7 Things I Learned Reading the Hobbit (Part 2)

(This is page 2. For Page 1, CLICK HERE)

We’re continuing our study of the 7 things I learned reading the Hobbit.  We went through the easy ones first. Those are lessons that are pretty self-evident. The next three are tougher, and I think most of us have trouble — if not in learning them, then in remembering them when it matters.

5. Doing the Right Thing Is More Important than Being Loyal

image002[1]Thorin Makes His Peace

To Thorin Oakenshield, almost until his final day, Bilbo Baggins committed an act of treason that was unpardonable. In an effort to stop a war, Bilbo actually did the one thing he’d been hired to do as a burglar: He stole something valuable. But instead of giving it to Thorin, who both greatly desired it and was paying for said burglary, he gave it to the leaders of the armies arrayed against the dwarves of Erebor. No greater treachery could have existed for Thorin, who was feeling the great rush of greed and goldlust that his fathers had experienced being in possession, once again, of the Lonely Mountain.

If Bilbo had remained loyal, and gone along with his friend, it’s very possible they all would have been slaughtered in battle. Even so, his actions didn’t prevent the war. It could be questioned whether or not he even did the right thing, unless you remember his motives. At the end of the day, Bilbo wanted peace. He wanted Thorin to come to his senses, and he wanted both sides to remember that there was more important, better things both sides could be doing other than slaying each other.

Doing the right thing is never the easiest route. Going against your friends when they want you to do the not-best thing is excruciatingly tough. Too many times I’ve gone along with the crowd, wondering if I should maybe take a stand and go a different direction. Bilbo knew this was the right thing. This is a hard, hard lesson to learn. When it came to the very end, Thorin did learn it, though at a very great cost.


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6. You Take Care of the Spiders, Dragons Will Take Care of Themselves

The biggest obstacle to success Bilbo Baggins could ever have imagined would have to be the enormous dragon sitting on the horde he’d been hired to burgle. Yet along the way he ran into countless other challenges that helped him prepare for “the big one.” He cut his teeth on trolls. He survived Gollum and the goblins of the Misty Mountains. He singlehandedly saved the dwarves from the spiders of Mirkwood, and he developed an escape plan from the wood elves of the Greenwood. By the time he got to Smaug, he was able to easily surmise his entire experience through a laundry list of lofty titles that showed in more ways than one: Bilbo had paid his dues.

And then a funny thing happened. When the dragon decided to kill everyone bothering him (something dragons usually end up deciding), neither Bilbo nor the dwarves had a direct hand at all in defeating him. Oh, Bilbo noticed a key flaw, and managed to relay that information to the people who needed it, but he never once had to face the dragon in mortal combat.

Life is very much like that.  Coaches tell you: how you practice is how you will perform. Motivational speakers will tell you that if you take care of the little things, the big things will work themselves out. Being a hero very often doesn’t mean stepping in front of a bullet, or saving a runaway train. Sometimes the most heroic thing you can do is go in and do your job every day the best way you can, and be an example of positivity and hope and encouragement for the friends and family around you. Sometimes just offering a friendly smile, or a hand out to someone who’s down can change a person’s world. The quiet, small moments in your life may lead to the victory over a major challenge you run into later.

Bilbo never once fought Smaug. But he fought the spiders, and he learned what he needed to know against a lot of tiny foes how to better handle and conquer the big one when he finally opposed the dragon face to face.

7.  We’re All In this Together

Well, all the choices Thorin Oakenshield made led to a lot of people arraying against him. He pissed off the elves by escaping from their prison cells. He pissed off the men of Lake Town by waking up a crotchety dragon and sending him to destroy their town. He had his cousin’s army join him, but things looked pretty grim what with three pretty unhappy armies all getting ready to destroy themselves after what should have been a joyous occasion.

Instead, something else happened. Turns out, Thorin had pissed off the goblins of the Misty Mountains. Big time. And they brought an army bigger than the other three combined. As Martin Lawrence would say…

bad_boys_2-martin_lawrence-will_smith[1]Shit just got real.

We as Americans forget this lesson and have to relearn it whenever some jerk blows up a building or guns down kids or other forces suddenly array against us. When push comes to shove we’re all on the same team. When adversity rises against us, we collectively rise together, and overcome. Dwarves, elves, men and eagles together united for the first time to stop a common enemy. Through combat against a common foe, a peace was achieved.

It’s important to remember this, when we’re arguing with our in-laws about politics. It’s important to remember it when your son or daughter “comes out.” At the end of the day, we’re all just folk. At the end of the story, we need to all be on the same side. Remember that, and you may find you’ve learned the most important lesson of them all.

Well… There you go. The 7 lessons I found while reading The Hobbit. Did I miss any? Did I get these wrong? Tweet me @Gawainthestout and tell me how wrong I am. Leave me some comments below. Or, just bitch about it on your Facebook wall. I’m easy. Thanks for reading.

 

This was page 2 of the article. For Page 1, CLICK HERE.

 

7 Things I Learned Reading the Hobbit

original1[1]

(This originally appeared in HH2B)

I have been reading Tolkien for as long as I’ve been able to. That is to say, that when, in 4th grade I became capable of reading and understanding the Hobbit, I did. And I have been reading the Hobbit (and the Lord of the Rings) annually ever since. It’s fair to say that the lessons taught in the Hobbit were as formative to me as a human being as those taught from my Sunday School’s Bibles or Slater Elementary’s textbooks. “What lessons?” I hear you ask.  “It’s just a silly story. It’s not a parable or fable.”

How wrong you are.

J.R.R. Tolkien offers us seven vital lessons for life in the pages of the Hobbit for anyone with the wisdom to learn them. If you’ve never read the stories, or you’ve never delved deep enough into its secrets, I’m here to share them with you now. I think you may realize you knew many of these already. But a few may surprise you — #7 surprised me!

Let’s start with the obvious:

1. Adventures Are Hard Work

 

original1[1]Incineration?

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something… There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for. Sam, The Two Towers (film)

What story do you think Sam meant here, when he was making this soliloquy? The most famous story in Hobbit history had been that of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo: the adventure to Lonely Mountain and the fall of the dragon Smaug. But as much as Bilbo liked to embellish and sweeten the tale every time he told it, the truth is more grounded in reality: Adventures are hard. They’re dangerous. They are work. Tolkien went so far to emphasize this that he literally made this adventure Bilbo’s job. He wasn’t on some noble quest. He wasn’t chosen by the gods. He wasn’t born destined for a kingship. He got offered employment, and he took it.

From there on out, whether because his life depended on it — or because his job depended on it, Bilbo did everything he had to do to make sure the adventure was successful.

Our lives are exactly the same. We may have plans for a long, happy, entirely uneventful life, but sometimes fate does intervene. Sometimes an adventure presents itself. You have to always look at these opportunities for what they are: an employment opportunity from the heavens. Treat it like a job, treat it like your life depends on it, and you will get far, far more out of your adventure than you might have otherwise.


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2. You Need Far Less than You Think You Do

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Src: Flickr
All adventures start at your front door

 From the moment he set foot on the trail, Bilbo bemoaned the things he left behind. From his handkerchief, to his pantry, to warm sofas in front of a blazing fire, Tolkien points out time and time again that Bilbo spent much of his time remembering all the things he had left behind, hoping against hope that he’d be back to them again one day.  All his creature comforts, even the things you’d take for granted, like a soft bed and quiet mornings reading the mail. Things he thought he’d need, things he’d always thought he needed.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to Lonely Mountain: he ended up not needing a single one of them.

Think about it. He had his chances. In Rivendell, at Beorn’s home, in Lake Town. There were many opportunities along the way to pick up a new handkerchief, or any of the things he thought he’d needed. As it turns out, all he needed was his wits, his wisdom, and things he picked up along the way.

We get so caught up in having the newest phone, the hottest tablet, the coolest car… We forget that we don’t actually need any of them to succeed — even in today’s gadgety world. Pay attention, and look around, and solutions will present themselves that don’t require you to amass a horde of goods that you don’t truly need. And this leads us directly into our third lesson.

 


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3. Cherished Possessions Can Come From Anywhere

wpid-20120107202352-11[1]When goblins are near, it dreams of blue turtles.

In the troll horde, Thorin and company uncovered a cache of ancient weapons. Thorin and Gandalf each took swords with them that ended up being famous talismans of good and served them well (Gandalf later slew a Balrog with his, much more fitting than slumming in Goblin Town with it). Bilbo, though, being much smaller than dwarves or humans, found a small dagger, which was neither famous nor named. It earned a name from him soon afterward. The blade Sting became a cherished heirloom of the Baggins family, and when Frodo went on his own great adventure, Bilbo gave it to him, knowing how important it could end up being in the future.

A hobbit of quite some means, who’d never lacked for money or possessions, found one of his more prized possessions in a garbage heap. His most precious possession was found in the dark, at the roots of the Misty Mountains, alone, with only the sound of dripping water and a creature named Gollum nearby. Little did Bilbo — or anybody! — realize how important, how valuable that ring would be. But the lesson was learned. Don’t overlook the things around you. Don’t neglect to look around for what you might find nearby. You never know if that little thing that appeals to your instinct now might someday be the difference between success and failure, or life and death.


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4. There Is Always Something Else Going On

gandalfvisit1[2]Want to go on an adventure with me? And by “with” me, I mean,
I’ll show up after all the heavy lifting’s done to take credit.

When someone cuts you off on the freeway, do you immediately think “Why did that guy do that to me? What did I ever do to him?” How in the world could that guy be so rude and aggressive to you? Did you piss him off? The most likely answer is “He probably didn’t even see you.”

In The Hobbit, the dwarves often find themselves without the services of their wizard, and very often at times when they seem to need him most. The reason for this is deceptively simple: Middle Earth is an enormous place, and things are happening all around the little company of dwarves that have nothing at all to do with them. Why doesn’t Tolkien go into detail about what happened at Dol Goldur? Because it’s not central to the story of Bilbo (a lesson Peter Jackson maybe could have learned). Everyone around you has their own motivations for doing things. They may not all be the same motivations as you, but they might be similar. Gandalf traveled with the dwarves because he had business in the east, and because like the dwarves, he wanted to see Smaug defeated, albeit for entirely different reasons than them.

The men of Laketown had their own reasons for defeating the dragon, too, but their motivations were, as well, significantly different, and much more urgent at the time they chose to act on their desire.

At every turn, Bilbo ran into people who had their own lives, their own stories, their own adventures. When they intersected, their goals and results weren’t always similar, but the lesson Bilbo took from this — and we should too — is that we should not expect that the world is revolving entirely around us alone. Each person has their own goals and desires. We need to find the places where our motivations intersect, and work together to help each other meet our goals. In this way, both sides win, and the world becomes a better place. Thorin learned this lesson only a little too late in his life, too.

 

There’s more to learn!. See the rest of the 7 Lessons I Learned Reading the Hobbit here.

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Secret Test Footage (Not Really) Leaked From The Hobbit: The Final Showdown

My spies have infiltrated Wingnut Studios and stolen photos of a key battle scene in this winter’s upcoming epic conclusionary movie: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Or More Armies. If you’re not familiar, there will be a big-ass fight called “The Battle of Five Armies.” I won’t give anything away here so you won’t be spoiled if you haven’t read the books. But you can guess that there will be at least five armies and some of those armies will include elves and those big nasty wargs.

Quick, before they force these images off the air: a DavidWClary.com exclusive!

I am the mighty elf! Hear my barbaric yawp!

Oh noes! A fierce warg!

Die, foul beast!

The warg leaps!

Who will win this epic duel?!

The Day I Introduced Sean Astin to Samwise Gamgee

This post originally appeared in HH2B. It has been migrated here as part of the HH2B revamp.

Peter Jackson's Icon Signature
In February 2002, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyen and Sean Astin made a stop at Bretano’s in Los Angeles, making the rounds and doing book signings and publicity events for the Lord of the Rings. My friend Robert and I skipped out of work and made our way down there, waiting in line for quite some time waiting to meet them.

The highlight for me was that I had picked a book that was a little different than the posters and copies of LOTR that most people brought. I had the instructions to the Games Workshop Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (the Fellowship of the Ring edition had just been released). Sean was first at the table, and I flipped the book right to his page: the character description and stats for Samwise Gamgee, a hero of the free peoples.

Sean and Peter endorse Sam's Stats
Sean looked surprised and interested. “Wow, what is this?” He asked. “I haven’t seen this before. This is cool!” I explained very briefly, but the line was long and the security guards foreboding, so we had no more time than that, and I moved on to Peter, who signed that page too. I laughed and nervously asked if he’d sign the cover too, which he did. Fran and Philippa were gracious and friendly too, and signed the inside cover, perhaps grumbling, because certainly in spite all the writing they had done for the films, this book had exactly zero words they themselves had written.

Fran and Phillipa's signatures
In LA you get chances to brush up against celebrities all the time (case in point, those of us in line saw Jodi Foster taking her daughter to the bookstore that day). Sometimes those moments turn out to be pretty damned cool.

I’m sure Sean’s forgotten this by now. As he may or may not remember shouting out that there’s still some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for at the TheOneRing.Net’s Two Towers Oscar Party a year later (the second time I met him). He’s a pretty cool dude, at least in this humble fan’s opinion. It’s why I created Spamwise Hamgee in LOTRO to begin with, and how the seeds of this comic began. He brought the character of Sam to life in ways far superior to the bumbling buffoon of the Rankin Bass cartoon. I have no qualms whatsoever in saying that if I were prone to man-crushes, I’d probably put Sean Astin on that list.

Thanks for signing that book, Sean. You’re a class act. :)

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing what he’s up to, check out his twitter feed. He tweets through @SeanAstin

Big Picture

The Gospel, According to Sam

 

(This post was originally published on HH2B).
75dfb2c008a0801f5f7f7010.L1I mentioned last month that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is like the Bible to me, and I read it annually. It’s not the only book I read on a regular basis, but it was the first I consciously decided to do so with. When I look back, I see that I treat the Lord of the Rings like scripture not necessarily because of the good message of hope it brings (because it does) but because it was literally presented to me as such.

We moved to Fresno as I was entering 4th grade. (Does anyone else do this? Does anyone else remember their childhood not by year, but by grade?) My parents had a religious experience and were preparing to go into ministry. Because of this, we went to the Fresno Bible Book store. A lot. I was entering 4th grade, as I said, and although I’d really enjoyed reading as a child — well, you know, a younger child — I became a voracious reader in 4th grade. I read every biography Slater Elementary’s library had — Disney, Einstein, Eisenhower, Grant, Lee, Tubman. I read Morte D’Arthur, Three Musketeers — well, “Young Adult Classic” abridged versions, to be sure, but the heart and soul of those books were there. I wanted more.

Fashion Fair had a B. Dalton, and whenever we went there (which wasn’t very often, except to go to Gottschalks, which just wasn’t as kid-friendly as you might think, for a store that catered to grandmothers and housewives trying to look San Francisco chic) I’d get something like Beverly Cleary’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or some such. But the best place to go, for me, was the Fresno Bible Book Store. It was like a K-Mart of religious books, music, household decorations and various Christian bric-a-brac. And my mother, knowing my love of reading and hoping she could use that to help guide me to Christ, or whatever, made a pact with me: As long as my grades were up, and I had finished the last one I’d read, I could get a new book every time we went.

I started with the most obvious: CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. It is said that CS Lewis is the third most-quoted Christian, with #1 and #2 being Jesus and St. Paul. I don’t doubt it.

Anyway, I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and learned about deep magic from before the dawn of time. That the Witch was of a race of men God created and then destroyed, sometime between Day 5 and 6 of creation (there are some who believe the giant Goliath, of David and Goliath was of the same race, and the story of Noah describes there being more than one sentient race on the planet at the time of the flood). I read Prince Caspian, which taught that all men are sons of Adam, and have as much right to access the throne of God as any others, despite any calls to divine heritage or special privilege. I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and learned that the kingdom of heaven is open for anyone who searches for it, but only when they’re ready, and their time here is done can they enter. I read The Silver Chair and learned about the erotic power hypnosis can have (maybe another topic on another day lol)… every single book Lewis wrote gave lessons in spirituality and understanding God that were neither “preachy” nor — to be honest — entirely “Christian”  by the rules of Christianity set down by the local preachers in town (in The Last Battle, Lewis flatly says that a man who’s never had the chance to become a Christian, who nevertheless lived a life holy and pleasing to God would still be allowed into heaven, something no Bible-thumping zealot today would ever accept).

OH! And I read them IN ORDER. The RIGHT Order. Lion first, then Caspian, then Dawn Treader, Silver Chair, Horse and Boy, Magician’s Nephew, then The Last Battle. I can’t believe the gall publishers have today, making the Magician’s Nephew first, just because it’s a “prequel” to Lion. I call Shenanigans!

The Bible Book store, full of Bibles, treatises on theology, daily devotionals, and hymnals, had one row dedicated to fantasy. I plowed through the Chronicles of Narnia, and moved on to John White’s The Tower of Geburah and The Iron Sceptre. These books were clearly written in the bent of  Lewis’ work, but my little mind absorbed them like water, not even caring that the protagonists lived in Canada instead of England, and their magical land did not have an all-powerful lion as its deity.

narnia-51
Simba… Remember who you.. Oh wait. I’m in Narnia. Peter! Be the King!

Next on the list was The Hobbit.

Then Lord of the Rings, which, by this time, either 4th or 5th grade, was far, far above my grade and probably reading level, but the words soaked into me, became a part of me. I was as likely to shout “Elbereth Githoniel!” in the schoolyard as another child would be to cry “Stupid Poopyhead!” I was getting these books from a reliable purveyor of theology, and I read them as devoutly as any penitent reads his memory verses. I stayed up late at night, flashlight under the pillow, reliving the battle of Helm’s Deep over and over and over again, Gimli and Legolas fighting and counting orc corpses as they went. Understanding that Sam was very small, and not even the hero, but he did what he had to do to save his master — and even assaulted an entire castle of orcs to save Frodo single-handedly. It was mind-blowing. It was eye-opening. It was gospel. 

Gospel is a word that originally mean “Good news.” The Gospel of St. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are the recollections of four men about the good news that Jesus had come to save mankind. Matthew, Luke, and John’s are first-hand accounts and recollections. Mark’s is the transcription of St. Peter’s experiences, told to the young boy, Mark, late in his life.  To me, The Lord of the Rings was the Gospel According to Sam. We learned that there was great, great evil in the world, and that it had been thwarted in the past, when great heroes and mighty lords existed to do such things, but that evil was back, and growing stronger, even as the forces who might have stopped it before were growing weaker and weaker.

The Good News was that in all of Middle Earth, there was one, small, lonely hobbit who had fallen into the right place and the right time to shift the fate of the entire world. He was a simple hobbit, but he had courage. He had a good heart. He had an uncle with some experience in world-changing adventures. And he had a friend who would not let him down. The Good News was that with these four things, anything could be done. The Lord of the Rings is about friendship. The friendship of two kings, uniting to defeat a common enemy. The friendship of two Hobbits lost in Fangorn with nothing but a centuries-old tree shepherd to talk to. The friendship of a dwarf and elf that was so strong that when that elf left Middle Earth forever, his friend the dwarf chose to go with him.  The friendship of a master and servant, who literally went to the ends of the earth to save it.

Fantasy became my religion on the shelves of the Bible Book Store. Those books taught me about faith, loyalty, discipline, friendship, good, evil, love, hate, despair, failure, and forgiveness. The genre has changed a lot since then — I seriously doubt George Martin’s books are there (I’ll tell the story about how I got a certain fantasy series taken off the shelf there someday), but when I was a child, these were the things that fueled my spirit.

They still are.

A Bucket of Balls and a Roll of Quarters

(This is a repost from HH2B as I convert that site to a comics-only page.)

28465_460329557714_6433176_n1          The confident grin of a 8-year-old playa

When we arrived in Fresno in 4th grade, my parents were convinced that this would (might?) be the last move. To that end, they tried to get me involved in sports to better involve me in the community and make friends and whatnot.  This ended up trying to get me active in sports. For someone whose best friend was a stuffed animal, whose only memory of playing games outside at school involved being beaten up in some way (I’ll talk about that someday lol), and who’d probably never even seen sports before (I sure don’t remember ever having had), it was a challenging proposition to say the least.

First, we tried soccer, I think because we’d just missed Little League season. I played for the Slater Stingers or some such, because I think our team’s mascot was a feral bee with anger issues. I played fullback. If you’re unfamiliar with soccer (or what the Europeans like to call Football, or what the Latin Americans have condensed to just Futbol, or what the Australians call “What we let sissies and paraplegics play if they can’t handle rugby”) then know that a fullback is a defender. They stand between the enemy team and the goalie and (hopefully) make his job easier by blocking their approach to the goal.

The reason why I played fullback is because I had absolutely no soccer skills, and hated running. But I was a body, and I could accidentally trip attackers like nobody’s business. And since I looked so inept doing so, I never got carded, because it really looked like I was going for the ball, even though on the inside, my purpose in life was “destroy the enemy ball carrier at any cost.” It’s a wonder I didn’t get arrested, so badly did I try tripping these kids. Maybe refs at the 4th grade level don’t really look at the intent of the trip too hard. I don’t know.

But yeah. It was the running that got me there. God I hated running. Every day, the coach would make us run laps around Slater Elementary. Maybe it was around the entire school. I don’t know. Slater has an enormous play yard. You could fit three modern schools on Slater’s campus, and still have room for the preschool jungle gym. Coach would make us run, and I’d be in the back, sweating, lagging, essentially dying. Every single lap, I’d ask the coach a question: “How old do I have to be to have a heart attack?” “How old do I have to be to have an aneurysm?”  “How old do I have to be to get leprosy?” Every lap, for an entire season, a different malady. “Heat stroke?” “Epilepsy?” “Tourrettes?” “Malaria?” I wasn’t sure, but I was certain he was torturing us just to meet his sadistic needs. If The Princess Bride had existed, I imagine that with each lap, he could have answered “I just ran 1 year out of your body. How do you feel?”

When the season was over, it was over for good. I never played soccer again. I regretted that decision more times that you will ever believe, because the first true love on my life (who I hung myself in front of once, but that’s another story too) loved soccer, and went on to play it quite vigorously in high school. Nevetheless, I couldn’t imagine having to do another year of this torturous stuff, and besides, I’d run out of fatal mishaps to ask my coach about. It was time to move on.

307471_10150445305537715_292065480_n1She was a stone-cold fox in 6th grade, too. The girl behind her? She pinched me with sharpened talons so hard I still have the scar.

And move on we did, to Little League. My dad, intent on my success like no dad I’ve ever known (honestly, he’s the best dad I’ve ever had), became the coach of the Pirates. We had cool yellow and black uniforms, with white pants, and stirrups. Stirrups! How old-school was that? Well, this was like, 1977. I guess we weren’t “old school” then… Just “school.” Anyway, we had some GREAT players on our team. There was this guy, Louis, who was our first baseman. He’d hit the ball when it was pitched at him. He’d catch the ball when it was hit at him. He was great.

Me? Not so much.

I had trouble concentrating, sometimes, out there in left field. True story, I let the ball roll by me once, too zoned into my own little world to notice there was a baseball game going on very near to me. My father hit me in the head with a baseball once. Not because he wanted to, but during pop-up practice he hit it right to me, and I wasn’t paying any attention at all.  But that’s ok. I was a great hitter. Right? RIGHT?

CAMELOh shut up, Mother Nature. WTF do you know?

 

Yep. I was, I think, the worst hitter in the history of Fresno Little League. For the two years I played baseball, I had a lifetime batting average of 0.000. For those following along at home, that’s zero. I never once got a hit. Ever. The few times I made it on base, it was either because I got hit by a pitch, or walked.  I mean, I tried. I tried. We’d take a bucket of balls out to Lions Park over behind Slater and practice hitting pitches. We’d get a roll of quarters and go to Blackbeards for a day — not riding the water slides, not playing miniature golf — just to blast balls in the batting cage. I could hit a ball. If I tried really hard, I could do it.

But come gametime, when that ball came, WHIFF. Sometimes it was just too fast, it seemed. Sometimes it was just too slippery, it seemed. Sometimes I was threatened by its presence and I closed my eyes and swung unseeingly. Whiff, whiff, whiff. You’re out!

I played baseball for two years. I gave it the old college try. At the end of the day, though, sports and I agreed to end our relationship amicably. Today, I am a mere voyeur, watching my Dodgers rise up from the obscurity they’ve been slumming in for so many years, and I am loving it. But I’m also at a crucial crossroads. My son is in 4th grade. He wants to try sports. He tried soccer and didn’t like it, because he didn’t like running.

Maybe my dad knew I wasn’t the athletic type. Maybe he just wanted to give me every chance to succeed; to do things he’d wanted to do but never had the chance to. Maybe in his quest to become my hero, he built in me the desire to be a hero for my kid too. I kinda feel like finding a bucket of balls and a roll of quarters, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Batter up!

5 Movies That Will Make a Grown Man Cry

(This is a repost from HH2B as I transition that site to a comics-only site).

I don’t watch chick flicks. You can count on one hand the number of “chick dramas” I’ve watched voluntarily, and I shun Lifetime-style movies like Steel Magnolias or The Notebook like a zombie apocalypse. My movies have explosions, guns, ninjas, swords, sexy coeds, and Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and/or Sylvester Stallone. Guy movies, you know?  And yet… I STILL find myself crying at the movie theater every now and then. There are some film makers who really know how to tug a heart string, and there are some films that give you such an emotional suckerpunch at the end that all you can do is weep uncontrollably. Like a little girl. Like a man in touch with his feelings. No bones about it. If you want to see what it’s like to be attacked by onion-slicing ninjas in the middle of your living room, then watch these movies. But do it with care. Your buddies may never stop ribbing you — after their eyes dry up too, of course.

You know what? I am bawling already, just from looking these quotes up. These movies hit me deep. If you didn’t cry the first time you saw these films, then you have no soul. Begone from me, foul undead minion of Lolth! But if you haven’t, then I cannot recommend these movies strongly enough. There are just snippets of quotes below. I won’t give anything away. You deserve to be stomach-punched as hard as the rest of us were. In order from weakest to strongest response, here are the movies that make me cry like no Fremen ever did.

 

“Make a wish, Lo” — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon-Screencap-crouching-tiger-hidden-dragon-1721374-1600-9001
“Will we ever be happy?”
“No. Our story was filmed in China.”

 

This is one of those films that catches you off-guard. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon follows a formula that I did not know when I first watched it: In Chinese cinema, no one ever gets a happy ending. If I’d known this, I would have been ready for the ending, wherein a witch and her disciple, an aging mercenary and monk who could have been lovers in a different world, and a sword of destiny all work themselves into a lather. But that’s not the ending. That’s the set up. See, we see people die there, and you know. You know people die in movies, especially movies with a lot of sword play and the like. But it’s later, when the young bandit prince is reunited with his lover, and after all he and she have been through, in this grueling ordeal of a movie, she utters one line to him that breaks him as utterly as a man could be broken. And what she does next breaks the heart of every person watching.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Hidden onion-slicing ninja, I say.


“You died on a Saturday morning”– Forrest Gump

forrest-1024x434“Did I give you permission to cry in this film?!”
“No, Drill Sergeant!”

 

Forrest Gump is the least exciting movie about football, Viet Nam, racism, deep sea fishing, and technology ever made. And yet it is compelling to watch a simpleton bumble through the events that shaped our American life. Through all the changes that occur in Forrest’s life, through all the history he personally witnesses, there is one constant in his life. And when that’s taken away from him, nothing — not witnessing the death of his mother, his best friend dying, his former boss coming to grips with double amputation — none of this prepares you for the heart-felt good bye he has to make then. Forrest Gump is an example of movie-making done right. You don’t even realize how attached you’ve grown to these stupid screen characters until one of them is hurt so badly, you can feel it yourself.


“Thanks, guys” — Toy Story 3

toy_story_3_andy1Damn you, Buzz, damn you Woody, and God Damn you, Andy. 

 

I went into Toy Story 3 knowing that this was being billed as the last Toy Story. Disney and Pixar had gone through their famous divorce, and this franchise was the child they’d fought over for custody. This movie gave us several opportunities to fear for the fates of the characters we’ve come to know and love over the course of three films, and there’s a scene near the end where the director threw out all the stops to convince us that this was the end, for everyone. The characters made their peace with each other, found solidarity, and waited for imminent, utter destruction. I mean, this is Disney? Oh whew! It was. They don’t die.

But something else happens. And you have to be a man for this one to hit you. You have to have owned things, and lost them to get that gut-punch the director was waiting to spring on you. The last scene of this movie… Is one of the best scenes ever. In any film.And I absofuckinglutely HATE Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter for writing it. If I ever meet them, I’m going to punch them in the face for making me cry so hard. Dude. Have you ever cried so hard in a movie you wished you could go back to 8th grade and play with that Luke Skywalker and Yoda action figure set you had when you were 12?

You will. You will.

 


“Hey… Dad? — Field of Dreams

fielddreamsend1Welcome to the 21st century. Can I introduce you to Performance-Enhancing Drugs?”

 

Field of Dreams is not the kind of movie I would normally watch. It’s a silly magical realism film where a man hears a strange voice in his head, builds a baseball field in his yard, and dead people come to play baseball in it. Ok, so maybe it is the kind of film I’d watch. And that’s how Field of Dreams hooks you. The premise is so preposterously silly that you start watching it just to see what all the fuss is about.

The movie sets up its gut punch almost immediately, but in a subtle way. By the time the trigger has been set, the film is already underway, and there’s an emotional timebomb ticking inside of you that you don’t even realize. Every single time I see Field of Dreams on the television, I watch it. Every time I watch it, I cry. I cry, and then I call my dad, because, damn. This movie really makes you appreciate dads sometimes.


“Earn this” — Saving Private Ryan

 

Tom-Hanks-Saving-Private-Ryan-wallpaper1Yeah, I am in this movie too. You are so f%$#ed.

 

The first time I saw Saving Private Ryan, I had the most unusual thing happen. This movie didn’t just punch me in the face so hard both my eyes broke and all their fluid pour out everywhere. No. Saving Private Ryan’s denouement was a question so powerfully phrased, that I didn’t just weep uncontrollably through the end credits, aghast at its implications. No… I burst into tears again in the bathroom, popping a deuce. An emotional aftershock? Are you kidding me? I was crying in the bathroom, trying not to make noise, because, really, above and beyond the bodily function noises, you just don’t do that in a public place. And I was stunned. How did they do that? How did they know how to hit me so hard I’d fall down twice?

The only three things I remembered about Saving Private Ryan after that second emotional nuclear bomb — Steven Spielberg’s heart-string Fat Boy to my ravaged Nagasaki –was that the sniper was so very cool, how pissed off was I that the coward of the company was an actor with the last name Clary, and Tom Sizemore should just play sergeants in every movie. Oh, yeah, and I was blubbering inconsolably about none of those.

 

I notice now that Tom Hanks is on here twice. No, check that. Tom Hanks is on this list three times, and Gosh darn it, I was going to include The Cloud Atlas on this list — and The Green Mile, too. The Green Mile makes me cry over the stupidest little thing in the world. Every time. I think it means just one thing:

Tom Hanks is evil. He feeds on the tears of men. He must be destroyed. I am not watching his new pirate movie ever. Because he’s gonna make me cry. I just know it.

Sorry I burned your house down

strike-a-match1[1]

(This is a repost of a page I wrote for HH2B, which is being transitioned to a comic-only site).

When I was a kid, we lived all over the place. From birth to the day I got married (at age 22), I lived in two or three houses in Virginia; two houses in Kennewick, Washington; a house in Keshena, Wisconsin; another place in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and a third place in Shawano, Wisconsin; Boise, Idaho (we lived in Boise for 3 months), then to Fresno, California and San Joaquin Valley, with four houses in Fresno, a house in Clovis, and a house in Orange Cove. I moved out of my parents’ house and lived briefly in Eagle Rock, CA, Sunland, CA, another house in Sunland, and Las Vegas (also briefly). So that’s what?  Eighteen to twenty homes in a 20-22-year period. Not too shabby. Sometimes, when I moved to a new school district, I’d tell folks it was because my father was a fugitive from the law, and we were in the witness protection plan, but not as very important witnesses, because we got to keep our names.

991You know how traumatic it was for Lindsay Lohan to be the new girl at her school in Mean Girls?
I was the new kid at five different school districts.

 

I told my family that I appreciated them moving around a lot, because I believed I was a fugitive of a war-like race from deep in space, and I had only my faithful protector to keep me safe of this planet while I slummed in exile in a fragile human body designed to throw my assassins off the trail (yes… when I was 5 years old, I fully believed I was living a life nearly identical to what the book I Am Number Four ended up being like. How weird, right?) But the secret truth that I knew was the real reason we moved had to be with me. I was wrong in ways that couldn’t be explained by being an alien refugee. I was distorted in ways people don’t normally distort without becoming serial killers or talk show hosts.

When I was five years old, I burned down my best friend’s house.

 

Child-in-handcuffs-3001

I expected to end up like this. I think a lot of other people expected this too.

Let me explain. No, that would take too long. Let me sum up.

We lived in a two story home in Kennewick. At least, I think it was two story. Either that, or I lived in a finished attic. It’s possible. I was five, and my memory’s pretty fuzzy. I know that I was upstairs, though, and my room had a serious draft in it that would cause a rush of wind to fly into the house whenever you opened the window.

It was cool. Like, seriously cool. Total dead air, out there in the deserts of eastern Washington, with nothing for miles in any direction except ominous Mt. Ranier glowering down at us mortals moving across the world like ants. But when I opened my window, WOOSH! Air would suck into the house like it was pushed in a blacksmith’s bellows. I had never seen anything more awesome.

Except fire. Dang I liked fire. My parents smoked. Their friends smoked. It was the early 70s: EVERYONE smoked. To smoke, you had to make fire. So through the course of however many 3 packs of cigarettes is (Does anyone still smoke? How many smokes in a pack?) my parents would show me something mind blowing every time they lit up. Fire. Fire! My dad could tear off a little piece of paper with a funny head from a small square of similar papers, smack that paper — a match, they called it — and FAROOM! Fire! You could use that match to light anything. The hibatchi, the fire place, a camp fire, even that cigarette dangling from his lips.

strike-a-match1AWESOME, right? RIGHT? I’m creeping you out, huh? Dangit.

My best friend was Pat Owens. I don’t think he went to Fruitland Elementary with me, but he might have. I remember my best friend at Fruitland being the ignobly named Frank Baloney. No, I think Pat Owens was my best friend because my parents and his were best friends. They did Amway together, or some such. They were all going to be rich. Pat was diabetic. His dad was gruff. Pat never had fun at his house. But we had great fun at mine. Remind me to tell you about the time I left a poop-filled pair of underwear in the framework of a new house being built with Pat once. If you live in Kennewick, near Fruitland Elementary, and your house smells funny in the summertime, I’m sorry about that.

One day I told Pat he had to see something so awesome, he wouldn’t be able to believe it. I had found a pack of my dad’s matches. I had figured out how to light them. I had discovered that my window could create a blast of wind so strong, it would blow out the match I had just lit. Pat and I climbed the stairs to my room, and I showed him, like a master magician. With all the showmanship a five-year-old can muster, I lit the match, let it burn just a second, then threw the window open and FROOSH! It went out.

Pat wanted to try. He had trouble lighting the match — noob! — but once he had it lit, I threw open the window again, and out the match went, unable to withstand the sudden onrush of air. We went through that whole pack of matches before the day was over, but by the end of it, we were old hands at lighting them. We were possessors of forbidden knowledge, wielders of the secret fire of Udun. We were Prometheus.

A few weeks later, my mom told me that Pat’s house had burned to the ground. He had been playing with matches. He’d tried to light the match, open the window and… his house didn’t have the same draft. No rush of wind came to blow out the match, and when the flame reached his fingers, he panicked and lost it in the carpet. It smouldered, and eventually the carpet caught fire. By the time the fire department came, it was too late. Pat and his family escaped unharmed, but they lost everything.

fire1It probably looked exactly like this.

My mom asked me if I ever played with matches. I told her the only thing I could tell her. “Of course not!” I imagine Pat had already told his parents where he had learned to play with matches. I imagine he had broken under the indescribable power of having your home destroyed in front of your face. I don’t remember ever seeing Pat again. We moved to a new location — this might have even been when we moved clear from Washington to Shawano, Wisconsin. No one ever said why we moved. Maybe it was for a better job, like Dad said. I think it was because I had destroyed my friend’s house, destroyed his entire family’s life. Maybe it wasn’t my dad who was a fugitive from the law. Maybe it was me.

If you’re reading this, and you know Pat Owens, please tell him I’m sorry. I have done so very many things in my life that I am ashamed of that if I’m ever going absolve myself into a position where I feel like I can die without regret, I need to start making amends today. I’m sorry I burned your house down, Pat. I hope that day hasn’t haunted you as often as it has haunted me.

And kids? Don’t play with matches. I mean, seriously. Adults tell you this stuff not because they don’t want you to have fun. They say it because sometimes they’ve seen shit you would not believe — and they’d like to spare you from having to ever see that shit yourself.

 

The Boy Who Cried Ebola

I am VERY happy to announce the publication of my new book, “The Boy Who Cried Ebola!”

It’s a chilling morality tale that evokes the spirit of the ancient children’s fable, brought to life with new, modern settings and experiences. By updating the setting and the threat, this story teaches children to be truthful and teaches adults to take their kids seriously all the time.

 

You can find it at Amazon.com here.

ebola

My Newest Bad Idea: Ibola.

The newest craze in smart disease technology, iBola!

http://ibola.us

 

 

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