Monday, October 31, 2022

Cinephobia - By Stuart Warren

Happy Halloween, Friends!

I wanted to get into the spirit this year, so enjoy a spooky short I wrote just for today! 


Trevor checked Rotten Tomatoes between calls at the office, glancing at the group chat in his periphery. It was ritualistic and ingrained in his routine, like checking social media for Likes or watching Late Night hosts recap yesterday’s news when he woke. An action movie was top billing on the site currently, canvassing every inch of the display with promotional interviews and thumbnails. The film, Equinox Protocol, was polling an anemic 38%.

There were many films Trevor could have seen, many books he could have read, his schedule never accommodating or flexible enough for either these days. As a child, he had plenty of time to watch movies at his father’s country house, in part because he was alone, with no friends to play with for miles. His father’s encompassing collection of film and television swaddled him in the warmth of companionship, and that was fine.

Trevor scrolled down the page. On the list of critical releases, The Haunting at Haight and Ashbury was number one, with a proud score of 92%. Critics raved that “its use of supernatural horror to emulate the fears of marginalized communities in gentrified urban areas was, bar none, the best use of the genre in decades.” It was an art film, celebrated at Cannes and lauded with a standing ovation lasting over twenty-eight minutes. Trevor frowned, as if excluded and oppressed, clicking through pictures of the cast and crew basking in waves of adulation, knowing that he would never be able to see the film. 

It was simple. 

He couldn’t watch horror films. 

They terrified him. 

Later that day, Trevor clocked out of work, leaving the office in the rearview mirror, and drove the long road home along PCH, all the way from Santa Monica to his ho-hum townhome in Oxnard. He thumped to the beat of his music at first, listened to true crime podcasts, then put on some music again, bleeding out the tedium in short bursts.
At home, Trevor made some canned soup and slumped down into his couch, scrolling through social media as the TV played reruns, unattended.

There were other horror movies that he had seen in his life, although most of them unwillingly. The fear they evoked was unsettling, despite knowing full well that ghosts and poltergeists were works of fiction. Yet something about them seemed more real than they appeared to be. He was religious, yes. And he did accommodate for the possibility of demons and angels walking amongst the living—alongside more acceptable things like God. He even considered the possibility that certain dreams he experienced in his youth were prognostications of his own belief in God coming to the fore, when demons tormented him in waking dreams. 

But ghosts? No chance. Not even a little bit. 

At 10:30 PM, Trevor turned off the TV, rolled off the couch, and walked to bed. 

Lying still, he pulled up Wikipedia on his phone and searched for the article on The Haunting at Haight and Ashbury, swiping down the page, reading the synopsis with rapt attention. Apparently, the story was an anthology, in four parts, each woven together by a larger narrative.

Part one centered on a lesbian florist, Summer Gaines, in the early ’70s, who is tormented by the ghosts of Chinese laborers, whom her ancestors had contracted to build her family’s home but then, of course, refused to compensate. When they complained and threatened to go to the authorities, her great-great-grandfather had them killed, hiding their bodies in the masonry. Their hands, faces, and twisted forms, now a part of the house, take their vengeance on the florist. The finale includes the spirits interring her in the walls of the very house that entombed them, with no one to mourn her or place flowers on her grave. 

Part two, taking place in the late ’80s, is about a land developer, Patrick Martini, who buys the block of Masonic and Haight to turn it in to an open market. All the tenants are happy to sell, despite their appearance of being against it, and all succumb to the allure of wealth, except Esther, an aging Haitian woman who is accidentally killed by the thugs the man hires to harass and push her out of her home. The open market is built and brings prosperity to the aging district during the mid-’90s, except for the developer who is tormented by the zombie of Esther, raised by her estranged daughter, Zelda—who briefly dated Summer in the late ’60s. 

Trevor swiped downward, feeling the chill of the room on his neck.

Part three, he reads, is about a landlord, Dominic Anselmo. In the fall of 2004, he raises the rent of a tenement—on the block of Ashbury and Waller—to capitalize on the recent gentrification of his already exclusive neighborhood. A single mother named Helen, with a sick child, is evicted from her impoverished apartment in the dead of winter and succumbs to hypothermia in the freezing rain. The child miraculously survives and is adopted by a gay couple, George and Hank Rafferty, in 2008. However, when they move into the newly refurbished apartments, they notice things compulsively misplaced, like a dish towel or a colander. Both the couple and the landlord, who are mutual friends, are tormented and stalked by the poltergeist of the woman, who wants her baby and home returned to her.
A creak in the walls halted Trevor from reading the final description.

In the darkness of his room, Trevor leaned over to turn on the light at his bedside and thrust his billowy comforter over his head. He knew that ghosts weren’t real, that supernatural entities were the extant components of psychosis. Yet he could feel them in his room, the characters, made as real as the films he refused to see. A bedroom overcrowded with ghouls and killers, spirits and demons, abstracted from synopsis and recounted by film critics. Trevor tried to go to sleep and prayed for better dreams as the noise machine in his room faltered and skipped. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Vaccine Hesitancy and Seatbelts

 I've been watching a lot of news lately, noticing how each network has it's own unique spin on events; some worse than others. I also recall reading Numero Zero by Umberto Eco, which very expertly undresses how tabloids, and media in general, modify our perceptions of the world through subliminal messaging. (Trust me, it's a lot more legit than it sounds, and less the tinfoil hat vibe I'm sure that last sentence read as.) With the help of Eco's work, I've been more active in my listening and digestion of television media. Reality TV is relentlessly scripted and contrived. News media, while, for the most part, built on the backs of honest reporters trying to maintain their integrity in a rapidly shifting world, is not innocent either. 

I mention news because I was thinking about seatbelts. (Like how my mind works?) When seatbelts were mandated in the late 60s, early 70s, where were all the anti-belters crying out for blood? Would there have been an equally vitriolic reaction to Uncle Sam enforcing the wearing of seatbelts, if the news media was more like it was today? (That is, pandering to the partisan groups of either side.) I'm genuinely curious what you guys think about that. 

Likewise, the shadow of doubt being cast over vaccines is equally concerning. As Patton Oswalt pointed out in his recent special, Patton Oswalt: We All Scream, Americans came out in droves to get the polio vaccine, in a time when the Conservative voice in America was just beginning to become amplified by the lamentable "Religious Right." It's funny to me, the flip flopping of Republicans, that they would identify as the "Grand Old Party", the party of Lincoln; the same president, mind you, that suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War and decisively solidified the supremacy of the federal powers to combat the treasonous Confederate States of America. It's probably the best, practical demonstration of the cyclical nature of history that I have encountered in recent memory. (I'm sure there are better ones, but that's just my opinion.)

We all agree that seatbelts save lives. It's been demonstrated time and time again by car crash data. 

We all agree that vaccines save lives. Remember when you got polio? You didn't? It must have been that vaccine! 

 Anyways... I recently discovered a new news channel called "Channel 4", a British public service station (similar, maybe, to PBS). If you haven't heard of it, I recommend watching it, especially the coverage of the War in Ukraine. It's top notch reporting. 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Colorado Recap and Bellyaches

Outside the original location of Breckenridge Brewery.

While I was driving around in Colorado with my buddy, and wookie life-partner, Jared "Desmond" White, I saw a few strange things. 

While we drove through Aurora I saw two churches, one on each side of the street, and it preoccupied my thoughts for the rest of our trip out to Fairplay. (Originally the one-and-only South Park, Colorado!) This is problematic: the strange prevalence of churches. In my own time spent in purple and red states over the years, churches become something like Starbucks locations: places to consume palatable, current-culture approved Christianity. (Our consumerist and capitalist context we live in perpetuates this.) Ideally, Churches are meant to bless the community, and serve as conduits for the Kingdom work of God, but the presence of literally dozens of churches in a 5 mile radius makes me suspicious.  

(I later found out that one of these churches was a Baptist and the other was a Lutheran, so I was probably just being a prick.) 

The next day, we went to a brewery, which was hosting an event for the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republican party. (I had heard about the Log Cabin Republicans from various media sources, but seeing them in the wild was strange.) This genus of Republican is LGBTQ friendly. But, noting the pride flags everywhere across their booth, I also saw a handful of "Lets Go Brandon" stickers and other by-the-numbers propaganda sharing the space. (Jared insisted, gleefully, on vandalizing my Magic the Gathering cards with them while I wasn't looking. ) Two seemingly disparate ideologies hand in hand: a movement that very literally prides itself on open-mindedness, and inclusivity, and the other playing to the fears and ignorance of another reigning political ideology.  

Culture shock aside, Colorado wasn't all bad. It's the kind of Americana that I wouldn't mind transplanting to, given the right conditions. I very much enjoy the scenery and the general community vibe that comes across in each mountain town and municipality. The people there seem to know each other well enough. (I'm more suspicious of peoples' intentions than not, so you would have to go there and see it for yourself.) 

Also, it was fun to see Jared in his element, in a beautiful home to call his own. My god, they have a basement and a crawlspace? Imagine a bespoke, suburbia 3 bed, 2.5 bath home, but underneath it a dungeon full of nerd shit. "Someday," I tell myself.

We got in a good game of Warhammer 40K while we were there!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Why Does Homer go to Church?

Homer discovers the meaning of life.

 Why indeed?

I remember growing up with my dad dragging me to catholic mass, which in retrospect seemed like a weird exercise. (I don't say that to be mean, or disparaging to Catholics, who are ingrained to go to church quite a bit throughout the week.) I mean, why go when the heart isn't there? It's not like it changed his life, or sanctified him. 

But this idea, going to church for the sake of going to church is endemic in culture, so much so that even Homer Simpson goes to church. 

Who is Homer Simpson? I'm sure everyone at least kind of knows who he is. He's the distillation of the archetypal American man. He's a high-functioning alcoholic, who's bad at managing money, a single household income provider, and a negligent parent.


Lovejoy with his model trains. 

As far as I can tell, Homer is a protestant, possibly a Presbyterian, given the more traditional scaffolding at work in the ecclesiastical architecture of his church. His pastor, the Reverend Lovejoy, is a sardonic and depressed man (who's collar suggests that he could be a member of either the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Anglican traditions). And, as far as I can tell, all the advice he gives Homer and Marge, is tainted with by his own apathy and depression. The indications that he is just as lost as his flock, at least suggests that he is, in many ways, just like us.

But why does Homer go to church? 

God is invoked a lot in The Simpsons, mostly as an antagonist that enjoys the torture of his servants. When Homer encounters the Theophany of God, he is usually an old man, the upper half of his body out of frame and never revealed. Like many Americans, Homer is exposed to an idea of God that is distant, abstracted, and unfamiliar. Homer, on occasion pleads with God for favor, but only when he is in need of something material, like most Americans, to be honest. 

But why does Homer go to church? 

My best guess at why Homer goes to church is that he assumes that going to church serves as a sacrament. (Even if he lacks the spiritual vocabulary to describe it as a "sacrament.") But going to church, I would say, is less about experiencing something that benefits "you" the attendee, but something that strengthens those around you. It's counter intuitive, to go to church to help someone else, but that is what is effectively happening. When Homer goes to church, he is not there to encourage Lenny, or empathize with Chief Wiggam, or unconditionally love Moe, but to punch a card for himself. "At least in "Homer the Heretic" (Season 4, Episode 3), Homer is saved by the very people he spurns, much to his chagrin, thus emphasizing the importance of church fellowship and community (at least implicitly).

The idea, though, that someone would go to Church "just because" eludes me. 

 It sounds like a colossal waste of time. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Remembering Norm Macdonald

Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images


My introduction to Norm Macdonald was split between old SNL reruns on Comedy Central and his movie “Dirty Work.” His delivery, which was so deadpan and blunt, evoked a personal courage that was so foreign to me. (And still is.) 

When I found out that he died I felt crushed, like a piece of me was lost. Because so many talented people pass away into the oblivion of death and, despite every effort of their fans, eventually fade from memory. 

Often when someone dies, I say to myself, “I hope you were saved,” because I honestly wanted to see them again someday. It’s a selfish desire, but I know that that person was created for God’s glory, and that they were blessed with talents that, like an artist’s signature, illustrate an aspect (or characteristic) of God. And when someone is facing death, their egos weaken and they re-evaluate the nature of the universe before they leave it. I hope that, someday, my own heroes will realize this, so that they can be in on the joke: that their magnitude was not for them, but for God. 

I did find out though, after the fact, that Norm was a Christian. Or at least, that there was evidence that he was. (Because no one knows for sure, do they?) It brought me comfort knowing that after a lifetime of beholding the injustice of the world and speaking truth to that as a comedian, that Norm was finally with God and telling his jokes in his presence. That reality brings me hope, because we are not here to be great in our own right. We are here to be great and know that it is because of God that we are great.  

I’ll catch you again, someday, Norm. Until then…

Monday, August 8, 2022

Quick Update - AKA. Workin for a Living

 What have I been doing lately? 

The better question is what haven’t I been doing?

I’ve been working on a couple projects, which sounds exciting but one can only make so many announcements about that before it becomes just an excuse to be anti-social. 

The anthology expansion of Dynamic Synapse Protocol I am aiming to finish by the end of this year (famous last words, I know). It’s currently on hold for a paid gig that I am doing for my designer (and founder of ELECTI STUDIO), which has been super fun. It’s been a wonderful exercise in pulling my head out of my ass and dedicating time to something that isn’t so horribly ME. 

My daughter is starting kindergarten in a week, which seems a tad surreal. I’ll let you know how I feel about that once I’ve figured that out for myself. 

Lots of overtime, so much overtime. This will be my third week on oncall in a row. It’s set up so that we have to work one week once a quarter. I typically work about 8 weeks of the 14 week quarter to cover expenses. (Inflation is a bitch-and-a-half.)

That’s all I have right now. Pray for my sanity. 


Monday, December 20, 2021

An Object of Scorn

Affixed to the altar before the apse was the cross. It’s edges were frayed, roughly hewn from quarter sawn timber long ago. The reclaimed piece was swollen and pocked with burls. Striations of discoloration, wrapping around the trunk, intimated the shape of a hobbled man, or a rot in the wood. Well-lit by the clerestory above the chancel, the cross was positioned prominently, as if basking. The carpenter had placed the cross there, shunting it into a notch in the ground, embroidered with mosaic tile. He cursed the splinters collected by his hands. 

Over time, the basilica changed many hands, each flock with their own vice and preference. For a century or so, the cross absorbed bitterness and contention. In-fighting broke out across the aisles, until a meeting was convened to determine the spirit of their creed and what they said about their Lord. Most were satisfied by the outcome. At the end of it, the rich young ruler who ordered the meeting stepped forward and placed a thoughtful hand upon the hardened exterior, sensing great things ahead. 

Not soon after, it was stained with blood. Buckets of coagulated sanguine absorbed into the sword-gouged trunk, bright red, before fading to purple and blue. Suffering abounded in the lands choked with smoke and ash, until a pragmatic flock emerged, resourceful enough to stifle the sickness of violence that seemed to infect the sullen, stagnant air. The cross was crowned with temporal power by the rich young ruler, but the gilded crown bore the likeness of a bad forgery.  

New edicts were established regarding what the cross could and could not be. It took the aspect of many things. The cross was showered with wealth and abundance. Even the soft gold coins withered the cross’ face, bruising and softening the wood. Two attendants fought over the cross, for a time, until they conceded, finally, to a stalemate. Each mutually regarded one another with hate, their flocks diverging. They sat apart from one another, on either end of the cross. It stood between the camps, buffeted by anger and distain. After a time, the flocks relented, weary of the conflict, abandoning the refuse of entrails and sinew they had draped over the arms of the cross. The dawning light, emerging through the open portal in the narthex, exposed the rot. And members of both flocks returned to clean it as best they could.  

The cross still stands there now, black as charcoal and steeped with dried blood. Some still approach, as if recognizing an old friend. Those that stay, marvel for a time and consider the carpenter that left it so many years ago. Those that depart, do so quickly, though not before dressing it in fashionable clothing, berating it, and covering it with semen and feces. The weight of shackles, handcuffs, bandoliers, braids of Ethernet cable, fascist flags dipped in gasoline, drape around its neck like a noose. There, on the altar, it stands: objectified by filth, defeated. 

Yet, despite all this, the flock heaps their burdens upon it willingly.  And they depart, each one, with a spring in their step.