Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monster Madness

For a laugh and with nothing better to do one weekend in 1991 on Long Island, I took Sheila to see what was then the Mud and Monster Show in Nassau Coliseum. Payback sometimes takes decades; Sheila returned the favor and took us all to see what is now called Monster Jam at Cowboys Stadium this weekend. JerryWorld was just about full - my guess is that there was 70,000 fans there - of all ethnicity, age and creed. That is the hidden beauty of monster trucks, they unite the world while treating us to the noisiest two hours imaginable. Thankfully, the roof and doors were partially opened and the fumes had a place to go.

This has become quite the event, with fans wearing the colors of their favorite trucks. The merchandising is relentless from truck-shaped hats to Matchbox replicas. The races are somewhat staged, WWF style. Of course it is: Monster Jam is operated by Feld Entertainment, who own Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It is a traveling roadshow, with pantomime villain drivers that get jeered and cheered.

The crown jewel and fan favorite is Grave Digger, one of the original trucks from the 1980's. But it is no longer based on a production truck - this 1500 HP (9.4 Liter super-charged motor) brute has an intricate suspension, four wheel steering and numerous safety features.

The show is divided into two sections: the first involves two trucks racing against the clock on a tight circuit; the second, a free-style event where the trucks have 150 seconds to perform crazy 60 foot jumps, wheelies and burn-outs. If they do not stall or wreck in the first two minutes, the last 30 seconds is devoted to literally trying to roll (read: destroy) the truck. It is insane, especially when wheels come flying off and they continue the performance on three wheels. No wonder the first 20rows of seats are blocked off.

Hoses break, engine fluids spill, fires break out and the show goes on. The more the drivers trash and wreck the truck, the better the crowd likes it. Each fiery conclusion whips the audience into a deeper frenzy. I was on the edge of my seat at almost every run, fearing the worst. And yet, the drivers walk away, seemingly unscathed by the carnage. The judges then award style points and the winner gets a cheesy trophy. The stalled truck lies on its roof like some wacked out beetle, waiting for the giant wheel loader to come and drag it away.

This is big business: this weekend alone there are NINE Monster Jam performances across the US. The trucks take such a beating that there are multiple understudies: there are 25 Grave Diggers. Each truck costs about $600K and when we went, there was about 20 trucks running. That is a huge investment! With all the wreckage (and the cost of fuel!), I am not sure how the whole production makes money... but they sure sell a lot of merchandise and it is on the SPEED channel every weekend. While Monster Jam will never be confused for high-brow theater, it is a lot of fun and a great diversion for a few hours.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Walking Dead

My favorite TV show, hands down. AMC has another hit on their hands, following on the heels of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Who would have thought that a TV series about a zombie apocalypse could be so engrossing (with a sometimes emphasis on gross)? We are up to episode ten of Season Two and it continues to captivate.

Mind you, there was a bit of a lull around episodes eight and nine - the first half of Season Two ended with the unforgettable barn scene and the discovery of Sophia. The following two episodes "Nebraska" and "Triggerfinger" were light on zombies and heavy on developing the rift between Rick and Shane (driven by Lori of course). Last night, things got back on track with zombies crawling our of buildings, clamoring over each other lusting for flesh or just wandering solo through the fields. What an image. Glenn may have competition for Maggie and there was an attempted suicide...

We still do not know what prompted the virus that attacks the human brain and brings on the state of zombieness, what happened to Morgan and Duane (father / son from the Pilot), and we expect the maniacal Merle (minus a hand) to make another appearance and perhaps exact revenge on T-Dog. Wild stuff!!!

So I have a theory that The Walking Dead is somewhat plagiarizing my other favorite TV mini-series, Lonesome Dove. There are the two strong willed lawmen: Shane / Rick and Call / Gus. They both love a woman called Lori (Call not overtly). They clash frequently but at the bottom of it all, respect each other. There is a faithful young sidekick (Newt / Glenn). There is a faithful black sidekick (Deets / T-Dog). They are trying to move a group across hostile territory. There are ferocious enemies (zombies / Comanches).

As an aside, the name Lonesome Dove comes from a church in Southlake, TX. Larry McMurty saw one of their vans drive by one day and decided to use the name. Not sure where The Walking Dead came from, but you know where to find me 8PM Central on Sunday nights...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: The Eskimo in the Net

I bought this one thinking that it would involve an Inuit battling three guys in matching suits and shades a la "The Matrix" but I was sadly mistaken... Actually, the reason for procurement is that the author is one of our own, a certain Gerard Beirne. And no phony "O" either...

This is his debut effort, published in 1993, and is a splendid first novel. Fishing with his friend off the coast of Donegal, the protagonist Jim Gallagher hauls in the body of an Eskimo. What follows is part who-dunnit as Gallagher tries to figure out why Mr Eskimo showed up in Ireland (clue: not global warming), while making acquaintances with some babes, uninterested local cops, fixers, and many hangovers.

Even if Gerard Beirne was not one of our own, I would not hesitate to give The Eskimo in the Net two thumbs up, but since he is a Beirne, he also gets two snaps in a circle.

Gerard hails from parts unknown in Ireland and currently lives in Canada (upper Montana). He has also written a book of poetry, a short story "Sightings of Bono" (later turned into a film of the same name) and in 2009, a second novel "Turtle". He currently teaches at the University of North Brunswick.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Let's Hear It For The Ladies

Tough year for St. John's Men's basketball. The Seniors who made the NCAA's in 2011 had the audacity to graduate, leave the Red Storm with a slew of Freshmen. They say the best thing about Fish is that they become Sophomores...

Coach Lavin benched himself as part of his recovery from prostrate cancer, leaving Coach Dunlap at the helm. Three recruits who were expected to be solid contributors failed to meet minimum NCAA academic standards. Another blue-chip, Nurideen Lindsey upped and quit in December and the only upper-classman left (Malik Stith) called it quits in January.

In spite of starting five freshmen, the Red Storm, or the Redmen for us old-timers, have won a respectable twelve games, five in the Big East. With only three regular season games left, even a shot at the NIT looks unlikely.

The really big news on campus is the performance of the Lady Storm basketball team. They struggled early in the season due to injuries but are en fuego of late, winning seven of their last eight. The cherry on the cake was a 57-56 win over #2 ranked UConn at Storrs, where the Huskies have not lost in 99 games. It was the Huskies first home loss to an unranked opponent in nearly 19 years.

The Lady Storm are now ranked # 20 in the country and should make a deep run in both the BE tourney and the Big Dance. They have dominated the ladies basketball headlines for the past few days and Coach Kim has been inundated with interviews. March madness is only days away...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

AC Milan 4 - 0 Arsenal

"Deservedly Battered" - Arseblog

"Arsenal's defence all at sea in Champions League thumping" - The Guardian

"Gunners suffer San Siro humiliation" - ESPN

"Lucky Arsenal avoid 8-0 defeat in Milan" - ANR

"Arsenal Lack Everything In Appalling Performance" - A Cultured Left Foot

"WTF?" - Blogtrotter (me)