Refuge, not retreat: when the things that don't matter actually matter the most.

Well... it sure has been a year (or two), huh?

I'm not the sort of person to go around saying "man, the whole world's gone crazy!" because if you look at history even casually then it's pretty easy to see that the whole world has always been going crazy and that maybe we're just noticing it more now because a.) my generation are the adults now and society kinda demands that adults pay some actual attention to that sort of thing once in a while; and b.) thanks to the 24 hour news cycle, the internet, and the unceasing bombardment of screaming information (or screamformation, if you will*), there's just no avoiding it.

That being said... man, the whole world's gone crazy.

No need to get into the particulars.  You know the particulars.  Your particulars may even be very different than my particulars, and if they are, hey, that's fine.  We don't need to get into that here.  Plenty of other places on the internet for you to scream into the void about whatever it is that's on your mind there, sparky.  I'd rather talk about how we deal with it, or at least how I'm dealing with it.

Basically, I'm throwing myself down every pop culture rabbit hole I can find.  Shocking, I know.

Some would say that's just avoiding the problem(s), but I disagree.  I'm not approaching this from a place of antipathy or even apathy.  I'm carving out quiet little places in my brain and in my life when I need a break from the noise and insanity... like Sherlock's mind palace, but with more robots, rubber suited monsters, people in capes, and old-timey comedians in derby hats, for instance.  It's refuge, not retreat.

Refuge has always been important, but it's more vital than ever in our current screamformation environment**. The era of getting the bulk of your news information at the beginning and/or end of the day are long gone.  Although having wider-ranging real-time access to information can be beneficial (and there are plenty of times when it is), the signal-to-noise ratio of our current reality often feels to me like people screaming in our faces all day in the most alarmist way possible since that gets more attention.  Sure, I want to know when the zombie robot shark armada invades, but I don't necessarily need that 3 minutes of actual information couched in 13 hours of speculative commentary, accompanied by accusations that the zombie robot shark armada causes cancer and wants to steal our jobs, or 13 Facts About the Zombie Robot Shark Armada (#7 will astound you!), or anything like that unless I actively seek out that information myself.  Because sometimes I do (every once in a while #7 really does astound me).  But I want to make that choice, not have the everything forcefed down my mental gullet in order to make my brain into informational foie gras.

(Terrible metaphor, but I'm sticking with it.)

So how do you deal?  Well, you could unplug completely, but that's kind of ridiculous.  I may complain about the media in its many forms, but there's all kinds of awesome stuff there if you look, and besides sometimes you really do need to know about the zombie robot shark armada before they show up at your door.  You're better off taking a break.  You can't hide from everything forever, but the world can deal without you for a little while when you need some respite.  Build a blanket fort around your brain, hang up a No Reality Allowed sign, and just kind of... be.  Do what it is you do to untwist the knots in your brain... cook, walk, read, meditate, garden, eat, whatever.  Me, I fill my fort with cartoons and books and comics and movies and TV shows and whatever else comes to mind.  Lately I've decided I haven't seen enough Laurel and Hardy films in my life, so I've been watching a bunch of those (hot take: Laurel and Hardy were funny as hell, you guys).

You can't escape any problem forever, sooner or later the zombie robot sharks need to be dealt with, but there's nothing wrong with taking a breather now and then in order to save your sanity and your soul.  People may tell you you are Doing It Wrong, of course, and how dare you think about X at a time like this when there's so much Y in the world, and all of the other things terrible people who can't seem to mind their own business say. 

But you can, in turn, tell them to fuck the fuck off, and that can be cathartic release in times of great stress, too.

*If that gets over, I demand royalties.
** See, I already owe myself a dollar.

RIP Bobby "The Brain" Heenan

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan & Gorilla Monsoon, likely seconds before Monsoon yelled "Will you STOP?!" at Heenan.
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan was everything you ever hated in a villain... conniving, greedy, pompous, too sure of himself, and cowardly. But at the same time, you couldn't keep your eyes off of him, and waited with anticipation to hear his every excuse, insult, and cornball joke.

So yeah, he was amazing television. He was, without question, the greatest heel manager in professional wrestling history - this is not up for debate - and on the short list for greatest commentators, too, particularly when teamed up with Gorilla Monsoon. They played their parts well,  Monsoon always the babyface-supporting play-by-play guy and Heenan the quintessential heel color man, and their banter was epic... not a wasted line, every word advancing the narratives while also setting up and delivery the best bad jokes imaginable. Gorilla and the Brain weren't just a legendary announce team, but one of the great unheralded comedy duos of the 20th century, at least by my reckoning. Theirs was the sort of on-screen animosity that can only be fueled by a great offscreen friendship, and it was both wonderful and heartbreaking to watch Bobby say goodbye to Gorilla on episode of WCW Monday Nitro years later, and pay further tribute to him in his WWE Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

Prime Time Wrestling, the show that used to air on Monday nights on the USA Network, was a far cry from Raw - just Gorilla and Brain sitting in a studio introducing pre-taped matches recorded badly at house shows from around the country and often featuring guys you barely ever heard of - but on the whole was still a more satisfying watch than Raw is some weeks even now, and that's entirely because of Heenan and Monsoon. It was appointment television for me when I was a kid, and I would beg my mom to let me stay up to watch at all as often as I could get away with it.

A few years ago, I had the chance to meet Bobby Heenan in person at a New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame fan event. He had had a ton of health problems due to throat cancer and some related issues, and at that point most of his jaw had to be removed and he was unable to speak. It was sad, and such cruel irony that a man who made his living largely through talking (and at length) no longer could, but I couldn't pass up the chance to meet him.  I went up, happily paid for an autographed photo (I picked a picture of him and Gorilla to sign) and explained to him just how much I loved to hate him as a kid, how that eventually made me realize how big a fan I really was, and everything I said above about Prime Time, and I finished with a simple "thank you."  He couldn't speak, but... and I know this sounds cheesy as hell... I could see in his eyes that despite it all, he was clearly still The Brain through and through. We ended with a handshake... and let me tell you, for such an obviously infirm guy he still had a decent grip, too, which continues to prove that any wrestler you can name is way tougher than any so-called "real" athlete, sonny jim.

So once again, Brain, thank you for everything. You kept us humanoids entertained, even (probably because) you were the biggest weasel of all.

You'd have to be a real ham-&-egger not to acknowledge his genius, humanoid.

Literally Anyone Can Make Comics: Donuts are a harsh mistress. Tasty, but harsh.

They lure you in with their deliciousness, then strike hard.

Also, circles are really hard to draw freehand, you guys. We don't talk about that enough as a society.

Your hatred of pumpkin spice probably means you're kind of an asshole.

Four things typically signify the beginning of Autumn:
  1. Leaves changing color (assuming you live in an area where deciduous trees are common);
  2. The start of the new school year;
  3. Spirit Halloween Stores hermit crabbing their way into your local abandoned retail locations;
  4. Pumpkin spice-flavored products everywhere, heralded by the arrival of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte and spiraling ever outward.
Everyone loves the leaves because pretty; parents are psyched about school, and though the kids grumble they're secretly happy, too, because they've been bored since August 1st; and Spirit is always a fun place to browse, though no one ever actually buys much until it goes on deep discount on November 1st.

Pumpkin spice, though... that one's divisive. Some folks have weirdly strong feelings about it, and look upon the Pumpkin Spice Phenomenon with the sort of fervor or ire usually reserved for discussions about religion or politics. Pumpkin spice inspires deep, abiding, vocal love and hate in equal measure.

(It is possible, of course, that you don't fall into either category and are blasé on the whole issue. If so, you're probably a normal enough human being with actual concerns in life. Good for you, buddy.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I fall on the cusp of the former group.  I can't claim to enjoy everything they add the chemically simulated pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg flavoring to each year, but I can promise you that I'm willing to try pretty much all of it at least once.  I figure that anything that tries to get the world to taste more like a pie - nature's most perfect food - is worth giving the benefit of the doubt.  Pumpkin beer, coffee, and cider are all amazing; pretty much any baked good can be pumpkined up; it even works well in candy (they've done M&Ms in regular pumpkin spice and pumpkin spice latte, and both were good).  Some folks may take it too far, but they're mostly harmless.

The haters, though... I don't get the haters.  I don't mean the people who simply dislike the flavor of pumpkin; that's an acquired taste, everyone's palate is different, we all have our things, blah blah blah.  I mean the ones to whom the very idea of pumpkin spice anything is an affront to their very way of life.  The ones who complain loudly to anyone who listen, the ones who make and post all the insulting memes, the ones who reduce all lovers of pumpkin spice anything to the stereotype of twenty-something women in scarves, Ugg boots, sweaters, and leggings who text constantly, Snapchat every second of their lives, and they love Fall but OMFG they can't even.

. . .

Okay, yeah, there actually are a lot of those and it's such a ubiquitous thing that even the brown M&M was dressed in a similar fashion on the packaging of the pumpkin spice late M&Ms a while back and it was such a flattering look on her that if I had been single I would have totally wanted to go on a coffee date with her and talk about books and our favorite bands.

"I loved 'All the Birds in the Sky,' too... I've read it twice in the past year!"
I'm possibly oversharing here. Anyway, the hate. 

I'm not sure where it comes from.  Seeing as the stereotype focuses so heavily on Millennial women, it's tempting to chalk it up to good ol' internet misogyny, and that's probably a contributing factor in certain sectors because it's 2017 and if there are things that people seem to hate on in this year of our lord Two-Thousand and Seventeen it's... well, it's a lot of things.  Quite a lot of things.  SOOOOOOOOO MANY GODDAMN THINGS IN CASE YOU SOMEHOW HAVEN'T NOTICED. But two of things on that long, sad list are women and Millennials, so yeah, it figures into the mix for some folks, but not for all.  I see the hate coming from a wide range of people from as many walks of American life as you can name.  I think it's deeper, more insidious, and far more basic than all of that.

We're at a point in societal history where the rise of so-called geek culture, where everyone is passionate about whatever it is they love and appreciate beyond all reason (remember, you don't need to be a geek to geek out anymore), has cross pollinated with the age old (but especially ramped-up in the early '00s) "you're either with us or against us" philosophy.

In other words, "I like this and if you don't like this and instead dare to like this other thing YOU ARE WRONG!  And even if we like the same thing and you don't like it in exactly the same way as I do YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!"

(Yes, I get that some people are just doing this, no matter the situation, to be ballbusters, tease their friends and loved ones, etc.  My wife, for instance, gives me shit all the time about my love for pumpkin spice and hundreds of other things; I do the same in return, because emotionally we're still in the first grade and we metaphorically pull pig tails because we're in love, damn it.  But, you know, most of the others doing this are just assholes, man.)

This phenomenon is not limited to pumpkin snacks and beverages, of course.  You see it in sports, in comics, in movies, in TV... oh, man, especially TV.  I've had even close friends tell me, when I've informed them that I gave Breaking Bad a shot but it just wasn't my cuppa, "WELL OBVIOUSLY YOU WATCHED IT WRONG OR MAYBE WATCHED A WRONG EPISODE SO YOU NEED TO TRY IT AGAIN!"  And to be honest, I'm positive I've said similar things about Doctor Who to people over the years ("NO, YOU NEED TO IGNORE THE EFFECTS AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE WRITING!"), so I'm not claiming to be above anything here.

But I'm trying, you know?  Like what you like the way you want to like it, I say.  Sometimes I even practice what I preach.  Maybe it's Pollyanna of me to think that maybe everyone else could do the same across the board, but I'd like to believe it's possible.  We just need to start putting aside the squabbling and accepting our differences somewhere, so why not start somewhere small just as a testcase?  The pumpkin spice people get to enjoy their tasty Fall treats in peace, and in return they stop wishing that the bacon people get massive coronaries from all the salty pork strip goodness they purport to eat and won't stop talking about.

Also, not for nothing... all of the actual, serious, legitimately life- and world-threatening problems we have today and people are entering into a Klingon blood feud over gourd-flavored coffee?  This is why they hate us, you guys.

"I know, Brown, it's frustrating, Lets change the subject. Tell me about that Cibo Matto show you saw."