Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 1)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this.

I woke up this morning and didn’t feel too great. When I looked at the mirror, I immediately located the problem: there was a goddamn tarantula sitting on top of my head. I had no idea how it got there and was absolutely stunned, to say the least. The temptation to grab the beast and smash it into the wall was strong, but I was afraid any sudden movements might unleash the wraith pulsating within the eight-legged monster.

Fortunately, the tarantula jumped off my head and straight into the toilet. I promptly flushed the thing and plopped down with a sigh after slamming the toilet cover down. Just to be safe, I checked the mirror again and brushed my head – the last thing I needed was a bunch of baby spiders hatching in my hair.

When I walked downstairs into the kitchen, my wife was standing there with her hands on her hips and an accusing stare in her beady eyes. I glared right in her smug mug and said, “What?”

She glared right back and said, “You look like shit.”

“I bet I do. You look like it too. As always.”

“You also smell like it.”

Who did this woman think she was talking to? Her husband? I smirked and said, “Yeah I get it.”

I guess she didn’t like my facial expression because she slapped me right across the cheek and marched out. A few seconds later I heard her car screech out the garage and swerve precariously around the corner. I sighed and threw my hands up. What next? Was a jet engine going to fall out of the sky and slam into my head, rendering me into a gory pancake?

Eating breakfast was out of the question. When I looked at cereal, I thought of spiders. When I looked at eggs, I thought of spiders. When I looked at peanut butter, I thought of spiders… which I didn’t quite get. I chalked it all up to trauma and decided to hold off on breakfast. Maybe I would just eat a big lunch instead.

When I got in my car, I noticed something wasn’t right. Something was watching me – I just didn’t know what. Then I looked across the street and saw my wife holding a goddamn machine gun! It was one of those big guns that you see Rambo using. As bullets rudely crashed into my life, I couldn’t help but wonder: was this all a dream?

Hello, reader. This is the author – yes, this is Barrett. It’s nice to meet you. How’s the family? Good? Great. Listen, I just wanted to apologize for even the possibility of this story turning into yet another one of those dream within a dream stories. We’ve had enough of those. Right?

I pinched myself. It hurt a lot. Well, I guess I wasn’t dreaming. But wouldn’t it be great if I was? I mean, wouldn’t it truly be tremendous to just wake up from this nightmare and return to my real life, which I concede is only marginally better than this, but still doesn’t involve me getting shot at in my own car and in my own garage?

Um, are you requesting something from the person responsible for your creation and everything having to do with it?

Maybe. Look, all I’m saying is that you’ve given me some bull to work with and we haven’t even hit a thousand words yet. Don’t you think that’s a little unfair?

No. I think it’s kind of funny. Of course, I’m the one who wrote this, so call me biased.

I can call you a lot of things worse than that.

Then I realized something. Bullets couldn’t hurt me at all! I jumped up with a confidence I hadn’t felt before, only to get ripped into shreds. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I died.

That’s what you get. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

Ugh! That’s so unfair. I’m dead already? What’s the point of this story then? Gosh.

I died.

But I got better.

You’ll see.

When I opened my eyes, something didn’t feel right. Then I remembered I was dead. Isn’t that great? I’m dead and now I don’t have to go to my crummy job or deal with my lame wife. I could do anything I wanted… but was I in Heaven or Hell?

I looked around and found myself in a very bland room. The walls were white, as was the floor and ceiling. Everything looked very clean. Suddenly, a booming voice addressed me. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from; it seemed like it was surrounding me and embracing me… only in a crushing sort of way. The voice, which was vaguely similar to Benedict Cumberbatch’s, ominously rumbled, “Welcome to Hell.”

What? This was Hell? Where were all the demons? Where were all the hot girls facing the consequence of being too naughty in real life? I mean, this was a real bummer!

Benedict Cumberbatch said, “Yes, this is Hell. Contrary to popular belief, Hell is nothing. It’s just you in a room. No food. No water. Nothing is here except you and the walls around you. Enjoy your time here – you’ll be around for quite some time.”

I screamed, “No shit!”

Then, I was all by myself.

 

“Benedict! Where did you go!?”

There was no answer. Even though I was absolutely furious, I couldn’t help but be a little curious too. If this really was Hell, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Surely this was a room with adjacent rooms? I must have neighbors, right?

Nope.

What!?

Yeah, sorry to burst your very temporary bubble, but your room is actually in the middle of Nothing.

Wait, wait, wait. If I’m in the middle of nothing, there must be something for something to be in, right? Because if there’s nothing, then how could something be in nothing?

So really. Where am I?

You’ll just have to figure that out yourself. Although here’s a hint: HELL!

I balled my fists up in despair and cursed the gods (or God, I guess) for giving me such a crummy writer. Where were his morals? His ethics? How could he send his main character into Hell already? What could I possibly do in this boring room all by myself? Wait a second…

Maybe I would become good friends with Benedict Cumberbatch! Yeah! We could talk about Sherlock and why so many girls inexplicably go nuts over him.

Um, hey, it’s me again. Just a quick FYI: that’s not actually Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought you should know that. It’s just a demon – or something – that has a voice resembling Benedict’s.

Whatever – don’t get so technical. And what’s with just using his first name? Are you on a first-name basis with famous actor Benedict Cumberbatch?

No, but – what the fuck! Just leave me alone so I can get on with this stupid story.

Yeah… it’s stupid for sure.

Zip it.

I got up and slowly paced around the room with my hands clasped behind my back. How was I going to spend my time here? And now I was feeling a little confused. There was no food and no water. Did that mean I never got hungry and thirsty, or did it mean I would be hungry and thirsty for eternity?

Also, I’m not going to lie – I was a little worried about the aesthetic aspect of eternal angst. Although it seemed highly unlikely I would ever see another living being again, I was concerned there would be physical changes due to malnutrition. I didn’t want to be a bag of bones and end up running into, say, Marilyn Monroe.

Hey, I’m just sayin’.

I yawned and stretched. It occurred to me that I wasn’t naked. Sure enough, when I looked down, I was wearing a comfortable shirt and sweatpants. Boy, this was going to be pretty okay! What an incredible day. Some rest sounded nice, so I took a seat on the floor and luxuriously lay on my side. Another yawn leisurely crawled out of my mouth and I blinked a couple of times slowly.

Yet… as the minutes passed (presumably), I could not fall asleep. I simply remained tired. Oh. Shit. Hell has no sleeping!?

Ha!

My previously jovial take on this situation spiraled into the murky depths of negativity and imploded, never to be discovered again. That’s when the reality of the situation hit me: I was stuck in a blank room forever, all by myself with no food, water, or the ability to fall asleep. Was I going to go crazy?

Was that Hell’s ultimate goal?

Part 2 is here!

A Few Good Men: 2014 NBA Free Agency and the Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls struck out on Carmelo Anthony, continuing a frustrating inability to sign star free agents that has lasted over the past few summers. However, the Bulls ended up with a handful of other players, and it looks like the future is brighter than we expected for Chicago basketball fans.

Most Chicagoans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Carmelo ended up back on the New York Knicks. I’m somebody who always thought his shortcomings could be alleviated on a team like the Bulls, but that’s just my opinion.

Regardless of your thoughts on Melo, we can all agree he is a genuine asset on offense. While he resorted to an inordinate amount of ball-hogging on the Knicks last year, look at that roster and tell me what his other options were. If he were on the Bulls, I bet he would be a much more controlled player.

Whatever. That’s all useless now and all we can do is see what the Bulls have to work with at this very moment. And honestly, it’s actually looking pretty great.

The Bulls traded their #16 and #19 picks for Doug McDermott, signed Pau Gasol, re-signed Kirk Hinrich, brought Nikola Mirotic over from Europe, and just signed point guard Aaron Brooks.

Offense was the biggest problem for the Bulls, without question, and that certainly seems to be less of an issue thanks to McDermott, Gasol, Mirotic, and even Brooks.

Dougie McBuckets killed it during Summer League, averaging eighteen points, four rebounds, and three assists on 44% shooting and 96% from the free throw line. He also killed it at Creighton, so I’m not too surprised.

His shot chart from last year, at Creighton. Damn, son.

His shot chart from last year, at Creighton. Damn, son.

Gasol is Gasol, which means being one of the best big men in the game, even at the age of 34. Gasol and Joakim Noah are both excellent passers, so expect some sick stuff in that area.

Hinrich will be Hinrich (in a good way) – we all know what he brings to the table at this point. The only interesting thing is that D.J. Augustin was let go, even though it’s arguable which player would have helped the team more.

Mirotic was a beast over in Europe. He’s 6’10” and shoots threes quite well; he shot 46% from three last season while playing for Real Madrid.

Aaron Brooks is the newest acquisition as of this writing and he adds depth to the bench. He also adds depth to the point guard position.

Speaking of point guards, remember that guy Derrick Rose? It all hinges on his health. With or without the improvements this free agency, the Bulls will make the playoffs. That’s what you get when you have the luxury of playing in the shitty Eastern Conference. But becoming a title contender is another story.

People are already saying that the Bulls are one of the top three teams in the East. They are correct. With LeBron James going back home to Cleveland, the Eastern Conference is pretty wide open. It’s almost anybody’s to win, and the Bulls will be huge favorites if Derrick Rose comes back healthy and plays at even 85% capacity.

I’m really liking the position the Bulls are in. Even though Carmelo is an excellent player, one can’t help but be a little happy he didn’t get signed by Chicago. Depth is an important characteristic of quality teams; look at what San Antonio did to Miami in the Finals.

If Derrick Rose comes back at an All-Star level, the Bulls will be formidable.

We need more of this.

We need more of this.

Get hyped!

P.S. The Bulls are apparently pushing hard for a trade that sends Kevin Love to the Bulls and maybe Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves. I sincerely hope that trade never pans out for reasons that I shouldn’t even have to explain.

The Wisest Fortune Cookie in the World

I ate some Chinese food and all I got was this lousy – whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute! What is this? This fortune cookie… is unbelievable.

Tell me more, Master Cookie.

Tell me more, Master Cookie.

When I cracked the cookie open, I expected to see yet another vaguely positive message that sounds funny if you include “in bed” at the end. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I found this little gem. If only all fortune cookies were like that!

Knowing the general public and how ridiculously stupid they are, fortune cookies this philosophical would probably cause a lot of strong reactions.

Fortune cookies are deceptive to begin with and it all starts with their origin story (which was pretty accurately covered in Iron Man 3, actually). As you can imagine, Chinese food in America is not exactly authentic – just like Italian and Mexican food. Not only does it generalize an entire country’s cuisine, but some stuff isn’t even Chinese to begin with. Fortune cookies fall in there as well.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Good food is good and it really doesn’t matter how it came about (if we leave aside extreme variables). If you enjoy truly “authentic” ethnic cuisine, good for you. If you enjoy food that’s been Americanized or otherwise altered to fit certain criteria, that’s fine too.

There’s no “and the moral is” here; I just didn’t want to end this post right after John Malkovich cursing in disbelief.

Hey, at least you learned something new. Unless you knew already.

But perhaps I have given you the urge to consume copious amounts of food!

Muahaha!

Pro Tips on Pickup Basketball Success

I’ve been shooting hoops by myself all my life, but if I go to LA Fitness or an outdoor basketball court, I’m bound to play with other people. Until very recently, I was horrible at that – until I realized a few important steps on how to hide your faults and play to your strengths.

On Saturday, I went to LA Fitness to play basketball while my mom did her weights and whatever her exercise regimen is. We went during the afternoon/early evening, which I hate, because that means other people will be around. I like to play by myself, which is less “playing” and more “shooting around and playing out imaginary scenarios where I emerge as the winner.”

No luck this time. A game was about to start and I legitimately wondered whether I should back out and go jump on an exercise bike or something. Instead, I figured I’d give it a shot. I regretted my decision almost immediately.

I got hit in the face with the ball thanks to an unlucky ricochet off the rim and I was rattled for the next few games. Turnovers came easily while my rare shot attempts clanked off the rim or even… missed everything.

My defense was floundering too and I was just in a really bad place. Of course, it didn’t help that I was playing as soon as I arrived. Usually, it takes me about thirty minutes to really get in a rhythm before I start nailing shots. When I’m by myself, of course. When I’m around others, I might never find a rhythm, and instead spend the night running around the court like an idiotic version of Ray Allen, looking like I’m accomplishing something, but really doing shit.

So yeah, during the first few games, I was horrible. The other guys on the court didn’t really say anything because we had that one guy who insists on always shooting (and missing), so I wasn’t actually the worst guy.

Then, everything changed.

Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m not sure what happened. Maybe I relaxed. Maybe I did find some kind of rhythm.

All I know is that I started playing well – really well. My shot was on point, I even hit some floaters, and my defense was pretty stout for a 5’6″ guy with glasses.

An hour passed, and everybody left. And as they left, they actually called me “Ray Allen” and they weren’t been sarcastic.

Now, before I write anything else, I want to say I’m not bragging. By all objective standards, I suck at team basketball. I never really learned how to play within a team concept and I’m most comfortable just messing around by myself. I’m not athletic, I have no vertical, and I have no wingspan.

In the words of Drake, “you know it’s real when you are who you think you are.”

In light of this breakout performance and epiphany, I thought I’d share some tips on how to just have some damn fun when you’re playing ball on a casual level.

Don’t worry about your legacy

I know that sounds silly, but it was partially intentional. What I meant was this: don’t worry about what other guys think of you. It’s casual for a reason; there are no real stakes here (unless you play in Rucker Park). Even if you play poorly, there’s a good chance someone else is playing just as bad, or will play just as bad the next game.

The biggest tip – by far – is just to relax and have some fun. Enjoy what you’re doing! If you’re lucky, like I was on Saturday, everybody will be having fun, engaging in friendly trash talk and encouraging each other when both good and bad things happen.

If you worry too much about what happens if you miss two shots, or blow an open layup (a much more common problem than you’d think), you’re going to stress out. Forget about all that – don’t worry what the hot girl might think if she glances over and you throw the ball right at a guy on the other team.

Really, who cares? Everybody makes mistakes, and a mistake in recreational basketball is nothing to lose sleep over.

Hone your shot

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a pretty sad excuse for an athlete, much less a basketball player. But I manage to (somewhat) thrive on the court thanks to my ability to hit threes consistently. On the court, pretty much everybody ends up chucking them up, so it’s in your best interest to be the specialist on your team.

Trust me, if I can make guys get in my grill because they’re afraid of giving me open looks, I know what I’m talking about. The best is when you’ve practiced your shot enough to be calm even when you’re shooting in traffic.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

For whatever reason, that’s one thing I’m good at. And this is just a personal thing for me, but I always think of Ray Allen’s perpendicular-to-the-floor form when I rise up to shoot.

Hone your floater

Because I’m such a short guy, going into the paint can be a genuinely frightening experience. Paired with my dubious dribbling skills and you’ve got a guy who only runs through that area when he’s cutting. Fortunately, my obsession with Tony Parker’s floater made me develop my own, and it’s been getting heavy use in games.

In all honesty, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to get past your man, especially if you call for a screen, so once you penetrate, you just have to toss a floater up. Forget about layups; you’re not Dwyane Wade in his prime for crying out loud.

Keep things in perspective and be unselfish

This is kind of like the first suggestion. There’s also something of a contradiction here, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

When you keep things in perspective, it’s using other players’ poor performances as a way to bolster your own confidence. It gives you leeway to make mistakes, because you’re not doing as much damage as the other guys. It’s an odd method of thinking, but trust me, it totally works.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

On Saturday, the callous gunslinger was on my team almost every time, and he had an annoying habit of chucking long threes for no reason. That told me to take some risks, which I did, including a startling Eurostep floater/hook that had people’s heads exploding in disbelief.

Having said that, you also have to be unselfish. Pass the ball a lot – ball movement is good technique but it also gives you opportunities to shoot more, as odd as that sounds. Or, to be more specific, you have more flexibility when you get the ball.

I’m a team player (even though I don’t know how to play in one very well), so I pass the ball as much as I can. On Saturday, there was a bit of an exception because I was playing the best hour of my entire life, but even then I shared the rock like a point guard.

You know, this is all a pretty extreme thing to do after just an hour of basketball. I just can’t help it though; I’m so hyped to play with other people now, I can’t wait to go back to LA Fitness.

Another cool thing is that there are a lot of familiar faces around if you go at the right time long enough, which means you end up building a sort of reputation. It gives me great joy to say I’m building the kind where guys can honestly give me a nickname that is also the name of one of the greatest shooters of all-time, and the owner of the most beautiful shot in the game.

“Lucy” and Hollywood’s Disservice to the General Public (Part 1)

Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, is set to be released later this month. People have already been clamoring over the annoying “we only use 10% of our brains” myth being used in the film, which has caused me to hate this movie already. I’ll still see it though, and post a follow-up eventually.

I saw the trailer for Lucy when I went to see X-Men: Days of Future Past. I would’ve written a review for that, but I saw it a month after it came out, so it wasn’t really timely anymore.

Lucy is a borderline interesting story, with basically the same premise as 2011’s Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper. Both films incorrectly state that human beings only use 10% of their brains and set forth to find out what would happen if we unlocked our full potential. Unfortunately, both films fail to realize humans actually use approximately 90% of their brains at any given moment.

Morgan Freeman’s expression after learning he’s told the first lie of his life thanks to this film.

That annoying myth isn’t just limited to popular culture; it is etched into our minds, along with other tired myths such as the story about NASA developing an expensive pen for usage in space while the Russians just used pencils.

It’s a real problem, not just because it’s annoying, but because people are incredibly susceptible to stories like that. Even in journalism, there are so many “news” stories that end up being fake, Cracked.com has devoted an entire series of articles pointing them out.

The internet is supposed to bring knowledge to people; it does that job admirably, but the onus is on us to weed through the bullshit and hold the legitimate substance up high. Most people don’t seem to have that mentality, which explains why the brain story and the space pen story still get shared on Facebook and other social media platforms relentlessly, to the point where I’ve unfollowed some of my more… gullible friends.

NYMag.com published an article about Lucy and the brain myth, prompting one Facebook commenter to say, “It’s a movie, suspend disbelief a little if you want to enjoy it. Were you hoping for college credit?”

I find that comment to be ironic, considering the scrutiny other movies have received over their mistakes (real or otherwise). For example, Iron Man 3 has been attacked by many viewers over the fact that several different people with different physiques all wear an Iron Man suit at one time or another.

You’re telling me those suits can’t adjust to the wearer? Okay, buddy.

Gravity was also criticized over its scientific inaccuracies, even though it’s still one of the most accurate space movies ever made. What I’m trying to say is this: there’s a difference between nitpicking and having legitimate concerns over the message a movie is sending.

Like I said, the problem with Lucy‘s mistake is that it’s perpetuating an erroneous belief that many people sincerely believe to be true. It may be relatively harmless towards the quality of the movie, but it’s doing a disservice to the general public.

Yeah, Hollywood’s job isn’t to be an educator. But this is a product of lazy writing. The myth could easily have been avoided altogether and the story would have been just fine.

Ultimately, that’s why there’s going to be a follow-up to this. I want to write an actual movie review for Lucy, and the use of the myth won’t really factor into it, um, other than the main premise of the entire film being ruined…

In all honesty, the movie does look kinda cool, and it certainly helps my boy from Oldboy (the Korean one) is apparently the main bad guy here, unless Lucy ends up being the baddest one of all. 

 Click here for Part 2.