March 2009

If you don’t read Endangered Durham, and you have any interest in Durham’s history or historical photography, you should start reading it immediately.

Sunday morning we were wondering how to spend the day and I said to The Boyf, “I’d love nothing more than a beautiful spring day spent downtown taking pictures.” He flipped apart two slats of the blinds and peeked through them before announcing, “That is happening right now.”

I spent hours walking around downtown taking pictures. I got a sunburn, my legs are sore, my feet ache. Basically, it was perfect. Lots of people were out walking downtown, lots of people with cameras, kids with kites. It was an incredibly windy day so I wound up with an accidental fauxhawk. I learned that Parrish Street – lined with lawyers’ offices and banks – turns into an unofficial skate park on beautiful Sunday afternoons. I oriented myself in relation to some of Endangered Durham‘s recent posts and took some pictures of my own of at least one of his recent topics.

It was a great day overall, actually. We brunched at Parker & Otis, I dropped off The Boyf so he could catch the first act of The Gondoliers (being staged by the Durham Savoyards at the Carolina Theatre of Durham), then I picked him up after my wanderings and we hit the Durham Library book sale for bag day. It was pretty freakin’ awesome. Pictures, loosely grouped:

So, there you have it.

I confess that I am pleasantly surprised by the results. I’m even more surprised by the comments section being fairly interesting. For the internet, and especially for an internet discussion of gay marriage, it’s remarkably light on trolls.

Of course, I find their presentation of the follow-up question and its results a little odd. The poll shows 49% supporting some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples, but the article’s phrasing suggests that it was overwhelmingly opposed.

Last summer, as I prepped for my 2008 NaNoWriMo about a gay insurance agent in the 1980’s, I ran across mention of a series of made-for-TV movies about a gay private eye in Albany. Some positive reactions online led me to Netflix the first couple of movies and I enjoyed them enough to be interested when it was noted that they were based on a series of novels.

It turns out that they’re by Richard Stevenson (actually Richard Lipez), who has reviewed mystery and crime novels in the Washington Post for years. The novels are about a gay private eye named Donald Strachey and his non-detective boyfriend, Timmy. In the movie, they’re a couple of cutie-pie lifestyle queens, with Timmy being played by Sebastian Spence, aka “Narcho” from Battlestar Galactica, and Strachey being played by the ever-hot Chad Allen. They are portrayed as having an almost Cleaverian homelife, so picturesque it nearly grates. There’s a lot of plush set dressing and a cute dog and they get style points for giving Strachey a beater car and a classic, sunlight-through-dust-clouds hardboiled office.

In the novels, I’ve found, their relationship has a lot more texture to it. The novels have proven to be a lot racier and seedier than the movies, but in a good way. The natural comparison is with Nick & Nora Charles of The Thin Man and this extends to the grungier side of their adventures. Nick & Nora were not well-behaved or well-mannered, and for their time they were pretty free-wheeling while still perfectly in tune with one another. So, too, with the Donald and Timmy of the books, who engage in banter that makes the reader think they’d be fun to know and who back one another up with a vengeance but at the same time have enough points of disagreement and enough bad behavior between the two of them to keep them both distinct and interesting.

The banter is really worth a special comment. I was chatting about this on a MOO the other day with Jos and Deadblob and I was saying that I think one of the symptoms of the progressive cynicism our society has taken on in the last fifty years* is that we have let our standards sink woefully low in the banter department. These days we watch The Hero and The Villain trade insults and we call it “banter,” but as Deadblob put it, they’re basically having a “yo mama” fight. If you go back far enough in pop culture, you find exchanges that can be both sharp-edged, perhaps even barbed, but still somehow more inviting, more open, more give and take than what we get today. I love me a good Whedon-penned dialogue as much as the next nerd but Buffy just ain’t got a thing on The Big Sleep or Charade or The Thin Man. Stevenson’s novels have that same classic banter – “shuttlecock,” Deadblob called it – in which characters are always more clever than real life, clever in a way that gives as good as it gets, clever the way we wish we and everyone else were clever all the time except when it would get too tiring.

Happily, they also enjoy some genuinely bothersome villains, disturbing brutes and scheming parties whose machinations are genuinely grotesque. I’m reading basically one a week on my lunch breaks and finding them very satisfying. They can be a little hard to find, but well worth it, and easily picked up out-of-order., which is good, since the ones most easily found are not the first or most recent books in the series; they’re the ones that have been (heavily) adapted to the screen.

Last night we had katastrophes, Mr. Pink Eyes and Pants Wilder over to play Hordes and SPANC. Katastrophes and I traded some files back and forth, laptop-wise, over glasses of wine while she, The Boyf and I watched an episode of Dollhouse, about which I don’t have much of an opinion other than that I would watch more but don’t feel compelled to do so. In theory they were playing at our place so I could decide whether to get involved in Hordes, too, but I didn’t get it together to go watch them as their armies marched across the kitchen table in half-inch increments. It looks really interesting but then I remember that the most interesting thing to me about any RPG has always been the narrative possibilities and never the mechanics and a tabletop miniatures game is nothing but mechanics, isn’t it? So, we’ll see.

After they were done, The Boyf, Mr. Pink Eyes and Pants Wilder and I tried out SPANC: Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls, an extremely enjoyable and silly card-and-dice game from Steve Jackson Games, makers of such other awesome titles as Munchkin and Ninja Burger. The main “story” of SPANC is that every player controls a crew of four catgirl pirates who have different stats and the players take turns trying to overcome four sequential, random challenges – a simple dice-roll compared to a stat on a card – to complete a given caper. Points are gathered over the course of each caper with a goal of playing enough capers to collect a certain winning number of points. So, once cards are dealt and sorted and laid out as one wishes, it really is basically a very fast game of making a couple of die rolls and handing them off to the next person, rotating around the table in that way and giggling at the scenarios described by each Challenge card.

Initially, trying to read the instructions, it seemed like it was going to be really complicated. However, we leapt right in and found that it was actually very simple and very fast-paced. I accidentally rules-refereed the whole thing which always makes me feel a little weird but in order to understand the rules for something I have to be very explicit and communicative about everything to feel sure of anything regarding how a game works.

Everyone else seemed to enjoy it and I really dug it. It’s very easy to play and it only took a few capers for me to understand the way it worked which is a pretty major hallmark of simplicity. (As a counter-example, I never really knew what I was doing in AD&D2E after years of playing it.) I enjoyed it enough that I spent part of this morning trying to figure out if there had ever been an expansion for it which, sadly, there has not.

All of this makes me want even more for one of us to host a gaming night. I would love to play this again and I know Steve & Sarah are into card games and there is always the haunting, distant cry of Arkham Horror, which katastrophes spotted the last time we were both at Sci-Fi Genre.