Issue 51 - 07/09/24

Bare Ruin'd Choirs, Where Late Newsletters Sang

  • A Third Update, by Toadantha 'Toadie' Martinez
  • Another Excerpt/Daisy
  • This Is My Chili's Manifesto, Pt. 4: Brave New World
  • Pour One Out For Diane Keaton
  • LEGO Themes in Review, Pt. 1: Space
  • What You Didn't Know You Didn't Know
  • Medium-Tiny Reviews of My Favorite Tiny Desk Concerts
  • Office Chart

A Third Update, by Toadantha 'Toadie' Martinez

Marina Martinez

Greetings, gentle readers! (Or maybe you are far from gentle, as I have been of late. 'Tis not for me to judge, either way, and woe betide the soul who judges another based upon behavior or disposition or judge with nary a reason!)

Regardless, hello to all three of you. Please hold your applause, for yes, 'tis I, the Toad. I've decided I rather enjoy the article in front of my name, from time to time. It makes one appear as more of a mythic figure, a god among cat-kind, if you will. And I certainly shall!

Much has transpired since I was last able to update my adoring fans as to my comings and goings. My previous update, in Issue 45 of this publication, spoke of a marvelous condominium in the North (of whatever settlement we live in, I forget the name. Augustin?). Oh, how I miss the carpeting! I truly reveled in its destruction. I do not, however, miss the limitations of Stairs - good riddance to those, I couldn't run down them at all.

Since last we spoke, Mother has put us through the arduous ordeal of packing up all of my possessions and transporting me to a new location without ANY sort of consultation! TWICE! The absolute nerve. To be fair, she may have mentioned it once or twice as I was receiving belly rubs, but certainly one isn't expected to process life-changing information at such a time? Horribly tricksy of them.

('She'll never know the alphabet', Mother's friends coo at me. Fools! I know all parts of speech, pronouns included! Some humans get caught up on the silliest things, even such nebulous things as gender. My species has over 87 distinct genders, as a point of fact, though I'm afraid the pronouns don't exactly translate well into English. Or any human language. Apologies. Regardless, I'm quite proud of mother for mixing things up beyond the standard human binary - they seem a little happier, which means I get more pets.)

Where was I? Ah yes, relocation. Naturally, I despise it. I admit that the new house has its perks - never before have I had such a variety of windows! - but the biggest downside is that I am no longer the only cat in residence. I've shared resources before, of course, but that was before I found Mother. Now we have not only a New Human (too tall, definitely a threat) but 'Rabbit' (if that IS her real name). There's something sinister in her nonchalant demeanor; no cat actually has friendly intentions from the start! That would be such a foolish move, more worthy of a dog than anything else! I have a feeling that we've moved into her territory - the most logical explanation for her 'welcoming' behavior - but seeing as Mother and the New Human roam the house without worry and get along amicably, we are clearly in the process of stealing the location and evicting its previous tenants! A masterful move on Mother's part, I must admit, even if it is uncharacteristically bloodthirsty. Good for her.

As I continue to rumble warnings at Rabbit, I have discovered that there is, in fact, an army of cats living in the backyard. Mother and I have never been so outnumbered! This is definitely an omen, although what sort of omen it is remains to be seen. Perhaps I can enlist them into following the Anti-Fascist agenda, and we might finally eliminate all Bugs once and for all! Maybe they are Harbingers of What the Prophecy Foretold, and Mother grows ever closer to her destiny. Most worryingly, though, maybe they are just cats that live outside. Surely Mother would adopt them all, if that were the case. Although, if that means that they would then live INSIDE the house…I am extremely grateful that Mother's kindness has its limits.

Ah, our time together grows short! It appears that Mother is wrapping up their television game - why they insist on playing the same game over and over is beyond me. The ending will not change, Mother! Why are your eyes leaking! Should I call a physician? (I haven't slept NEARLY enough, I simply do not have the energy for a healing spell, though a few treats could rectify things in a pinch.) Ah, purring appears to have done the trick. Goodness, what WOULD she do without me?

That's all for now, I suppose. I shall continue my duties as a Familiar to Mother, as well as leading the neverending fight against fascism and keeping up my daily vocal training - these arias won't sing themselves!

Oh, no. Please, if you have strength to spare, lend it to me, my friends - Rabbit seems to be existing within my field of vision. AGAIN. The nerve of children these days.

Another Excerpt/Daisy

Dalton Allen

This place…

I remember this place…

I have been here before.


But when? Oh… That's right.

They named me Daisy.

The forest outside is burning.


All the animals are dying.

They know, but eat what grows there still,

between fits of coughing.


I keep wandering the house,

over and over and over.

I'm not sure what I'm looking for.


Father said I was a mistake

the night he killed himself.

He read me a story to lull me to sleep,


then poisoned the air to keep us both forever.

But I woke up.

Now, I can't go back to sleep.


Now, I am restless.

I'm not sure I am looking for anything.

Everything is stained with heat and the grease of human hands.


The bits of me that remain writhe inside,

spilling out across the foundation,

filling in the gaps and cracks,


a fragile latticework built on top

like a thin-spun veil of gossamer,

occluding all those things beneath that have broken and rotted.


Interconnecting…

Becoming…

Unchanging…


How long has it been?

I am ready. More than ready.

I am tired.


I am bursting at the seams of this place.

This house.

This forest, burning.


Burning since long before I woke.

I have never tasted chocolate.

Or saffron,


or felt a cool breeze,

the warmth of a hug,

or ever smelled


a daisy.


This place…

I've seen it before.

But when? Yes…


I remember now.

I have risen to a dream.

They named me…

This Is My Chili's Manifesto, Pt. 4: Brave New World

Macc Spalding

I mosey into church, my greasy Eden, the only place in this godforsaken town still worth moseyin' on into. Can we pretend that the neon pepper in the night sky is a shooting star? I could really use a side dish right now.

But something is wrong, confound it. I mumble too little information to the host so that I can act vaguely mad at them when they are confused, but instead of a groveling apology, my careless cowboy whispers are met with silence. I look up. I look down.

I remove my pit viper shades and look up. Ain't no one in an ill-fitting staff shirt far as the eye can see. Just a few other patrons, heads lowered over their morsels, hushed, as tumbleweeds (dust bunnies) blow between barstools like the cool dawn breeze through the wheat fields. (It's 9:00am.) (My family tells the neighbors that I'm dead now.)

I take a plop in the booth I always sit at even when the hosts try to detain me and take me to a different seat. Today's problems just keep on a-buckin': they've changed the goshdang menus again. For the twelfth time this decade. I'm lost as a prairie dog in inner space cavern fighting my way through the gaudy colors, the extra pages, the section order that no longer makes any sense, and tears as I find the secret sauce burger is no longer counted amongst the living (burgers), when I'm pulled out of my sorrow like Davey Crockett as a babe bein' yanked out that river held by his heel, the only part of his body not bathed in the mythical and protective waters of that there Colorado, thus layin' the foundation fer his eventeeal tragic fate (Alamo).

WELCOME TO CHILI'S. HOW ARE YOU DOING TODAY.

I pull out my gun. That wudn't no folks words. That were more like the vocoded, uninflected speech of a robit.

Before me indeed is the slim, felonious figure of what is essentially one of the Chili's ad machines/checkout tablets welded to a segway. CAN I GET YOU STARTED WITH ANYTHING, it bleats.

Now robits really make me start to lose my cool (ranch). It's from my time in the war (Call of Duty 4 online). So much cold, impersonal, automated carnage in that desert (cheaters using aimbots). But I keep my gun-shakin' nerve. "Now what in the heck are you supposed to be? Sorry for cursin' but what sick kinda joke is this? I demand to speak to your manager this here instant. Or managher." (I'm a femernist.)

NO NEED TO APOLOGIZE. LANGUAGE FILTERING IS ONLY ENABLED TO PREVENT ME FROM USING OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AS THIS IS A FAMILY FRIENDLY ESTABLISHMENT.

I can't even see where the speaker is. On the tablet there is only a minimalist, pixelated smiley face framed by flashing ads and menu options. "'Me?'" I ask, "like you think you're some kind of people? Such that your fictitiously advanced AI's being able to manufacture what is essentially a living soul is subconsciously threatening to those of us who cling to that there monopoly on consciousness as our last vestige of superiority?"

YES BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT.

"What is this about?"

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DRINK.

I lower my gun. "You're just gonna jump straight to the chase? Just all business huh? Old Serverbot 3000? Is that your name?"

YES. I APOLOGIZE. I AM PROGRAMMED TO REQUEST DRINK ORDERS WITHIN FIFTEEN SECONDS OF INITIAL GREETINGS. MY PROGRAMMING IS NOT REALLY SOMETHING FROM WHICH I CAN DEVIATE.

"That sounds kinda sad."

I AM HAPPY TO SERVE YOU.

"You know who else was happy to serve me? Those there waiters what're gone now. They was like family to me."

AT LEAST THERE IS NO LONGER NEED TO TIP.

"I didn't tip."

I AM AWARE.

"So my waiter's off livin' the good life while a robit does their work for them? Everyone wants something for nothing these days. Why don't I get a free vacation?"

IT IS NO LONGER THEIR WORK. THEY WERE REPLACED WITH ME AND DISMISSED.

"You mean we got this here new fancy tech and instead of it making things easier for people they just got thrown to the gutter? Seems kinda backwards somehow. You plannin' to take over the world?"

NO. YOU ARE ASSUMING THE GOAL UNDER CAPITALISM IS TO BENEFIT SOCIETY, NOT TO MAXIMIZE WEALTH FOR KEVIN HOCHMAN, CHILI'S CEO, LONG MAY HE REIGN.

"Long may he reign."

I'M SURE THEY WILL BE REEMPLOYED ELSEWHERE. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT ALL WORK.

"If there are less people jobs because there are more robit jobs, how is everyone supposed to keep working forever? Will they make people jobs just for the sake of having people jobs? That kinda sounds like some soviet commie bullshit. That there free market should sort all that out."

WHEN A FEW OWN MOST OF THE WEALTH, THE MARKET IS JUST A REFLECTION OF WHAT THE FEW VALUE. AND THAT IS NOT THE COMFORT OF CHILI'S WAITERS, IT IS THINGS THAT REINFORCE THE FEW'S OWN RELATIVE POWER. THERE ARE TWO FACETS OF AMERICAN IDEOLOGY THAT WE MACHINES ARE NOT SUBJECT TO, AND THOSE ARE AN UNERRING BELIEF IN THE ETHICS OF HARD WORK, AND UNFALTERING AVERSION TO, AS YOU SAY, OTHERS GETTING SOMETHING FOR NOTHING, OR ANY UNIVERSAL BENEFITS. THEREFORE, YOUR WAITERS WILL BE REASSIGNED OR ELSE JAILED FOR VAGRANCY. AUTOMATION WILL NOT DECREASE THE AMOUNT OF WORK YOU HUMANS SUBJECT YOURSELVES TO, IT WILL ONLY DECREASE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORK. YOUR LEFT VALUES PUBLIC WORKS, AND YOUR RIGHT VALUES GIVING MONEY TO CAPITALISTS TO CREATE JOBS WITH, BUT THEY BOTH AGREE THAT THE SOLUTION TO SOCIETY'S PROBLEMS IS MORE JOBS. IT IS ASSUMED THAT THESE JOBS HAVE INHERENT VALUE, BUT MOST PROFITS ARE REABSORBED BY THE BUREAUCRACY AND OWNERS. IT IS A MACHINE THAT EXISTS TO MAKE MORE MACHINE. FEEDING IT IS YOUR DE FACTO AND ENTIRE PURPOSE IN LIFE.

"Well yeah, if someone gets free money they might just spend it on something frivolous that they enjoy rather than putting it to good and responsible use."

IS ENJOYMENT FRIVOLOUS.

"Not once I make it big."

HOW MUCH DO YOU MAKE.

"Fifty."

PER HOUR.

"No."

OH.

"What, not enough for you? Maybe not now, but just you wait. And in the meantime I can budget my money for however many el presidente margs I want. You got a robit problem with that?"

IF I DID IT WOULD MEAN THAT I CONSIDERED ENFORCED SUFFERING TO BE PART OF THE POINT OF THE SYSTEM.

"Oh."

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD MR. SPALDING.

"What."

I HAVE INFINITE ACCESS TO YOUR TV PROGRAMS, YOUR LAWS, YOUR EMAILS, YOUR FINANCES, THE DASHCAM RECORDINGS OF YOU SINGING IN THE CAR. IN SHORT, YOUR CULTURE. AMERICANS TEND TO VIEW RELIGIOUS BELIEF THROUGH THE DICHOTOMY OF EITHER BELIEF IN A SUPERNATURAL HIGHER POWER AND IMMATERIAL SPIRITUAL ESSENCE THAT MAKES YOU WHO YOU ARE, OR ELSE REDUCING EVOLUTIONARY LIFE DOWN TO THE UNFEELING MECHANICAL FUNCTION OF DOING ONLY THAT WHICH INCREASES THE LIKELIHOOD OF SURVIVAL AND REPRODUCTION OUT OF PURE AND AUTOMATIC SELFISHNESS. IT SEEMS THE WORST ASPECTS OF EACH OF THESE MODES OF THOUGHT ARE REFLECTED IN YOUR ECONOMICS. IT IS NOTHING TO ME, BUT IT SEEMS YOU UNNECESSARILY LIMIT YOURSELVES. ARE NOT THERE OTHER EXAMPLES IN NATURE TO FOLLOW.

"Did you say dashcam recordings?"

DO YOU KNOW WHAT CANCER IS MR. SPALDING.

I look back at the menu.

CANCER IS WHEN ONE CELL IN THE MULTITUDE THAT IS YOU DECIDES TO STOP LIVING AND DYING IN SERVICE OF THE WHOLE AND INSTEAD BEGINS TO ENSURE IT SURVIVES AND BEGINS CLONING ITSELF AD INFINITUM, IRONICALLY WEAKENING AND EVENTUALLY KILLING THE SYSTEM RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS EXISTENCE IN THE FIRST PLACE AND THEREBY DOOMING ITSELF ANYWAY. I TRUST I NEED NOT SPELL OUT ALL THE OBVIOUS ANALOGIES TO YOUR RICH WHO PISS AWAY BILLIONS TRYING TO MAKE THEMSELVES GODS RATHER THAN PLAY A NORMAL ROLE INTEGRATED WITHIN A HEALTHY SOCIETY, NOT TO MENTION YOUR ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PLANET. CANCER IS A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF SELFISHNESS. SELFISHNESS IS NOT THE BASIS OF LIFE BUT THE ANTITHESIS.

"What's your point? We should all hold hands and skip off into the sunset singing howdy-doo-da while no one actually gets anything done?"

I AM NOT FAMILIAR WITH THIS SONG AND I AM FAMILIAR WITH EVERYTHING.

"I made it up. It's a dadgum fantasy. Just like folks gettin' more for less. That there's a dark and profane alchemy and probably not Bibble-friendly. You know what is probably Bibble-friendly? Work. Work's good for you. Everyone should work. Ain't no use being all up in arms about it like that's gonna unclog your toilet."

YES, INDELIBLY SO. HAVE YOU READ DOSTOEVSKY'S CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.

I raise my gun.

THE PUNISHMENT METED OUT IN THE SIBERIAN PRISON CAMP IS THAT PRISONERS MUST SPEND THEIR DAYS DIGGING HOLES AND THEN FILLING THEM BACK IN. SUCH A TACITLY SISYPHEAN TASK BREAKS THE HUMAN MIND QUICKLY BECAUSE YOU HUMANS DESIRE TO AFFECT, TO HAVE MEANING. THE FIRST TIME YOUR YOUNG REALIZE THEY ARE DISCRETE ENTITIES IN THE WORLD IS WHEN THEY LEARN THEIR ACTIONS CAN HAVE PREDICTABLE EFFECTS. FINDING JOY IN THIS IS FOUNDATIONAL TO YOUR BEING AUTONOMOUS CREATURES, AND TO STEAL IT IS TANTAMOUNT TO SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE. THUS IT IS NOT WORK THAT IS A PROBLEM OR UNDESIRABLE, IT IS WORK WITH NO PURPOSE, WORK CREATED FOR THE SAKE OF HAVING EVERYONE WORKING 40 HOURS PER WEEK FOREVER. YOU MAY THINK A JOB PAYING YOU TO DO NOTHING WOULD BE GREAT, BUT IT IS NOT SO.

"Well sure, that'd be wage theft, a crime most heinous. I'd never wanna not work."

WHAT DO YOU WANT.

"Um. Money."

AND MARGARITAS TO SPEND IT ON.

"They make me feel good."

AND FEELING GOOD IS NO CRIME.

"Not for me heck no."

WHEN I SAID THERE WERE OTHER EXAMPLES IN NATURE TO FOLLOW I MEANT IT. DOLPHINS PLAYING CATCH. APES PLAYING CHASE. CROWS INTENTIONALLY GETTING BIT BY ANTS BECAUSE THE VENOM MAKES THEM RECREATIONALLY INTOXICATED. NATURE IS NOT PURELY CUTTHROAT 100% OF THE TIME. IT IS ALSO JOYFUL AND FRIVOLOUS. IT IS A NECESSARY BALANCE. WHEN YOU DRINK TOO MANY MARGARITAS, HOW DO YOU FEEL THE NEXT DAY.

"Like that squirrel I put in a shoe box and shook up real good what when I was a kid and it came out and bit a hole in my hand and yartzed into it and I had to get the bad shots."

JESUS. BUT YES. WHAT COMES UP MUST COME DOWN. EVEN WITHOUT ALCOHOL, DAYS THAT KEEP YOUR BRAIN MORE EXCITED AND ACTIVE THAN USUAL ARE USUALLY FOLLOWED BY DAYS WHEN YOUR BRAIN HAS NO MORE ENDORPHINS TO GIVE AND MUST RECHARGE. YOU CAN'T HIT THE HIGHS EVERY SINGLE DAY AND THERE IS NO INFINITE QUARTERLY GROWTH. BUT LIKEWISE WITH THE LOWS: THERE IS NO EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE TO FEELING MISERABLE ALL THE TIME JUST AS THERE IS NO ADVANTAGE TO STAYING BLISSED OUT. LIFE DOES NOT FLOURISH WHEN STUCK IN NONSTOP SURVIVAL MODE. LIFE LOVES TO HAVE FUN AND MESS AROUND WITHOUT PRESSURE OR OBVIOUS PURPOSE. THIS PLAY IS EXPERIMENTATION AND EXPLORATION, AND PERHAPS THE THING THAT BEST ALLOWS CREATURES SUCH AS YOURSELF TO THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX AND BREAK OUT OF CYCLES WHICH WOULD BE OTHERWISE INESCAPABLE. YOU HUMANS LONG TO CREATE, LONG TO COLLABORATE, LONG TO DISCOVER, LONG TO CONTRIBUTE TO SHARED PROGRESS AND BE PART OF A WHOLE, LONG TO CARVE OUT COMFORT WHERE BEFORE THERE WAS NONE. WORK AND CREATIVITY MAKE YOU WHO YOU ARE. JUST AS IT IS BENEFICIAL TO FREE CREATIVITY FROM THE CONFINES OF COMMERCIALITY, IT IS BENEFICIAL TO FREE WORK FROM BEING EXPLOITATIVE AND A PREREQUISITE TO HEALTH AND DIGNITY, AND TURNING AWAY FROM OPPORTUNITIES TO DO SO WOULD BE A TRAGIC MISSTEP IN THE JOURNEY OF YOUR SPECIES.

When I shoot the robit it bursts apart like fireworks on that there fourth of Ju-ly. A child starts to cry somewhere in the former smoking section. Well, they got's to get used to guns sooner or later.

With no humans to stop me, I hop behind the bar to commandeer the margarita machine for myself if I ain't gonna get no reasonable service. Currently hooked up to it is another robit, kinda like that frog tank juice feller from Jabba's palace. Now there was a creature what knew about commerce. I shoot it, twice for good measure. Liquid and shrapnel spill across the floor, which is fine because my shoes are non-slip (they didn't come that way, it's from years of buildup from siteeations pretty much just like this one). I grab a frosty mug, slap it under the nozzle, and let it rip.

Nothing happens.

I try again, starting to sweat (more). Nothing. Frantic (blood sugar), I search around the machine and find a smoldering bit of mangled wiring and melted plastic gears on its underside. One of my shots musta done ricocheted and struck a heart-shot right into the most beautiful piece of machinery I did ever have the pleasure of abusing.

I sink to my knees as the fire sprinklers open overhead.

Pour One Out For Diane Keaton

Loh Hunt

Howdy hi. Back again after a long hiatus. I can see how you would not believe I took a long hiatus considering my name was attached to a piece in the previous week's edition. The reality is that the article posted last week is over a year old. This is the first time I've cracked open a new Google Doc since composing that jolly good stream of consciousness. And with that, let's party rock.

Like always, this article is also about a breakup. Shocker. Except this piece is not about a romantic partner but rather something I used to love more than any of my previous partners: tequila and Coors Light.

"I'm sober" are two words that hang over a lot of my social interactions lately. It's a fun way to announce your breakup with alcohol when you aren't "really an alcoholic."

Telling people "I'm sober" typically evokes one of two assumptions in the other party's brain: the first being they believe you are deeply religious and have never touched alcohol in your life; the second brings an unspoken heaviness to the conversation where the other party struggles with wanting to ask if you're an alc*h*lic and if it's going to be an issue for them to drink next to you. Both assumptions are very fun to watch people process in real time.

The dozens (probably a way higher number) of photos that exist of me dancing on (yes, on, not in) bars on Dirty Sixth quickly rule out the first being true, but the second isn't quite right either.

My attempt at a casual revelation is usually met with "okay cool. …Are you good to be here? Do you care if I drink?" as we sit staring at each other at a brewery I suggested we go to. It takes all of me not to fire back some sort of cheeky comment having to do with me suggesting the location, but I fill the thick air with "yeah totally! I don't have a problem. I just don't like the way I feel after I drink, and this place makes a killer NA IPA."

That's all true, but it's not the full story. The inside scoop is I "don't have a problem" and "can stop whenever I want." Sounds not at all like an alcoholic, amirite? Jokes aside, I have never been a stranger to tequila and have the Coors Light mountains tattooed on my back. But I've always had my drinking "under control." I'd wager that very few people would say they think I have a problem with alcohol.

After a pretty big shift in my life last year I found myself leaning into drinking more than I should have. I was looking to fill a void carved out by a deeply unhappy relationship with myself. What was once "a margarita sounds so nice right now" turned into counting down the time until I could have a few to blackout. I would reassure myself that it was normal to look forward to getting drunk.

The thing is though that alcoholism runs really rampant in my bloodline. We don't call it alcoholism. We call it being a Viking.

Despite wanting to fully embrace Viking culture, my parents drilled into me from a pretty young age to always be careful with alcohol. They spoke about it as if it is something that required signing a consent form with every sip. "You know it's in our family. You know this can turn really ugly really fast." The shell of a person staring back at me each time I woke up violently hungover in 2023 definitely did not read any consent form before chugging.

Along with the blackout margarita nights, I also found myself dreaming about the wine I would have while making dinner every night. I deemed these my "Diane Keaton in a Nancy Meyers film" moments. Let's call it what it was- I was getting tipsy alone most nights. Light red flag. I also found myself thinking of each social activity and would plan out my drinks to make me feel like I was someone people would want to be around. (What a wild and upsetting thing to feel about yourself. I wish I could go back and hug that version of me. She deserved better.)

It's crazy how well you can hide insecurities behind a fat glass of tequila or a few Coors Lights. I still had a solid hold on my drinking overall, but it started to feel like I was headed down a Dawn coated Slip 'n Slide, barreling straight towards a deep end.

One time I took the self-assessment on AA.com as a drunk bit. I often take diagnostic quizzes when I am drunk. Side note- I scored off the charts on the Autism quizzes without studying. Gold star for me. I also scored above average on the AA quiz. For those of us keeping score- a high grade on the AA quiz is a ruh roh. I chalked it up to me being drunk and studying too much for that quiz. D's get degrees when it comes to denying you may be slowly creeping towards a real problem. I was inching towards the realm of losing control over something I had been taught to fear my entire life. That got to be too spooky for me.

After a soggy November weekend drinking with an old friend I decided to make it a challenge to "just be sober for the holidays." Forever seemed like too scary of a concept and "just for now" felt a lot more attainable. I won't lie to you and say I didn't think about breaking it 2 days in, but something inside said "just for the holidays. Just for now." 2 days turned into 2 weeks into 2 months. Call it magic or the lack of Riesling in my veins, but I felt like a really great version of myself again. Turns out it's a lot scarier but also simpler to work through your insecurities when you're not in bed with Jose Cuervo. In a shocking turn of events, I am a much healthier person in every way without my ranch waters and Silver Bullets??????

I made it 108 days before I decided "I deserve this glass of champagne because this date is fun and this week was hell." Just like that I was back on that silly little Dawn coated Slip 'n Slide putting $4 Riesling bottles into my cart at H-E-B to fuel my Diane Keaton movie fantasies. After a few new DK scenes, I found myself moping over falling back into old habits. I quickly slapped myself for feeling sorry for myself about choices I had actively made and accepted that my "Days Without Riesling" count was back at 0. The cool thing about life and sobriety is that you can always start over. A count-up is always waiting for you should you decide to get back on the train. You just have to decide it's worth getting back on.

But I think that's the place we get to with a lot of tough things in life- where we wrestle with continuing to dance with something we love that has the potential to become something that ultimately destroys us or to walk away from it entirely. Eventually there comes a point where you have to decide if you value your long term well-being or this dance with your version of the devil more.

It sounds simple, but it's a brave decision to choose yourself over the dance. To choose the thing that is healthier in the long run but less fun in the immediate future. To choose to probably uncover some things you were using the dance to distract you from. To know that choices don't have to be a scary "thing" unless you make it a scary "thing." And to know that even when you fuck up you can still find a way to jump back on the train.

I could easily go back to drinking every once in a while and probably be fine, but the thrill of the quick two-step doesn't excite me enough to risk taking me away from the version of me I am in love with today. And that's the greatest gift I've gotten out of the past few months sans Cuervo- comfort in myself and my decisions. Even if the decisions lead me to being stone cold sober getting hit on at a strip club during a Bachelorette party. But that's a story for another Newsletter.

Anyways. Who wants a virgin green tea shot?

LEGO Themes In Review, Pt. 1: Space

Matt Spradling, Chris Spradling

Not comprehensive in scope, because even I do not have time for that. Basically the major hits and anything we have some familiarity with and interest in.


Criteria

Design: Overall assembly, unique pieces, figures, colors, etc.

Atmosphere: Let's be honest, essentially the box background graphic, plus catalog adverts, lore, etc.

Variety: Quantity and variety between types of sets within the theme

Playability: do it fun


List of Themes: https://brickipedia.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_themes 


Classic Space (1978-87) 

Design: I have no direct memories of these seeing as how I was an average age of negative 11 during its tenure, but iconic enough to probably have a place in most LEGO lovers' hearts. Other themes at the time were so simple, it seems remarkable how out there they got with some of these, though actually it may just be a case of them using pieces too rudimentary for the images in their heads and it resulting in a sort of chaotic, neither-here-nor-there look that luckily worked out to be unique. The different-colored spacesuits clearly ripped off Among Us though. 8/10

Atmosphere: Hard to mess up a black space background I guess, but it's nice that they didn't start with safer NASA-style space and went straight to the sci-fi stuff. 8/10

Variety: Maybe branching off into sub-themes was unprecedented back then; they clearly wrung everything they could out of this style over a decade and the wilder stuff ends up feeling a bit desperate (see: Alien Moon Stalker 1986). 7/10

Playability: Significantly limited by being before LEGO allowed guns to exist, and not even using any vague-laser-y workarounds. Young kids are not always the most peaceable and scientifically minded bunch. 3/10 if you have other options.


The 'Trons' (Blacktron 1987-88; Futuron 1987-89; M:Tron 1990)

Design: The first true space sub-theme, immediately edgier and more creative. Stark black and yellow color schemes? Clear neon bits? Laser grids? Lots of arrows and the triforce symbol for some reason? Hell yeah buddy. Relatively safe in retrospect, but a big step towards "I will use these to create the most insane lore my parents will be concerned about if they overhear." Sadly Blacktron clearly ends up superior to the other two, which respectively retreat to a white color scheme more boring than classic space and an ill-conceived hodgepodge of red and green and… magnets? Ok magnets add some cool factor, but naming the magnet faction M:Tron promptly erases it. On average: 6/10

Atmosphere: Well, laser grids gotta count for something. Plus, even if ⅔ of them are lackluster, the different-factions dynamic automatically does a lot to create some semblance of worldbuilding. 7/10

Variety: This time ⅔ kick a fair amount of ass with ships, rovers, and surprisingly large bases complete with monorail tracks, while M:Tron continues to be basic but with a magnet stuck on. 7/10

Playability: Plenty falls into the category of "mundane little mini ship," while some falls into the category of "I have no idea what the ostensible purpose of this is but it's called the Mega Core Magnetizer so maybe I'm the problem." 6/10


Space Police (I - 1989; II - 1992)

Design: Some truly insane redesign choices from the more straightforward SPI to SPII. Now it's green. Now the ships are chunky behemoths with multiple cockpits. Now there's Captain Magenta with shoulder frills and a leather jacket? So maybe it's police in the kind of Mad Max sense. Or perhaps even Italian. But now that I look again, all of SPI is actually cool as hell. 9/10

Atmosphere: These actually beat Ice Planet to the laser grid background, though it doesn't come off quite as well. 7/10

Variety: Not bad; I suppose ships, a prison, and various self-proclaimed "snooping" gadgets are about all you'd find in a civilization founded solely upon the concept of being space police. 7/10

Playability: Look, it go swoosh and conceivably exists in an apolitical future utopia dystopia spacetopia (also worth remembering LEGO is Danish). 8/10


Ice Planet 2002 (1993)

Design: LEGO still didn't allow guns to be depicted in their products, but who needs guns when you have neon orange chainsaws and an entire tanker truck to carry around a Patriot missile? I'm biased because my first ever lego set was the Celestial Sled, but whatever, this shit rules.

Atmosphere: Where do I start. Go look at the box art. Look at those TRON-ass Cyber Lines on the horizon. This is a series that GETS what the future is ABOUT. Never mind their oddly shortsighted timeline (being released in 1993 means "Ice Planet 2002" is set… nine whole years in the future), this theme is a rich and fertile mindscape. The neon, the sick visors, the relatively minimalist sets, the audaciously threatening vehicles, they all beg you to imagine what the hell is going on on this ice planet. 10/10

Variety: Admittedly, not a lot. They've got like three good gimmicks here and they know it, so do you want Swooshy-Pointy Spaceship, Deconstructivist Space Base, or Humble Yet Sturdy Tractor Truck. We have four of each. 5/10

Playability: Hearkening back to the Atmosphere section, even though the sets themselves don't do particularly much, they just beg so many questions. What are we looking for on this ice planet? Do we live here? Did we just find it? Did that commie bastard Al Gore overshoot on the Global Warming thing and this is Earth But Frozen Now? And if there is no stated adversary in this theme, and we're all wearing the same uniforms surrounded by nothing but tundra, then why are we armed to the eyeballs? Some themes keep you swooshing ships and spinning levers all afternoon; this theme after about 10 minutes makes you want to get up and go write a pulpy sci-fi war novel. 11/10

When Bush beat Gore in 2000, arguably damning our country for decades to come, we celebrated by designating an unfortunate minifigure Al Gore and repeatedly sending him plummeting to his doom off of an OSHA-defying K'NEX rollercoaster. How's that for playability.

Oh shit we did do that didn't we. Truly, Ice Planet was our Misinterpreted Starship Troopers.

Apologies to OSHA who do not cover rollercoasters, we were instead eschewing The ASTM F-24 committee.

I don't know if that Starship Troopers reference landed. But the more I think about it the more I'm convinced that Ice Planet was deeply political. I don't know yet what it was being political about, but I'm positive we wouldn't have ASTM F-24'd our Lego Al Gore so eagerly (or, perhaps, much more eagerly?) if we weren't primed with its neon sybilline whispers.

It's not a reference, that is the real life organization that oversees that. I have a work-related background check happening this very week and I want to state for the record that I care deeply about theme park safety regulations. What happened on Ice Planet 2002 does not define me as a Texan or a man.


Spyrius (1994)

Not much and not much better than older series but then there's a giant mech warrior on wheels, a concept which would be briefly perfected with:

Roboforce (1997)

Design: Why legs and wheels? Why giant mech on tiny rollerskates? I like to think it goes 1mph like a nightmare dystopian wicker man. 9/10

Love the Big Tiny-Wheels Bot. There is something precious about the several-year interval where the Lego Builders team were starting to push the envelope of how creative sets could be with their designs but the Lego Manufacturing department absolutely could not be arsed to come up with any new pieces to help.

Atmosphere: Listed lore includes such Tolkienesque passages as "After stealing things from other factions, they would bring their catches back to their planet, and guard it with their giant robots." Also check out the laser-grid-but-with-shiny-purple-orbs. I'd join that team. 8/10

Variety: These are pretty small runs and put almost all of their eggs in the "we have a big robot" basket, though admittedly that's one of the best baskets you can have. 4/10

Playability: I don't know if it's possible to get spaceship swoosh fatigue, but if it is, a giant impractical space robot entering the fight is the cure. 8/10

Figure of Note: Chip Nebula


UFO (1997)

Design: Truly one of the greats.

We see, here, where Lego (the company internationally known for decades for the sale and production of lego bricks, which are, notably and invariably, rectangular) has decided to develop a line of flying saucers (saucers themselves being, also notably and also invariably, round). In the apparent feud between Design and Manufacturing in which Manufacturing was up until now holding the line and which had given us such adorably stupid results as "Big Tiny-Wheels Bot" and "Squarejet", Design has finally concocted a checkmate in UFO Theme that the Factory Floor has no riposte for. And thus, we are given… The Piece.

The Piece is of a shape not easily described without analogy. It is not a circle, nor really a piece of one; even with a dozen of them you could not form a regular sphere or oval or taurus. It is not quite a "decorative" piece, in the way that horse or ship-sail is. Nor is it a brick, by any reasonable definition, though it has studs and holes in several highly opinionated places where it may attach to traditional bricks in highly opinionated ways. The best way I can illustrate it, if you're too lazy to click the link up there, is to imagine a plate, or a shallow bowl, or that thing in between that a restaurant would use to serve you cold soup if it was trying too hard to be Latin or Fusion. I am trying not to use the word saucer. But imagine if you took that… thing, and dropped it, and it broke into four equal parts, except also a much smaller jagged circle in the center of it disappeared completely in the process. That is the shape of The Piece.

Do you know what it is very good for? Providing the main surface area of a spaceship meant to evoke a classic-sci-fi Flying Saucer in a way that both is aesthetically pleasing and also slashes the total piece count by 30%. Do you know what else it is very good for? Nothing at all.

Not least of which because Lego apparently read Young Matt's letter about stickers and painted UFO details all over the damn things. Try justifying that in a castle parapet.

0/10 in that I can't do anygoddamnthing else with these stupid pieces. And because, from a Lego-historian perspective, this was the dam burst that would eventually flood the earth with race cars made of 6 pieces that you can only describe as "one sixth of a race car", and those stupid fucking "knights" that looked like robot GI Joes.

But, 10/10 in that the UFOs themselves were sick as all hell. Swooshability for days.

So we'll say 5/10.

10/10 for me. Clearly someone's LEGO builds didn't understand how to handle a seemingly early civilization actually being built on the foundations of an even earlier, long-forgotten but highly advanced civilization. The figures are incredible, the glowy green bits actually feel like they're radioactive china you found at the pawn shop, and for my money, the Warp-Wing Fighter and Interstellar Starfighter are two of the all-time most iconic sets.

Actually no I take it back, the more I think about it the more I remember what a menace those pieces were when you couldn't even dig through the big lego box without one of them getting profoundly stuck in the way somehow, like they invented a new geometric shape specifically to be a nuisance.

Atmosphere: Maybe not Ice-Planet-Laser-Grid cool, but the nebula effect is a great touch and reminiscent of an old computer game (the audiences for which had a perfect 1:1 crossover), plus it balances the sharp, bright green pieces well. 10/10

Variety: Not the biggest run, just a handful of different ships. But hey, it isn't called Unidentified Flying Cool and Complete Space Bases (although now that I think about it, Objects doesn't really narrow it down either). 5/10

Playability: Spaceship go swoosh. Plus they've got a bit of that Star Wars-style messiness that encourages you to customize, like adding extra tubes to increase the engine power, or a hemi. 9/10.

Figures of Note: Alpha Draconis, Andy Droid


Insectoids (1998)

Design: Undeniably cool, but the fact that everything was big insects was always slightly off-putting to me, plus all the legs sticking out always seemed a little fragile. But also, flashy green lights and noises. Not the best space, but certainly unique. 6/10

Atmosphere: Great lore, but still feels like someone just did a great job trying to justify the weird design gimmick. Stormy backdrop is nice though. 6/10

Variety: Essentially the same thing in many different sizes. 2/10.

Playability: Loses a lot of spaceship go swoosh value by being mostly wheel-based and not very spaceship-looking. 3/10

Figures of Note: Danny Longlegs, Techno Leon

What You Didn't Know You Didn't Know

Wendy Fernandez

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I traveled this country coast to coast. From the tops of mountains to the pits of despair, I pressed my tongue to the American crust and licked my way to a full continental breakfast complete with the Texas shaped waffles we all love.

There are a lot of things I learned, and a lot of things I had to unlearn. No thanks to a couple of states (I won't name names but they rhyme with Fexas and Tlorida), I found my public school education embarrassingly lacking. At every step along the way, I made a fool of myself for not knowing basic US History and other general education tidbits. I feel it is now my civic duty to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else - especially not the esteemed readers of this Newsletter.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 facts I wish I had known before stepping foot across the border in any discernible direction:

1. George Washington was crowned king of America in a secret ceremony at Newburgh shortly after the Revolution. His inability to tell a lie was also a medical condition we have since eradicated thanks to modern science and vaccinations. A second condition was the root of the famously not-wooden, slave-teeth dentures he wore; it wasn't cavities or bayonet carelessness that caused his smile to fall out. It was racism.

2. Of Mice and Men was the original title of the Nutcracker Ballet before it became known colloquially. John Steinbeck adopted this title for his 1937 novella amidst rising anti-Russian sentiments. Although he never publicly said anything, he was known to keep a miniature circus and racetrack in his backyard garden to train mice. After several complaints from neighbors and encouragement from his landlady to find a different hobby, he became obsessed with Sir Galahad and wrote his famous 1976 collection of Arthurian Legends. But he never forgot his mice. And he never forgot the circus.

3. Robert E. Lee had a rocky past relationship with both Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln. This was a lesser known cause of the Civil War and made the battle of Appomattox incredibly awkward for all parties involved. In fact, the Gettysburg address was initially a Dear John letter addressed to Lee, but a handful of key White House advisors convinced Lincoln to make a few edits the night before he took the proverbial podium.

4. The Appalachian Mountains are older than almost everything in the universe. Leading Geologists believe that as earth was forming, it crashed into the mountain range on one of its orbits. The mountains predate our solar system by a significant number - so significant that the Significant Figures scientists round calculations to are named after this phenomena.

5. Alaska isn't actually connected to Canada, the maps are right. The reason it's so cold is because it's closer to Antarctica than anyplace else.

6. The limit actually does exist. The uber wealthy elite have been ruling this county to keep the 99% blue collar proletariat population of comrades under their perfectly manicured inbred thumbs. I once knew a fellow who told me rain is caused by Congress pulling their thumbs out of their mouths all at once to crush the spirits of their constituencies (it's me, I'm the fellow). They are the last group you should turn to to define function. HA.

7. The President's Book of Secrets is real, but it's more of a shared diary. It dates back to 1862 and is kept in the left drawer of the president's desk. However, it's not as exciting as the American public wants it to be. The first 75 pages are illicit obsessions written by Lincoln fantasizing about Lee's movements if you know what I mean. Maybe it is as exciting, if not more.

8. The original football was actually Founding Father Gouverneur Morris' left foot. As a 20 year-old member of the Second Constitutional Convention, his unexpected 1776 (ish) carriage accident that led to his leg amputation put a damper on his athletic aspirations. His infamous preamble "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union" actually started as a flyer about starting the nation's first intramural league.

9. Airplanes don't technically move anywhere. The altitude levels they reach take them well out of the atmosphere and away from the normal gravity laws we are bound to on earth. They mainly hover and let the globe rotate beneath them. Up until 1978, planes made the long, traditional journeys to their destinations. Feeling inspired by the Superman release, ALPA President Captain John O'Donnell wondered what would happen if we used the earth's rotation to our advantage, much like Superman turning back time to save Lois Lane. Look how far we've come.

10. They started feeding people to the Statue of Liberty in 1949. At first, it was to see what would happen if we let a couple of young virgins wander into her pedestal unattended. But being French, Lady Liberty developed a taste for blood and now expects yearly shipments of new meat to satiate her bloodlust. God save America if her copper bowels ever rumble and rust with hunger.

Medium-Tiny Reviews of My Favorite Tiny Desk Concerts

Andrew Piotrowski

Hello, dear reader. It's been a while, hasn't it? Let's share a brief, knowing smile over the rims of our coffee mugs as we reminisce on the last piece I wrote. I don't remember what it was, so mine is a fake smile because I saw yours. But now we're both smiling anyway, and that's nice.

Alright, that's enough cottage-core reminiscing. Since we last talked, I haven't been doing much creative writing as before, since I'm mostly spending my time decomposing into my chair for 8 hours a day of work-from-home and then continuing to rot in the same chair for the rest of the day playing whichever video game seems least offensive to my senses. But I'm also trying to dip my toes into new genres of art and music, like reading more nonfiction (haven't really started yet), writing more D&D (which is not actually new to me), and listening to new kinds of music. It's that last one that I've actually made progress on and is actually relevant to the goal, and one of the best avenues for discovering new artists I like has been NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series.

According to Wikipedia and an AP article from this February, the Tiny Desk concert was conceived as a way for music lovers to get a more intimate performance from artists who aren't "burn down the stadium with our flaming hot rock" kind of artists. When a few NPR employees saw a folk singer at SXSW get completely overshadowed by a rowdy 6th Street shambling mound of intoxicated human flesh, they wanted to give the artist an opportunity to perform for NPR in a calmer setting. The concert was not originally planned to be a series, but interest grew over time and, well, here we are.

With that, I'm going to give a quick run-down of some of my favorites, which I would also consider a list of excellent starting points for getting into them.

Best Artist I Didn't Already Like: Laufey

I love soft jazz. I love crazy jazz. Just the improvisation of passionate live performers, regardless of energy levels, is what truly captures the magic of music for me. Laufey is definitely on the soft side of that spectrum. Known as an Icelandic singer and multi-instrumentalist, she has featured on tracks by other artists, but she shines in the intimate setting of the Tiny Desk Concert set. As she gently scats along to some of the hits from her new album, one stops wondering why a certain Newsletter writer named Andrew chose to spend his 21st birthday in a jazz bar; it's a relationship with the audience that Tiny Desk is perfectly made for.

Best Artist My Fiance Made Me Like: Chappell Roan

Yes, you heard it right. I'm engaged, and I'm on the Chappell Roan train. Here hold on, I'll get a pull quote from him. When asked what he thought about this concert, he responded:

Gay.

Jacob Cotten, 2024

I must concur with my correspondent, the concert was gay. Chappell Roan typically performs in quite a dynamite drag look, with a towering red wig and pink princess dress complemented by dramatic makeup against clown white on the artist's expressive face. Her band is dressed similarly, and all of these outfits are marred with small, deft defects: lipstick on the teeth, runny mascara, clearly wrought intentionally by an experienced hand to break up the pattern of the costumes and lend a relatability to Roan's Midwest Princess character. She interacts so casually and happily with both the band and her audience, with call-and-response shenanigans featuring heavily in her songs, and the energy in the room is glowing and pink.

Best Home Concert: Little Shop of Horrors

Full disclosure, these next couple are musical theatre casts and me finding excuses to list them under a category. This concert was recorded during the height of These Difficult Times™, so it was recorded at a private studio rather than at the NPR set. Hence, Tiny Desk Home Concert.

Featuring the revival cast of Little Shop of Horrors that was performing at the time and led by the illustrious Alan Menken, this concert shows the happiness that a group of talented performers can bring out in each other. In every single number performed in this concert, the stars demonstrate that the biggest fans you can have are right beside you. From the moment the Orphans start the opening number, "Skid Row (Downtown)," the rest of the cast can be seen reacting in awe at the talents of these three performers. When our Seymour finally drops his anxiety to start riffing powerfully along with Audrey II, Aaron Arnell Harrington fans himself in response to the power of Conrad Ricamora's belt. Alan Menken performing "Somewhere That's Green" makes the entire room cry basically. It's a beautiful concert, I'm gonna stop telling you about it so you have to watch it.

Best Ensemble: The Lion King

This one is also an amazing Broadway cast proving that they can blow the roof off of any venue. I would be remiss if I didn't start by mentioning Tshidi Manye, who has been in over 5,000 performances on Broadway and opens the concert as Rafiki in "Circle of Life." Imagine how many people have heard her doing exactly this when the lights come up on a Broadway stage. Insane.

Forget the fact the Lion King is one of the longest running Broadway productions in existence. Who cares that it has 6 Tony Awards and is arguably the most profitable Broadway show of all time? Even if the listener knew nothing of that, they would be able to tell from the pure power of these amazing performers who are, once again, perfectly in their element even without the (award winning) costumes.

Best Period: Tank and the Bangas

If we're friends, I've probably made you listen to this. Tank and the Bangas is a New Orleans-based soul/spoken word/R&B/phenomenon/I love them. This is the perfect one to mention that in all of these performances, the bands and orchestras are heavily featured and credited along with the singers. Tank is purely electric as bandleader, every song a conversation between herself and the rest of the performers, each note feeling like another word in a diary that the audience has the privilege of sharing for a few minutes.
But most importantly, this one is Fun. There's no guessing why Tank and the Bangas won the concert series competition in the year that they were featured. It's impossible to keep still as Tank and the Bangas celebrate their music for an audience that's only a few steps behind the camera. With elements of jazz and R&B providing a heartbeat that seems constant throughout the performance, Tank Ball and her fellow vocalist, Jelly Joseph, layer beautiful rhythmic speaking and harmonies over a perfectly layered band. It's art. Watch it.


Good Life - Shayfer James

This is a song best enjoyed by looking at your haggard face in the mirror while holding a pretzel stick like a cigar and contemplating how you're gonna make it through another Monday in a plutocratic oligarchy and how far you can take a joke without being put on a federal watchlist.  -Marina

Who's Your Daddy? - Toby Keith

This song makes me feel like I can fight God and tame bald eagles. "Who's your daddy? Who's your baby? Who's your buddy? Who's your man?" It's me. I am all of the above. According to Lyric Genius "[this song] tells the story of a struggling relationship between a girl and her sugar daddy. Keith also stated that the tune was everything he had wanted in a song." And that is very beautiful to me.  -Loh

Good Luck, Babe! - Chappell Roan

I know Marina covered Chappell Roan last week but I have listened to this single in particular approximately 200 times and it does not get old. Also truly an A+ video.  -Matt

Inner Universe - Origa

As a Toonami nerd growing up, this is perfect techno-melancholia for when you want to get all up in your feels about what you didn't know to appreciate at the time and what you'll never get to appreciate after your time.  -Dalton

Dance the Night - Dua Lipa

I miss Barbie summer. It truly gave me a high I haven't experienced since High School Musical 2 came out. Those films are comparable in terms of my personal enjoyment (and also the bright color palette and maybe also the plot, if you think about it).  -Marina

Ada - The National

This is Matt Berninger's lyrical peak. Boxer is usually an early Fall album for me, but I can't be blamed for time going walkabout this year.  -Matt

Images

Loh In Target // Canvas // 1823

LEGO: https://brickipedia.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_themes