H Is For Horror…

Ah, denizens, you know I love you all even when I’m not around. And you also know that I love Halloween most of all the holidays…so I simply had to come back one more time for October.

So I’ve been binge-listening to a “new” podcast recently (they’ve been at it for a while now, actually, but the show is new to me, as I have failed to keep up with several podcasts lately, including this one). The podcast in question is The Little Pod of Horrors, featuring two of the loveliest, funniest horror fans I know. Of course, listening to their shows has once again reinvigorated my love of the horror genre. This whole month, in fact, I’ve been watching pretty much only horror movies for my daily workouts. I’ve caught up on quite a few movies that slipped off my radar, fallen in love with a few, and even added one to my personal collection!

Now, some of you might recall that I have posted a few entries here at the lair dealing with my love of horror. A few Halloweens ago, I even posted a list of what I consider to be Loba’s Most Viewed Scary Movies. What I’d like to do today is expand that list alphabetically. Here’s the deal: I have 26 letters, to which I will be matching 26 horror movies that I consider personal requirements for that mysteriously contrived desert island stranding for which we all feel compelled to prepare.

Now, here’s where I’m slightly “tampering” with these rules (and they’re my rules, so I can bloody well do with them whatever I want). I don’t yet have personal horror movie favorites for the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z. I just haven’t seen any movies that start with these letters that I consider necessary to my interests.

HOWEVER! This works perfectly for me, because there are a couple of letters for which I simply could not pick just one movie. Apparently, there are certain letters in the alphabet that are exceptionally popular with horror movie writers.

Do I think these movies are the hands-down, absolute best horror movies ever made for their particular letter? Objectively, no (for the most part). However, for me, these are the ones that bring me the most joy whenever I watch them, either for their merit to the genre or for purely nostalgic reasons. Will these choices change? Most assuredly, especially now that I’m getting back into the genre with much more gusto than recently. I noticed that a lot of these are older movies (and movies that I write and talk about a lot), revealing that it’s been a while since I was really dedicated to watching horror. Time to change that…but for now, this encompasses what represents, to me, really enjoyable horror (with, admittedly, a couple of thrillers, just to mix things up [and piss a few people off]) and a good sampling of movie options for people who might want to get a good idea of classic (or classically terrible) genre gems.

All that being said, I’m not going to write a lot about these films because: A) I wrote about several of them already in my previous Halloween list; and B) I don’t want to hype them up too much. This is a purely subjective list, so I know that there will be several selections that a lot of horror fans will respond to with “WTAF” looks…and that’s okay. But if you haven’t seen any of the movies on this list, I would hate to build up any of them and cause you to be horribly disappointed by your own experience. Really, just take this all with a grain of salt, eh?

Now…shall we begin?

alien

True, this is technically a science fiction film, but I believe this one falls squarely in the “sci-fi horror” subgenre. I saw Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner before I saw this movie, so I was already well and truly in love with Scott as a director by the time I saw this movie. This simply made me love Scott all the more. Plus, Sigourney Weaver is positively bad-ass as Ellen Ripley and makes an amazing genre heroine (of which there can never be enough). Also, H.R. Giger’s designs for the aliens are horrifyingly beautiful.

bwp

I will always have a special place in my heart for this film for many reasons…filmed in my home state, first “found footage” movie I ever experienced, atmospheric as all hell (which you all know I love more than anything), and utterly fun (unless you suffer from motion sickness). Yes, the three protagonists wear on your last nerve quite quickly at points, and, yes, they’re terrible actors…but that works for this film! If they were great actors, who would believe them as “real people”? Also, maybe the fact that they were so terrible in this movie is proof that they’re actually brilliant actors! Okay, probably not…but you can’t fault me for trying 😉

carnivalofsouls

Another one I’ve discussed here at the lair before. I wish I could explain more precisely why I love this movie so much. It’s so low-budget and silly at points, and I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s particular cup of pickled bat juice. But I love everything about this movie…how it was the only “big” movie the director ever made…how the idea came to him from seeing an abandoned resort at dusk…how many consider it to be one of the earliest “zombie” movies…there are so many aspects of this movie that could have spelled out “Disaster.” Instead, it all comes together as a wonderful little horror gem, waiting to be discovered.

dragmetohell

Spoilers: This is the only Sam Raimi film to make it to this list. As much as I respect his original Evil Dead and actually quite enjoy a great deal of it, this 2009 offering had me at evil buttons and grossed me out and scared the hell out of me and made me laugh in ways that only Raimi can make a viewer laugh. I haven’t watched this in several years, but when I came to the letter “D,” it was the only movie that immediately sprang to mind…others surfaced later, but I’m going to have to go with my initial gut response…I’d hate to suffer a face-gumming for my Raimi insubordination.

exorcist

This was a tough letter…and this was a tough decision. I love William Friedkin’s take on William Peter Blatty’s book (which, by the way, is an excellent read). I think this is one of the pillars of my own House of Horror Love and solidifies my opinion that practical effects still trump CGI in so many ways. Is this a movie I can watch whenever? No, I definitely need to be in a particular frame of mind to watch this one. It’s not a “put it on in the background” or “let’s crack open some rum and have a horror movie laugh.” This movie petrified me when I first saw it, and still sends chills through me whenever I watch it. I also love the poster art (and am now reminded of a feature at the lair that deserves to be revived at some point soon).

fauno

Okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one. The English title of this film is Pan’s Labyrinth, and when I first read the “original” Spanish title, it was listed merely as El Fauno. For years, that’s exactly what I’ve called this movie. Now I realize that it’s really El Laberinto del Fauno.

I don’t care, dammit. Pikachu, I choose you for my “F” film. Again, my rules. I think Guillermo del Toro is one of the most amazing directors in today’s cinema game. I’ve yet to see a movie from him that I didn’t love. His horror movies just keep getting better and better (so wonderful, in fact, that another of his films will be coming up soon enough). He is so masterful at delivering scares that so easily turn into moments of utter pathos. Horror with a soul. Beautiful. And scary as sin.

gremlins

Here’s a purely nostalgic pick. It’s even also shown up in my Poster Picks feature. True, this isn’t the scariest of scary movies and could have been quite scarier (the filmmakers wanted something that could attract a larger audience, however, so they toned down the gore a bit). It’s still a wicked little film with some pretty solid scares, great special effects, extremely funny tension breakers, and awesome little villains. Billy might be a terrible pet owner, but we all benefit from his inability to follow three rather simple instructions.

halloween

All right, you’re more than welcome to flash that “WTAF” look my way now, denizens. Not for the first choice, of course. Only if I meant Rob Zombie’s abomination of a remake would I deserve castigation for selecting Halloween as my first choice for “H.” Carpenter’s masterpiece is just that. There are so few movies from the horror genre that receive almost holistic love from fans (it is such a subjective genre, after all, because it really comes down to the purely subjective answer to the question “What scares you?”). I’ve encountered very few fans who do not feel similarly toward this movie as I do. Bottom line is that this is, hands-down, another undeniable giant in the pantheon of Horror Classics.

haunting

The second choice shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone either, especially considering that I even recently featured this movie in a Flashback Friday (which conveniently saves me from having to write about it now, other than to voice once more my love for this movie).

hellraiseriii

Now, Hellraiser III is a totally different story. I could have gone with the original from this franchise, which is sublimely scary in a rather surrealistic way. However, I love Pinhead. Doug Bradley is delicious as this villain, who wasn’t even slated to be anything more than a bit character from this particular horror world. However, you simply cannot deny the horrifying appeal that Bradley brings to Pinhead. The third installment is pretty much the movie makers acknowledging the gift of Bradley to their franchise. He absolutely makes this movie what it is: a cracking representation of B-horror at its best. Terrible acting (other than Bradley), cheesy script, wonderful practical effects, new Cenobites!, and Jadzia Dax without her spots.

Like I said, this is my very subjective list…

iamlegend

Nothing is more terrifying than a movie that totally destroys a genre literary classic. This piece of crap does just that. It absolutely dishonors Richard Matheson’s novella in ways that are brutally awful, including changing the ending and thereby nullifying the original meaning of the title. Well-played there! Besides, I’m trapped on a desert island. I need something to use as a mirror or a Frisbee or a way to signal passing ships.

P.S.–Did any of you really think I was serious with this selection? I’m not. I’d actually choose Interview with the Vampire because, dammit, it’s such schlocky fun. I just thought I’d give you all a bit of an extra jolt on this fantastic All Hallow’s Eve.

jaws

Back on track. Another one of those widely accepted classics and a perennial favorite at Chez Loba. I wish the Spielberg who made this movie still existed instead of the Spielberg who has to make most of his movies insufferably sweet. Oh well. If wishes were Horta…wishes would be really gross and kind of freaky and no one would make them anymore.

Or something.

Scary shark movie is scary. And fun. And really makes you think twice about dipping skinnily into the ocean (actually, the real horror of murky brown grossness now does that…I kind of prefer the fake horror to the real).

kalifornia

Here’s another contentious one, mostly because…is it really a horror movie? I would posit that it contains many horror elements…which I can’t really get into without spoiling a lot of stuff. It’s definitely a creepy movie. It’s also very violent and disturbing in a lot of ways, which means that it’s another one on this list that I can’t just pop into the player for casual viewing. It’s a “mood” movie. It’s also a movie that puts to great use Juliette Lewis’s natural ability to play characters that are both charmingly fragile and off-puttingly naive, as well as lets Brad Pitt excel at being something other than “sexeh.”

He is most definitely not sexeh as Early Grayce. Unless that’s your thing. Then go for it. He’s all yours. I’ll just be in the back of the car with Fox Mulder and Ensign Ro Laren (trivia: Ensign Ro rocked that red headband for several episodes because Michelle Forbes had hacked off her bangs for this role…).

letright1in

I love two types of vampires…and neither type sparkles. No, I either like my vampires horribly campy (thus, my real pick for “I”) or brutal and primal. Eli is the latter type of vampire. She does what she needs to do to survive. She’s also capable of protective acts of kindness, as shown in her relationship with Oskar, the boy next door. This is actually quite a beautiful story that just happens to rock some awesome horror moments. There’s a rather pointless American remake (because prophets forbid that Americans have to read subtitles), but I strongly recommend the original Swedish film.

maximumoverdrive

No excuses and no apologies for this one. It’s the only original screenplay Stephen King has ever written. He also directed it. He even appeared in it for a brief cameo. It’s terrible. And I love it. How can you not love a movie about possessed trucks, led by a toy company truck bedazzled by a giant Green Goblin head with glowing red eyes? Plus, AC/DC, King’s favorite band,” did the soundtrack, including this little gem:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/_jvqPvDUEW8

VIDEO SPOILERZ.

Seriously pointless. Seriously awful. Seriously fun.

nightmareonelmstreet

Another double-header, with a twist. The first is the original…the second is the remake.

Craven’s original movie is the movie that introduced me properly to the slasher. Freddy Krueger truly is the man of my dreams when it comes to this subgenre. Don’t get me wrong: I love Michael Myers…but I feel that each subsequent iteration of the Halloween franchise slowly whittled away at Myers’ awesomeness, while sequels to this film…well, didn’t necessarily make Freddy Krueger more terrifying, but instead morphed him into a weirdly likeable villain. You might still be rooting for the good guys to defeat him, but you enjoy him while he’s around. I talk a bit more about this in my Poster Pick on this film, if you’re interested.

nightoflivingdead

As for Tom Savini’s remake of Romero’s classic zombie flick…again, this is a “soft spot” movie for me. The remake features two of my all-time favorite Trek guest actors: Tony Todd (whose turn as the Candyman so very nearly made it onto this list), and stuntwoman Patricia Tallman. Plus, it dramatically improves upon the character of Barbara, giving her far more modern sensibilities and turning her into a right and proper bad-ass. I’m not saying the remake makes her a better character, but it makes her a character I’d follow into the zombie apocalypse.

elorfanato

Uno, dos, tres, toca la pared!

This time, Guillermo del Toro puts his money where his acumen for choosing great films is, again showing us why he’s such a force to be reckoned with, not just in Spanish horror but in the entirety of the genre. He helps director J.A. Bayona bring to us another beautifully macabre story with one of those endings that just gut-slams you as only truly well-done horror can.

poltergeist

Tobe Hooper’s 1982 ghost story was the very first truly scary horror movie I can remember seeing. I get all soppy-nostalgic for it in a previous Poster Pick/Flashback Friday combo. For this reason alone, this movie will always have a special place in my heart. Plus, it’s quite a well-made movie, and one that I’m really not looking forward to Hollywood remaking.

petsematary

As for this second appearance from Stephen King, so many aspects of this movie are just absolutely spot-on: the gore, the scares, the creepiness, the ickiness, the humor, the Fred Gwynne. And Gage Creed. As if I needed more reasons not to like kids… o_O

ring

I’ve yet to see the original Japanese film. To be honest, if it’s scarier than the American version (which I’ve heard it is), I don’t think I could make it through the original. This movie scared the living love of horror out of me…and then right back into me. Plus, it’s one of those rare instances where an American remake does the original justice (because, again, we can’t be bothered with reading!). I have to admit, I’ve only sat through this movie once, in the theater. I own the DVD, but…I’m scared to watch it again.

SHUT UP.

I figure, though, trapped on an island, I’d have to get around to watching it again sooner or later, right?

silenceoflambs

scream

I’m not going to write a lot about either of these movies because I know I have written plenty about them both here already. If someone told me, after reading this list, that I had to pick one letter and I could only keep in my collection what’s associated with that letter? “S” wins, hands down. These two movies are the two on this list I have watched the most of any others and the ones I love more than any others…even when their franchise sequels horribly disappoint me.

trickrtreat

Relatively new find for me, but one that really surprised me…in great ways. Several vignettes come together to form quite the excellent story, with great special effects and a pretty impressive cast (I love how the stigma of appearing in a horror film seems to be less and less present for a lot of actors).

vertigo

Know what I love most about this Alfred Hitchcock thriller (yes, I confess, it’s not a true horror movie)? Watching it is like watching two movies in one. Admittedly, the first part is a bit of a slow-burner, but it’s filmed all through San Francisco, which I love. And the second half is so redeeming, you can forgive the first half for being somewhat lackluster at times. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite Hitchcock movie, but it’s definitely in my Hitch Top 5.

whatever

If you have never seen the glorious hot mess that is this movie, then get thee to a rental source STAT. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, two actresses who notoriously loathed each other, as grand dames of Grand Guignol cinema? It’s just too wonderful not to include on this list. Watch the movie, learn all about the back story and what these two would do to torment the other…things like Crawford loading her pockets with rocks for a scene that called for Davis to drag her around…and Davis “thanking” her with a couple of cracked ribs during a later fight scene.

DIVAS. I love them. Subsequently, I love this film.

And there you have it, denizens. I hope this list gives you some ideas for movies to visit or revisit for some fantastic horror viewing…and if you have any suggestions for the letters I skipped…or replacements for the letters I used, click that little question mark below and drop me a line!

Fabulous Photo Friday: Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania

Hey, denizens, do you know what Loba’s favorite mammal is?

Yes, that’s right. My favorite mammal is the naked mole rat!

Of course, it really is the wolf. I have always loved wolves. I find them to be magnificent, loyal, beautiful creatures. I own numerous books on them, read about them all the time, donate money several times a year to defend them, and just generally think they’re more awesome than even Star Trek.

That’s how much I love wolves.

So when we recently found ourselves heading up into parts of Pennsylvania other than Philadelphia, I took it upon myself to map out how far of a drive it would be from our actual destination to a place that I have wanted to go for many, many moons: The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania in Lititz.

[Loba Tangent: The name of the city is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. I learned this the hard way. I’m trying to help you avoid the same embarrassing lesson.]

Believe it or not, there are states in this country with such lax exotic animal laws that people can actually adopt wolves. As utterly ridiculous and downright stupid as that sounds, it’s even worse that there are people out there who go through with adopting these wild animals, either for the status symbol or just because they’re morons.

[Loba Tangent 2: Actually, I think anyone who tries to bring a wolf into their home for whatever reason falls into the “moron” category. These are wild animals. If you want something domesticated to guard your house and poop in your yard, do what everyone else does and buy a dog. There are lots of them in kill shelters and rescues that would love to be your pet.]

The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania, and other sanctuaries throughout the United States, come to the rescue of these wolves when the people who bought them finally realize that, “Hey, trying to keep a wild pack animal alone in my apartment for 8+ hours a day is a really stupid idea.” The sanctuary takes in these wolves, from places as far away as Montana and Wyoming, who live in that terrible limbo realm of not domesticated enough to be be pets, but too domesticated to survive in the wild.

The staff of the Wolf Sanctuary love their pack, respect that they are not dogs, let them have their space, do not intrude into the natural ways in which wolves interact, dominate, submit, and howl away their days. They do their best to tend to the wolves’ needs in ways that do not require that they enter into the wolves’ zones or impede upon the wolves’…sanctuaries.

I was admittedly worried about how I would feel about these wild animals being placed on display (I even have a bit of a problem with zoos, but I understand that a lot of zoos do worthwhile research that benefits both the captive animals and their free counterparts…so I deal). The sanctuary, however, is doing a wonderful job of protecting these wolves while giving them as much space and freedom as they can.

Of course, I took my DSLR, because…wolves. There really isn’t any need for further explanation, right? I took lots of photos, but only some of them turned out the way I wanted them to. It’s quite difficult to capture constantly moving animals while trying to focus out the chain-link fence that separates you from them. But I succeeded a few times. And sometimes, the fence is there, but the photo came out well enough that I don’t mind.

Here, then, are some of my favorite shots from our visit to the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. Enjoy!

brighteyes

chill

foxy

thor

scout

temptation

chiaroscuro

whitecoat

whitefeet

High Flying, Adored

So yesterday was my birthday, denizens. How old did I turn? Well…let’s put it this way: Captain Janeway and her crew once discovered a planet that housed several people, including Amelia Earhart, who all disappeared in a particular year. The name of the episode in which Janeway made this discovery was how old I turned (yes, I’m going to make you work for this, and, yes, it’s going to be in a thoroughly geeky way).

Speaking of flying (Amelia Earhart segue, FTW!), I spent part of my birthday morning in a plane. I then spent part of my birthday morning plunging out of that plane, falling at approximately 120 mph toward the ground 2.5 miles below me. While strapped securely and snugly to a rather lovely man named Mario.

I’m very thankful that Mario was so delightful because Mario and I became very close. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

First, here’s me, properly suited up, rigged, and boasting a bad-ass “Danger” sign on my back:

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I had requested a special “BAMF” sign since it was my birthday, but all they had were these signs. I made do. Besides, the Danger sign was way better than the little hat they made us all wear, which reminded me of the line that Jimmy Doogan says to the umpire who tried to correct Doogan when he was yelling at Evelyn Gardner for missing the cut-off:

DSC_0016

Second cinematic reference…buckle your seat belts, it’s just going to get geekier…

So, to give you an idea of how high up we were, this was our plane at the halfway mark to our ascent. We circled at this altitude to let some solo students jump. Apparently, you have to jump a certain number of times from the halfway mark before you can do any solo jumps from 13,500 feet. That little cross-shaped speck? That’s our plane:

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Finally, we reach our altitude and I’m second in line to dive. We hunker down and kind of duck-walk to the door because: A) Mario and I are now properly attached to each other, and B) the plane was not big enough to allow us to stand up. Here’s a shot of me looking down at the ground before Mario put my head back in the safety position. I love looking out the windows of planes as we fly places. I could have stood at the edge of the plane’s door, just staring down at the earth for hours…

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But that wasn’t the point of this adventure. And so it was 1…2…3…and away we go! Take a look at Mario in this shot. I might have wanted “BAMF” for my sign, but Mario actually is a BAMF. He’s been a tandem instructor for 16 years now, and he’s done this particular move more than 6,000 times. He was awesome in every sense of the word:

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Those first few seconds are astonishing and breathtaking and completely disorienting, as you watch earth and sky trade places several times while you tumble away from the plane:

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But then you right yourself (or rather Mario rights you both) and you regain your senses enough to be able to flash your “gang” signs for the camera:

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I told you it was just going to get geekier.

You know what draws my attention more than the scenery in this shot? The fact that my shoelace is untied!

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But I hadn’t realized this fact at this point in the jump…probably because I was too busy having my breath stolen away from me every single second we were falling by glorious vistas like this:

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I just love this shot. You can be King of the World all you want, Leo. Mario and me? We’re way above all that:

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Did I mention that in addition to being totally bad-ass, Mario was also supremely silly?

DSC_0056

Also, I would like to point out that, yes, I do realize that wind rushing past my face at 120 mph makes me look like an extra from the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder.” There’s really nothing I can do about that. I just wanted to acknowledge my awareness of this fact. And now that I have pointed this out to you, you cannot unsee the comparison. You’re welcome.

Meanwhile, Mario is still silly:

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But he’s still fully aware of where we are in our descent and totally in control. It’s at this point, he’s checked his altimeter and he’s now getting ready to signal me that I should pull the release to deploy our parachute. But not before I finish giving a final thumbs-up:

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And…boom. I’m now aware of the fact that my shoelace has come untied. Yes, it does drive me a little crazy the rest of the way down:

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Actually, all I do is keep my one foot under the shoe that is untied so that it doesn’t have the chance to come loose, and then I spend the next several minutes having a great chat with Mario and getting to steer the parachute a little before Mario treats me to a few awesome spins and swoops over absolutely gorgeous landscape. As much as I loved the adrenaline rush of the freefall, I think this was my favorite part of the jump. It was so serene, so beautiful, so unbelievable.

And here we near our final destination. I love how this photo makes it look like we’re leaving a contrail behind us:

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Mario gives me excellent instructions right up to the end and we have a perfect landing…

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…and a groovy birthday hug!

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And, to wrap it all up, I receive a certificate of achievement and the LARGEST bumper sticker I think I’ve ever owned:

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This was, by far, the most amazing birthday gift I have ever received, and a million “thank yous” would cover only the first second of this fantastic journey. I have wanted to skydive for many years. Now that I’ve finally done it? I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is incomparable in exhilaration and in beauty. I would also highly recommend Skydive Orange if you are anywhere near Virginia and feel the need to plunge out of a plane while harnessed to someone as awesome as Mario. Every single instructor I met there was astounding and totally adept and totally professional…while still being totally silly and totally groovy. None of them was as astounding as Mario though. He rocked. And if you do decide to do this, and you’d like documented proof that you did, I highly recommend Christian for your photography and videography needs. He’s the brave soul who hung onto the side of the plane and jumped with Mario and me, to get every moment of my momentous descent. He rocked, too.

And when you’re finished? Get thee to a winery. There are several around Orange, Virginia, including my absolute favorite, Keswick Vineyards, which provided both the refreshment and the scenery for this perfect ending to a perfect morning:

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You’d Lose Your Head If It Weren’t Attached

That was one of my mother’s favorite things to say. She had other preferred idioms, but none of those quite fit with the point of this post. Yes, this is one of those rare moments when I do actually have a point.

This is quite a familiar topic here at the lair…and quite possibly one of my favorite topics in all the world: Dr. Crusher. Remember Doctober? I don’t know why I even bother asking…of course you do! It was AWESOME. Also? I bring it up all the time. Because it was AWESOME.

Talking in circles? You’re so ouroboring, Loba.

On Doctober 2, I wrote a post called Losing Her Head, in which I blathered on a bit about Beverly Crusher action figures and gave fair warning that I would be making more action figure entries throughout the month. I also paid tribute to one of the earliest Dr. Crusher-centric Web sites I ever found when I first hit teh Interwebz: BevHeads. I also lamented the fact that I couldn’t remember the name of the person who ran the site.

Until he found me…through my post about his site. AND HE WROTE ABOUT MY POST IN HIS POST ON BEVHEADS.

[Insert “Circle of Life” in 3…2…1…]

Seriously, it’s moments like this that make me love these silly interconnected tubes all the more. Thank you, Mr. Thiel, for reaching out to fill in the blanks on your groovy site and for the equally awesome shout-out. I happily return the favor.

I would also like to take this moment to let you all know that Gates McFadden is now on Twitter! Even better? (Could there be anything even better, you wonder!) She has a wonderful Tumblr blog for the Ensemble Studio Los Angeles (of which she is the director), through which she shares the “exploits” of a Dr. Crusher action figure.

Sometimes I forget about the beauty within the world. And then things like this happen:

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Click the photo to embiggen it and you’ll be able to see Ms. McFadden’s reflection in the wine bottle as she takes this shot.

Yes. Yes, I did study this photo that closely. You know you’re not surprised…

Loba-Lantern

Little break from all the drinking that’s been going on here at the lair. I carved a pumpkin last night. I haven’t carved a pumpkin in a very long time. Too long. I used to love doing this every year (remember, Halloween is my favorite holiday). So when I learned that there would be a pumpkin decorating contest at work, I decided that I would get back to something that used to make me incredibly happy.

I need a little extra happy right now.

Truth be told, I don’t even mind if I don’t win anything for this little cutie. I had a blast carving him. This was also the first time I’ve ever used linoleum cutters for the task. Not bad for my first go, eh?

I snapped a couple photos of my wolfy pumpkin with a candle, but they came out incredibly dark (duh, right?). Therefore, forgive the graininess of this photo, which I had to take into PhotoShop for some level adjustments:

Even though it’s early, Happy Howloween, denizens. Hope you all get your scare on in the best ways possible.

The Road to Independents

Ever since my last post, I’ve been thinking of ways to show that I’m serious (well, that and I took a little time to party for my birthday…priorities and all, you know). I’ve got an idea or two, but I’m letting them soak in for a bit before bouncing them off you all here (the title of this post may or may not be a clue).

However, I thought I’d share something I found recently while sorting through some random Word documents I had on my memory stick. I’m not sure when I wrote this…obviously, it was in 2008 and it was after one of the Clinton/Obama debates, but I’ve no idea which one, and no idea what the “XEROX quote” is all about. I’m sure I could look it up, but meh.

It doesn’t really apply to the now, but I thought it was interesting enough as a flashback to where I was politically four years ago: The disenchantment was beginning, but I still held steadfastly to my hope that something good could happen, if only the right person was elected for the job.

Person.

The 2008 Democratic primaries taught me an important lesson regarding my place in the Democratic agenda: Good enough to pander to for my vote; not good enough to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate because I might do something offensive…like age or cry or have “cankles.”

Of course, had Hillary won, it would have probably been four solid years of uphill battle after uphill battle while she was constantly critiqued and criticized for every decision, both politically and personally (probably mostly personally). At least she got to be Secretary of State. And at times more popular than the president himself. And be the inspiration for a really groovy meme.

And now it’s 2012 and women seem to have become an even greater…what? Mandatory voter demographic to capture? Asset? Threat? Our bodies apparently are incredibly threatening. You know what’s even more threatening? Our minds. It’s time, then, that we started listening more, paying more attention…not to what is being said to us, but what is being said about us, oftentimes without our input and without our consent…what is being valued, judged, ruled, overruled, controlled, and taken from us in a continuing attempt to reduce us to nothing more than…our bodies.

There are many things transpiring in this country that I find worrisome, but the ongoing ramp-up of rhetoric regarding what is ultimately politicians deciding for me what can and cannot be done with and to my own body is definitely of key concern. I’m not talking about the minutia; I’m talking about the overarching message being sent by every politician, from both sides, who thinks that they have the right to speak for women, to determine overall what is best for us rather than letting us decide for ourselves. Can’t stop us from choosing for ourselves? Then just limit our options across the board…you know, to make sure we’re protected from our own attempts at making up our own minds.

Whenever a politician uses rhetoric aimed at a woman’s body as a plank in their party’s respective political platform, they’re simply reiterating one of my steadily growing concerns: that we’re nothing more than something to walk over, to stand on. Use us to reach what you want and then pack us up until the next election cycle.

I’m tired of it. Are you?

We are more than our bodies. Just ask Hillary Clinton. She might answer you if she has a free moment while running the world.

I think one of the most telling moments of last night’s debate was when Senator Obama stated that he has been campaigning for the presidency for two years, and I have to say that I am very disappointed in how the mainstream media (MSM) has preferred to turn a blind eye to such statements and instead cram down our collective throat the “Xerox” quote. I suppose, though, that Senator Obama’s smartest move early in his campaign was getting a billionaire media mogul to throw down the race gauntlet for him, thereby bullying the complicit silence of the MSM.

(Side note to Ms. Winfrey: When I say that I think Senator Obama needs a little more federal-level experience, I do not mean your race-baiting interpretation that Senator Obama needs to “wait his turn.” I mean that if my car breaks down, I want the experienced mechanic to take care of it, not the guy up the street who’s looked under the hoods of a few cars and is really excited about what he believes he can do. Fixing a broken country is far more daunting and precarious than fixing a car, so why would I entrust my future into any less capable hands than I would entrust my car?)

Now, back on point. When Senator Clinton decided to run for her New York senate seat in 2000, the MSM and all her detractors could not wait to accuse her of being a “carpet bagger” and only thinking ahead as to how she could position herself properly for a run at the presidency in 2004. However, she was able, during a year when being a Clinton was by no means a positive point at all, to convince the people of New York (not a state known for being an “easy sell”) that she would serve them honestly and honorably, and that she would not desert them before her term was up. She kept her word and served her constituents well enough, including during the most horrifying moment of New York’s—and this country’s—history, that the people of New York thanked her with a second term as one of their U.S. senators.

Senator Obama, by his own admission, has spent the past two years campaigning for the presidency. I’m a word nerd and by no means great with numbers, but I believe that equals out to 80 percent of his time served as a federal-level politician. Beyond this marathon campaigning, we have heard recently that even some of his own supporters can’t point to one accomplishment that the senator has achieved while at the federal level.

That, of course, makes me curious about his state senate service, and when I look back into those records, I see someone who has run for the offices that he has held because they are the inevitable stepping stones to what he has desired most all along.

True, he has done good things. One must make a positive impact of some sort to continue to win votes. However, he also padded his state senate voting record with “present” votes—a lovely passive-aggressive way to keep a cheery, positive record. He also ran for his current U.S. Senate seat as the sole Democratic candidate against a highly unpopular Republican opponent. Since then, he has written two books filled with lots of personal confessions as a means of vetting himself to the people as being a “transparent politician.”

However, I see a more telling transparency when I look at how each of the senators’ states recently voted. Each candidate won the vote of their respective state. Look closer and you’ll see that Senator Clinton won every county in New York State except one. This is not true for Senator Obama’s win in Illinois. He, in fact, did not carry any of the counties that make up southern Illinois—a region of the state that comprises blue-collar workers who don’t possess college degrees or earn $50,000 or more. These counties went to Senator Clinton. That is a very telling transparency.

Contrary to the beliefs of the current president, the engine of this country isn’t its white-collar elite. Instead, the engine is the blue-collar workforce—people like my father, who worked often thankless time-clocked jobs for more than 30 years before injury retired him. I learned an honest work ethic from him. I also learned that the longest day’s work won’t amount to much if the people in power don’t listen to your needs. These are the people who need the most help. These are the people who should inspire real pride in our country. And these are the people who, after 10 1/2 years of familiarity with Senator Obama, cast their confidence in Senator Clinton.

At the end of the day, both senators are, as someone rightfully pointed out to me, “just politicians.” But when I look at Senator Obama, I see a politician who has spent the past decade carefully crafting the perfect launch pad for obtaining what has always been his ultimate goal.

When I look at Senator Clinton, I see a politician who doesn’t have the mostly spotless track record of her opponent because she has been willing to place herself in the line of fire for who and what she believes in. Yes, she’s made mistakes, but she has picked herself up, learned from her errors, and gone on to fight another day. She has sustained incredible professional and personal blows throughout her career, and yet, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, still she rises. That is true inspiration.

Putting Away Childish Things

You might have noticed that I haven’t been around the lair all that much lately. It’s not for lack of desire, denizens. I’d love nothing more than to come hang out at with you all with the same frequency I used to. It’s for lack of other things…lack of time, mostly. But also lack of motivation. Lack of inspiration. Lack of give-a-damnedness.

There’s been a lot going on IRL: good things, great things, frustrating things, worrying things. It’s a Damoclean life, the professional one I lead, and presidential election years only make it that much worse. Plus, the state of things is so depressing that for a while I simply lost my will and way.

Mainly, it’s because I am so tired of and sickened and disheartened by the continuing devolution of the “of, by, and for” part of the equation: We The People.

Plainly put, We The PeopleTM kind of suck, and it’s time we started to fix that. It has to start with us because, if all those sacred and holy documents are to be believed anymore (if ever), we’re supposed to be the lynchpins of Mr. Toad’s Wild Government Ride. We’re supposed to be the ones steering this ship; the politicians are supposed to be the ones reporting to us. Yet, somewhere along the way, the politicians mutinied, started changing the rules when we weren’t paying attention. Wasn’t that difficult to do, really…for a “highly evolved species” or “greatest nation in the world” or whatever other self-awarded accolades we like to tout, we’re not exactly the brightest crayons in the box. We’re kind of like the Pakleds of the planet.

For you non-nerds, this is not a compliment.

Now here we sit, a divided, divisive muddle of easily distracted dolts, unable to see the forest because we have to stop and piss hate-filled comments onto every tree. Corruption continues to run amok while we stand in line to buy a fried chicken sandwich. Because that fried chicken sandwich represents the protection of our freedom of speech!

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya for a moment, “You keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means.” Seriously, look up “Freedom of Speech” and learn what it really means. That’s a really good place to start.

Now, the title of this post is sort of a tip of the paw to a recent episode of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, which he called “Put Up or Shut Up.” I used to love listening to Common Sense, mainly because Carlin’s viewpoints on so many things match my own viewpoints. Everyone likes to listen to people who
agree with them, right?

However, I stopped listening a while ago because, quite frankly, I was tired of listening to reinforcement of how I felt, but no suggestions for how to change things…how to make things better…how to reroute the abysmal direction of this country.

Seems like Carlin felt the same way. In “Put Up or Shut Up” he basically stated that even he was tired of listening to himself go on and on about these things without providing a plan for how to fix it. And he called on himself and listeners to…put up or shut up.

So this is me putting up. It’s time to start turning things around before we really do end up plummeting off into the abyss. Our government is corrupt and unresponsive, why? Because we let it become so. All of us. Not just the Republicans. Not just the Democrats. All of us. Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to reason and debate and problemsolve and now we spend most of our time and energy attacking each other, either in person or via the vitriol of online comments where anonymity apparently bleeds us dry of any empathy or compassion.

What do I propose as part of the solution to this mess? It’s time to grow up, America. Time to start behaving like the “evolved intellects” we liken ourselves to be. Because whether you believe we’re 2,000 or 2 million years old or more, we’re old enough to know better.

First on the agenda? Stop playing the Blame Game. Blaming everyone else for your problems is what little kids do. Also? Doesn’t fix a damn thing, does it? No. So stop it. Stop pointing fingers and saying that it’s _______’s fault that things are the way they are. It’s lazy and ignorant. It’s also how the politicians keep us from ever coming together to fix the problems we have…because they know that part of the fix will mean stopping their free run of the place. Divide and conquer…who knew it worked, eh? George Orwell, actually. I always fall back on one particular passage of his book 1984, which once again speaks relevance to our current state of affairs:

Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party.

It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.

Primitive patriotism. “You’re either with us or against us.” Sound familiar? Aren’t you tired of it all as well, denizens? Aren’t you tired of bloviators telling us who’s to blame and riling up this primitive patriotism as a means of blocking true progress, true change, true hope? We are capable of so much more, so much better.

So stop playing games. First, stop your own part in the Blame Game. I’m just as guilty of this game as anyone else. I’m in no way proud of how I have readily bought into various notions that it was X group’s fault that things were the way they were. I was negative, bitter, and resentful. It didn’t solve anything and it just served to make me feel even worse about everything and about myself. Even more? It wasn’t true and it wasn’t fair.

You cannot blame all the problems that ail us right now on one group of people. You also cannot broad-brush an entire sect of the population based on interactions you’ve had with limited members of that sect. In true scientific method of inquiry, it’s a matter of case-by-case analysis that will continuously test, form, and modify ideas and opinions. We’re “individuals” for a reason. Is it easy? HELL NO! Why do you think so few people do it? Is it what needs to be done?

Yes. Yes, it is. It’s called logic. Spock it to me.

Second, call people out for their part in the Blame Game. If you find yourself surrounded by people who just want to spew this kind of negative passive bullshit, call them on it.

Hold on. Don’t go out and start screaming at strangers. Start at home. Not with the screaming though. That doesn’t go over well at all. Be respectful, but point out that blame doesn’t solve anything. Also? Constant complaining is actually antithetical to problemsolving.

So, combat negativity and complaining and blaming with proactive responses. “Okay, what can we do to fix the problem? How can we improve things?” Start seeking solutions! And if you find that there are people who simply refuse to change…well, then leave them be. That’s right…leave them be. Some people would rather throw themselves the mother of all pity parties than try to come up with solutions. You don’t have to stick around and help them celebrate.

See, right now, the United States of America looks like a hard drive that hasn’t been defragmented since it was purchased…all the way back in 1776. And there has been a whole long line of fragmentation ever since. It’s time we activated the national defrag program and leave those “unmovable files” right where they are. They won’t be able to stop the rest of us from rejoining and working together efficiently, if we want to. They’ll just stay where they are, inevitably being as useless to the improvement of this country as all those groups they like to hate on so much. Karma, betches. Look into it.

We live in a country of extraordinary freedoms. It’s one of the many reasons I am, indeed, thankful that I live in America. But I am not proud of who we have let ourselves become as Americans. We have allowed the politicians to take total control, to divide us with incendiary wedges designed to blind us to the solving of true issues and the striving toward true progress. We bicker and blame like children, and we gain nothing by doing so. We simply harm ourselves while the politicians continue to drag us further downward toward a drop we might not survive.

It has to stop. I’m willing to try. Are you?

The Ablutions of Civility

Do you know what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?

A hot shower and a hairdryer.

I exaggerate, of course. But not really. I know that we like to think of ourselves as highly evolved (or children of God, if that’s how you like to swing), but it’s such a thin sheen, this civility we pride ourselves for possessing over the rest of the mammals.

Remove one of those tenuous threads that connect us to that higher plateau and watch how quickly it all unravels.

We lost our electricity on Friday night, thanks to a jaw-droppingly violent storm known as a “Derecho.” It swept through the area with winds strong enough to snap healthy trees into shards of kindling and rip power lines completely free from their poles. And the rain! The idiom “sheets of rain” would not be hyperbolic in this case. Rain poured down as if dumped from a giant basin, with no delineation of size or shape…just a solid wall of water through which we found ourselves driving. VERY SLOWLY.

It was stunning and frightening and utterly humbling.

And then we reached our neighborhood and the unsurprising though frustrating reality of complete darkness.

This was our reality for almost four days.

Several years ago, New York was hit by a blackout so severe that former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson described us as ” a superpower with a third world electricity grid.” This statement is perfectly applicable to the state of the electricity grid as operated by the Potomac Electric Power Company, known as PEPCO. Although, it’s not really “operated” by PEPCO anymore, which is probably a major part of the problem. PEPCO sold their energy generating assets in 2000. They said that it would benefit customers by giving us lower rates. It was also supposed to open up free-market competition.

Yeah, not so much.

What actually happened has been a decade-plus devolution in service and reliability from PEPCO to the point that if you sneeze too hard near a substation, thousands go without power for days. Granted, Friday night’s storm was fierce. However, PEPCO’s response was the same as every one of their responses to massive days-long power failures (which seem to occur at least biannually anymore): no human customer service; spotty updates to their automated response system that always lack any concrete commitment to timelines; slow decisions to reach out to nearby power companies for help in restoration efforts; and, when finally they do commit to a deadline, it’s offensively distant.

Case in point: We lost power on Friday, June 29. Sunday, July 1, PEPCO finally committed to the “promise” that 90 percent of the people without power would have full restoration by 11 p.m. on Friday, July 6.

This is customer service? Did I mention that temperatures have been in the mid-90s to low 100s since the power went out? And there’s no sign of relief all week?

This is how civility’s sheen sloughs away: Under the oppressive pressing persistence of heat and humidity that leave patience in shreds and tempers inflamed. Major intersections become free-for-alls as people abandon lawfulness and common courtesy. You think this area’s traffic sucks and blows as it is on a normal day? Try making it down a major roadway when every stoplight is dead and there are no police officers available to direct traffic. Mad Max would be left in tears by sweaty, enraged D.C. area commuters unfettered by the superfluity of traffic rules and simple human decency.

Then there were the lines at the gas stations that still had power. I wasn’t alive during the 1973 oil crisis, but I’ve seen photos of lines of cars snaking down roads, around blocks, waiting to get to a pump. Believe it or not, this was the scene this past weekend at the few stations that still had power. You’d have thought that we’d gone weeks without access to gas, the way people were behaving. Horns blaring, tempers flaring…I honestly question and fear what would happen in an actual gas shortage. Good thing I like to walk as much as I do.

By Sunday evening, our third-world power grid problems sparked a first-world worry regarding…our wine fridge. We’d just gotten back from a very prosperous adventure (about which I had planned on telling you all prior to PEPCO SUCKS 2012!!!11!!) that left our wine fridge fully stocked with some amazing new discoveries.

Discoveries that were now beginning to warm up.

Have you ever heard the phrase “like looking for a needle in a haystack”? That, denizens, might have been easier than looking for a bag of ice in a blackout. I drove around for almost an hour in search of ice. The closest I came were random shards and cubes abandoned at the bottoms of empty ice bins and one incredibly questionable offer from a gas station attendant who looked almost exactly like Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov, for me to “come back in few hours and I will have for you two bags of ice.”

Uh. No.

Thankfully, I found a 7-Eleven with a full ice case, the wine was promptly cooled down, and I even got to enjoy a glass of non-tepid tap water that evening.

Monday morning brought with it another round of frustration: My office building had no power. No electricity at work, no electricity at home, I suddenly found myself in full nomadic form, netbook in tow, standing outside the local Barnes and Noble bookstore with two goals in mind: free wi-fi and a giant cup of coffee. Possibly two. At the same time.

Caffeine withdrawal is an ugly thing to witness, denizens.

Thankfully, the B&N staff understood the desperation that rolled off us all in waves (as well as a bit of funk, I’m sure; cold showers are great for cooling off but you cannot convince me that they are suitable for successful hygiene). The Starbucks cafe was ready with hot coffee and the promise of quiet tables and no pressure when we camped out well past the point when our cups were drained and nothing remained of our muffins beyond crumbs and blueberry-stained napkins. Actually, B&N was a lovely oasis of civility in an otherwise calamitous experience. The staff were kind, the store was quiet and cool, the wi-fi never faltered, and I ended up leaving with the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft for $20.

Win.

Now, I sit here in the cool comfort of our house, listening to the appeasing sounds of our mist-thin civility once more humming around me. I suppose I should be thankful to PEPCO for restoring our electricity well before their estimate. However, I can’t help but chafe at the thought that they set the bar so impossibly low that I can’t really find it in myself to thank them for anything. Yes, I appreciate the workers who are out there, busting their asses in this heat to fix what went wrong; but I can’t forgive the arrogance of the upper management who not only act as though they are above answering to their customers for remarkably poor service but actually have the audacity to want to discuss the possibility of imminent price increases.

Right. Perhaps I should approach such an increase with the same reliability and responsiveness that they approach these regular power failures…

Come On, Baby, Light My Fire

Admiral, this one’s for you.

I nearly brought an end to LobaBlanca this weekend, through hot sauce-induced self-immolation.

Okay, that might be a tad bit hyperbolic…but it sure felt like the truth while it was happening.

Allow me to set the scene: To satiate a craving for barbecue that I’ve been fighting for a while, we decided to have lunch at a local barbecue chain that does some pretty decent brisket and pulled pork. As part of my plate, I ordered a side of collard greens. The only way I know how to eat greens is with hot sauce. If you’ve never tried it, you simply don’t know what you’re missing.

Mind you, I love spicy food. I will add hot sauce to practically anything, but I particularly love it on collard greens. Therefore, I didn’t think twice about going over to the condiment shelf and looking for an appropriate hot sauce. Several of the bottles had kitschy labels like “Fart Machine” or “Ass in a Bucket.” I’m sorry, but I couldn’t bring myself to select these options. Kitsch or not, anything pertaining to someone’s posterior is simply not appetizing at all.

Dogs, however, are always the way to hook me in. I’m a sucker for a cute dog cartoon, especially a cute, smiling dog in a chef’s hat…which is what was on the bottle of Mad Dog 357 Magnum that I ended up choosing. Because of the dog on the bottle.

BAD DOG. BAD, BAD DOG.

I opened the bottle, poured what I thought was an appropriate amount of hot sauce over my greens, and stirred it all up to give everything a chance to marry. I’d mostly mixed it, but there was still a nice, shiny dollop of sauce (about the size of a chocolate M&M) right on the top. So I scooped up that section of greens and popped them into my mouth.

Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to carry Satan’s baby inside you? I don’t have to wonder anymore. See, what I learned (regrettably too late) was that the 357 in the name stood for this sauce’s level on the infamous Scoville Scale.

No, not 357 on the scale. More like 357,000.

357,000. You can see it right there, printed on the label. I would have seen it if I’d been paying more attention to the words and less attention to the cute Hell Hound.

I think the highest range to which my preferred spiciness has heretofore reached is maybe…maybe into the 100,000 range on the Scoville Scale. (I do loves me some Thai chili peppers).

The scale range of this hot sauce? I can’t say with absolute certainty since I’ve never actually been stabbed in the stomach, but I think this is as close to such a feeling as I ever want to experience.

AND I NEVER WANT TO EXPERIENCE THIS AGAIN.

It started out okay, slightly hotter than what I was used to, but not too terrible. This is a slow build of the worst kind. Next came the tears, trickling out of my eyes uncontrollably. Next, my lips turned the brightest shade of red they have ever turned. It was like I was spontaneously transforming into Pennywise the Clown. Without the awesome fangs, of course. Then came the myriad trips to the soda fountain, for water refill after water refill after water refill…to the point where I just wanted to shove everyone out of my way, wrap my mouth around the spigot, and flick the switch until the hell fire brewing in my gut melted the entire machine.

Then came the true agony. I struggled through the rest of my lunch (minus the collard greens, which had gone from tasty side dish to cruel and unusual punishment that should be banned by the Geneva Conventions), but when I stood to leave, I was struck by searing pain. My first thought? Oh dear prophets, that hot sauce is eating its way through my stomach! Ironically, my second, third, and many subsequent thoughts were the same.

It was horrible. And unending. And nearly unbearable. As long as I was sitting, I was somewhat fine. Movement, however, made the earlier knife wound analogy seem almost preferable. This was like that creepy “intestines wound around a barbed spool” scene from The Cell. Although honestly? I think having my intestines reeled out of my body onto a barbed spool might have been slightly less painful. This pain took the better part of Saturday evening to finally recede to a point where I could once again stand upright.

What lesson did I learn? READ THE LABEL. Don’t be swayed by the cutesy dog cartoon. The cutesy dog is actually trying to kill you, especially when he appears above the words “MAD DOG.” I also learned that there is a distinct limit to my own personal enjoyment of hot sauce. This surpassed that limit by about a thousand light years.

Here’s a review of Mad Dog 357 Magnum. Please note that I’m one of the doofuses (doofi?), not for want of showing off but for lack of general awareness.

See, Admiral? We all make spicy mistakes 😉