Life without a computer...

I'd tell you all about it, but I can't because my computer is dead.

The majority of my day used to revolve around my iBook. Now I have to find something new for my life to revolve around. Perhaps liquor. It certainly can't be porn, unless I want to go into a store and buy it. Do they even print dirty magazines anymore?

I miss my iBook. I miss writing whenever the mood strikes me. Poor me. I should call Mr. T. so he could pity the fool.

Happy Holidaze y'all. Peace on earth, pumpkin pie, presents for all, Currier and Ives, silent nights, jingle bells, Ho Ho Ho.


The King is dead...long live Kong

I just got back from a well spent three hours of my life. King Kong doesn't have it all, but it's got a lot. Emotional punch, character growth, perfect musical score, nearly flawless effects, and the guts to be three hours long because that's how long it needed to be. (You want a shorter Kong, go make your own--at least that's the way I figure it) Kong is a nearly perfect computer creation. Naomi Watts shows more depth than she has in any of her past movies. The film moves as fast as a roller coaster, but truth be told I would have been happy just watching the two of them sitting in a room together. Both have the ability to speak volumes with just their eyes.

Go see King Kong. Your butt will ache for a while, but let it complain.


The stage of death you never hear about.

Someone famous once decided that there were a set number of stages of death that we go through. There’s anger, rejection, acceptance, and a few others. But I’ve recently discovered a new one. It’s stage wherein you grab the dearly departed and pound them on the coffee table until their guts spill out over the living room carpet.

I have recently suffered the death of a loved one. The other morning I came downstairs to do some writing and my trusty iBook wouldn’t wake up. I poked and prodded and then realization washed over me like the sticky contents of a heart-shaped whirlpool tub at a swingers motel. It was dead.

Maybe I knew it was coming. Only a week earlier I had burned a backup of my files, and the night before it died I emailed a copy of a recently completed novel to myself. Perhaps the stench of death was already in the air at the time.

I dunno. I do know that my postings here will be limited for a while. I think you’ll be able to survive without me. Most of the world manages to.


How sick am I?

They call it a cold, yet you're seldom cold. And you never fly when having the flu. Being sick was fun when I was young, because it meant getting attention from my mom who was never big on giving me attention other times. There's nothing fun about being sick these days. My wife is off to Hawaii and I'm doing the single parent thing. There's no one to dab a cold washcloth on my fevered brow and call me a poor baby. I guess it could be worse. It could be raining.


Try It...Yule Love It! (always with the puns, this one is)

A long time ago, back when kids had to ride the wooly mammoth to school, I used to write a lot of comic books. Writing comic scripts is hard work. Much harder than people might imagine. Every panel needs to be described in detail, text boxes and dialogue needs to be written, and the artist needs to have everything he/she needs to tell the story right in front of him/her. On the other hand, writing a comic plot is a walk in the park, complete with ice cream cone and nuts for the squirrels. Back in the 60s, comic book maestro Stan Lee helped change the comic book industry. He helped create a bunch of fun characters like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men and lots more. Stan was writing at least a dozen books a week. He had no time to write his stories full script, and he was good friends with most of the artists, so he started providing the artists the bare minimum they needed to draw the story. Sometimes he would even give a long-time collaborator the plot over the telephone.

He might call Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko and tell them, “In this issue the Hulk finds himself on Hoover Dam. The poor lug doesn’t know how he got there, his little peanut brain is confused, and to make matters worse an army battalion arrives to blast him to smithereens. The fight goes on for three or four pages and then the X-Men show up. The Hulk is so worked up he assumes that the X-Men are there to fight him (when in fact they’re there to help remove the mind-controlling chip that the Leader has implanted in the Hulk’s ear) and the Hulk and the X-Men fight for three or four pages. And then the Leader shows up in a milk delivery truck. He fires a mind controlling beam at the X-Men, who then start attacking the army guys and start to tear down Hoover Dam itself. While this is happening the mind-controlling chip falls out of the Hulk’s ear and he has to keep the X-Men from killing the army guys. In the end the Leader gets away with the help of a rocket jetpack.”

Then the artists would sit down and break the plot down to eighteen pages, or however many they had to fill. He would take care of the pacing and continuity and deliver fully penciled pages to Stan, sometimes with dialogue suggestions scribbled on the edges of the page. Stan would take these pencil pages and write the captions and dialogue. After the letterer was done, the pencil art was inked and then color guides were done.

If you’re a newbie writer, like I was and still mostly am, there’s nothing more fun and easier to write than a comic book plot. It’s loose and free form of writing that’s so simple to do the dumbest of my six cats could write one.

Every once in a while I miss writing in that format, so I feed the beast by writing little things that usually never go any further than my computer. The other day I was playing around with an idea I’ve had for a few years now, which concerned how silly of a song The Little Drummer is. I love the song. It’s been a favorite since I was a kid. As Christmas drew near we would put a stack of our eight or nine holiday albums (wax, of course) on the spindle of the record player and every couple of hours we would flop the stack over. We had a few versions of the Little Drummer Boy in our collection.

All sentiment aside, the whole concept of the song is just plain silly. It has bugged me for years how silly it was. So I explored the concept of a poor boy playing a drum solo for a little baby. After I tune it up a bit I may ask someone to draw it up for me and send it out as a Christmas greeting. I’ve never written a mini-comic before, but it could be fun. Here’s what I came up with. I thought I’d share.

Sleepy Newborn Baby + Drum Solo = Disaster

(Written in the Mad Magazine spirit of Jack Davis, Don Martin and Mort Drucker.)

We open with a wide shot of the desert at night that shows a long line of people waiting to get into THE MANGER. Huge billboards (like the kind you see on the freeway—Wisconsin Dells This Way—You’re Almost at Garlic City—Only Ten More Miles To The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Alabama) announce THIS WAY TO SEE THE NEWBORN KING and YOU’RE ALMOST AT THE BABY JESUS and PLEASE FORM A SINGLE LINE TO SEE BABY JESUS. Walking up and down the line of people are vendors with carts selling FRIED YAK ON A STICK and CUP O’HUMMUS and FAR-FROM-AWFUL-FALAFEL.

Standing in the middle of the line is the LITTLE DRUMMER BOY. For some reason I picture him as a 60’s kind of British punk, with a shaggy haircut covering his eyes and a punkish stance. He’s got a snare drum balanced on his hip, hanging from a strap around his shoulder. He twirls drumsticks in both hands and looks bored. He stops twirling when he sees a sign that says PLEASE HAVE GIFTS FOR THE NEWBORN KING READY UPON ENTERING MANGER. He taps the guy in line in front of him on the shoulder with a drumstick and asks, “Oh, man! We were supposed to bring a present?” The guy he’s talking to is one of the Three Wise Men. He’s kind of a stoner. He’s the one bringing frankincense and it looks like he’s been smoking some of it while he waits. “If you know what’s good for you, you’d better bring something. The child is our new king!”

The Drummer Boy sort of recites a line from the song. “I have no gifts to bring. I’m but a poor dude too!” He thinks for a moment then he snaps his fingers and declares that he’ll just play the little baby a wicked drum solo. The kid ought to like that.

The Wise Man shakes his head and points to the very front of the line where see the LITTLE TRUMPET BOY is blasting out a trumpet solo for the baby Jesus. The baby screams so loud the Trumpet Boy’s face looks like he’s pulling ten G’s in a centrifuge. Then a dozen lightning bolts hit the Trumpet Boy, leaving only a smoking cinder of a skeleton standing there. When the smoke clears, the next guy in line, who is visibly jittery, gives his present to the baby. It’s a little kitten, and when the baby coos with joy, the guy wipes a roll of nervous sweat off his face.

Back in the line the Drummer Boy knows his goose is cooked. Or at least it will be when it’s his turn. Everyone else in line seems to have something reasonably good to give. A wooly sheep, a potted plant, baked goods, a cow, homemade toys, and such. Drummer Boy asks the Wise Man to save his spot and he’ll be right back.

We cut to Drummer Boy popping into the Jerusalem version of an AM/PM mini-mart. He scours the shelves for something good to give. There’s a tin of Camel Wax, a robe that has ‘MY PARENTS WENT TO JERUSALEM AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS CRUMMY ROBE’ lettered on it, a rack of crude baseball caps and sun visors (woven out of palm fronds), yak jerky, chunks of flint with novelty sayings on them, and stuff like that.

Then he sees it. The perfect gift. It sits on a shelf, in a glowing angelic halo of light. It’s a can of MYRRH (it’s about the size of a gallon of paint). Slogans on the can read NEWBORN BABIES LOVE IT! and IT’S THE INCENSE THAT CHOOSY VIRGIN MOTHERS CHOOSE.

We see the Drummer Boy reach for the myrrh, but at the same time another guy reaches for it. Each have a hand on it and a tugging match ensues. (The guy that Drummer Boy is fighting with should be dressed in the same sort of fancy robes as the Wise Man he was in line behind earlier. It turns out that he’s Wise Man #2)

Push comes to shove and fists are thrown, but then the Wise Man holds up his hands to call a truce. He reminds the Drummer Boy that this day isn’t about the two of them, it’s a day to celebrate the newborn king. Today is the day of all days to put petty differences aside.

While the Drummer Boy is pondering these profound words, the Wise Man grabs the can of myrrh and races off with it. The Drummer Boy chases after in hot pursuit.

We cut to later that night, back at the manger, where we see Mary and Joseph examining yet another gift that has been given. It’s a scuffed up and slightly dented can of myrrh. The note attached to the can reads, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NEWBORN KING and signed below are the names LITTLE DRUMMER BOY and WISE MAN #2. Mary and Joseph look up and see Drummer Boy and Wise Man #2 standing there, arms around each other, with torn robes, missing teeth, a couple of black eyes, bandaged limbs, and maybe a crude pair of crutches made out of a tree branch. They’ve been through hell but they still smile at the little fellow they see down in the manger.



Dr. Oh No, Not Again!

Thanksgiving of ’05 passed with a minimum of stress and drama in our household, with is the way I like it. The most startling thing that happened was the sudden realization that I hate (I realize that ‘hate’ is a powerful word, and should be used as sparingly as one would use a thermonuclear bomb, but I feel it’s called for here) James Bond. I hate the character (as portrayed in the movies; I’m certainly not passing judgment on the literary version), I hate the movies (although the last few have been more bearable than the earlier ones), and I hate to bloody hell the whole smirking catch phrase craze the movies started.

My realization of just how much I’ve come to hate James Bond occurred while flicking the television remote control and stopping on SpikeTV’s James Bondage Turkey-thon. The Bond film that was playing (in tiny snippets between twenty-minute long commercial breaks) was 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Nothing seemed really familiar about it, so I don’t know if I’d ever seen it. Of course, most of the James Bond movies are a lot like the Hardy Boys books that I grew up on. The plot remains the same, only the lead characters and the location changes.

The main baddie in The Spy Who Loved Me was played by an embarrassed-looking Curt Jurgens, wearing wardrobe straight out of the Charles Nelson Reilly Collection of 1974. Honestly, who can keep a straight face whilst dealing with a criminal mastermind who wears a flowing paisley ascot? Not I, and Roger Moore had his hands full.

Roger Moore. Yeah, I know. He’s like Kryptonite to a lot of diehard Bond fans who believe the only true Bond was the Connery Bond. I used to be a card-carrying member of that group, but lately I’ve given Moore at least some credit for staying with the character during some of Bond’s worst movies. In other words (because I fear my prior words aren’t conveying what I really mean) when you lay down judgment on Bond movies, you have to consider the source material—the scripts.

One of the first things a new writer needs to add to his bag of tricks is the subtle art of foreshadowing. If at the end of a story one of the characters is going to need a pair of false eyelashes to save his life, earlier in the story we need to have him see him walking out of beauty supply store, stuffing a package into his inside jacket pocket. (Okay, a little clumsy, but still subtle. Most readers, on a subconscious level, will make the connection when the character pulls the eyelashes out of his inside pocket. Just as, again on a subconscious level, most will send up a red flag when a sixty-five year old steamship captain suddenly pulls said eyelashes out of his pocket without the foreshadowing.) The writers of the Bond movies are famous for delivering their foreshadowing with the delicacy of a sledgehammer wrapped in bricks.

For example, M calls Bond into his office to outline his latest assignment. “Quit sniffing around Moneypenny’s arse, Bond. Everyone knows that the sexual tension between the two of you is phonier than the Queen’s glass eye. Now, concerning your mission. Some diabolical madman with a paisley ascot has hijacked the United States’ Mount Rushmore. The military forces are helpless, for some convenient reason, so it’s up to you, Bond. Before you leave, and make another pathetic faux pass at Moneypenny, see Q for a few things you may need in the field.”

“Ah, Bond. Glad you remembered your way down to the Q Branch. I’m a bit behind schedule so let’s get this out of the way as fast as we can. Come along with me. No, don’t eat that, you fool! It only looks like a Filet O’Fish sandwich. It’s secretly a bear trap. And certainly don’t look into those binoculars! They will erase your retinas and churn your brain into Yorkshire pudding! My word, Bond! Stop making love to that seemingly harmless inflatable woman! Sign your name on the list and wait your turn like the rest of us.

Well then, now that the dryly comedic portion of our meeting has come to an end, here are the special armaments 'you may just happen to need' for your mission. First, grab a handful of bullets, and then take this saggy sack of soggy diapers, which is in reality a nuclear-powered hang glider. Next, strap on this string of stinky German sausages, which serves to disguise a six-foot-long diamond rope. And finally, pop this ‘I Heart Fly Fishing’ cap on your noggin. When you activate this hidden switch the hat converts into a uranium-fueled radar array capable of tapping into spy satellites and downloading plans for secret enemy bases.”

Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little bit, but there’s a really big nugget of truth in what I say. Q would always just happen to give Bond the exact equipment he needed on that particular mission. Bond would just happen to need every single item Q provided. And at the end of the mission there were never any items left unused. If Q gave Bond a solar-powered fertilizer spreader, then Bond damn well used a solar-powered fertilizer spreader.

Boy, I hated that when I was a kid. And I hate it even more as an adult. Just once, give Bond a watch with a winch and a fifty-foot cable built into it, and then have him not use it. Ooops, he forgot it back at his flat, so now he has to use his brain and brawn and objects at hand to complete his objective.

My favorite Bond movie to date is 2002’s Die Another Day. I got my money’s worth within the first half hour. For me, a Bond movie needs to start with a bang and then run light and lean to an explosive conclusion. Die Another Day gets a little soggy in the middle and in during the ice palace scenes, but dollar for dollar it’s my favorite Bond flick. In my book, nobody does it better than Pierce Bronsan. (Somewhere in Texas my good friend Tom Morgan’s heart has just skipped a beat, and a bit of stomach acid has backed up into his esophagus. Sorry Tom.)

Connery used to be my go-to Bond favorite, but Bronsan stole the crown from him with 1995’s GoldenEye. Both men are certainly great actors, and they deliver their performances with delicious aplomb, but Pierce Bronsan has simply had better scripts to work from. Dr. No may have been great shakes in 1962, but its only appeal today is nostalgic.

Some of the worst enemies of the early Bond movies has been the advent of home video and greedy cable networks. The movie Goldfinger was a hundred times cooler when it was only shown on television once every three or four years. But these days, when most males of voting age own a copy of the film on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD or PSP, and channels like SpikeTV show it three or four times a year, the poor thing doesn’t stand a chance of holding up. Every glitch and blemish is on display for us to see again and again and again. Time heals some wounds and helps us gloss over the others, but time is no longer a luxury that movies are allowed. Even the naked silhouettes of the girls in the opening credits are getting a little flabby.

And now Bronsan is gone and we’ll have a new Bond to accept. Just give him something exciting and smart to do and watch how fast we’ll take him into our hearts. Keep your clichés and formulas. All we want is to be entertained. At least that’s all I want. And to be best buddies with The Rock.


Stealing…nothing more than stealing…

The headline of this post is a goof on the title of an easy listening hit from the 70s by Morris Albert. I’ll always remember the song because of my good friend Rob and his mother. One sunny afternoon we were in the driveway of his house farting around with the sound system of his car. If memory serves me it was a Monte Carlo. We were doing something with the 8-track player. Either putting in a new one or modifying the old one. Either way, we had done some rewiring and needed to test the unit. Rob borrowed one of his mother’s 8-tracks, with the promise that we would take good care of it. We must have wired the thing in backwards, because a few seconds after we jammed the 8-track in, the player had spewed around fifty feet of tape onto the floormats. The tape that wasn’t in a pile on the floor was kinked up inside the 8-track player.

Rob’s mother had never been my biggest fan up to that point, and I don’t think I ever rose any higher on her chart. Part of the problem was that when the player chewed up his mom’s Morris Albert tape, both Rob and I laughed our ass off. I’m certain that I laughed a lot louder and longer than Rob, which must have attracted his mother’s attention.

Rob and I remained close friends into early adulthood. I moved to the east coast to pursue a writing career and he went on to risk life and limb as a member of the state police.

I don’t know if Rob and I had met and known each other in high school, I really don’t recall, but I do know that we didn’t get to become best buds until we started working together.

I firmly believe that all teenagers should get jobs. That’s the real focus of this posting, so just stay with me for a while.

While attending Sunnybrook Grade School (after transferring from Edgar Allen Poe Grade School) I was befriended by a likable fellow named George T. Haynes. The ‘T’ stood for Trent, which he sometimes went by. Depending on what day it was, he was either George or Trent. Teachers and authority figures generally referred to him as George, so most of us settled on Trent. Trent was the closest thing to a celebrity we had in school. His father was Homer, from the country-themed musical comedy duo Homer and Jethro. Way back when, they were sort of the musical equivalent to Jeff Foxworthy. Trent’s father had died a few years before I got to know him in the sixth grade. I had never heard of Homer and Jethro, but was impressed by the sheer number of record albums they had produced and that a bunch of country music celebrities had come to town for his funeral.

Trent and his sister Tracy had inherited their father’s musical genes. I knew that Tracy could sing and play the drums, just like Karen Carpenter, who I had a bit of crush on at the time (Karen Carpenter, that is, not Trent’s sister). But Trent blew me away with his ability to sit down at the piano, or pick up a guitar or banjo, and plunk out any song he wanted. At the time I don’t think he could read sheet music, but if he heard a song once he could knock out a passable rendition with little or no effort. (The only skill I inherited from my father was the ability to lift heavy things.)

I think it was Trent who got me involved with the Sunnybrook choir. That whole experience was mostly a waste of time. We learned a handful of goofy songs, but then spent the rest of the class talking about girls, practicing Monty Python bits, and watching the 8th graders lock the 6th graders into the musical instrument lockers. Trent and I became closer friends in high school, when we were members of the Thornton Fractional South high school concert choir. That was around the time I found out that Trent had a job working as an usher at the Lans Theater.

The Lans was an unremarkable small theater located in the unremarkable small town of Lansing, Illinois. The building was a brick affair, built in the late 40s or early 50s, I believe. There were two mini storefronts built into each side of the main entrance. One of the storefronts was a barbershop and the other served as the theater office.

One day I’ll write a long post, or perhaps an entire book focusing on all the friends I made at the Lans and the times we had. Some of the memories I have of the place are bittersweet, but nearly all are fond.

I was an usher, which meant I tore tickets, swept popcorn off the carpets, hauled boxes of candy and bags of popcorn kernels, kept the soda machine full of cups and syrup, and refilled the butter dispenser at the concession stand. (The type of ‘topping’ that we served on our popcorn was a lot different than the butter flavored motor oil they use today. Besides the cost factor, the reason theaters don’t use real butter on their popcorn is the soggy factor. Butter has a high water content, which the popcorn absorbs and makes a mess. Our topping was a mixture of real butter and flavored oil. It was shipped to us in an inert, semi-solid form that came in two-gallon plastic jugs. To change the consistency from 70% solid to a liquid that you could pour, meant that you had to float the jugs in a bucket of hot water in a sink in the janitor’s closet. If the butter in the counter dispenser was getting low it was up to the ushers to keep a jug in hot water.)

If you broke it down by the clock, we probably only worked fifteen minutes of every hour. What we did with the rest of the time was determined by the location of the manager. If she was out walking around the theater, then the ushers were at our ticket stand or pushing a broom. If she was taking one of her frequent naps in the office, then we were either hanging around the cashier’s booth or talking to the girls at the concession stand.

Some of us ushers, certainly present company included, never dated much in high school (I know, hard to believe) and weren’t exactly social butterflies. But working at the Lans meant getting to spend countless hours chatting up a variety of pretty girls. We often did a fair amount of activities together as a group, away from work.) It was great, because there wasn’t any really obvious ‘coming on’ threat wafting off of us. We were just a bunch of guys and girls ‘doing time’ together for three or four bucks an hour. (Of course, boys being boys, and young men being young men, we were always secretly in ‘coming on’ mode. We just tried our best to hide the desperation.)

What did ushers and candy girls (the name given to the girls that worked behind the concession stand) spend their time talking about while on the job? Lots of stuff. School. Music. Movies. Money. How we all needed more money. How little we were paid for doing so much. How unfair it was for us to have so little money.

This path of conversation always took us to a bad place. Stealing. Besides grabbing a handful of cash out of the money drawer and running away with it, there weren’t a lot of ways to steal money at a movie theater. But we knew of a few ways.

One way that we never used (at least not that I’m aware of) was to double sell a ticket. This involved the ticket cashier. Simply put, when the patron buys a ticket he enters the theater and hands the ticket to the usher. The usher simply takes the ticket and gives the patron nothing, or he pretends to tear the ticket and hands the patron an old discarded ticket stub. The usher can then bring the untorn ticket to the cashier, who can sell it again. The two then split the proceeds. As far as I know we never did this, mainly because the ticket cashiers were a slightly different type of employee than the rest of us. Perhaps because they were alone in their cage for most of the day, whereas there were usually a couple of candy girls behind the concession counter at a time, circled by a few ushers, and crime is easier to go along with when there’s a crowd involved.

The bookkeeping for the ticket office was pretty simple. The cashier was given a set amount of numbered tickets and a small starting bank. At the end of her shift she turned in her remaining tickets and her final bank. Subtract the number of missing tickets by the cost of the tickets, minus her starting bank, and you have the amount that she should have. Unless you’re reselling tickets, there’s very little room for a fudge factor.

The concession stand was different, though. We weren’t a big enough theater to sell drinks behind the counter. We had a machine that you could drop a quarter into and get a paper cup filled with ice, then a squirt of syrup, then soda water. It tasted sort of like real soda. (Much of my free time was spent perfecting a method of spinning a penny into the coin slot at the precise angle and speed to fool the machine into thinking it was really getting a quarter. This skill has gotten me exactly nowhere in life.) The sale of popcorn wasn’t tracked by how many bags of kernels and tubs of butter we used, rather by how many physical tubs and buckets were sold. At the start of their shift the candy girls had to inventory how many popcorn containers they had, plus how many boxes of candy were in stock. At the end of their shift they did another count. It was a pretty simple process and tough for us to make a profit from. But we had our ways.

One way made us some cash, the other made us fat and rotted our teeth.

I’m sure that over the years there have always been nutcases who have tampered with food and put it on store shelves for someone to buy and choke on. But before the public became so aware of tampering and the food companies responded with superior packaging, things were pretty loosey goosey. Long story short, if you wanted a box of Junior Mints you couldn’t just take a box and eat it. There would be one short on the inventory sheet. But, if you put a tiny bit of effort in you could get yourself the equivalent of a full box of Junior Mints by simply opening every box in a case and taking a few mints out of each box. Who would miss a couple of pieces from their box? And if they did miss them, they would blame it on the candy company. Certainly not us.

The other way to steal from the concession stand, and the way to make real green folding cash, is a bit disgusting. If you vomit easily you might want to skip the rest of this. Someone, it certainly wasn’t me, came up with a variation of reselling tickets.

Between movie showings during the day and night, it was up to the ushers to go up and down the aisles to scoop up the bigger trash before the next crowd came in. Bigger trash included napkins, drink cups, and popcorn buckets. (Do you see what’s coming?) So if all parties were willing, ushers would quickly wipe out the popcorn buckets and pass them to the candy girls, who would put fresh popcorn in them and sell them to unsuspecting patrons. They always made sure to put a lot of extra butter in these buckets to disguise the stain that was sometimes on the bottom. A large bucket of popcorn went for two bucks back then, so that meant a dollar for the usher and a dollar for the candy girl.

I know. I deserve every bad thing that has happened to me since then. I was naughty. This is how plagues get started. Bad Fred. Evil Fred. One day when the doctor tells me that the burning I feel with I pee is due to cancer of the penis I’ll know that the karma police have caught up with me. Bad, bad Fred.

I want to quickly point out that not everyone who ushered or worked as a candy girl at the Lans participated in these illegal and immoral shenanigans. That simply wasn’t the case. There were plenty of employees who didn’t want to be involved, and turned a blind eye while the rest of us dug our way to hell, or at the very least, to a future life of crime.

There was one last way to eek a few ill-gotten bucks out of the Lans, and I think I was the only one who did it. Again, as is often the case, I could be wrong.

The last show of the day usually started at ten p.m.. By ten minutes after ten the cashier had closed up shop and was in the office doing the final accounting with the manager. While this was going on the candy girls were cleaning out the popcorn machine and doing their inventory. As soon as the cashier was done in the office one of the candy girls would pop in with her inventory sheet and money. The other would be cleaning up and locking away all the candy. If there was one thing they were efficient at it was the shutting down process. They had it down to a science. By ten-thirty the cashier and candy girls were gone for the night and the manager was jangling her keys, telling me she was hitting the road. (She was good friends with the projectionist up in the booth, and they had a longtime agreement that he would supervise the final lock up after the last show, with whichever usher was on duty.)

So there I am sitting at the ticket stand, more or less in charge. The captain had given me control of the ship. (The only time you saw the projectionist out of his booth was when he was coming in to work, leaving work, or had come down on a popcorn run. The rest of the time he lived up in his booth. I’m pretty sure he even had his own bathroom up there. He had to spend most of his time up there. These days the movie projectors are built so the entire film is on one giant spool or reel. Back then a movie came on four or five reels and the projection booths had dual projectors. When one reel ran out on projector A the projectionist had to fire up projector B without missing a beat. It really was a science and a vanishing art form.)

Every once in a while people would rush into the lobby, ignoring the fact that I had turned the marquee lights off and the box office was dark and empty. I would tell them that the movie had already started, and they would walk away dejected. That was most times. But sometimes I would tell people that the movie had already started, that they had missed the first half hour, but they wouldn’t care. After a while I began to buckle. I let them go in and watch the end of the film. My reasoning was that the film was playing anyway, and it would continue to run regardless of how many people there were in the theater, so why not?

After a while I figured out that a lot of the stragglers were coming from the corner bar that was down at the end of the block. Maybe they closed early during the week, and after last call what could be better than watching the last hour of Young Frankenstein? Even though the box office was closed, people started insisting that I take admission money. We were a second run movie house (sometimes third and fourth) at best, so our admission price was a dollar and a quarter for kids and two bucks for adults. So here comes Mr. & Mrs. Half-in-the-bag, and they stuff four dollars into my hand. Who was I to argue? On an average night I’d sell three or four late tickets. Some nights it was seven or eight. As some of you may know, found (or stolen) money tends to burn a hole in your pocket, so my ill-gotten gains immediately went towards supporting my comic book habit.

“This is your captain speaking. Many of you have expressed concern that this blog posting has gone of its rails and is careening around unchecked. Please be aware that we are currently circling back to the original point that the writer was trying to make.”

Aside from the occasional kiss, I don’t steal. I pay my taxes, tip my waiter or waitress twenty-five percent, and if the cashier at the grocery store gives me the wrong change I always return the overage. I make a conscious choice to do these things because I think that down deep inside maybe I am dishonest. If a big bag of money fell out of the back of an armored car and I was the only one who saw it, I’d have to give some hard thought to which path to take. The armored car company has insurance for things like that, right? Certainly the banks do. So they spread the loss out across all their clients and everyone just has to pay a few extra pennies. I’d give up a few pennies if it meant that someone could get a big bag of cash. Wouldn’t you?

I once had a conversation with a fellow I worked for. I didn’t realize that I was falling into a trap. He asked me what I would do if I found a wallet on the street with five bucks in it and the owner’s I.D.. I replied that I would try to call the person or just mail the wallet back. He asked if I would keep the five bucks. Certainly not, I responded. The dollar amount escalated and my answer stayed the same until he hit the hundred-dollar mark. I told him that I wouldn’t just mail it, that I would try to call the person or write them a letter to meet face-to-face. He guessed that my reasoning for this was that I would expect a reward for my good deed—it being such a large amount. The questioning continued until we reached the hundred thousand dollar mark. It had gone from being a wallet to a zippered money pouch. Would I consider keeping the money? My brain churned for a while. I began to reason that most normal people don’t walk around with that much cash. It was too strange. The only type of people with that kind of cash on them are drug dealers, or jewel thieves, or someone up to no good. It might even be stolen money or mob money. I could turn it over to the police, my boss countered. I was in the city of Chicago at the time, and the stories of corrupt cops was the stuff of legends. I expressed my doubts of the money finding its rightful owner once in the police coffers. At that point we confirmed that if I found a hundred thousand dollars in a bag on the city street I would more than likely keep it. He shook his head and told me that I couldn’t do that. He continued on that it didn’t matter if it was one dollar or a million dollars. If the money doesn’t belong to you it’s not yours. I guess I failed the test. I didn’t get fired. I had worked for him for months before and continued on for months afterward. I never stole a penny from him. If you don’t count the occasional late lunch or leaving a few minutes early every now and then. I guess he would have counted them. I guess I did steal from him after all.

In a few weeks my daughter officially becomes a teenager. (although all the trappings have been in place for months now) When she gets older I really want her to get a summer or after school job. It’s a good experience in a lot of ways. I remain friends today with a few people I worked and played with back then, and as I mentioned before, I try to live my life by some of the lessons I learned then. I don’t think a person really knows if they’re honest or corrupt unless they’re placed in a position of trust that will allow their true colors to shine through.

Do I think that a teenager who swipes a candy bar or a few bucks out of the till is destined for a life of crime? Probably not. But I think that a teenager who gives in to temptation needs to be aware of their weaknesses and urges.

Earning a few elicit bucks at the Lans Theater when I was sixteen didn’t turn me into a bank robber, but at the same time it kept me from pursuing a career as something like a bank teller. I know that even if I never stole a single penny, my daydreams would be filled with figuring out how a person could rip off the bank, if they were dishonest enough to do such a thing. How could you be around all that cash and not think about it? Thank goodness for ATMs, because every time I have to go inside the bank to make a deposit, I find myself sizing up the joint. Hey, I know every episode of Mission: IMPOSSIBLE and MacGyver by heart. Give me a stick of chewing gum, an electric hair dryer, a Russian gymnast, and an egg beater, and I can clean out any vault!

Well, I can dream, can’t I? Which is what I do for a living. I don’t have a job where I handle money; I handle words. And you can’t steal words. Well, technically you can, but that’s plagiarism, which is about a hundred times worse than robbing a bank. Or stealing a man’s horse.

I would never plagiarize. It’s a horrible crime that causes liver damage and leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But if I did accidentally commit it, I hope I would be forgiven. It’s like I always say, to err is human; to forgive divine.

Wait…did I steal that? Damn!


Please mister, please. Don’t play B-17…

I’m a firm believer that from the day we’re born there’s a clear pathway that runs from our ears straight to our brains. Anything that we hear goes right to central processing with no sort of buffering. Over the years we start to build up filters to block some things out. These filters are both psychological and physical in nature. (The physical aspect of the filters is composed of equal parts of Bazooka Bubble Gum, earwax, and Play-Dough, while the psychological blocks come into play when we hear harmful words and expressions, or abstract thoughts that our immature minds can’t handle quite yet.)

That’s what I believe. Firmly. But I also happen to believe that there’s a portion of our baby brains that try their best to make sense of the things that we’re hearing and seeing around us. We really want to know what’s going on, so we use a form of creative visualization to try and suss things out. We might not have all the information needed, but if we can piece enough things together, we might be able to figure out that mommy and daddy are fighting about sex, or money, or why their son uses words like ‘suss’.

As we get older, that problem solving portion of our brains keeps on chugging along, but to a more limited degree. Couples who have together for years start to infer things, instead of spelling every word out. We can watch movies set in Scotland or England and even if we miss every couple of words, we can still more or less figure out what people are saying.

Another avenue for us to try and fill in the blanks and figure out what the hell is going on is when it comes to music. You hear a song on the radio, and if the melody has a nice hook you listen for it again. This time you pay closer attention to the lyrics. The third time you start to sing along (or whistle through your teeth, like my good friend Rob Dahlberg. I’ve never heard him sing a note but I would definitely want him on my team during a game of Name That Tune. The man is a monster and we would kick royal ass). By this time you’ve pretty much got most of the lyrics down and you’re firming up the storyline. Sometimes everything makes perfect sense. Other times you figure the musicians must have been passing around the crack pipe in the studio, because the catchy little ditty you’ve been singing along to, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

My wife suggests that the reason I don’t get many of them is because they deal with the drug culture in the 70s and 80s. Or that they reference things not readily available in the Midwest, where I grew up. I can go along with both of these. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the 70s sucking down on a bong and then noshing on Vegemite sandwiches

For whatever the reason, here’s a list of songs that have troubled me for years:

Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin
(I enjoy listening to this song. I’ve heard it a lot of times over the years. I don’t have a single clue as to what they’re talking about. Sample lyric:
“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, Don't be alarmed now, It's just a spring clean for the May queen.”
Huh? What the bloody hell is going on here?)

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
(Okay, I sort of get this one. A little. It’s about a guy who killed a man and now the devil has big plans for him, but he’s crying to his mama. Wait, I was wrong, I don’t sort of get this one at all.)

Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones
(I finally figured out this one when I was thirty or so. I’m not a big Stones fan, but I happened to be listening to it one day and ‘Bang’ it came to me. I don’t understand what the basis for the song is about, but I get a lot more of the details now.)

Spill The Wine – Eric Burden
(For all of my youth and a good portion of my adult life, I thought the chorus to this song was ‘Do I, dig this girl?’ A while back I discovered that I’d been wrong all that time and it was really, ‘Spill the wine, dig this girl!’ I still didn’t understand what was going on, but I went with the flow. Then, just about a week ago I find out the actual title of the song. Are you ready? It’s, Spill the wine, take the pearl.’ What in the name of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus is that supposed to mean? Did wine used to come with a pearl in the bottom of the bottle, like the worm in tequila? Was this some sort of nasty reference that even my depraved mind couldn’t fathom? I’m still boggled, but I’ll figure it out in time. But for now, I’m going to reprint my favorite portion of the song. It paints such a great visual picture that I am in awe of Mr. Eric Burden. I don’t understand him, but I still hold him in awe.
This is from the middle of the song..

“And I fell asleep and dreamed
I dreamed I was in a Hollywood movie
And that I was the star of the movie
This really blew my mind, the fact that me,
an overfed, long-haired leaping gnome
should be the star of a Hollywood movie.”)

Carry On My Wayward Son - Kansas
(I don’t get it. Is this a war song? A drug song? A song for someone on drugs going off to war? I like the song but the lyrics don’t make any sense to me.)

Levon - Elton John
(Just what in the hell is this song about? I’ve tried to dissect it but got nothing.)

You’re Having My Baby – Paul Anka
(Who could be having Paul Anka’s baby? Paul Anka is as gay as Sigfried and Roy. Is it Johnny Mathis having his baby? Gay dudes can’t have babies. Is this song really some sort of coded message about something that gay men do?)

Hotel California – Eagles
(In high school a creative writing teacher had the entire class try to translate this song. The responses were astounding. Nobody had a clue. I don’t have a clue to this day.)

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
(I’ve heard two takes on this one. The first has it a simple love song, with someone offering to always be there for the one he loves. That’s nice. The other take is that the song is an advertisement for heroin use—as in, when you’re feeling blue, the silver bird is sailing on by. The silver bird, as everyone is supposed to know, is the needle you shoot up with. I don’t know. Paul Simon doesn’t seem to be the type to push ‘H’ but I don’t know.)

You're So Vain - Carly Simon
(My only question about this one is who the lead character is. All the radio DJs claim that it’s Warren Beatty. The only other contender it James Taylor, but that doesn’t ring true.)

Harper Valley P.T.A. - Jeannie C. Riley
(I haven’t heard this song for so long that I really don’t know what the whole conflict was, but I remember way back when really wanting to know what ‘..her mama showed it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.’ I guess I should try and find it online and get my answer.)

The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia – Vicki Lawrence
(This song is well intentioned but confusing none the less. If I understand the story straight, this guy comes home after being out of town for a few weeks, and a guy in the local bar tells him that his wife’s been cheating on him. The dude sees red and then walks to his sister’s house to get a gun. He heads over to the house of one of the guys that his wife’s been cheating with, but there are tiny footprints leading up to the house and inside he finds that the cheating bastard is already dead. He fires a shot to flag down a passing cop and is arrested for murdering the guy. Now the twist is, I think, the sister of the guy who was getting cheated on was the one who did the killing. She even brags that she killed her brother’s wife, but that’s one body that will never be found. What a confusing mess? I’ve read Agatha Christie novels that were easier to follow.)

Ode To Billy Joe – Bobbie Gentry
(What were the mysterious girl and Billy Joe McAllister tossing off the Tallahatchie Bridge that led Billy Joe to jump himself the following day? It’s true what that say about nothing good ever happening up on Choctaw Ridge. But what did happen? I need to know.)

(Not a clue. Not a single clue what this one is about. For years I thought the line was that he ‘..had to have a bath or couldn’t get to sleep..’ but it turned out to be ‘..he had to have a berth or couldn’t put to sea..’. This is a hopeless one. None of the lyrics I remember hearing on the radio are the actual lyrics. This could be a lost cause.)


$14 Million down—Another $50 or so million to go!

I saw Zathura this weekend and to my dismay the theater was more empty than full. Thankfully, across the country it made close to $14 million, so it stands a chance to break even. Once it comes out on DVD and onto the movie channels, people will get a chance to see what they were missing.

Why am I predicting that Zathura will only limp its way to the $50 million mark in the theaters? Easy. Because it’s a family picture.

“Oh, do you mean like Steve Martin’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN movie, or his upcoming CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2?”

No, I mean nothing of the sort. What I’m saying is that Zathura is a good family comedy, in the way that the Cheaper By The Dozen movies aren’t. Which is a bloody shame, because I think Steve Martin is one of the funniest men on the planet.

“I’m confused. Both Zathura and the Cheaper movies are family pictures. What’s the difference? The first Cheaper by the Dozen movie made hundreds of millions of bucks!”

The difference is that Zathura is a quality film, while the Cheaper by the Dozen movies, which will soon be joined by Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo’s remake of the 1960s classic, Yours, Mine & Ours, are little more than concoctions cooked up in a vile Hollywood laboratory.

The bulk of the ‘kids’ movies being released today follow the same formula to a ‘T’. The parents of a large group of diversely aged and racially different children discover that their parents are about to do something to disrupt the family unit, so the formerly separatist children band together to commit all manner of hi-jinks to demonstrate to their parents that they like things just the way they were before.

Before the truth behind their actions can be revealed, you can count on parents, babysitters, hapless workmen, and nosey neighbors to fall into vats of gooey paint and plaster, or getting trapped on a conveyor belt rolling through a gauntlet of glue guns, only to be dumped into a vat of chicken feathers.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are splashes of lightweight prater that happen in Zathura, and a splash of stereotyping and some cutout characterization, but there’s no need to check your brain at the door. Plus the movie has a big heart and a sense of wonder that makes going to the movies worth paying ten bucks for a bucket of popcorn.

“So you’re telling me that I should see Zathrua?”

No, you’ve seen it already. You’re my inner monologue and you’re helping me with this post. Remember?

“Nope. Can’t say that I do.”

Well, then, by all means, go see Zathrua. Go early and sit through it three or four times while you’re at it.

“Do you mean it? You won’t miss me?”

I’ll survive. You go on now.


Are Your Oldies Golden or Moldin’?

A lot of my posts start with me going on about how things were when I was a kid. But I think I ought to be allowed due to the myriad of changes in the world that have taken place since I was a wee lad.

I’m not a big fan of change, especially when it’s sprung on me all of a sudden-like and it’s not my idea. When faced with sudden change I tend to wave the stem of my pipe at it and ‘Hurmph!’ a lot. I had a tiny bit of change tossed at me recently. The battery in our trusty Honda died and we had to have it replaced. My wife did a splendid job of dealing with the fellows in the greasy coveralls at the garage near her office. I really think they like her there. Whenever we’ve needed repairs done they’ve gone out of their way to help her at a reasonable charge.

As many of you may know, when you disconnect a car battery you lose the stations that you’ve preset on your car radio. This is an inconvenience, but certainly not the end of the world. On the drive home after picking up the car from the shop my wife did her best to reset the stations. She got some of them right, but not all of them. The Central Coast doesn’t have a huge selection of stations that cater to my tastes. Plus the terrain changes quite a bit as you drive along the coast so some of the best stations don’t reach all the towns you have to drive through.

I am a child of the 60s and the 70s. In the late 60s all I had was a transistor radio, so I listened to a Chicago radio station called WLS. This was AM, of course. In the 60s the whole concept of what FM radio might be was totally alien to me. I was pretty sure that hippies who sniffed glue and smoked pot listened to FM radio. WLS played top twenty, or maybe top thirty songs, so over the course of two or three hours you heard every single song in their catalog, but that was okay.

In the 70s I learned what a great thing ‘stereo’ was, and that you didn’t have to sniff glue to listen to FM. In the mid-70s my friends and I learned that in addition to cool music, there was some subversive comedy happening on the radio—especially on Sunday night.

The fun on Sunday night actually started on television. At either ten or ten-thirty on WTTW, the Chicago Public Television station they started showing Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Nobody had ever seen anything like that. Once Monty Python was over you’ve turn on the radio and listen to the National Lampoon Radio Hour. A lot of early Saturday Night Live folks were on the National Lampoon hour, like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Belushi. Lampoon was more strange than laugh out loud funny, but certainly worth listening to. Next up was the Doctor Demento Radio show. (I never really ‘liked’ the song Fish Heads, but I appreciated what they were going for)

It’s no wonder some of us were so tired on Monday morning. But none of us were too tired to imitate that previous night’s Monty Python bits.

Occasional chunks of comedy and irreverence aside, most of my music listening during the 70s was top twenty and thirty. I was also very active in the high school choir, so this got me interested in Broadway showtunes. I liked to sing a lot back then, at home and in the car, so I gravitated toward singers near my range. I also liked clever wordplay and good storytellers. This meant that my album and 8-track collection included a lot of Paul Simon, Barry Manilow, Heart, Bread, Billy Joel, ELO, and the like. I’ve come to like many singer/songwriters over the years, but my heart has stayed in the 70s.

But something weird happened in the 1970s. Young George Lucas made a movie called American Graffiti. I didn’t see the film at the time but it seemed to glorify the music and goofy times teenagers experienced in the late 50s and early 60s. My sisters bought the soundtrack. There was some weird ass music around in the 50s and 60s.

Before long everywhere you turned you were getting blasted with 50s and 60s music. Even one of my favorite television shows, ‘Love, American Style’ featured a segment about life in the 50s. This segment went on to become the series Happy Days, which spawned Laverne and Shirley and seven or eight other series.

At some point someone decided to officially refer to a big portion of what was passing for pop music in the 50s and early 60s as ‘The Oldies’.

A lot of people, who were probably only scraping by with their music when it first came out, must have been making money hand over fist during the renaissance of The Oldies in the 70s. Good for them, I say. Everyone deserves to make a living.

I think the renewed interest in The Oldies more or less peaked with the release of the movie Grease. I think by that time we’d all had our fill of Sha Na Na. Besides, by that time George Lucas had given us Star Wars to focus on, and the 1980s were coming. Who had time for the Big Bopper?

The other day I heard from the Big Bopper again. Or maybe it was Buddy Holly. I was in the car singing along with a Barry Manilow classic (1979’s Ships, if you must know) and when the song ended they went right into some sappy sock hop do-wop diddy. It seems that one of the stations that my wife had programmed into the radio, a station that claims to have ‘all the classics you love, all day long’ has taken it upon themselves to smush together songs from the 50s through the 80s! If you want to know how good this combination goes together, mix yourself up a big glass full of mustard and milk. It’s just plain wrong. My wife tries so very hard to attend to my wussy 70s music needs (when she’s alone in the car she either listens to NPR or heavy metal CDs) so I in no way blame her. How could I? There's no way she would do such a thing on purpose.

Some things go great together. Other things make me want to drive an ice pick into my ear drums.


Take Three Stooges and call me in the morning…

There was a story going around a few years back about someone who was dying of an incurable disease and given little to no chance for survival. Instead of getting high on prescription morphine or Demerol and living his last few months in a medicated fog, this person decided to fight with the best medicine of all—laughter. (Although when you’re trying to push a kidney stone the size of a raisin out of your penis, there’s nothing better than a big hypodermic needle full of Demerol to take your mind off your problems.) The story claims that after weeks of watching tapes of the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers, the dude’s cancer went into remission and he’s alive and well and selling homeowners insurance in Tulsa.

I don’t know if the story of this cure is true, but I do know that certain activities like intensive exercise, exposure to sunlight, and even petting a kitten or a puppy can trigger the body to act in a certain way. It causes the blood to flow more rapidly throughout the body, and it even releases certain elements like endorphins, oxymorons, and midoclorians into the bloodstream.

I don’t know the physiological effects, but after a hearty extended laugh I feel really good. (Unless it’s one of those cases where you find yourself laughing so hard that you don’t think you could stop. You just keep laughing harder and harder until you think you’re going to pop a blood vessel in your brain.)

One day, if I ever come down with a nasty case of toenail fungus or get a really bad canker sore on my lip, I’ll sit down and watch a few hours of the Benny Hill Show and see what happens.

Of course if I ever diagnosed with something really, really horrible, like the brittle bone disease that Samuel L. Jackson’s character had in the movie Unbreakable, or some form of cancer, I would immediately pull out he big guns in my home treatment arsenal.

My treatment would involve repeated viewings of the Will Ferrell film ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy’. In fact, I’d probably have it looped and playing on at least one television set around the clock. I’m not here to say that Anchorman is a perfect film. It’s not. It has one major flaw; it’s too short by nine or ten hours.

Will Ferrell is a young man and I’m sure he’s going to make a bunch more movies before he retires, but as of this writing Anchorman is the jewel in his crown. His performance is letter perfect. The writing and direction are both top-notch, provided by long time Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay. (I haven’t seen it yet, but rumor has it that McKay punched up some of Ferrell’s scenes and dialogue in Bewitched.)

The supporting cast draws from the stable of today’s funniest actors and comedians. Many of them have starred in or been featured in other films that would be in my ‘cured by comedy’ festival. They include: Steve Carell, Fred Willard, Chris Parnell, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black. Paul Rudd and Christine Applegate are not two people who I would have necessarily cast in a comedy of this type, but they both knock it out of the park, along with the rest of the cast.

A major part of the appeal of this movie is that everyone on the screen sells it. There are no sly winks at the camera, letting us know that the actors are in on the gag. Most of the characters are clueless idiots, and the actors are confident enough to play them exactly that way. It’s the same factor that made Ben Stiller’s ‘Zoolander’ such a joy. When performances are unflinching we don’t feel the need to question them, and that means the scenes and dialogue get to take a direct path into our brains.

I’ve always believed that sincerity = comedy. Early in his career Steve Martin pulled this off to a ‘T’ in the movie The Jerk. I guess the whole formula first clicked fifty years earlier with the likes of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.

I hope I never have to find out if laughter is indeed the best medicine, but if I do, I have no problem filling the prescription.


What’s that smell?

The smell in question is the stink being raised by some movie theater chains over the running length of Peter Jackson’s upcoming version of King Kong. The theater owners are crying like a bunch of milk babies because Jackson’s current cut of the movie is clocking in at almost three hours.

The exhibitors are booing and hissing because they claim that the audiences won’t sit still for a movie that long, and that’s just a steaming bowl of butter-flavored popcorn topping. Give an audience something entertaining to watch and they’ll sit there all day. The real reason they don’t want to play a movie that long is because it lowers the number of times the film can be showed in a day.

Back when I was a theater manager, the optimum running time for a movie was around a hundred minutes. A little over an hour and a half. That way you could schedule your show times for 12, 2, 4, 6, 8 & 10, which was easy for people to remember. The timing worked out well. You could shepherd one audience out (nobody seemed to want to stay and read the credits back then), pick up the cups and popcorn buckets from the aisles, and then load the next audience in, with five or ten minutes left for them to buy candy, drinks and popcorn.

For a first-run theater, the concession is where it’s all at. For the first few weeks of a new movie the film distributor skims up to eight percent of the ticket cost right off the top. Sure, playing eight bucks for a bucket of popcorn is highway robbery, but keep in mind that it’s what’s paying for supplies, salaries and keeping the electricity on. The longer a movie is in release the less the distributor takes out of every box office dollar.

The movie chains want King Kong to be shorter so they can have more showings per day and sell more five-dollar bags of M&Ms. I don’t blame them, but don’t try to cast the blame on us.

Gosh, I hope this movie is good. I have my worries about Jack Black. I love him in Tenacious D, but this might not be the right role for him. I’ll wait and see about Adrian Brody. He’s a good enough actor that he might effectively vanish into his character. And then of course there’s Naomi Watts. I’d pay to watch her wash socks.

David Green is an Astronomer!

That’s what I believed when I was in fourth grade, while attending Edgar Allen Poe grade school on the south side of Chicago.

I knew it because I had read it.

I didn’t really know David Green. He was in the fifth or sixth grade. I knew that he was a school crossing guard, which was something akin to royalty at Edgar Allen Poe. Crossing guards got to wear spiffy orange belts. They were made of seatbelt material. (I was intimately familiar with seatbelt material because I used to play jet pilot in the back seat of the family car. Back in the late 60s only some cars came equipped with seat belts. Nobody ever wore them, as I recall, but I used to have a blast playing with them.) The crossing guard belts featured one strap that went around the waist and a second that came up over one shoulder. They were totally bitchin’.

If you were a school crossing guard you got to leave school a few minutes early so you could beat the crowds to your appointed intersection. The guards didn’t have stop signs, but they had orange belts and that seemed powerful enough to make cars stop.

(I petitioned really hard to become a crossing guard, and the next year, my last at Poe school I made the team. The only problem was that the intersection I was appointed to was far off the beaten path. The entire time I stood guard not a single kid needed help crossing. Not a single kid crossed. After a week or two I stopped going. I kept the belt and used to play around with it for a while, until I grew too fat to fit into it.)

One day I actually had occasion to stand face to face with David Green. I was in an upstairs hallway of the school admiring a fort that someone had built as a class project. The entire thing was built out of Popsicle sticks. A couple of kids were standing around it. I thought to myself that whoever built it must really like Popsicles. There were hundreds of them. One of the other kids admiring the model joked that it would have taken the kid who made it a hundred years to save up enough Popsicle sticks. He continued on that it was a good thing that you could buy the sticks at the art store. I laughed along with the joke, thankful that my tongue was stuck in first gear that day.

I don’t know if he was the one who made the model, but I talked to David Green right next to it. It was a long time ago, but our conversation went something like this.

“Hey, you’re David Green, right?”
“Yeah, so?”
“Yeah, well I hear you really like astronomy. I think that’s cool.”
“What are you talking about, kid?”
“I just read it. That’s all. Sorry.”
“Where’d you read it? Show me?”

And so I did.

Edgar Allen Poe was a three-story brick affair, built in a section of Chicago that used to be called Pullman. It was called Pullman because that’s where the factories where they used to build Pullman railroad cars were located. Around the turn of the century Pullman employed a lot of people, so he build his own housing, churches and schools. There was an abandoned factory at the end of my street, and another one just one street behind our house. My friends and I spent countless hours climbing around inside the derelict buildings. It’s a wonder we survived, or at the very least didn’t fall victim to lockjaw from all the rusty ladders we used to scale.

Poe school was built with functionality in mind. Safety came second, or third. My parents would have died early deaths if they knew the hours we spent up on the school rooftops. It was pretty easy to get up there because there was a metal fire escape that ran up and down the outside of the building. At some point they had constructed a cage of sorts around the lowest section of the fire stairs. The cage was made of cyclone-type fencing, with a sheet metal door you could exit out of the cage through if you came down the stairs. This safety precaution was easy enough to defeat. All you had to do was climb up the cage and then you had access to the fire escape, and the lower of the roofs. Once you were on the lower roof you were good to go.

David Green followed me outside, to the cage. We were the only ones outside. The blacktop ‘playground’ that formed a big ‘U’ around the back and sides of the school was empty. The cage, along with the metal door in the middle of it had been painted probably a dozen times. The fencing was thick with multiple coats of paint. The door showed old coats of paint where kids had scraped into the surface.

I was still pretty naïve at the time, so I didn’t understand all the words and phrases that were scratched into the paint. I do remember that someone had stuck a bumper sticker on the door that read “Save Water—Shower With A Friend”. I still blush. Near the bottom of the door I showed David where his name was scratched in.


At least that’s what I thought it said.

David Green stooped down to read. He stood back up and then pushed me down on the ground. He waved a fist in my face. “Did you do that?” he asked. “Do you think that’s funny?” he continued.

It must have been a chilly day. My face had to have been cold, because I could feel the warm tears running down my cheeks. I might have said something, but I can’t think of what. He stood over me for a moment and then was gone. I’m pretty sure I never saw him again.

For the life of me I didn’t know what in the world had happened. I ran home.

Later that day, or maybe it was the following day, my best buddy Donnie Draves and I returned to the scene of the crime. We looked at the door and then I saw the problem.

Reading letters scraped into layers of paint on a metal door is hard work. Especially for a kid. Donnie and I examined the writing and figured out why I got pushed down.

David Green may or may not have been an astronomer, but that wasn’t the subject of the message. Donnie and I figured it out.


Truer words have never been written since.


It’s Good Eunuch For Me…

Conan O’Brien makes me laugh, but a little self-deprecation goes a long way. David Letterman is still funny, for a cranky old man, and Leno’s monologue elicits more than a few laughs out of me (in contrast to Letterman’s sloth paced delivery, Leno opts for the machine gun approach, telling a dozen jokes for every one or two Dave delivers, thus he comes out on top due to the simple law of averages), but in my book they still pale compared to the master, Johnny Carson.

Carson could milk just as many laughs out of a good joke as one that tanked, which was his special gift, but one of my favorite things about watching Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show was the guests he featured.

These days just about everyone you see on a talk show are there to promote a new movie, book, video or album. Of course there was a lot of plugging going on in the olden days that I hold so dear, but there was also a lot of guests that stopped by to simply stop by and pay Johnny a visit.

Johnny had a lot of pals, like Jimmy Stewart, Don Rickles, Shelly Winters, Buddy Hackett, George Gobel, Dean Martin and Burt Reynolds who would just stop by to shoot the breeze and maybe tell a few anecdotes or jokes. These members of Hollywood’s old guard came out cold. Today’s talk show guests are pre interviewed, which is how the hosts can miraculously come up with questions like, “I heard that while making your latest movie you had some sort of an encounter with a pack of albino bats.” Johnny Carson would talk to his guests naturally, and if they happened to bring up a story about some albino bats, that was cool, but they were so at ease that were just as likely to come up with an equally funny story. Nothing was forced.

Buddy Hackett was one of my favorites. Part of the reason was because Johnny genuinely liked him and thought he was funny. Another part of the reason was that he told jokes and stories that were mostly racy, and usually a couple of words had to be bleeped out and I would have to rack my brain to figure out what he had said. And one of the biggest reasons was that he told long jokes and stories. Four, five and six minutes long. While Buddy was telling his joke you could see Johnny looking off camera, probably being told that they really needed to go to a commercial break, but Johnny rarely cut anyone off.

I miss Johnny. Not enough to buy those ‘Best Of’ video compilations I see for sale. But I do miss him a lot.

I heard a great quote on the Tonight Show one night. It was spoken by an actor or an actress who was responding to a bad review that his/her movie had gotten. The actor/actress dismissed movie critics by saying, “Critics are like the eunuchs who guard a king’s harem. They know what sex is. They see it happen every single day. But for the life of them, they just can’t do it themselves.” I thought this was a pretty neat quote, but I had to look up the word ‘eunuch’ in the dictionary. Then I had to look up the word ‘castration’. Once I knew what a eunuch really was the quote was even more powerful to me.

I love movies and based on the reviews of Roger Ebert, I once considered writing movie reviews for a living. But then I thought about that quote and wondered how I could sit back and criticize someone who was doing something that I was incapable of. I can’t cook, so I could I tell a master chef what’s wrong with his bouillabaisse?

Movie critics are not moviemakers, yet we trust their recommendations and heed their warnings. At least I do. Which is why I didn’t see the animated movie ‘Robots’ when it was in the theater. The critics called it thinly plotted, childish, one-dimensional and they mocked Ewan McGregor’s American accent.

Shame on them. And shame on me for listening to them and missing Robots on the big screen. I watched it last night and I can’t recall liking an animated movie more since the first Toy Story movie.

Robots has got a lot of things going for it. For starters, it was produced by the creative forces that gave us the film Ice Age (a film that I had my share of problems with, based mostly on character design and some story elements, but which I still enjoyed a great deal). The next great thing about Robots was that it was designed by the mega genius that is William Joyce. If you’ve lived a sheltered life and don’t know who Joyce is, do yourself a favor and run a GIS (Google Image Search) on him and see what you’ve been missing.

Okay, so the plot of Robots is pretty lightweight, but that’s sort of the point. It’s almost a fable or a fairy tale. The filmmakers understood that from the beginning, which is why they kept the pace so fast. The action and dialogue move along at a lively clip. The Toy Story movies dealt with some complex issues and they built some deep characterization, but at the same time there are huge sections of both movies that move at a snail’s pace. Robots starts off at a pretty fast pace and never really slows down.

Oh, another thing that the critics warned us of was the return of Robin Williams playing the same motor-mouthed character we’ve seen (or heard) him deliver in other animated movies. I was really worried about this. A little Robin Williams is a good thing. Which is what Robots delivers. The character he plays does sound like Robin Williams, but there’s a degree of restraint that was not present when he was playing the Genie of the lamp. There was also a happy absence of celebrity impersonations and pop references that tend to age a film.

This film is gorgeous. The animation is top notch. There’s a slew of big name actors that weren’t at all necessary. Halle Berry is a delight for the eyes but her voice is ordinary and her performance was wasted. The critics were right about Ewan McGregor’s wavering accent. The only voice actors that improved the movie were Greg Kinnear, Amanda Bynes and Robin Williams. Mel Brooks had his moments as well.

If you’re in the mood for some lightweight fun that might make you feel like a kid again, rent a copy of Robots. At the very least, check it out on HBO a few months from now.


Movies that I'll always stop for...

I’ve made it quite clear in previous postings that I’m an old, old man. Yesterday I got another year older, but I don’t especially have a problem with that. I’ve seen a lot of things change since the stork dropped me off in the cabbage patch. (Yes, that’s how I came into the world. If you try to convince me again that my parents ever had sex, I’ll do that thing where I stick my fingers in my ears and go, “La la la la la” at the top of my lungs)

One of the biggest and best things that happened was the invention of cable television. How we avoided mass extinction with only four or five channels to pick from, most of which that went off the air after one or two in the morning, is beyond me.

Way back then you didn’t usually turn on the television until there was something on that you wanted to watch. Can you even imagine? You sat down to watch a show, then turned the television off and went and did something else.

Thankfully, today we don’t have this burden to deal with. Fifty years ago it was up to the television programmers to come up with something good to entice us to watch. These days it’s up to us, the television viewer, to seek out and find something enticing to watch. It’s a good thing that television remote controls have evolved to match the task at hand.

If I were a stand-up comedian (which I’m not—to much standing involved) I could go off on a riff about all the different ways people channel surf. My wife, daughter and I all have our different methods of scanning for things to watch. Huge amounts of tolerance keeps us from killing one another over this.

My wife manages to hold her tongue while I’m flipping around (which must be hard for her to do, because it can be so sharp and sarcastic at times). But the one thing she never holds back at is mocking me for the movies and shows that I click on to check out.

All I can do is pity her for not having as sophisticated a palate as I was born with. After some fourteen odd years of living together, here’s a list of movies she knows I’ll always stop at. Some them she actually likes herself. Perhaps some of my good taste has rubbed off on her after all this time.

- Godzilla (Any and all of them. Even the one with Ferris Bueller in it.)
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Although these days I always wonder what Mr. Rooney has stashed in his desk drawer.)
- Predator (This movie is sooo much better than people give it credit for. I’ll usually stop for the sequel as well, but it pales compared to the first.)
- RoboCop (Always the first one in the series, most times the second one, and the third one only if no one else is in the room.)
- The Incredible Hulk
- Finding Nemo
- A Shot in the Dark (As well as any of the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers in them.)
- The Fifth Element (Bruce Willis doesn’t get more charming than here. My favorite dialogue exchange happens at the ticket counter. “We’re newlyweds. Just met. You know how it is. We bumped into each other, sparks happened…”“Leeloo Dallas mul-ti-pass.””Yes, she knows it’s a multipass. Anyway, we’re in love.”
- Independence Day (Yes, you read right, and no, I haven’t been drinking gasoline.)
- Stargate
- Nighmare Before Christmas
- Ronin (a great movie that never found the right audience)
- Pitch Black
- Near Dark
- Galaxy Quest
- Stuck On You
- Memento
- What's Up Tigerlily?
- Kung Pow
- Lord of the Rings (Any of the three but especially the third.)
- Star Wars (Any of the six, even with JarJar.)
- Smokey and the Bandit (This one worries me a tiny bit. But not much.)
- The Hustler (Newman + Gleason + Pool = Cool)
- The Great Escape
- The Conehead Movie (Once I gave it a chance I was hooked for life)
- Rocky (I’ll check out any of the first four, but the second one is my favorite and I’ll watch if from start to finish.)
- Sky Captain
- My Neighbor Totoro (as well as Kiki's Delivery Service)
- Fat City (It’s from the 70s and Stacy Keach plays a washed up boxer who tries for a comeback.)
- Planet of the Apes (I’ll take a peek at any of them, but only stay for the first one.)
- The Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen burns up the screen, and Ann-Margret is so damn sexy she practically leaves puddles of lust behind wherever she goes.)
- Fail-Safe
- Dr. Strangelove
- Disney's Beauty and the Beast
- Flight of the Phoenix (I’ll stop and watch the remake as well.)
- When Worlds Collide (Great concept, pretty good execution, not much cheese.)
- Alien (All of them. Even Alien Vs. Predator.)
- The Omega Man (I wish it were on right now. I should go check. Nope.)
- Monsters, Inc.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (I’ll check out any of them, but he second one still leaves me cold, even after years of trying to like it.)
- Buckaroo Banzai (Flawed, but an A+ for effort.)
- Key Largo (Bogart does his best work in this film.)
- Journey to the Center of the Earth (I refuse to eat goose pate even to this day. Poor Gertrude.)
- Jaws
- Five Million Years to Earth (Part of the Hammer Quartermass series. A childhood favorite that I still cherish today.)
- Mysterious Island (I don’t care if it ignores the book. I still hold it precious.)
- Firefox (Clint Eastwood speaking Russian AND flying the fastest jet on the planet? Count me in!)
- Our Man Flint (Hey buddy, got a light? Oww!)
- To Sir With Love (Those schoolgirl days…)
- The Road Warrior (Not a big fan of the first Mad Max film, but I’ll always stop for this one and Beyond Thunderdome.)
- The Verdict (of the Newman/Redford team I always liked Paul Newman lots more)
- Army of Darkness (As well as Evil Dead 2)
- Blazing Saddles (As well as Silent Movie, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers.)
- Hair
- Johnny Dangerously
- Crimson Tide
- Around The World Under The Sea
- Silent Running (Bruce Dern as a creepy hippy trying to save the rainforest. Why not?)
- Dead Calm
- Magnum Force (Along with Dirty Harry. You got a problem with that? Well, do ya’ punk?)
- Return of the Living Dead (Smart and funny—what a combo!)
- Marooned (Gene Hackman is good in anything.)
- The Silencers (Any Matt Helm movie is worth a quick look.)
- The Birds (As well as most Hitchcock films.)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Poltergeist
- The French Connection
- Toy Story
- Slap Shot (Paul Newman at his cynical best.)
- Tobor the Great (Tobar is Robot spelled backward.)
- Inherit the Wind
- Robot Jox
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

THE THREE TIMES THAT I ALMOST DIED (that I'm aware of) Part One

When I was a kid I ‘heard’ a lot of things. Have you ever seen those collections of Urban Legends that were popular a few years back? That was the stuff of my childhood. It seems like everyone that I came in contact with back then had a friend, aunt, uncle, boss, sister, third-cousin, army buddy, or driving school teacher who was good friends with the guy, girl, or whatever the legend was about. The closest I ever got to the source was Susan, a teenage friend of my sisters who lived next door to us on the South Side of Chicago. She claimed to personally know the girl who was so happy with her complicated hairstyle that she froze it solid with hair spray. Weeks passed without her washing it. Somehow a pregnant Black Widow spider found her way into the varnished hair-do and decided to make it a home to her new family. Susan swore to me that she was sitting there in class when the spiders decided to emerge from their cocoon and see the world.

I used to hear lots of stories about kids who died imitating their favorite superheroes. There was a kid who lived out on a farm and his favorite comic character was Superman. He liked Superman so much that he thought he had superpowers himself. One day he tied one of his mother’s clean bed sheets around his neck and jumped off the roof of the barn. (In one version of the kid fell like a rock and splattered on whatever type of ground they have around barns. In the other he did such a good job of tying the makeshift cape around his neck, that when it got caught on a nail at the edge of the deck it hung him until he was dead. He was still hanging there when his parents got home from church.)

Another Superman story featured a kid who saw bullets bouncing off of Superman’s chest and thought he’d try that with his daddy’s pistol. There were also a lot of variations on the story about the kid whose favorite comic character was the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch. “Flame On” indeed.

I guess somewhere down deep I knew most of these stories were made up, but that part was squished beneath the much bigger part of me that wanted them to be true. I guess if I had really understood the whole concept of the Urban Legend, I would have started cooking up my own. Who knows? Maybe my friends and me were creating our own. At the very least we were giving continued life to existing stories and probably embellishing on them along the way.

I never ‘heard’ any stories about dumb kids killing themselves by imitating characters from television shows, but I’ve got one of my own. It happened when I was eight or nine.

I had plenty of television series that I enjoyed a lot back then. Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea was a big one, as was The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, It Takes A Thief, Gilligan’s Island, Speed Racer, Bozo’s Circus, The Banana Splits, and the family favorite in our house, The Fugitive. But the standout of the group, head and shoulders above all the rest, was Mission: IMPOSSIBLE. (Just typing the words sends a tingle racing up and down my spine.)

Back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, and I was eight-years-old, TV’s ‘prime time’ ran from seven to ten, instead of today’s eight to eleven (I used to know why they changed it, but have since forgotten). Mission: IMPOSSIBLE was on Sunday nights at nine. They probably moved it around in the schedule in the years that followed, but during my ‘honeymoon’ years with the show, it was Sunday at nine. I owe a cigar and a steak dinner to whomever made this decision. It was perfect for me. By the time it came on the only Sunday shows that we watched (The Wonderful World of Disney and maybe The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour for me and my sisters—The Lawrence Welk show for my parents) were over. My sisters were upstairs finishing their homework or doing whatever it is that older sisters do. My dad had headed upstairs to bed, and my mom was probably in the kitchen smoking Salem cigarettes and drinking coffee.

This meant that for all intents and purposes, the television was mine! My bedtime was ten, so the timing was perfect. One hour of television dynamite and then off to dreamland.

I could go on for hours about how much I loved Mission: IMPOSSIBLE, and why, but that’s not my goal for today. (Perhaps another time. Oh yes, another time.) Today I wanted to tell you about how my love for Mission: IMPOSSIBLE almost got me killed.

The core members of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) included:

Jim Phelps: Master tactician and leader of the team, who always managed to find a way to stay one step ahead of the enemy.

Cinnamon Carter: Fashion cover girl and society ingénue. (And yes, I know it’s not necessarily logical to pick a top model, whose face has been on the cover of every major magazine, as a member of your secret squad of agents. Perhaps team leader Jim Phelps reasoned that the target of most of his missions, be it the Russian mob, third-world drug cartel henchmen, or defecting nuclear scientists, weren’t big magazine readers. And besides, Cinnamon was a skilled actress who could blend into any role she played, from socialite to scrubwoman.)

Rollin Hand: Stage magician without peer, master of misdirection, and man of countless faces, Rollin could impersonate anyone from drug lords to heads of state.

Willy Armitage: Definitely the muscle of the group; in addition to the heavy lifting, Willy was an expert martial artist, adept with weapons, and as dependable as the day was long.

Barney Collier: The undisputed renaissance man of the group, Barney was a master electrician, mechanical engineer, pilot, architect, deep sea diver, and no matter how hot the action got, he remained cool as a cucumber.

Of course Jim Phelps wasn’t the original team leader. That was Dan Briggs, who was a talented strategist, but lacked some of the social graces needed to be a truly effective leader. We never learned what happened to Dan Briggs. Perhaps he was killed during the course of a mission. Or maybe he was captured and he’s rotting in a jungle cell somewhere, refusing to give his torturers a single scrap of information. I missed him for a while but I was quickly won over by the way Phelps took care of business.

My favorite of the group, though, was Barney. He usually had the most to do during the missions, so he always seemed to be the most important member of the team to me. Let’s say for example that the mission involved a deposed military leader who was sitting on a stockpile of nuclear warheads that he was planning to make for sale to the highest bidder. Well, Barney might have to crawl through the heating vents of the foreign embassy where the kook was holed up, defeat a sophisticated security system, dodge and duck the armed guards roaming the halls, tap into the telephone system to reroute all communications, pick the locks on at least five or six doors, and then break into the vault where the warheads were being stored. He would have to hide his efforts by first secretly dropping down a flexible movie screen in front of the vault door, and then setting up a movie projector that would project the image of the undisturbed door onto the screen. Only then could he open his really good bag of tricks to crack the locks on the door, neutralize the nuclear warheads, and then use a sonic disruptor to disintegrate the floor of the vault so the warheads would drop down into the subterranean caves beneath the embassy. While all this was going on the other team members would be doing their magic to cause distractions and delay the warhead auction.

In the end the deposed leader will have sold off the warheads to a particularly nasty lot of blokes. He’ll have their cash in hand when he opens the vault door to reveal…nothing. Cut to a shot of the IMF team driving away as gunshots echo throughout the halls of the embassy.

I think part of the reason Barney was my favorite was because of my dad. My father was a television repairman, so I grew up tinkering around with radios and televisions in his basement workshop. One of my favorite treats was junking old televisions that owners had dropped off for repair. Either the set was deemed unfixable, or the owner didn’t like the sound of the estimate and told my dad to keep it. Either way it was junk, and my dad would let me take it apart and strip it down for spare tubes, usable parts, and the precious copper yokes that used to be wrapped around the neck of the picture tube.

Of course I would pretend that I was doing something altogether different. I would either be defusing a bomb, trying to repair an encryption device before enemy bombers flew overhead, or some such fun. Back then televisions and radios had lots of big bulky parts that were ripe for goofing around with.

Then I would get bored. A bored Fred with a screwdriver in hand is inviting trouble. I started wandering around the basement, pretending to pick locks, pry open hidden compartments in things, and of course, tightening any loose screws I happened across.

And then I saw the fuse box.

I’d seen Barney tinkering with fuse boxes on Mission: IMPOSSIBLE. I had to climb up the outside railing of the stairs to reach it, but I was clever that way. I popped open the cover with the screwdriver and saw maybe a dozen fuses screwed into the panel. (I guess this was back before circuit breakers. The fuses I’m talking about were metal and about the diameter of a quarter. There was a tiny window in the face of the fuse and looking in you could see a tiny metal bar. If the bar was melted though it meant that the fuse was blown. I goofed around with twisting the fuses. Then I loosened the screws that held the fuse panel in place. Inside I could see some big fat copper wires. Some were thick as my finger. Copper was worth a lot of money, I knew, from scavenging the yokes from the castaway television sets. I was rich, I reasoned.

The plate wouldn’t come all the way off, so I jammed the screwdriver inside to try and loosen the copper wires.

I woke a long time later. I was on the basement floor, ten feet from the stairs. I had a horrible taste in my mouth. Blood. I had bitten the inside of my mouth. The screwdriver was nowhere to be seen. I tried to get to my feet but my legs were made of rubber. I felt really strange. It took me a long time to get upstairs.

My sisters must have been watching me, because I don’t remember seeing my mom as I climbed up to my bedroom. My body was tingling from head to toe and it wouldn’t stop. My hands seemed to be made of rubber too. I couldn’t turn the doorknob to the bathroom. I decided to hold it and lay down on my bed. I woke when I was called for dinner. I ate in silence. I was usually the quiet one, with my mom and sisters carrying the conversation. I went upstairs and went back to bed.

I woke in the middle of the night and this time I was able to open the bathroom door. I remember how much it hurt when I peed. It had never hurt before. I guess it was starting to dawn on me what had happened. I padded down the stairs and returned to the scene of the crime. The paint on the fuse box near where I’d jammed the screwdriver in was scorched black. The screws that I had loosened were gone, but the panel was only drooping open an inch or so. I bunched my pajama sleeve around my hand for protection and swung the fuse door shut. It mostly looked like it had before.

The tingling stayed for a few days, especially in the hand I was holding the screwdriver with. It took a few days more for the inside of my mouth to heal. As I type this I’m running my tongue around trying to feel a scar. Nothing.

If I had been a little smarter I would have probably been scared enough to tell my dad what I’d done. If I’d been a lot smarter I guess I would have never done it in the first place. Today, thirty-seven years later I recognize a miracle when I hear one.

That was the first time (that I know of) that I should have died.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about my opinion, I thought the Tom Cruise Mission: IMPOSSIBLE movies were silly little diversions. Neither movie captured the heart of what I loved about the original television series. But people like them, so live and let live. I always say.


Who will claim these lost people?

No, they aren't the lost people from the Lost island. I know what happens to them. These are people whose images were found on exposed rolls of film stuck in antique cameras.

For the writers out there seeking inspiration--look no further.

Here's the URL for a site put up by a camera nut who haunts the shelves of second hand shops. I guess he sometimes finds exposed film stuck in old cameras. He processes the film and shows the world these images for the very first time.

I don't know about you, (well, some of you I do) but I could have hours of fun imagining the backstory of any of these photos. It's fun to imagine, isn't it? I think so too. Do you ever imagine what your mommy does when one of your many 'uncles' visits and she locks you in your bedroom? I like to pretend I know what all those strange sounds are. The banging on the walls, the squeaky sounds that mommy's bed makes, glass breaking, and then in the end, the sad sound of desperation.



Oh that’s right. The Hobos were run out of town by the Homeless. That’s a shame. Hobos always had a slightly mystical turn of the century charm to them. The Homeless just aren’t trying hard enough. Everything was better in the olden days—even the poor.

Happy Halloween, y’all. I’ve always had a weird attachment with Halloween, because it was a crutch for helping me remember when my birthday was. I was born two days after Halloween, which I always thought was much cooler than being born two days after Christmas. Anyone unlucky enough to be born close to Christmas has got to suffer. They’re going to get shorted on one of the days.

As a result of my birthday coming so hot on the heels of Halloween, I don’t have a lot of childhood memories of Halloween. Even though Halloween meant loads of candy, which I love today and much as I did back then, my birthday was always more important to me.

You could get candy any day of the year, but there was only one day a year when I was in control of our house. Not total control, mind you, but lots more than I was used to.

I had two older sisters, and the youngest one was five or six years older than me, which meant I was a mistake. My arrival into the world was not scheduled, but tolerated. My mom went through the ‘change of life’ when I was very young, so my sisters Nancy and Marcia had a very active hand in my raising. Which is cool, and which I am grateful to this very day for. But anyone out there with older siblings knows what it’s like to be the runt of the lot.

The majority ruled in our house when it came to making decisions like what to watch on television, which movies we would get to go see, or what to have for dinner. I’m sure I was on the majority side more and a few times, but what I remember is always being a minority of one. If there was something I wanted to watch on television and it was on against something my sisters wanted to see, well, at least I get to see it no on the TVLand channel.

But on my birthday, I was the big cheese. I was the headman. I was the one in control of the television. Plus, there was cake and presents, making it a day of days. As far as presents, my parents were never too cheap when it came to keeping me supplied with toys and games. I could count on Nancy to give me a few Hardy Boys books, and Marcia would always kick in with a pair of slippers or some Peanuts paperbacks.

I do have strong memories of one Halloween. I must have been nine or ten. I always loved the Red Skeleton Show on television, and one of the characters he played was a lovable tramp. There were a lot of lovable tramps on television back then, and I sort of thought the whole concept was cool. So it was so shocker when I announced that year that I was going to be a hobo for Halloween. My mom went along with it and agreed to sew some patches onto an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. I was stuck without a hat, and no self respecting hobo would be seen out in public without a scuffed and beaten old hat, so I decided to make my own.

I’m pretty sure it took me two or three hours to make that hat. I used the pieces of white cardboard that new shirts and underwear came wrapped around. I colored the cardboard brown with crayons and then got busy cutting and taping the mess together. It was sort of a puzzle, figuring out how to make it work. (I think that’s one of the reasons I became a writer. No, not the making hats part, but rather the solving problems part. What is writing fiction if not solving one problem after another? Don’t answer, I was being metaphorical. I think Halloween is an appropriate day to be metaphorical. It’s such a diabolical word. Much like the word ‘diabolical’ itself.)

The rest of the day is pretty much a blur. I know it happened because I have a photograph of me in costume, which I wish I could lay hands on at the moment. I probably grabbed a pillowcase and went trick-or-treating with my best pal, Donnie Draves. Everything from then on would have been a sugar haze, anyway.

We always got treats and never tricked. We would plan out elaborate tricks that we wanted to pull off, but I guess we weren’t mean spirited enough to follow through. Besides, like I said, we always got treated.