Reunion in Brooklyn

On Friday, 9 November 2012, Janice and I took Amtrak from the Route 128 station near Boston to New York’s Penn Station to visit ailing Steve A.L. in Brooklyn. While I wish that our trip was under better circumstances, we still had a good time catching up with friends from college, as well as some from high school and grad school. On the train, I enjoyed the manga adaptation of Gail Carriger’s supernatural steampunk Soulless.

We checked into the Hotel Indigo, where our room was small but the staff was responsive. Janice and I then walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and back to Steve’s place, where we met him, his wife Michele, and their athletic son Nate. We ordered dinner from Gandhi Palace and picked up dessert at Lassen & Hennings.

On Saturday, Janice and I grabbed bagels for breakfast before meeting Steve at the Brooklyn Museum. Damon F.P. and Carlo R. came down from Westchester to join us, and Dexter V.H. stopped by from Queens on the way to visit his father. Janice had never been to that museum before, and Steve took us through its impressive collections of ancient Egyptian and early American art.

In addition to grabbing a late lunch at the museum’s renovated cafeteria, we chatted about history, current genre television, relationships, and religion. It’s always nice to be able to have such wide-ranging conversations.

Janice and I later rejoined Steve at his place, where we met Corbin A.Y., Dave F.R-B., and John Z.G. & Kim A.G. and their teenage son Mark. Steve & Michele were gracious hosts, supplying us with lots of munchies and beverages and ordering proper New York pizzas from Monty Q’s.

John then ran an AD&D2Gwynedd in Greyhawk” game. We slipped back into character easily, even though that high fantasy campaign originally ran from 1984 to 1995, and we hadn’t role-played that particular group of characters in more than 20 years.

At SUNY-Binghamton, spring 1987
The college gang, back in spring of 1987

Janice, Michele, and Nate didn’t participate, but Andy M., another SUNY-Binghamton alumnus now living in Chicago, joined us via Skype (which I use for my regular Sunday night scenarios). Corbin had tracked him down online, and it was great to reconnect after many years. It was also nice to play alongside Mark, who has inherited his parents’ love of games.

Hughes Hall reunion game
“Bellevue-Camelot” reunion, 1986 to 2012

I may eventually write up my notes of what happened within the session, but our jokes and camaraderie were more important than any old rules set or storylines. That said, our adventuring party reunited to raid the tower of a necromancer who had cursed the son of Steve’s Halfling Thief “Branador.”

Of all the Dungeon Masters I’ve been lucky enough to know, my former roommate John is the best at depicting memorable Non-Player Characters, gory battles, and an environment for creative teamwork.

Despite rolling lots of critical fumbles — 1 on 1d20, made worse because I had brought extra dice — we managed to fight our way through various Undead. My Grey Elf Ranger “Aldarion” had some good scouting scenes and was among those to get clobbered in combat. Our group (now about Level 15) had to bargain with extraplanar entities to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Good times!

On Sunday, Janice and I met the gang again. While waiting, I got to see Nate’s blazing pitching ability. While he needs to hone his skills, his strength is undeniable. We went to the Park Plaza Diner for brunch. Although Dave left his wife and son back in Buffalo, N.Y., Corb brought his wife Andria and cheerful daughter Maia.

Steve then took us to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where we saw a small bit of the damage left by Hurricane Sandy. The others left, and Steve, Janice, and I stopped by St. Mark’s Comics and later met Carlo, Brian D.H., and Erik B.L. and his precocious daughter Emma at the Park Plaza Diner for dinner. (All of the children of our friends resemble their parents in the best ways.) As always, our discussions were illuminating, if too brief.

Reunion in New York City
Friends and family in Brooklyn, November 2012

We returned to Steve & Michele’s place to watch Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers, which Janice and others hadn’t yet seen. The next morning, Janice and I again grabbed breakfast at Montague Street Bagels before heading to Penn Station and back to Massachusetts.

It was great to catch up with old friends, and I hope that we won’t have to wait another 20 years for another fun reunion!

World War Z review

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Traditional monsters always reflect both our primal fears and the time in which a particular story is told. Just as vampires represent perennial concerns about lust and death, so do zombies embody loathing of disease and dread about the hordes of nameless others that threaten to overwhelm us — communists in the 1950s, race riots in the 1960s, and terrorists in the early 2000s.

Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks, takes a Ken Burns-like approach to zombies in World War Z. His conceit of a onetime U.N. observer traveling around to get firsthand accounts 15 years after the outbreak of the living dead does convey the global nature of the conflict. However, it also drains the narrative of a single protagonist and the suspense needed for a good zombie tale.

The upcoming movie adaptation, starring Brad Pitt, diverges significantly from the source material, with “only one man can save the world” and fighting against fast, free-running zombies rather than the typical shambling undead.

Brooks effectively evokes pop culture portrayals as he shows the gory struggle to survive the zombie apocalypse. On the other hand, he uses too much military jargon, many characters sound too much alike, and more characters should have been tied together sooner.

I’d give World War Z a B-, and my book club gave it a C-. I’d recommend the novel to anyone who’s a fan of horror literature and movies and doesn’t mind stock characters.

View all my reviews

Autumn 2012 update

Janice and I didn’t take any long vacations this past summer because of our move this past spring and her employer’s acquisition. We did manage to see our families in Upstate New York in July, and we went to the Marshfield Fair in August and Waltham’s fall festival in September. More recently, we enjoyed a weekend at the South Shire Inn, a nice bed and breakfast in Bennington, Vermont.

Autumn leaves
Fall foliage

Among other things, we visited the Bennington Center for the Arts, the Bennington Museum — which included art by Grandma Moses — and poet Robert Frost’s house. The art galleries, antique shops, and early fall foliage were all good, as were the pubs we tried.

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, Janice and I went into Boston for a Boston Classical Orchestra concert at Faneuil Hall. On the way, we stopped at the book shops in Harvard Square, Cambridge, and got dinner at Quincy Market.

The musical performance itself was very good, with a relatively small but tight group of mostly string instruments and a few winds but no percussion. Conductor and composer Steven Ledbetter was dynamic and friendly. The program consisted of folk dances as interpreted by Bela Bartok and Johannes Brahms, plus some concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and a sinfonia concertante possibly by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On Sunday, 7 October 2012, Janice and I drove out to the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., for “A Knight to Remember,” a dinner hosted by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. We hadn’t been to that museum in a few years, and now that I’ve been taking a historical weapons class, it was nice to see the arms and armor exhibits again.

This past weekend, Janice and I went to a quilt show in historic Lexington, Mass. While the town is a bit upscale for my tastes, it does have good restaurants and a different character from postindustrial Waltham.

I’ve still been busy with work and keeping up with various games, which have had some schedule interruptions because of difficulty getting quorum. In addition, I’ve been meaning to post reviews of the new genre television season, current comic books, and more, but they’ll have to wait. We don’t yet have any big Halloween plans.

November is looking even busier, with two genre entertainment conventions, a reunion of college friends in New York City, and Thanksgiving with my in-laws. My thoughts are with ailing relatives and friends, and I hope that the coming holidays aren’t too stressful.

Captain’s log…

Like memes, quizzes circulate endlessly online. I’m satisfied with this result, even if I thought I’d be more like Capt. Picard….
You are James T. Kirk (Captain)

James T. Kirk (Captain)
Will Riker
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Geordi LaForge
Deanna Troi
Mr. Sulu
Jean-Luc Picard
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Mr. Scott
Beverly Crusher
You are often exaggerated and over-the-top
in your speech and expressions.
You are a romantic at heart and a natural leader.

Click here to take the “Which Star Trek character am I?” quiz…

Gene at the Star Trek Experience
On the bridge of the U.S.S. “Enterprise” NCC 1701-D


A week of food

I’m trying to catch up on reading and blogging while I’m between big projects at work, so forgive the somewhat scattered nature of this post.

On Tuesday, 21 August 2012, I met my brother in Boston. It was good to see Peter only a month after spending time with him and the rest of Janice’s and our families in Lake George, N.Y. He was in town for a conference.

We went to the Italian neighborhood of Boston’s North End. Peter and I considered Union Oyster House and Neptune Oyster, but we ended up at Pomodoro, which was small but good. We also grabbed gelato before parting at Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market.

On Wednesday, Aug. 22, I went to my weekly historical weapons class, where we’re still practicing moves for the German longsword. I also went out to lunch last week with co-workers to Habanero’s and Skellig on Waltham’s Moody Street.

On Thursday, Aug. 23, I met former CW co-workers in the “Escapists” book club. We had dinner at P.F. Chang’s in the upscale Natick Mall and discussed Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. I liked the satirical science fiction novel, which was clearly written in the shadow of man’s folly in World War II and the Cold War.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Janice and I took advantage of the nice weather and went to the annual Marshfield Fair. We enjoyed the agricultural displays and, of course, the fair food. We also caught up on errands.

Closer to home, we’ve gone to pub City Streets and local chains Border Café, Papa Gino’s, and Upper Crust Pizza. While I’ve relaxed my boycott of Upper Crust after its labor problems, another favorite, Chipotle, has gotten into trouble. I also have less reason to go out to Natick when I’m closer to the Burlington Mall.

Coming soon: ParaNorman and genre TV reviews, political positions, and more!