Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: The Trek Continues

It’s time for the annual quiz! Because I do this quiz every year as the last post of the year. That’s what makes it annual! In general, 2012 was a kind of promising year. I feel good about the seeds I sowed this year; now hopefully in 2013, I will be able to do some reaping.

The next post below this one is my yearly navel-gazing in which I link all that stuff of mine online that I particularly like: photos, blog posts, and specific posts about books and movies.

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Aside from the usual -- read more, write more, continue eating ever healthier, and so on -- not really. As for last year’s? Well, I did read and write a lot, and I did continue eating healthier, and I did lose weight. So yay, me!

I also screwed up on one ‘resolution’ -- I signed up for a blogging ‘challenge’, centered on reading literary classics. And I had my list of books picked out. And I read one of them. And then I promptly got distracted by The Shiny and forgot the entire thing. Oops!

Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, but I have some friends who are going to in the next few months, so a healthy Mazel tov! to them!

Did anyone close to you die?

Luckily...no. I’m keenly aware that the likelihood of continuing to dodge that bullet will continue to drop every single year now, but we have suffered no major visits from The Reaper since my mother-in-law’s passing.

What countries did you visit?

We went back to Canada! First time since 2006 that we were able to enjoy that country’s wonderments. (Or, at least the wonderments in Toronto.) We can’t wait to go back!

Other than that, all the usual fictional countries that I visited in movies or in the books. In a lot of ways, that’s the best kind of traveling.

What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

My usual answer: A book on my shelf, a real book, printed by a publisher and everything, that I wrote. Good news is that I think I’m heading in that direction. I really really really hope I am. I don’t like to count chickens before they’re omelets, or whatever that expression is, but I have a sense that with Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title), I’m on to something in a way that I’ve never been before, writing-wise.

I’d also like a more definitive sense that my country is moving in a direction that I wish. It’s hard being liberal in this country.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

It’s all writing, baby! Writing, all writing. I got the first draft of Princesses done, then I let it lay fallow, and then I got through one round of edits before handing it off to an able group of beta-readers. Now I’m putting together my final draft (until a professional editor requests/suggests alterations, should I be fortunate enough to get that far). This was a big deal for me -- the first major completion of a writing project in quite a while.

I also did a NaNoWriMo project, which I ‘completed’ in the sense of generating 50,000 words in November. The story itself still isn’t done -- I back-burnered that one while I’m doing edits on Princesses -- but I know where it’s going, and will get back to it as soon as the more pressing work is done.

And it’s always nice to go to a doctor’s visit for a 6-month follow-up and have her be impressed across the board with everything.

What was your biggest failure?

Probably the afore-mentioned ‘Classics reading challenge’. I mean, I completely forgot about it. Remembered in September. Ugh! I feel pretty dumb about that one.

I also started a novel, a fantasy book not actually titled The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy!, but I had to shelve that one temporarily because the story just wasn’t unfolding very convincingly. I need to rethink that one a bit. (And that will bring up some decision-making, as the sequel to Princesses is now gestating in my head!)

What was the best thing you bought?

A new laptop (Dell Inspiron), a tablet (7-inch Samsung Galaxy II), two pairs of Carhartt overalls, a retro-rocket ship and a UFO-with-alien Christmas tree ornament, some books, and so on.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Wife, The Daughter, and generally lots of folks!

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

God, I wish the Republican Party would come back to the land of the sane. I’ve been thinking a bit lately about President George HW Bush, who has been sick of late. I didn’t agree with him politically, and I think that he does bear some responsibility for the Republican party’s trip into the cesspool (his winning campaign in 1988 was pretty nauseating), but he was also the last Republican of national standing who didn’t make me feel like throwing up.

Where did most of your money go?

Food, bills, books. Same as most years!

What did you get really excited about?

Finishing drafts of Princesses, voting for Barack Obama a second time, and finally seeing Les Miserables on the stage. (Yes, I’ll see the movie. Not sure when, but I will see it!)

What song will always remind you of 2012?

It’s interesting about ‘viral’ videos: I watch ‘em like everybody, out of curiosity, and then I usually don’t watch them again. This one, however, I still watch a couple of times a month, because the sheer happiness of the thing, the fact that this fellow rounded up that many folks to help out with his little proposal project, and the fact that the song he used is just great, in that ear-worming pop-tune kind of way. It’s Bruno Mars’s “Marry You”, used in the now-famous ‘Live-Dub’ Proposal:


Boy Howdy, I love that! It’s things like this which make me think that maybe, just maybe, no matter how bad things get on the ‘macro’ level, we humans have a chance to get our shit together.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier. Indisputably happier -- and that’s a trend that’s been ongoing for a while now.

Thinner or fatter?

Thinner! Again, not by a whole lot, but I remain convinced that slow and steady is the way to go when it comes to weight loss. (Admittedly, the last month has not been helpful in this regard, but January is coming!)

Richer or poorer?

Not so much richer, but I continue to be a better steward of what I have and plan to continue to be that. Plus, when Princesses achieves renown as the science fiction equivalent of Harry Potter, well then--! (Yeah, now I’m really getting ahead of myself!)

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading and writing, of course.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Bitching about politics (which is something I already don’t do much of to begin with). Noodling about online. (“Hmmmm, I could use a break! I’m gonna watch some West Wing clips on YouTube.” [90 minutes later] “Huh, I should really do some work....”)

How did you spend Christmas?

We’re always low-key on Christmas: family at home, eating, playing games, eating some more, watching stuff, maybe drinking a bit of rum. Visiting Little Quinn at the cemetery, and then stopping at 7-11 for BigGulps.

Did you fall in love in 2012?

My stock answer applies: I fall in love on a daily basis!

How many one-night stands?

Zero. I’m taken, as always! (Unless the salacious dreams I occasionally have about Stana Katic and Kat Dennings count...in which case...uh....)

What was your favorite TV program?

Castle, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, Mentalist, and the new biggie, Person of Interest. Oh, and Once Upon a Time.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don’t hate. Well, sometimes I do, but I catch myself and try to stop as quickly as possible.

What was the best book you read?

In fiction, probably Sacre Bleu! by Christopher Moore. In non-fiction, Space Chronicles by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the remarkable The Long Walk, by Buffalo author Brian Castner. Amazing books, all of them!

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. See below!

What did you want and get?

Closer to a finished book. New tech toys. The re-election of the President. Carhartt overalls. A smaller body. Pies in my face.

What did you want and not get?

Even closer to a finished book than I am now. A sane opposition party that acknowledges science and reality and doesn’t base its every action on opposing whatever the President wants. Some power tools that I’ve had my eye on, but not purchased yet. Forest green Carhartt overalls -- they don’t make them anymore, so I have to keep an eye out on eBay for a pair my size. (When I do, they will be mine. Oh yes, they WILL be mine.) And, as it only happened the one time...pies in my face!

What were your favorite films of this year?

Of movies that came out this year, Skyfall and The Hobbit rocked my world pretty soundly. Of movies I saw that didn’t come out this year? I really liked Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Inglourious Basterds.

What did you do on your birthday?

On my actual birthday? I worked. We celebrated a few days later with our annual trip to Ithaca for their Apple Harvest Festival; we ate at PF Changs in Rochester, had waffles and fried chicken at Waffle Frolic in Ithaca, and at Chipotle Mexican Grill for the first time; we shopped for arts and crafts and books at some of the fine bookstores down there. And then a day or two later, the annual pies in my face.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

Heh! Same as always: utilitarian to the max, dominated by bib overalls. As noted, I did finally get on board with the Carhartt brand, and now I love ‘em to death. I bought a new fleece sweater, too. As usual, though: the hippie-in-workwear.

What kept you sane?

Same reply as last year: Laughing; reading; writing; discovering that even though we've been together in one way or another for almost twenty twenty-one years, I still have ways of getting to know The Wife; singing loudly in the car when I'm by myself; torturing The Daughter with awful puns (something my father did to me, coincidentally enough!); geeking out to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings; getting hit in the face with pies. It's awfully hard to take yourself seriously when crust, custard, and whipped cream are dripping from your face.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Oh, the usual ones! But now that Castle is letting Detective Beckett actually be happy...oh my, Stana Katic!

Seeing as how I had no idea who she was a year ago? Adele. She’s awesome.

Outpacing her, though, is my growing admiration for Michelle Obama. She’s just an amazing woman. Our President is a fortunate man.

What political issue stirred you the most?

It was an election year, so there were a whole lot of them. But of late...my general distaste for guns has crystallized into hatred for the damn things.

Who did you miss?

I miss Dr. House. I hope he’s finding a way to solve medical mysteries and call people stupid while he tools around the country with Wilson.

Who was the best new person you met?

Just about all were folks online; I continue to meet more folks online each year, more now on Twitter and Facebook than in Blogistan, but it’s still cool. There are a lot of smart people in the world!

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012:

WRITE. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

READ. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

And keeping the ones from years past: We learn by screwing up, so embrace your inner FAIL! The Internet is made of people. Never, ever punt. (You know, I’m serious about that one. F*** punting. Always go for it. Even if it’s 4th and 30. From your own 2.) Democracy works wonders, but it works them eventually. Not all tears are an evil. Whipped cream is a miracle substance. So is ice cream.

Use your local library! Limiting your reading to only those books you can afford to buy is madness. OpenOffice rules. Buy good tools, take care of them, don't lend them out, and they'll last forever. Pie is wonderful stuff, whether on your plate or in your face. Screw fashion; if it's comfy, wear it. We're not meant to be alone. No object fits in your hand so perfectly as your wife's hand, and no object fits so perfectly on your shoulder as your child's head. Let it be, and all you need is love.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I heard this song way back in May in, of all places, FOX’s ads for the series finale of House MD. It’s just a wonderful song, and I love its moving sound, its sense of pleading optimism, and its general sense of inspiration. It’s “Live Forever”, by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.



Laughter is the only thing
that’ll keep you sane,
In this world there’s cryin’
more and more every day.

Don’t let evil
get you down,
in this madness
spinning round and round!

I want you to live forever,
underneath the sky so blue!

Some people say faith
is a childish game.
Play on, children,
like it’s Christmas Day!

Sing me a song!
Sing me a melody!
Sing out loud--
You’re a symphony!

I want you to live forever,
underneath the sky so blue!
I want you to live forever,
underneath the sky so blue!

So that’s 2012. Onward to 2013!


And as always, in a 'last but most certainly not least' vein, I'd like to thank all you fine, wonderful readers for dropping by this year, either regularly or 'once-in-a-while'. May each and every one of you enjoy a healthy, happy, and ultimately heavenly 2013!

Best of 2012

It's time again for my self-selection of the best stuff I've done here this year. Enjoy this trip down memory lane...or ignore it completely! I have no control over what you do, folks!

As always, some stuff took place as month-long 'festivals' of posting: Ask Me Anything! took place in February and August. In April I participated in a daily blogging challenge called A to Z. And I just made up a new one, Gimme a Title!, which is still ongoing.

I think I produced some nice bloggage this year, even if my output was actually down quite a bit -- according to Blogger (whose stats I have no reason to doubt), 2012 saw the second fewest posts overall out of all eleven calendar years in the books. (The lowest was 2008, when I actually took three months and stopped blogging entirely.) I'm not sure what to forecast for next year, but I'll note that my decline in posting here wasn't due to boredom or ennui, but because I was actually really busy with other stuff, such as producing a novel that is slowly grinding toward submission time. I am in no way bored with the blog at this point, so I plan to keep right on going!

And without further ado, here we go.

Favorite photos, January to June:

My favorites of 2012 I

1. It's a proto-book! (2), 2. Reading, 3. The Rains of Orchard Park, 4. Hot Dogs and Potato Wedges, 5. Flags, 6. Fence at Knox Farm, 7. Existential Crisis, in overalls, 8. A place to clip things, 9. Two cats, one box, 10. The Goose family IV, 11. The Goose family I, 12. Supermoon, 13. Lunch of Champions!, 14. Ceiling at the Reinstein Library, 15. Niagara Falls after dark X, 16. Niagara Falls after dark V, 17. Niagara Falls after dark II, 18. Spl-lat, 19. Antique Mall VIII: My Toby jug!, 20. Antique Mall III: Toby mugs, 21. Antique Mall I: The Toby jug, side view, 22. DONE!!!, 23. Trimming, 24. Relaxing in the Overalls, 25. Casa Loma, 26. St. Lawrence Market: the upstairs, 27. St. Lawrence Market: Pork souvlaki, 28. St. Lawrence Market: String quartet, 29. Ontario Science Centre: Planet Earth II, 30. Casa Loma: Ceiling in the Solar, 31. Firefly Cupcakes, 32. Page One: A Princess of Mars, 33. Shea's Buffalo at night, 34. A Pile of Doorstops, 35. Death by Kitteh, 36. Reading

January

Asimov on Libraries
Photos of a President
All Things Pie
My dream store
A collection of random complaints

February

Ha ha, Brady lost the Super Bowl
Whitney Houston, alas
On Ten Years of Blogging
A story in which one of the cats pisses me off

March

Losing a cell phone battery and not really giving a crap
On seeing Les Miserables live onstage at long, long last!
Ralph McQuarrie becomes one with The Force
On Bounty-gate
Cul de sac
Fifty most-hated movies?
Hot Pepper Jelly

April

Much of April's blogging was devoted to the A to Z Challenge.
An open letter to Castle
On the completion of the first draft of Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title)
Lester Bangs talks to Dick Clark

May

Junior Seau
Some pie-in-the-face stuff
ROWR: Virginia Hankins
On fifteen years of marriage
I'll always love you, Donna Summer!
Save Every Building!

June

Kathryn Joosten
True geek confessions
John Constable
A Transit of Venus

Favorite photos, July to December:

My favorites of 2012 II

1. Betcha can't guess what it says when you squeeze it!, 2. Finally, that itch is scratched! #McRib, 3. White trash! (Still hate that name.), 4. Henry VIII and Katherine Parr (Queen #6 of Henry's, and the one who eventually outlived him)., 5. LGM ornament, 6. Retro rocket ornament, 7. Wonder what would happen if TimmyHo's ever announced a withdrawal from Buffalo.... #TimHortons, 8. Hippie Santa, 9. Dark and Stormy #rum, 10. Cooking in Carhartt #Carhartt #overalls, 11. I like rum. Rummy rum rum. Here it goes down. Down into my belly. #rum #MisquotingAnchorman, 12. Upsidedown self #overalls, 13. Snow in the Southern Tier, 14. Snow in my Hair, 15. A koven of kittehs, 16. The mustering clouds of winter above the old OP train station, 17. This is what #NaNoWriMo looks like, 18. [Insert pun using the word 'mount' here], 19. A little Tgiving afterdinner entertainment...., 20. Julio and Mr. Shakespeare., 21. EC Fair XV, 22. EC Fair VI, 23. Carhartt I, 24. Pumpkinville: Happy wife, irritated Daughter, 25. Ramen with fried egg, 26. Long hair and overalls, 27. With the Pie II, 28. Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie: Awaiting my Face, 29. With the Pie I, 30. My oh my, the tie-dyed guy is pied, 31. Guess what happened to me today...., 32. Sunshine on my shoulder, la la la la...., 33. Shoppin' for Yarn, 34. Sterling Renaissance Festival 2012 IV, 35. SQUIRREL!, 36. Manuscript 2

July

One of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen.
Ernest Borgnine
Frozen Pizza: Mmmmm!
What editing looks like
A brief reaction to a mass shooting
More selections from the White House Flickr stream

August

F*** Chick-fil-A
I join the Tablet Generation
Sticking the Landing (on Mars!)
So say we all: Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica
Thoughts on 'Manbabies'
Another frozen pizza: Yummm!
The Many Faces of Monti Carlo

September

I didn't blog much in September as I was focusing on my first pass-through of the PRINCESSES manuscript. Most of that month's real content was answers to Ask Me Anything!, so see the link above.

Neil Armstrong

October

On writing and productivity
In what's become an annual ritual, The Wife propels coconut cream pies into my face. Oddly, I enjoy this.
The Greatest Event in Television History
Joining the Instacrowd
On writing tools through the years
Memories of Weather
Darth Disney takes over the Lucas Alliance

November

More thoughts on Disney taking over Star Wars
An open question for Buffalo Bills fans
A salute to Mabel Normand, inventor-of-legend of the pie in the face
Cover art for Princesses (in my dreams!)
International Overalls Weekend, 2012 (Carhartt overalls are awesome!)
Being thankful
King Tut

December

Winter in the Southern Tier
What the heck is up with Star Trek these days?!
Grumpy Cat tells me how it is
How a local business irritated me and lost my patronage
How Superman's Butt Saved Christmas

Books I blogged about this year

Restaurant Man,
Joe Bastianich


The Long Walk,
Brian Castner


Ready Player One!,
Ernest Cline


Heart of Darkness,
Joseph Conrad


Life Itself,
Roger Ebert


Coming of Age in the Milky Way,
Timothy Ferris


License to Pawn,
Rick Harrison


Making Piece,
Beth Howard


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns),
Mindy Kaling


Origin,
Jessica Khoury


11/22/63,
Stephen King


Re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire,
George RR Martin
Preliminary post
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie,
Wendy McClure


Sacre Bleu,
Christopher Moore


Across the Universe,
Beth Revis


A Million Suns,
Beth Revis


Habibi,
Craig Thompson


Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier,
Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Air,
G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker


Star Wars: The Marvel Comics series

Uncanny X-Men: The "Dark Phoenix" Saga

Movies I blogged about this year

American Graffiti

The Avengers

Contact

Friendship 7

Hear My Song

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Inglourious Basterds

John Carter

The King's Speech

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Prometheus

St. Elmo's Fire

Skyfall

Space Battleship Yamato

Thor

TRON Legacy

2001: A Space Odyssey

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: The fine starship Enterprise, done up as a parade float, in Christmas lights. This is frakking wonderful!


Original here (plus more goodies).

:: Urban mountain biking:


:: Non-urban mountain biking:


:: What comic-book movies would look like if they actually had the heroes look the way they do in the comic books.

More next week!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas '12, in pictures

I'll put this below the fold, as it's a lot of photos and such....

Saturday Centus

A little New Year's cheer in this week's prompt. (Yes, I missed last week. Sorry. Too busy. Or maybe I wasn't -- how would you know, anyway?)

"I will not swear at other drivers. I will not swear at other drivers. I will not swear at other drivers. I will not--"

[SQUUUUEEEEEAAAAAKKKKCCCHHHH!]

"Hey! You want a resolution? I gotcher resolution right here, pal!"

OK...starting, now.

Be nice to the other drivers, folks!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Something for Thursday

I've never seen the movie Kismet, but I've loved this song from the movie for years -- its melody is just achingly beautiful. (As well it should be, really, considering that it's actually swiped from the Polovtsian Dances by Alexander Borodin.) Anyhow, here's "Stranger In Paradise".

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A brief writing update

I haven't described much lately of where I'm at on Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title), so here's where things stand: I am going through the manuscript one last time in fairly close detail, based on feedback I received from the highly intelligent and perceptive folks whose assistance I requested. Most have pointed out roughly the same strengths in the book (at least, things that I fervently hoped were strengths), as well as things that I knew were weaknesses. Additionally, in discussing things with those folks, I've come to newer conclusions as to how to do certain things in the story or make certain points either more clearly or more forcefully.

My main goal in this final draft is to tighten up the prose and clean up some spots where the dialog is kinda clunky. To my pleasure, I've managed to cut more than 5000 words from the manuscript through 12 chapters (of a total 25 plus a short epilogue). I'm hoping to get the final draft down to no more than 160,000 words, which would be almost 20,000 words down from the first completed draft. That first draft was 443 pages long (as an OpenOffice document); right now, a bit less than halfway through the third draft, it's 398 pages long. Obviously the goal here is to produce a tighter, more smoothly flowing book.

After that work is done -- which I hope to complete no later than January 10 -- I'll have to write an outline of the entire book. And then, hopefully no later than January 15 -- I send the book out into The World.

And after that? Well, who knows...but my dream of dreams is that when you're all doing your Christmas shopping next year, you might be able to gift a copy or two of Princesses In SPACE!!!. But with the actual title on the cover.

Onward and upward!

(The beta readers may be interested to learn that I also changed a couple of the characters' names. Not any of the leads, but a few of the supporting players. Oh, and I've cast Meryl Streep in the Movie Version In My Head. I would hope it would be obvious who she is!)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Gift cards! Like 'em? Hate 'em? Like getting 'em but feel a bit weird giving 'em, like you're basically throwing in the towel on trying to do creative shopping and taking the easy path of least resistance? Think they're awesome and you love giving 'em?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How Superman's Butt Saved Christmas

(Blame SamuraiFrog for this one, folks -- he gave me the title! I deny all accountability. Except for the part where I write the following tale. Which I'm doing stream-of-conscious, right off the top of my head. No editing.)

Lore has it that there is one, and only one, substance that can stop Superman dead in his tracks.

Kryptonite.

Irradiated fragments of rock hurled into the deep dark of space when his planet exploded, Kryptonite's radiation and other qualities unique to its place of origin make it near-lethal whenever Superman comes in contact with it. So, of course, every one of Superman's antagonists knows of this weakness, and they all try, at one point or another, to use Kryptonite to get the drop on him.

What they don't know is that there is another substance that can significantly weaken Superman. This one is not so lethal; in fact, it's not lethal to Superman at all. He survives a brush with this substance within a day, and he's back to normal. But he finds its effects extremely unpleasant, both because of what they do to him, and what he has to do to keep those effects from being lethal to those around him, because his body magnifies those effects over what they would do to a normal human being.

What is that substance, you ask?

Beans.

Whether out in public as Superman or as Clark Kent, the fact remains...Kal-el cannot eat beans.

He was never able to figure it out, but as a kid, the first time Ma Kent put beans on the table -- of any kind, except for jelly -- he became very, and explosively, gassy. Imagine Kal-el's digestive tract, super-charged as was every other aspect of his body over the normal human version. Gas, for him, was survivable -- but disastrous for anybody nearby. So, no beans.

This was pretty easy to deal with, as he got older. Nobody really ever tried to give him beans to eat as Superman, and as Clark Kent, he could just claim either allergy or that he didn't like them. Problem was, he said the latter to the wrong person.

Enter Lois Lane.

Now, Lois Lane is a great reporter. One of the best. She fearlessly charges in to get stories that no one else can get, and she reports them with snappy writing that defines her newspaper, the Daily Planet. But to anyone who isn't remotely as strong-willed as she is, or possessed of super-patience (like Mr. Kent), Lois Lane is basically a giant pain in the ass. It's true. She has to have the last word on everything, she has to be right, and if you disagree with a single position she takes, she will make it her mission in life to show you how wrong you are. So when Clark Kent told her one night when they went out to dinner at a Mexican place that he didn't care for beans, she said a polite "Mm-hmm" as she filed that away in her head.

I'll change your mind about beans, Clark. Oh yes. I will change your mind about beans!

Lois Lane could be a little bit creepy and weird, come to think of it.

So there was Lois one day, hatching a plan to convert Clark Kent to liking beans. Her scheme involved getting him to eat some without him knowing that they were beans, and when he said how much he liked the dish, she'd be able to spring on him the fact that he'd just eaten beans and liked them so he could now see how silly he was being with that whole bean thing.

Yeah. As plans go, that's about as complex as Lois Lane could muster. Lex Luthor, she wasn't.

Which brings us to: Lex Luthor.

See, Lex Luthor was pissed off that year as Christmas rolled near, same way he was every year when Christmas rolled near. He was angry because his schemes had been thwarted. He was also angry because the snowmobile he was on kept wanting to tilt over to the right, because of the weight of the rocket launcher they had with them.

"I can't believe it," said Lex. "How hard can it be to figure out where Superman goes all the time! It's not that big a planet! There's only so much 'north'!"

"Maybe he starts out north and then turns left," his henchman offered. This henchman was fat and portly and looked something like that guy from the movie Network.

"Shut up, you nitwit. Let me think."

He pulled the snowmobile over -- who knows why, they weren't even on a road -- and looked at his map. "I've triangulated every course Superman's ever taken when he flew north from Metropolis. I can't believe he'd fly in anything other than a straight line, but the lines never converge on anything. And yet, I swear he must have a Fortress up here somewhere!"

"Maybe he just likes his solitude?"

"Oh shut up." Lex fired up the snowmobile again, and off they went. (How did they have enough gas to snowmobile all the way that far north? Why are you asking me?!)

Meanwhile, some hundred miles south in the city of Metropolis, someplace in the eastern United States but totally not New York City even though it really looks like NYC and all, Clark Kent arrived at Lois Lane's apartment. He awkwardly knocked on her door, and she opened it and let him in.

"Hi, Clark! Merry Christmas! I'm glad you could make it."

"Oh, well, gosh, Ms. Lane, thanks for inviting me! You know, I was really surprised that you invited me to your Christmas party. I just figured I'd stay home and read some more Reader's Digest."

"Don't be silly, Clark! It's Christmas! Look everybody, Clark's here!"

The other guests all just kind of nodded in Clark's direction. Anyone other than Clark Kent would have thought the whole lot of them a bunch of assholes, but not Clark Kent. He was nice, that way.

"Want something to drink, Clark? Bar's over there. You know where it is."

"Oh thanks, Lois. I just thought I'd have some water."

"Uhh...sure. Water. Well, there's that, too, I guess. I have to go check the food!"

And with that, Lois disappeared into her kitchen, where wonderful smells were wafting out. That piqued Clark's curiosity, so he wandered toward the kitchen door and peaked in. Jimmy Olsen was in there, doing all the cooking, while Lois buzzed around him. That explained it. Lois could barely boil water without burning it.

"I don't know about this plan, Miss Lane," Jimmy said.

"Just do it, Jimmy. I have to find out the truth about what Clark says."

"This seems kind of mean though!"

"Just get it done!"

Clark turned away, alarmed. So that was it: another one of Lois's hare-brained schemes to see if he was really Superman or not. Why wouldn't she just give it up! Clark sipped his water, wondering what it was going to be this time.

Meanwhile, way up north, Lex Luthor was getting more and more angry. He pulled the snowmobile over again, shut it off, got off, and kicked it.

"Careful Mr Luthor!" his henchman said. "You broke your foot doing that once!"

"Then maybe I'll kick something soft and fleshy!" Lex shouted. "Like...your ass!"

His henchman shook his head in amazement at the way Mr. Luthor's voice in such moments always managed to sound like a blend of Gene Hackman and Kurtwood Smith.

"I can't believe I can't find Superman's fortress! It has to be up here somewhere! He can't just break laws of physics like that!"

"He can fly," the henchman offered.

"Shut up!" Lex began to pace. "All right, think. He's always up here. He always goes north. Why north? What is up here? Polar bears? Inuit natives? Frozen white men from Europe who thought they'd find the North Passage? What could possibly be up here?"

"Maybe that train can tell us," the henchman said.

"Train? What the hell are you babbling about now?"

"Look," the henchman said. "A train."

He pointed. Sure enough, there in the distance was...a train. Six passenger cars, pulled by a locomotive whose headlight cast a golden sheen across the ice in front of it.

"A train? Up here? Where could that be going?"

"Maybe Superman doesn't have a fortress!" the henchman offered. "Maybe he flies up here and catches a train!"

Lex stopped and slowly turned toward his henchman as his brain tried to process what it had just heard.

"You think...that Superman...flies thousands of miles to catch a train?"

"Er...well...maybe he likes trains. Maybe they're his hobby. Kind of like you and those magazines you collect, the ones with the pictures of pretty--"

"Shut it!"

"Sorry, Mr. Luthor."

Lex turned his attention back to the train. Where could it be going...and then, in a flash...he knew. A grin spread across his face.

"Come on," he said to his henchman. "We're going to need that rocket launcher after all!"

"Oh! Did you find Superman's fortress, Mr. Luthor?"

"No," Lex said. "But there is a fortress up here. And it belongs to another superhero with whom I have a score to settle." He got the snowmobile running and gunned it, almost before his henchman could jump on board again. He needed to get there. Oh yes, he needed to get there, indeed. And a certain other superhero, this one whose suit was red, had some answering to do for a broken model ship Lex had got for Christmas when he was ten.

Oh yes.

Meanwhile, at that moment, Lois started putting out the food that Jimmy had made. And he'd done a great job of it, too: crab puffs, lobster dainties, shrimp shrimp and more shrimp, Buffalo chicken wings, authentic Metropolis-style pizza (indistinguishable from New York thin crust, but let's not go there right now, shall we), and chips with the most creamy, luscious, cheese dip you ever saw, cut with just the right amount of hot sauce and spices. Everyone tucked in, and Jimmy headed for the bar to make himself a reward drink when Lois slapped his wrist and sent him back to the kitchen to wash dishes.

"Aren't you going to eat, Clark?"

"Uhhh...sure, Lois." What was the trick here? How was she using food to test him? What was this all about? Best just to go along with it, he thought. So he made himself a little plate of food, returned to his corner where he resumed his conversation with the potted plant, and ate. It was all really good, but Oh my God, the cheese dip was fantastic! He'd never tasted anything so wonderful in his life. The creaminess, the smoothness, and the blend of cheese and heat from the sauce! Clark made a mental note to take Jimmy aside next week and ask him why he was doing photography for the Planet when he could be cooking in a restaurant.

Clark didn't notice Lois's smug expression of victory when he went back for more cheese dip.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor guided his snowmobile to the edge of the icy sea, where the train rumbled across a series of bridges made of brick toward a gleaming city of brick. "The North Pole," he said.

"Why doesn't it look like it did in National Geographic?"

"That's the geographic North Pole," Lex said. "This is the mythic North Pole."

He could practically hear his henchman's brain gears a-grinding away on that one.

"All right." He checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to midnight. "Help me get this rocket launcher ready. It's almost time."

"Time for what?"

Lex couldn't keep it in any longer. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

"We're going to shoot down Santa Claus!"

"Awwww!" His henchman began to cry as Lex got the rocket launcher ready.

Meanwhile, in Lois Lane's apartment, Clark Kent's super digestive system began to go...awry.

It started with a simple little gurgling feeling, but that gurgling became stronger and stronger. Clark leaned into the corner, behind the potted plant, and emitted a belch as stealthily as he could. It made no sound, but the plant's leaves rustled and then wilted a bit. When he stood back up, he felt worse. A lot worse.

"Oh my," he said. "Uh, Lois?"

"Yes, Clark?" Lois said sweetly.

"I don't mean to accuse you of doing anything nasty," Clark said, "but were there, by any chance, beans in any of the food you made tonight?"

"Just in the cheese dip," Lois said, with triumph in her voice. Sweet, sweet triumph. "And you always say you hate beans! Now how do you feel about them, Mister Kent!" She put her hands on her hips. "How about that, folks! Clark Kent likes beans now!"

Oh God, Clark thought. His stomach was starting to churn like something that churns a lot. An old-school butter making thing, perhaps. "Lois, was this just..." he pushed down a burp -- "...a scheme to get me to eat beans?"

"Not the whole party," Lois said. "I do like to have people over. You're just icing on the cake!"

The silence in the room was pretty awkward at this point -- not the least for Clark, who desperately wished for loud music and loud conversation to drown out what he needed to do.

"Well gosh Lois I really wish you hadn't done that," Clark said in one big rush. His stomach felt like he'd eaten Kryptonite, and the feeling was already spreading...down. Lower. Farther into the tract. "I...I need to go. Sorry!" And with that he grabbed his hat and his coat and ran out the door.

Lois frowned. "Now where do you think he's off to?" she asked.

"Hey listen!" someone shouted. "Sirens! There's a fire down the street! Maybe we'll see Superman!"

Lois's eyes narrowed. Funny how Clark and Superman were never in the same place....

Superman did make an appearance at the fire. He stopped in the air long enough to blow it out with one super-gust of air. Then he tore off. He was going to explode, and it was going to be ugly. He had to get away from the city, away from everybody.

He had to get north.

Lex Luthor checked his watch. One minute to midnight. "All right, here we go."

"Awww gee, Mr. Luthor. Thinka the children!"

"Children? I'm doing them a favor! Now they'll all be equally disappointed. That's a good lesson to learn. You want something in this life, you gotta go get it! Oh look! There he is!"

And in fact, something was arising from the glittering city. Lex Luthor lifted the rocket launcher to his shoulder and put his eye to the scope. There it was: the great sleigh, powered by whatever magic impelled it into the air. There were the nine stubby beasts flying it, the one in front with that mutant nose of his. And there, in the driver's seat, was that fat bastard who had broken Lex's heart so many years before when he'd put the wrong toy, that stupid doll in his stocking. Meanwhile someone else played with his toy ship.

"I'm gonna get you," he said. "Ho ho ho!"

He squeezed the trigger, and the rocket launched. Right toward Santa Claus and his sleigh.

Meanwhile, Superman whipped through the air. He knew he was going north, but he wasn't paying total attention to where he was going. He wasn't even going to the Fortress; he just needed to be someplace where nobody lived. He used almost every ounce of superstrength he could spare from his flying effort to hold shut his...well, it's not a muscle that Superman tended to give a lot of thought to. But now, it had his undivided attention. Finally he reached a spot where he could do the deed. No one around for hundreds of miles. The only thing in sight was a shooting star, up ahead.

Superman turned around, bent over, and then a BRRRAAAMMMMMPPP! sound echoed across the entire Arctic circle. It sounded like the most righteous guitar chord ever struck by a guy in a metal hair band. Just like that, all the pressure in his body, from Lois's damned beans, exploded out of his...well look, there's not really any polite way to say it.

Seconds after midnight on Christmas night, Superman hovered in the air near the North Pole and ripped a super fart.

If such things were written in the history books, this one would lead the way. Surely someplace, in some time, there is a being who chronicles all the greatest farts of all the ages of man and beast. If you could look in those books, there you would find Superman's fart from that night, on Page One.

"What was that?" Lex's henchman screamed.

"GET DOWN!!!" Lex shouted. He and his henchman threw themselves to the ground as a breeze with the force of Dorothy Gale's tornado ripped across their exposed spot. Following that wind was the most awful smell anyone could ever remember, anywhere. It was the smell of every questionable casserole ever served at a church potluck, combined with the scent of every moldering corpse and every rotting carcass on the planet. It was the foulest-smelling thing ever, and Lex and his henchman were in the middle of it.

The super fart had one other effect: it knocked the rocket off its trajectory, sending it careening wildly through the air until it landed and detonated, about thirty feet from where Lex and his henchman stood. The explosion caused the ice on which they stood to break free, and in that moment, they stood atop an iceberg as it calved and started floating away, into the currents of the Arctic Ocean.

In the sleigh, Santa reached down and made a note on his Naughty List. Clearly, one of his elves had fed Rudolph a can of that Beef-a-rino stuff again. Just like in the Seinfeld episode. "On boys!" he shouted as he took out a can of spray deodorizer that emitted scents of pine, baking cookies, and old bookstores.

Superman, for his part, just hung there in the air, letting the sweat drip from his face. Thinking no one was nearby, he let out a Super Sigh of Super Relief. Santa heard it, though, and laughed. Superman's cheeks turned red. "Sorry, Santa," he said.

"Think nothing of it, Kal-el!" Santa shouted back. "And to you, a good night!"

Superman gathered his wits and flew away again, back toward Metropolis. Stupid beans! He'd have to talk with Lois about that.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor paced back and forth on the iceberg as the henchman tried to get a cell phone signal. "How long until we get to a cell tower, Mr. Luthor?"

Lex Luthor shook his head.

And that is how Superman's butt saved Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Shiny in the Black: A FIREFLY Christmas, part four (a repost)

(Concluding my repost of this Very Special, but not in the Blossom way, Episode of Firefly.)


part one
part two
part three

"Those aren't toys," Kaylee said. "Those are agricultural supplies for a new colony. Did you change the job while you were out?"

"Seal it back up," Mal said. "That stuff is perishable, and by breaking the seal, we've started the decay process."

The crew stood around, staring at the crate that was supposed to contain toys for the children of the orphanage on Haven but really contained farming seed and fertilizer that had supposedly been destined for Whitefall. Jayne and Book lifted the facing of the crate back into place and restored the seals. When they were done, Jayne stepped back and looked at Mal.

"Well, Mal, guess we got ourselves another hiccup."

"Yeah, looks that way." Mal muttered another curse in Chinese and then he kicked the crate for good measure.

"That won't hurt the crate," River said.

"It will hurt your foot if you do that again, though," Simon said.

"So, what now?" Jayne said. "That's it then, isn't it?"

"I don't know," Mal said. "I'm thinkin'."

Zoe cleared her throat. "Captain, you know Jonas better than any of us. How likely is he to hold this against us?"

"Worried about us having another enemy?"

"I'm running out of space on the piece of paper where I keep their names written down, sir."

"Yeah. Preacher, how did this happen?"

"I have no idea, Captain," said Book. "I double-checked the numbers. We had the right slot number in the warehouse. The only way this happens is if the warehouse workers put the crates in the wrong slots themselves."

And with that, a silence settled over the crew as they realized what had happened.

"Well, this is new," said Jayne. "Never stolen the wrong goods before."

"Yeah, this is definitely a wrinkle we haven't tried before," said Mal. "All right, I'm open to suggestions."

"Suggestions for what?" It was Wash, who had just come down from the bridge. "Everyone's looking awfully glum here."

"We stole the wrong goods, honey," Zoe said.

"Now there's something we haven't done before!" Wash said. "Now what?"

"See?" Mal said. "Took him all of two sentences to get up to speed on this."

"What do we do?" Kaylee asked. "Captain?"

"Maybe the children want to play as farmers," River offered. "They can grow their own vegetables and work the soil."

"River," Book said, "the orphanage is in the middle of a city that's a hundred miles in diameter. There's no soil except what's in the decorative flower pots."

"That sounds depressing," River said. "Children need space."

"Well, we can't solve every problem at once," Zoe said. "Captain, Jonas is gonna know that he can't open the crate without breaching the shelf-life of the goods that he thinks are in there."

"I was thinking the same thing," Mal said. "If that's the case, then Jonas has no idea that he's got a crate full of toys on his ship. Which means that he's on his way to Whitefall. He won't know anything is wrong until Patience does. Of course, knowing Patience, she'll have already tried to shoot him."

"So that's it then," said Jayne. "We ain't gotta do a gorram thing. Let them shoot each other and then we can sell this stuff to whoever takes over for Patience. Make back our coin, and then some."

Mal considered this. After a moment, Shepherd Book stepped forward.

"Captain, I know that your ship is not a democracy, but I must voice my opposition to what Jayne has suggested."

"Yeah, I thought you might," Mal said. "Wash, go get us on a course for Whitefall. Get us there fast. We want to get there before the shooting starts."

"You got it," Wash said as he headed back up the stairs. "A pilot's job is never done! Until he lands, then he's done until the next job...."

"Zoe," Mal said, "I'm gonna need your help figurin' out how to approach this one. We've got to make a switch without both Jonas and Patience deciding that I'm cheating them."

"Sounds like a challenge," Zoe said.

"Why I'm givin' it to you."

"Wait a minute!" Jayne said. "We're gonna try to get the toys back? Anybody else think that's crazy?"

Simon shrugged. "I think it's kind of shiny," he said. Kaylee grinned at him.

"Doc, I'm gonna do somethin' hurtful to you someday soon," Jayne said. "Mal, how can you even consider this?"

Mal looked at Shepherd Book. "I took a job," he said. "And even though the job's starting to bring some trouble, truth is, that's what jobs do. And there ain't a job in the 'Verse that I'm like to walk away from once I take it."

Jayne shook his head. "I can't ruttin' believe this."

"Hey, look at the bright side," Mal said. "We're goin' to Whitefall to try and do business with Patience."

"Probably be some shooting," Zoe added.

Jayne laughed harshly. "Day's gonna come when you're not gonna be able to buy me off by lettin' me shoot some folk," he said.

Mal considered that. "Well, that's gonna be an interesting day. Come on, Zoe. We need to brainstorm."

***


It took them the better part of a day to get to Whitefall, which was a pretty miserable and dusty rock way out on the fringes. Malcolm Reynolds didn't much like this world; it was run by a crusty woman named Patience who didn't tend to practice any, and who had a nasty habit of trying to shoot him. She'd succeeded once, but the last time, Mal had got the better of her. He'd done the job, and despite some unkind words as regarding his character, he'd gotten paid. But this one was going to be tricky, no doubt about that.

"OK, Mal, we're here," Wash said as Whitefall loomed before the ship. "Now what?"

"Well, Patience is a woman of habit," Mal said. "So I'm thinkin' she'll want to meet with Jonas in that same spot she chose to meet us in last time we were here. Good spot for an ambush. So we'll go there and hope we're in time to avoid some fisticuffs and general tomfoolery."

Zoe looked at Mal. "'Tomfoolery', sir?"

"What? You know I like to dust off archaic words now and then."

"Part of what makes you charming, sir."

"Thanks for sayin'. Now, if I'm Patience, I'm puttin' two snipers in the hills around that meeting spot, after we took care of the one she ahd there last time. And Jonas is gonna have his own sniper up there somewhere too. So Jayne and the Shepherd will take care of the snipers for us, and then we walk in and make everybody happy."

"Aren't we doin' an awful lot of counting on the Shepherd to shoot people on this job?" Zoe asked.

"Probably, but that book of his is nonspecific as regards kneecaps and elbows, if I remember right. Wash, same landing spot as before."

"Sure thing, Mal," Wash said. "And I've got Jonas's ship on the scanner now. They're landing as we speak, two hilltops over. Looks like we got here in time."

"It's a Christmas miracle, Captain," Zoe said.

Mal rolled his eyes. "Now don't you start," he said. "Let's go get ready. Wash, put her down."

"Sure thing, Captain," Wash said.

Mal and Zoe walked down to the hold, where Jayne and Shepherd Book were waiting.

"Captain," Book began, "I feel I should apologize for having gotten you into this business."

"Did it with my eyes open," Mal said. "But if you're volunteering for a month of mess duty, I don't think I'll hear any objections from the rest of the crew." He glanced around at Kaylee, Simon, River, and Inara, who all just stood there placidly. "And a month it is! All right, Zoe and me have come up with what we think is a nicely nuanced plan."

Jayne grunted. "Book and I take out the snipers and cover you while you and Zoe try to talk some sense into Patience and Jonas?"

"Yeah, that's about it."

"We gotta start comin' up with plans that don't have quite as much 'if' in 'em," Jayne grumbled.

"Every time I ask you for input, your first words are 'I shoot them'."

"Yeah. Not a lot of 'if' when the other guy's got bullets in him."

"OK. Get that crate ready. And Kaylee, keep the engines warm. We may need to make a fast break for it."

"Be easier if you'd let me replace that drive inducer that I keep warning you about," Kaylee said.

"New year's comin'," said Mal.

***


The scene that confronted Mal and Zoe when they peered over the edge of the knoll above Patience's rendezvous spot was about what Mal expected: Patience sat atop her horse, while her men had Jonas at gunpoint, and Jonas's men had Patience's men at gunpoint. Everybody had everybody else at gunpoint.

"Whole lot of gunpoint," Mal muttered.

"Not too late to find a desk job, Captain," Zoe replied.

"More of us than there are of you, Jonas," Patience said. "And I've got a sniper aimin' at you right now. You're not walkin' away."

"I got a man took out your sniper," Jonas replied. "I'm not stupid, Patience. And my men are better shots than yours. Now how about you toss me the coin and we'll be on our way?"

"All I see here is a big crate," Patience said. "You might as well open her up and let us see the goods."

"Suits me fine," said Jonas. "Randy? Open it."

Keeping his hands visible at all times, Randy popped open the crate and swung it open. "Uh, Captain?" he said.

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience asked. "That don't look like seed and fertilizer to me."

"What?" Jonas turned to Randy. "What is she gorram talking about?"

"This crate, sir," Randy said. "It's full of...toys."

"Toys?"

"Toys, sir."

"Toys?!"

"This some kind of joke, Jonas?" Patience sounded annoyed. "So you're gonna dump fake goods on me after you have my money?"

Jonas looked uncomfortable.

"Do we go down now?" Zoe asked.

"Shhhh," Mal said. "Things haven't gone south enough yet."

"Patience," Jonas said. "Uhhhh...."

"I'd like to hear an explanation," Patience said. "Before I shoot you myself." She pulled out her pistol.

"Malcolm Reynolds cheated me!" Jonas said.

"Reynolds?" Patience's eyebrows went up. "What's he got to do with this?"

"Funny you should ask!" Mal called out as he rose up and sauntered over the knoll, his pistol in his hand but not aimed at anything. Zoe came behind him, her shotgun in her hand as well.

"Reynolds!" shouted both Patience and Jonas at the same time. Both also pointed their pistols at him, at the same time.

"Well there we go," Mal said. "Two criminals suddenly united in purpose. Warms the heart, eh, Zoe?"

"Sure does, sir."

"Mal, I'll shoot you where you stand," Patience said.

"And I'll shoot you again before you hit the ground," Jonas said.

"Sure," Mal said. "But then you wouldn't hear the explanation and my counter-proposal."

"Explanation?" Jonas roared. "You switched the crates and took the good stuff! What were you going to do, let me get shot and then sell Patience the real goods?"

Mal thought. "Huh. Zoe, that might have worked."

"Surprised you didn't think of it, sir."

"I gotta be goin' soft in my old age."

"Happens to the best of us, sir."

"Jonas, we didn't switch a gorram thing. The warehouse workers screwed up. Those crates were in the wrong spots. We took what we thought was our crate, but it was really yours. And you got ours, thinkin' it was really yours. Kind of an irony, ain't it?"

Patience rolled her eyes. "Right now I'm wondering which of you is the less competent one," she said.

"Well, that would be him," Mal said. "No offense, Jonas, but at least we discovered the problem and we're here to make it right. Now here's our proposal. We take our crate and go on our way. You get your crate, which we stashed about a mile away from here. Then you two finish your business and everybody goes away happy. Or we go away happy and you shoot each other. Whatever you prefer."

"Or I just take all the goods and keep my coin," Patience said. "Mal, you're still not very bright. Neither are you, Jonas. You may have taken out one of my snipers, but I put two up there."

"Yeah, Patience," Mal said. "As to that, we took out Jonas's sniper who took out your sniper. And then we took out your other sniper. So now the only two snipers up there are mine. And they're good, believe me. Aren't they, Zoe?"

"The best, sir."

"Yup. So, Jonas, we'll take this crate now. Yours is a mile that way." He pointed. "No reason for anybody to get shot."

"You takin' my hauler too, Mal?"

Mal shrugged. "I suppose we can leave it behind once we get our goods back on my ship. As a good-will gesture and all."

"Or we can come with you and make sure we get it back," Jonas said.

Mal shrugged. "Or that," he conceded. "We just want our goods."

"A bunch of toys?" Jonas shook his head. "What are you up to, Reynolds?"

"I'm doin' a job," Mal said. "Why does everybody keep asking me that?" He turned to Patience. "Give him the coin, Patience, and go get your box and keep running your little world. Nobody needs to get shot here. It's Christmas."

Patience blinked. "It's what?"

"Never mind. Just get out of here."

Patience sighed. "Every time you show up on this world I end up losing money," Patience said as she tossed a sack of coin to Jonas. "That crate ain't there and I'm puttin' a bounty on you, Mal."

"Yeah, well, I've got a track record here, Patience," Mal said. "I get you the goods and then I get paid. The way a transaction's supposed to be. You're the one likes shootin' people and tryin' to get out of paying, so I'd just as soon you rode off with your men and stopped disparaging me."

Patience laughed. "Fine, Mal, have it your way. But if you don't mind some advice, you need to stop expecting transactions to run the way they're supposed to. That's why you're still flying around in a rustbucket." She gestured to her men, who stood down, and then they rode off.

"She only says that because she can't fly in a ship for ten minutes without puking," Zoe said.

"Yeah, well, let's get this stuff back to Serenity. We've still got a job to do. Jonas, if you would?"

Jonas sighed. "You heard him, men. Let's go. Least we can with him saving our bacon on this one."

Jonas's men grumbled but obeyed. Mal spoke into the mouthpiece on the wire he wore under his coat. "Jayne? Preacher? You can come down now. We're all good here."

"How'd you know where to find us, anyway?" Jonas asked.

"Dealt with Patience before," Mal replied. "Let's move."

"Did you really leave her goods a mile away?"

"Yup."

Jonas shook his head. "You could've kept them, sold them someplace else. Made double profit."

"Thought of that," Mal said. "But I need to be able to do business. No need to make an enemy out of Patience until I have to."

They moved the crate of toys back to Serenity, whereupon Jonas ordered his men to start back to their own ship. Mal ordered his crew to get the ship ready for departure, and then he went outside with Jonas.

"Well, Mal," Jonas said, "it was a pleasure, as always. Now, if that's all--"

"Not quite," Mal said. "I'll be taking the coin that Patience gave you."

Jonas blinked. "What?"

"You heard me," Mal said. "You took coin from me that wasn't yours to take. And despite that, I still came here and saved your gorram hide. Way I see it, you owe me. Let's square up right now. Get it over with."

Jonas stared at him. Mal sighed.

"Jonas, you really want to see what a good draw I am? And what a good shot?"

Jonas sighed and pulled the bag of coin from his jacket pocket and flipped it to Mal. "Every time I wonder how it is you stay in business, you pull something like this out of your hat."

"Not much of a secret," Mal said. "I don't set my sights too high. I just keep flyin'."

"Yeah. Well, do me a favor and don't tell anyone you took my coin from me."

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a payment offered in good will."

Jonas nodded. "Yeah, call it that. But stay away from me for a while, would you?" He lit a cigar and went to join his men. Mal turned and went aboard the ship.

"OK, Wash, let's fly. We need to be in Haven's air within twelve hours."

"We can just make it," Wash replied over the loudspeaker.

Serenity lifted off.

***


Eleven and one half hours later, they were flying toward Haven. Mal came up to the bridge, where Wash was looking at a scanner.

"So?" Mal asked. "What's the new problem?"

Wash blinked. "I didn't call you!"

"I know, but we're due for the next problem with this job. What is it?"

Wash pointed to the scanner. "Alliance ship in orbit. They haven't scanned us yet, and maybe they won't, but if they do--"

"They might board us," Mal said. "Then again, they might not. They're in stationary orbit?"

"Uh-huh," Wash said. "Right above the part of town where our Shepherd's orphanage is."

Mal muttered several curses in Chinese.

"That's what I said," Wash replied.

"All right. Let me think." Mal thought. And then he pressed the intercom button. "Would everybody please report to the hold? You too, Inara. I need everybody."

***


The plan was this: Mal, Zoe, and Wash would stay aboard Serenity, in stationary orbit on the other side of the planet. They would load all of the toys onto Inara's shuttle – individually, because the shuttle wasn't big enough for something the size of that crate – and then Inara would fly down to the orphanage in the middle of the night, when Shepherd Book assured them no one would notice something like a shuttle landing on the roof. Then, Jayne, Book, Simon, Kaylee, and River would take each toy individually to a child.

It wasn't one of Mal's most thought-out plans, but it was the best he could come up with on fairly short notice. Mal thought it was a decent enough plan, until Zoe said "Nice plan, sir," which was what she usually said when she thought his plans were scenarios for utter disaster. But that was the plan, and so it was that on the night before Christmas, when all through the orphanage not a child was stirring, a shuttlecraft flown by a registered Companion came down to land on the roof.

"All right, we're here," Jayne said as he grabbed an armful of toys. "Let's get this ruttin' job over with."

"Said with the true spirit of the day," Shepherd Book said. "All right, everyone follow me. And keep quiet. The whole place is asleep."

"They always knew when I was sleeping," River said. "They knew when I was awake."

"She's gonna be all right, isn't she?" Jayne asked.

"Sure," Simon said. "Isn't she always?"

Jayne shook his head as Shepherd Book led them across the roof and into the orphanage via the roof access door, which Book lockpicked open in seconds.

"Real great security here," Jayne remarked.

"It's an orphanage," Book said. "One where everybody knows there's nothing worth stealing."

They went downstairs, where they found themselves in a very large room, with bunk beds running down each side, and a child sleeping in each bed.

"All right, there are four more rooms like this," Book whispered. "Every child gets a toy."

"Right," Jayne said, and he ran off and started randomly sticking a toy on each bed.

"Jayne!" Kaylee protested. "You can't do it like that! You can't give a boy a doll!"

"Why not?" Jayne asked. "They don't like it they can trade."

"Just do it right," Kaylee said.

"What kind of toys did he play with?" Simon muttered.

In this way they went through the room, distributing a toy to each child. Somehow, miraculously, they got through all of the rooms without waking a single child, giving a toy to each one, one toy to each of three hundred children.

Except the last bed, which, when Jayne approached it, he discovered was empty. No child here, just rumpled sheets. Kid probably got up to go to the bathroom, or get a drink of water. "Huh," Jayne thought. He looked at the toy in his hand – a teddy bear – and decided that he rather liked it. He'd always wanted one when he was a kid, and never got one. And this one was real nice, with a bow around its neck and everything. So there was a toy left over. So what? Kid shoulda been there in bed. Kid's loss. He turned and headed back for the ship.

Meanwhile, River was taking her time over each gift, gently laying it on each bed, and whispering a rhyme over each child. What made it take even longer was that she was inventing each rhyme off the top of her head. Simon wondered if he should intercede, but since she was speaking in verse about things that weren't somehow grimly dark or eerily foreboding, he thought it was best to just let her go.

Also meanwhile, Kaylee found herself wondering if it was really fair to try to pigeonhole these kids into girl toys and boy toys. After all, her toys had been wrenches and hammers and drivers and blast drills and parts from a hundred different ship engines, and look how she'd turned out! Nothin' to be ashamed of. It was a fine life, even if once in a while she wanted something a little more than engine parts and dirty overalls.

Also meanwhile, Inara saw that the orphanage's one lone security guard had had his curiosity piqued by some strange noises, and he came shuffling up the stairs to find a shuttle sitting on his roof. He was about to blow an alarm whistle when she came down and silenced him with a look and a flash of leg. It always worked, especially with young men like this. Barely old enough to grow a beard. Staring at her as though he'd just seen an angel. Sad world, Haven, she thought. No wonder Companions almost never come here.

"Is there a girl you like?" she asked him.

He managed to nod.

She removed a ruby brooch from her robe and handed it to him. He gulped.

"Give this to her," she said. "And say nothing of me tonight."

He managed to nod, again. A major accomplishment, that. And so she sent him on his way, knowing that this would be their little secret, forever. Inara could keep secrets, and what would he say? Would he talk of the beautiful woman in the spaceship on his roof? No. Of course not. She smiled.

Finally meanwhile, Shepherd Book went all the way to the lowest level of the orphanage, where the oldest kids were. These kids were in the worst shape, the ones most likely to end up in something a bit worst than Mal's line of work, the ones most likely to end up on the wrong end of someone's gun or floating dead through the Black. He had little hope that a toy, just one toy, would be enough to budge more than maybe one or two of them off the trajectory their lives had them on, but lots of miracles had started from smaller stuff than a single toy. He laid each one on a bed, and tried not to linger too much over the one particular bed, the one over there on the left. On his way back up to the roof, he paused at the door to the headmaster's apartment. He wondered if he might say hello, under other circumstances. Or if he might rather go in there with a gun instead of a bible. He lingered there only a moment and then returned to the roof.

"Are we all here?"

"We're just waiting on Jayne," said Simon.

"Where is he?!"

At that moment, Jayne was muttering, "Where's the gorram stairs around here?" He'd gotten lost. It was a bigger orphanage than he'd though, and now he had no idea how to get back up to the roof. But he had to get up there, fast; the night was getting old and people would be getting up soon. He rushed around, all over the place, looking behind every door, until he found the stairs up. "'Bout time," he said. And then he stopped, because there was an eight-year-old girl looking at him.

"Uhhh...hi there," he said. "You should be in bed, youngster."

"I couldn't sleep," said the girl. "I have bad dreams. I wanted a drink of water."

"Well, you got your drink, so back to bed."

"You're not from here," the girl said. "Are you here to steal things?"

"No," Jayne said. "Not this time, anyway. Maybe tomorrow, haven't figured out the next job yet. Don't know. Gotta keep moving." But he didn't move. That girl just stood there, looking at him. All big-eyed, with her tangled hair and bedrobe that wasn't filthy but had seen better days anyway.... "I think your eyes are stuck," he said. "I gotta go."

"Bye," she said. And she stood there watching as he went halfway up the stairs, where he stopped.

"Aww, gorram it," he said as he turned back and came back down. "This is for you." He handed her the teddy bear. "Hold onto it tight when you sleep. Might help with them dreams. I got a preacher friend who says this is Christmas, so...have a ruttin' happy Christmas." And then he went up the stairs, practically running up them, to get away from the girl with the big eyes.

"That all the toys?" he asked when he got on board the shuttle.

"There were about twenty or so left over," said Simon. "I left those in a playroom."

"We're all ready, right?" Inara called back.

"We're all here!" Book said. "Close her up and let's go home."

Inara guided the little shuttle back into the air, and up into the sky toward the planet's other side, where Serenity lay in orbit.

"What took you so long, Jayne?" Kaylee asked.

"Got lost," Jayne said. "And...there was a little girl. Don't worry, I gave her a toy."

River pointed at his shirt, his red shirt. "A man with a beard wearing red came in the night to give her a present," she said. "Just like the old stories!"

Jayne stared at her. "What is she ruttin' talkin' about?"

"Nothing," said Book.

When they arrived on Serenity, Mal was there, waiting.

"Nice work," he said.

"Thank you, Captain," said Shepherd Book. "I appreciate it."

"I did a job," Mal said. "Soon as that tree gets dry and starts dropping those sharp needles all over my mess--"

"I'll have it down, sir."

Mal nodded and headed for his bunk. "Nice work, everyone," he called out. "Zoe, wake me when we get to Persephone."

***


A few weeks later they'd done another job, and they all had a little extra money. Not a lot, but some. So they all decided to exchange gifts. Mal wasn't sure whose idea it was, or if it even was anyone's idea, but it seemed to happen anyway.

Zoe gave her dear husband Wash that stegosaurus figurine he'd wanted. Wash gave his beloved wife Zoe a brand new leather vest.

Shepherd Book gave Simon an old copy of a very old anatomy book, a 'classic text' on the subject, from Old Earth. Simon gave River a rose made out of glass, with gold leaf on the petals; she commented on the fact that it had thorns. River gave the Shepherd a new Bible, which she promised him she would leave 'uncorrected'.

Kaylee gave Jayne a new carrying case for Vera, his favorite gun; Jayne gave Inara a robe that she knew she would look stunning in but would never ever ever wear in front of Jayne. And Inara gave Kaylee a new engine stabilizer and one of her own robes.

And Mal? He got what he always wanted. He got to keep flying.

The End
Merry Ruttin' Christmas
and a Happy Gorram New Year!!!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happiness is a warm tiger


In a hole in the ground, there lived....



I have to admit to feeling somewhat nervous about the prospects for the movie version of The Hobbit over the last few years. It’s a much more ‘filmable’ story than The Lord of the Rings, much more straight-forward in its tale, and I figured that, if anything, it would make a nice single movie. But then stuff started leaking out about Peter Jackson and company adding stuff to it, from the various appendices, notes, and other materials JRR Tolkien left lying about, indicating what generally went on during the more than fifty years that take place between The Hobbit and LOTR.

This struck me as potentially interesting, if they could find ways to make it all work into a coherent movie, but for the most part it sounded like a way for the filmmakers to justify expanding a story that would fit into one movie into an announced two. And then came the news that they were going to expand it out further, into three movies. The Hobbit, which is a relatively short book that tells a fairly light-hearted (until the end) adventure story, was going to be a cinematic trilogy. Initial reviews of the movie indicated that the film’s flaws are basically those that many had expected from this treatment of the source material: bloated, padded, and disjointed.

But when I saw the movie, I saw none of those things. All I saw was a gloriously entertaining return to Middle-earth, seen through different eyes than before, in the earlier telling of the great trilogy.

Is The Hobbit too long? Maybe, just a bit. Some of the action sequences probably do go on just a tad longer than they should, but ultimately, I didn’t really care. Did the film take its time in getting things moving? Yes...but again, ultimately, I didn’t really care. I guess what it ultimately comes down to is this: where this movie wanted to take me, I wanted to go.

A review at AICN -- don’t recall which one -- called The Hobbit a ‘homecoming’, in the sense that I mean here: that he wanted to go back to Middle-earth, and this movie accomplished that. Treating this movie as a ‘homecoming’ is an interesting metaphor, as ‘homecoming’ is the entire theme of The Hobbit: Bilbo Baggins must leave home to help the Dwarves get theirs back, and he must leave home in order to find the truest part of himself. In a lot of ways, Bilbo’s adventure causes him to lose his home, and not just in the real way, either (assuming that Jackson ends things the way Tolkien did, with Bilbo returning to find himself presumed dead and the auctioning off of his stuff already in progress). Forevermore Bilbo dreams of adventures, of leaving home and wandering afield. Of the Road that goes ever on and on.

Jackson shoots The Hobbit with a much more vibrant color palette than he used in Lord of the Rings, where everything had a slightly washed-out, muted look that got more and more pronounced as the ultimate confrontation with Sauron approached. Here, that look only really shows up twice: in the scenes where Radagast approaches Dol Guldur to investigate the evil presence there, and in the caverns deep beneath the goblin kingdom, where a wayward Bilbo finds a gold ring and its slimy, enigmatic keeper.

I found that the addition of material not in The Hobbit was actually very well executed indeed. It felt like a logical extension of the story, and I think it may end up giving more credence to later in the story, when Gandalf gets the company to the edge of Mirkwood and then suddenly says “Well, go on, down that path. I’m off. Don’t do anything stupid, now!” I always found that the least convincing part of the book. I know why Tolkien did it -- it’s a bit hard to put the company through hell if there’s a super-powerful wizard always there to bail them out -- but when reading it, that part always sticks out like a sore thumb. By showing us the ‘Important business to the south’ up front, well before it really rears its ugly head, I think Jackson is softening the blow.

I also had little problem with the extended delvings into the personal history between Thorin Oakenshield and Azog the orc-king, or goblin king, or whatever he really is. And I had little problem with...well, I just had little problem with anything in this movie. Maybe I need to see it again to try and figure out the flaws, but...well, look. Part of my love of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth movies, this one included, is in the way they allow me a certain level of immersion in Tolkien’s world that’s different from that of reading the books. Not better, mind you, but different. I want to be there. Why should I be upset about being there that long?

And frankly, what’s wrong with a story taking its time to unfold, anyway? Do we always have to be, in to quote Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, ‘in a big damn hurry’? So yeah, Peter Jackson, you go right ahead and give me a nice, long prologue in which Ian Holm voiceovers the coming of Smaug to Dale. You go right ahead and take your time with the Dwarves showing up on Bilbo’s doorstep, which is as wonderful a sequence as I recall. You go right ahead and give me villainous creatures with loud Cockney accents, and you go right ahead and wallow in the “Wow, look at that!” stuff with the stone giants throwing parts of their own bodies at each other.

(And speaking of Dale, I love how Jackson gives us another Middle-earth location that doesn’t look just like the others. The diversity in the way various places looked in the Lord of the Rings movies is an underappreciated aspect of those movies, in my opinion.)

Howard Shore returned to score this movie, coming back to his Middle-earth soundworld in particularly triumphant fashion. He isn’t very heavy handed in his use of themes from the earlier trilogy; mainly we hear snippets of the Shire music, in some wonderful new settings, and the haunting Ring motif is heard when Bilbo picks it up -- the musical fingerprint in these movies of the One Ring officially changing hands from one bearer to the next. His most impressive achievement here is in a motif for the Dwarves, which is cut from the same cloth as a remarkable passage of music from ten years ago in Fellowship. In the earlier film, when the Fellowship is in Moria, Gandalf takes them into the great hall of Dwarrowdelf, the Dwarven city, and the music swells with sad, epic emptiness that seems to be building to a grand statement of a melody -- but the melody never comes. It’s a musical passage that always causes me to hold my breath when I hear it, and now, in The Hobbit, Shore crafts a theme that seems to possibly be the very theme that passage in Fellowship was striving for. The theme is first heard when the Dwarves chant their “Far over Misty Mountains cold....” liturgy, but then the theme forms the virtual backbone of the entire score -- and I’ve got to note that this particular theme is an earworm of the highest order.

In terms of acting, well, there’s little to be found by way of a weak link in The Hobbit. Sir Ian McKellen can, of course, play Gandalf in his sleep, but he brings an interesting tone to the old wizard here, portraying him as being a bit more doddy than in the first trilogy. That’s in keeping with the book, which doesn’t present Gandalf as being quite so much as ‘One of the Great Powers of the world’, as much as a really good wizard who doesn’t always know what’s going on. Gandalf here also seems warmer, more mischievous, and less plotting-and-scheming. We only get glimpses occasionally of the Gandalf of the earlier trilogy, because the evil of Sauron hasn’t yet started to rise. (And I’m tickled that they managed to get Tolkien’s joke about a severed head leading to the invention of golf into the movie.)

Richard Armitage, as Thorin Oakenshield, captures Thorin’s sense of almost messianic devotion to his quest quite strongly, and he makes a powerful impression, sometimes almost going too far and making Thorin into, well, for lack of a better word...a douche. He presents a Thorin who is a man of singular focus, but also driven by very human concerns and a deep longing to return home, where the Thorin of the book often seems more driven by a desire to get the big pile of gold that Smaug sleeps on than anything else. (Until the Arkenstone turns up, of course.)

And then there is Bilbo himself, played by Martin Freeman. I’m only familiar with Freeman’s acting from one film, and that’s Love Actually. Now, he is utterly perfect in that movie (as is everyone else, but I can wax poetic about Love Actually another time), but the association isn’t quite to his benefit, as in that movie he plays a stand-in for the nude scenes in some movie that’s got a ton of sex in it, because every time we see him, he’s miming various sex acts with a female stand-in. (A unit director helpfully tells him, “All right, now, if you could just, ah, massage the nipples....”)

Freeman creates an absolutely pitch-perfect Bilbo Baggins: a proper hobbit who is going about his own business at his own leisure, but who is a bit odd and who has some desires and wishes buried deep within him that he doesn’t even realize are there until a wizard and thirteen dwarves show up and threaten to crack his dishes and bend his forks (without doing either, it must be noted). Freeman isn’t just the awkward Brit pushed into weird doings and deeds. He shows us that there’s always something going on in Bilbo’s head, and that even though he has a steep learning curve for this sort of thing, he’s got some good ideas, and as the story goes on, he’ll get to use them to greater and greater effect. Freeman puts Bilbo’s intelligence on display, which is extremely important, because the time is coming when he’ll be matching wits with a dragon.

It really does remain to be seen how Jackson and company will handle the continued mix of the book of The Hobbit with their new material. For me, they’re off to a very promising start. All the criticisms and complaints about this movie don’t add up to anything. I feel like this movie was made for me. And I’m damned glad to have it!