Birthday Present

2 November, 2020 at 10:47 pm (clerical, dear diary, music)

As I left my apartment this morning, I put my weekly lunch materials — diet iced tea, cold cuts, cheddar cheese, jalapeño wraps, peanut-butter crackers, and raspberry fruit bars — into a reusable shopping bag I got a few years ago. I got it at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston during an event with Emily Haines. That had been my second time seeing Haines perform, and my second time ponying up for a VIP experience.

The Things You Own; They Own YouThere had been a podcast I’d listened to at some point in 2015 that had detailed an investigator’s attendance at a VIP event with Britney Spears in order to be able to ask her a question. The strangeness of the description of the event — of paying money to be part of an assembly line in order to claim that one had a “personal” experience with a celebrity — was compellingly absurd. So when an offer from Ticketmaster came to upgrade my ordinary Metric tickets to a VIP experience, I felt like I owed it to the spirit of random adventure to do so, even though I had no idea what that entailed. Because while I’d been listening to the band since discovering “Poster of a Girl” via an mp3 blog aggregator (ah, a younger internet…), they hadn’t been a band I could claim I “knew” with any real strength. In fact, an illness had kept me from attending a previous concert I’d hoped would help establish that expertise. However, found myself enamored of the essential stupidity of going to an intimate meet-and-greet session with a band I basically didn’t know.

And, well, it was brilliant. The band were welcoming and heartfelt, and we unexpectedly got to go up on stage and sing along with a song, and I felt alive and thrilled, and the whole show ranks somewhere in the top five concerts I’ve ever attended. And I decided that, as a result of how thrilling the whole experience had been, that I was going to unironically take advantage of any and every VIP opportunity that Metric provided thereafter, to chase that dragon and try to recapture that thrill.

Metric sing "Dreams So Real" in the basement of The Orpheum in Boston.

Haines’ appearance at the Boston ICA was the next available opportunity, and since VIP access always comes with attendant merch, I left that show with the memory of breathlessly close seats and the aforementioned canvas bag that warned me that, “All the things I own, they own me.” I’ve had this bag in high rotation since I moved into a new apartment at the beginning of the summer, as I’d recently shouldered the weight of shifting my possessions across town, and of finding volunteers during Covid to huff and puff in proximity to each other while humping those possessions up and down stairs. Packing, moving, and unpacking had put a serious physical strain on me, and while I had returned to a degree of equilibrium, anxiety over maintaining work to maintain rent to not have to endure that physical gauntlet again any time soon remained. As I grew accustomed to my new digs, I wanted to remind myself not to get too comfortable, too entrenched, as my possessions were a future labor that would have their reckoning.

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21 April, 2019 at 9:12 pm (clerical, film, muppets)

After the moderate success (read: I believe I still haven’t written at all about The Constant Gardener and my thoughts about Tinker, Tailor, Commissioner, Gordon are still conflicted and incomplete) of my series leading up to the release of the largely unheralded le Carré adaptation Our Kind of Traitor, I dabbled with the idea of blogging about each of the Oceans movies leading up to the release of Ocean’s Eight in 2018. The plan was to write about the Rat Pack original, the Clooney trilogy, and then Logan Lucky (aka “Ocean’s 7-11”) during the weeks leading up to number-one-with-a-Bullock release on June 8. (There was even a plan to cap it off the next week with a review of The Deep End of the Ocean full of complaints about how they totally violated the spirit of the franchise. It was going to be absurd, and may actually have stretched successfully to funny. We’ll never know.) It would have been a more manageable project with only six films, versus nine intended le Carré entries.

I have little memory of how I dropped that particular ball last year, but looking back on my calendar, it seems I watched the original Ocean’s 11, took some notes about some research I needed to do — including finding that elusive article about how the Soderbergh Eleven was picketed by men in Rat Pack cosplay, protesting that it was being remade* — and then I was overwhelmed by two twentieth reunions, supervising a TedX event, and family visiting from out of town. Real life sometimes gets in the way of even a dedicated commitment to pursuing an existence of entertainment.

So that plan was shelved, barring the slim possibility of a Bullock/Blanchett Ocean’s Nine. But then I noticed recently that we were coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of the theatrical release of The Muppet Movie on June 22, 1979. This seemed like a good opportunity to do a countdown to that event, reviewing the other theatrically-released Muppet films that spun out of that original, ahem, leap to the big screen.

What insights do I hope to gain by watching the theatrical Muppet films in reverse order? Is this a kind of return-to-basics, purity test, where I strip away all of the hullabaloo and see, progressively, what about the characters the audience wasn’t expected to take for granted? Is it a paean to primitivism, as the films in reverse chronology lose more and more special effects and trickery and revert to basic, essential puppeteering?

Maybe. Mostly, it will give me a chance to watch the newer films without comparing them to the earlier films I know best. I’ve watched The Muppet Movie easily a dozen times, and Great Muppet Caper half that. From there, my drop-off of exposure is precipitous, so much so that I haven’t ever seen the two post-Henson “storybook” adaptations. While Muppet Christmas Carol has become a staple in many of my peers’ holiday households, I’ve only ever seen the occasional clip from the film. So this will give me an opportunity to visit and revisit the films without the memory of my childhood ringing immediately in my ears, and perhaps therefore judge the films on their own merits.


May 4 — Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
May 11 — The Muppets (2011)
May 18 — Muppets From Space (1999)
May 25 — Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
June 1 — The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
June 8 — Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
June 15 — The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
June 22 — The Muppet Movie (1979)


Related Links:
+ A YouTube clip of the scene from the above screencap.
+ Review of the Kermit’s 50th Anniversary DVD edition of The Muppet Movie.
+ A pretty good Vox longread about the issues surrounding Kermit’s character, cultural footprint, and the firing of Steve Whitmire in 2017.
+ *EDIT: Hot damn, I found a paper print-out of the article from 2001 in a box, which allowed me to trace down the Salon article about protesting Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, I am that guy who has paper copies of old articles in boxes, but it’s hard to argue with the lucky result.

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I Care, You Care, We ALL Care for Le Carré

1 May, 2016 at 10:33 am (clerical, film, le carré diem)

I have been inspired by The Incredible Suit‘s tradition of blogging obsessively about a series of linked films prior to a related release — his most famous is the BlogalongaBond, wherein he revisited each of the 22 official Bond films over the course of the 22 months before the release of Skyfall, but equally entertaining was the slightly clunkierly-titled BlogalongaStarWars, where the sextet was reviewed prior to the release of Episode VII. Watching the beginning of the new adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Night Manager, I was reminded of just how deep of a well his novels have been, for how long they have been fodder for adaptation, and how I might be able to accrue a similar chunk of bloggery by investigating those of Le Carré’s novels that have made it to the big or the small screen.


New York magazine mentioned that nine films have been made from the Le Carré opus since 1965, and IMDB informs me that it is nine weeks until the release of the tenth in cinemas (and Edward R. Rooney informs Mrs. Bueller that Ferris has been absent nine times). And despite my propensity for long stretches of silence on this blog, I am going to review or respond to one of these films each week until the release of Our Kind of Traitor on July 1st. Then I’m going to curl into a ball and retreat into my normal period of intense internet inactivity.

Because while The Incredible Suit and Smart Overcoat may have similar usernames, that resemblance and any further similarities are purely coincidental. When he ran his projects, they were spaced out over a period of time that was not insane and would not run ramshackle over one’s personal and professional life. I mean, sure, it’s not Doug Benson’s 366 Movie Challenge, and watching and writing about ten films in nine weeks is low-rent stuff for any professional film reviewer, it’s only difficult for anyone who doesn’t already have Le Carré’s body of work near to hand or who hasn’t memorized the HMTL for a lowercase e with an acute accent.

However, in the spirit of Film Blogging, and in homage to Le Carré’s hero character George Smiley, I would encourage anyone to join as one of Smiley’sEmoji’s People, and to summarize the plots of any of the films entirely in emoji. I would do this as an add-on at the end of any article, but I am woefully unfamiliar with the range of available emoji, having eschewed the entire form of communication as a whole despite the best efforts of Chris Hardwick on @Midnight. Any summaremoji’s (I’m not sure that’s going to catch on) sent to me will be dutifully appended at the end of each post and gleefully boosted on social media. Thanks!

It's 'The Russia House'!


May 6 — The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
May 13 — The Deadly Affair (1966)
May 20 — The Looking Glass War (1969)
May 27 — The Little Drummer Girl (1984)
June 3 — The Russia House (1990)
June 10 — The Tailor of Panama (2001)
June 17 — The Constant Gardener (2005)
June 24 — Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
June 30 — A Most Wanted Man (2014)
July 1 — Our Kind of Traitor (2016)


Related Links:
+ The New York Times on Carré’s legacy of adaptation
+ Traitor for Our Kind of Trailer. Wait, that doesn’t sound right…

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3 July, 2012 at 4:45 pm (clerical, film)

This blog doesn’t get many comments. In part because, well, who reads it? I get my fair share of hits from people searching for images of the lady who was fired for being too hot and for Patrick Bateman’s business card, but few people actually stop here and smell the proverbial roses. I am not controversial, trendy, clever, or charismatic enough in person or in print to have “followers”. My twitter feed and my defunct Beehive forum testify to this. I have achieved relative peace with this fact.

So it was a mild shock to receive an email from WordPress saying that some rando had been incensed enough with my eight-year old post about Star Wars vs. Annie Hall that he needed to set me straight! All comments are moderated, so it sits sadly in limbo until I’m done with this post, and then I will send it to its stygian destiny. Because, well, it’s idiotic. He wiffles on for 200 words about how Star Wars, because it’s imaginary, took more creativity in its writing and production, because making up names like “Dirk Starkiller” is haaarrrrrd. Despite his lack of capitalization and despite a superfluity of appalling clauses, someone had successfully taught this young padawan that one should concede a point to the opposing view to show that one is not a complete rhetorical monster. He does this with the following:

Annie Hall made ​​me such a good time but did not reach me emotionally like star wars.

But his ultimate conclusion is that, “Annie Hall will be quickly forgotten.”

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BRIEFLY: Toastmaster General

21 July, 2010 at 10:14 am (benjamin, clerical, comics)

If I were still using the “melbatoast” domain name and web-handle, I would have loved these photos from Paul Cornell‘s blog entry about the seeing geek chic fliers for local “virtual eatery” the House of Toast at CONvergence. And if that doesn’t mean anything to you at all, don’t worry, just enjoy this:

House of Toast - Lack of Faith flier

I know some of you quite enjoyed the mild confusion you felt about why I’d chosen “melbatoast” (or even “m3lbatoast”) as my online identity, and some of you haven’t successfully transitioned from the old page to this one (especially since I just killed it with nary a transitional announcement). In any case, I hope you haven’t found your lack of toast disturbing.

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A Long Day’s Journey Into Silence

9 March, 2009 at 1:17 pm (clerical)

Well, it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything. And since I’d prefer to say something instead of just chronicling every Batman-related news story that crosses my field of vision, I find that my blog is dwindling again. Despite my previous plan to jot down some quick notes and links, and throw them — gelatinous and unformed — into Blogger’s gaping maw, I find myself reluctant to clack out anything that I haven’t thought about, mulled like fine cider, and weighed in the palm of my hand, to get a small measure of its relevance and universality. Unfortunately, this means that I usually find it lacking, particularly as my internal Bureau of Weights and Measures is as slow and bureaucratic as its civic counterpart, which removes much chance of any relevancy right from the offset.

One might think that microblogging would be the answer, then. And, as you can see, I have incorporated a Twitter feed into the sidebar, publishing my running list of songs that have gotten stuck in my head long enough for me to do something about it. But I’m not convinced that Twitter or, say, Tumblr would provide me with the answer. It’s become clear to me that blogging really is about comments, about a call and response relationship with the void. I’ve long held that, for me, this is supposed to be more like a column, a collection of aggregated observations that should amuse, but should stand on their own. It should not rely on knowledge of me, nor be designed to shine a light into my personal life and internal workings. However, I have largely failed in that last aspect: the column has become more of a diary, more of a LiveJournal as time has withered on. In part this is because I have lost my trust in my ability to be universal, in my ability to write openly without an intended audience. I would write with more surety, and therefore more frequently, if this had a focus, a topic, a row to hoe. But since it doesn’t, since it is just a feature for my peregrinatory whims, it really has to be simply about me, and therefore simply be a journal after all.

I heard about a study recently (not sure where… I assumed in the Sci/Tech news I accumulate in my RSS subscriptions, but a series of searches reveals nothing, so now I’m guessing it was a one-line item in Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me) that indicates that blogging makes one happy. Researchers claim that individuals who blog feel

“a sense of greater social integration, which is how connected we feel to society and our own community of friends and others; an increase in social bonding (our tightly knit, intimate relationships); and social bridging — increasing our connectedness with people who might be from outside of our typical social network.”

The article I link to above claims, if I’m reading this right, that this comes about because of an internal sense of satisfaction that comes from journaling about one’s internal feelings, and the increased sense of self-acceptance that comes with the external articulation of this. What is not said is whether this greater sense of self is dependent upon external reinforcement from comments, hits, or other exchanges. Is the writing sufficient unto itself, or does it really need to be “blogging”, with the subsequent back-and-forth that seems to be a requisite part of the definition.

Also, does microblogging bring micro-satisfaction? How much happiness can be spun and how much self-concept can be reinforced in 140 characters? If anything, I wonder if the micro-format, being such a virtual amuse-bouche, leaves both the reader and the writer impatient for and anxious about more. For every person who wonders why someone would even join Twitter anyway, I wager, there’s someone using the service in anguish over what to say say next, in order to always have one’s account fresh and new and interesting. And I do not envy this hypothetical (read: straw?) person’s regular bouts of status panic.

One last note on Twitter. A few people in conversation have sought out my editorial on the whole phenomenon, and one of the points I like to drive home about its appeal is the celebrity aspect of the whole thing — there is a potent allure in providing a service that encourages the illusory notion that one is connected with someone famous. I fully understand why creative types like singer/songwriters have been firmly embracing the web, as it allows them to use technology to regularly reinforce their audience, and in the fractured commerce that is the music business, a core of devotées is acutely necessary. I’m less sure why, say, an actress like Kat Dennings needs a homepage, a YouTube channel, and a Twitter account. That is to say, I understand why she would want or need them as a person — after all, I have all these same things — but not so much as a celebrity. If one uses the singer/songwriter lens above, to have all these one-way outlets for communication feels like brand-building, and I find it hard to believe that either Ms. Dennings or her publicity staff would feel that she needs to be a brand. Even in the mayfly world of starlets.

The flip-side of this is the fake Twitter-account, which is almost invariably associated with a celebrity. I’m not sure I understand the appeal of pretending to be a celebrity… is there really a frisson that comes from having thousands of followers when they’re not really interested in you at all? How is it that the fake Zooey Deschanel has thousands of followers and no posts, while the real one has but a pittance? (EDIT, 10 Aug 2009: actually, both seem to have been fakes, and have been summarily deleted. Ms. Deschanel can be found here.) My favourite spambot/spoof, however, is the rather baffling “StephenFryJohnCleese“, who apparently decided that pretending to be one famous British comedian wasn’t enough, and so he’d grab more followers by being two! Or something…

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SKETCH: An Explanation

2 July, 2008 at 2:39 pm (clerical)

Zero Punctuation: What.I now have over a year of draft posts saved on various places around my computer. Folders of browser tabs and bookmarks, evocative images on my desktop, and anecdotes from events now well past their shelf date of relevance.

Stan Sakai: Hulk signatureI wasn’t entirely certain what to do with this digital scrapbook, and considered a simple purge, a mass deletion. Because if I looked upon these stray thoughts and thought, “Was this really worth sharing?” then what would other people think? But I was inspired by the twin sources of Nalyn and OAA, the former who encouraged me to embrace my quikjot origins of electronic communication, without needing to expound at length or significance; and the latter of whom has seriously updated her blogging by at least 600% since she threw her lot in with the shortform communication style of Tumblr.

Blue Beetle: I am a DENTIST!I don’t like the lack of comment ability on Tumblr, or else I’d just divest myself of these stray scrips and scraps there, but that’s the model I’ll be working with. So if you see a post — particularly a post that suddenly appears with an old date on it — tagged or prefixed with “Sketch”, then you know it’s part of my clearinghouse, and it may just sit there, context- and commentary-free. Tell me if you like them, and I may also find myself updating this blog more than my typical twice a month.

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Ring-A-Ding-Ding-Along With Me

1 January, 2008 at 3:05 pm (clerical, film)

Bits and bobs to begin being the beguine, if you take my meaning…

Doonesbury 21 October 2002+ I’ve closed down The Brothel, an internet forum I’ve hosted since March of 2003. It was good fun, and good conversation. If you participated in it in any way, thanks for hanging out. I find that I miss it, and still have regular instances where I find I’m itching to go there and type out something. My hope is to start writing this stuff in letters again, like I used to. If I used to e-mail you a lot and don’t any longer, now would be a good time to hit me up again for my patented brand of twitchy correspondence.

+ Aileen regularly gives her fellow statemates a bit of a going over for complaining about the weather. And she’s got a point. Complaining about the weather is a particularly ineffectual use of one’s vitriol, whether one is bitching about the unpredictability of the daily expression of the climate, or whether one is moaning about the totally predictable display of living someplace where there are seasons. And even if one had gotten used to the past three years of warmer winters, brown Christmases, and less frequent shoveling, one really can’t find much in the way of forensic ground to complain about a return to normalcy.

That said, the guy who who plows my driveway got stuck in the snow and ice that had accumulated there over the past few days. It’s a hoary old joke, but yeah. The plow. Got stuck. In the snow. I think it’s time to call a moratorium on precipitation for a little while, okay, Old Man Weather?

+ My mother has just called me to recommend that I go see Lars and the Real Girl, the heartfelt tale of one man’s relationship with his Real Doll. I can’t tell if this is because she thought it was weird and funny, or is that she’s given up on my ever getting married and has switched to a twisted new tactic.

+ There are a couple of films that I watch annually. While Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo recently debated the best Christmas movie of all time (Die Hard all the way, baby!), I find myself deviating from their list and regularly rewatching Billy Wilder’s The Apartment as my sole piece of personal seasonal entertainment. Bridging the gap between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it’s my touchstone of a certain kind of solitary melancholy.

This year, upon rewatching, I was suddenly struck by the presence of a Chagall painting in the background in one scene.

Jack Lemmon and Marc Chagall in The Apartment

How odd, I thought, that this Chagall would be used as a print in both The Apartment and years later in Notting Hill. It was an odd sort of subtle tribute. Or maybe it was because the rights to displaying the image were held by the studio. Or something else. In any case, it was an interesting coincidence, and the sort of blog post that Glenn Kenny would have been proud of. I scampered off to grab a screencap from both films, only to find out that it wasn’t the same painting at all.

Julia Roberts, Chagall, and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill

I haven’t the faintest idea where else I’ve seen the painting in The Apartment, then. I had a suspicion that it was in the Chagall exhibit at the Kunstmuseum Heidenheim, but a review of the programme indicates otherwise.

So I got nothin’. Instead, I’ll merely quote the endearing Richard Curtis dialogue from Notting Hill:

I can't believe you have
that picture on your wall.

You like Chagall?

I do. It feels like how
being in love should be.
Floating through a dark blue sky.

With a goat playing the violin.

Yes... happiness isn't happiness
without a violin-playing goat.

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12 September, 2006 at 12:16 pm (clerical)

I feel like it’s too soon to have another compendium post, despite the fact that the last one was in June, and was therefore some time ago. However, despite a plethora of incentive to ruminate, I have little of substance and only little substances to commit to writing. I have an unfortunate pattern of behaviour that when I am in transition, I cut off all of my friends and acquaintances. I shut down all communication until I have reduced the complexity and instability of my life back to a coherent and manageable ambiguity.

It’s my version of Douglas Adams’ Improbability Drive, using isolation and time to reduce the incomprehensibly large number of factors and possibilities down to a handful of threads that can be comfortably cats cradled. All of which is why I have been quite of late, on this front, over on Jehanne, and at the Brothel, as I’ve been attempting to once again find the pitch and yaw of normalcy, or what passes for it. I’m not expecting total stability, just the ordinary level of stuff I have to cope with.

Anyway, compendiantics:

+ I am once again in digital transition, trying to balance a lack of high-speed internet at home with the labyrinth of inaccessible sites at work. As of Friday, there is the possibility that DSL will once again make life easy, and I look forward to that. Although it will certainly mean that my flatmate and I will suddenly have even less of a reason to actually converse and interact with each other as we hunch over our respective monitors, sluicing data from the stream. We’ve been talking about getting accounts on World of Warcraft, and even if it means we’ll be interacting virtually, through avatars, in adjacent rooms, well… at least we’ll be carving out time to spend together.

+ My brother Peter is my flatmate, as he treads his way through a year of stressless retail activity before he plunges back into the self-rigors of higher academia. Neither of our diets are built around an exquisite palate, mine because I prefer bland repetition and his because he has S.A.D.-related hunger issues. All of which renders our refrigerator a large, electricity-sucking, magnetic joke. There are no vegetables and hardly any meat in the fridge, which is dominated by various sweetened beverages and bread products. In a snacking mood during the first week, we stared into our snack-less fridge, and Peter hit upon the idea of making a Bread Sandwich: a piece of oat bran bread sandwiched between two pieces of white. A week later he pioneered the French Toast Sandwich: a cooked and egged piece of honey oat bread slapped between two slices of oat bran. We’ve also seen a lasagne sandwich, just to include a different starch-between-starches concept. I’m beginning to see the makings of a running gag.

+ I’ve been getting up at 5:45am in order to be out the door by 6:30am in order to be at work by 7:00am, so this whole bread thing may seem far, far funnier to my deteriorating consciousness than it does to the outside world. I’m just sayin’.

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Light Raillery

1 August, 2006 at 3:31 am (clerical)

I have totally fallen in love with the word “persiflage” today. I read an article about how the romantic male lead and one of the main writers of NBC’s The Office had gone to grade school together and tripped over the word. I’d never encountered it before, and it so perfectly summed up the way I feel about my own verbal contributions to the wider world, that I decided to make it my new identity. I’ve been tired of “m3lbatoast” for a while. In college, being on the fringes of a bunch of self-proclaimed n3rds and 31337, I enjoyed the alphanumeric thing. But it’s hard to write out. And it’s hard to say simply. “Is that a numeral one or a letter ell after the three? What does that say? Emm-three-ell-ba-toast?” I have grown tired of it.

Unfortunately, adopting “persiflage” as a new web-identity isn’t that simple. Despite my inexperience with the word, it is a standard enough vocabulary word, which means that someone thinks it’s marketable. Specifically, which seems to think that the address is worth a cool seven thousand dollars as a personal site. Now I can’t wonder what their dedicated evaluateers would have quoted as a price if I’d said that I wanted the site for a business page or for a film tie-in. has been similarly sat upon by BuyDomains. I assume that .net top-level domains are less desirable and might cost a grand or so less, but even that is eye-rubbingly ridiculous. It’s a nice scam if you can get someone to swallow it.

I have come up with a suitable username that will link to the persiflage brand and concept, and have been wandering all over creation solidifying my stake. It’s a fake word, so it hasn’t been that difficult, and now my potential new web-identity has it’s seat saved over at Blogspot, Gmail, WordPress, AIM, Flickr, and Yahoo!. But while it makes for a good username, it’s not really URL material, outside of the free hosting that someplace like WordPress provides.

The difficulty arises when one tries to avoid paying BuyDomains or GoDaddy. What do I go with? I am so through the whole three-for-e thing, and besides I’m not really seeing the aesthetic appeal of “m3lbatoast” has a visual aspect to it that is pleasing, and the reversed substitute digit makes itself almost immediately self-apparent. “p3rsiflage” and “persiflag3” fail to create a similar intuitive grace, or indeed to embody any visual aesthetic.

I have my eye on a couple of work-arounds that have a certain charm — but they will not be mentioned here so as to prevent any vicious cybersquatting. However, suggestions are welcomed as I scrutinize my bank account and ponder redesigns, server hosts, functionality, and longevity.

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