway, one fateful morning, I traveled down the road expecting to see my wooden friend, mentally tinkering with my planned hashtags. Was "#nailedit" too overused? If not, then what would replace it? Oh, wait, look! There was old N.C. in the distance, standing guard as always, waiting for his photo op. But today something seemed off, and as I approached closer, I laid eyes upon the true face of horror. There the nutcracker stood as usual, with one macabre difference: the top portion of his head had been chopped off and was laying on the ground beside him. Someone had pulled an O-Ren Ishii on the poor guy! And consequently, the coveted phrase that served as the basis for my earth-shattering joke was gone, uselessly residing on the lopped off chunk at the nutcracker's feet. Somewhere out there in the great beyond, the souls of millions of laughs yet to be had were snuffed out in an instant.
Instantly I chastised myself for my perpetual inaction. Though I could hardly have predicted some scoundrel scalping the subject of my japes, the fact is that I could have, and should have, taken the photo I needed some time during the many months prior wherein the nutcracker still had a complete cranium. My lethargy had screwed up a sure thing and deprived so many from the side-splitting humor I had been aiming to provide. This was far beyond mere egg on my face. This was nut on my face.
Actually, let's not go with that.
I tell you this story not to inspire pity nor sadness, and certainly not laughter. I tell you this story to just plain old INSPIRE. Inspire you, whomsoever you may be, to not take things for granted. To not simply assume that things will always remain the same. For you never know when life, perhaps in the form of a psychotic lumberjack, might snatch away the forehead you need in order to make an awesome joke online. I definitely should have known better, since at that very same home months before, I had missed the opportunity to see a haunted house that had been set up by the homeowners by putting it off until November. How was I to know they would take it down after Halloween? And don't even get me started on the falafel restaurant that closed before I got one last pita pocket of chickpea goodness from there.
But I digress. In summary, if an idea or goal is important to you, act on it before it's too late. Instead of putting it off until next year, put it off until next month! Instead of waiting until August to do something, wait until halfway through July! Reach for the stars, or at least put reaching for them in your calendar and try not to create any scheduling conflicts. Otherwise, you'll end up like me, devastated as you witness a beautiful dream reduced to whatever the evil version of fairy dust is, stuck forever in your brain as the means to bring it to life ceases to be.
Heh heh, election season. Hoo boy, that was really a good one!

ADDENDUM: After writing this post, I went out to go take a picture of the partially decapitated nutcracker to add to it, only to find that he has now been removed completely. There's probably a lesson to be learned in this, but I'm not sure what it is.

Joey Marsilio will eventually get around to providing links to his Instagram and his novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #347: The Comic Book that Got Me into Comic Books

   

     I spent about a decade or so of my formative years living in a mobile home park that was, at the time, known as Mobileparks West. Not to be confused with a trailer park (despite my parents frequently referring to it as such), Mobileparks West was a community of manufactured homes in which arson was strangely rampant. We eventually had to abandon our home there when we found that the interior of the walls was largely comprised of toxic mold.
     Rather than dwell on some of the sordid elements of the park, such as time I happened upon an active crime scene containing an unfortunate gentleman who was fatally shot in the head on his front porch, let me ruminate on some positive memories from those halcyon, methy days. Specifically, a formative experience that occurred in 1991 at a magical place known as First Mart. First Mart, for those who are unaware (all of you) was a little convenience store at the mouth of the mobile home park, nestled in a tiny strip mall with a handful of other local businesses such as Pizza Broker and...that's all I remember. A haircut place, maybe?
     But yes, First Mart. Truly living up to its name, First Mart was the first mart of any sort one would encounter upon exiting Mobileparks West, and also the site of an important milestone in my juvenile life: my first comic book. Well, let me rephrase that. I may, possibly, have read a comic book before that-some Gold Key Tom & Jerry deal or something along those lines-but I had never had any significant exposure to the genre most commonly associated with comics: superheroes. But one fateful afternoon, while trying to decide which cheap treats might best facilitate the early onset on diabetes, I happened to catch a glimpse of something that would change all that.


     The image was so arresting that it stopped me in my tracks. What was that horrible thing with a long, slimy tongue and huge, ragged-looking eyes? Why was he snarkily referencing Shakespeare? And was Spider-Man...dead? How could this be? I simply had to know more. Lurid, suggestive imagery had certainly held my attention at First Mart before...the poster for Child's Play 2, the VHS box art of In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro (bloodthirsty baboons were big business at the box office back then)...but this was something I could experience without parental approval or VCR access, for the low, low price of only one rumpled, Dr. Pepper-stained dollar. I grabbed it off the spinny rack like a hyena snatching up an unattended infant and rushed to the cashier to claim my bounty.
     My adventurousness was rewarded with a suspenseful tale that held my rapt attention. It unfolds with a groggy Spider-Man awakening on a beach, disoriented due to events from the previous issue (which I had never read until sometime in late 2014, incidentally). As it happens, he is stranded on a deserted island with his arch-nemesis Venom (the long-tongued creature from the cover), who has brought him there for one final life or death battle. One thing is immediately apparent: this is no mere flight of fancy, but rather Serious Business. Only one of these guys is walking away. The stakes were high, and I was hooked.
     The name of the game here is survival. Spider-Man is up against seemingly impossible odds, as Venom is essentially a more powerful version of him, who is more familiar with their current territory and who has the chameleonic ability to blend into his surroundings. Basically, it's the last act of Predator, if the Predator happened to be spouting insanely violent threats like this:


     And much like Schwarzenegger in that legendary opus, ol' Web Head soon realizes that winning a face-to-face fight is out of the question. He is, quite simple, overmatched. As he narrowly evades Venom's savage attacks and stumbles through such eerie locales as an abandoned mining village and a crumbling cemetery, Spider-Man struggles with the fact that, more than likely, he's a dead man. He'll never see a friendly face again. He'll just die, brutally, agonizingly, on this island, all alone save for his deranged murderer. It is a bleak, hopeless sentiment far removed from Tom & Jerry's zany cartoon adventures, that's for sure. Well, except for this one.
     Adding to the foreboding atmosphere are several brief asides the story takes focusing on Spider-Man's family and friends. As his wife, aunt and former lover try to go about their daily business, they find themselves consumed with dreadful thoughts regarding the whereabouts and fate of their mutual loved one, who has unexpectedly gone missing and who, frankly, is involved in a pretty hazardous line of work that more than justifies their concerns:



     These scenes really show the devastation that the superhero lifestyle can cause, really making the gravity of the situation tangible and personal. But lest you think that nine year-old me was a razor blade and noose afficianado, the story isn't all doom and gloom. These vignettes of emotional torment help pave the way for one amazing panel, one singularly incredible showcase of perfect 90's-ness:


     Aunt May's display of awe at a pre-fame Jennifer Lopez's booty gyrations on In Living Color is truly a thing of beauty. But back to the main plot here. After narrowly escaping Venom's numerous attempts to gruesomely murder and cannibalize him, Spider-Man comes to realize that his only hope of salvation lies in the most powerful muscle of all-his brain muscle. So he utilizes the tools at his disposal (a skeleton in a shallow grave and some combustible mine gas) to stage a seemingly fatal explosion, courtesy of Venom's attempt to hurl a truck at him. Ditching his clothes in order to give the feigned death that extra air of morbidity, a nude and exhausted Spider-Man manages to narrowly escape his pursuer, swimming to a cargo vessel which provides means for his return home. Back on the island, Venom gloats, his foe's demise finally putting him at peace.


     I just sat there for a moment after I finished reading the comic, the experience leaving me wondering if I was perhaps suffering from awesomeness poisoning. Then I went back and read it again, and again, really savoring every panel of something I loved far more than I had ever expected. And with that, the fuse was lit. I went back to First Mart to get every Spider-Man comic they had, and my fascination just grew from there. My interest in Spider-Man begat my interest in the X-Men, which begat my interest in Ghost Rider and Darkhawk and so and and so forth, like a really dorky book of Genesis. Within months I was reading all sorts of comics, some of which were great and some of which were...not so much.


     And while NFL SuperPro was the comics equivalent of CTE, it was in the minority, and I was soon salivating over each new issue of Wizard magazine to find out which new superpowered spectacles were on the horizon. A whole new world had opened up before me comprised of cheap paper, not quite enough different colors and RAPTUROUS ADVENTURE.
     I'd be purchasing funny books from First Mart for years to come, even into puberty, when I was buying sexy Gen 13 comics there.


     Ah, the mid-90s. But no comic, no matter how butt-cheeky the cover, would ever quite have the impact that Amazing Spider-Man #347 had on me. It started my love affair with superheroes, and cemented ol' Spidey as my undisputed favorite. There's no question that the titular hero's sardonic attitude and life of endless misfortune would have a huge influence on the development of my own Henry Garrison years later. All this from the same place where I used to buy Bazooka bubble gum with change I'd found hidden in the couch cushions. So hey, thanks, First Mart. For this comic book, for the legacy it has created, for the expansion of my own imagination that it inspired, and also for the numerous Pizza Rolls.


Joey Marsilio suggests you check out the superpowered adventures present in his own novel, Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior, although there's no lung-eating or Fly Girls to speak of.