Movies I Almost Missed…

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , on October 4, 2016 by ThommyMac

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Let Us Prey (2014)

There are so many GEMS out there, for many reasons, I almost didn’t see. A fair chunk I had passed by because of who the “stars” were. As I mature in my movie enjoyment, I have quit "not seeing" movies because someone I consider a dud is in it. These entries come from a list I had created over at the inimitable IMDB.com. The list was getting long enough to where a movie’s numerical place doesn’t mean much of anything. Sometimes forced to watch it for social reasons, I have been surprised by all of the flicks I would like to cover. I want to give credit where credit is due. Not all of the films I want to cover are great but I feel ALL are worth watching. The short descriptions are courtesy of the aforementioned IMDB and are no doubt copyrighted. As you have probably guessed, the accompanying critique is courtesy of yours truly. I will try to post a new one weekly before or immediately after Shabbat. It will depend on the time Shuls starts and when I get to the synagogue. I have to revamp\re-write so as to never have any spoilers, even if the movie being discussed is 50 years old. If I ever do slip, write me at raran2099@outlook.com

IMDB says “Held in a remote police station, a mysterious stranger takes over the minds and souls of everyone inside.” (92 mins.) with the tagline “Darkness shall rise.”

Director: Brian O’Malley Stars: Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge

This is a very clever film, if a bit on the disturbing side. It has great dialogue, above average acting, and is definitely a movie worth the hour and a half it takes out of our finite time in this thing we call life. It shows how great writing, solid acting, and a talented crew can make the very most out of a budget. That is starting to be a theme with me, I think. It’s hard to discuss this one without giving anything away. OK, being a wannabe writer all my life, I ended up hanging out with the bohemian crowd most of my post-Army life. I don’t wanna sound like a politician but I do want to get a couple things out of the way. A HUGE chunk of the bohemian crowd is gay so it stands to reason a healthy of my friends is gay. You’ll notice I didn’t say “Gay friends” because a person’s sexuality is so off the radar with me but I don’t want to catch any heat for honest observations. The same goes for blacks. I grew up in a black part of Pittsburgh so a large percentage of my friends are black. Growing up that way didn’t make me talk like Justin Timberlake but it did open up this metal head to some awesome Motown as well as R&B stuff. Notice I didn’t say “African-American” because all my black friends HATE that term. OK, I just wanted to get that stuff out of the way early in what I hope turns out to be a series.

Guess what? There WAS a reason why I brought that up. I have to stress to any gay writers out there, realistic hetero pillow talk sounds NOTHING like what you read in Penthouse. I’m not into talking about sex with anyone but my partner but I imagine hetero pillow talk and gay pillow talk is very similar, depending on what’s your bag as a couple. So, friends who end up watching this, the scene with the couple having sex early in the flic actually does establish some stuff and is not indicative of the conversations ahead. Those all seemed very believable. Well, I found them believable given the circumstances. SO its pretty much a clever script and solid acting overcoming a tight budget. Good direction and cinematography as well. There are some really disturbing moment but these moments are earned, not just simple gross out like, I dunno, “Cannibal Holocaust” or something. So check it out. I watched it on Netflix. As thrilled as I am to get notes from readers, do not point out how few stars anything I review has garnered. Pieces of sh1t like “No Strings Attached” gets more stars than whatever? Pfft.

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Yeah, baby, yeah!!!!

Posted in Current Events, Info, Opinion, Pittsburgh with tags , , on September 25, 2016 by ThommyMac

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It is no surprise to me BUT the ‘Burgh was mentioned in MSN travel today:

America’s Most Underrated Cities!

Most folks who know me know that deep down I love my hometown, especially now that I am back in the Squirrel Hill area. Absolutely EVERY ‘Out of Towner’ I have talked to is floored at how nice the city is, especially its appearance and people. I am pretty widely travelled and I can only think of 2 cities where strangers at the bus stop routinely strike up a conversation. Here (Pittsburgh, PA USA) and Nashville TN. A sunny day in London, UK can make it quite friendly but the ‘Burgh is friendly pretty near all the time. And the amazing or charming thing is how that little bit of conversation transcends. Gay folks, black folks, punk rockers, hipsters, wannabes, even city hicks will all talk a little waiting for the bus. THAT can’t be quantified but is pretty darn cool. It can even be life changing if not actually life saving. I’ll share an example that I have only shared with close friends until now. It is so hard to believe this happened over 30 years ago. I was 1/2 drunk and waiting for a bus. My dad had taken his own life 18 hours before and I was NUTS. An older black fellow in a housekeeping uniform saw the tears streaming down my face. They wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried to stop or hide them. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. He hugged me long and hard and tried to give me $20. I said no thanks and he said “let a brother buy a nephew a drink”. I took the 20 and bought a case. This was the mid 1980s and $20 could get you a case of Genny Cream and a couple packs of name brand smokes. He never did say his name but I never forgot that guy. Think that would happen in, ohhhh, say Philly? Asking someone the time there could lead to a fist fight. I can say it without apology, I love Pittsburgh, PA. Maybe that is what kept me around the 4 times I had a chance at a good gig far away.

-T

On Your Way to a Casino? Food For Thought

Posted in Gaming, Math, Opinion with tags , , , on September 25, 2016 by ThommyMac

Many think card games are easily beatable by card counting. This is reinforced by the movie “21” and the ‘fact’ that there are only 52 cards in a deck. Make no mistake, when the winning results are based solely on a total, the odds drop. When winning can be based on a total, a sequential order, or any combo therein, it gets complicated FAST.  The thing to really wrap your head around first is each card has a different value that is static. Even without rigging the game, the house always wins. Why? The key is each card being truly unique and  how many combinations that can be produced by 52 cards. That makes 52 (well, duh) factorial combinations. If you didn’t pay attention in your senior year of math, do a search on 52! (keeping the exclamation point) or just search on factorial properties. That will clear up any doubts that those 52 cards produce a truly unimaginable 80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000 possible combinations. Look or even stare at that number for a minute. If you use a hand cranked shuffler your Gramma used for Pokeno or diligently shuffle a deck a couple times, that combo in your hand has never come about before and probably never will again. That alternately comforts me or bums me out on depressing Sunday mornings thinking about the nature of life and if any Higher Power really cares about me or us. Then there is the old joke about the mathematician who gets financially clobbered in Vegas. Believing his supposedly superior intellect and post-grad degree would carry him over the odds, he takes his life savings out west and loses it all.  He cries to another tearful loser “Bernoulli’s principle should of carried the day!” in the parking lot of some casino. Having just gambled away his hardware store in Batavia, NY the man next to him is in no mood to listen to a guy in a tweed jacket with fuzzy elbow patches sing the blues. The man gives him a hard look and says “Mister, mob or not, them cards ain’t never heard of no Bernoulli!”

-T

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Yes, I ‘updated’ the joke a bit. Kids grow up so fast. I was born the year the original “Spy Who Came In From the Cold” was filmed and it looks like a hundred years ago. **sigh** Anyhow …

Movies I Almost Missed…

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , on September 17, 2016 by ThommyMac

 

There are so many GEMS out there, for many reasons, I almost didn’t see. A fair chunk I had passed by because of who the “stars” were. As I mature in my movie enjoyment, I have quit “not seeing” movies because someone I consider a dud is in it. These entries, hopefully the 1st of many, come from a list I had created over at the inimitable IMDB.com. The list is getting long enough to where a movie’s numerical place doesn’t mean much. Sometimes forced to watch it for social reasons, I have been surprised by some. Not often, but credit where due. Well, not all are great BUT ALL are worth watching, anyhow. Short descriptions are courtesy of the aforementioned IMDB and are no doubt copyrighted. As you have probably guessed, the accompanying critique is courtesy of yours truly. I will try to post a new one weekly before or immediately after Shabbat. It will depend on the time Shuls starts and when I get to the synagogue.

OK, the first one will be one I just finished watching the other day on Netflix. It is the sadly under rated

Robot Overlords (2014)

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IMDB says “Earth has been conquered by robots from a distant galaxy. Survivors are confined to their houses and must wear electronic implants, risking incineration by robot sentries if they venture outside.” With the tagline “Robots Never Lie”

Even though no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, the success of the “Transformers” franchise mystifies me. I mean, I understand spectacles and bombast in a big theater with a 40,000 watt sound system, but come on. What about writing, story, acting, talent? I hate to sound like some milquetoast from the Village or someone whining but I really sympathize. I mean, dismissing the silliness and bad science, Independence Day was a BLAST. Great cast, no winking at the camera, pacing, and the telling of the story was 1st rate. I use that example to show I am not turning my nose up at anything that is successful nor do I have the pretentious “I only watch indies, or foreign films” attitude. Geez, I don’t want to use up what few good sentences I come up with on one film. I mean, I wish I had talent like Stephen King or James Clavell to illustrate a mental image clearly but with wit.

So we start off with some exposition. Not a crawl that lasts as long as some bad Biblical epic, just a couple sentences to establish where we are. I’ve always been partial to the school of thought that the secret of a compelling science fiction or fantasy story is the characters, not the back story\universe it exists in. The back story\universe can be compelling and make it unique but it’s our connections with the characters that drive a story home. The dad freaking, the reaction of the powers that be, and what it does to the kid held the interest that had been grabbed by the premise.

It’s kind of obvious that the budget was balanced between Sir Kingsely, the hottie from the X-files who is aging exquisitely, and then the CGI. This turned out to be a wise decision that works all the way through the flick. As long as Gillian Anderson stays away from any plastic surgery (or sticks to minimal EXPENSIVE stuff) she’s going to age like the still jaw-dropping Jessica Lange. Some unsolicited advice from a very hot blooded guy in his early 50s, don’t try to compete with the teeny boppers. The only ones who find them sexy are their age group and creeps. I filed this flick under substance over style, I just wish I had learned more about the mediators.

OK, I will say it. I, for one, would like to welcome our robot overlords. -T

Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter to Charles McCarthy

Posted in Uncategorized on September 11, 2016 by ThommyMac

 

I know this is available elsewhere. I just want to add it to the cause. Anytime anyone searches on that Jackass Charles McCarthy’s name, Mr. Vonnegut’s letter should be at the top.

In October of 1973, Bruce Severy — a 26-year-old English teacher at Drake High School, North Dakota — decided to use Kurt Vonnegut’s novel,Slaughterhouse-Five, as a teaching aid in his classroom. The next month, on November 7th, the head of the school board, Charles McCarthy, demanded that all 32 copies be burned in the school’s furnace as a result of its "obscene language." Other books soon met with the same fate.

On the 16th of November, Kurt Vonnegut sent McCarthy the following letter. He didn’t receive a reply.
(Source: Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage.)

November 16, 1973
Dear Mr. McCarthy:
I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.
Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.
I want you to know, too, that my publisher and I have done absolutely nothing to exploit the disgusting news from Drake. We are not clapping each other on the back, crowing about all the books we will sell because of the news. We have declined to go on television, have written no fiery letters to editorial pages, have granted no lengthy interviews. We are angered and sickened and saddened. And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else. You now hold the only copy in your hands. It is a strictly private letter from me to the people of Drake, who have done so much to damage my reputation in the eyes of their children and then in the eyes of the world. Do you have the courage and ordinary decency to show this letter to the people, or will it, too, be consigned to the fires of your furnace?
I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of rat like people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.
If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.
After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes–but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.
I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.
If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.
Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.
Kurt Vonnegut

“Citizen Cohn” (1992) should NOT be so obscure. It is a cinematic GEM.

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2016 by ThommyMac

 

Anyone who has seen “Citizen Cohn” (1992) has to have been stunned by James Woods riveting performance. An over-used adjective but it perfectly describes his performance. HBO really should have figured out a way to have had that production theatrically released. It really is that good. Before I give an overview or review, take your pick, let’s get a couple things out of the way. The first item takes a little set up and it involves a first person story regarding James Woods. The second is my long time hometown, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Before I forget, Joe Don Baker was AWESOME as Senator “Tail-gunner Joe” McCarthy, as was Lee Grant portraying Mama Cohn, and Pat Hingle (R.I.P.) nailing J. Edgar Hoover. Pay attention to the small but great part with Frederic Forrest doing Dashiell Hammet a great justice. Special supporting role mentions: Daniel Von Bargen was PERFECTION as Clyde Tolson and Novella Nelson was dynamite as the 2nd Annie Lee Moss. BUY it, watch it and see what I mean.

OK, now the 1st item. My youngest brother Tony was a commo guy in the Army and proud of it. While he was in the Army (during the 1st Gulf dukeroo), I was a supervisor at a lock box owned by Mellon Bank, N.A. We were electronic\AV\photo\videogame geeks from the gate, seems only natural in hindsight we’d end up IT guys. Our sister ended up an uber-successful IT engineer as well. The point is we were pre-Windows IT guys and Tony was a beast with phones. Indeed, sometimes I go to call him for some advice out in the field only to remember he, along with Joey, are no longer amongst the living. It’s a terrible thing to bury both your little brothers. So in winter 1991-92, he gets a service call to the William Penn (now Westin Wm Penn). It’s a beautiful place, old school hotel, very nice. Where Major league baseball players, stars, visiting parasites and other celebrities, etc. stay. So Tony’s company gets a service call for the Penn. Hurry, trouble with a very important phone. HE worked in Greentree, which is fairly close to town when all the bridges are open. He gets there and is met by a stunning woman who wants to make sure he has everything he needs to fix it. It’s in a private suite on the exceptionally expensive floor. She knocks, he hears a voice, she pops her head in. She turns around and waves Tony in. The place reeked of reefer but was pretty orderly. It’s James Woods. Normally “celebrities” don’t handle mundane stuff so that was indicative that he was a pretty good egg. It turned out to be a bad ground or two bare ends touching, and easy fix. While Tony was working on it, he heard “Hey, kid. You want a soda?” He stands up and Mr. Woods tosses him a Coke from the medium fridge. I guess high ups get a little better than a mini-fridge. So that’s it. Worth repeating since I have met a few so-called celebrities myself and 99% were mean, rotten, spoiled brats. It was great to hear one treated the repairman nicely. Rock on, Mr. Woods.

OK, now for the flick about Roy and Pittsburgh as a co-star. A huge portion of this flick was filmed in good ol’ Pittsburgh. We had many films made here, the football stadium for Gotham City being the latest. Wait, it was that Tom Cruise flick where the hero in the books was like 6’3” and 280 and all the fan boys were pissed. Anyhow, supposedly late 90s the unions chased the work away. I dunno but there seems to be lots of productions still messing up traffic. Well, traffic is always bad in a place with three major rivers and surrounded by hills. So the film has an added treat of seeing Pittsburgh filling in for D.C., London, and some German city. I’ll be watching it again and will find out. It’s a generic big German city but our city county building is where all the baggage is wheeled through. I never noticed the amount of baggage keeps increasing with each city. Nice touch. Heck, Abe Feller splats on the street in front of where I bought smokes at lunchtime for the 6 years I worked across the street. And the place where Mr. Woods was staying was where Abe took his swan dive from.

After Roy has to eat a little crow because of FBI agents, he walks down steps in front of a neo-classical building that is owned by CMU. J. Edgar in the form of Pat Hingle comes up 5th avenue (in real life the bus lane, all the rest of the traffic is inbound) and tells him taking a hit for the FBI is a personal favour to him. The red hunt ends with the famous Weller question. The next special guest “Pittsburgh” appearance is when Roy the wonder boy walks out of a drunken McCarthy’s office. It’s the lobby of the Frick building. Indeed you can see the bust of Henry in the background. I have been told peoples rosaries and crosses grow warm and uncomfortably hot the nearer you get to the bust. I’m Jewish so I wouldn’t know. When Roy is escorting Iva at the opera, that is the hallway at Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors, the same place Hannibal Lector was caged and escaped from. When Cohn’s mother passes and he says the very last of Mourner’s Kaddish he pours her ashes in to what is intimated to be the East river BUT its actually the Allegheny River acting as a stand in. The scene where he is partying on his yacht and all those dudes are dancing on the deck and the quay  was filmed over the north shore on the aforementioned Allegheny river. I think the nightclub there was named Donzi’s back then.  There is a shot of him and Peter leaving a building and getting into a nice car, possibly limo, and his driver informs him he heard about disbarment hearing on the radio. It was Iva, the chick Roy borrowed $100K from and stonewalled her for years then tried to claim it was for past legal fees. Anyhow, the building is the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education and it’s Bellefield Avenue facing Forbes and the Carnegie Natural History Museum.

So, that’s a loose round up of Pittsburgh acting as many towns AND being James Woods’ co-star. Thanks for reading this.

 

FrickCohn

 

“The little boy no one liked grew up to be ………….. Roy Cohn. And now you know the rest of the story. Good Day!”

Citizen Cohn, 1992

Everyone should read Paul Stanley’s “Face The Music”

Posted in Book Reviews with tags , , , , on August 29, 2016 by ThommyMac

Most everyone who knows me knows I am a HUGE Kiss fan. In 1976 I was turning 13 and starting to listen to music I liked. I was always cognizant of music around me as a kid. The stuff on the radio that the adults played whilst driving me\us somewhere, ditto the school bus, and TV being the biggest sources. 1974 was Cub Scouts which was pretty much the 1st time I had talked to anyone about music and what I enjoyed. It started with the Beach Boys and then Stevie Wonder. I had an AM transistor radio and listened to 13Q a top 30 AM station that dominated the younger set in Pittsburgh in the early and mid-70s. I mean, what else was there besides KDKA 1020AM?

THEN I finally had an FM I discovered real rock and AOR. Fine except it wasn’t  fast or crunchy enough. Well, sometimes, then I discovered KISS ALIVE II. 40 years later and it is still a pillar in my life. Roll your eyes all you want but Mr. Stanley and Mr. Simmons music has got me through a youth buried in abject poverty and dirt, a hitch as an infantryman, self-destruction with booze and then hard drugs, a divorce from the best life a man could ask for, jail, prison, and then the hard road of getting clean, getting a life again, and staying clean. Yeah, Eisen and Klein. Whatever. I am a fellow Jew but they have been going by those names forever. Besides I have a Scot last name. For a long time I only listened to KISS, The Doors, The Ramones, and DEVO. That was it.

Then I read interviews with Paul and Ace that revealed they liked Led Zep and the Who, amongst others. Good enough for the Space Ace and Starchild? Good enough for me, so my musical horizons opened a little more but KISS was still my bedrock. I am going to have another blog entry on why I was such a WUSS over my 1st breakup but for now I’m just going to say it was why I joined the Army. I walked into the recruiter’s in Mount Oliver PA 15210 and told them “I wanna jump from planes.” They told me I wanted to be an airborne infantryman. I shrugged my shoulders and said sure. This was 1981, Reagan had given us our maroon berets back, re-activated a bunch of units, and there were sizable bonuses for any combat arms.

Now EVERY job in the service is important, I don’t wanna sound like the blow-hard wannabes and this is the only time I’ll mention I was an 11B1P. My younger brother Joe (R.I.P.) was an airborne medic and my youngest brother Tony was a commo guy who was deployed to the 1st Gulf war. Who was Mum and Dad proudest of? ALL of us. Well, Dad died right after I got out but I am sure he was as proud of each of his sons. We all earned Honorables and me & Tony got 2 GCMs and were junior NCOs as well. The point is, if you were a mechanic be PROUD of it. I met a guy in rehab who was a truck driver for the school brigade at Ft. Bragg. An airborne truck driver who knew the special warfare inside and out. He could of BSed a career SF 1SGT if he wanted to. Anytime we’d talk abou8t our service time (at a VA rehab) he always said he was a truck driver. How could you NOT love him? Shout out, Robbie V! Hope all is well. I am getting off-track but KISS carried me through the Army. I was not built to be an 11B1P contract\bonus baby but I made it thanks to KISS tunes and some awesome roommates.

OK, this all does tie in with Mr. Stanley’s awesome biography. He was insecure, came from a fucked up home life, had a crazy sister, a visible defect so the kids fucked with him, and was a loner as only a real loner can be. I always felt I was ugly, dumb, and never fit in. My folks weren’t so much destitute as terrible with money and no housekeeping skills whatsoever. It’s vogue to cry about how bad it was coming up but we went without utilities more times than I could count, even losing our phone. This was Bell Atlantic days. Local was peanuts. As a teenager I had to heat a bucket of water on a hotplate from an extension cord a wonderful neighbour supplied. Too bad she was two doors down and the scumbag Croats next door wouldn’t allow it. Coleman stoves and lanterns after that, baby.  Small wonder 3 out of the 4 kids ended up crazy, genuinely dangerous junkies. Like the Simpson dummy gene, it seemed to be carried on by the male gene with us as well. Our sister turned out awesome. She put herself through school to the doctorate candidate level, owns a successful business, married one of the gentlest giants I know, and has a son anyone would be proud of. So there is a lesson there somewhere. Paul Stanley’s sister was nuts.

So the book is like he is sitting there telling you his life story. It’s very open, rings VERY true, and is fascinating. Not just to a near life-long KISS fanatic and member of The KISS Army since 1977, this really made contact with the long-suffering manchild who never fit in, was never very athletic, and panicked anytime he had to show the real him. From his story about the rotten little prick teasing him about his ear up to him meeting his wife, you will be captivated. It doesn’t have the wannabe hagiography and BS smell of “No One Here Gets Out Alive”, doesn’t pull any punches, does not sugar coat his faults, and really makes him out to seem like A damn nice guy once you get through his shell. Outback Ray, me sadly missed brother Joe (R.I.P.) and me went to the KISS convention. That gets it’s own blog. I just wanted to say at that event Gene came across as an arrogant prick with an ego as big as the great outdoors and … it fit him. No shit, I think I would have been disappointed if he wasn’t. Paul seemed like a VERY nice guy. He even chastised a couple making out to “Go get a room!” which I thought was awesome.

Even if you are not a KISS fan, go get this book! If you were veer a loner or didn’t feel like you fit in or never give yourself enough credit, go read it! Mr. Stanley, you really are an inspiration.