Author Archive: jsomers

Jeff Somers (www.jeffreysomers.com) was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and regrets nothing. He is the author of Lifers, the Avery Cates series published by Orbit Books, Chum from Tyrus Books, and We Are Not Good People from Pocket Books. He sold his first novel at age 16 to a tiny publisher in California which quickly went out of business and has spent the last two decades assuring potential publishers that this was a coincidence. Jeff publishes a zine called The Inner Swine and has also published a few dozen short stories; his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris. His guitar playing is a plague upon his household and his lovely wife The Duchess is convinced he would wither and die if left to his own devices.

“American Vandal” and the Art of Parody

Look at all the dicks indeed.

Netflix’s American Vandal is a good show, a pitch-perfect parody of both true-crime documentaries in the vein of Serial and Making a Murderer and mysteries in general. It’s also kind of hilarious. This is a show, after all, that concerns itself with an act of vandalism that sees bright red penises painted on 27 cars. This is a show that uses WHO DREW THE DICKS as a catchphrase, hashtag, and secret handshake.

Here’s what American Vandal does 100% right: It comes from a place of affection for the very things it’s making fun of.

The Right Way

A lot of parody gets this part wrong. A lot. People tend to parody stuff they despise, because they need to channel that rage somewhere, but that sort of parody is rarely funny. It tends to go for the jugular with a viciousness and blackly humorless violence that simply doesn’t translate into anything entertaining. Look at all the Trump-centric parodies out there; you might agree with the sentiment, but they are rarely actually funny.

That’s because the authors of such parodies don’t actually like what they’re trying to mock. But American Vandal does. You can tell from the fantastic attention to detail; not only do they get the rhythms of these documentaries exactly right, they also get the rhythms and tone of high school life, the varied look and feel of different Internet services, and the way a mystery works right.

And that’s the key to it’s success, really; it offers a well-constructed mystery, populated by interesting characters, and it takes its universe seriously. When characters are funny, they are funny because of their personality traits and quirks, not because the creators are just mercilessly mocking them and making them into strawmen and caricatures. The fact that every charcter in the Vandal universe takes the mystery and its surrounding subplots seriously is why the show clicks. This is best demonstrated by the simple fact that they demonstrate real stakes: The accused dick-drawer, Dylan, faces being held accountable for $100,000 in damages, likely felony criminal charges, and the ruination of his college ambitions. Dylan is bit of a dick, it’s true, and in the early episodes he’s played for laughs as this dumb, self-absorbed prankster (we all knew a Dylan in high school, seriously). But as the show goes on his predicament is shown to be really terrible. Being accused of drawing the dicks could ruin his life (and kinda does, anyway).

Those stakes are key. It shows that everyone in the show is taking it all very seriously, and so the mystery works, and so the parody works. Coming at a humorous subject with disdain isn’t a recipe for hilarity. You have to come at it from a place of affection.

Money

Visual Representation of My Writing Work

When I was a kid, I thought of money in fantastical and curiously practical ways. I never thought in terms of dollars and cents, but rather as packs of baseball cards and Huffy dirtbikes. When I paused to contemplate something’s worth, I would stack up packs of gum in my head, or paperback books.

My brother and I were given an allowance, tied to the dutiful execution of chores, but it wasn’t much. Anything more than the aforementioned baseball cards or the occasional candy bar would leave me penniless, so any sort of big purchase had to wait for my birthday or Christmas, and required the ceaseless and exhausting lobbying of my parents. Money didn’t mean anything, really; the only thing that mattered was the stuff that money could be magically transformed into.

I remember lusting for things. There was no such thing as instant gratification. I wanted a first basemen’s baseball mitt, a good one. When my mother took us to Sears for school supplies, I would wander off and stare at the gloves, signed by the greats. I would smell the leather and lust after them. I wanted a dirtbike, a shining, black bike that I imagined myself sailing into the air on. When my mother took us to Sears (my childhood is 34% Sears, 23% Two Guys) for family pictures, I would wander off and stare at the racks of bikes, imagining myself racing about the neighborhood on them.

None of these things cost money. They cost time and effort. I simply had to wait, and wait, and beg, and beg, and eventually, usually much, much later than I wished, they would be acquired.

Today, as a working writer and a grown-assed man, not much has changed. I still don’t think of things in terms of money; instead of packs of baseball cards (thousands of which still languish in boxes in the house) I think in terms of freelance assignments or book advances. If I want a new phone, say, I don’t scheme to put a few hundred dollars together, I scheme to get three or four additional freelance assignments.

The digital age exacerbates this, because I don’t actually carry cash any more, an I get incensed when businesses don’t offer some way to pay aside from cash—not from any sort of idealogical position, but simply because I never have any in my pocket, so it’s a pain in the ass. Without actual dollars to pass out, the act of buying things and services is abstract, so I operate using a kind of unique, bespoke currency we can call Jeff Bucks. Jeff Bucks come in the form of freelance jobs and other miscellaneous sources of income.

Someday I dream of being able to pay for things by quickly composing a blog post on my phone while standing in line at the checkout. Or, more accurately, I don’t dream of that at all because my god that would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Imagine being the poor person behind me as I pull up the thesaurus to find synonyms of cutting-edge.

“Halt and Catch Fire”: The Beauty in Failure

Spoilers, because fuck spoilers. You been warned.

The fourth and final season of Halt and Catch Fire, the show least likely to make four seasons in the history of all shows, has gotten a fair bit of attention for sheer simple quality. Of course, part of the reason there have been so many love letters to the show this month is the unlikely nature of that quality; the first season of HAFC wasn’t exactly terrible, but it was decidedly meh, to use a technical term. And so a million Think Pieces were born this year when the unlikely fourth season turned out to be a pretty fantastic story about characters that fans have come to enjoy, against all odds.

Other people have written persuasively about how this show, so mediocre in its beginning, came to be so highly regarded among the very, very small audience it managed to build. For me, though, what I came to really appreciate about HACF is simpler: Everyone on this show was a failure, and the show decided to find the beauty in that.

Beautiful Failures

The fake-out of HACF is that it presented its characters as brilliant, and we as the audience were well-trained to accept that even if we didn’t quite buy it. After all, most characters in prestige dramas are presented as special, and the audience is supposed to go along with it (see Don Draper, Walter White, literally everyone else).

The main characters as presented in season 1 were all primed to be secret geniuses: Joe MacMillan, the tortured mystery man modeled so obviously on Don Draper, who has an audacious plan to manipulate two companies into building a market-defining personal computer; Cameron Howe, brilliant but socially-screwed young programmer; Gordon Clark, brilliant engineer simmering with rage at the compromises of his life and where they’d landed him; Donna Clark, brilliant engineer frustrated by the limitations of being a woman in a tech world dominated by assholes.

It should have been the story of these eclectic geniuses as they conquered the world. Instead, it’s the story of people failing upward and ultimately letting go of their dreams. And that’s the genius of the show.

They don’t build that incredible computer; instead they build an adequate machine that sells well enough to make some money, and destroy the company they work for in the process. They go on, in subsequent seasons, to be smart enough to anticipate the Internet, social media, and the World Wide Web, but they’re never able to move quickly enough or be brilliant enough to actually invent the amazing things. Someone else comes out with the Macintosh. Someone else builds AOL. Someone else builds Netscape. Our lovable losers are always a day late and a dollar short.

And the beauty of the final season is that they all accept this, to a point. Now, none of these people are failures in a conventional sense; they all participate in enough startups and product launches to be relatively rich and well-known by the end of the show’s run. Donna is a very successful partner at a venture capital firm. Joe has had a piece of several lucrative businesses that were bought out by bigger, better competitors. Cameron had a career as a game designer and is more or less widely regarded as something of a genius in the field.

Gordon, of course, is dead, but he was head of a successful if not world-changing company and had a fair amount of money.

But none of them had accomplished what they most wanted: Change the world, come up with “the thing” that changed everything. Their ideas always curdled into semi-success. Money, sure. Some sales. The sort of resume most people would love. But not the thing. As the show ended, Joe becomes an educator, finally realizing that this is what he’s wanted all along, to shape and mold the future. Gordon, as I mentioned, is dead, but before his death he’d achieved a quiet dignity in realizing his own limitations as a person, growing less angry and more giving as he gave up trying to assert himself as a genius. Donna and Cameron are about to embark on a new venture, it’s strongly implied, but they’re doing so out of a sense of excited connection, not because they think they’re going to change the world. They know they probably won’t, but they’re excited to work together again, a small-scale ambition.

That‘s what this show got right: Most of us, we don’t invent, or write, or compose the thing. We might have success, and we might do all right financially, but we don’t get the thing. Almost no one does. And HACF is one of the few shows to ever understand that a story about people not getting the thing could be great.

Because that story is almost universal.

Be Prepared

You have no idea what men of power can do.

After Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed the bottom half of my house and cost a bazillion dollars to recover from, I went on a small-scale preparation tear. You always prepare for the last war, or in this case the last natural disaster, so no doubt all my efforts are in vain, but I figured the only thing worse than not being prepared for an unknowable disaster was not being prepared for a disaster you knew full well was possible.

So, my disaster prep was more or less dictated by our experience during Sandy. We bought RTE food because the grocery stores and restaurants were closed for a week. We bought battery-operated water alarms in case the flood came while we were asleep. We bought flashlights that double as lanterns. We bought jugs of water. We bought a huge 7,000 RPM generator because the power was off for a week. I got a propane model with an electric starter because pulling that fucking ripcord is for people who have some level of physical fitness, and I don’t need to be out in the rain crying because I’ve been pulling that fucking cord for three hours and my hands are bleeding.

I realize that other folks suffered much worse—and other folks are suffering much worse right now in some areas. We were lucky, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.

Of course, I’m generally speaking an incompetent man. Despite being an Eagle Scout, I am not very good at the whole be prepared schtick. Or I should say I’m very good at being physically prepared in the sense of having the tools and materials you’re supposed to have, but not very good at making those things work in an emergency. It’s like when I was in the Boy Scouts: I technically knew how to build a shelter out of leaves and branches, how to make a fire. But any time I had to actually attempt those things under pressure, it was what scientists call a shitshow. Much like my entire Boy Scout career, ha ha! (bursts into PTSD tears).

And so when the power went out at the Somers Compound in Hoboken recently, I began to sweat. Because I was going to have to use the generator.

The Leviathan

I live in an attached rowhouse with 0 ground-level outdoor space. That’s right, 0. No yard. We do have a second-floor deck that is quite nice, but the house is 100% lot coverage as a result of 1970s/1980s-era Hoboken wheeling and dealing; this town used to be the Wild Fucking West when it came to zoning and work permits. So when I ordered our generator I figured we’d put it on the deck, NBD. Except the generator weighed like 5,000 pounds and appeared to be made of solid pig iron, or possibly be merely a habitat for several dozen incredibly dense beings of pure energy. A friend of mine helped me carry it up to the deck, but I was already sweating the Judgment of The Duchess.

My wife, The Duchess, is a sweet and lovely woman who long ago accepted my incompetence as part of the Price of Loving Jeff. My cheerful inability to manage simple tasks just amuses her, these days (there was a brief period of trying to shame me into competence, but it was a long time ago and I emerged as cheerfully useless as ever). A side effect of this, of course, is that anything I claim will work she immediately assumes will not. It’s that simple. And so she took one look at the generator and assumed it would either a) never be needed, making it a waste of money or b) never actually work, making it a waste of money.

Years go by. The generator sits there. I fire it up every now and then and let it run a few minutes. But I’m haunted by all those fires I couldn’t start as History’s Worst Eagle Scout (aka the Eagle Scout who Smoked and Drank a Lot and Faked His Way Through at Least 50% of His Merit Badges), and I knew someday the lights would go out and The Duchess would suggest that it might be time to run the generator … and I worried I wouldn’t be able to get it going.

And then the lights went out when The Duchess had a huge project to finish that required the Internet.

Dead Squirrels

The lights went out due to two adventurous but doomed squirrels who blew up two transformers on the block within a few days of each other. The poor things were splattered everywhere, and the lights went out for about four hours. The Duchess began to freak about her project, and so I went to fire up the generator just to get the Internet back up. Every step made me nervous, because this was the pattern of my life: A decently reasonable idea about how to stay alive during a non-emergency like a few inconvenient hours without Netflix magically transformed into humiliation. I opened up the gas line, adjusted the choke, and hit the starter button.

And nothing happened. I knew then I would have to simply climb down from the deck in my bare feet and start walking, starting a new life wherever I happened to find myself. My new name would be Derek, I thought, and I would live a simple life without any sort of electricity as a sort of penance for this. I would certainly never be able to face The Duchess again. She would force me to carry the generator down the stairs by myself while she taunted me with cruel insults.

I adjusted the connections to the battery and tried again, and the generator fired up. Five minutes later we were the only house on the block with electricity, and I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he makes fire for the first time.

What does this prove? Nothing. I didn’t engineer the generator, extract and process the propane, or do anything except press a button. But believe me, pressing a button is so often beyond my capabilities it was still a momentous occasion, and I wondered, briefly, if maybe I did, after all, deserve this Eagle badge.

Probably not, but a man can dream.

I Got the Music in Me

Yanno, I play a bit of guitar, and while I’m not deluded enough to think anyone really cares, I do believe fervently that there’s no point in creating something unless you at least put it out there for people to experience in some way. So, here are four songs I’ve recently composed in my little home studio, otherwise known as the tiny, cat-filled office I work in. Enjoy?

Song882

Song883

Song898

Song902

Enjoy!

SKIP INTRO is Why I Live in the Future

If you have a Netflix subscription (or are borrowing someone else’s), you’ve likely noticed the new “Ship Intro” option whcih allows you to, say, not watch the goddamn credits sequence for Friends for the 5,000th time. There have been some think pieces about this new feature that lament the loss of credit sequences, noting that a few such sequences (Bojack Horseman is mentioned as an example) actually make watching the intro worthwhile.

Hogwash. The SHIP INTRO feature is the greatest thing invented this week.

I grew up in the era of Awful TV. I had four channels as a kid, didn’t get cable until I was 14, and our primitive VCR was a top-loader. If you don’t know what a top-loader is, or what a VCR is, or what cable is, you are one of the blessed, move along. My point is, when I was younger I not only had to watch the fucking credits, I had very little control at all over what I watched. It was pretty terrible.

The people who think SKIP INTRO is a bad thing are the same people who wish Times Square in New York City was still filled to the brim with prostitutes, drug dealers, porno theaters, and garbage. I remember taking a bus into New York while in high school and being propositioned by male prostitutes, so people who have affection for the old-school Times Square are idiots. I don’t care how awful the modern version is (and it is awful) I still wouldn’t go back.

SKIP INTRO of course still allows you to watch the damn intro if you have a reason to. It’s just that now you have a choice. You don’t have to watch the same scenes repeated over and over again, endlessly. It’s a glorious time to be alive, and I for one am very happy that the world’s greatest technical minds aren’t wasting time on cancer cures but rather finding ways to make my streaming video experience slightly more pleasant. More of that, please.

The Intruder

WHY ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY???

My brother Yan and I meet up once a week to have lunch and drink beer, and insult each other savagely:

ME: Still older than me, I see. My goodness, you look like a zombie.

YAN: Still calling me Yan, huh? The creative writer can’t think of a better pseudonym?

Yan and I both like a bit of beer variety; when I was a youth I spent a long time drinking Coors Lite, the Silver Bullet, and I still feel a strong urge to do penance for that. So we usually try to find a bar that offers a decent selection of beers on tap. We also like our bars much like we like our souls: Empty. I’m an old man, so shouting over EDM is undignified, and we both just prefer a bit of space and the ability to actually get a bartender’s attention. Crowded bars are a young man’s game.

Empty bars have there own problems, of course. On the one hand they tend to go out of business, seeing as they’re empty all the time. On the other hand, when you’re the only people sitting at the bar, it leaves you vulnerable to The Intruder.

It Follows

The Intruder is that guy (and it is always a guy) who has nothing better to do but wander into bars on his own (because he is always alone) looking to have a conversation with … anyone.

Yan and I were sitting at the bar in this absolutely empty place, insulting each other, and The Intruder walked in, taking the form of a pudgy middle-aged guy in a bowling shirt. He made a joke about the place being empty when he walked in, and Yan and I made polite responses because we’re not, you know, animals.

The Intruder then tried to make conversation with the bartender, but lady bartenders are well-trained in shutting down eird guys who try to chat them up while they’re working, and she made short work of him. So he sat down right next to Yan and began his attempts to intrude on out conversation. Yes, the bar was empty. And he sat down next to us. As far as I am concerned that makes him a monster of horrific proportions, undeserving of mercy.

I was facing The Intruder, and in my peripheral vision I could see him repeatedly stare at us in a clear posture of wanting to make a comment and insert himself into our conversation. I began drinking faster.

Look, I know what some people might say: He’s lonely. He’s a lonely guy just out looking for some human contact, why couldn’t we include him in our conversation? First of all, fuck you. Second of all, he’s not lonely, he’s a monster. Third of all, in my gentler youth I did in fact sometimes treat Intruders kindly, and all it got me was a lot of conspiracy theories, conservative political diatribes, and, oddly enough, resentment. Plus, experience has taught me that the Intruder will never leave or stop talking. Once he latches onto a host, he will extract all of your garmonbozia, believe me.

So, we speed drank and called for the bill. The Intruder tried to start a conversation literally as we were walking away from him, but we employed the friendly-wave technique and just kept walking. We went to another bar down the street (one of the joys of living in bar-infested Hoboken) and continued our conversation in peace, and the Intruder, I assume, consumed several less savvy people that afternoon, growing large on their souls and offal.

The lesson? My brother and I are unfriendly assholes, certainly. But also that the Rules of Polite Society should be sacred, and one of those rules is: If people are having a private conversation, you should not intrude on it.

Why Jon Snow’s Stupidity Matters

Derp.

Note: This is discussing the TV show Game of Thrones specifically, ignoring the books.

Far be it from me to drag on people who are selling millions more books than I ever will, or attracting millions more eyeballs than anything based on my books ever will (unless I finally do my Pantsless Dancing exercise video, in which case: Watch out, world!) but it’s time to talk about how astoundingly dumb Game of Thrones has gotten in its later seasons—specifically the character of Jon Snow—and why it matters from a writing point of view.

We don’t know how close to the books the show is right now; Martin may have a much better handle on the story and the characters, and it’s been discussed to death how Game of Thrones is on an accelerated pace right now in an effort to finish the story before we all get collectively tired of it. I can forgive, therefore, the compressed and nonsensical time frame; after all, no one wants to have six episodes of Jon Snow slowly making his way to meet Daenerys in a damned rowboat, passing the time by chatting with Ser Davos about their unhappy childhoods and fighting sea monsters. Okay, maybe the latter, a little.

Side note: How is it possible there are no sea monsters in Westeros? For serious.

The time thing doesn’t bother me. Sure, it’s shitty storytelling, but there are economic factors pushing them, and I can still enjoy the show despite them. No, what bothers me is that Jon Snow is fucking stupid. And not in a defensible way.

Da King In Da Norf

Jon is a major character in this show (again, the future books may be different [and thus, better]), and might even turn out to be the ultimate hero/survivor in all of this. And the problem isn’t so much that he’s stupid, but that his stupidity would not exist in any slightly realistic universe. IN a realistic universe someone as stupid as Jon Snow would have choked on something as a child and died, or possible fallen down a hole and starved to death, or maybe have accidentally stabbed himself with a dagger. Here’s a few quick rundown of the disastrous decisions Jon Snow’s made in recent episodes, going back to the end of last season:

  • Allowed himself to be baited into a solo charge at the Battle of the Bastards, setting his army up for annihilation (prevented only by the fortuitous arrival of Sansa and Littlefinger)
  • Abandoned his kingdom to go personally visit Daenerys, bringing just a small honor guard
  • Allowed that honor guard to be immediately disarmed, like without even a shrug
  • More or less allowed himself to be a prisoner with no reason to believe it would work out aside from having copious amounts of Plot Armor
  • Came up with this absolutely shit idea that they needed to have a wight on hand to prove to people that the Night King for reals, yo
  • Decided that he had to manage this task personally
  • Then brought about a dozen people with him on the raid despite having a fucking army at his disposal, without bothering to tell his sister what he was up to as she sits in Winterfell ruling in his stead (this despite the fact that apparently he can send Ravens like super fast anywhere he wants)

I could go on. Should I go on? No.

The simple fact of it is that this is shit writing. Even if we assume for a fun moment that getting a wight to show off to the doubters is necessary, any sane King in the North would delegate the task to a trusted lieutenant (Tormund, we’re looking at you). There is simply no need for Jon Snow to actually be in the north personally. And we’re supposed to believe that Jon is a smart, solid choice to be King of the North. His entire character arc is a guy who was and literally knows nothing to the one woke bastard in all of Westeros who sees the true threat. So he really shouldn’t be this terrible at the job.

There is, however, a plot need for Jon Snow to be in the north. The showrunners want Jon to be the badass, they want him to be the one to put together the puzzle pieces for defeating the Night King, and they wanted to demonstrate the growing and completely icky and nonsensical love affair brewing between secret cousins Daenerys and Jon. So they sent him up there despite the fact that it’s dumb. In short, since Jon’s arguably the main character at this point (or at least the focal character for the moment), he needs to be in on all the major plot developments.

Forget the timeline. Forget the fact that the Night King has been marching his wights for about six months and is still miles away from the Wall. This is the problem: Shit writing. Shortcuts in the service of smart plotting I can forgive, but shit writing that ignores the rules of decent storytelling deserves to be mocked.

Of course, I’m still gonna watch the show, because watching dragons burn the everliving shit out of wights is fun, dude. Bad writing can be entertaining. It’s still bad.

As you were.

 

Room 104 and Bad Writing Decisions

Psychotic Breaks for Everyone!

I’m okay with the Duplass Brothers. I don’t love everything they do, but they’re interesting, usually surprising, and always kind of smart about their projects. Even when they slum in crappy movies or TV shows, they’re interesting. So, okay.

Room 104 is an anthology series created and largely written by the Duplass bros. Anthologies with conceits like this—every story takes place in the same nondescript motel room, at different times and eras—usually wind up being quite a mixed bag, but since it’s the Duplasses I figured, let’s check out the first episode, Ralphie.

SPOILERS. Oh, so many spoilers. I’m gonna, like, completely discuss the entire plot. So if you care about spoilers (you shouldn’t though) and want to watch this, stop reading … now.

The Story

These episodes are only 30 minutes, so the stories are going to be short and sweet. In Ralphie, a single dad calls a babysitter to Room 104 to watch his son, Ralph, while he goes on a date. The babysitter makes awkward small talk with the Dad while he gets ready to leave, Ralph won’t come out of the bathroom, the babysitter offers to show the Dad her references but he’s like, no need, babe, you look totally sane and cool.

After Dad leaves, the babysitter coaxes Ralph out of the bathroom. He’s a sleepy kid with a flat affect, and he warns her that Ralphie is in the bathroom and will come out and mess everyone up if they’re not careful. The kid is creepy, and when he claims she “woke” Ralphie, he runs into the bathroom. A moment later a kid who looks just like him emerges from the bathroom, shirtless, wearing a yellow cape, and screams I’m gonna get you! as he goes apeshit on the babysitter, who runs in shock and terror. Then Ralphie goes back into the bathroom and Ralph comes back out, all innocent and asking if she’s okay—did Ralphie “get” her?

Things calm down, and babysitter tries to coax the kid to go to sleep. Ralph wants to tell her about the time his mother committed suicide, which freaks her out, and then Ralph says that was a joke—actually, Ralphie totally killed his mom, and now he’s terrified Ralphie will kill him. Babysitter is totally freaked, then Ralph claims Ralphie woke up again, goes back into the barthroom, and then … two kids emerge. Ralph, and Ralphie. Ralphie proceeds to go apeshit and strangles Ralph to death, then comes for the babysitter, exhibiting superhuman strength and nearly killing her before she gets the upper hand and strangles him.

Then Dad comes home, and there’s only one kid, and the babysitter totally murdered him. Except, the bathroom door suddenly slams on its own.

The Problem(s)

Stories are hard. And half an hour of screen time isn’t much. And sometimes you have a great idea for an ending or a premise and you lose sight of good storytelling to get there.

Based solely on the quick mention of her “references” that the Dad’s too horny to bother looking at, I think we’re supposed to assume that Babysitter is delusional, imagines Ralphie, and kills the kid for her own reasons. The problem? The show does no work to get us there. Babysitter is presented as nice enough, concerned, responsible, and timid—after all, when a small boy in a yellow cape attacks her, she doesn’t throw him across the room. She cowers behind the curtains.

Or perhaps there’s a supernatural element, but again there’s no work done to show how it affects Babysitter—she goes from kind of freaked out and unhappy to choking out a little boy in no time flat.

There are practical concerns, too. Ralphie apparently sleeps in the bathroom when he’s not murdering folks, which, okay; I can see a crazy kid coming up with that sort of “Superman” solution to his secret second identity. But didn’t Babysitter have to go to the bathroom at some point? Was there a kid in there or not? Or did she not hydrate at all that day and so sat for three hours without once needing to pee?

Nice Touches

This isn’t to say the story wasn’t entertaining. The tone and mood were creepy AF, and there were some nice grace notes—like the aforementioned references, the way the episode opened on the Dad sitting on the bed of the room with his head in his hands like he knows he’s living a nightmare, the mileage gotten from a closed bathroom door. This isn’t terrible, but it’s sloppy. It’s all sizzle and no steak.

Luckily, anthologies offer something new every week, so let’s keep watching and see what happens.

Walking the Walk

Kids, I like to walk places, which makes me a little weird in modern-day America, where people apparently think walking three blocks to a store is pure insanity. One of the things I love about Hoboken, my home town, is its walkability. I don’t own a car currently, and don’t need one; literally everything I need is within easy walking distance, as long as you define “easy walking distance” as the distance that a normal adult in good health should be able to walk without complaining, passing out, or falling into some sort of storm drain. For me, that’s about 3-4 miles.

Now, some folks react to the fact that I walk 3-4 miles every single day with a bit of incredulity, as if spending hours at the gym working with machines is much less weird than simply walking around for exercise, but that’s okay. My brother, Yan, actually walks a lot more than I do. He often spends entire days just walking around. The man could use his legs as Jaws of Life in crash situations. So I’m not the weirdest Somers, which has always been my only true goal in life.

I like walking, what can I say? And when you walk around town every day like I do, you see some shit.

Some Shit Jeff Has Seen

ON my merry perambulations, I’ve seen

    • Many, many fancy people with umbrellas in the sunshine. Now, I know the sun is bad for you. I am sure my own skin is so damaged from the sun I will someday look remarkably like Tommy Lee Jones. Still, the number of folks I see parading about in the sunshine holding cheap, regular CVS-style umbrellas over themselves is remarkable. So I have remarked upon it. I wonder if these folks maintain their low-rent fanciness in other scenarios as well; perhaps all of their cans of diet cola at home sit on fancy white doilies?
    • Men walking about in 90-degree weather wearing long pants and jackets. Look, not everyone likes shorts. Some people think the world is far too casual, and some people just don’t like to expose skin. Fine and all, but … the jacket? I’ll be walking about in a constant puddle of my own sweat (and believe you me, I am wearing shorts in these scenarios and would go nekkid if I could) and some middle-aged dude will stroll past wrapped up like he’s recently teleported from the North Pole. And I can only think about the swampy nature of his nether regions.
    • Neighbors who live on my block getting out of cars approximately 3 blocks away from their house. It’s certainly possible they drove from another, distant location. But I wouldn’t be surprised to discover they drove from their house to the Chipotle, because walking 6 blocks there and back is obviously not what god intended them to do.

GEESES

  • A lot of geese, because we have a lot of geese living on the river here in Hoboken. They make me unreasonably happy for some reason, similar I suppose to the Tony Soprano Swimming Pool Ducks.
  • A lot of Stoop Sitting. I dunno about where you live, but here in the NYC metro area people of the older generations are still very fond of setting up shop on their front porch or stoop (or on the sidewalk if there’s no other choice) and … sitting there. All day. Just watching the world go by and engaging in conversation with anyone who wanders by. It kind of creeps me out, to be honest. My Mother once told me that when she was a young girl in Brooklyn, no one had air conditioning, so stoop-sitting was a consequence of their apartments being like ovens during the day. It’s possible these folks don’t have A/C either, but I am dubious.

Walking is about the only exercise I’m willing to engage in, because I am a strange and wonderful being filled with secrets. That’s me; if you prefer a gym or yoga or jogging, more power to you. I’ll just keep walking, and making mental notes about the terrors that await us on the streets.