Thursday, April 30, 2020

Day 46, Quasi-Quarantine: "Fleishman Is In Trouble" Blends Existential Dread With Online Dating

"There was no other layer. There was no yearning. There was nothing beyond it. 'It's not New Jersey,' Adam said. 'It's life. It's being in your forties. We're parents now. We've said all we needed to say.' I began to cry. He patted my head and said, 'It's okay, it's okay. It's the order of things. Now we focus on the kids. We mellow with age. It's how it goes. It's not our turn anymore.'"

Early in isolation, I worked my way through Taffy Brodesser-Akner's "Fleishman Is in Trouble," which was highly recommended by The New Yorker. Fleishman is navigating a divorce, learning what dating looks like approaching the third decade of the 2000s ("These were women who would not so much wait for you to call them one or two or three socially acceptable days after you met them as much as send you pictures of their genitals the day before."), succumbing to work politics, and struggling to connect with his children.

"Toby hadn't dreamed of great and transcendent things for his marriage. He had parents. He wasn't an idiot. He just wanted regular, silly things in life, life stability and emotional support and a low-grade contentedness."

The book is undeniably hilarious, but in a terrifying, on-the-nose, too-close-to-home kinda way. New York City also serves as an overarching character, lending the story grit, cynicism, and personality.

Fleishman wrestles with familiar questions: How do you protect your identity in a marriage and family? How do you find value in your career without playing social-political games? How do you build and protect important friendships as an adult? "How miserable is too miserable?"

"And in our laughter we heard our youth, and it is not not a dangerous thing to be at the doorstep to middle age and at an impasse in your life and to suddenly be hearing sounds from your youth." 

"It's crazy that the friends you're fondest of from your youth sometimes resemble people you would cross the street to avoid as an adult."

I encountered a few issues with the jarring first-person perspective at certain points, and the hops in both time and viewpoint could be disorienting. The first part of the novel ended on a massive and yet still-confusing reveal, which served as a bit of a red flag that the book simply going to go anywhere revelatory.

There is also an unearned rejection of love and affection toward the latter part of the book, and to me, the plot accelerates toward deterioration at that point. I actually found the book massively exhausting toward the end.

I found myself rooting for the titular character despite all the warnings from the author that this was a person incapable of self-examination. The roadblocks -- some of which felt forced -- thrown up on his journey almost turned him into a modern-day Odysseus.

All in all, "Fleishman Is in Trouble" was a worthwhile, sardonic read, with some touching moments sprinkled in. The book had a few too many unmerited contradictions in it for my liking, but it's a valid snapshot of married life in the troubled times we find ourselves in.

"You could just be sincere and earnest and find yourself there--maybe not meteorically, but you could find yourself there. You don't have to kneecap anyone else. You don't have to eat your young. You can just quietly do good work. The system still favors good work."

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Day 45, Quasi-Quarantine: Putting The "Meh" In Miami With Second-Day Draft Effort

After a first-day marked by projections and risk management, Miami continued that trend with its second- and third-round picks. The Dolphins selected right guard/tackle Robert Hunt out of Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 39 overall) and defensive tackle Raekwon Davis out of Alabama (No. 56 overall) in the second round, then landed Texas safety Brandon Jones (No. 70 overall) with its third-round pick on Day 2.

The pluses: Hunt was rated the No. 1 guard in the draft by Dane Brugler of The Athletic, with Brugler assigning him a grade in the 2nd-3rd round. Hunt is massive (6-5, 323 pounds), leading some to project him to right tackle, and is widely described as having good feet and a nasty streak. With Miami's offensive line being in shambles for a decade-plus, Hunt could be a plug-and-play option on the right side, and his positional flexibility is a bonus as the Dolphins shuffle to get the top five linemen on the field.

Davis was No. 8 among Brugler's defensive linemen (and No. 73 on his top-100 list), again with a grade in the 2nd-3rd round. Another interior behemoth (6-6, 311), Davis is well-established as a run defender and comes from one of the nation's top college programs. The Miami defensive scheme relies on tackles controlling blockers and gaps in the middle of the line, and he should be able to fill that role relatively quickly.

Ranked No. 8 among safeties by Brugler, Jones was assigned a grade in the 3rd-4th round. His report noted his good burst and range, describing him as a solid hitter who diagnoses plays quickly. Jones is flexible and fast enough to play nickel at times, and he's a tough leader with special-teams experience.

The negativesHunt is a well-thought-of prospect, but it's still worth noting that he was listed at No. 61 on Brugler's Top 100 draft board, so he was another reach at No. 39. Scouts noted that he needs a lot of technique development, especially in pass protection, and he lacks the arm length usually preferred in tackles. Hunt will be 24 when he plays his first NFL game, and he missed 7 games as a senior and had surgery after the season. The small-school product also couldn't play in the Senior Bowl due to injury, robbing scouts of the chance to see him play against top-quality competition.

Despite Davis's pedigree, his motor, maturity, refinement, and explosiveness were all questioned by scouts. He tailed off after a standout sophomore year and even got shot outside a bar at one point. This one felt like a Jordan Phillips-ish pick, and there were a number of more established and productive players still on the board at this point -- especially at a position where Miami has allocated a lot of resources already.

Jones was not listed in the top 100 for Brugler, and he was widely considered the biggest reach in the draft by the 'Fins. His size (5-11, 198), ball skills, injury history, and propensity to take bad angles were all cited by scouts. The Dolphins are remaking their secondary and prize flexibility, but in the context of who was still available, this pick led to the most head-scratching among those in draft circles.

The bottom lineI have no major issues with the Hunt choice, but Davis felt like a risky, luxury selection and the Jones pick felt like the 'Fins breaking their own positional size standards. After six picks, Miami still hadn't taken an edge rusher, which feels less like letting the board come to you and more like a massive oversight.

With two days of drafting in the books, it was clear that the Dolphins were betting on their coaching staff, which has been tried before -- to disastrous results. While there are some clear upgrades in the fold, it was hard to shake the feeling that Miami had done a little with a lot after the first three rounds of choices.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Day 44, Quasi-Quarantine: Building the Lego Y-Wing Fighter

The Y-Wing Starfighter has always been one of my favorite "Star Wars" spaceships, so when I saw this set dramatically marked down, I had to pounce for additional quasi-quarantine entertainment.

This 578-piece set has some unique aspects. This version of the Y-Wing (referred to as a "wishbone" in the description, but I've never heard it called that) has a new color scheme based on its "Rise of the Resistance" appearance. 

The spring-loaded shooters are great and the folding landing gear and clever cockpit area are cool, but the big bonus (at least in my household) are the trio of bombs you can drop via a nifty gear-wheel mechanism. The build also comes with a nice haul of five minifigures: Poe Dameron, Zorii Bliss, and a First Order Snowtrooper, plus two droids -- D-O and a vividly colored green astromech.

We've already been combining this set with the previously discussed AT-ST Raider, creating battle scenes using Play-Doh, rocks, and a cooking tin (don't ask).

Suffice to say that the Y-Wing Starfighter has been a welcome addition to a household universe that no longer features rules in the traditional sense.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Day 43, Quasi-Quarantine: The Dolphins Play The Long Game With First-Day Draft Results

With sports disappearing during isolation, the NFL Draft represented an opportunity to see some semblance of a live event. In addition, Miami had three first-round picks, making this an even more intense viewing experience. General manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores went through a lot of pain a year ago to put themselves in this position, so they were understandably elated to start reaping some of the rewards of that suffering.

The Dolphins hope they got their quarterback of the future in talented-but-injured Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick, then gave him some protection in offensive tackle Austin Jackson (No. 18). Cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was the 'Fins final first-rounder at No. 30.

The pluses: Landing Tua by staying point offered good value for Miami, especially considering how long the team had been linked to the lefty. Some analysts feel that the 20-year-old Jackson has the athleticism and ceiling to become a stalwart left tackle, while Igbinoghene also has the physical makeup to be an ideal fit in a Flores defense. The Dolphins also prized big-name programs (Alabama, USC, and Auburn) early on, which is worth mentioning for a franchise that has been burned by small-school standouts in recent years. It's also noteworthy that trading back from No. 26 to No. 30 netted the 'Fins an extra fourth-rounder.

The negatives: Tua has a medical file that makes you want to dry heave, Jackson is raw and was manhandled by top prospects, and Igbinoghene was a wide receiver a couple of seasons ago. These are some of the reasons why Jackson and Igbinoghene were both seen as either slight or dramatic reaches at their respective spots. And look, amid all the talk about potential, there's a reasonable chance that Miami didn't land a Day 1 starter with three first-round picks. I mean, it's legit almost difficult to come up with a trio of first-rounders without feeling like at least one is a sure-fire starter from the  jump.

The bottom line: There is no doubt that Tua brings a huge element of risk, especially with the reports that multiple teams had taken him off their draft boards entirely. However, this was a move that Miami needed to make, and the franchise has enough draft capital in coming years to rectify the position even if Tua doesn't pan out. Bringing him into the fold bought the Dolphins some hard-earned leeway from the fanbase, but Jackson and Igbinoghene are pure projection picks at this point. With so many proven and productive prospects available at those spots, there are legitimate questions about these selections, which brought most of the post-draft ratings down quite a bit. 

If Tua becomes what Miami thinks he could become, all is forgiven -- if he succumbs to his injury history and the other two first-rounders fail to meet the team's scouting projections, both Grier and Flores will pay with their jobs.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Limerick Friday #463: Hint Of Football Offsets General Malaise, Day 40

Mouth-breathers abound
Sounding the alarm sound
Uneducated hillbillies
Protesting at Chili's
Logic nowhere to be found

From Romania to east Tennessee
Ignorance mixed with ennui
Sanity and false pride fought
Every jackass with a thought
And a fake epidemiology degree

An odd celebration
With no concrete cessation
Swept up by kids glee
It's about them and not me
A birthday in isolation

A bizarre NFL Draft
Trey Wingo erred and gaffed
The 'Fins finally had luck
Can Tua help them not suck?
And give Miami a life raft

40 days of play
And we're gonna be OK
40 nights of quiet
And no one's gonna riot
We can do this until a new day

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Day 39, Quasi-Quarantine: Piecing Together The Beer

After tackling the Millennium Falcon, we moved on to this beer puzzle. Another 1,000-piece effort, this one was slightly easier. In fact, the most difficult part was wondering why beers like Labatt Ice were included alongside iconic brews from around the world.

7/10, would solve during a quasi-quarantine again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Day 38, Quasi-Quarantine, Sounds Of Social Distancing: Fontaines D.C.

My quasi-quarantine anthem has been "Liberty Belle," a frantic ode to Dublin neighborhood by Irish post-punkers Fontaines D.C. When things are lagging at the house, this five-man band -- comprised of various first and last names such as Conor, Coll, Curley, O'Connell, Carlos, and Conor (again) -- gets things moving in a big way.

"Liberty Belle" is the headliner of their debut studio album, "Dogrel." Other standouts include "Too Real," "Roy's Tune," "Hurricane Laughter," and "Boys in the Better Land," but the haunting "Dublin City Sky" points to this band's ability to change speeds and divert from exclusive thrash.

The musicians consider themselves poets first and foremost, and they've actually released two collections of poetry collectively, titled "Vroom" and "Winding." When they began making music, their early touring was supported by funding from the Irish Arts Council and another organization, helping Fontaines D.C. (the D.C. stands for Dublin City) emerge on the music scene.

The band's second album is slated to be released this year. In the meantime, I'll continue to lean on the them when I'm fighting the ennui and remembering my Irish adventures ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Day 37, Quasi-Quarantine: 'Fins Ink Jordan Howard To Jumpstart A Historically Awful Run Game

The Dolphins finished DFL in rushing a season ago, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry as a team. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team with 243 yards (245 if you count the beard), and the top remaining backs on the roster averaged 1.8 (Kalen Ballage) and 2.7 (Patrick Laird) yards per carry.

Taking those facts into account, you knew Miami was going to sign a back in free agency and, most likely, take at least one in the draft. The 'Fins pounced on former Bears and Eagles back Jordan Howard, inking him to a two-year, $10 million deal -- to mixed reviews.

The pluses: At 6-0, 224 pounds, Howard is a one-cut runner with good power, which has helped him rack up 32 touchdowns in 48 career starts. He's still only 25 years old, making one think that he can flash the form he did as a Bears rookie, when he emerged as a fifth-round pick to finish second in the NFL in rushing (1,313 yards on 5.2 per carry) and earn a Pro Bowl nod.

Howard looked good a season ago with the Eagles after being traded from Chicago, scoring seven touchdowns in only four starts and 10 overall appearances.

The negatives: Howard is coming off an injury-plagued season in Philadelphia, battling a shoulder ailment much of the year. He's never been much of a receiving threat (82 career receptions), though he has improved in that area since his rookie campaign. Also, his yards per carry decreased each year in Chicago (5.2 to 4.1 to 3.7), though much of that can be attributed to a poor offensive line and a change in run-game mindset (those in the know around the franchise lamented the absence of Howard a season ago) brought on by coach Matt Nagy.

The bottom line: There were those who took issue with the contract, which included $4.75 million guaranteed, that Miami handed Howard. However, when you have the worst running game in the league, money to burn, and have a chance to land a proven power back with a good amount of tread left on the tires, you make the move and pair him with a speed back. Howard has more wiggle than most realize and deceptive speed, and his value to the Dolphins will come as a red zone back to hammer defenses in the second halves of humid Miami afternoons.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Day 36, Quasi-Quarantine: "Lego Masters" Delights Despite Disappointing Finale

There aren't a ton of shows out there that you can watch safely with your kids, so when "Lego Masters" popped up a couple of months ago, we were thrilled. 

The program featured teams of two working together on various challenges, with inevitable "twists" thrown in, then the resident Lego Masters decided which builds were best or worst. It was fascinating to see how the different duos approached the challenges -- some relied on mechanical proficiency, others played up color and artistry, and others went for pure scale.

Will Arnett was the perfect host, blending a passion for Legos and recognition of the technical abilities with his customary hilarious schtick. However, Lego Master Amy Corbett stole the show in many quarters (especially with the Princess Leia sidebuns). A statuesque 6-2 engineer with a Scottish accent and a love of nerdy toys? Yes, I can see how she would appeal to all a certain demographic.

***Spoiler alert***

Unfortunately, toward the end of the season, it felt like the network got a bit swept up in the Tyler and Amy Lego-pregnancy storyline. This pair was a bit of a one-man show and was slated to go home the week prior before the program switched gears and ended up not sending anyone home.

So imma letcha finish, but Mark and Boone got absolutely screwed. This team not only dominated the competition start to finish, but had a ton of personality and the best blend of technical mastery, artistic vision, and execution. Honestly, it wasn't even all that close.

Despite the massive disappointment of the finale, all in all, "Lego Masters" was a super-clever show for all ages. Hopefully, there is another season that rewards the most talented builders and not the most appealing backstory.

Day 35, Quasi-Quarantine: Well, Um, Actually, A Pretty Nice Little Sunday

  • Grind coffee
  • Brew coffee
  • Imbibe coffee
  • Continue with free Harvard (hah-vuhd) course, "Lessons from Ebola: Preventing the Next Epidemic"
  • Breakfast (kids made chocolate chip waffles)
  • Hang new wooden hat rack in child's room
  • Move attic boxes of shit so they are now bedroom boxes of shit
  • Mow, weed, bag up trimmings of lawn
  • Lunch (pretend along with kids that we are eating at the Tattooine cantina, enjoying Wampa Dogs, Tauntaun burgers, and other fare)
  • Family walk (includes dog)
  • Reading and quotes transcription of Garth Risk Hallberg's "City on Fire" (it's ... formidably hefty)
  • Pac-Man
  • Free-weights workout in garage
  • Puzzle ("Hotdogs A-Z")
  • Dinner/brinner/supfast
  • Perform role of Chewbacca in family "Star Wars" scenario re-enactment
  • View "Homeland" (one episode)
  • View "Westworld" (one episode)
  • View "Star Wars: Clone Wars" (one episode)
  • Sleep

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Friday, April 17, 2020

Limerick Friday #462: Embracing Good Fortune Amidst A Lack Of Humility, Day 33

Accept the okays
Absorb the sun's rays
Acknowledge the forlorn
Renew each morn
And stack the good days

Attacked by the grass
And fell on his ass
Broken foot, ow
Serenity now
Yet this too shall pass

A boss is incredulous
Principles are nebulous
A line in the sand
But it's windy in the land
Are you decisive or querulous?

Virtual classes
Away from the masses
Learn online
Build a digital mind
For normalcy, this passes

Well wishes sent
Distancing rules bent
Bunnies on porches
From those we hold torches
Easter, another odd event

Last time ...

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Day 32, Quasi-Quarantine: "Ex Machina" An Apt Choice During A Captive World Order

"Ex Machina" has been on my list for quite a while (though even I was shocked to see it was released in 2014), so I was excited to finally sit down and watch this multigenre work.

At first blush, the story is about the lengths a reclusive tech mogul will go to pursue his holy grail, but at some point the movie pivoted to focus on Caleb -- the unwitting participant in an extravagant, complex trial to test the limits of artificial intelligence -- and his response to moral boundary-pushing.

There is obvious staying power in the depiction of the slightly mad tech genius who is driven by a personal quest (see "Devs"), and Oscar Isaac mixes charisma, intimidation, and mania in his role. As solitary savant Nathan, Isaac explores his character's unwitting creation of a sliding ethical scale.

Nathan's interactions with Caleb are fraught with double meanings and a pervasive air of secrecy. Domhnall Gleeson is a brilliant casting choice as the awkward coder who realizes his winning lottery ticket came as part of a rigged game to help Nathan make the next leap in AI development.

Caleb is tasked with interacting with and monitoring Ava, a stunningly advanced AI humanoid. Alicia Vikander is haunting in this role, powered by an unexpected sensuality that repeatedly catches Caleb off guard. Eventually, we are forced to ask the difficult -- yet inevitable -- questions: Is Caleb probing Ava or is Ava probing Caleb? Is Nathan testing Ava or Caleb?

The entire flick is essentially a modified bottle episode on steroids, filmed in a claustrophobic style. Writer and director Alex Garland has created a sterile environment filled with hard edges meant to convey the importance of borders between moral and immoral, desire and obsession, human and robot. The staggering scenery and tech representation makes it easy to see why "Ex Machina" won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.

The movie turns during a tension-filled scene when Caleb discovers the security footage that depicts the extent of Nathan's experimentation and the self-destructive limits he pushes his creations toward.

Let's just say I'll be giving Disney's animatronic Hondo Ohnaka a wide berth the next time I'm at at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Day 31, Quasi-Quarantine: Shaq Lawson Represents A Hefty Investment At An Acceptable Risk

The Dolphins moved quickly on Shaq Lawson, inking the defensive end to a three-year, $30 million contract early in the free agency period. The team views Lawson as another versatile athlete who can bolster the defensive front.

The plusesLawson is a 25-year-old coming off his best season (6.5 sacks), and Miami is reuniting him with defensive line coach Marion Hobby, who also coached Lawson at Clemson. At 6-3, 267 pounds, he could be an interesting fit in the Dolphins' hybrid defense.

As a bonus, Miami plucked him from the Buffalo Bills, a division rival whose roster is in far better shape than the 'Fins and who are farther along in their building process.

The negatives: Even as a former first-rounder, Lawson didn't earn a fifth-year extension from the Bills. He also only has 16.5 career sacks in four seasons, causing many to scratch their heads at the $21 million guaranteed that Miami forked over for Lawson. In free agency, you have to bet on the come and make some high-risk projections, which is why most teams delve cautiously into this part of the acquisition process. Lawson fits squarely into this category of risk, though the 'Fins have protected themselves somewhat with a short-term deal.

The bottom line: Despite the hefty price tag in guaranteed money, Lawson should be seen as a piece of Miami's rebuilding plan and not a cornerstone. He'll be something of an innings eater on the defensive line, with residual hope that he can make the leap into a force in a new system. 

This signing drew some raised eyebrows around the league, but the Dolphins had the trifecta of money to burn, massive holes, and an appetite for young, high-pedigree, versatile players. In that context, Lawson is a reasonable addition to a franchise that will need to hit some lottery picks in order to foster a turnaround.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Day 30, Quasi-Quarantine: Aliens Are Really All The World Is Missing At The Minute

In the realm of under-the-radar, underrated shows, The History Channel's "Project Bluebook" is a fun, gripping watch for the quasi-quarantine era. Based on the real-life project of the same name, the show is propelled by the UFO research of astrophysicist Dr. J. Allen Hynek.

In the series, Hynek is paired with by-the-book Air Force Captain Michael Quinn, and the duo eventually begins questioning their own eyes, experiences, and beliefs. And yes, if that premise sounds familiar, "Project Bluebook" borrows heavily from "X-Files" -- with a dose of "Fringe" sneaking in as well.

While there are parallels to the escapades of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, "Project Bluebook" goes without the tongue-in-cheek snark and 'ship subplots. However, in the role of Hynek, Aiden Gillen combines the right touch of awkward meekness and intellectual authority. His memorable roles in two epic shows already -- "Game of Thrones" and "Peaky Blinders" -- make him an interesting but effective choice here for Hynek.

The entire cast is underrated (hell, even Chrissy Moltisanti makes an appearance), highlighted by the shady generals Valentine and Harding, who try to funnel Hynek and Quinn in the direction that suits the government.

Like "X-Files," "Project Bluebook" makes its hay sowing doubt between seeds of science, natural phenomena, and unexplainable episodes. Having just completed its second season, this series offers needed escapism -- with a smidge of ripped-from-the-headlines governmental corruption and ignorance -- from a world on the brink.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Day 29, Quasi-Quarantine: Bring On The Puzzles

Turns out that, along with toilet paper, puzzles are among the most difficult products to find during a quarantine. Fortunately, we have a number lining various closets throughout the house.

Our first effort involved this monster. At 1,000 pieces and with stellar subject matter, it was a welcome reprieve from being stuck inside. The excitement quickly grew to dread, however, as I noticed that the gradients of seemingly a dozen different shades of gray were unbelievably slight.

This puzzle was a brute-force effort, requiring a steady eye and a dogged approach. We finally got there, but my initial thought that we would also acquire the Yoda and Boba Fett versions have been abandoned.

6/10, would solve during a quasi-quarantine again.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Day 25, Quasi-Quarantine: The Dolphins Landed A Swiss Army Knife

Miami landed a coveted defensive piece early in free agency, adding the versatile Kyle Van Noy. He has long been a favorite of Miami coach Brian Flores, who has referenced him as a teaching tool for current 'Fins 'backers.

The pluses: Van Noy has collected 15.5 sacks in the past three seasons, but his true value comes in his versatility. In addition to having sneaky pass-rush skills, at 6-3, 250 pounds, he is also capable of holding the edge against the run, as well as dropping into coverage.

The negatives: At 29, Van Noy is a bit on the older side for the Dolphins current roster-building approach. He also signed a four-year, $51 million contract, with $30 million being fully guaranteed. That's a lot of cabbage for a player without a Pro Bowl reputation or a completely defined position, not to mention that the list of players who have turned into nondescript contributors after leaving New England's system is a lengthy one.

The bottom line: Van Noy is an instinctive athlete who can fill multiple gaping holes in the Miami defense. The Dolphins shift between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, meaning he will have opportunities common to both defensive end and linebacker, making him a much-needed wildcard for Flores & Co. As a bonus, Van Noy also won a couple of Super Bowl rings for the Cheatriots, so in addition to damaging a hated division foe, he's got a championship pedigree and leadership skills.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Day 24, Quasi-Quarantine: Building The Lego AT-ST Raider

My son got the AT-ST Raider for Christmas, so while this technically doesn't count as a quasi-quarantine build, it did "fall" under mysterious circumstances recently, requiring a bit of a rebuild.

This 540-piece set features the AT-ST from "The Mandalorian," marked by striking coloration intended to represent a "cannibalized look." According to Wookieepedia, the Klatooinians took control of and hacked abandoned imperial weaponry after the fall of the Galactic Empire.

Two of these Klatooinian raiders come with the set, along with the Mandalorian and Cara Dune, his ruggedly sensual mercenary sidekick. The AT-ST itself has spring-loaded rockets, two movable guns ("boomers") on the top section, and a wheel-activated turret that duplicates the distinctive motion of all-terrain transports.

As the procurer of seemingly dozens of Lego Star Wars sets, I can say that the AT-ST Raider is among the most clever and visually compelling of these sets. The intricacy of the transport itself combined with the four unique and rare minifigures that come with the set make this set a steal and a must-have for serious Star Wars fans.

I can report that it's also relatively easy to cobble back together after mysterious falls.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Day 23, Quasi-Quarantine, Sounds of Social Distancing: J.S. Ondara

I discovered J.S. Ondara through a Rolling Stone review discussing his journey from Nairobi, Kenya, to (because of his love for Bob Dylan) Minnesota. At 20, he won a Green Card lottery at just 20, but struggled to find musicians to create a band upon arriving in the United States. So he decided to just teach himself the guitar online (grrrr at how easy he made this sound), back his own vocals, and start refining his sound at open mics in Minneapolis.

Ondara favors a troubadour look, commanding the stage with a stop-in-your-tracks voice and a trademark fedora. His debut album, "Tales of America," is a staggering combination of blues, folk, and Americana, weaving and soaring on his use of tenor and falsetto. 

As good as this work is, his cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" served as the experience that moved me from interested listener to full-on fan. Another cover, Ondara's reworking of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," displays his creativity and intricacy, proving he's an artist that can go beyond classic covers to truly build his own version of someone else's song.

As a 26-year-old with minimal experience on the guitar, Ondara's most mature and intricate work clearly lies ahead of him. Considering the power of his debut, that's a remarkable statement about the potential and future of a unique musician.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Day 22, Quasi-Quarantine: Missing The Wolfpack, Among Other Things

NC State's annual open practice was supposed to take place this past weekend. Obviously, the Kay Yow Spring Game was cancelled due to the limitations surrounding coronavirus disease.

Adjusting to life without sports has been easier than expected, but there have been moments where the void is felt. Sitting next to my son watching the Pack play even against itself in Carter-Finley Stadium on a warm April day is one of the things that is felt in its absence.

Hug yours, stay healthy, and Go Pack.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Limerick Friday #461: It May Or May Not Actually Be Friday, Day 19

Every other word a mutter
We damn near ate straight butter
Running outta meals
But I got the feels
When Relish made my heart flutter

Ignorance abounds
At a level that astounds
The news is a joke
Logic up in smoke
Hope Darwinism makes the rounds

The world's just smoking rubble
Around every corner, trouble
While the quarantine's heeded
A White Russian's needed
Just make it a goddam double

Keyboard jockeys with search
Epidemiologists with a gamer perch
Suddenly experts on vector
And virus cases by sector
Jackasses, according to my research

With democracy leaning
Time has no meaning
Rules have become obscure
Closet sleepover? Sure
Another week, more internal screaming

Last time ...

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Day 18, Quasi Quarantine: "Salvage the Bones" Offers Shelter From The Storm

Jesmyn Ward displays her prodigious talents in this 2011 novel, once again creating a living, breathing family struggling against social, racial, environmental, and economic forces. 

Set against the backdrop of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, "Salvage the Bones" features Esch and her brothers fighting for the small life they have carved out in the Mississippi backwaters. Meanwhile, Esch protects a secret, steels her heart, and shields her family from Mother Nature and an unforgiving landscape. Ward manages to insert setting as character, creating a forebidding presence that looms over all.

Ward's "Sing, Unburied, Sing" was my 2019 Scootie Award Winner as book of the year, so I'm an unequivocal fan. A giant of Southern literature, she has lived up to that mantle here, delivering a moving work that unwittingly makes us the eye in a storm of emotions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Day 17, Quasi-Quarantine: "Ozark" Loses Focus

When it arrived on Netflix a couple of years ago, "Ozark" was a quirky, underdog type, powered by Jason Bateman in a very un-Jason Bateman-ish role. The memorable first season was propelled by Bateman's surprising range, supplemented by strong support work from Laura Linney and others.

As the show has evolved, the perspective of "Ozark" has put Linney at the center. Her character has become unlikeable, stretching the bounds of believability as she randomly provokes cartels, mobs, political powerbrokers, other cartels, and hillbilly gangs.

Essentially, "Ozark" now routinely borders on the ridiculous, with seemingly daily catastrophes, any one of which would have led to murder by the cartel. You keep expecting Bateman's character to be like, "It's Tuesday. Can we just have a Tuesday, for crissakes?"

At this point, I want to know more about the psyche and personal journeys of the kids, who have been indoctrinated into the family business and have now developed criminal minds by osmosis. The show is littered with intriguing characters who could reinvigorate the show and help with pacing, making the show a bit less frantic and disjointed. 

The series has managed to spark strong feelings toward morally bankrupt individuals. It's time to cash in on some of that goodwill by expanding the show's point of view.

It's not too late to save "Ozark."