Sunday, July 22, 2007

Better Than Awesome Toys!

Growing up we probably all had one or two toys that we loved over and above anything else we had to play with. I'm going to come back to this topic again, because the world of toys tends to get under-rated and under-appreciated as we are told we have to "grow up". Then one day we wake up and wonder whatever happened to that thing that used to give you so much joy? It may have been a new pack of pencil crayons, the feel and smell of sharpening them for the first time, deliberately choosing colours for your first picture drawn with a new pack.

It could have been the new velvet "doodle art", with the felt pens that always ran out of ink just before you finished the childhood equivalent of a Jimmy Hendrix experience.

Maybe it was that slinky that you thought was so cool (hint: hold one end of a metal slinky to your ear and let the other end drop to the floor-you get the perfect "lazer beam" sound effect!!)

It could easily have been the box of lego that you would dearly love to have again to build an invincible wall around your cubicle at work to keep the number-crunching office dweebs from "motivating" you with empty babble like "work smarter, not harder" or "you can be replaced, you know".

For one childhood buddy, it was the talking G.I. Joe that he took into the bathtub with his bad self. After Joe was immersed, his selection of cool phrases ("Ok men, let's take that hill!!") was reduced to a crackling wheeze along the lines of "chscheeelrooschick-ick-ick-ick-awwwwwwww", transforming him into "sucking chest wound Joe", which was pretty cool in itself.

For me, one toy literally stood head-and shuolder above the rest, he would have to be...."Captain Action" (pictured above).

Don't let the Captain's perpetually dispepsic expression fool you, he was easily the coolest of the cool when it came to "action figures" (don't even think of calling them "dolls"....pu-leeze!! The Captain came to you as a superhero in his own right. He wore a somewhat dorky Captain's cap, but carried an awesomely-lethal-looking lightening sword and lazer pistol. His adversary with the bulgy-eyed "Dr. Evil" (sorry Mike Myers, though I suspect you had these guys yourself when you were a kid!!). Dr Evil flaunted his exposed brain and blue skin, and wore the coolest satin pajamas, sandals and mojo-amulet of any super villian. Alone, these two could wreak havoc across any bedroom, living room or rec room. No sister's Barbie was save fom Evil's clutches, no dog could go unridden by the Captain!

What made these guys the best of the best, however, was that you could buy extra costumes to turn Captain Action into WHATEVER HERO YOU WANTED!!!! Spiderman! Superman! The Green Hornet!!! All you needed was to nag your parents for a few extra bucks to get an ENTIRELY NEW ACTION FIGURE!! The "hand candy" included in each set was awesome as well-guns, swords, miniature laboratories, kryptonite, you name it, it was probably included in the set.

After it's initial release, the makers added the inevitable "sidekick" for the Captain (action boy? kid action? lugubrious lad? if anyone remembers, please post!), that could be dressed as "robin", "kato" etc. I never thoguht much of sidekicks, but I vagely remember having this one-I think he had a pet panther for some reason!!

The Captain never really gained the success of G.I. Joe or Johnny West, quite possibly due to his odd expression, or maybe his "logo" which looked mr like a pleas for recycling than a brave expression of heroism. Whatever, Captain Action will forever remain, in my mind, a toy that was Better Than Awesome!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Better Than Awesome Travel

I have what some people probably think is an unusual, perhaps strange, occasionally frightening travel philosophy. I like to find places that most people wouldn't consider travelling to, unless there was a wedding, funeral or individual special event they want to attend.

I'm not knocking the traditional travel hot-spots. I think Las Vegas is a blast, provided you go there with the proper attitude. "I'm going to win a fortune" is probably not the proper attitude, while "I'm probably going to be kidney-punched by that senior citizen if I even look at their penny slot machine" is more realistic.

Some vacation spots are, of course, going to be climate related. In the depths of a winter cold enough to render the heartiest brass monkey incomplete, finding a warm tropical beach with accompanying rum-based pacifier makes infinite sense. But when you're looking for a journey into the charming, unusual and unexpected, why not pick some place a little off the beaten track? You'll probably find the city or town you visit has some sort of unexpected charm that will have you smugly celebrating your "discovery" with everyone unfortunate enough to sit next to you on a city bus for the next six months. Anyone can go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa ("'s smaller than I thought it would be, George..."), but how many people visit a Cranberry Interperative Center?

My first nomination for a "Better Than Awesome" destination is none other than the fine city of Minot, North Dakota!!!!

I can tell you're getting inspired, so I'll continue. As you check your maps,you'll see Minot is a compact city in North-central North Dakota. This little gem-on-the-prairies boasts not one, but two city slogans, "The Magic City" and the coyly clever "why-not Minot?". These are obviously superior to most civic slogans, which tend to run along the lethargic line of "it's great!" or "mostly honest". Minot is a pretty town, with more than it's fair share of fine restaurants, local festivals and Lewis & Clark related attractions. Please check out it's web site for specific details:

The reason I choose to highlight the Magic City, however, is a personal one. On a trip to Minot a couple of years ago, my girlfriend and I were taking a cab to attend an event at a local hotel. Our Cabbie, who shall remain nameless due to the fact I can't remember his name, was a charming bloke, who started the trip by explaining the origin of a newly-painted mural on the wall behind a gas station (I believe it may have been of Lewis, or perhaps Clark). Our cabbie, as it turns out, was an amateur artist/photographer himself, with a specific fascination for the light-and-shadows under the highways he frequently drove. Our artist cabbie had some examples of his work, and what could have been a dreary cab ride turned out to be an Ingmar Bergman-esque journey through light, shadow and fog, with one brief stop at the "Kum & Go" on the Burdick Expressway. Art didn't just live, it flourished in the eyes and heart of our impressario from Minot City Cab.

Oh sure, there were other reasons to enjoy Minot. The pretty scenery, the friendly people, the great eats at Barry's Food & Fuel. But for me, the "magic" of Minot was seen in the back of that cab.

Try to experience that in Paris.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Better than Awesome Eats

I'd like to start off by saying, potatoes are simply the best food, ever. I realize for most people this fact is self evident. For the rest of you, get a clue. Potatoes are probably the most flexible, dynamic, nutritious, and simply soul-satisfying food-stuff ever placed on this great planet. Potatoes can be baked, fried, boiled or mashed, and STILL taste like a little slice of heaven with a side order of paradise! Potatoes are good hot, cold, or lukewarm, can be the main dish, side dish or snack, can be topped, chopped, and with gravy be sopped, and never cease to make discriminating biped mammals drool with giddy anticipation.

This being said, finding the "BEST" potatoes ever is a lifelong quest, happily accepted and gladly shared with friends and loved ones. My first nomination for one of the BEST potato experiences ever has to be when visiting that great Milwaukee landmark, the Safe House (logo pictured above).

If you've never been to the Safe House, drop whatever it is you planned to do after reading this blog and race there pronto. I'll need at least one or two more blogs to describe the Better Than Awesome ambience of the place, but for now, I'll have to focus mainly on....their crinkle fries.

Crinkle fries, as most scientists know, are among the best potato configurations for the maximum fry-to-ketchup ratio. Like the folds of the brain, crinkle fries create maximum surface area, combined with the overall stability and aerodymanic property of the linear "fry" shape. When done poorly, the crinkle fry may be a slightly amusing distraction, like a balloon animal or a "Marmaduke" cartoon. Done properly, however, the crinkle fry raises fried potato satisfaction to near divine status. I am pround and honored to say, that the wonderful spud technicians at the Safe House, have raised their crinkle fries to just that height. Crunchy on the outside, hot and mooshy on the inside, delightfully seasoned and presented as part of a number of "theme" meals, these crinkle fires, quite simply, kick ass.

So hail to the safe house and their crinkle fries-easily...Better Than Awesome!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Better Than Awesome Slang

Remember when slang was creative? You know, not just an endless litany of bodily functions and phonetic spellings, but really fun, creative, genuinely unintelligible-to-the-outsider slang? I'm talking about the slang that Hepsters used back in the 40's.

To be honest, I don't remember ever using this stuff myself. But several years ago I found an intreguing little booklet called the "Hepcats Jive Talk Dictionary" (pictured above). It came out in 1945, published by some group called "the T.W.O Charles Company of Derby Connecticut" (itself a hotbed of Jive, I'm sure). The book was published on a rather cheap newsprint, and illustrated with an assortment of poorly-cropped photos of sigers and musicians, which seem to have been culled from other magazines. The intro just inside the cover asks the reader "Are You Jive Wise?", and proceeds to describe how "Jive Talk" is here to stay (or as they quote, "Webster is Dead, Long Live the Hepster").

Well, unfortunately, Webster rose from the grave, leaving our poor Hespter banished to the trash heap of history. We do, however, have this great little reference to amuse and educate ourselves! I'm guessing that by the time this little gem came out, "Jive talk" was already waning as a trend, and our friends at T.W.O Charles were looking to cash in while there was still time.

I'm going to be sharing some of this dictionary from time to time, so keep checking back, and you'll improve your Jive lexicon. Let's start with a few geographical references. Class...button your zoot suits and repeat after me:

Lush Lamb from Alabam- a sucker
Noisy from Boise- a big mouth
Flooga from Chattanooga- a ne'er do well
Square from Delaware- what else? a square!!
Leery from Erie- a skeptic
Giver from Fall River- a miser
Sad Sacks from Halifax- Canadian Soldiers
Flersy from Jersey- a giddy, addled girl
Pill from Louisville- a doctor
Swing Sway from Mandalay- a "cooch dancer"-we'll look at that one again later!!
Bucket from Nantucket- a heavy drinker
O Ma from Omaha- a motherly woman
Wreck from Quebec- a weakling
Skunk from Podunk- an objectionable male
Chassis from Tallahassee- what do you think? also called a gal with a "coke frame"
Fuse from Vera Cruz- a hot jiver
Frails from Wales- any non-American female
Conkers from Yonkers-muggers

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Richard Kiel-Better Than Awesome!

I think it's safe to say that actor Richard Kiel easily qualifies as being "Better Than Awesome!"

What can you say about a guy who's 7'2" and is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. This picture is from a recent horror movie conference (more on that later) where I met the big dude. He was happy to talk about his great career in movies and TV, sign autographs, and crush my head!

Movies are too dominated by cookie-cutter "beautiful" people who all look alike. me, I'd rather watch character actors who stand out from the crowd (and believe me, Richard Kiel has no problem standing out)! Thanks Richard! You make every movie or TV show you are in.....better than awesome!

Better Than Awesome!

Welcome to my Blog!

There's going to be a theme to this site. I'm going to post examples of what I think are people, places, things and events that are...."Better than Awesome"!!!

What constitutes "better than awesome?" Things that aren't necessarily famous, popular, well known or trendy, but which always make you feel like saying "damn....that was really awesome!"

"Better than Awesome" exists everywhere, but since I'm going to be working off of personal experience, you're going to read about stuff you'll find in north-central North America (how's that for non-specificity?)

I'll also suggest some of the "anti-awesome" that fouls our day to day life, and, of course, invite comments and suggestions.

That's about it. I hope you get a kick out of reading my blog. Let the awesome begin!