It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It’s nearly ninety degrees outside.  My air conditioner is doing its best to keep my house below 75 degrees.  What better time to write about the Christmas holiday?

Specifically, the JC Penney or Sears Christmas Wish Books.

Sears Wishbook 1985

In the 1970s and 1980s, I would start about this time of year looking at the previous year’s Wish Book toy section and circling the toys I would be wanting for the December holiday that seemed forever away.  The toy section was the only section I ever looked at because clothing was the kind of gift that only distant relatives would give.

Some styles are never out of date. This one was never in.

My favorite toys were the ones based on popular television series or movies of the time, and the 80s were full of them.  G.I. Joe and Star Wars action figures were a huge success, but even the Ghostbusters and the A-Team found an audience.

Pink was never so manly as it was with Muscle Men.

The great thing about the Wish Book was the way they found exactly what I wanted and made it look so cool.  They even offered comic book collector starter kits and the Topps Major League Baseball card set.  The electronic section was pretty neat, too, because they had hi-fi record players, tape decks, and transistor radios.

Transformers: More than meets my wish list!

My wife and I have recently started purchasing classic Wish Books from auction sites.  We bought one from 1979 and one from 1986.  It’s a great way to relive some youthful memories without going out and spending a fortune on Mego toys or original Masters of the Universe figures that can run into the hundreds of dollars.  There’s even a website dedicated to these great books.  http://www.wishbookweb.com/

What were some of your favorite memories from the Wish Books?

 

We're not cool, but Lewisburg is

Photo by Craig Cunningham

Here at Nerd Living, we don’t know from cool. However, the entire town of Lewisburg, W.Va., does by virtue of its designation as America’s Coolest Small Town.

And Lewisburg keeps on getting mileage out of the honor, which was bestowed on it by Budget Travel earlier this year.

The latest is a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer called “A visit to America’s Coolest Small Town: Lewisburg, W.Va.” The article then was reprinted in newspapers like the Miami Herald and Newsday.

If I were to do a movie blurb-style summary of the article it would be this:

This is no staid and stuffy town living off its past.

It’s always interesting to see what people from elsewhere have to say about familiar places in West Virginia. In this one, Lewisburg gets a detailed, friendly treatment as the writer enjoys local baked goods, noses around in art galleries and peeks into the General Lewis Inn.

So, that’s pretty cool. Right?

 

basketball, Mark Cuban, Dairy Queen, NBA, Nerds

When the NBA Finals start tonight, the sporting geek’s rooting interest lies with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Let me put it this way, Nerds don’t take their talents to South Beach. Unless they’re on a business trip and they’re staying at a hotel out by the airport, eating continental breakfast pastries and renting wireless Internet access.

Nerds are also not Miami Heat team president Pat Riley, with his slick hair, immaculate tan, Armani suits and Showtime pedigree.

No, it’s Mark Cuban who is one of us, in all his T-shirt wearing, trash talking glory.

Let me just quote from his Wikipedia entry:

Cuban’s first step into the business world occurred at age 12 when he sold garbage bags to pay for a pair of expensive basketball shoes. While in school, he held a variety of jobs, including bartender, disco dancing instructor and party promoter. He paid for college by collecting and selling stamps and once gained about $1,100 by starting a chain letter.

A thousand bucks from a chain letter — and now the guy owns a major sports team? Genius!

I know not everyone is going to agree with me when I gush about Mark Cuban. I realize he can be a childish bore. It probably wasn’t so cool when he started a booing campaign against former Maverick player Michael Finley, who returned to play against the Mavs as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, or when he cursed Spurs forward Bruce Bowen, or called members of the Denver Nuggets “thugs” and,  as he passed Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin’s mother in the stands, pointed at her and said “that includes your son.”

It was cool — or at least entertaining — when he criticized the NBA’s manager of officials, Ed T. Rush, and said he “wouldn’t be able to manage a Dairy Queen.” Naturally, this upset Dairy Queen and the company suggested he ought to try managing a store for a day. Cuban took ’em up on it and worked for a day at a Dairy Queen in Coppell, Texas, where fans lined up in the street to get a Blizzard from him. Cuban wore a Dairy Queen shirt with the name “Tony” embroidered on it.

Cuban acts like a fan at Mavericks games — sometimes too much. Early on, he got right up next to the team huddle and yelled at referees. Of late, he’s been a pretty good boy.

“He is still fired up,” big goofy German Mavericks star forward Dirk Nowitzki told the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth. “He is still such a huge fan. He is still in it with his heart. He is positive. Sometimes he yells. He picks his spots better.

“He is not as hands-on as he once was. He is still hands-on for an owner but not as hands-on as he used to be.”

Good enough for me. I’m going with the geek in this series.

What about you? And if a guy wins the NBA championship, even if he’s a T-shirt wearin’ owner, is he still a Nerd?

R-O-A-D T-R-I-P, Road Trip

Something to look for in the Daily Mail this week: the paper’s sending me to Washington, D.C. tomorrow morning to cover the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

I’ll have my first update on Elizabeth Koh, the Beckley seventh-grader representing the Gazette-Mail in the national bee, in Wednesday’s paper. But check back here at Nerd Living for inside looks at the bee that won’t make the newspaper.

Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/zackharold). I’ll be live-tweeting the competition all day Wednesday and Thursday. Feel free to tweet me with any nerdy suggestions/questions/requests for my time in D.C. Unless it involves swiping a national treasure, I’ll do my best to humor you.

What we're reading this summer

For some people, summer is a time for getting new swimsuits, catching the sun’s beautiful rays, sipping drinks with little umbrellas and so on and so forth.

We’re not those people. OK, well, maybe we are. Sometimes. On occasion. As long as our pale, pale skin doesn’t burst into flame.

Either way, we’re likely to have a book (or, excuse me: “reading device”) clutched in at least one hand. We’re the kind of people who think it’s exciting to crack open a new book (or, excuse me again: “push the download button.”) And, among other things, summer kicks off the summer reading season, which is differentiated from the fall, winter and spring reading seasons by the fact that it’s summer.

Nerd: me, Brad McElhinny

Books: The Year of the Hare, The Left Hand of Darkness

These have been sitting on the ol’ nightstand, ready to roll for a few weeks now. “The Year of the Hare,” by a guy named Arto Paasilinna,  is pretty skinny, 193 pages, and has a plot summary that really hits home for me: “While  out on assignment, a journalist hits a young hare with a car. He decides to spend a year wandering the wilds of Finland — with the bunny as his companion. What ensues is a series of comic misadventures, as everywhere they go — whether chased up a tree by dogs, or to a formal state dinner — they leave mayhem in their wake.” See, it’s already sounding semi-autobiographical!

I read about “The Year of the Hare” a few months ago in this post by NPR’s Monkey See blog, which I also recommend because it is weird, smart and covers a lot of geeky territory. Ironically, their version of the recommendation was called “Snowbound Reads.” Well, here I am posting it in a summer reading list. What the heck. It IS the year of the hare, not just one season.

The other book in my pile is “The Left Hand of Darkness” by classic fantasy writer Urusula K. Le Guin. A few years ago I read her Earthsea series about a wizard named Ged and the power of language. Since then, I’ve eyeballed Le Guin’s many other offerings but was intimidated by the many choices. Where to begin? It seems The Left Hand of Darkness might be the right choice. Here’s a little summary from the back of the book: “On the planet Winter, there is no gender. The Gethenians can become male or female during each mating cycle, and this is something that humans find incomprehensible.” Get it? Yeah, me neither. What the heck. I’m diving in.

 

 

Nerd: Zack Harold

Book: The Knowland Retribution

To me, summer reading means easy reading. Fast. Action-packed. So I’m recommending “The Knowland Retribution” by Richard Greener.

This is the first book in Greener’s “Locator Series,” which only features two books so far. The series focuses on Walter Sherman, a Vietnam vet with an uncanny knack for locating people. Sherman has made a career of finding runaway wives and wayward children but “The Knowland Retribution” finds him hunting down a self-trained sniper picking off the corporate types that killed his family.

Though this is Greener’s debut novel, his prose is tight and his plot is clever. But finding “The Knowland Retribution” might be an adventure in itself. It appears to be out of print and the cheapest used copy on Amazon is going for $39. Half.com’s cheapest copy is selling for $52.

I downloaded the book on my Kindle for $9.99, so snagging a copy will be easy if you have the e-reader or an iPad, iPhone, Droid or other device that will download the Kindle app.

I promise you one thing, this book is worth the hunt. And don’t just take my word for it: Fox is planning a Locator-inspired series, called “Finder.”

 

Nerd: Josh Work

Books: House of Leaves, Gravity’s Rainbow

This summer, I plan to take another shot at reading “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, the story of a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Danielewski does a splendid job of shaping his narrative to reflect the chaotic and mind-boggling architecture of the place. I’ve tried to make my way through it in the past, but I always got hung up around the Five and a Half Minute Hallway. Johnny’s various asides strewn throughout the footnotes certainly don’t help.

Maybe I’ll listen to Poe’s album “Haunted” while I read. The singer, who is also the author’s sister, included several references to the book in various songs. If I manage to complete this book, perhaps I’ll have mustered enough literary fortitude to tackle the dense pages of “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon.

Nerd: Ashlee Maddy

Books: Flashpoint, Atlas Shrugged, The Hunger Games

My summer reading lists includes some nontraditional selections. I’ve fallen behind on my comic book series, so those definitely top my list.

Although I loved Blackest Night, I have yet to finish all of the issues of the follow-up Brightest Day. My husband has them all bagged and boarded in our collection, so I’ll have to be extra careful not to wrinkle them.

I also need to read the recently released War of the Green Lanterns and Flashpoint.

After going to the theater to see Atlas Shrugged on Tax Day, we went out and bought a value book set containing Ayn Rand’s novel, as well as The Fountainhead. I’ve started Atlas Shrugged, but it’s dense and not something that can be thumbed through quickly. It may take me more than the summer to finish it.

I generally re-read a particular Harry Potter book before watching the film version, but since I recently revisited The Deathly Hallows, that won’t be necessary.

I’ve considering reading The Hunger Games after reading good reviews of it, so I may add it to the pile. Any other input is appreciated!

What are YOU reading this summer?

Up next, "Jeremy" on the kazoo

Eddie Vedder’s soon-to-be released solo album features the Pearl Jam frontman on ukulele. And nothing else. That sounds like the lead-up to a joke, but it’s not.

I just started listening to the album on NPR.org last night. At first I hated it. Ukes require a lighter touch. Thrash-strumming must be kept to a minimum, and Vedder opens this album with a beach bum rendition of Pearl Jam’s “Can’t Keep.”

I didn’t like that song when Vedder sang it with a guitar. I can’t stand it when he’s playing it on a ukulele.

As for the rest of the album…it’s growing on me.

A few classic cover tunes round out the playlist (“Sleepless Nights,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “Tonight You Belong to Me”). They’re  pretty good, in a wonderfully weird way. The originals are taking a bit more time. They’re annoying, but I want to keep listening.

I like Vedder. I love the ukulele, when it’s in the right hands. It’s not love at first listen, but I might come to like it.

Go over to NPR and take a listen for yourself. Tell me what you think.

 

Dana Dane

The recent news about West Virginia University football coach in waiting Dana Holgorsen naturally got me to thinking about Dana Dane.

That’s because I can’t keep a straightforward train of thought my brain synapses don’t always work in a straight line I’m not really sure.

Dana Holgorsen, of course, is the Norse God of Offense. And he got in trouble recently for letting his Loki side get somewhat out of hand at a Cross Lanes casino. My bigger question: How fun can a Cross Lanes casino possibly be at 3 in the morning?

I digress as usual, not that I was really ever gressing.

I looked up Dana Dane, a pre-90s rap star, and he has no similarities whatsoever.

Dana Dane’s real name is Dana McLeese and he grew up on Brooklyn, although he rapped with a British accent. His debut, “Dana Dane with Fame,” peaked at No. 46 on the Billboard album chart in 1987. His biggest single was “Cinderfella Dana Dane,” which reached No. 11 on Billboard’s R&B charts.

Anyway, I mention it mostly just to post this video. But if the untold story of Dana Holgorsen is that he picked up a mic and started busting rhymes at the racetrack in the early morning hours, why then who could fault him for that? Anyhow, press play and imagine the rapper is actually Dana Holgorsen rockin’ the Mardi Gras Casino house.

Happy Geek Pride Day!

So, it’s Geek Pride Day, which I think might rank below Talk Like a Pirate Day but ahead of Cinco de Mayo.

I’ve gotta admit, I’d never heard of it being Geek Pride Day until today.

But here it is right here on the Wikipedias, so it must be true!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geek_Pride_Day

A non-denominational holiday to be celebrated by nerds and geeks who do not feel ashamed of showing their unconventional interests in public.

What are you doing to celebrate?

 

 

Beauty and (how about somebody else besides) the Beast

Dane Agostinis as Beast and Emily Behny as Belle. Does she really think his anger issues won’t resurface? (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Not to get too serious about a Disney musical, but every time I see “Beauty and the Beast” I want to shout “No, Belle, no! Those are not the only two options available to you!”

Beauty and the Beast,” of course, was here in Charleston at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences on Sunday. And once again beautiful, smart Belle had to choose between that meathead Gaston and the walking-anger-management problem, Beast.

And it’s just not cool to shout from the second balcony, “Belle, you have been presented with the classic either/or fallacy! An either/or fallacy occurs when your scriptwriter makes a claim (usually a premise in an otherwise valid deductive argument) that presents an artificial range of choices!  For instance, he may suggest that there are only two choices possible, when three or more really exist!  Those who use an either/or fallacy try to force their audience to accept a conclusion by presenting only two possible options, one of which is clearly more desirable!”

Because by the time you got to the second sentence of your persuasive argument, children would be in tears, ushers would be called to escort you away and dancing, singing pots and pans would be glaring in your general direction.

But, excuse me just the same, am I supposed to believe that someone as lovely, smart and well-informed as Belle could not realize that someone, anyone else in her exceptionally musical town might be a better match for her?

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the other factor at work here: Stockholm Syndrome. In this case, Belle is a Patty Hearst figure, held captive in a weird castle by magical, singing, dancing clocks and candles until she takes up arms (against Gaston), sings their songs and joins their cause. These enchanted objects so clearly have a stake in getting Belle to fall for the Beast. And, really, does anyone want to make the claim that some really strong barbiturates are not in effect? A larger-than-life musical teapot who desperately wants you to love an angry, hairy, horned creature? Yeah. Uh-huh, Mrs. Potts is TOTALLY watching out for your best interests.

It just so happens that there’s a timely parallel from real life: The Lovely Miss Elizabeth and — rest his recently-departed Slim Jim-lovin’ soul — Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

Run! Don't look back! Just run!

Now, I’m not one to denigrate the Macho Man. But does anyone believe this guy was an ideal life partner? And do wrestlers even use the term life partner?

But there was the demure Miss Elizabeth all those years ago, having her honor defended by Macho Man against the smitten George ‘The Animal’ Steele. (One thing I’m not clear about — even though I made up the comparison — Who is Gaston and who is Beast in this scenario?) And then over the years, Macho Man made insanely jealous by Hulk Hogan, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, the Lovely Miss Elizabeth really might have been better off with “Mean” Gene Okerlund or ANYBODY else.

Now THAT would be a tale as old as time.

Does that come in size Extra-Geek?

In order to fit in with those who don’t fit in, style is of the upmost importance.  There are certain requirements for being a geek, and a big part of that is what you wear.  I’ll be your tour guide into what fashion you need, and where you can find it without breaking the bank, and without waiting to be outbid for your favorites on ebay.  Not that I’m qualified, but I do fill out a Superman shirt very nicely.  These are reviews, and I didn’t get anything in return for recommending them, so enjoy…guilt free.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper has a line of clothing based on his wardrobe.

The first thing you need to know is vintage clothing is never out of style.  Since local Goodwill stores are hit-or-miss, you can find the best of Goodwill online now, and pick up some retro-funk for your next stroll to your local comic book store.  There are generally 8,000+ clothing items.

www.shopgoodwill.com

The next stop is one of my favorites for non-tees from the nineties…and eighties.  I bought a vintage Members Only jacket a few months back and it is like brand new!  There’s every design from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; and they offer coupon codes via email to reduce the strain of paying five bucks for that “Keep on Truckin’” belt buckle you can’t look past.

http://rustyzipper.com/

For those looking for something a little more modern in their vintage wear, there’s t-shirts galore available with a retro look, but an unworn fragrance.  They offer pop culture shirts from the 1980s through today.

http://www.80stees.com/

For a custom approach to the retro look, you can build your own design or pick from a selection of creative memory-wear.

http://www.zazzle.com/80s+tshirts

No geek wardrobe would be complete without an assortment of comic book tees.  You can find Marvel, DC, and several independent characters to protect your chest, along with rings and other things that will let people know you’re carrying a calculator and you know how to use it.

http://www.superherostuff.com/

Want to pick up the shirt with the comic book that goes with it?  You have the power, He Man.  There’s a plethora of potential purchases ranging from books to shirts to Wonder Woman statues.  We have three at my house, and it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

http://www.midtowncomics.com/

When you want to look geek, you have to think geek.  Doctor Sheldon Cooper would find his wardrobe cloned at this online store.  He could even pick up some LED magnetic digital graffiti.  I don’t know about you, but that is a must at my house.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/

There’s even the peculiar and strange styling of teefury, which makes a unique t-shirt each day, sells it for 24 hours, and then never sells it again.  It’s ‘tee today and gone tomorrow’, and so inexpensive it will make you regret just now finding out about it.

http://www.teefury.com/

Custom and limited designs make you cooler.

If your passion in life involves a joystick and 16 bit characters, you’re awesome, and so is your clothing site.  Don’t forget to accessorize your ensemble with a watch and a lounge chair modeled after a bulldozer!

http://theawesomer.com/

I saved my favorite for last.  To fully grasp the inderictibility (not a real word) of this site, one must set aside at least a day and schedule lunch breaks to avoid being over-coolisidited (also, not a word).  Most of their shirts can be found at the aforementioned 80stees.com.

http://www.junkfoodclothing.com/

Duane Maddy