Archive for November 2009


November 10, 2009

Here’s proof that life sometimes winds around in bizarre directions that one never expected.

The game show fanatics in the room will recall that back in 2005, Jeopardy! mounted its Ultimate Tournament of Champions — or, as I like to refer to it, the Quest for Ken Jennings. 145 of us former Jeopardy! stalwarts were invited to participate in a mega-round-robin that played out over half a television season, for an opportunity to win major cash and reclaim a smidgen of (for some of us, anyway) long-faded glory. Brad Rutter, who had won a previous Jeopardy! super-tourney called Million Dollar Masters, plowed through the field, ultimately besting Mr. Jennings (no relation) and Jerome Vered in the finals to claim the two-million-dollar grand prize.

Shortly after the UTOC concluded, a group of Jeopardy! veterans from around the Bay Area — including your Uncle Swan — got together to play an evening of pub trivia at a Berkeley watering hole. We dubbed ourselves the Ruttersnipes, in Brad’s honor. Jon Carroll, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s human interest columnist, tagged along to document the event.

Now, four years later, I’m hosting a weekly game for the same quiz company.

I landed the gig via a serendipitous confluence of circumstances. As many of you know, a few months ago my wife KJ involuntarily retired from work on medical disability. Almost simultaneously, our daughter KM finished junior college and continued her studies at a state university. With our income shrinking and our expenses rising, I had my eyes open for opportunities to generate some additional revenue.

At the same time, Brainstormer, a San Francisco-based pub quiz company that runs trivia nights in taverns and restaurants around the country, was looking for someone to host the Tuesday night game at an establishment a mere stone’s throw from my house. (Assuming, of course, that you’re throwing your stones with a rocket launcher. A howitzer, at the very least.)

As Cinderella once said… put it all together and what have you got? Bibbidi bobbidi boo.

So, if you happen to be cruising through Sonoma County on a Tuesday evening, and experience a hankering to challenge your mental faculties (and perhaps nosh on a few freshly crafted tacos for a mere one dollar each), stop by The Cantina in downtown Santa Rosa around 8 p.m. We’ve got music, we’ve got laughter, we’ve got mind-bending trivia. Best of all, there’s no cover charge.

If the sleek, dashingly handsome quiz host looks familiar… I’m probably home with the creeping crud that night.

But if there’s a nerdy, middle-aged fat guy running the game, that’s me.

It’s a list world after all

November 8, 2009

On this lazy Sunday afternoon, as I’m watching the 49ers go toe-to-toe with the Tennessee Titans, I happened across a lengthy Disneyland meme on MiceChat, my favorite of the Disney theme park forums. I ditched several of the questions — figuring out which Disneyland attraction has the best cast member uniforms would require infinitely more brainpower than I’m willing to invest in such folderol — but here are my first-impulse jottings about the Happiest Place on Earth.

10 best current attractions: (in no particular order) Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure, the Haunted Mansion, the Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, the Enchanted Tiki Room.

5 best former attractions: Adventure Through Inner Space, the original Submarine Voyage, America Sings, the Carousel of Progress, the PeopleMover.

Attraction you have been on more than any other:
Pirates of the Caribbean.

Attraction you have never been on: Finding Nemo Submarines (it’s new this year, and the lines were way too long this summer when I was there), Gadget’s Go-Coaster (because my ginormous butt won’t fit in this kiddie ride).

Current attraction you will never go on again: Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. It’s long past time for a new movie in Tomorrowland’s 3D theater. Not even the sublime Marcia Strassman is enough of a draw to get me to sit through this once-enjoyable, now-shopworn experience once more.

Shortest average wait: Haunted Mansion. I can’t remember the last time I stood in line here.

Longest average wait: Splash Mountain. Especially on a hot July day.

Best attraction queue: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Best attraction pre-show: Haunted Mansion. Who doesn’t love the stretching room?

Best attraction storyline: Pirates of the Caribbean, especially with the addition of the Captain Jack Sparrow elements.

Best attraction music: Space Mountain (the Dick Dale surf-guitar soundtrack, when they’re playing it); the joyful sing-along songs of the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Best attraction spiel: Jungle Cruise, if you get a really funny skipper.

Best attraction set design/artwork: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Most immersive attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Most thrilling attraction: Splash Mountain. A steep plummet, plus an ice-cold soaking.

Most boring attraction: Casey Jr. Circus Train. Seriously, a waste of space.

Best attraction ending: Splash Mountain. Not just the big drop near the end — the most adrenaline-packed moment at Disneyland — but the wonderful character-filled riverboat tableau that follows it. It’s like landing in the living room of old friends.

Attraction with worst post-attraction feeling (dizziness, nausea, etc.): Tarzan’s Treehouse. My acute acrophobia made my last trip up the branches a literally painful experience.

Best animatronic figure: C3PO, Star Tours.

Best visual effect: The Pepper’s Ghost effect in the Haunted Mansion ballroom; the Davy Jones fog projection in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Most unconvincing effect: The blowdart room, Indiana Jones Adventure.

Best attraction scene or room: The grand ballroom in the Haunted Mansion; the riverboat dock, Splash Mountain.

Worst attraction scene or room: The “Why the heck are we sitting in the dark with nothing happening?” sections of Indiana Jones Adventure.

Best ride vehicle: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Worst ride vehicle: Space Mountain. Does not make the fat guy happy.

Best walk-through attraction: The new Sleeping Beauty’s Castle diorama tour. It’s magnificent.

Best exhibit: The Disney Gallery. Always something interesting to see.

Best photo spot: Main Street, USA.

Best view of park: From the Monorail.

Best building or structure: The Haunted Mansion — it’s a classic.

Ugliest building or structure: Tomorrowland Terrace.

Best spot to sit and relax: The covered patio of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, overlooking the Rivers of America; a circuit on the Disneyland Railroad.

Best live entertainment: The Dapper Dans. Gotta represent for my barbershop homies.

Best daily event: Fireworks!

Best snack food from cart or stand: The Dole Whip from the stand outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Frozen pineapple love in a cup.

Best counter service eatery: Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square. Some of the best victuals in the park here.

Worst counter service eatery: Tomorrowland Terrace. Noisy, unaesthetic, and the food (I’m using that word advisedly) sucks.

Best full-service restaurant: Blue Bayou. You simply have to enjoy a meal here at least once in a lifetime.

How many miles do you live from Disneyland? 450, almost exactly.

The #1 priority for Disneyland now is: Get me to move closer!

Comic Art Friday: Long cool woman in a black swimsuit

November 6, 2009

A while back, someone asked me how my comic art collection has evolved over the years. More than anything else, it’s a matter of focus. Today, I rarely buy a drawing that I didn’t commission personally from the artist, either for one of my two unique themes (Common Elements and Bombshells!) or for one of my dedicated character galleries.

When I first started collecting, I tended to glom onto any existing piece that I saw and liked, and could afford. My portfolios are littered with relics of those freewheeling days.

Like this one.

A girl and her gun, pencils and inks by comics artist Dan Adkins

This is the only artwork in my collection where I can’t even identify the subject.

Dan Adkins, a Silver Age veteran best known as an inker, drew this stylish pinup of a girl with a gun. I’ve no idea who the anonymous female is, or even whether Adkins intended for her to be some recognizable character. (I’ve seen a couple of similar Adkins images on the Internet, and I suspect that this was simply a pinup theme that he explored for a time.)

Something must have struck me about the piece that compelled me to buy it, but I don’t recall what it might have been.

It’s a nice drawing, though.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Eight directors

November 5, 2009

A recent conversation about the works of Alfred Hitchcock got me thinking about some of my other favorite directors. It’s a challenging subject, because I don’t often think of myself as a fan of a particular director as opposed to specific films. After all, the fact that I’ve enjoyed certain of a director’s works ought not to obligate me to like every film in his or her oeuvre.

Let’s not think of this, then, as a list of my favorite directors. Instead, it’s a list of eight filmmakers who’ve made multiple movies that resonated with me in a memorable way. Even if some of their work just didn’t do it for me.

For each director, I’ve noted what I consider to be his absolute must-see films (in order of preference), other examples of his work that I also enjoyed, a hidden gem — a lesser-known picture that I personally think ranks with the director’s best work — and, where appropriate, a film or two that I didn’t like all that much (or even outright detested).

Spike Lee

  • Must see: Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Inside Man, 25th Hour
  • Also enjoyed: Mo’ Better Blues, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game
  • Hidden gem: School Daze
  • Not a fan: Jungle Fever, Girl 6

David Mamet

  • Must see: The Spanish Prisoner, Heist, Homicide, House of Games
  • Also enjoyed: Oleanna, State and Main, The Winslow Boy
  • Hidden gem: Spartan
  • Not a fan: Things Change

Christopher Guest

  • Must see: Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman
  • Also enjoyed: For Your Consideration
  • Hidden gem: The Big Picture
  • Not a fan: Almost Heroes

Paul Schrader

  • Must see: Auto Focus, Light Sleeper, Cat People
  • Also enjoyed: Hardcore, Blue Collar
  • Hidden gem: Light of Day
  • Not a fan: American Gigolo

Quentin Tarantino

  • Must see: Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs
  • Also enjoyed: Kill Bill: Volume 2
  • Hidden gem: Death Proof (which I actually don’t think is a good movie at all, but if you like Tarantino’s other work, you should see it once)
  • Not a fan: Kill Bill: Volume 1

Clint Eastwood

  • Must see: Unforgiven, Mystic River, The Gauntlet, Bronco Billy, Bird
  • Also enjoyed: Sudden Impact, Play Misty for Me, Pale Rider
  • Hidden gem: Breezy
  • Not a fan: Eastwood has directed quite a few forgettable films during his lengthy career, but in 1990 he phoned in two of his worst — White Hunter, Black Heart and The Rookie.

Steven Soderbergh

  • Must see: Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic
  • Also enjoyed: Sex, Lies and Videotape, Ocean’s Thirteen
  • Hidden gem: The Limey
  • Not a fan: Solaris, Full Frontal

Walter Hill

  • Must see: Streets of Fire, The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Crossroads
  • Also enjoyed: The Long Riders, Trespass, Last Man Standing
  • Hidden gem: Undisputed
  • Not a fan: Another 48 Hrs., most of his Westerns and pseudo-Westerns (Extreme Prejudice, Southern Comfort, Geronimo: An American Legend, Wild Bill)


What’s In My Pocket? #6: Zero Tolerance 0200

November 2, 2009

It occurred to me today that I haven’t posted about my sharp-object obsession since I moved here to the new digs.

Well, it’s high time.

Pretty much the only surviving vestige of my boyhood tour of duty in the Cub Scouts — besides my pathological dread of adult men wearing neckerchiefs and khaki shorts — is my passion for pocket knives. For most of my life, I’ve toted around some version of a Swiss Army knife. You’d be amazed how many times each day I find myself in need of something sharp.

Some years ago, I switched from SA knives to folding blades. Two reasons propelled the change: (1) I grew frustrated with the lumpy thickness of a multifunction knife in my pocket; and (2) I never really use anything except the knife blade anyway. So it made double sense to streamline.

In the years since, I’ve acquired a dozen or so quality folding knives, most of which rotate into and out of my pocket on a regular basis. My pieces range from a utilitarian Kershaw Storm II on the low end, to a beautiful Chris Reeve Sebenza with cocobolo wood inlays that by itself cost as much as half my other knives combined.

But if I’m ever stranded on a deserted tropical island with only one folding knife in my possession, I hope that’s the day I’m packing my Zero Tolerance 0200.

Zero Tolerance 0200

The ZT0200 is one massive beast of a knife. It’s not the longest blade I own — my Benchmade Skirmish boasts a whopping 4.30 inches of gleaming steel — but it’s the heaviest (nearly eight ounces), toughest knife in my kit. If I had to, I’m confident that I could bring down a water buffalo with this sucker, without even deploying the blade. I’d just club the bovine between the eyes with the handle. (Sorry, PETA. I’m speaking hypothetically.)

KAI USA — the same people who make Kershaw knives, as well as the Shun kitchen cutlery endorsed by the Food Network’s Alton Brown — markets the ZT0200 primarily to professionals in the military and law enforcement fields. You know, the sort of folks for whom a rugged, all-environment knife comes in mighty handy. I grew up as a Department of Defense dependent, and my daughter is a criminal justice major, so I feel qualified to carry one myself.

The ZT0200’s 3.75-inch recurve blade is struck from tungsten/carbon-coated 154CM, an industrial-grade, American-made stainless steel that lends itself to exceptional blade stock. It’s extremely durable and corrosion-resistant, and can withstand a good deal of abuse. The blade can be deployed easily with either hand, using either the finger trigger or one of the dual thumb studs. The liner-lock mechanism opens smoothly and locks the blade so solidly that it feels like a fixed blade — which can’t often be said about a liner-lock folder.

The ZT0200’s handle is 3D-molded G10, a fiberglass laminate bound by epoxy resin, frequently used in electronics manufacturing due to its moisture resistance and lack of electrical conductivity. I could hack my way through the Amazon rain forest without ever losing my grip on the textured scales. (Not that there’s an Amazon rain forest in my foreseeable future. But one never knows.) That texture makes it a bit of a challenge to get the knife in and out of a hip pocket, so I usually only carry this one when I’m wearing a well-broken-in pair of jeans.

As an added cool factor — not that this knife needs help in that department — KAI USA makes a donation to the Paralyzed Veterans of America for every Zero Tolerance knife they sell.

My ZT0200 will be the only hand tool I’ll need should Gilligan, the Skipper, and I ever take a three-year detour out of Waikiki.

Or if Jack Bauer invites me to tag along when he’s having another of his really bad days.