Radar O’Reilly And Then Some

The dog has been particularly reactive to the outside world, lately. He’s an anxious dog at the best of times, but in the Spring and Summer, that gets almost incomparably worse because there’s so much activity outside and almost every noise he hears makes him panic. The worst noise of all, it turns out, is the sound of ladders being set up or taken down; whenever that happens anywhere near the house — by which I mean, honestly, anywhere within a one block radius, because dogs have really good hearing — he goes into full-on, running-around-the-house freak-out mode. He runs throughout all the rooms, barking and sounding the alarm: there are ladders close by. We should watch out and be prepared for invasion.

I mention all of this not to make fun of the dog, although there’s no small amount of humor to the whole thing; instead, I bring it up because there’s an unexpected side-effect of dealing with all of this, which is: now I have found myself surprisingly reactive to sounds around the house.

That’s not to say that I’m also running around the house sounding alerts at the smallest provocation (nor that I’d even be tempted to do such a thing; it sounds like far too much work, for one thing), but I can’t deny that my ears perk up when I recognize particular sounds outside the house — especially ladders, it’s true — and I find myself tensing, waiting for the dog to run through and bark in alarm. I feel as if my hearing has ended up being supercharged by the whole thing, much to my amusement, making me wonder both what other sense is going to start failing to balance our this newly enhanced hearing, and also whether this background awareness of everything around me is what it feels like to be Daredevil from Marvel comics.

It’s a cliche to say that people become like their dogs the longer they’re together, I know; I just didn’t think it would happen like this.

Is The Less I Believe It

As chance — and the Spotify algorithm — would have it, I found myself listening to a bunch of Ocean Colour Scene the other day. (I blame the fact that I had been listening to no shortage of 1990s Paul Weller just before that; Spotify probably thought, “Oh, you’re in a Dadrock mood,” somewhat justifiably.)

In the mid-90s, it felt as if OCS, as their fans called them — likely out of a quiet acceptance that “Ocean Colour Scene” is objectively a terrible name for anything, especially a band — were, if not the butt of a particular joke that was difficult to explain to anyone who didn’t immediately, instinctively get it, then at least a band that was on the periphery of not only Britpop, but the wider and more existential concept of “cool.” Imagine the British music scene of the time as an explosion of joy and melody and, yes, even cool; Ocean Colour Scene would be some distance away from the epicenter, with onlookers and scientists arguing over their relative merits, entirely unconvinced.

Listening back to them recently, I went for the songs I remembered liking the most — “The Day We Caught The Train,” “You’ve Got It Bad,” “Hundred Mile High City,” “July” — and I realized that, well, maybe I’d been looking at them all wrong all along. That’s not to say that the songs were any catchier or lyrically any better (Ocean Colour Scene’s lyrics were, often, awkward in such a way that you’d wonder if English was their second language), but that, maybe it’s a mistake to think of them as a band, per se.

This sounds like a joke, but in each of the songs that I liked — or, again, liked the most to be more precise — the thing that was most interesting was always that the center of the whole thing wasn’t the song, per se, not the melody or the lyrics, but a particular sound, or the feel of the whole thing. At their most interesting, Ocean Colour Scene’s music is like tone poems from so far out of left field that they go all the way back to being square again: hymns to a the vibe, except the vibe in question has all the inspiration of a house band covering the Beatles lazily in 1973.

Oddly, this realization made me like them far, far more. Maybe I should go back and revisit all of those Britpop alsoran bands, and see what they sound like today. Is the world really ready for that Cast revival? (Hopefully not.)

The End (Not Really)

I’m not entirely sure how to describe what I spent the last week or so doing, outside of the usual everyday “work and eating and cleaning just to get through the day” existence. The phrase “Taking care of business” is both apt and descriptive, but also sounds like the kind of euphemism preferred by shitty trailers for shitty movies from the 1980s to refer to some romantic and/or sexual congress that will ultimately fail to happen for reasons that are, apparently, hilarious and touching.

And yet, I have been taking care of business: I’ve had to book flights and hotels for the upcoming UK trip — which included actually sitting down and working out where and when said flights and hotels need to be, and how expensive that would be without breaking the bank (spoilers, I failed that last part; international travel is not cheap, friends.) — as well as work out just what the fuck I was going to do about taxes this year after the surprise retirement of my accountant after something like a decade of faithful service. That’s not including various behind-the-scenes elements of my job that also include reimbursements and travel plans and the like. I’ve been planning the important plans; I really, genuinely have been taking care of something that could easily and deservedly be called “the business.”

It’s been exhausting.

Here’s the thing; I am very bad at doing these things. Or, more correctly, I’m very good at doing them but none of it comes naturally. I don’t have the important mix of macro and micro focuses such things need to work properly, at least in the measures necessary to do it right; I get hung up on the strangest details and have to unplug my head after awhile because I start thinking like a journalist — “why is this the case, let me follow this thread” — instead of, you know, just completing the task. As a result, everything takes a little bit longer to finish than it probably should, but there’s an upside: everything else I accomplish while distracting myself from the task at hand.

(That sounds like a joke, but it’s not; in avoiding finishing taxes, I managed to clean a bathroom and the kitchen, sweep the stairs and the entire first floor, and take out the trash and the recycling. Would that I could be so productive on other occasions.

I tell you all of this because, as I type this, I have finished everything that’s been hanging over me for… the past couple of months or so…? I can’t quite believe it’s true, but I take comfort in one horrifying fact: there’s going to be more to deal with almost as soon as I finish this sentence. That’s how it works, these days.

There’s a Great Big Crack in the

Watching Blur: No Distance Left To Run the other week, I had this unexpected moment at the very start of the movie that threw me off far more than I would have even imagined: a split-second shot of the Union Jack, flying in slow motion.

It’s something that only makes sense for the movie; Blur was, after all, one of the two leading lights of Britpop back in the day, so of course you have the British flag right there at the start, to set the scene. And yet: I had this really surprising reaction to it, almost viscerally.

I’m far from patriotic at the best of times, and when I even think of the idea of “patriotism,” British isn’t even something that I consider immediately; I think of being Scottish, and American, before I think of the idea of being British. (I suspect the “Scottish/British” thing is a whole subject in and of itself; I suspect there’s an entire contingent of Scots who don’t necessarily think of themselves as British, for whatever reason. Oh, the class and social systems and all their complications…)

The Union Jack was omnipresent in my twenties, because of Britpop. It was in posters, on single covers, on television, on clothes, on Noel Gallagher’s fucking guitar; it was the graphic that defined the age, somehow, at a time when the British Empire was the very opposite of a fond memory.

Is that why I had this instant revulsion to the flag when I saw it on the screen when I saw it? Was it some delayed rejection of the image of the age from my youth? Or some rejection of the very idea of patriotism for a county I don’t even necessarily believe in? I’ve thought about it a lot, and I still don’t have an answer. All I know is that, somehow, I’ve come to instinctively reject the idea of “Britishness” and look for something else, something more real. Modern life, perhaps, is still rubbish.

Old Haunts

There was one night during my recent Seattle visit where I found myself wandering around, trying to find a pizza place where we’d eaten last year, during the previous Emerald City Comic Con; they’d done a really good potato pizza, of all things, and I wanted to have it again, given the way the rest of the day had gone to that point. (I found it, and it was good; it’s a place called Serious Pie, if you’re in the area and curious.)

The pizza isn’t what’s important, though; instead, what is was the realization as I was walking back to the hotel that I was somewhere I had been at some point in the past, but that I couldn’t quite remember when. I knew it was some time ago — I had been there with my ex-wife, I could remember, but beyond that, every single detail was completely hazy: Why were we there? When had we been there? What were we even doing in Seattle?

All of it was nowhere to be found; I just knew for a fact that, at some point, we had been there — I could remember just a flash of a moment, a mental image, of being inside the building I was walking past at that very moment. For a second, I was haunted by the ghost of myself from years earlier.

That idea stuck with me for awhile; that I was at the point in my life where I could lose the details of something like that. Earlier that day, I’d been talking to someone I work with who’s a good two decades younger than me, and we’d been discussing the idea of forgotten histories, that you’d done so much that you’d lost the details of your own life to a degree. I said something along the lines of, you’re too young for that, wait until you’re my age, not really thinking beyond the self-depreciation element of, “Oh, I’m old.” And yet, here I was, experiencing the very thing we’d been talking about.

Such A Stupid Get

I’ll note, before I go any further, that this was written in advance of you reading it; a full three weeks in advance, in fact, for those who might think this is a reasonable reflection of how I’m feeling right now as it exists for you. (I mean, it might still be, considering. But we’ll see.)

I am tired.

Not sleepy-tired, as we’ve taken to calling it; not the sense of, “if I sit down for too long, my body is just going to slump back and suddenly, it’ll be hours later and someone will point out that I was snoring, and the dog will be upset at the noises coming out of my mouth.” That’s not the problem; if anything, I’ve actually been sleeping relatively well recently, getting consistent, not-waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night sleep, and my body is pretty well-rested.

No, I’m brain-tired. I’ve been thinking too much, or too often, as ridiculous as that sounds. I know, objectively and reasonably, that we’re all thinking all the time, that that’s simply how brains work; I understand that on a practical and realistic level. Nonetheless, I have a sincere and repeated belief that there are times when I think too much, traditionally around work.

It’s the nature of my job; there are times when I have to write a number of articles around 1000 words per day, each requiring a coherent train of thought or argument to be presented, each requiring some level of research or external input. This is my job, and I’m certainly not complaining about it; I do it well, and I love doing it. There’s honestly not another job I think I’d rather be doing. It’s just that, sometimes, I feel especially tired afterwards.

I joke, at times like these, that I’ve had to pull my brain across the finish line as if it’s some grand sport, or as if my brain is a muscle that’s simply been overworked. A poor metaphor, perhaps, but my brain is tired, so what do you want? As I write this, it’s been a long week of a lot of writing, a lot of research and joining the dots and speculation and presentation, and I find myself craving little more than to just… switch off for awhile. To sit down, and to stop thinking thinking for a brief period.

But there are still deadlines to be met, still other stories to write, other interviews to conduct. And so, I write something here, to vent — the irony, more writing — and then pull myself together, to go off and keep doing what I do so well.

Be Sure To Wear

I’m still thinking about The Last Black Man in San Francisco a few weeks after watching it for the first time. (Yes, it took me a long time; I’d repeatedly think about it, and then think to myself, maybe it’s going to be too heavy and depressing, I’m going to watch something lighter and save that for when I’m in the mood, and then talk myself out of it using that logic even in the times when I was in the mood. So it goes.)

What I keep thinking about isn’t the sense of… removed nostalgia, if that’s even a thing, that it evoked in me. I would recognize general locations or even specific doorways throughout the entire thing with a sense of, “I know where that is!” that was immediately followed by the feeling that I had been a different me when I was in the city, at a very different time in my life. It was as if I was experiencing someone else’s nostalgia and recollection entirely, at times. 

Instead, what’s staying with me is the feeling of the movie; a sense that I found myself reading as a mixture of wistfulness, frustration, and lack of direction — perhaps a better way to put it is, a sense of anticipation for something to happen. Throughout the whole movie, the two central characters, Jimmy and Mont, are simmering with tension and an impatience that I fully recognized and felt in my bones at roughly the same age as the characters themselves: an ache that there was something important and meaningful just out of their reach that they couldn’t quite understand or explain in any real detail.

Perhaps the wistfulness I detected in the movie isn’t really there, and instead came from me watching from the point of view I have today: for all that those feelings hurt and burned at the time, I find myself looking back envious at the energy it offered, and the hunger for experience and possibility that came from those days. 

The movie was beautiful, and meaningful in ways that I can’t verbalize just yet. Instead, I keep thinking about it, and wanting to unfold it further in my mind.

It’s Me Again, Yes, How Did You

I am used to the idea of “con crash” — that period after a convention where, basically, your body decides that it’s time to stop and maybe have a little enforced rest for awhile; that’s almost certainly the case after the first convention of the year, when your body is in something approaching shock at having just gone through it all for the first time in awhile, or after a particularly heavy or busy convention. It’s not a bad thing, per se; it’s just this blip in health as if a breaker has been triggered and your body needs you to sit down for a bit.

Friends, whatever happened last week was con crash times a million. I’m not entirely sure what happened — I tested negative for COVID, although others I was around during Emerald City Comic Con weren’t so lucky — but I was basically knocked out for a week or so, as my body decided that it was time to just stop. I had the fever, I had the headache, I had the dizziness and the stuffiness of both the nose and the throat. I had it all, and I wasn’t the only one: not only were other people in this here house sick too (Because of me? I genuinely have no idea, in part because it didn’t feel as if I even had enough time to infect anyone before they got sick too), but so were other people in my work.

I’m still not 100% healthy, even as I write this. (On the same day that you’ll read it, unusually! Who says this isn’t the Mighty Marvel Age of breaking-into-prescheduled-posts-to-update-you-all-on-my-health-or-lack-thereof?) But I’m feeling slightly less insane, slightly less out of sorts and removed from reality after seven days of… well, just an entirely lost week, really. I feel as if I’m stumbling back into the harsh light of The Discourse, uncertain what’s been going on and tensing up to deal with whatever’s just around the corner.

Tuck In

Re-reading Eddie Campbell’s How To Be An Artist and After The Snooter recently — well, relatively recently — got me thinking about how surprisingly clear my memories are of formative comic buying experiences from my youth. For all that my memory is unreliable overall, which is to say, it’s a mess and in some cases almost entirely non-existent, there are certain experiences that I’ve internally mythologized to such a degree that it’s as if they happened last year, as opposed to three decades or more ago.

(I know, rationally, that this doesn’t mean that my memories are any more reliable, or even consistent; it’s almost guaranteed that what I think I’m remembering is actually more than slightly fictionalized or mis-remembered and just fueled by a sincere, misguided sense of belief and “realism.” Nonetheless, it feels real, and that’s what counts, deep down.)

When I was a kid, there was a store that my dad and I would go to every Sunday morning to buy newspapers and bread rolls; it was a weekly tradition, to go together to buy those things for that day’s lunch. The entire family would gather and eat sandwiches and read newspapers together, each of us grabbing one of a stack of papers — for some reason, on Sunday, we got five or six different papers — while the television played behind us, no-one really paying attention. The store was called “The Tuck Shop,” and I loved it not for the bread rolls or the newspapers, but because every month, they’d get a literal stack of DC comics for me to choose from, all available for relatively cheap. Before too long, I’d convince my dad to let me get one each week alongside the papers and the rolls.

When I say “a stack,” I mean that, each month, the store would get an entire month’s worth of DC releases, or thereabouts, all at once. They’d be dead stock from somewhere else, three months behind release in comic book stores, but I didn’t care. For 30 pence, I could pick up issues of Superman or Batman or Justice League of America or whatever; at times, I’d save up my own money and go in and just buy four or five at a time. I was in heaven.

I said it was “an entire month’s worth” of releases; that’s not entirely true, because the selection was unreliable and almost certainly missing at least two or three titles randomly every single time. There would always be the “big” books, but more obscure favorites would come and go without rhyme or reason, resulting in a frustratingly incomplete collection for the me I was at the time. I didn’t really care, though, because the lure of the Tuck Shop remained impossible to resist.

Sometimes I think about that shop, and how central it was not just to my weeks at the time, but to who I ended up becoming. Without the Tuck Shop, I’m not sure my comic fandom would have turned out the way it did. Without those weekly visits, without the excitement of having a literal pile of comics to pick through and find new favorites, would I be the person I am with the job I have today?