Archive for October, 2008
Yesterday morning, I had forty minutes with a group of students from Clarence High School’s poetry club, as well as a representative from their literary magazine, Chrysalis. I spent the majority of my time reading pre-screened poems from Breathing Room Vol. I and II. and fielded questions from the kids while discussing the mechanics of style, form and creativity. After being inspired in the eighth grade to journal thanks to a guest speaker in my Science class, I feel compelled to give back and hit area schools in an attempt to do the same. It went very well. I’ll be returning next Tuesday to teach a workshop on poetry to the same cross section of Clarence youths. A big thanks is due to Anne Foster as well as Kevin Starr for making the in-school appearance possible. Yesterday’s session was recorded and should be up online by about eleven pm tonight under the Monsters Of Verse banner at Think Twice radio at the following link:
And after a month out of the studio doing Big Words One Man Mobile Units, I’ll be returning to record Episode XIV with guest artist Jeff Brown (Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me, AEIOU, Clumsy, Unlikely) from Top Shelf Comics along with co-host SoCo Mike.
I’m hoping that Jeff Brown is more of a good sport about things than Alex Robinson (Episode III) was after the show. Odds are in my favor as Brown (Incredible Change-Bots) not only seems to have a finely tuned sense of humor but also happens to be the exact same age as yours truly. Brown is one of the few writer/artists that Lindsay took a shine to, which is saying quite a bit.
Top Shelf has been outlandishly good to me in the previous four or five months, sending review copies, advance copies and publicity materials for a lot of their best and brightest creators. While I haven’t had a hell of a lot of time to write any reviews, I’m planning on dropping some new critiques into Comics Bulletin’s lap in the coming weeks. The title at the top of my list right now is Swallow Me Whole from writer/artist Nate Powell. I was so bowled over by the book (along with the staff at Don’s Atomic Comics) that I feel obligated to shower it with praise and get some work back in to Comics Bulletin at the same time.
Whelp, it was a productive weekend.
Aside from the Greg Sterlace Show appearance in full Joker makeup (which will be airing on Time Warner Cable on Weds. and Fri., check www.sterlace.com for more details), celebrating my 33rd birthday and performing as part of the prosiacal trifecta known as the Monsters Of Verse, Think Twice Radio got a new logo, a new show, and a new sheriff (or sheriffs) in town. You can now find the inaugural Monsters Of Verse launch show (along with each successive show as they take place) up on it’s very own site over at:
As for the Calendar Of Events, JR Finlayson and Carrie Gardner have the week off from any scheduled appearances. Lucky bastards. No, just kidding. Our next gig together will be on Thursday, November 6th at 7 pm at the illustrious Talking Leaves books. All three of us will be reading, signing and hawking our wares, so stop on out and tell ’em Tom sentcha!
As for yours truly, I’ve got Clarence Central High School on deck. I’ll be going in at the crack of dawn tomorrow to talk straight with the kids about this ‘genre of poetry’ for their Poetry Club, AV English students, and any of the editors and contributors of their literary magazine (Chrysalis) who might have a passing interest in my nonsense. On Wednesday, the real fun rolls around, as I’ll be getting a molar yanked out of my skull in the morning and then doing a radio show in-studio at Think Twice with Top Shelf comic book artist/writer all-around genius Jeff Brown. If all goes well, my co-host will be SoCo Mike (not to be confused with Intentionally Bald Mike, although the two are friends). On Friday, I’ve got the final Greg Sterlace show in Buffalo to attend and then I’m pretty sure I’m done for the week. Aside from schmoozing, handing out free review copies and making five million phone calls. Oh, and there’s the writing, too. Whew!
A new Big Words I Know By Heart column drops today in Night Life magazine and my AOL is doing its thing because I can’t pull up the October columns that I sent out. If memory serves, I’m dropping three or four poems from Breathing Room Vol. II: rhymes & relics like they’re hot.
That should be everything for today, webslingers. If I forgot something, I’m sure I’ll keep you posted throughout the week. In the mean time, don’t get fired from your day job! Cheers,
Last night, I popped in to the non-stop party known as the Greg Sterlace Television programme. For episode 702 (and as a dry run for this evening), I wore some makeup. Think Pagliacci only more psychotic. Think about the man who laughed. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, and even if you can’t, just follow the bouncing link over to:
There’s a heaping helping of liberal mentalities, but someone had to be on the front lines to report back to base. No poems were read, but comedically, we had a hell of a time.
And today, as you may or may not know, is my 33rd birthday. I’ll be commemorating the event with two of my best friends in the world, JR Finlayson and Carrie Gardner. In case you haven’t caught the listing yet, we’re rolling out the Monsters Of Verse 2.0 TONIGHT at the Center For Inquiry on Rein Rd. (across from UB North) at 7 p.m. SHARP. Books will be available from all of us ranging from $5-$15, so hit your local ATM ahead of time. We’ll be partying at an undisclosed location nearby afterwards, so if you don’t make the show, you’re not going to know where we’re going. We’re planning on reading for roughly an hour total for our cumulative performance, as it’s always better to leave listeners wanting more. By tomorrow night, the inaugural reading (along with all future appearances) will be popping up on the Think Twice Radio site (www.thinktwiceradio.com) under the NEW Monsters Of Verse banner. Look for it Sunday night!
And thanks for stopping by the official site yesterday. You’re continuing interest in the Gamestop fiasco has driven site hits above and beyond the 30,000 served mark. Here’s the current rundown:
10/24: 111 Unique hits
10/25: 30 Unique hits (so far)
Spread the word. I’d rather be a Liliputian in an army of them than a lightning rod on a roof by himself. Any and all assistance is appreciated.
That’s all I’ve got for today. Oh, one more thing. The Buffalo News accepted another one of my My View submissions, which puts me at their 3 submission max for the year. That’s a big deal to me, as I’ve never reached the max before in a calendar year. The piece in question should be hitting the paper some time in December, and it’s a good one. This gives me time to focus on landing some prime real estate in RD Pohl’s poetry section now, which I have yet to find purchase on.
Time to get into character. The next six months should be one hell of a snake oil show. Seeya in the funny papers,
Viva Las Thomas!-a vegas travelog
8:05 AM. Departing into Chicago we dove through a cloud cover and it was like going head first through a field of white cotton candy. The sun was coming up over the clouds and we had a sea of city lights greeting us in Chicago. After deboarding, Colleen and I take a labyrinthine route outside to find a designated smoking area. After chaining three cigarettes, Colleen has to surrender her lighter going back through customs. We hop onto our second plane (Ted), which is a lot bigger. We gained two hours and the passengers are starting to wake up.
8ish? We hit some residual turbulence compliments of the blowback from Hurricane Rita and things get a little scary for a few minutes. The two managers in front of me raise their hands up like we’re hitting the dip of a rollercoaster. Things start to settle down outside of the plane so they start up the in-flight movie. It’d be impossible for the plane to go down because if the last thing I saw before dying was a Jennifer Lopez movie, there would be no god.
6 PM-Vegas Time: A busy day and we’ve still got five hours to go. We arrived in Vegas at 10 AM after a 4 hour flight and got shuttled to the Mandalay Bay Casino, a gold leviathan a stone’s throw from the Luxor, a black glass pyramid casino with a pharaoh up front. I feel like a lemming. We move in a convention wave over to registration, then in a wave to the elevators and another surge to our gorgeous suite on the 17th floor overlooking the annexed second half of the casino. Curt (my room-mate) and I settle in and unpack. Then we’re off like a shot to meet up with Chris, Stephanie and Colleen to find food since we haven’t eaten all day.
Instead of hitting an over-priced restaurant inside the casino we strike out for food on the strip and end up getting Chinese food at the Panda Buffet. Since all our lighters were confiscated going through various customs checkpoints, I have to buy a new one from a corner store down the street. That’s when I see a glimmer of the real Vegas. It reminds me of Niagara Falls. A town with the promise of vast riches where poverty and squalor hide around every corner. We’re all exhausted and really fucking sick of walking. After registering for the company and getting our appropriate itineraries and identification, Curt and I sack out for an hour before the first meeting. We’ve been up and on the run for thirteen hours.
I never expected to grow up to become a guy who attends company conventions. Flash forward to 6 PM and we’re sitting down to the opening company fanfare Mced by our former boss. As I expected, it feels like a Nazi rally. One hive mind hooting and catcalling to the service of the company brain. Make no mistake, I love my job. But it’s unnerving to hear thousands of my peers in the same room howling for blood. I finally cash in some free drink vouchers and we settle down to a dinner of filet mignon as well as chicken. I have two plates. Microsoft give the keynote speech for the evening and it’s all about the Xbox 360. Some Playstation fan boys won’t shut the hell up behind us and Curt’s getting upset. If this weren’t a company situation, I’d turn around and shut their lights out, but I behave myself. I firmly believe that if people had the money to buy all three game consoles (like yours truly), they wouldn’t hold on so firmly to the notion that their system is the best. That, and the 360 looks like it’s going to be unbelievably sweet.
10 PM. The first meeting is down and Curt and I decide to dump off our complimentary gifts and pop back out for a quick drink. We’re practically sleep walking but I don’t want to miss a trick. And speaking of, there are a score of hookers walking the casino floor. I’ve seen more implants in one day in Vegas than a lifetime of men’s magazines. The town is just starting to wake up. The casino is jammed with a flurry of activity. We walk around for a bit and then cash in some drink vouchers at the China Grill, an upscale lounge far away from the gambling areas. For forty bucks, I get a vat of Kentucky bourbon, a bottle of bad light beer and a Vodka and Cranberry for Curt. There are three older blondes drinking at the bar next to us, but Curt’s got no fight left in him. After an hour of light conversation, we shuffle back to our room and crash and burn.
Monday5:30 AM. Lindsay calls at five in the goddamned morning (8 o’clock Buffalo time before she leaves for work) and Curt picks up. After a shower and a shave, we head back to the conference hall for breakfast. A few managers have already been ‘relieved of duty’ for public drunkenness and other assorted nasty behavior, so there are a few empty seats. There are a lot of hungover, strung-out faces in the crowd. Some managers were very bad.
11 AM. A series of half hour vendor programs. Individual video game publishers, developers and designers hammer home the notion that they’re the greatest company in the world through a series of game trailers, voiced over goofy live action segments and pep rally rabble rousing. We take a fifteen minute break and the complimentary regular Pepsi is gone within seconds. Plans are discussed for drinks and gambling once we’re free tonight.
5 PM. A long day in back to back meetings. By four in the afternoon, all of us are punchy, over-caffeinated and running on empty. If I drink anymore coffee, I’m going to start shitting coffee beans. The presenters for the vendors start bleeding together. If I see another promo for a World War 2 first person shooter I’m going to start screaming. There are a million World War 2 first person shooters coming out this year, just as they have every year for the past five years and I’m no longer interested in the medium. If it weren’t for war veterans and young kids who love to blow shit up over and over again without any new tricks of any kind, there wouldn’t be World War 2 shooters anymore, or at least there wouldn’t be such an avalanche of them. I wish the genre, much like Mario, would go away for a long time so that the industry wasn’t so inundated with them.
The presenters for the vendors start to run together. They seem like the sort of people who should be selling time shares and steak knives. And the abundance of free fluids is killing me; water, coffee, juice, soda and tea. I’ve gotta piss like a race horse and there are no breaks to speak of for four hours. If I don’t piss soon, I’ll need dialysis for the next day of meetings. Things wrap up by 6:30. Curt and I collapse and try to get a quick nap in before we head out for some night life, but the phone keeps ringing with people wondering why we aren’t out yet.
8:15 PM. Back downstairs to the hospitality suites sponsored by the vendors. Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Activision, Lucas Arts, Vivendi, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Take Two and a number of smaller fish. This is all voluntary, and there are more endless lines at the bar for free beer and there are no prizes or gifts being given away as I’m told they have in the past. There are ten rooms with rows of screens, playable versions of games coming out four months from now, and thumping techno music. I’m in no mood to wait, so we hook up with Jeff and head to the buffet on the casino floor. All I want at this point is a few stiff drinks and a long, dark, dead sleep. They don’t serve any alcohol at the buffet, so I get a water and start getting really steamed because it’s taking all my friends forever to figure out what they want to do.
10 PM. Nobody can decide where to go or what to do so I lone wolf it and hit the Island Lounge in the middle of the casino floor. I have a double of Maker’s Mark and a Bud Light and get down to it. A trio of blonde soccer moms sit down next to me and I mind my own business. After another beer I head back to the elevators and get onto the wrong one. I find my way on the right one and crash out by eleven.
Tuesday6:30 AM. A lot of tired faces at breakfast. Some of the managers just went to sleep three hours ago or haven’t slept at all. The meetings go until 7:30 at night today, so we’ll be schmoozing and processing company propaganda for twelve straight hours.
9 PM. A thirteen hour work day. The morning is filled with seminars on basic work business. More coffee, more soda, then lunch, where some girl has a seizure and has to be taken out on a stretcher. Another manager is out for the afternoon with ‘food poisoning’. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the drinks he had the night before. For the afternoon, we have a massive vendor show, where we’re all sardined in to visit booths in sections. 1,000 greedy, smelly, sweaty, wheezing game geeks posing as managers elbow to elbow in a single file racing past each sponsor for two minute snippets. Booth babes, free games, t shirts and key chains.
By five thirty we’re ready to drop again and during the stretches of un-marked time some of the managers are cutting out and hitting the bars already. Seven thirty and we’re set free. Curt and I pop back to our hotel room for a bath, a nap and a phone call to the little woman. We head out for dinner with our complimentary vouchers. Turns out everyone in the company is cashing theirs in at the ten or eleven clubs that accept them. Jeff, Curt and I are tired of trying to find other places with available seating and settle for eating at the bar in the Red, White & Blue, one of those homogenized restaurants with American food that caters to everyone and offends no one. I order two beers and a mushroom cheeseburger that I douse in condiments.
The restaurant is packed with conventioneers acting like frat boys or kids on a high school band trip. Grab assing, hooting, hollering and getting outlandishly drunk. I’m glad I’m sitting at the bar away from it all. This is our last night in Vegas and I’ve barely left the Mandalay Resort and Hotel or done any sight seeing, unless you count my excursion to the Panda Express. There just isn’t enough time to be a sturdy, attentive employee and party our balls off at the same time. I’ve taken all of five pictures and shot ten minutes of casino footage with my camcorder. I haven’t even gambled yet, for chrissakes.
11 PM. We finally get around to doing Vegas right. I wash my burger down with an eighteen dollar double of single malt Jack Daniels with one of the veteran managers that’s so smooth I could gargle with it every morning. Then I wash that down with a few more beers. The Rochester rookies send over a double of 151 as a formal ‘go fuck yourself’ for my dominating numbers in the district rankings. I don’t touch rum and the double of Jack is hitting me something fierce. I send Mike back to my Rochester counterpart with a gherkin. The whole table laughs. Then I walk over to apologize for the green dick joke and drop another pickle on the guy’s dinner plate that I palmed in my hand.
Five or six of us buddy up and I finally get down to some gambling. I lose a whopping four dollars on the one armed bandits. More beers are had weaving and wandering from one end to the other on the casino floor. Then we elbow our way into the House of Blues, where they’ve got four dollar beers and Karaoke with a backing band. There are a ton of company guys blasted off their ass and looking to hook up. It’s wall to wall. I run off to use the bathrooms and one of the managers is in there talking about what he’s not going to tell his wife when he gets back. A parade of shots go by and things get crazy. Adam, one of the guys from Rochester, has been going on two hours of sleep all week and looks it. Curt and I call it a night and discover that it’s 1 AM. We’re getting up in five hours and I haven’t been outside casino property for three days. All this fluorescent lighting is messing with my head because everything looks exactly the same when I get up in the morning as it did the night before.
6 AM. The last day of the convention. I can’t wait to go home, but I don’t want to leave, either. It takes me a few minutes to shake the cobwebs out of my brain and pack, as we have to be out of our rooms by the time we leave for breakfast and on the go for the rest of the day. We meet up at the main conference room for breakfast and there are a lot of empty tables, as a good portion of the managers went for broke the night before partying and gambling. We have a series of meetings on the upcoming holiday season and my brain is fried. I’m five steps beyond running on empty and the coffee isn’t making a dent. I’m focusing on trying to stay awake and retain some sort of information at this point. We wrap up at around one o’clock and meet up one last time for lunch, which consists of hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken fingers.
Maybe it’s the sleep dep or maybe it’s a case of Stockholm syndrome, but I start to get really emotional about the whole week. They have a motivational speaker who talks about bringing your A game every time to everything you do, and maintaining the level of excitement for our jobs that we all had during the week. They run a video with clips of our time covering the last four days and I get a little choked up. It’s strange how you can work amongst your peers but have an entirely different experience with them in such a short amount of time. I feel a lot closer to my other managers as a result. By three o’clock, we wrap up and go our separate ways. It’s time to get down to some gambling. I haven’t put a penny in the machines or on the tables, and I don’t want to miss out, so I drop a few bucks in the quarter slots and hit sixty dollars. After going to the Fallsview Casinos in February, I decide to follow some of my own ‘best practices’ and people watch for consistent losers on the machines and dive on the one arm bandit’s the second they get up and go somewhere else. The system is working. Curt is plunked down on a Star Wars nickel slot, so I stop back to let him know where I’m at in the forest of blinking lights, clicking handles and bells and buzzers.
This is when I really start to see the soul of Vegas. Old people with VIP cards chained to their wrists holding down chairs and staving off death. Young gambling addicts tapping their feet psychotically from sleep loss hoping for that rush they get when three icons line up on the screen and they’re rewarded with a surge of cash to recoup what they’ve lost. High rollers who pretend they’re Rat Packers working a con on the blackjack tables. Cocktail waitresses weaving in and out of the throng, outfits showing everything they can get away with by law. It’s glamorous and deceptively expensive, and the pace of gambling is make or break. After two hours, we pry ourselves off the machines and shuffle over to the Rum Jungle to meet up with the rest of our district for a farewell dinner.
I’m practically sleep walking by now, and wonder if I should have a beer at all or if I’ll fall flat on my face if I do. I order a beer anyway and we go to our table for twelve towards the back. They’ve got hundreds of bottles lined up twenty feet high behind the bar and the presentation is pitch perfect. I order a strip steak and a chilled shot of Knob Creek. Jokes are dispensed, insults are volleyed, and we goof on one of our peers by sending him a chocolate birthday cake sculpted to look like an exploding penis. I hit the bathroom and, feeling guilty, tip the attendant five dollars after he hands me some paper towels and makes light conversation. Colleen and I cut out early to hit the casino floor one last time.
I’m up sixty dollars and we follow her system. She swears that you’ve got better odds working the nickel slots with criss-crossing pay outs. It’s not working for me, and I get frustrated. Tony and Joe find us and Curt almost wanders past us. I’m starting to lose money on the system, so I go rogue and leave it up to chance. There are sweepstakes cars strategically planted on the floor and a monstrously large jackpot machine where I hit two identical icons in a row and miss out on the third. I’m back up thirty dollars and Curt wants me to cash out so we don’t miss the shuttle bus. I bet big and lost thirty. All in all, the casino takes me for about sixty bucks, which I can live with.
9 AM. We grab our luggage and line up for the shuttle to the airport. There are a lot of drunken, tired, irritable people catching the red eye home. The exhaust fumes from the bus are killing me, and I’m wishing I filled up my water bottle because I’m dehydrated beyond belief. We hitch a ride to the airport and lug our bags to the tram where we check out and board the plane. It’s filled to capacity, and there’s barely a millimeter of play between my knees and the seat in front of me in the aisle seat I’m stuck with. I can’t fall asleep during the three hour flight because it’s impossible to find a comfortable position and my right hip is locking up from the awkward position I’m trying to get at to nod off. We’re tortured with some horrific coming of age in flight feature presentation about five young girls who share the same pair of jeans. My legs are stretched out in the aisle and passengers keep tripping over or stepping on them. One of the managers ahead of me comments about going home smelling like bad cheese and French fries. We’re all delirious and giggly. Those of us who are awake, at any rate.
6 AM (Chicago Time). Home seems so far away when we touch down in Chicago. Colleen doesn’t even want to grab a smoke in the interim so I go it alone and make the hike to the designated smoking area, where a local grifts me for a two dollar donation in exchange for a copy of The Onion. Its six AM Chicago time, and I hit the bottleneck going back through customs. Some businessman huffs and puffs ahead of me going through the metal detector. We get onto the next flight late and it’s a puddle jumper of a plane that holds around forty people. I make jokes with Stu about Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. The view is a lot better below with the smaller plane and we’ve got a queeny flight attendant having a bad day who’s forced to sit in a seat in front of the captain’s quarters and stare ahead because there’s just no room. When I start to nod off we begin our descent into Buffalo. The plane feels like a stone being skipped across a pond going down through the cloud cover and we go down hard onto the pavement.
I could take artistic license and claim that we all hugged goodbye, or high fived and huzzahed as we left in one group, but we went our separate ways and got as far away from the airport as possible. My dad picks Curt and myself up and we find our way home. It feels like eons since I’ve seen my apartment, and I check my email and sack out. I’d been awake for 25 hours straight for the most part. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
6:15 AM: Flight departure from Buffalo. I love to fly. It’s been five years, and five of us from the convention pile on to the morning trip to a layover in Chicago. There seems to be a lot of Asian people.