Showing 1 - 10 of 186 posts found matching keyword: friends

Not so long ago, my anonymous friend — let's call him "Randy" — asked, "Can you name one thing that is better now than it was a few years ago?" It's a pretty good question.

Certainly, there has been a parade of bad news over the past half decade or so: COVID, Trump, Ukraine, drugs, inflation, immigration.... I'm sure you can think of a few more. Certainly, a lot of things don't seem as fun as they once did: watching the television shows you want to see costs a small fortune for a dozen streaming services, most of the content in video games can only be unlocked with micro transactions, corporations bought the fun out of the Internet, comic books cost $6.... I'm sure you can think of a few more of these, too.

From an objective point-of-view, things for most of us are actually still pretty good, as evidenced by the fact that we all have so much time to bitch about what sucks. Could things be better? Yeah. Yeah, they could. But were things better than this just a few years ago? Has American society peaked? I have doubts.

Judging whether the future we got is "better" than the present we had is a matter of comparing what we hoped we would get to the reality of what we got. That's never a particularly fair comparison. Hope might spring eternal, but reality, to borrow a phrase, always bites.

But in answer to Randy's question, yes, I can name one thing: Georgia Football. Georgia Football is better than it was a few years ago. Way better. Go Dawgs!

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Reading a bunch of critic's best-movies-of-2022 lists made me curious, so I went back and counted. I watched 16 movies released in 2022 in 2022.

Six were documentary/biopics. Four were mysteries. Three were cartoon/superheroes. One was Downton Abbey. And these two were on most of the aforementioned "best" lists:

153/2162. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Friend Ken was a big fan of this nearly indescribable sci-fi action film, and he has been encouraging me to see it since it was still in limited release. The last movie Ken promoted this much was Into the Spider-Verse, and I'm happy to report that both lived up to Ken's hype. This is bonkers in all the right ways. I'm sure it's destined to become a beloved cult film in the Buckaroo Bonsai tradition.

157/2166. The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
After a great deal of thought, I think I've decided this might be my favorite film released in 2022 that I watched in 2022. Re-teaming the actors and writer/director of the fantastic In Bruges in a character piece, it's much, much smaller in scope than Everything Everywhere but every bit as enthralling in its own much, much more focused way. (I cannot believe that the Colin Farrell in this and the Colin Farrell in The Batman [or Miami Vice or Daredevil] are the same actor. Give this man all the Oscars!)

More of both of these sorts of films in 2023, please!

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Early in the 2022 football season, Friend Randy said that if his beloved FSU made it to a postseason bowl game, we were going. Well, FSU did make it — to the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando — but Randy decided we should go to a closer game. So we went back to the Birmingham Bowl to see the East Carolina Pirates play the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.

Coastal Carolina 29, East Carolina 53

Full disclosure: Randy wanted to go to the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery to see Georgia Southern play Buffalo. But that game kicked-off at noon Eastern time, and I didn't want to wake up so early in the morning. So we compromised and went to Birmingham, which had a 6:45PM Eastern start. The only down side to this decision was that the entire game was played after dark. We could have used a little sunlight warmth. Actually, we could have used a lot of sunlight warmth. It was cold.

University of Alabama-Birmingham's Protective Stadium has replaced historic Legion Field for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. I mean, it does have larger bathrooms and more convenient concession stands, but its seats aren't any more comfortable and the place isn't wrapped in the smell of BBQ. I mean, it's fine. I'm just old fashioned.

Sadly, the game itself wasn't as good as our last visit. The Chanticleers' starting quarterback knocked himself out of the game in the second quarter, bouncing on his head in the end zone right in front of us, and the team never recovered. (The backup's nameplate read "Guest," which Randy and I had a lot of fun with: the poor temporary replacement wasn't even given his own account!). We left at the end of the third quarter when the game was very obviously over.

Despite these minor problems, Randy and I agreed we both had a great time and will have to try to make going to some bowl game an annual tradition. Maybe we'll get to the Camellia next year... depending on kickoff time.

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Did everyone have a Merry Christmas? I guess I did, all things considered. I mean, so long as I ignore the fact that the Miami Dolphins collapsed in the second half and lost their 4th straight game, going 0-4 in December and demonstrating that despite some earlier success they are definitively not ready to be a playoff team for the 22nd year in a row. (Annual reminder: their last playoff win was in 2000.)

Yeah, ignoring that and the fact that I badly cut my thumb on the large carving knife while doing the dishes, the rest of the day went pretty well. It was in the wee hours of this morning that I ran into trouble. Or maybe I should say that it was Louis who ran into trouble for us all.

After watching Sunday Night Football go to overtime and spending an hour trying and failing to play online games with Friend James (the trouble seemed to be with his ISP), I noticed at about 1:30 in the morning that something smelled wrong in my room: the faint smell of burning plastic. That's never good.

I began sniffing my way around the darkened house for the cause, starting with the basement. It wasn't coming from my room. It wasn't the furnace which has been running all out for days to combat the 30-year historic cold. It wasn't in my studio where I had been painting finishing veneers earlier in the day. So I moved upstairs where the smell was indeed stronger. I thought maybe it was the Christmas tree lights, but no, they seemed fine. And It wasn't any appliance in the kitchen or anything electronic in Mom's office. I even grabbed a flashlight and checked outside to no avail. What *was* the source of that smell?

When I came back inside, I noticed that the flashlight wasn't a spotlight like it was outside but an illuminated beam, a fuzzy lightsaber. As a former Boy Scout, I quickly recognized this as a Very Bad Sign. The good news is that I could follow the flashlight beam to find the areas of thickening smoke.

The source, as it turns out, was behind the curtains separating the den from the sunroom that Mom uses for crafting. As is usual in the winter, the "sun" room was the coldest in the house, and she has been running an older model portable oil space heater day and night to keep the chill out. At this point, you've probably figured out where this is headed.

Context clues indicate that sometime while I was preoccupied with football or video games, my mischievous puppy, Louis, had taken a break from chewing up my new shoelaces and pajama bottoms to sneak behind the curtain — where he knew he wasn't allowed alone — and knocked over the heater. The sideways heater did not have an automatic shutoff, and worse, on its side it started leaking oil, oil that fortunately smoked before it flamed.

I uncovered the problem in time to prevent any further damage to life, limb, or property. (Sure, the house *smells* like burnt plastic and oil, but at least there's a house to smell.) I think from now on I'm going to have to keep Louis tied to me. And I'm going to recommend that Mom mounts her new space heater (with automatic shutoff!) to the floor!

Post-Christmas crisis averted!

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EPISODE THREE: THE SABOTAGE, PART FOUR

Cobryn watched helplessly from the control booth window as Bronson stepped over Striker One's limp body and faced Sahara. The Wolf Pack lieutenant wiggled his finger at Sahara in a "come hither" gesture. Sahara shook her head in refusal. The roaring crowd was eating it up.

"Do something," Cobryn urged.

"What?" asked Quig.

"Anything!"

Quig's claws flew across the console, and Cobryn was relieved to see the arena floor around Bronson begin to rise, trapping the lizard man. Sahara hustled over to Striker One and began helping him to his feet. The crowd's roars faded and quickly returned as boos.

"You better hurry up and release the slaves from their pens," said Quig. "I don't think we have long."

Cobryn had already identified the slave pen master control, and it didn't take a computer genius like Quig to figure out which button freed them. It was helpfully labeled "Do not press this it frees the slaves!" Cobryn pressed it.

It didn't take long for someone to notice.

Somewhere outside the control room, an alarm went off. The Wolf Pack spectators began to flee the stadium, forgetting about Bronson, Sahara, and Striker One in their haste to confront a slave uprising. Cobryn didn't give them good odds: slaves outnumbered Wolf Pakers on this asteroid ten-to-one. The only way they could regain control was through the computers in this control booth.

"I've opened the arena doors for Sahara and Striker One," said Quig as he moved to the exit. "That's all we've got to do. We can meed the others at the ship and get off this forsaken rock."

"I'm right behind you," said Cobryn. He turned to the console Quig abandoned. Cobryn knew a thing or two about computers himself; if he could lock the computer down, the Wolf Pack was doomed. Fortunately, the computer system was idiot proof.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO LOCK COMPUTER TO PREVENT ALL FUTURE ACCESS? [Y/N]

Cobryn gleefully pressed the "Y" button and was rewarded with a smiley face and timer counting down from five minutes. Once the countdown was complete, the computer would only be useful as a doorstop.

Quig was long gone by the time Cobryn got to the door. The sounds of combat and death screams echoed through the corridors, but the path leading out to the ship hanger looked clear. Cobryn punched the air in celebration. After the Corona's Light, it felt good to be ensuring the death of the right people for a change. Take that, slavers!

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On Tuesday, November 2, the initial College Football Playoff rankings of the 2022 season were released, and the Tennessee Volunteers leapfrogged the Georgia Bulldogs, who were atop the Associated Press poll, to become the top-ranked football team in the country.

Then they played Georgia on a soggy Saturday afternoon in Athens.

Tenneessee 13, UGA 27

To be the best, you've got to beat the best, Vols. And you didn't. Final score: Tennessee 13, UGA 27. Honestly, it wasn't really even that close.

Driven in no small part by the chip on Bulldogs fans' shoulders, the game atmosphere was truly great, the best in years. The enthusastic fans were really into the game from long before kickoff, were only made more rabid when the refs stole a safety from Georgia in the second quarter, and somehow managed to get even more energetic when the rain started falling in the third quarter. What a bunch of damn good dawgs!

Reminder to future Walter: This is why you buy season tickets, to go to games like this one. Fantastic.

Thanks to friend James for keeping me company in the rain. I certainly enjoyed myself.

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EPISODE THREE: THE SABOTAGE, PART THREE

Quig tapped the shoulder of the Wolf Pack thug standing in the aisle beside him in the stands. "Excuse me, but I've got to get by you."

"What? Now? Why? Bronson's in the arena, and they trapped that murdering bitch between the floor tiles. The fight's just starting."

"Yes. It's very exciting. Even my bladder is excited."

"What?"

Quig sighed. "I've got to take a piss."

"Why didn't you say so?" The thug finally moved out of his way, and Quig hustled out of the arena into the corridor. It was just as Haze had said; with everyone watching the fight, no one was watching the corridor. Even the thugs who usually stood guard outside the arena control room were gone.

Quig had almost finished setting up his defense drone to cover the hall when Cobryn finally arrived.

"Sorry about that," said Cobryn. "They wouldn't let me out of their sight until I lied about using the restroom."

"Great minds piss alike," Quig said.

"What?"

Quig waved dismissively. "Don't worry about it. Do you have the keycard to the door?"

"Right here. I haven't tested it since I lifted it off that drunk last night. I hope it still works."

"We're about to find out." Quig drew a flashbang grenade from his pocket. "I'm ready when you are."

Cobryn nodded and inserted the pilfered card. The door unlocked and slid open automatically. Reflexively, the two control room operators turned to look and were immediately blinded by the flashbang. Cobryn rushed in and snapped slave manacles around one of the operators' wrists. Quig pointed a laser pistol at the other.

"Lower the floor tiles. Let Sahara out."

"I can't do that."

Quig pressed the laser's barrel against the operator's neck. "Wanna say that again?"

"N-no. But I don't have the controls to the floor. He does," the operator said, indicating his manacled partner.

Quig risked a glance out the booth window into the arena where Bronson appeared to be giving Striker One quite the beating. "We don't have time for this," he said, and brought the butt of the gun down on the operator's head, knocking him unconscious. Cobryn mimicked the action with his own pistol on the head of the manacled man, and Quig moved to look over the control console. As he would have expected in an arena run by idiots, it was pretty self-explanatory. He punched a few buttons and the floor began to lower, freeing Sahara. Not a moment too soon, from the look of it. Striker One was bleeding badly and had fallen to one knee. The crowd had begun chanting for Bronson to kill him.

"Do something," Cobryn urged.

"What?" asked Quig. His mind had gone blank. All he knew at that moment was that he desperately needed to pee.

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EPISODE THREE: THE SABOTAGE, PART TWO

Striker One paused to enjoy the sensation of the spectators cheering for him. Technically, they were cheering "Tiny Dong," the demeaning nickname the Wolf Pack slavers had given him while parading him naked from his cell to the arena's pre-fight armory. But Striker One wasn't programmed to be hung up on semantics (or the comparable size of his excretory system's external organ).

He looked down at the defeated elf lying in a pool of blood. The elf was still breathing, of course. Reasoning that they couldn't sell dead slaves, the Wolf Pack insisted that arena combatants not kill one another. That's why Striker One was fighting only with battery-powered battle gloves. The pool of blood didn't belong to the elf but its former companion, a dwarf. Sahara had broken the rules and blasted the dwarf into a red mist with an overcharged laser pistol.

"I hadn't meant for that to happen," said Sahara in her own defense.

Striker One knew Sahara was ruthless, but in this case he believed her. She wouldn't let her blood thirst jeopardize their mission. "You did what you had to do to defend yourself. That little guy hit hard."

"I hope the Wolf Pack sees it that way and still sends Bronson in."

"I'm sure they will, though I doubt he'll be in any mood to pull his punches."

Sure enough, when the loudspeaker announced the arrival of the next combatant, it was the eight-foot tall reptilian Wolf Pack lieutenant who entered the arena.

"Hmm. He doesn't look so tough," Sahara lied.

Striker One sized up his competition. The combatants in the first three rounds—aside from the now-deceased dwarf—had proven surprisingly underwhelming. Could Bronson really be that much tougher? They didn't even have to defeat him, only distract him long enough for Cobryn and Quig to free the other slaves. How difficult could that be?

The lizard-man flexed his clawed fingers around the hilt of his giant sword. "I'm sure you know your master's contract says that if you beat me, you get to go free," he said with a deep, sibilant voice. "What you may not know is that no one beats me. And I'll tell you why: I cheat."

At his words, the floor of the arena shifted. Formerly flat ground shot up ten feet, creating a wall around Sahara and sequestering Striker One with Bronson.

"But I don't want you to think that I'm a monster," said the Wolf Pack slaver. He dropped his sword on the ground. "Go ahead. Take the first hit."

Striker One didn't hesitate. He landed a right cross in what should have been the lizard-man's solar plexus. If it hurt the giant as much as it hurt Striker One's fist, the android might have a chance.

Bronson smiled a toothy grin. "My turn."

The spectators went nuts.

Striker One dug in his heels and wished Cobryn and Quig godspeed.

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EPISODE THREE: THE SABOTAGE, PART ONE

Sahara's skin itched underneath the manacles binding her wrists. If she was more fancifully inclined, she might consider this was the universe's way of punishing her for sending an entire starliner of passengers and crew into the sun just to cover up one (sell-deserved) assassination. But she knew better. The universe didn't care who lived or died. Only the most ruthless survived.

Beside her, Striker One tested his own set of manacles. "I'm starting to think we've made a mistake."

"I'm no happier about this than you are, but Haze's plan to free the Wolf Pack's slaves is sound. Only slaves fight in the arena, and only winning fighters get a match against Bronson. And if we can get Bronson to enter the arena...."

"Yes, yes," the android said with uncharacteristic impatience. "We will get Bronson into the arena. What I meant is that we may be recklessly endangering your life. You are no combatant. It should be Cobryn in this cell with me, not you."

"We need Cobryn free to fly us out of here if things go wrong." She didn't really believe this. If it came down to that, she could fly a ship well enough to escape the Wolf Pack's asteroid base. But Cobryn had flatly refused even to consider participating in arena combat, and Sahara hadn't wanted to push the point. She knew the others were still angry about what she had done to the Corona's Light. They hadn't agreed that its destruction had been necessary collateral damage. War often required sacrifices, and Sahara was willing to make them, which was why the others had accepted her as their leader in the first place. If she had to take a few punches to win back her team's confidence, so be it.

As if the mention of his name summoned him, Cobryn and Quig emerged from the corridor and approached their cell. They weren't alone.

"These are my combatants," Cobryn said to their companion, a Wolf Pack thug wearing a garishly ugly purple jacket.

"Don't look like much," said the thug with a shrug.

"Makes two of us," said Sahara.

"Hey," Cobryn shouted. "You watch your mouth, bitch!"

Bitch? Sahara gave him a glare. Cobryn winked back. At least someone was enjoying this.

The thug ignored the outburst. "The standard rates apply. In exchange for allowing your slaves to fight in the arena and prove they're worthwhile fighting stock, the Wolf Pack gets twenty-five percent of their sale price."

"Agreed," said Quig with a quick nod. He handed the thug a datapad. "Here's your signed contract. When do we get a fight?"

"Tomorrow afternoon."

Sahara was nonplussed. "You mean we have to spend the night in this cell?"

Quig smiled widely. "Looks like it. Bitch."

It was going to be a long night.

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EPISODE TWO: THE ASSASSINATION, PART FOUR

Quig had never cared much for philosophy, and he certainly hadn't lived a squeaky-clean life, but this mission was making his fur tingle. He forced himself to watch as the scanner tracked the plasma torpedo to its target before reporting his latest morbid success. "Scratch the last escort. That's two more lives lost."

"We wouldn't be able to outrun them on departure," Sahara said by way of justification. "It had to be done."

Maybe it was necessary, Quig conceded, but did it have to be done by him? He'd spoken out against her original plan to fly the Corona's Light into the sun on the grounds that too many relatively innocent people would be killed. Yet somehow, in her newer, "kinder" plan, Quig had ended up with all the deadliest tasks. He suspected that wasn't an accident.

First, in deference to his superior programming skill, he had been assigned the task of using the bridge computers to modify the security droid protocols, which had undoubtedly resulted in some crew fatalities. Then, ostensibly because only he had the necessary talent, he had been required to alter the ship's life support system to flood Eye One's state room with toxic gas, killing Eye One as well as his butler, chef, secretary, and bodyguards. Finally, with Cobryn busy preparing the Chutoi for departure and Striker One confirming Eye One's death, only Quig was available to rejoin Sahara on the Corona's Light's bridge and eliminate the fighter escorts. That was what, at least a dozen sentients dead by his hand now? He was legitimately a serial killer.

He reminded himself that their goal was the dismantling of a system-spanning criminal organization. If some people had to die on the way to that greater good… well, it was a rat-eat-rat galaxy.

Sahara interrupted his gloomy thoughts. "Before we depart, let's teach these dogs a lesson they won't forget about crossing the Wolf Pack. Jettison a suite."

Quig moved to the abandoned captain's station and found the sequence that would fire Eye One's luxury state room slash escape pod. A moment later, he felt the floor vibrate slightly as he triggered the pod to fire away from the superstructure. Trapped by the sun's gravity, all evidence of how Eye One had been killed would soon be burned away. No one would be the wiser that he was killed by a small band of freedom fighters....

Except, Quig realized with a start, someone would surely realize that the occupant of the only pod launched was one of the solar system's most influential criminals. That someone was sure to kick over every anthill on every planet until they found who was responsible.

Quig thought fast. But what if Eye One's wasn't the only pod launched? That just might work.

No one wealthy enough to afford a suite on the Corona's Light could be truly innocent. Quig triggered the launch of two additional suites. One he chose at random; the other was occupied by the man whose name appeared on their invoice for nabanas. Anyone who imported that much fresh exotic fruit across the galaxy for his personal consumption deserved to die.

Sahara grabbed Quig's shoulder. "What are you doing? I said jettison just one!"

Disappointed that she hadn't understood his intentions, Quig snapped back, "You wanted it to look like that dumb Wolf Pack killed Eye One by accident, didn't you?"

Sahara glared at him, her irritation made more obvious by her twitching antenna. She flicked her eyes sideways; Quig followed her gaze to the captain and the rest of the restrained bridge crew he'd forgotten all about. He gasped at the realization of what he'd done. They must have overheard what he said, and Sahara would never let them live to repeat it. Quig had gotten so good at killing, he could even do it accidentally.

"Go," Sahara ordered coldly. "Tell the others we're leaving. I'll clean up this mess myself."

Quig obeyed meekly. His saluted the Corona's Light captain and crew through the closing elevator doors, knowing he would be the last person outside that room to see them alive.

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To be continued...

 

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