Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

Media Update 5/23/18

May 24, 2018


Straight Outta Compton

When I was a kid, I really bought into the whole “Rap is Crap” stuff and I bought into it being dangerous, vulgar, and pointless. However, when I really listened to it, I changed my tune. Like a lot of people, I had condemned something without really giving it a chance. One of the albums that really changed my way of thinking was Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. The music and the beats hit so hard and the rhymes blew my mind. This was the new street poetry and yes some of it was violent and sexualized but it was a reflection of a world that I was not a part of. It was a musical and political awakening for me. I used to listen to that album on a loop as I walked home from high school. I came to it years after the group had broken up and gone their separate ways. This movie is their story. Of course, I am not sure how much of it is fantasy and how much of it is real but it is a good story. There is enough truth in there for me. All of the actors are great at bringing both the drama and the music to life. In fact, Ice Cube’s son got to play his father in the story which must have been quite the experience. Whatever the true truth is, this movie at least reminded me that these legendary figures were (and are) flawed people just like I am. I definitely recommend it but be warned that the movie is two and a half hours long.


All Eyez On Me

The world was shaken when Tupac Shakur was shot in Las Vegas in 1996. His music was already helping to change the rap game. I talked a lot about it when I reviewed the first few episodes of Unsolved, the miniseries about the investigations into the deaths of Biggie and Tupac. Tupac is still a legend in my hometown of Baltimore because that is where he got his start. It was here that he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts (the same high school my brother went to). This movie is a trip through his life from before his birth to his death. It hits a lot of the highlights of his life including things I did not know like his engagement to Kidada Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones. Far from “just a thug”, he was a poet who knew Shakespeare and other poets from his education in the arts. He obviously learned from everyone he worked with including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie Smalls. The movie hinges on the performance of Demetrius Tripp as Tupac and he does a great job bringing humanity to the mythic figure. We also get actors really nailing figures like Biggie, Jada Pinkett, Kidada, the villainous Suge Knight, Snoop, Dre, Faith Evans, and many more. The script is a little messy but it gets the impact of the man’s life across and the difficulties and flaws he had to deal with. Most of all, it portrays the lost potential when he died. He could have been an elder statesman of rap or an activist if he had lived to maturity. I also recommend this one as it is a fascinating story about the rise and fall of one man who is still loved.


Roxanne Roxanne

This movie caught my attention as I was going through Netflix looking for the movie Notorious (which I will have to catch at another time). This movie tells the story of Roxanne Shante who was a battle rapper back in the eighties. She started rapping at age nine and started to get famous as young as age fourteen. This was in the golden age of hip-hop when everything was fresh and new. It is the world of graffiti, breakdancing, and rapping that formed the trinity of hip-hop culture. This world was reflected in the fictional story of The Get Down but this is a very real story. Roxanne was a hustler with a brilliant mind who was drawn to the streets where she thrived instead of school. Her life was difficult as she was black, a woman, and she came up poor. The movie is such a snapshot of life in the projects in Queens (and the rest of the east coast) in the eighties. The star of the movie is Chante Adams who just does such a great job bringing Roxanne to life. She is such a likable character. I definitely recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Roxanne Shante – Roxanne’s Revenge

Tupac Shakur – Hit ‘Em Up

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

The Chainsmokers – The Rookie

Imagine Dragons – Thunder

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Rap Biopics”
– I watched more iZombie Season 4
– I watched more Beauty and the Beast Season 1
– I watched a crapload of PBG Hardcore on YouTube
– I finished watching the Pinkertons
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

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The Light Rail

May 21, 2018

While I was going to college in New Jersey, my mother moved into a house over in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore. Her reasoning in picking the specific house she picked was that it was on the Light Rail line. Baltimore’s Light Rail was built in the early nineties to provide mass transit for the citizens of residents vaguely west of the center corridor of the city. As somebody who lived fairly near his high school, I never needed the Light Rail. I could hitch a ride with one of my parents or I could walk if it came to it. So I never really gave it much mind until I came home from college one summer and it was only a few blocks away. My mother was taking it to work so her sons could borrow her car. Still, I never really rode it. I also rarely rode the buses as I preferred to walk if I could not drive and I hate driving.

When I worked for the Kevin Kamenetz campaign in 2010, I was often working next to the Floors, Inc. warehouse up in Hunt Valley throughout the summer. After a while, I did not want to drive and I would instead ride the train up to the McCormick spice factory. I would eat my breakfast as I walked past McCormick which was a bad idea. Eating applesauce while the air around is full of the smell of paprika is a bad idea. Whatever I was eating mingled with the flavor of whatever seasoning they were working on that morning. It was kind of a weird way to start long days of physical labor. However, I got really used to waiting for and riding the train up and down the line. In addition, the cars were always air-conditioned, shady places to sit while I rolled toward the north part of the county. It was at this point that my eyes were opened to how useful the light rail could be.

Now that my day job is in downtown Baltimore, for the first time, I started purchasing monthly passes to the Light Rail (which was recently renamed the Light RailLink). Now that I have been riding almost daily, I have started to get a feel for what the Light Rail is like. The trains have a layout as follows: There are two ‘cars’ linked together by a flexible walkway between them. Each car has wide doors on either side in the center and two smaller doors on each end. The trains having doors on each side is to accommodate platforms on both sides. However, most platforms I have encountered are all on one side. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is North Avenue station. Maybe the northern end of the line at Hunt Valley. Anyway, the inside of the trains is filled with hard plastic chairs with cushioning in pairs. There are pipes all around to grab onto if you are standing.

Most of the time when I get on, there are people sitting in all of the window seats which leaves a lot of open seats in the aisle. Being the introvert that I am, I only sit down when there are tons of open seats which is mostly only on the weekend. I also rarely sit down because inevitably some elder person will board the train and I want that seat to be open for them and their tired legs. So the way I usually experience the train is on my feet. You really notice the skill of each driver if you are standing on a train. The tracks in many places in the city are not straight and instead curve around existing structures and traffic patterns. Standing on the train there is often little warning when the train will slow or turn and each driver hits these moments with different momentum. Holding onto something is essential to stay standing.

I have also noticed that there are basically four reactions that people have when they get on the train and see that there are no seats. The first is the least likely which is the doors open and somebody decides to wait for the next train. Sometimes, this is necessary as trains can be absolutely crammed full of people after sporting events. The second is a person will find a spot to stand, grab onto something and stand still until their stop. This is what I do and I find it is the most ideal choice. The third choice is when a person is in denial that there are no seats and will make people move out of the way so they can walk the train in search of a seat. This always feels pointless to me. Finally, there are the people who sit down on the steps at the doors which is completely counterproductive. The best train rides are when everybody just chills out and stays put.

So are the trains safe? Well, as with most things, yes and no. I have ridden the trains without incident a lot. First, make sure you buy a ticket because Maryland Transit Authority cops board the train and random stations and at random intervals to check everyone’s ticket. On Free Comic Book Day, I finally saw somebody actually get arrested for the first time for trying to use an old ticket and claiming the machine had printed the wrong ticket. Second, most people on the train just want to get to their destination so everybody keeps to themselves. I have never seen an altercation on the train and most people just assume they are going to be bumped into on the train. The worst I have seen is a man who started a loud sort of sermon on the train and seeing somebody that unstable is always a little worrying. Third, you have to watch yourself around the trains themselves. The week before last somebody was hit and killed by a Light Rail train which briefly caused chaos in Baltimore. So be safe out there but enjoy the utility of the train.

The Zoo

April 30, 2018

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So, I thought I would celebrate the end of this April challenge by taking a trip to the Zoo. Of course, you don’t know in what order I wrote all of these posts so you bought that line hook line and sinker. I picked the perfect Saturday to go to the Zoo. The sun was shining high up in the sky and there was not even a hint of rain on the horizon. It was about sixty degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius) and there was a cool breeze when I set out. I grabbed my phone and my phone battery pack and set out toward the Zoo. To get to the Zoo, I did not climb into my car. I instead decided to walk. Walking would bring me through the woods in Druid Hill Park. This always a slightly challenging but pleasant walk. This time it was filled with Frisbee Golfers. I warily watched them to make sure I did not get accidentally beaned by flying discs.

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To get to the Maryland Zoo, I had to actually walk past it first since the gate is on the far side of the park from my house. I walked the two miles to the gate and there was no line even though it was a nice day. It had been more than twenty years since I had been to that zoo even though it has never been far from where I lived (except when I lived in New Jersey). I had no idea where to go and it was way different from when I had last been. I climbed onto a tram that took me to the actual exhibits. The zoo’s land is very big and spread out and after two miles I was glad to sit in a tram for a few minutes. The ride over was pleasant and then I was walking in a sea of people, most of which were tiny children.

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The first things that I saw to my right were penguins. I had not really been expecting penguins as Maryland is only frosty part of the year. They were cute little African Penguins, though, not the larger varieties from the extreme South. They happily swam around as I took pictures and observed their shenanigans. I then took a trip to the Polar Bear area. The polar bears pulled a me and decided to stay inside and chill. However, right next to their exhibit is the Rise and Conquer exhibit. For those who do not know, Rise and Conquer are the names of the very real ravens that are brought to every home game of the Ravens football team. Between games and offseason, the two celebrities hang out at the Maryland Zoo in what I can only assume is a private bird apartment. Meanwhile, two celebrity lookalikes greet the crowds out in the public part of the Maryland Zoo. Over the years I have become a little obsessed with ravens partly because my hometown is so obsessed with them too.

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From there I pretty much went to grab something to eat since I had not gotten lunch yet. Food was expensive so I just got some cheese fries so I could keep going without overfilling my stomach. It was at this point that I realized that I was not only in a sea of humanity, but I was also in a menagerie of languages and accents. I do not know if this day was different but there were so many people speaking languages other than English. It truly was a melting pot of all these different cultures that were floating around. I definitely thought I heard Japanese, Spanish, and something that sounded Eastern European. I am not sure if the Zoo is a destination for tourists or if it is just a magnet for the more ethnic members of our city. Either way, it was a really interesting soundscape.

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After eating, I made my way into the African Journey section. I was ready to really see some animals. I walked along familiar wooden walkways to various animal enclosures and I saw animals from a whole other continent. I was a little disappointed because the leopard and the lions were being shy. I was especially keen on seeing the leopard because it is a variant of the panther which is the namesake of one of my current Tabletop RPG characters. However, there was a zoo employee in front of the cheetahs and she told us all about cheetahs who were busy pressing their noses against the fence as they watched the gazelles run around across the way. For example, I had no idea that cheetah claws do not retract and are therefore dull and are used more as cleats than as knives.

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I seem to remember all of the monkeys and apes being in cages in the open air but now they are behind glass in a cool little house. I do remember them fling poop as a kid so I suppose putting them behind glass removes that particular hazard. The place was dark and not exactly conducive to taking pictures as I tended to pick up people’s reflections instead. Still, the monkeys are definitely some of the most interesting because they are the most like us without being us. After seeing so much, I was kind of tired. I did not see anything on the map about a reptile house which used to exist. It was my nemesis growing up but I have since become fascinated with snakes (from afar). I decided that since I had been there for over an hour and the place was not far from closing that it was time to head home. I found my way back to the tram and ended up back at the prairie dogs and then I walked back out through the gate. After that, my home was just another walk away.

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As a side note, there were two reasons that I went back to the Zoo after all of these years. The first was that it was an easy Z word. I could have easily written a story about a zoo for dragons or I could have reviewed the movie Zoombies (Zombie zoo animals) but I felt like walking. The other reason was that I am still playing Pokemon Go and I have walked past the zoo enough to know that there are plenty of awesome pokemon in there. Yet again, Pokemon Go inspired me to exercise more than I would have. Thanks to the app, I know that I walked almost exactly 6 km altogether which is nearly 4 miles. There were a lot of hills and such along the way so I definitely felt like I got a good workout. I definitely recommend a trip to the Maryland Zoo.

Summer Camp Pt. 1

August 7, 2017

I have been thinking lately of my summer experiences as a kid. When I drive down the streets of Baltimore City, I see school-aged kids walking on the sidewalk and I suddenly remember that school is still out. When you reach an adult age and you have no kids of your own, you kind of forget that summer is a magical time where school is out and you get to play. Most of my play during summer was structured because my parents believed in not leaving me to my own devices and also believed in having relative adults keeping me safe. So, like a lot of kids, I went to summer camp.

The first camp I went to was called Camp Glencoe situated out in Baltimore County, not far from my home but far enough that it was my first time away from home. I had been to day camp before but this was my first shot at sleeping away from home for longer than a day or two. Glencoe’s specialty was kids with dyslexia or learning disabilities but they also prided themselves on taking care of kids with other health difficulties. At the time, I was having some difficulties with my ADD and I was definitely starting to have a lot of complications from my Double Aortic Arch which had been diagnosed as asthma. So, I do not remember doing a lot of outdoorsy stuff but I did stuff when I could.

One of the most memorable things about Glencoe was that we were told of a camp legend pretty close after arrival. There was a ninja that stalked the grounds of Glencoe. Nobody knew the identity of this ninja even though kids constantly investigated. Some swore they had found black clothing in their counselor’s room but I never believed that the real ninja would be so careless. During large public events at the camp, the ninja would run out of hiding and strike. His weapon of choice was whipped cream pies. He would run out and score direct hits and then he would run away. This was a camp tradition. The first time it happened, I was blown away and kind of scared. The second time I joined in the camp tradition of pretty much every kid in camp running after the ninja, trying to catch him. We never did.

I remember doing a lot of reading. I had daily tutoring sessions where I did math and English with teachers. It was not as bad as it sounds. I am a nerd so I never really hated the actual school aspects of being in school. This is also where I got all of my summer reading done for school. I know some kids do not enjoy summer reading, wanting to play sports, hang out with friends or do anything else. I always loved reading and having the assignments gave me an excuse to spend a lot of time reading and discussing the books with the tutor. I did not have dyslexia so math and reading were easy to me, I just had a concentration problem to work on. So, I remember spending a lot of time doing homework in between meals, swimming and occasionally doing outdoorsy activities.

I had done a few sleepovers at that age but only for a night or two. It was not until middle school when I started to stay over at friends for longer periods of time. As I said, Glencoe was the exception to that rule since it happened before my fifth-grade surgery. We lived in large dorms with rooms packed tight together. The hallways were patrolled by counselors at night, making sure we were not up to anything. I found that I was not really that homesick which was a happy discovery. The only truly bad experience I can think of is the boy’s dorm once had a huge building-wide pillow fight staged by the counselors. It was like a prison riot. I remember a younger boy dropped his pillow and opted to punch me in the face instead. I was stunned and angry and I was still chasing him when the pillow fight came to its natural end. It took me a while to cool off and that incident helps fuel my sense of fair play in a fight.

I also remember a camp-wide water gun fight we had at one point. Everybody had a full Super Soaker or two and there were buckets full of water balloons scattering the camp. Again, we had another riot but this one was a lot more fun. We happily blasted each other with water, running all over the camp to cool off. No points were scored and there was no object to the game besides pure mayhem and pretending I was a cool army of one fighting through the masses. I even remember filling up and firing from within the shallow end of the camp swimming pool, wading chest deep like I was in some eighties action movie. That is a fond memory and I do not remember getting too winded thankfully. I thought, for such a structured camp that catered to younger kids, that this unstructured, chaotic game was an amazing feat by the counselors.

Ultimately, I started to excel more at school now that new ADD medication was kicking in and I had a solid grasp on my studies. I started to enjoy learning for learning’s sake more and I never got poor grades all the way through high school (and only a few bad grades in college). Once I had my surgery, I did not need to go to Camp Glencoe and my folks started looking for other summer options for me. I did not really have any close friends at that camp so I was not really sad to leave it. I was ready for normalcy. An ‘asthma’ -free experience with no homework. I got that experience, sort of. I will talk about it next Monday!

A Thursday Fire

February 20, 2017

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There was a fire around the corner the other day. It was a four-alarm fire on Union Avenue, the major thoroughfare in my neighborhood. It is the street I take to work and just about everywhere I need to or want to go. The thing is, I had no idea that it happened. I was asleep at the time and apparently upwind so I did not smell any smoke. The idea that something happened so close to me without my knowledge is kind of spooky but a credit to this city’s firefighters. They took care of the blaze without any collateral damage to surrounding neighborhoods.

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One thing that is also interesting is that I also did not hear the fire trucks or I did and they simply did not wake me up. I was born in Baltimore City and I was raised in that city as well. For most of my life, I have been a city slicker and that comes with accepting certain things. I used to live very close to University Parkway (and at one point on University Parkway) which brought with it certain realities. University Parkway is a major passage for emergency vehicles in that part of Baltimore. It is a wide, multi-lane road that is easy to navigate in a hurry. So we grew up hearing sirens more often than not. So it makes sense that I would not even notice extra sirens nearby.

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Usually, when a fire happens it is a horrible tragedy. If you remember, Baltimore had a huge fire during the riots nearly two years ago. In that fire, senior housing was burned down. Thankfully, nobody had moved in yet because construction was not quite done. Still, housing for seniors is a very important thing to have burned down. The building that burned on Thursday night was not being used for anything at the time. It was an old brick building nearby that I had taken pictures of last year because I found the graffiti on it interesting. The building was slated for development which I imagine will be dramatically delayed but at least nobody was killed.

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This also brought to mind how easy it is to get news, photographs and video of an event so soon after it happened. My brother asked me about the fire the morning after it happened and I had pictures of it on fire pulled up. I had the exact account of how it happened in minutes. It is extraordinary in this day and age that we get simple facts as wrong as we do when the real story is so close at hand. I suppose the problem comes in when so many people are seeing and saying different things. The truth should not be so complicated, should it?

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I walked down to the building on Friday to have a look for myself, partly because I felt awkward about not knowing that the event happened. By the time I arrived in the afternoon, everything was obviously all calm. You can see the damage from smoke on the outside but if you did not know there had been a fire, you would not be able to learn that from a glance. Of course, the double doors were wide open and the shadows inside hid what must have been black scorch marks. The windows that had already been broken, looked a little more heat damaged. On Saturday, all the open windows and doors had been boarded up.

Felix’ Epilogue

January 23, 2017

Felix carefully placed the jar on a shelf in his office and fastened the plastic display case over top of it. He wanted to make sure that it could never fall and break. It might be needed sometime in the future. It was not one of the enchanted ones. During his second adventure in Japan, Felix and his new friends had used a jar just like this one to trap a god. Felix had carried a back up enchanted jar just in case but Plan A had worked. Before departing for Columbia, Felix had traded the enchanted jar for one of the decoys as a souvenir. There it stood in his office but it could be enchanted just as the others had been and there were a lot of gods out there that could go rogue.

The adventure had certainly taken its toll. Before, Felix had only been on short missions that had not taken him far from Maryland. The first mission had caught him by surprise in Osaka and he had learned a lot from his cousin and her seasoned team of Legends. This latest mission had taken him around the world several times. Baltimore, North Carolina, Haiti, Ireland and finally Japan again of all places. Felix felt proud that he had constantly run into battle but to heal, not to hurt. He felt proud of stopping a zombie crisis in Haiti, animal poaching in North Carolina and rogue weather gods around the world. They had done a lot of good together and he hoped they would work together again.

They were not without their problems. He still wished he could have resolved Bartholomew’s problems especially. Bart was addicted to every drug known to man and probably a lot of drugs that were only available to the Aware community. Time and time again, he had wondered whether he was endangering Bartholomew’s health for the sake of the mission. After all, there was no time for an intervention was there? The truth was that Felix could only help the elf if he was receptive to it and the guy never hit rock bottom. In fact, he seemed to thrive on drugs. The end was coming and Felix felt he should visit the estate soon to check in on the rock star who had saved the world. Checking in on all his new friends would probably be a good idea anyway or at least the ones still in town.

There was a knock on the door and Felix was broken from his thoughts and brought back to Columbia, Maryland. “Come in!” He called out.

The door opened and Grace stood there and smiled. “I still can’t believe you are here. Welcome back, Doctor.”

“I can hardly believe it myself,” Felix said with a smile. “You held down the fort well. The place is still standing. In fact, it kind of looks even tidier than I remember it.”

“I try my best,” Grace said. She bowed her head in a gesture that clearly meant she was glad for the praise. “You have over three thousand messages, by the way.”

Felix’ heart skipped a beat. “That few, huh?”  It served him right,  thinking he could run a private practice and still go globe hopping to save the day.

“I’m kidding, boss,” Grace said with a smirk. “There are a few messages from family and a few recent issues but Dr. Henry covered things well.”

“I need to take him out to dinner. Probably several dinners,” Felix said.

“I’m sure he’s just happy to be retired again,” Grace said.

“At least until the next crisis. I’m afraid that’s a strong possibility,” Felix said.

“I’m proud to have a Legend as my boss. You know you have plenty of support around here.”

“I’m proud to be here,” Felix said. “Thanks, Grace.”

“You’re welcome, boss,” She said and went back to her reception area.

Felix leaned back at his little desk and hit the flashing button on his phone.

The voice that came from the phone belonged to his cousin May. “It was good to see you again, Lucky. Congratulations on saving the world and thanks for inviting us along. I’m sorry we couldn’t stay. We had our own little issue with Makoto turning into a dragon. Also, I wanted to kiss my daughter before she went to bed for the night. Your niece says hello, of course. You owe her a birthday party appearance coming up. We’ll make it easier and hold it halfway between where we’re each saving the world. Rest easy, Cous, because you might not get to rest for long.”

Felix knew it did not matter whether there was a thank you or a pat on the back or not but it was nice to have the camaraderie of his cousin and other experienced Legends. He would have liked to have a moment to talk to Jun in person but they had exchanged quite a few e-mails and phone calls since Osaka. Daisuke Inoki had been happy to see Felix again when Felix personally checked him out for injuries. Considering Felix had basically seen him come back from the dead, Felix had a feeling Daisuke would make it through the battle. You cannot keep the Lion of Osaka down for long. Everybody had checked out medically but Felix had recommended plenty of bed rest for everybody who could manage it. It was hard work being the doctor but Felix would not have given it up for the world.

A Facebook Thingy Before Christmas

December 19, 2016

As I prepare for Christmas and cool down from finishing my Fall semester at CCBC, I thought I would post this Facebook thing that I beefed up.  We had snow and then freezing rain on Saturday and it was more annoying than dangerous even though there was a huge crash south of the city.  I am getting excited for Christmas as the presents I bought for people start arriving in the mail.  Posts will continue as scheduled even as I go to Shepherdstown this week.

Four names I go by:

1. Steven

My given name. It means “He who is crowned.” I love my name even though it is often used to for a random name to call lame guys in fiction. However, Eddie Izzard often uses it for a name to call characters and does not mistreat the name. I believe that spelling it with a “v” is the right way to spell it even if Stephen came about first in history.

2. Steve

I used to hate this shortened version of my name but I have learned to like it. It is so quick and casual. A lot of good friends have called me by this shortened version. However, I now have a friend/family member who goes by Steve and is in the tabletop gaming group I am in. This creates confusion but somehow we manage. I end up being Steve 2 sometimes.

3. Wolf of Words

You are reading this blog right now. It has also become my new gamer tag when I need one. If you see WolfofWords holding a gym in Pokemon Go, that is me. As I explained earlier, the wolf is a part of my family history because my family is crazy. My mom taught us to howl at the full moon because her aunt taught her to do it. I am also devoted to stories and words as a writer, an avid consumer of fiction and a student of the law.

4. KM/King

While I was in New Jersey, I created a gamer tag called Mengi around the time I created this blog. It was created for a game called StarPirates which had a great community. There was a guy in our little group playing the game who called himself LordTyrion and, to tweak his nose, I renamed myself KingMengi to outrank him. I stuck with the name through a couple games and that’s why it appears as my twitter and WordPress username.

Four places I’ve lived

1. Baltimore, Maryland

I love Baltimore. It is the city where I was born and where I have lived for 24 years (not consecutive). I love so many great places in Baltimore and I learn more and more things about it every day. If you keep reading this blog, you will find me talking about Baltimore over and over.

2. Sussex, New Jersey

Sussex is a small town in New Jersey jammed up near the borders of Pennsylvania and New York. Even though it is nearly two hours from New York City, it is still in the NYC Metropolitan area because that area is gigantic. I worked at a theater called Tri-State Actors Theater here and I lived in the back of a framing shop. The place was a little town with a two-block main street surrounded by farmland and mountains. Still, the local children were frightened of the urban dangers it might contain.

3. Matamoras, Pennsylvania

When I first moved up to work at Tri-State Actors Theater, I lived at the owner’s house just over the border in Pennsylvania. At first, I had no car and I was at the mercy of what rides were offered by the people whom I was living with. Once I had my first real car, I remember driving there really late at night. Once, I was driving over the mountain to get home and there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground and I spun out near the top. After I recovered my wits, I continued to drive. I was really stupid sometimes back then.

4. Shepherdstown, West Virginia

In the last few years, my mother moved to West Virginia along with my new stepfather. (Although, not so new anymore.) It is a great place to be as it is far from the hustle and bustle of the city and I never experienced that, even in Sussex. I worked at the house there for two years on several projects for the family business and I continue to visit for holidays.

Media Update 12/15/2016

December 15, 2016


Hairspray Live!

John Waters is a legend in Baltimore and a great filmmaker beyond my hometown. The original Hairspray is a film I remember fondly from my childhood. I grew up among diversity in a liberal school so racism was a boogeyman that I found hard to really grab a hold of. People like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were heroes to us but we never saw what they faced growing up. The racial issues raised in Hairspray seemed like a no-brainer to me. Looking back, the movie really represents Baltimore which has one of the highest populations per capita of black people. I had never seen the musical before but I have always wanted to. I have only seen a few of these Live events but I have liked them so far. The sets and effects were amazing for a live performance. I loved the backstage access they gave with interviews and shots of actors rushing about backstage. The singing and acting were fantastic. Harvey Fierstein was really fun. I already liked Ariana Grande and Dove Cameron who were perfect casting choices for a high profile production like this. I was really impressed with Maddie Baillio and Ephraim Sykes. Maddie played Tracy Turnblad with a bubbly energy very similar to Ricki Lake’s original performance. Sykes played Seaweed Stubbs and really was an excellent dancer and he also had a great voice. I could see how the energy of this version came directly from the original and this version definitely had Waters’ campy sense of humor. It also kept the original social message of the original. I prefer the original but I definitely recommend this version to all of you musical theater fans out there.


Sum of All Fears

I have long wanted to watch this movie because a lot of it was filmed in Baltimore. It is also the only Jack Ryan movie that I had not seen until this week. The Jack Ryan franchise is an interesting animal. There have been four different actors in the role now and, in that way, it is a little like James Bond. However, they have rebooted it twice so it is a little bit of a mess. Affleck’s star was starting to fade at this point because of his appearance in Pearl Harbor however, it was before his nosedive started with Gigli. I like Affleck a lot. He is charming and a really good actor. Some directors did not know how to use him and he probably mismanaged the huge push in popularity that Hollywood gave him. This movie is more tense political thriller than it is an action movie. So the movie is trying to be a little more Hunt for Red October than Clear and Present Danger. Much of this movie’s charm for me is the play between Morgan Freeman and Affleck and between Liev Schreiber and Affleck. All three are great actors with different strengths and weaknesses. The plot has to do with the threat of nuclear war, Neo-Nazis and using a tense political atmosphere to play countries against each other. Unfortunately, Neo-Nazis are still very relevant to our country. There is a cameo by our former football team, the Baltimore Stallions, our CFL team that we had between the Colts and the Ravens. However, we thankfully never had the hideous domed “Baltimore Forum” stadium that makes an appearance. It was nice to see the Super Bowl being held in Baltimore even if it was a fictional scenario. This movie was actually way better than I thought it would be. It got a lukewarm reception initially at best but I liked it for what it was. It plays on a lot of old wounds between the US and Russia which are cropping up again these days along with new wounds.


Step Up

Romantic dance dramas are not really my thing but I had to watch this after learning that is set in Baltimore. Not only that but a large portion of it is shot in the neighborhood right down the street from me. This is Hamden, a neighborhood famous for both drug-related crimes but also for the tight-knit and heartwarming community. For example, it is the sight of 34th street, the biggest Christmas display in Baltimore. It also has The Avenue which has over a dozen great restaurants. The movie has the Maryland School for the Arts which is a stand-in for Baltimore School for the Arts where the other half of the movie is set. My brother went to BSA and so did Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett-Smith just to name three alumni. Channing Tatum is a really good dancer. He obviously throws everything he has into dancing and really knows how to use his body. In this movie, he acts opposite his future wife (Jenna Dewan) who does a great job as well. It was actually really refreshing that this movie’s conflict was not exactly rich vs. poor although there is that element present. Dewan’s family is richer than Tatum’s foster family. A lot of the students at the MSA are scholarship students so it is more about putting in an effort. (The BSA is actually a public school and therefore free.) Tatum is pretty good at being a bit of a jerk, a poor Hamden kid with a chip on his shoulder. Of course, I walk and drive the streets of Hamden every day and I think it is a great neighborhood. Unfortunately, these movies always involve the main character doing really stupid stuff until he steps up (pun intended) in the end. Still, I would recommend this movie as it is actually not too bad.

Music of the Week:

Al Great – Star of The Show

Mary Prankster – Blue Skies Over Dundalk

SR-71 – Right Now

Charm City Devils – Shots

The Orioles – Baby Please Don’t Go

Weekly Updates:
– I finished Season 1 of Arrested Development
– I am almost done Luther Series 1
– I started season 4 of The Office
– I finished Season 2 of Parks and Recreation
– I am near the end of Season 2 of Dark Matter
– This week’s theme is “Good Morning, Baltimore!”
– My semester is over this week
– Looking forward to Christmas despite the difficulties that come with it

Sometimes a Dog is Just a Dog

November 28, 2016

So, something new has happened in my life recently. I’m not talking about Thanksgiving which was an adventure worth having but, if given the choice, I would have taken tradition instead. No, I am talking about a dog. My brother has started fostering dogs for the local SPCA and that I agreed to help him since I am spending much of my time at home working on schoolwork. When he goes off to the gym or meets with a tenant, I get to watch his temporary dog. (The dog is temporarily his and yet permanently a dog) I really do not mind even though it can get a little distracting. I am working on final papers for the semester so I am not really out and about.

20161123_190036

Here she is.  Who’s a good dog?  Rizzo is.

Of course, this is Baltimore so there is one breed of dog that is likely to be hanging out at a shelter in the city. Yes, my brother picked up a bonafide purebred pitbull. Her name is Rizzo and yes that name is based on the character from Grease even though she looks nothing like any of the actresses I have seen in the role. In fact, her coloring ends up making her look more like a cow than any dog I have ever seen. She is a sweet dog at age two and she still has a lot of energy and not a lot of focus. She will lie down on her bed next to my couch as I type away at this computer just fine. Then, the door opens or some weird sound happens from somewhere nearby and she is up on her feet. It is cute but a little distracting. I think she will grow out of that.

Unfortunately, “pit bull” is a dirty word in American society today. Pit bulls were originally created by breeding terriers with bulldogs. The idea was to combine a terrier’s agility with the bulldog’s bite strength. The reasoning for this was to create a creature bred for violence and specifically the pit bull was made for dog fighting. Unfortunately, that is what a lot of them are still used for these days. Their behavior leads to people vilifying the poor misguided things. I was always skeptical of labeling pit bulls inherently dangerous. Now that I have met Rizzo, I am sure that the reasoning is flawed.

Rizzo is strong as hell. In a lot of ways, she is much stronger and faster than I am. I have seen her savage objects with her teeth and I know how capable she is at destruction. She could destroy me and not even work up a sweat while she did it. While she is very capable, Rizzo is not interested in that. I have seen her meet a few people now and she is just excited as your average Labrador retriever or hound dog. That excitement has never translated into an attack or any indication of violent behavior. So, I don’t believe any domesticated animal is inherently dangerous. It is all in how the dog is treated. If you train a dog to be violent,  it will be violent. If you treat the dog with love and respect then it will do the same. Whoever adopts that dog will be lucky.

What I Love About Pro-Wrestling: Thanksgiving 2016

November 21, 2016

WILPW

I spent much of this weekend catching up on watching some WWE and Lucha Underground so I thought this week was a good time to focus on a few things I am thankful for. Even if things are not perfect, it is important to focus on what you are thankful for. Much like the New Day, I like to spread the power of positivity and I have been holding onto that power hard in the last year. We are going to need the power of positivity going forward so let us work on igniting the sparks that make us feel jazzed. So let us dip a little into what got me jazzed lately in the world of sports entertainment.

Rich Swann and James Ellsworth

I am from Baltimore and when I see anybody representing Baltimore in a positive way, I feel happy. A little light goes off in my brain and I get excited. When I was watching the Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network, I spotted Rich Swann and I thought he was awesome. I love his high energy, party guy quality. I love it even more since his character focuses up as soon as the bell rings. When he first showed up on Raw, he teamed briefly with Cedric Alexander. The pairing was a little questionable as it looked a little racially motivated but I was sad to see that short-lived team break up. Lately, he has been teaming with No Way Jose on NXT which makes a bit more sense as they are both fun-loving, party guys.

James Ellsworth just got officially signed to Smackdown Live and I am happy about it. Ellsworth became a viral sensation when he got stomped by Braun Strowman but went into that match with determination. Before then his main claim to fame was being in a local tag team called Pretty Ugly and he was not the Ugly one. He has since gotten two wins over the WWE Heavyweight Champion in two very funny matches. I am very interested to see where his character goes next. Will he remain a jobber or will he start to build to something else?  After listening to his interview on Talk is Jericho, I want to see more from this humble yet confident man.

Aztec Warfare

I love battle royales. I have been a big fan of the Royal Rumble since its inception and Aztec Warfare is actually an improvement on that concept. I like that only pins or submissions can cause eliminations which gets rid of a lot of the awkward jockeying for position and clinging to ropes. Lucha has been really good for me this season. I love the way Lucha weaves all of their storylines together and makes them collide in this one match. Everybody was gunning for Matanza but it always felt like the Cueto brothers were always ten steps ahead of the roster. That is why it was so shocking when Matanza lost the title and maybe even turned on Dario. Sexy Star leveraged the allies she made and her own fighting spirit to win the top prize in the company. I thought that Joey Ryan would at least be safe from Matanza this year but unfortunately, he ran afoul of Mil Muertes instead.

It is still shocking to me that Prince Puma and Ivelisse were not actually in the match but it just makes their stories more of a surprise going forward. As far as I know, only Mil Muertes is the only person on the roster to come back from the dead but maybe Prince Puma will be the second. A lot of people have (kayfabe) died on the show including Konnan, the Disciples of Death, Mr. Cisco and also Big Ryck. Hell, Big Ryck’s skull was part of Mil Muertes’ throne in Season 2. I love the unpredictability of Lucha Underground and how storyline threads hide for a long time before popping up again. I mean, we got a bona fide appearance of the Black Lotus Triad during Aztec Warfare. So much happened and so much can happen in the future. I’m excited.

NXT TakeOver Toronto

While I do not keep up with NXT as much as I should, I really enjoy the energy of the show and seeing both fresh faces and familiar faces from the indies and other companies. I watched a few episodes leading up to checking out the latest Takeover and I loved what I saw. The Dusty Classic Tag Team Tournament was absolute awesomeness. Every team that I saw was awesome and had good energy and good ring psychology. The final match between TM 61 and the Authors of Pain was awesome, even with the somewhat silly stipulation of Ellering dangling over the ring. It was excellent but it was overshadowed by the two out of three falls match between DIY and The Revival which pretty much stole the show.

Asuka vs. Mickey James was great. As great as it was to see Mickey back in a WWE ring, they kind of treated her like she had just been sitting on the couch the whole time. She was very over in TNA and, among other places, has been killing it in Maryland Championship Wrestling lately. Of course, Asuka has been an amazing addition since she first debuted and remains undefeated. I absolutely loved “Glorious” Bobby Roode (and his amazing entrance) going up against “Ther Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger. I remember Roode from back when I watched TNA and Tye has worked hard for this new push. Finally, Shinsuke Nakamura is a force of nature and his entrance blew Roode’s out of the water. The match between a “Kodiak bear” and a “rabid dog” was a great story and both Samoa Joe and Shinsuke would have deserved that championship.

Survivor Series

I have loved the build to this year’s Survivor Series. I know a lot of people have said that it does not make sense to see rivals having to be on the same team but I like it. Lucha Underground is the king of strange bedfellows tag teams making kidnapping victims tag with their kidnappers and other crazy teams. People have remarked how weird it was to see people who hated each other, working together. Why would they do that? Because their boss told them to. Besides, all of those rivalries paid off and became either strengths or weaknesses. AJ Styles accidentally got Dean Ambrose eliminated. There was a callback to Ellsworth’s short lived rivalry with Braun Strowman. Sasha and Charlotte could not work together and Charlotte blasted Bailey after their win. The women’s division match was great and possibly opened up at least one new storyline. The men’s division match was great and there were a lot of surprises. Most importantly, we might have seen the end of LOL Roman Wins and a reemergence of the Wyatt Family as a credible threat. Even so, my favorite match was actually the tag team match because I have never seen such a fluid 20-man tag team match. I really liked the pay per view and I am excited to see the fallout from it and the now unpaused storylines.


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