Shanghai, China

It might get a little quiet here within the next few days as I’m off to Shanghai, China very early in the morning.

The trip, from NYC to China, takes a solid 24-hours, and will most assuredly wipe the hell out of me. I’ve packed a months worth of New Yorker magazines, a book on the history of NYC from 1840 to 1919 (Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York), and lots of music. Hopefully, there’s some decent movies, but I’m not counting on it.

In case you’re curious as to why, well, it’s for the Kia X Games. And since I’m a Gothamist fan, here’s the Shanghaiist link: http://shanghaiist.com/2007/03/20/x_games_asia_co.php

So yeah, it’s gonna be a little quiet here. Just a warning. When I get back, I’ll detail the whole trip, including the impossible Visa application process and why I’ve already been personally warned by the Chinese government to not bring any literature pertaining to Tibet with me to read…

再见, for now…. (That’s goodbye.)

Changing Price Tags…

mask_logo.JPGM.A.S.K. was the acronym for “Mobile Armored Strike Kommand,” a cartoon turned action figure and accessory line from the mid ’80s. Correction, the cartoon series was a vehicle for the merchandising of M.A.S.K.’s toy line. So the toys came first. And what better way to create buzz with 11 year-olds in the mid ’80s than by creating a bad ass cartoon series? I was duped, I tell you. From the beginning, I was duped.

M.A.S.K. premiered in 1985. It featured a special task force of characters, led by Matt Trakker, with transforming vehicles engaged in an ongoing battle against the criminal organization V.E.N.O.M., respectively, “Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem.” The show pitted MASK against VENOM, and when push came to shove, characters donned helmets, transformed their everyday vehicles into weapons of war and did battle on the cartoon landscapes of my living room couch. This scenario was the impetus which led to me needing MASK’s toy line. It wasn’t that I wanted it. Well, I did want it. But more than anything, I needed it. The cartoon became the first hit; me the addict, toys the re-up.

In case I’ve lost you this far, I’ll take the flagship vehicle of the MASK crew and explain it. Matt Trakker, the leader of MASK (the good guys) drove a car code-named Thuderhawk. In more simpler words, it was a red Chevrolet Camaro G3, which transformed into a gull-winged fighter jet plane. And his mask was Spectrum, which fired a sonic sound wave and allowed Trakker to see in different visual spectrums. This was the basis for each character. They had a vehicle and a weapon-like helmet, the vehicle changed into a weapon of war, the 11 year-old essentially getting two toys for the price of one: a cool guy with a cool car, and a warrior with an attack plane. (And that’s an important point, so don’t forget it.) There were other toys too. Dusty Hayes had a motorcycle that turned into a boat; Bruce Sato had a semi truck which transformed into a mobile command center; Hondo Maclean had a pick-up truck which transformed into a mobile weapons platform. And that was just the good guys.

Have you ever noticed that the bad guys always have the more bad ass equipment with which to be bad? MASK fell in line with that paradigm. VENOM’s Miles Mayhem piloted a black helicopter which also became a jet fighter; Sly Rax piloted the Piranha, a motorcycle with releasable submarine sidecar; and I’ll close it with Cliff Dagger, who drove Torch, a Ford Bronco turned fire-throwing assault vehicle. Good might always prevail in the world of the 11 year-old, but the bad guys always give them a run for their money in style.

I’m 11 years-old, with everything I had ever owned in the way of money spent on G.I. Joes, comics and Slurpees the summer before. Now remember how I mentioned that MASK toys were essentially two toys in one? Well, the price of MASK’s line reflected that. I’m sure it had more to do with the intricate manufacturing of a Camaro that became a gull-winged fighter plane, but I instead interpreted it as an injustice perpetrated by Kenner Toys on the consumer.

My brother had a solution though. An easy one, only available before the advent of the barcode. It wasn’t stealing. It was changing price tags. You’re not exactly stealing anything, you’re only making the product more affordable. And MASK toys weren’t like everything else on the market at the time. The action figures were about half the size of a traditional action figure, with the vehicles appropriating the action figure size. So even though they might’ve been two toys in one, they were still smaller and more expensive than everything else in the action figure aisle of Service Merchandise. Every few weeks, my brother and I would head on into the local department store, peel off some $2.99 price tags from something else within the store and reapply them to whatever more expensive item we wanted to purchase. If push came to shove, we could always say that we didn’t do it. Barcodes didn’t exist at the time, and store clerks getting paid $4.00 an hour could give two shits about some kids buying cheap toys. The plan worked, numerous times, and it wasn’t long before most of the MASK and VENOM collections had been amassed in our basement.

As expected though, it’s impossible to please an 11 and 9 year-old duo. Even childhood thieves have aspirations, and we couldn’t leave good enough alone. Much like MASK and VENOM’s vehicles, the somewhat honorable act of price tag changing transformed into something much more destructive. We resorted to straight up stealing. But it wasn’t long before we were caught. The remaining cache of MASK, G.I. Joe and Transformers toys was taken away, we were punished severely, and for perhaps the first times in our lives, we were forced to look back, reevaluate our actions and try to come to grips with the fact that the mantra of “If only we’d done this differently…” really matters.

It mattered then and it still matters now, which is why I cringe every time I see the MASK intro on YouTube (no matter how bad ass it is to the 11 year-old in me…)

Death of the Pintle

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For the past year or so, I’ve been riding this half-link chain from KMC called the Pintle Chain. No specific reason for switching to a half-link chain, I just thought it looked cool. Cause, well, it did.

The first Pintle chain I had lasted perfectly for about 11 months. I bashed the hell out of it, rode all over Seattle, Philadelphia, NYC, California and NJ on it, and generally abused it to no end. It held up beautifully, and probably would’ve still if I hadn’t thrown it away. My reason for throwing it away? I thought the Pintle chain had served me well and didn’t wanna risk it breaking. Besides, half-link chains attain a certain amount of lateral swing after they get stretched out a bit. So I simply bought a new one and said farewell to Pintle #1.

Pintle #2 never liked me. After I put it on my bike, it started making a clanking, grinding noise that only went away if I pedaled like I was a cute and fuzzy bunny. (IE- softly) I figured, f-it, it will break in with due time. But that due time was not to be. After Pintle #2’s third break while riding in one week, I threw the damn thing out the window yelling, “What the fuck does pintle mean anyway?”

Well, the joke is on me. I bought a defective chain that’s, you won’t believe this, named after a penis. That’s right, according to Merriam Webster, the dictionary people, “Pintle” in Old English and Middle Low German literally translates into “penis.” I was riding KMC’s dick chain; the first of which stayed hard for a long time, and the second, which blew its load too fast and went to sleep early.

The Viagra to my Pintle chain dilemma: a rusty old no-name chain with a number for a name in my tool bag. No more parts named after dicks for me anymore. I’ve learned my lesson. The boner bars, shlong cranks and tallywacker pegs are all coming off tonight…

Clarity, From Here On Out

I’ve come to a realization. It only took 34 years and one day, but it’s made life a little easier to grasp.

People are assholes. And the more that assholes perpetuate their ass-hole-isms, the better they get at it. I would call it practice, but it’s not like good people can toss their tendencies towards good aside and become assholes through practice. You can’t get good at becoming an asshole if you’re at first bad at it.

More simply, I don’t think one can become an asshole. You either are or you aren’t. At least as far as I’m concerned. Maybe I’m wrong though. And maybe someone I’ve long looked up to as a person will someday prove that to me. Like the president. Or even perhaps Tony Danza.

For now though, this is where I stand. In a world of assholes and non-assholes, trying to guess the severity of the ass-holiness in the portion of the population I need to stay away from. At least until I finish inventing the assholometer…

Let It Blurt

A few things on my mind lately. Some good, mostly bad.

Transplants in NYC
Yeah, I know. That’s like 4 out of 5 people lately. They’re also the same people to say, “You live in Jersey. Gross.” Look, I know New Jersey has a bad rep. But moving away from your bumblefuck home in Ohio to one of the five boroughs in NYC gives no one the right to look down on NJ. If you think you’re cooler than everyone else cause you now live in NYC, you’re not. You’re just paying more money to live than you would’ve back home. I think the going edict should be, unless you’ve lived somewhere for a substantial amount of time, you don’t really have a right to cast judgement on it. But that’s just me.

Write-Offs
What kinda stuff do porn stars get to write off on their income tax returns? Lube? Boob jobs? Vaginal rejuvenation surgery? I haven’t a clue, but as tax season nears, I’ve been thinking that it would be awesome to profile an accountant for porn stars. In lieu of the accountant profile that will never happen, I’m currently writing a one-act play called ‘The Auditing of Peter North.’

Parking
The value of a parking spot in WNY exceeded the value of the current American dollar last week, provoking the first incident of “Quadruple Parking” I’ve encountered in the U.S. On a two-lane street with ample parking on each side, I witnessed dual double-parking on both sides of the road last week, completely blocking any traffic from moving in either direction. I still can’t push the beeping and chaos that ensued out of my head. Now you know why I ride my bike everywhere.

Feist
While in the supermarket last week, Feist came on. (The 1, 2, 3, 4 song from those iPod commercials last year.) And it got me thinking of good Onion-esque headlines. The best of which was, ‘Black Person Attends Feist Concert, Riot Ensues.’ (Don’t get mad if you’re of African American descent, I just think nothing denotes inherent, snooty whiteness more than Feist….)

The Walk Away
I forgot where I read this, but the gist of it was, amid an uninteresting conversation with someone, be it friend, neighbor or chiropractor, just walk away without saying anything and see what happens next time you see said person. Remarkably, Seinfeld never tackled it. So, if you’re reading this, try it and see what happens. And no, this should not be taken as a dig against chiropractors.

Disciplinary Architecture
The study of architecture which is designed to keep skateboards, bikes, inliners and people that want to simply sit down off of them. The fact that it’s even got a name makes me bummed. Check out this sad gallery.

That’s it. Go live your life now if you made it this far…