Category: Miscellaneous

The Green Spy

As I arrived at work the other day, my principal came into my office and asked me if I wanted to do something fun with him.

“Sure thing,” I said.

“Thanks.  I need to you be the Green Spy,” he said.

“The what?”

“The Green Spy.”

“Okay,” I said.  “What’s the Green Spy?”

“You go around to the classrooms and you give prizes to the students.  It’s for Green Ribbon Week.”

“Oh,” I said.  That sounded like fun to me.  I like going into the classrooms.  And Green Ribbon Week is intended to promote safety awareness, so I felt good about being involved.  “I could do that,” I said.

“Great!” my principal said.  “Come down to my office and get your costume.”

“Wait, I wear a costume?”  In that moment I began to experience the first flutters of apprehension over what I had just agreed to, but I followed my principal down the hallway.  We went into his office, and he shut the door.

“I was the Green Spy last year,” he said as he pulled a garment bag out of a closet.  “But the kids all figured out it was me.  I want to throw them off this year.”

He laid the garment bag out on his conference table and unzipped it.  Inside was a suit.  A green suit.  A leprechaun-green suit, with glittery gold dollar signs all over it.  It also had really wide cuffs and a fat collar printed with $100-dollar bills, only these Ben Franklin’s wore zebra-stripes and came from “The United States of Funk.”

“Uh…” I said.  “What is this?”

“It’s a pimp costume,” he said.

“A what?”  That’s when I noticed the matching hat with an exceptionally wide brim.

“Yeah, last year they told me I needed to find a green costume, but when I went to the costume shop this was the only green thing they had.”

“So the Green Spy is really the Green Pimp?”

He laughed.  Then he pulled out a Zorro mask.  “Last year I also wore this, but it wasn’t enough.  So I got something different for this year.

“What?” I asked.

“This.”  And he pulled out a green Frankenstein mask.

“This?”  I asked.

“Oh.  And you also wear this.”  He reached deeper into the garment back and pulled out a wig.  A long, black, ratty looking wig.  Like something shaved from the head of a member of an 80’s metal band.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I wore it last year.  Except for the mask.”

By this time, I simply had to laugh and go along with it.  I stepped into the restroom to change, careful not to let any children see me.  Honestly, I felt like Miss Nelson putting on the Viola Swamp get-up and going missing (it was the black wig that did it).  I even arranged my office so it would look like I had just stepped out for a moment.  I worried about the costume fitting, but since it was made of a conveniently stretchy and forgiving material, I was able to pull it on.  Then the latex mask, the wig, and finally, the pimp hat.  I looked in the mirror, and I honestly scared myself.

I took a deep breath and stepped out in the hallway where I startled some PTA moms.

“I’m the Green Spy,” I said as I walked by, attempting to act casual.  I hoped they knew what the Green Spy was.

They just stared, so maybe they didn’t.

In the main office, my principal saw me and laughed.  “You look awesome!  Let’s go get the prizes.”  We stepped back into his office, and he pulled out a bag that one of the Green Ribbon Week sponsors had left for the students.  We opened it up and looked inside.  It was filled with ball-point pens, key chains, and little breath mint dispensers, all with the name of a local insurance agency printed on them.  The kind of freebies you see in little baskets on receptionists’ desks that no one ever takes.

“These are the prizes?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “Let me make a call.”

So I hung out in the costume, trying to avoid the hallways where I might be seen, until my principal found me.  He had the bag of “prizes” with him.  “We’ll go ahead and use these.  The kids will love them.”

I shrugged.  “So I just give one to every student?”

“No, just the ones wearing green.”

I stopped.  “Um.  I’m color-blind.”

“You are?”

“Yes.”

“So what do you see?”

“I just can’t tell certain colors apart.”

“What colors?”

“Red and green.”

“Oh.”

“So how am I supposed to–”

“The teachers will help you.  Let’s go.”

So I walked with him down the kindergarten hall, a Frankenstein Colorblind Pimp Monster, hoping to somehow spot the kids who were wearing green through a mask that was getting pretty… moist.  “How should I talk?” I asked my principal.  “Like, what kind of voice should I use?”

“Any voice you want,” he said.  “I’m going in first to turn off the lights, then I’ll turn them back on when you walk in.”

So he did, and I stepped through the door, and he turned the lights on.

Several kids in the class screamed.  All of them looked frightened.  Their poor teacher even jumped a little, but realized that I was apparently the Green Spy she had heard would be coming through.

“Look kids!” she said.

“It’s a green monster!” one of the students shouted.

“No,” she said.  “It’s the Green Spy!”

And here, I spoke.  Don’t ask me why I chose the voice I did.  I don’t really know.  I was trying to sound, you know, sneaky.  Like a spy telling a secret.  But instead it came out sounding like a raspy old witch.  “I’m the Green Spy!” I hissed.  “I’m here to give you a prize!  Who’s wearing green?”

No one raised their hand.  I don’t think they wanted me to come any closer.

I looked around.  “Who’s wearing green?” I asked again.  Seriously, who’s wearing green?

“Raise your hands if you have green on,” my principal said.

Hands went up, and I made the rounds with my bag of crap.  And the kids really did seem to like the prizes after all.  Especially the keychains.  I finished handing it all out, and said, “I’ll be back next year!” but it sounded less like a good thing and more like a threat.

“That was great!” my principal said out in the hallway.  “Let’s go to the next class.”

We repeated that for every room in the building.  First grade to sixth.  Every class tried to guess who I was, but none of them did.  Some even claimed I was the principal, even though he was standing right next to me.  I tried different voices throughout the morning, even doing my best James Bond with a vaguely British accent.  And soon I was back in the bathroom, staring at the mirror in a state of semi-disbelief before I removed the Frankenstein mask and pimp suit.  The wig had left my hair in a matted, sweaty mess, so I waited a few minutes for it to dry so as not to give out any clues to my identity (Clark Kent would be proud).  I replaced the costume in the garment bag and returned to my office.

A little while later, a couple of students came by to ask me if I knew who the Green Spy was.  I just shrugged and tossed them some red herring clues about the custodian and the assistant principal.  Something about a black wig I saw in one of their closets.  The students left, and I smiled, and I thought about what a cool job I have.  But if I get to be the Green Spy next year, I think I’ll try a Tony the Tiger voice instead.  Not very spy-ish, but hopefully less frightening.

Now, if you truly want to see the costume, click here (and notice how none of the kids are standing near me).

Once Was Lost book launch, and Carl Sagan

Once Was LostOn Thursday I attended the book launch for Sara Zarr’s new novel Once Was Lost.  It was a wonderful event, with a reading and a Q&A, and beautiful cookies and a birthday cake.  Afterward, some of us went out to eat and had a really nice time.

I was going to do a write-up on the event, but Sara has a really cool video diary entry here, and Brodi Ashton has a funny take on it here, with photos.  They both do a better job than I would.

I’ve started reading Once Was Lost.  I started it the night of the signing, and intended to just read a few pages.  Well, 50 pages later I was still wide awake and loving it.  The main character’s voice and story simply captivated me, and are still captivating me.  And Sara’s prose is flawless.  I’m going to get back to reading it after I’ve posted this.  You should check it out.

______________________________

My brother sent me the link to this awesome… tribute?… to Carl Sagan.  The video is comprised of some of the best lines from his show, Cosmos, modulated to music.  I watched Cosmos when I was in elementary school and I loved it.  Sagan approached the stars with both science and poetry, and I thought his “spaceship” was about the coolest thing ever.  You can now watch the entire series on Hulu here.  But in the meantime, here’s that tribute.

A Rude Awakening

Several weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of gunshots outside my bedroom window.  I jumped out of bed and peered out the window to see what was going on.  Police vehicles surrounded the house next door, including one of those black SWAT vans, and police in body armor prowled the yard, converging on the home with their guns raised.  Now, the house next door had actually been vacant for a few weeks, so my first thought was that someone had set up a meth lab inside or something.  But no police officer had knocked on our door that morning.  Surely if we were in danger the police would have informed us.  I called the police department.

A woman answered the phone.  “How may I help you?” she asked in a very flat tone.

“Yes,” I said, “I was wondering if you could tell me why there are a bunch of police cars surrounding the house next door?”

Same flat tone.  “Where do you live?”

That question caught me off guard because it kind of implied that a) the reason for the presence of armed police officers in riot gear depended on my location, but more importantly, b) there were MULTIPLE possible answers.  Meaning there were police officers in riot gear elsewhere in my relatively small city?

“Uh…” I said.

“Sir, what is your address?”

I gave her my address.

“Hold, please.”

And then I was listening to the police department information line, which provided all kinds of useful tidbits like, “If this is an emergency, please do not wait on the line.  Hang up and dial 9-1-1.”  So I started to wonder, is this an emergency?  Should I wait on the line or hang up and dial 9-1-1?  And then I started to wonder why it was taking her so long.  Then she was back.

“Sir?”

“Yes?”

“It’s a training exercise.”  Still the same flat tone.

In fact, I think she would have sounded exactly the same if she had instead told me that police had tracked the most dangerous serial killer in the world to the house right next door to mine.

“A training exercise?” I asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh.”

“Can I help you with anything else?”

“No.”

Click.

No goodbye.  No have a nice day.  Just, click.

So the events next door went from scary to entertaining.  I got ready for work, and listened to the breaking glass, the mini explosions, the banging, the shouting, and watched the officers race about from my window.  When it was all over, I went and took some pictures of the aftermath.

garage door

The garage door after they cut through it.

wall hole

A hole they punched through the wall into the house.

busted window

A busted out window. There was glass everywhere.

front of house

The front of the house, with every window broken out and boarded over.

swat ceiling

The inside of the house, with the ceiling left undisturbed. I love the use of SWAT as a verb.

A Conversation in Spam

My blog’s spam filter blocks all kinds of interesting comments, which are typically listed as being authored by an apparently verbal and sometimes intelligent pharmaceutical.  Usually, the comments are along the unintelligible lines of, “qkweyfpewlku…@#$%!34.”  But lately, I’ve had some rather coherent comments that actually started to make my spam queue sound like an online chat room for prescription drugs.  So, I’ve taken the real unedited comments and arranged them to present to you Zyprexa’s Party: A Conversation in Spam.

ACT I

SCENE 1

Setting: A swanky cocktail party where all the coolest drugs are mingling.  Several drugs are talking, including Zyprexa (the party’s host), Vytorin, and Celebrex.

(VYTORIN pulls out a cigarette.)

VYTORIN

Would you mind my smoking?

ZYPREXA

I beg your pardon!

CELEBREX

I can’t believe it!

(VYTORIN scowls.  He walks over to DETROL, shaking his head.)

VYTORIN

I didn’t mean it anything bad.

DETROL

(pats VYTORIN on the back)

I’m so sorry.

(VYTORIN shrugs, pulls out a match, and lights his cigarette.  GENERIC DANAZOL walks over to him.)

GENERIC DANAZOL

May I join you?

(VYTORIN and GENERIC DANAZOL begin to smoke.  Across the room, CELEBREX, FLOMAX, and ZYPREXA see them.  CELEBREX appears angry and tries to get ZYPREXA to confront them.)

ZYPREXA

(shaking her head)

I don’t feel like going there.

FLOMAX

I see.

SCENE 2

(ZYPREXA, MAXALT, LAMICTAL, CHEAP LIPITOR and ZETIA are talking around the refreshment table.  The punch bowl and plates are empty.  Everyone is standing around, looking at the table and ZYPREXA.)

MAXALT

(to ZYPREXA)

Can I have some coffee, please?

CHEAP LIPITOR

(leans in to LAMICTAL and whispers loud enough for everyone to hear)

Could we have some water, please?

ZETIA

(laughing)

I’d like a packet of biscuits, please.

(Everyone laughs except ZYPREXA.  ZYPREXA looks around the room.  She clearly did not expect this many drugs to come to her party.  LAMICTAL touches her on the shoulder.)

LAMICTAL

Is there a supermarket near here?

(Everyone laughs again, and ZYPREXA storms away, past GENERIC KEPPRA, ZOMETA, ACTONEL, and ALLI.  They are all looking at each other or at their watches, and appear bored.)

GENERIC KEPPRA

I’m going home to …’s place,

ZOMETA

(shaking her head in disapproval)

Not yet.

ALLI

(turns to ACTONEL)

Would you like to go out tonight?

ACTONEL

(takes one more look around the room and nods)

Let’s…

(ALLI and ACTONEL leave the party.  After they are gone, GENERIC KEPPRA and ZOMETA follow after them.  ZYPREXA sees them leave.  She begins to cry, but tries to hide it.  FOSAMAX has observed the whole scene and comes forward.  He puts his arm around ZYPREXA.)

FOSAMAX

Good for you.

END

Compelling theater, yes?  Post-modern minimalism, but then, some of those drugs have very short half-lives.  They have to get to the point quickly.  Sometimes, the drug and their comment match up in funny ways, (“It’s a present!” said Viagra) but I couldn’t find a way to work them into the script.  Anyway, I may post another scene if these drugs keep talking to each other in my spam queue.  Or maybe that’s the end of the party.  We’ll see.


You laugh now, but wait till the zombie apocalypse!

A team at the University of Ottawa has contributed a groundbreaking paper to the study of infectious disease: When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection.  Yes, zombie infection. From the abstract:

“We introduce a basic model for zombie infection, determine equilibria and
their stability, and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions. We then refine the
model to introduce a latent period of zombification, whereby humans are infected, but
not infectious, before becoming undead. We then modify the model to include the
effects of possible quarantine or a cure. Finally, we examine the impact of regular,
impulsive reductions in the number of zombies and derive conditions under which
eradication can occur. We show that only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the
doomsday scenario: the collapse of society as zombies overtake us all.”

How can you read that and not laugh?  But then I imagine a scenario in which the undead do rise from their graves, craving the taste of human brains, and I think, “Oh, crap.  Well, I’m glad somebody put some thought into what we do now.”

Of course at that point, the writers of this paper will be rounded up by government agents in black suits and black sunglasses.  You know, the ones who are constantly tapping that wire thingy in their ears.  As the only “experts” on zombification, the scientists will be taken to a top-secret facility that is a) in a desert, and b) very deep underground, at which point the scientists will leave their nerdy scientist identities behind to become the heroes in their own action film.  Hey, that’s about as plausible as a zombie apocalypse, don’t you think?

"Zubbles"

ZubblesAt long last, we can all blow colored bubbles.

When I read this I thought to myself, “You mean we couldn’t before?”  But then I thought about it and I realized I’d never actually seen a colored bubble.  It turns out that it’s very difficult to manage without staining whatever the bubbles happen to pop on.  So no, we couldn’t.  But now we can.  In stain-free blue and pink.  The “Holy Grail” of bubbles has been found, and children the world over can rejoice.

A book update, sort of, and a funny video just for the heck of it.

But the book news is more of a tease than a real update.  My editor sent me the “concept” that they’re working on for my book cover (awesome!) as well as the artist they’d like to work with.  They don’t know yet if he’ll be available when they need him, but I really hope he can fit my book into his schedule.  He would be a perfect fit.  It’s way too early to go into details about either the concept or the artist (either or both could easily change) but I’m super excited, and this here blog is the roof from which I can yawp.  So, YAWP!

____________________

And now, the video.  You know, I love how YouTube let’s me know exactly how far behind the curve I am.  For example, I know that tens of millions of people saw this video before I did, as did my friend, Bree, who posted it to her blog just yesterday (thanks, Bree.  It made my day).

The cost of taking your son to the dentist: well, that depends on your insurance

Filming your son while he’s high as a kite on dentist drugs: priceless

Movie Adaptations

jim-carrey-grinchI’ve recently been thinking about what makes a good feature-length movie adaptation of a picture book, and what doesn’t.  I’ve decided that I don’t think picture books can be directly adapted for feature films.  At least, not in the sense that a novel can.  Picture books are an art form altogether different from other types of literature.  For me, they are an alchemy of story, poetry, and image, almost impressionistic works.  Filmmakers attempting to adapt them have a couple of pretty big obstacles to overcome.

First, while novels aren’t necessarily easy to adapt to the big screen, the challenge for filmmakers is usually to decide what to leave out.  The opposite is true of the best picture books, where the essence of the story is so refined, so distilled, so compressed, it’s like looking at a diamond.  There is nothing to leave out, and nothing  to add.  So to reach the hour-and-a-half of a feature length film, directors and screenwriters adapting a picture book have no choice but to “fill” the space between the words and images on the page with something else, and usually that something else is a lot of meaningless fluff.  Like a runaway train or an extended song and dance number about hot chocolate.  In other words, that’s how you get the Polar Express.

polar_expressThe second pitfall I see is a tendency to rely on a cinematic “re-creation” of all the pictures from the book.  The train coming out of the fog on Christmas Eve, or the Grinch’s lip-curling grin.  We expect to see these iconic images, and the stories wouldn’t be complete without them.  But there is so much more to a picture book than the pictures.  A filmmaker who simply transposes the familiar images to celluloid, thinking that is an adaptation, will ultimately produce something cold and lifeless (again, I direct you to the Polar Express).  For a picture book to be adapted, the filmmaker must get at the heart of the story.  They have to understand the intent and sensibility of the book’s writer and artist, and enter that world.  A striped hat alone does not make the cat.

wherethewildthingsareposter5All of that being said, I’m really excited about the new Where the Wild Things Are movie precisely because it appears to have avoided the problems I mentioned above.  There will certainly be added content (the trailer shows a male figure kissing Max’s mother, which was never in the book) but it appears that Spike Jonze has stayed true to the theme of growing up found in the story.  He has taken Sendak’s tale (arguably one of the greatest children’s books of all time, and one of my personal favorites) and made something uniquely his own that is still true to the original.   Jonze has created a new story, inspired by Sendak, but with his own unique vision.  Ron Howard attempted this with the Grinch, and almost pulled it off.  And while Jonze has captured many of the images from the picture book, it looks as though he has given his Wild Things a lot more personality than simply matching their costumes to Sendak’s illustrations.  These reasons are why I think this movie might succeed where other attempts to bring a picture book to the screen have not.  It’s not actually a strict adaptation.

On a side note, I’m thrilled that it seems the filmmakers have elected to keep the effects CGI-less.  The Wild Things remind me of the best Jim Henson creations in The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and I think that’s a very bold, very smart choice.

This is all based on the trailer, of course, and trailers often turn out to be better than the movies themselves.  When Wild Things comes out I could find myself very disappointed.  But for right now, I am cautiously optimistic.  You can watch the trailer below, and see what you think.

Just so you know…

I’ll be posting infrequently for a while.  There’s a lot going on and not enough time to do it in.  But I plan to resume regular weekly posting in a few months.

Thanks.

Here we go…

Ah, the first blog post.  The one where I feel compelled to announce that this is my first blog post, to acknowledge that this is the beginning, to let you know that you are not walking in on a conversation that was already going before you got here.  Well, consider it acknowledged.  So, here we go…

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