Thursday, July 24, 2014

Skyyyyyyybaarrrrr Piiiilot!

My continuing effort to eat everything that is bad for me reeled in this little beauty---a Sky Bar, by Necco (the New England Confectionery Company). In this neck of the woods it's easy to find Necco wafers, Canada mints, and Sweethearts, and you might find Candy Buttons, a Clark Bar, some Mary Janes, and even a carton of Mighty Malts, but the Sky Bar is very hard to find. 

And this one is mine! Mine, you hear? 

Well, it was. 

The gimmick of the Sky Bar is that each bar has four pockets with distinct flavors---caramel, vanilla (kind of like marshmallow), peanut (not peanut butter, but a peanut-flavored cream), and fudge. The perfect candy bar for the indecisive. 

I liked it, although the individual components are not extraordinary. Necco's chocolate is no gourmet delicacy; neither are the fillings. Individually the sections could go head-to-head against other cheap confections: chocolate-covered Peeps, Reese's, Rolos, etc. But the treat of the Sky Bar is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It's the Fantastic Four of candy. No one would read Mr. Fantastic Comics, but you put him in with the Thing, the Human Torch, and the Invisible Woman, and he's an indispensable member of the squad. 

But the Sky Bar is but a poor version of the Seven Up Candy Bar---no relation to the soft drink---which had seven distinct flavors in one bar. Wikipedia explains: "Flavors changed with the availability and popularity of ingredients, which included, among others, brazil nutbuttercreambutterscotch, caramel, cherrycoconut, fudge, mint, nougat and orange." Sadly, the Seven Up went away in 1979. 

Thanks for the pic, Old Time Candy!

My advice: Get two Sky Bars, eat one section off one of them, and pretend you have a single (albeit repetitive) Seven Up bar remaining. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


A young man climbed the mountain upon which lived the Wise One. Everyone knew that the Wise One was indeed the wisest man ever known, and willing to share his wisdom, but few were willing to make the dangerous climb necessary to consult him.

Jim was one who did want to go. He did not know anything about mountaineering, and his first attempt almost ended in disaster. Jim learned a lot from his trips up the mountain, including how much pain could hurt, but finally, one bright morning, he cheered with gasping breaths as he drew himself over a ledge and found a cave, and outside the cave an old man with a shaggy beard chewing a piece of yak jerky.

“Oh, great Wise One,” said Jim, “I have come to seek your direction.”

The wise one called the Wise One nodded, swallowed, and said, “Speak your question.”

Jim flopped down and, once he caught his breath, said, “I have been assailed as a directionless fool. What should I do with my life?”

The Wise One looked at Jim, gaze meeting gaze, mind meeting mind. Then the Wise One nodded. He closed his eyes and sat motionless, so long that Jim thought the man had fallen asleep, so long that Jim began to fear he had died.

Suddenly the eyes snapped open, the head and came up, and the creaky old voice spoke: “You…must sing!” he said.

“Sing?” said Jim, astonished.

“You must,” said the Wise One. “Sing,” he added.

“Like, actually sing musical songs?” said Jim. “Because I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. I forget words; every song would be called ‘The One That Goes Dee Dee Dee’ if I wrote it. I know nothing of music. I don’t know which end of a trombone the music comes out of. I have the natural rhythm of a drunken earthworm. How can you tell me to sing?”

The old man simply shook his head and said, “You must…sing.”

Jim could get nothing more from the old man, so he took the treacherous journey down and went home, wondering what to do. Exhausted, he collapsed into bed, thinking. No one would believe Jim if he told them that the Wise One said singing was his destiny… and yet, that’s what had happened. Somehow, this was his purpose.

The next morning he arose, determined to follow this path.

He thought that destiny would carry him---after all, he had never tried singing publicly, and maybe some mighty force would cling to his boldness as like is pulled to like. Jim set up a box in the square and climbed on top, and began to sing every song to which he knew some of the words. He did this for a week. In that period he had more old shoes and empty cans flung at him than any five stray cats in town.

Jim realized that he’d been waiting for magic, but destiny was not magic. It was a destination.

He started taking music lessons that day. He took singing lessons. He took music theory. He took music history. He sold his little home to pay for it. He got a job selling sheet music, singing to make sales, then shutting up because it worked better. He kept learning. He went to open-mike nights. He worked harder. He sang all the time. In his phrase, Jim had singing “out the bazooty” for decades.

Then he went to see the Wise One once more.

Jim was a good deal older now, of course, but he was patient, and slowly made his way up the mountain, stopping as needed to rest and acclimate himself in the cold breeze. After all these years he'd come to wonder if he had hallucinated the old man while stumbling around in the thin mountain air. He did not think so, though, and expected to find the man's remains, and maybe some fossilized yak jerky. 

The Wise One was still at the cave where Jim had left him. He was not a frozen corpse, as Jim thought initially; just the incredibly old man, still breathing. His eyes opened slowly and regarded Jim. 

"You have returned," the Wise One croaked, his voice unused in countless months. 

"You remember me," Jim gasped.

"Of course."

"Then you know you told me I must sing."


"All right," said Jim, when he had recovered his breath, "I thought I'd tell you how it worked out. I have spent decades learning about singing. I have spent decades learning about music. I could draw the Circle of Fifths in my sleep. If you give me a note I can give you its harmonic pitches in a second. I have transcribed music and sold it. I learned to play the trumpet, harmonica, guitar, ukulele, clarinet, and seven other instruments, albeit all poorly. I can give you biographical sketches of every important musician in the last century, every important composer in the last millennium. I have eked out a living on the periphery of the music business, or barely so, spending my entire life on the outside, looking in. Because in the opinion of dozens of music teachers and vocal coaches, hundreds of professional colleagues, and thousands of listeners, I have no talent for singing. I am a failure by every measure." Jim sat back in the snow with a grunt. "I thought you should know," he said at last.

A long time passed. The sun crept lower in the cold, vacant sky. Stars began to twinkle in the east, as lights far below began to twinkle in the town. The breeze quieted. All was still.

Then the Wise One turned his head toward Jim. With an effort, he opened his ancient mouth, and spoke at last. 

"Well," he said, "it was worth a shot."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bond. Title Bond.

Looks like they have not released the name of the next James Bond movie---it seems likely that they have not yet chosen the title. Or have a script.

I haven't seen one of them in over a decade, and the one I saw starred Pierce Brosnan. He was fine, but I'm down on the whole franchise.

Everyone loves Goldfinger, but a lot of things in that movie make no sense. For a guy with a major operation in the works, Auric spends a lot of time and resources on stupid crap. Like explaining his evil plot to a bunch of people he's going to kill anyway, and turning handsome Felix Leiter from Dr. No into shoe-faced Felix Leiter two years later was sad.

Still, I want to do my bit to keep the British end up, so I thought I'd come up with a title for the next film. I looked over the Bond books and movies (refusing to get involved in Moneypenny series or short story titles or radio plays or---God have mercy---fan fiction). Bond titles, I discovered, fall into several categories, as do most modern books and films: Play on Words, Proverbs, Exoticism, Huh? (i.e. What the Hell Is That?), Ominous-Sounding Dudes, and Job-Related (that is, spy stuff germane to Jimmy B.). For book titles I've added names/initials of the non-Ian Fleming authors for reference.

Play on words
A View to a Kill
Diamonds Are Forever (a play on De Beers’s 1947 slogan “A Diamond Is Forever”)
Double or Die (Charlie Higson/Young Bond series)
From Russia, with Love 
High Time to Kill (Raymond Benson)
Live and Let Die
The Facts of Death (RB)
The Living Daylights
The Man with the Golden Gun (a play on the Nelson Algren book/movie title The Man with the Golden Arm)
The World Is Not Enough
Win, Lose or Die (John Gardner)
You Only Live Twice 

Death Is Forever (JG)
Die Another Day
Never Dream of Dying (RB)
Never Say Never Again
Never Send Flowers (JG)
Nobody Lives for Ever (JG)
Tomorrow Never Dies 

Carte Blanche (Jeffrey Deaver)
Casino Royale
Devil May Care (Sebastian Faulks)
Hurricane Gold (CH/YB) 

Blood Fever (CH/YB)
Brokenclaw (JG)
C.O.L.D. (JG)
DoubleShot (RB)

Icebreaker (JG)
Quantum of Solace
SeaFire (JG)
SilverFin (CH/YB)
Zero Minus Ten (RB)

Ominous-sounding dudes
Colonel Sun (Kingsley Amis)
Dr. No
Scorpius (JG)
The Man from Barbarossa (JG)
The Man with the Red Tattoo (RB) 

By Royal Command (CH/YB)
For Special Services (JG)
For Your Eyes Only
Licence Renewed (JG)
Licence to Kill
No Deals, Mr. Bond (JG)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Role of Honour (JG)
Solo (William Boyd)
The Spy Who Loved Me 

Here are the ideas I had for great Bond titles. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the films knows that the title doesn’t have to be germane to the plot, so Bond people, feel free to stick any old story with them As long as the title is cool, that’s all that matters.

Play on words
All Is Not Death That Glitters
A Game of Kill
One Death at a Time
Easy Does It In

Death Does Not Punch a Clock
Keep Your Feet on the Ground but Keep Reaching for the Stars

Blessed Is the Peacemaker
Zip Up Your Jacket

Palisades Park

Caviar Twinkie
Rich Corinthian Leather

Kill Van Kull
Ominous-sounding dudes
Mr. Homunculus
Dr. Ouchy
Crazy Guggenheim
The Man from Shreveport
The Man with One Nostril
Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga, Hungadunga & McCormick
Madame Yes

Been there.

Check Your 401(k), Mr. Bond
Wash-and-Wear Tuxedo

Drive Spy-y
M Said Oh and P'd, PDQ
A Shot in the Dark (of Ceftriaxone)

Just wire the royalties through my agent. See you in Monte Carlo! Mine’s a vanilla milk shake. Shaken, not stirred. Otherwise it would be a vanilla milk stir. And that’s silly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creepiest thing I've seen so far this year.

Trendwatching's announcement of one of the major trends to, uh, watch had every goose bump I own honking. "The Internet of Caring Things" is what the April briefing is called, or "Why consumers will embrace connected objects with a clear mission: to actively care for them."

"A network of connected objects brought to life by a clear mission: to actively care for consumers – their physical and mental wellbeing, homes, loved ones, and more" it goes on to say, and is accompanied by a crushingly sad photo of an elderly woman in some kind of home clutching a stuffed animal.

There is something about people seeking love from something completely non-sentient that just lights up every creep warning on my board. Even a hamster will show you more genuine affection than a vacuum cleaner that's been programmed to simulate love. You may love Teddy Ruxpin, but Teddy Ruxpin cannot love you back.

Although he is fond of Grubby.
Not that I don't show affection toward or otherwise anthropomorphize objects I come across. Of course I do. I am quite fond of my car, and have been known to pat the hood after a long and successful trip. I've loved my home since it was studs and floorboard. I don't sit around and talk with these things, but I can imagine what they're like. I'll bet you could come up with a character description for every car you've owned: burly and lazy, snarky and unreliable, peppy and cheerful. And when some chair leaps in my way and stubs my toe, you'd better believe I attribute malice to it.

But it seems like the trendwatchers are expecting us to be so addled, so love-starved, so pathetic, that we're going to go nuts for a toaster that can make cooing sounds. We don't even know if it's going to be possible to create artificial intelligence, real consciousness in a man-made object, and we certainly don't know if it's going to be a good thing if we do. (If it is a device capable of making its own choices, why on earth would it choose anything good regarding us time-limited meatbags? A period like this in which the scientific community is cynical about the origin of ethics is a bad time for the creation of a monster.)

Some people get very excited over AI research, but it seems like planned human obsolescence to me at best.

These kinds of things never bothered me much when I was a kid. Hymie was just another pal of Maxwell Smart's. Rosie on The Jetsons was just a member of the household. (Yes, I know what Futurama did to her, thanks.) Now I'm less certain that A.I. creatures can be our buddies.

Isaac Asimov wrote more fiction about robots than anyone, and yet even he seemed to be overwhelmed by the question of artificial consciousness. If you know what became of the murder-solving robot sidekick in Caves of Steel, or the answer the "The Last Question," you'll know what I mean.

And I refuse to watch the apocalyptic movie with the robot kid and Teddy Ruxpin schlepping around after human extinction.

So with all this on my mind, I have to ask: Can't we all agree that the Uncanny Valley may be fun to visit, but nobody wants to live there?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What hath God wrought.

Some Sundays ago at Mass, we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul---Peter the axle of the early church, Paul the far rim of the wheel.

Our pastor is a fellow who has the heart of a lion and the hide of a lamb. He also has a wicked sense of humor. He can do a fiery homily about the need for evangelizing and building up of the faith and make the congregation laugh like a good after-dinner speaker can. He has the gift.

During the prayers I wondered what I can to build up the faith. It's not a natural urge or talent. I came to the church in middle age (early middle age, thank you) and it's still like speaking a second language to me much of the time. I have the instincts of a totemic barbarian, I think, inclined to burn effigies or run to the pagan temple and burn oxen, asking my gods to smite my enemies for me. That's behind me now, but the old trodden paths are still in my mind. I wish my conversion could have wiped it all out, paved those paths and bent them toward new and better destinations, but while that may be the case for other converts, including St. Paul, it was not for me. The kind of ground that the seed fell on in my case is yet uncertain.

The thought came to me during prayers, though: Tell them what God has done for you.

But I'm still a loser and possibly the biggest sinner I know, I said; I get depressed and full of self-pity and I still sin like a well-oiled sinning machine, and I put off writing this blog entry for weeks.

Today is the day, though.

All right. Brief version.

God created me although He didn't have to, although in my dark moments I think He used resources better spent on other things.

God tried to put me on right paths many times, but I chose to escape from reality by every means available to me. It made me a book lover and a writer, for better or worse, but it led to other paths that were unquestionably worse.

God did not strike me sober, but He led me to sobriety and it was made clear that I would have to embrace it if I wanted it. Most of my life I have waffled my way into things, and by falling this way and that I have made terrible decisions. But sometimes two opposing directions are obvious. I have made two stark choices in my life, and both times I'm glad to say I made the right choice. One was asking to marry the lovely Mrs. Key. The other was taking God up on His offer.

I have flailed and failed at faith over the years, but it sustains me, and I pray every day. On two occasions of great stress I have been praying and suddenly felt uplifted in a way I have never known and don't understand. Both times it was like I'd gone dying of thirst to a water fountain and someone turned on a fire hose. I had to turn away because it was too much for me. Too exceptional for me. More recently I was in mental and spiritual agony when a friend of mine died suddenly, so I went into a chapel to pray. The agony left me suddenly, in a speed I didn't think was possible---I'd always heard it took twenty minutes at least for the body to recover from a state of agitation, but this was instantaneous. The pain and grief that remained was hard, but manageable. I'm not sure these things can be explained, but they could certainly be explained away.

Anyway, these are some of the things God has done for me, and I wanted to focus on things that did not lend themselves easily to responses of "And why you and not Joe X?" Because I don't know why. But I do know that even though I remain a miserable sinner, God has been kind to me, and there's no reason to think He would not be kind to you, too, if you're willing to make the right choice and seek the right paths.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wish I could fly like Superman.

So now that Thor is a girl and Captain America is black, DC is aiming to get in on the icon-ruining bandwagon. Yep, the new Superman is an undocumented Tibetan living in Piscataway.

He's also left-handed, lactose-intolerant, and all his enemies are white guys.

Yep, totally badass.