Simsenfreude

Much as I enjoy gaming, these days I’ve been spending far too many hours writing to get in any serious play time. Oh sure, I’ve nipped off for a heartbreaking permadeath or two in Don’t Starve. I even bought Prototype 2 for ten bucks in the latest Steam sale just for the cathartic pleasure of liquefying a few thousand innocent bystanders for no better reason than they were standing there, irritatingly minding their own business. But on the video-game front, I’ve largely been amusing myself by watching industry developments from the sidelines, reading articles, and trying to answer the most pressing question of the day: Is EA Games about to lay waste to another beloved and venerable franchise?

Since being voted the worst company in America multiple years in a row by an online poll, disappointing everyone with the universally loathed ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, and laying waste to a mighty gaming dynasty with the catastrophuck that was Simcity 2013, EA can do no right. Now, with a September 2nd release date written in stone, casual and obsessive gamers alike are waiting to find out if they’re about to destroy The Sims once and for all.

After nickel and diming fans with The Sims 3 microtransactions for the last five years, it was time to con devoted fans into buying all the same shit all over again for The Sims 4. EA bean counters are rubbing their greedy fingers together in anticipation of all the greenbacks they’ll see from pre-orders, deluxe pre-orders, online store items, and future installments that will roll off the assembly line multiple times per year for the next five years, give or take.

There’s just one tiny problem. The development and promotion of this new installment has, thus far, been an unmitigated disaster. And as a result, I’m getting far more entertainment value for free from watching this slow-motion train wreck than I could ever get for a seventy-dollar sticker price in September. To varying degrees, I’ve played all the past incarnations of The Sims. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch The Sims 4, but basking in the associated nerd rage amuses the shit out of me.

When I say I play The Sims, that’s not entirely accurate. I fart around with The Sims. I while away the hours overdesigning creepy freaks and outlandish buildings and sinister lairs. I micromanage every shade of colour, every texture, every prop’s position, until I’ve created exactly the mood I want. Then I proceed to never actually play the game itself because who really wants to spend all their gaming time reminding virtual people that it’s time to go to work, go to bed, eat something, clean something, or poop?

Well, apparently lots of people want to do that, and have done so for years, through three (going on four) incarnations of the game and more expansion packs, stuff packs and DLC than anyone has ever tried to count (FUN FACT: they once set Deep Blue to the task but technicians had to pull the plug after sixteen hours when it started smoking and stinking of sulfur and burnt rubber).

The big selling point of The Sims 4 is that your virtual people-puppets now come with emotions, emotions, EMOTIONS! Did we mention they have emotions now?

Okay, if you say so. Although I always thought the Sims looked pretty darn embarrassed every time they pissed themselves ten feet away from a perfectly functional toilet because they were too engaged in a rollicking game of chess.

When it comes to the new emotions system in the game, there’s only one emotion that comes to mind: Schadenfreude. From the moment EA minions announced that Into the Future would be the last expansion pack for The Sims 3, they’ve busied themselves laying waste to that future. The franchise now hangs on the success or failure of a sequel that has looked half-baked from day one.

Originally designed to be a multiplayer online experience like its Simcity cousin, the aforementioned catastrophuck necessitated a quick reversal on that front for fear of replicating one of the biggest disasters in video gaming history. Unfortunately, the infrastructure was already there, the engine was already built, and it was too late in the schedule to create the new game from the ground up. So now we have a single-player experience grafted onto a multiplayer design. The results are a massive leap backwards for the series, removing the open world of The Sims 3 in favour of lots and lots and lots of loading screens.

Ah, if only that were the sole setback this game had to deal with. Let us not forget the layoffs when EA cut its Maxis staff to the bone earlier this year. All sorts of beloved “SimGurus” featured in promotional play videos, product announcements, and tweets with the fans were given the unceremonious axe, leaving only two janitors and one accountant on staff to finish coding The Sims 4. As a direct result, the game isn’t ready. It isn’t even close to being ready. If it had another year of development time at its disposal, it might be able to get in the same ballpark as ready. Right now, it’s not even on the same planet as ready. But it’s getting a worldwide release in a little over a month because fuck it! EA gotta eat.

Nearly every single day for weeks there’s been a new announcement about what’s not in the game. EA is doling out the bad news incrementally to avoid a fan-base shock that would see all their preorders cancelled. It’s not really working. Preorders continue to be sluggish, and a lot of the ones they already had dating all the way back to 2013 have been cancelled. No Create-a-Style, no toddlers, no swimming pools, no basements. The hits keep on coming. Stuff that was promised to be in-game last year has since evaporated. Everyone is waiting on the inevitable announcement that cars and other vehicles will not be interactive in the base game. The silence on the topic has been deafening. Which means cars are out.

But did we mention your Sims will now have emotions? Yes, I think you did. Did I mention Sim fans have emotions too? They do. Rage, ire, disdain, hatred and malice. Read the forums sometime. The vitriol is poisonous.

Complicating the matter is EA’s typical tone-deaf approach to dealing with its customers. Videos, convention appearances and promotion for the new Sims title have been a joke. A badly told knock-knock joke with poor delivery, ill timing and no punchline. EA seized upon the opportunity of the E3 conference to provide no new information about the game whatsoever. After fans demanded to see actual in-game footage – any in-game footage featuring genuine game play and a user interface – EA responded with a contrived and woefully incomplete walkthrough identical to what they offered select members of the press back at E3 a month earlier.

SimGuru Graham, owner of one of the necks that avoided this year’s layoff chopping block, has been dispatched to calm fears and break bad news as sweetly as possible via Twitter and endless rounds of nearly identical convention interviews. The new Sim emotions may be garishly overacted and cartoony, but I think I can read some of the more subtle emotions going on just under the surface of those pandering interviews that hit all the talking points and never broach the subject of what’s gone so horribly wrong the game.

I’ve done those interviews myself, I’m been in those meetings. I’m sure many of you have as well. You know, the ones where you’re required to fake enthusiasm for a product you know is a steaming pile of dog shit? You pull your lips back, bare your teeth, and hope it resembles a genuine smile. You raise your voice to an artificially high pitch and volume and pray it sounds like excitement. But the eyes, ah yes, the eyes. Those haunted, soul-compromised eyes can’t hide the fact that you’re dying inside a little every time you present a false positive or nod in agreement with an idea you know is not just bad, it’s stupefying horrible.

Putting on a brave face, dying a little on the inside.

Putting on a brave face, dying a little on the inside.

More transparent is SimGuru Ryan, who continues to be tapped for interviews, announcements and gameplay videos. He’s been a constant frontman for the franchise for years, apparently thanks to his position as lead producer in charge of artificially positive spin. He comes across as so insincere, I worry the poor man fakes his orgasms when masturbating. Every time he opens his mouth in one of these clips, I feel like I’m being hard sold a lemon by a used car salesman. Except, of course, The Sims 4 won’t actually have real cars. That piece of bad news publically admitted to in three…two…one…

Of course there are fans who remain steadfastly committed to the title. Although the ongoing derailment of a fourteen-year-old billion-dollar video gaming cornerstone has sharply divided the community into bickering factions, that’s part of the appeal of watching everyone lose their shit and turn into a talkback troll. Stubborn supporters are very much needed to turn a critical panning into a lively boxing match. Without them it would be like having no delusional die-hards who stood up to defend the Star Wars prequels. Where’s the fun if everyone acknowledges the product on offer is junk and agrees to keep their money in their wallet?

You can read all the negative comments about The Sims 4 right now. The game itself, ready or not, comes out on September 2, 2014. Better-informed negative reviews commence on September 3rd.

And Now For Something Completely Familiar

Monty Python is no more. It has ceased to be. The comedy team’s final show ever was last night at the O2 in front of thousands in house, and many thousands more via live broadcast to cinemas around the world. It has been 45 years since the six members first came together as a group to create the BBC show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Although, for all practical purposes, they haven’t functioned together as a team in over 30 years. Calls for a reunion were stemmed by the death of Graham Chapman in 1989, but some fans never gave up hope.

My experience with the brand of comedy pioneered by Python – a blend or silly, satirical and literate – started when I was only a toddler. One of my earliest televised memories is watching the bloodbath of “Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days” and thinking all the dismemberment and gushing blood was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.

By the time I was old enough to truly appreciate what the boys had to offer, The Meaning of Life was in theatres. It was an entry point for me, but it was the last hurrah for Monty Python. Their final comedy record (the Contractual Obligation Album) had already been released, and their Hollywood Bowl performance had marked their final live show.

Of course, I didn’t know I’d already missed the boat. They were all still working on their own projects and there seemed to be hope for another movie. Maybe another album. Maybe another tour.

I spent much of the 1980s fiddling with a television antenna in the attic, trying to tune in the least snowy image possible from the nearest PBS station so I could record rewatchable episodes of Flying Circus on VHS. I convinced my parents to pledge 60 dollars during one of the funding campaigns so I could get a free copy of the ultra-rare first Python album. I special ordered any and all books by and about Python for special import from England through the book store in the basement of Ogilvy’s department store.

Side Note: Fucking hell does the internet eliminate all this legwork I used to do to collect rare books, films, records and shit.

I must have memorized everything they ever did. There were certainly no surprises for me when a forward-thinking high school English teacher (from actual England) played Python sketches for us in class to illustrate certain concepts of the language – “Dead Parrot” for euphemisms, “Four Yorkshiremen” for exaggeration. I already knew them all by heart, but I appreciated the effort.

I watched the movies until I was sick of them, then bought the DVDs and watched them again anyway. I followed their individual careers through thick and thin, and sat through a few film appearances even their own mothers would have skipped.

That Monty Python reunion never did happen as I’d hoped, and in time I moved on to other things, other brands of comedy that used Python as a foundation and built on it from there. I wrote one or two comedy pieces of my own that were accused of being Pythonesque, and willingly copped to it in interviews.

When the Monty Python Live (Mostly) show was announced for this year, I was strangely ambivalent. I strongly considered an overseas pilgrimage to go see the spectacle, but the time and expense involved dampened my enthusiasm. When the show was sold out in under a minute, that made my decision easier. Even when more nights were added to the run, I didn’t exactly move heaven and earth to get myself a ticket.

A live broadcast was promised, but I didn’t like the local venue and didn’t bother to reserve a seat. Other, better cinemas were added to the roster. The night before the show I had a page open in my browser, ready to buy my ticket. But then I decided to go to bed instead, sure there would still be some available come morning.

Over brunch with friends, I contemplated whether or not I would head downtown, ticketless, and see if I could grab one at the theatre. I was on the fence about attending pretty much up until I stepping into the queue and handed the box-office monkey a twenty dollar bill. In the end, I had to see it for myself, live as it happened.

It was mostly what I expected – a Python tribute show starring The Pythons themselves. And, of course, the inevitable and still lovely Carol Cleveland.

There was some new material added here and there. “Not the Noel Coward Song,” a tribute tune to penises, was expanded to include salutes to vaginas and bottoms as well. “I Like Chinese,” was completely rewritten and was no longer the dismissive ditty it once was, but more of a homage to a newly minted superpower that has risen to the forefront of geopolitics since the song was first sung. A surprising amount of material from The Meaning of Life was coopted and performed in front of an audience for the first time. Even a couple of unusual choices of very old sketches that had never been dragged onto the stage before got their first and last moment in the sun.

But other than a few surprises in the nearly three-hour (with intermission) show, it was mostly the expected staples. Staples interspersed with old television clips and a full chorus line of singers and dancers to kill time between costume changes. And plenty of celebrity cameos from famous people who wanted the bragging rights of having performed with Python once, at the last possible opportunity.

The five remaining members were up for the show to varying degrees. Gilliam and Palin remain fairly energetic performers, with the former game for physical comedy and stunt work (dangling by wires high above the stage isn’t something I’d attempt at my age, let alone his) and the latter quick on his feet with an improvised line or two to address the unexpected moments that inevitably crop up in live theatre. Cleese and Jones had a rougher time of it but had fun with their failings, even as they sometimes struggled to remember the next line in sketches they’d performed a thousand times before. Idle stood, as he always has, in the middle of the pack, game to cash in and squeeze every red penny out of past glories.

The material, old and familiar, fit like a well-worn pair of slippers. It was comfortable, but unchallenging, and too well known to be funny anymore. My only laughs came from off-the-cuff reactions to cock-ups and a couple of personal shots worked into sketches at the expense of Palin for his many travel shows, and Cleese for his many marriages.

Shortly before he died, I got to see Graham Chapman in person during his lecture tour. Since then, I’ve been able to see John Cleese, Terry Jones and Eric Idle in the flesh. That leaves Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam (my two favourites) yet to catch. Judging from their appearance on the O2 stage, they seem to be the most spry, so my opportunity may yet come. Time marches on, but I’ll never stop being a fanboy.

pythonfinalbowAfter the Pythons left the stage, after the impromptu-encore warning, after the obvious “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” not-so-impromptu encore, after the very final bows, but before the words “Piss Off” appeared in large flowing typeface on the jumbo screen, there was an epitaph.

It read: Graham Chapman 1941 – 1989, Monty Python 1969 – 2014

And over-the-hill, self-indulgent, overproduced, alimony-paying, legal-fees-settling, dinosaur-reunion rehash though it may have all been, I cried.

 

Pucca Break

I’ve been off the show for years and there hasn’t been a new episode of Pucca produced in a very long time, but the cutsie kung-fu powerhouse is still going strong. Pucca cartoons continue to sell across the international market generating not one, but two royalty cheques I’ve received in recent months. Merchandise circulates all over the world as evidenced by the t-shirt of this adorable little Brazilian girl who appears to be standing next to a gigantic pair of OH MY GOD!!!!!mr-balls

You didn’t just see that. Whatever that was. Please click this EMERGENCY ESCAPE LINK to get the hell out of here.

The Worm in the Apple

I don’t like Apple.

It’s not just their slave-labour policies that drive factories full of Chinese workers to suicide, their ongoing efforts to get every man, woman and child on the planet to carry their own personal snoopable tracking device, or their general dickishness about how hip and cool and plug-and-playable their products are. I am, for the record, a long-time PC guy. I hate Microsoft and its indentured servant, the humble PC, as well. But at least we’ve never developed the smugness of Apple users. We don’t expect plug-and-play. We expect broken and irritating. It’s made us strong, and it’s taught us much about computers – namely how to take them apart, put them back together again, and reprogram the motherfuckers so that they actually work. Ask an Apple user to do anything other than hook it up and they’ll weep onto their touch screens and pray to their Jobs-Messiah for guidance and blessings.

Yes. there are plenty of reasons to hate Apple as a corporate entity. But my top reason is the cult-like love affair that goes on between client and product. It gets a little sickening after a while – like watching some fashionista fawn over the accessory rat-dog that lives in her handbag. Sure, lady, it’s great that you’re an animal lover and all, but you two should get a room. Stop Frenching in front of everyone at the supermarket because you’re making us all sick and my eyes are starting to burn.

“Fuck Apple,” may be one of my popular refrains, but I never meant it literally.

And yet technology is always willing to fulfill needs few, if any of us, ever knew existed. There’s a new product from the fine folks at Fleshlight, ever the vanguard of artificial-vagina technology (at least until the Japanese perfect their semen-powered mecha-cyborg vagina-kaiju and it breaks out of the lab disguised as a tentacled schoolgirl in order the milk the entire male population of Earth and reach critical mass – and my inside sources tell me they’re working on EXACTLY THAT). It’s the lastest and greatest in sex-toy strap-on technology. Now, you too, can have sex with your iPad. At last, Apple fans can pursue the twisted fantasy they never dared consciously acknowledge.

They call it LaunchPAD and, ever the savvy marketers, Fleshlight has even prepared a YouTube-safe commercial which speaks for itself.

Good luck getting tech support if it breaks. Better call a Biohazard team.

Despite my distaste and distrust for Apple, I have been known to borrow my wife’s iPad on occasion (as in every few hours) to play mobile games. And I have to say, despite the iProducts’ legendary intuitive interface, I could never, for the life of me, figure out where to insert my penis. At least this conundrum has been resolved in the most unambiguous way possible. Thanks, Fleshlight!

Bear in mind, this isn’t just for porn. Thanks to such cutting-edge technology, anything on your tablet screen is a viable target for your next erection. Now strange men can stick their dick in your Twitter feed, your Facebook friends list and, obviously, stuffonmycat.com. There’s a whole world wide web guys can stick their dicks in, and it doesn’t end there. I, for one, have longed for the day when I could stick my dick in Fruit Ninja. I just hope I don’t get any bombs. Unless, of course, it works like a forced-feedback joystick.

Nobody in their right mind asked for this, but now that it’s here, please enjoy your newfound ability to have sexual relations with your tablet to its fullest. Just wear a condom. We don’t need a world full of your iBastards.

This ain't your daddy's USB port.

This ain’t your daddy’s USB port.

A Survival Guide to Westeros

Recently, I saw an online poll asking people which fantasy world they’d most like to visit. And despite so many voters expressing their desire to travel through the fictional lands of their favourite books, films and television shows, I didn’t see much personal appeal. Neverland? Nah. Too many eternally youthful juvenile delinquents up to no good. Oz? No way. Flying monkeys are creepy as hell. Narnia? Pass. Allegorical anthropomorphic Christ-lion messiahs aren’t my scene.

Nobody chose Westeros, home of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones machinations and mayhem, because it’s too violent and dangerous. I think they’re missing the forest for the trees. The thing about Westeros, the real selling point, is that EVERYBODY gets laid. There is so much fucking going on in the seven kingdoms, it’s amazing anyone finds any time to get some beheading and backstabbing in.

Dwarf? Doesn’t matter, you’re a pussy magnet. Vow of celibacy? A ginger savage will still bang your brains out. Have to pay for it? Totally worth it! Westeros prostitutes are universally gorgeous and disease-free. Even most of the eunuchs in the land are hunks and could easily get some if they were so inclined (and rented the appropriate prosthetic). You can pretty much trip, fall and find yourself intimately entwined with a total hottie before you even hit the ground.

Okay, granted, the entire book/TV-show world is a death trap. Life expectancy is low, main characters die off so fast it sometimes feels like the entire cast must have contracted Ebola, but what a way to go! If you want to risk it and join the fantasy fuckfest, here’s a simple guideline to surviving in the lands of Westeros and Essos:

Be an outcast, either too tiny or too enormous. If you weren’t lucky enough to be born a freak, try being disfigured or maimed. Terrible scars may be your ticket to a long life. Losing a limb is golden. Don’t forget, cock and balls count. Think you’ll miss them? Well would you rather be dead? Trim those boys off while there’s still time. Don’t want to have your body all cut to pieces? Fine. Become a cripple.

Fat is good, stupid is better. Hedge your bets and try being fat and stupid. DO NOT be handsome or beautiful because one day you’re going to pay for that shit. If you’re at all good-looking, try getting maimed as soon as possible. Whatever you do, don’t be popular and well-liked. That’s an instant death sentence.

As predictable as this formula is, however, all bets are off when enormous versus disfigured in a fight to the death. That’s like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Oh, right. Spoiler alert. Sorry, but you’ve had a whole week to get up to date with your PVR.

This insight comes from having watched the entirety of Game of Thrones in a very short period of time. I’m not one for binge watching but, having said that, I did watch the first thirty hours of the show in three days flat shortly before season four began airing. After such an overdose, it was painful to have to wait a whole week between episodes. Now that the current season is done, I’m probably going to lose my shit waiting for season five to premiere in April 2015. This past Sunday marks the first I’ve had to endure without a new episode. I’m not looking forward to the many more that will follow.

Now I know what all the fuss is about. Game of Thrones is the best thing currently on TV, even if I have cracked the life-or-death code. It’s not my favourite thing (that’s still Sherlock), but it’s a close second.

As we all keep vigil for the return months down the road, let us remember one thing: In the game of thrones, you either win or you die. Regardless, you’ll get a piece.

At least on The Walking Dead, when they kill off a character, the actor usually gets up to take a bow.

At least on The Walking Dead, when they kill off a character, the actor usually gets up to take a bow.

The Spare

Another 700 words of my flash fiction is up on Shotgun Honey today. The Spare allows you, the reader, to enjoy the hardboiled-noir experience firsthand by placing you right in the middle of the action. And the pain. It’s just like virtual reality, except with words on a page, and without the hefty expense of an Oculus Rift and all the associated motion sickness that goes along with it.

Stomach-turning nausea may result regardless.

Book (patent pending) A new high-tech device that allows the user to immerse him or herself in a whole other world, fully realized and stimulating to the imagination. System requirements: enough energy to turn a 2.3 gram page.

Book (patent pending) A new high-tech device that allows the user to immerse him or herself in a whole other world, fully realized and stimulating to the imagination. System requirements: enough energy to turn a 2.3 gram page.

Black Chaos

One of my old short stories has just been reprinted in a new anthology of zombie yarns from Big Pulp. Carrion Luggage originally appeared in the collection, Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic in 2003. Usually I’m happy to use this website as a dumping ground for past material, but when I heard about the upcoming untitled anthology (now named Black Chaos: Tales of the Zombie) I thought this might tickle their fancy and offered them the rights. Everyone’s so eager to write new flesh-eating undead stories, the traditional voodoo zombie has become sadly neglected over the years. I figured this story might help fill a void.

blackchaoscoverblackchaosbackBlack Chaos is available in both print and e-book formats from outlets like Amazon. And if this puts you in the mood for a zombie movie or three, why not give the Romero derivatives a break and visit voodoo classics like White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, and The Serpent and the Rainbow for a change. I wish there were more entries in the meagre voodoo-zombie sub-genre to recommend, but after those three I’m already stumped. Okay, maybe, just maybe, Live and Let Die, but now I’m really stretching. Comment below if you know of any more.

Twenty Years Ago Tonight

Sometime in the wee hours of June 4, 1994, following yet another local comic jam at Gallery Stornaway, I stepped outside into the streets of downtown Montreal and began my long night-bus commute home to the west island. It had been an unusually successful evening. I’d finished one entire page of comic art, contributed to a handful of others, sold some minicomics for quick cash, and scored some girl’s phone number. Not bad, considering I nearly didn’t go.

I’d been to many comic jams before, but no one had officially invited me to this one that Friday evening. Nevertheless, I read I would be in attendance in one of the free weekly papers, so my reaction was to shrug and conclude, “I guess I’m going.” The jam was only a few hours away. Luckily, I was already in the city.

A picture of that evening ran the following week in The Montreal Mirror. Faces visible, left to right: Leanne Franson, Bernie Mireault, Rick Gagnon, Mike Stamm, Shane Simmons

A picture of that evening ran the following week in The Montreal Mirror. Faces visible, left to right: Leanne Franson, Bernie Mireault, Rick Gagnon, Mike Stamm, Shane Simmons

My solo page that night concerned one of my favourite topics: dead celebrities. Kurt Cobain had blown his head off only a couple of months earlier, so I thought it would be funny to pair him with fellow self-inflicted head-wound celebrity, Del Shannon, who had committed suicide in similar fashion in 1990. Was this in questionable taste? Of course. But it’s never “too soon” in gallows-humour land. The final panel referred to the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, from choking on his own vomit during a drug overdose, and Mama Cass, from choking on a ham sandwich (actually a long-standing urban myth, she died of a heart attack).

GPMConverIt was while I was inking this affront to both music and basic human empathy that I encountered a fan of my work. I let her see the page-in-progress. She didn’t know who Del Shannon was, but I took her phone number when she offered it anyway.

Five years to the day later, I married her.

Twenty years later, we’re still married.

Comic book artists don’t get nearly as many groupies as musicians, so we have to make them count.

 

Three and a Half Stories Tall

“So how’s that writing thing going?”

People generally assume I’m writing something, but if they ask anything specific I shut down, say something trite and sarcastic, and change the subject. Questions about my work like “What’s it called?” or “What’s it about?” tend to only illicit grumpy-bear noises from me. I appreciate that friends and family are interested, but nothing kills a work-in-progress faster than talking about it. If a story comes spilling out of my mouth, it won’t come spilling out of my fingertips and into a keyboard like it’s supposed to. This is a common affliction among writers. If you say it, you won’t write it. Many a terrific story has died a premature death by being spoken out of existence.

Once it’s done, then I can safely blab about it. To that end, there are a couple of new and a couple of old short stories I should mention.

shotgunhoneyAs of today, Table d’hôte is live on Shotgun Honey. This is home to a wide variety of noir flash fiction from authors around the world. Given that their unofficial mascot is Frigga from Thriller: A Cruel Picture (AKA They Call Her One Eye), that legend of Swedish exploitation cinema, I knew I had to submit some material to them. At under 700 words, you should be able to absorb it about as fast as this blog post.

Newly added to the short story section of the Eyestrain homepage is Probe, the very first short story I ever had published, a mere quarter century ago now. It wasn’t my first published work – that happened a year earlier with my scripts for the comic book anthology, Shattered Earth, but we’re still going waaaaaay back into the dusty recesses of the filing cabinet. It’s vaguely cute, kinda funny, so I figured I might as well own up to it and give it a new home.

Underwriter is something much more recent I finished and decided to host here, rather than flog it around to other venues. Mostly because it’s completely self-indulgent. In an effort to exorcise some of the demons from my screenwriting career, I thought I might like to have a go at a few of the meetings I’ve sat through over the years. Yes it’s fiction, but it’s also very much inspired by some sadly all-too-real encounters behind the scenes of the film and television industry. Have fun deciding for yourself how much of it is grotesque exaggeration for comedic effect, and how much of it is grotesque reality for soul-crushing effect.

A little farther down the road, Big Pulp will be reprinting my story, Carrion Luggage (originally from the Island Dreams collection of 2003), in their upcoming zombie anthology. I thought I’d offer it to them because hey, who the hell writes voodoo zombie stories anymore? Apparently nobody. It’s all The Walking/Talking Dead now – George Romero, two generations removed. I figured they’d jump at it as a welcome change of pace to all the flesh eating that goes on with recently reanimated corpses these days. And I was correct. More details (like the actually name of the upcoming collection) will appear in this space when I find out for myself.

I have another half-a-dozen new short stories waiting in the wings as well. I’m still on the fence about exactly what I want to do with them. I feel I should at least go through the motions and give a few of them a fair kick at the can with paying magazines, but my patience with the whole submission process isn’t what it used to be. In the midst of my mid-life crisis (something that’s been going on since I turned 30 – or, if I’m being perfectly honest, 20) I’m less interesting in pursuing the often paltry sums offered for fiction in lieu of just taking the raw material directly to my audience. Editors and gatekeepers too often operate as a barrier between what I write and what ultimately gets read. I feel my material gets filtered quite enough (“butchered” is the more accurate word) in the work I do for the screen. Prose is what I write to relax, so I can say exactly what I mean, warts and all.

I kinda like a good wart every now and then. It adds character.

 

Tommy Can You See Me?

If you don’t know about the phenomenon of cinematic awfulness that is The Room, I’m not going to reiterate it here. Just go read the wiki article about the film and the madman behind it, Tommy Wiseau.

After watching it once, years ago, I thought I was done. I can’t say I ever climbed on board the ironic-cult bandwagon that surrounds what has become everyone’s favourite bad movie since Plan 9 from Outer Space. If anything, I was always a tad more intrigued by the backstory of After Last Season, a much worse movie on every level, but not as entertainingly bad as The Room. Whereas absolutely everything in After Last Season is wrong (every shot, every line, every prop – something is always so very off), the attraction of The Room is the wrongness Wiseau brings to the proceedings as writer, director, producer and star. Everyone else involved in the film is trying to make sense of it all (including a fair number of genuine industry professionals behind the scenes), but none of them can make any headway against the madness-tsunami that is Wiseau. He tears the whole six-million-dollar self-financed vanity project down around him, and there’s nothing anyone can do to prop it up. It’s fascinating to watch.

Eventually I ended up sitting through The Room a second time when Cindy, a friend since we both worked on Radio Active so very long ago, poked me (literally) for six months, asking, “When are we going to watch The Room?” She had been introduced to a highlight reel on YouTube and had become obsessed. My second screening did not disappoint, and I was enlightened as to the benefit of watching The Room with other people who could share in the laughter and horror.

I figured that was it. But recently, word spread that The Room personified was coming to town. The Dollar Cinema (long misnamed since admission is now $2.50 for regular screenings) was hosting a special event with Tommy Wiseau himself, and co-conspirator, co-star, co-producer Greg Sestero. How could we not go?

A trio of us took an afternoon excursion to the Decarie Square mall – one of those economically depressed shopping malls so dead, it would be perfectly safe to seek shelter there in a Dawn of the Dead scenario. Even the zombies would find better places to hang out during the apocalypse. I’d bought tickets online a few days earlier, and although we’d heard the show had sold out, we were unprepared for the epic crowd.

“This mall hasn’t had this many people in it since the ‘80s,” I declared. And I wasn’t joking. I think that was an accurate assessment. We were the better part of an hour early, and already the line of ticket holders was long. It would double by the time we were let in. There was even a lengthy line of people waiting for standby tickets. An entire second screening had been scheduled to meet demand, and it looked like it would be no less crazy.

An pre-movie opportunity to buy merchandise, meet Tommy and Greg, and get shit signed was offered and seized by Cindy and myself. Knowing there was a recent book about the production by Sestero, I took this moment to buy a copy. I’m halfway through The Disaster Artist now, and it’s kind of magnificent – certainly the best Hollywood-underbelly book I’ve read since Nightmare of Ecstasy. It’s a compelling story in the genre I like to call “Normal guy tries to be buddies with weird guy.” As such, the book is a modern day Of Mice and Men, with Tommy in the role of Lennie, excepting the fact that fewer puppies and pretty girls get accidentally strangled. Okay, maybe it’s just a modern day The Cable Guy. Either way, it’s rocketed to the top of my recommended reading list.

Film industry titans, Greg Sestero, myself and Tommy Wiseau. Photo by Lucinda Davis. NB: Greg is wearing a knockoff of the scorpion jacket worn by Ryan Gosling in Drive. Unless, of course, he defeated Gosling in a duel and skinned him alive.

Film industry titans, Greg Sestero, myself and Tommy Wiseau. Photo by Lucinda Davis. NB: Greg is wearing a knockoff of the scorpion jacket worn by Ryan Gosling in Drive. Unless, of course, he defeated Gosling in a duel and is wearing his skin as a trophy following his victory.

Intriguingly, Greg Sestero crossed out his own name before signing. Insanely, Tommy crossed out co-author Tom Bissell's name before signing.

Intriguingly, Greg Sestero crossed out his own name before signing. Insanely, Tommy crossed out co-author Tom Bissell’s name before signing.

Back outside and in line, we heard the crowd erupt into cheers and hoots. Tommy had decided to come out and bask in the love, running the length of the queue to deliver as many high-fives as he could to his adoring fans. Tommy doesn’t seem to smile much (unless you count those unnerving humourless chuckles from his bag of acting tricks), but there seemed to be genuine joy on his face in this moment. He looked like a big shaggy dog let off his leash in an open field after being cooped up in the house all week.

The Running of the Tommy.

The Running of the Tommy.

Cindy looks adoringly at her signed DVD. The ladies get an extra heart-and-arrow scribbling on their merchandise.

Cindy looks adoringly at her signed DVD. The ladies get an extra heart-and-arrow scribbling on their merchandise.

Pete models the sexiest piece of Wiseau memorabilia offered to fans. We can only hope each item was pre-worn by Tommy himself. I know I'd rather have his name on my underwear than that goddamn Hilfiger creep.

Pete models the sexiest piece of Wiseau memorabilia offered to fans. We can only hope each item was pre-worn by Tommy himself. I know I’d rather have his name on my underwear than that goddamn Hilfiger creep.

The Running of the Tommy Part II: The Rebound Lap.

The Running of the Tommy Part II: The Rebound Lap.

Inside the theatre, we were subjected to a surreal Q&A session with the featured star duo. I usually find screening Q&As tedious, filled with bad and awkward questions from the audience that really bring the mood down. In this case, nothing could bring the mood down. It didn’t matter what was asked of him, Tommy was quick with answers that came directly from an alien world in an alternate universe. He was multitasking bizarre queries, photo requests, and film-scene re-enactments in a way only someone completely uninhibited can. It’s astonishing how much you can accomplish when you don’t think about anything before you say or do it. Tommy just runs with it, whatever it may be. He may not arrive anywhere that makes the least bit of sense, but dammit, he’ll get there.

The Q&A. We sat near the very back because we didn't want to get pelted by plastic spoons the whole movie. It was a wise move.

The Q&A. We sat near the very back because we didn’t want to get pelted by plastic spoons the whole movie. It was a wise move.

Pete assumes the crash position, doubling over with laughter during Tommy's barking-mad responses. Cindy watches with awe, admiring a true thespian at work.

Pete assumes the crash position, doubling over with laughter during Tommy’s barking-mad responses. Cindy watches with awe, admiring a true thespian at work.

In the decade-plus since its release, The Room has very much arrived at a Rocky Horror level of cult. I knew about the spoons that would be thrown, the footballs, the people who would inevitably arrive dressed as their favourite character. But I didn’t expect the audience interplay with the film to be as solid as it was. There were some classic reply lines, sing-alongs and Mystery Science Theater 3000 moments. In this post-Oscar season, what’s to be said when the most entertaining picture I’ve seen lately is a piece of crap from 2003 I’d already watched twice before?

Of course, in the wake of this, Cindy wants to watch After Last Season, complete with its paper sets, paper MRI machine, and paper-thin acting. I don’t know if it can hope to match the magnificence of The Room should we gather an audience, but I expect we’ll find out soon enough. The poking has begun, and past experience has shown I can only bear that for six months max before my resolve crumbles.