Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high school. Show all posts

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The League Watches: Glee

If my Facebook friends are any indication, I am not the only one who has tuned into Fox's new program "Glee".

Fox did something fairly smart, originally broadcasting the pilot last spring, and then offering it for free online all summer long, let the buzz grow online and at places like Entertainment Weekly, rebroadcast the pilot (which is, honestly, very good) and then got the season going again with episode 2 broadcast last week.

That's not going to work for every show, but a show that needs to find its audience by word of mouth and from trusted sources rather than a blitz of ads... I guess I think the same approach would have helped "Arrested Development" with a stronger start in teh ratings, and give people an idea of the sense of humor the show had instead of going back grazing to "According to Jim" and "Everybody Loves Raymond".

Nickel synopsis:

"Glee" is about a high school teacher who dearly loves his job, and gets the opportunity to coach the unpopular and underfunded Glee Club at the school. The same school where he led the Glee Club to nationals in 1993. Which makes the character just about my age.

The characters include what should be crude stereotypes for the kids, focusing for now on the "girl with a dream" who firmly believes too much in her aspirations of Broadway, and the jock who is realizing he likes to sing.

But any show that wraps with a spirited rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'"... that goes from a pomo chuckle to actually hitting that sweet spot of the Broadway musical by songs end... hey, my hat is off.

The show equally (for now) follows the teachers at the school. The aforementioned Glee Club coach, a football coach who actually isn't that interested in his job, a germ-o-phobe guidance counselor, beleagured but shrewd principal, and Jane Lynch (who I can't cook up enough superlatives to describe) as the cheerleading coach who has won nationals and has let it maybe go to her head a little.

The League was, of course, a drama kid, so I feel I have some small insight into the non-sports high school world and the adults who led us kids. But Jamie was actually in Show Choir in high school, so I think she's particularly entertained (Hey, She's headed for the future...!).

Its tough to describe the sense of humor of the show, but its certainly got a knowing wink and a nod to the world of high school that you aren't going to find in shows like 90210. And its treatment of the adults who live in that world isn't bad, either. There's an interesting juxtaposition between the kids with their future ahead of them and the adults who are looking at doors potentially shutting around them.

While I adore Jane Lynch in pretty much everything she ever appears in, the character who rings oddly, insanely true is Rachel Berry, the wanna-be-a-star heroine of the show. We didn't necessarily have anyone with that myopic view of stardom at KOHS, but I spent 7 weeks at drama camp*, and the number of kids who believed they were headed for stardom.. tomorrow... was astounding.

Anyway, you sort of have to love that dame.

One thing I've noticed... there are different styles of acting (no, really). Broadway and stage actors have certain habits that you can see (in front of a camera, they might forget they are not projecting to the back of a theater). When you listen to the delivery of lines by the leads, occasionally you pick up that odd lilt to their lines that doesn't sound weird in musical theater, but on a Fox TV show... Anyway, it doesn't bother me, especially as I know that by necessity, they were working with musical theater people... but every once in a while, actors Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele sound a bit like they're voicing for a Disney movie.

The Music:

I have no idea what actually happens in Glee Clubs and Show Choirs across the country, but I do know that there's a hopelessly optimistic view of music as its processed by the show choir directors.

So seeing bright-eyed kids wearing matching outfits singing Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" rings just about right. That the pilot winds up with Journey, and the second episode features Kanye and Salt'n'Pepa is something The League can only salute.

It could be a one note joke to see covers of popular favorites, but I think the producers are savvy enough that they know how they can make this work.


The League recommends.

*Yeah. Drama camp. I said it. It was money well spent as it showed me that I was not going to major in drama in college.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I'm going to have to apologize for the short post. Again.

Former KO Leaguers (and others) may find it interesting that after work, I met up with former KO'er Andrea Goodson. It had been years and years.

Anyhoo... she's out in LA LA Land these days, so a sighting is a rarity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The League's Guide to Starting High School

In the coming weeks, more than ten teenagers across our nation will be setting their foot onto a high school campus for the first time as freshmen.

My own freshmen year was an odd one, as our Freshman class (class of '93) was bused to a campus which had been built when projections indicated a school would be required in that area, but did not take a recession into account. Westwood was too large for all of us, so some of us wound up at The Freshman Annex (aka: McNeil High School).

My sophomore year I moved to Spring, where I had to, basically, start high school all over again.

So here are my tips:

1) I don't know what sexed-up, drugged-up high school the folks go to who write teenage dramas for the CW, but TV and movies are a complete fabrication. Do not expect for life to become glamorous and sexy.

Don't worry. The lack of perspective and tendency to romanticize your own life of the average high schooler will make it all seem a lot more glamorous and sexy than it actually is.

2) Get good grades. You may think you're the next Fifty Cent, but you're much more likely to be the next Ned Irwin, Middle Manager.

3) Join a club or find an activity for godsake.

4) Ask "why?" constantly.

5) Don't take classes because they'll be a blowoff. Save that for college.

6) Your friends are idiots.

7) Get your driver's permit as soon as you are legally able. Same with your driver's license.

8) Don't loan your car out.

9) Don't slide across the hood of your car like the Duke Boys. It will put a huge dent in the hood of your '83 Honda Accord which you will have to hammer out before The Admiral notices its there.

10) Find girls who are funny.

11) Have at least two friends who make you look good to your parents by comparison.

12) Have a few more who are more impressive than you, so they don't start worrying about you.

13) Go to shows as soon as you are able.

14) Stay friends with the kids who tell you they spent the weekend in jail, but reduce your "hangout time" with those kids.

15) Don't let small kids get picked on.

16) Call racist kids names and make fun of their families.

17) Never, ever make fun of truck drivers. Because both times you do, you will find out that you're making an American Truck Driving School joke to the child of a truck driver. Also, our economy would be crippled without the noble trucker.

18) Know how football and basketball work (baseball is optional).

19) Read books that you hear you aren't supposed to read.

20) Be nice to your mother.

21) Try not to embarrass The Old Man.

22) Chew gum.

23) You are not the first person to discover The Beatles, Jimi, The Who, whatever... but rock that shit.

24) Become an expert at figuring out the shelf-life of bands and popular music.

25) Keep a change of clothes handy.

26) Always keep $15 in cash. This is not to be spent unless absolutely necessary.

27) Know too much about one or two serial killers.

28) Know when to shut up and listen.

29) Be ready to walk away from friends.

30) Know that your friends will let you down.

31) Be ready to make friends your old friends don't like.

32) Watch movies from before the year you were born.

33) After 10:00 PM, it's a cliche, but Denny's is a perfectly acceptable destination.

33) Learn to drink coffee.

34) Figure out what food you can eat from a gas station.

35) Go to museums, free plays and concerts.

36) Take lots of pictures. Try to use film.

37) Think long and hard before deciding you're going to want to be seen as "an iconoclast"

38) Nobody is looking at you or thinking about you.

39) Drive around at night.

40) If anyone tells you these are the best days of your life, look upon them with pity.

So, Leaguers... what would you share?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mixed Feelings and the King of Pop

On the phone:

Jamie: ..hello!
Me: The King is Dead!
Jamie: What?
Me: The King of Pop is dead. Long live The King!
Jamie: ...what?
Me: Michael Jackson is dead. Nathan sent me an article. I'm late coming home because I had to verify before going to print.
Jamie: He's dead? (long pause as Jamie is clearly opening laptop and going to CNN) Oh. Oh my god.
Me: Yeah.
Jamie: That's so... weird.
(long pause)
Me: Some mixed feelings, huh?
Jamie: Yeah.

I was 7 or so when Thriller hit the radio. Its got to be hard for anyone born after 1978 or so how absolutely important Michael Jackson was to the pop culture scene between 1982 and 1985. Jackson then disappeared briefly to re-emerge with "Bad",. Soon after, things would turn poorly for the entertainer.

Look, I actually really, really like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and big parts of "Bad". And "Smooth Criminal". And so while we started to hear weird stories almost immediately (trying to buy "The Elephant Man's" bones, the zoo at Neverland Ranch), it wasn't until I was in high school that the first accusations about impropriety with a kid began to creep out. This was all pre-Internet, so the stories came from supermarket tabloid covers and shows like "A Current Affair". But during one lazy summer, MTV showed the video for "Bad" over and over. And I sorta learned the whole thing. I mean, yeah, I needed the video for reference. I'm not exactly Usher. And, yeah, it's been many a year, but there was a time when I was flopping around my living room imitating The Gloved One. Poorly.

I'm not really sure I need to fill anyone in on the details of the scandals. Either of them (younger readers may not remember the first batch, but they were there).

The truth is that I'm not really sure what the hell happened during those cases. Jackson's, frankly, bizarre and secretive lifestyle made it easy to believe just about anything.

So what do you do? Shrug at the death of a guy who somehow escaped justice time and time again? Or mourn/ pity a guy hounded by the media and possibly falsely accused of one of the most grave crimes an individual can perform?

I have no idea.

About two weeks ago I was going to do a post about latter-era Michael Jackson, but got lazy. I was going to talk about videos from "Dangerous" and the video for "Scream" and "Black & White". But... I sorta thought nobody would be interested.

Here's some other stuff.


Smooth Criminal

The one that's my first memory of Jackson: Billie Jean. Dude seemed so cool.

Latter era Michael Jackson: Scream

Early era (totally rad) Jackson: Don't Stop Til You Get Enough

The Jackson 5 rocks the frikkin' house:

And, man, it wouldn't be complete without Thriller.

. This video, btw, got MTV banned in my house for a year when The Admiral spied the zombie make-up, decided it was too scary (ignoring that we'd seen the video 100 times before that), and locked it out on the Scientific Atlanta box.

We almost lost cable again, circa 1987, thanks to George Michael's "Father Figure" video, which The Admiral would mistake for soft-core pornography, until I pointed out that they don't show softcore during the 6:00 hour on basic cable.

Here's more Thriller.

Thrill the World Austin 2008

Phillipines prison

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

High School Musical

Here's an interesting bit.

Apparently, Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls and solo fame, teamed with her old high school drama teacher to put on a musical based on a Neutral Milk Hotel album, which was inspired by the story of Anne Frank. Or something.


Reading about it and watching a few minutes online did, indeed, make me miss the brief period of footlights and greasepaint from my own youth. I would have loved to have been involved in anything this interesting for a production in high school, and while we didn't stick to kiddie-stuff, I was often disappointed we weren't tackling material I might have had more interest in actually performing.

It is true that I, myself, tried my hand at acting in high school. Nothing as elaborate as bringing in a popular indie rock star, but we did several shows a year. We had auditions and rehearsals before school ever started, and usually ran two shows before the winter break, tucked a musical in there, had a spring show and maybe another. Its hard to recall exactly how it all went down, but we ran a lot of plays.

Admittedly, I wasn't much of an actor. I had a hard enough time getting "off book" (I plead made-up learning disability), and was never comfortable with the pantomime that has to occur in stage acting so that every facial movie, every line delivered, etc... reaches the person in the last row. And inhabiting other people's skins wasn't something, I suppose, I was terribly good at.

Also, my assumption is that my line delivery was akin to the sing-songy line delivery which marks most high school and community theater.

I still recall the look of horror on the basketball coach's face when I informed him I was (a) quitting the basketball team, and (b) that I recognized I needed an activity to keep me off the drugs, so I was going to try out for a play.

Amazingly, I landed an understudy role in a 40-minute version of "Midsummer Night's Dream", which actually had The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons in it as "Flute" and Broadway actor Charlie Pollock as "Bottom". And, come to think of it, Jeff Miller of Christian rock band Caedmon's Call.

Huh. never thought of it that way before.

Anyway, it was for a UIL competition, and we had an honest-to-god scandal and were booted out of state competition for a minor rule infraction. All very dramatic.

Its probably important to note that I was not quite of the proportions then that I am now, so people were not looking for me to play "Thug #2" or "Man-Child #7", as I have no doubt I'd be cast now (and did, in fact, get cast a a man-child in a friend's scene in college). We did "Rimers of Eldritch", "Rumors", "The Crucible", "You Can't Take it With You", "All My Sons", "Watch on the Rhine", and, I am sure, one or two others.

We had a few musicals. I sort of preferred backstage work. (A) It was less likely I'd screw up while standing in front of however many people came to the play. (B) Building sets, hanging lights, messing with all that stuff, was a lot more fun than running over the same lines, over and over. There's a lot less in the way of access to power tools when all you're doing is acting.

I don't know how or why, but I wound up in the "fly booth" when we did "Bye, Bye Birdie". This meant I did only two or three things during the duration of the play, but I couldn't leave the actual booth as I couldn't turn on the lights needed to make it from point A to Point B. So for about three hours I had to just sit in this box, and on cue, move signs up and down on a few cranks.

Its a job that is supposed to go unnoticed, but a few pals came to the show, and when I dropped the first sign onto the set, I heard a chorus of "Steeeeaaaaannns" erupt from the audience, just as they'd done when I was shooting free throws on the basketball team. It was sort of gratifying.

What I'd say to our younger readers: I've only seen small bits of the Disney hit, "High School Musical", but... the movie doesn't really reflect much of what happened during any of our plays. There was less dancing, singing about our love, and a lot more snarkiness and sitting around backstage chatting and missing our cues. I don't if the fiction of Disney's musical is particularly helpful, and I'm sure its led to all kinds of confusion for eager-faced kids ready to sing and dance, and finding out that its mostly standing around and occasionally getting yelled at by a tired drama teacher who doesn't want to wrangle any more kids.

I also worked backstage at a bizarre cash grab by the Performing Arts teachers at our school. Someone cooked up the idea to do a revue. Which meant a large cast, lots of set changes, and getting practically any kid who auditioned into the show. And then $8 a head for their parents and friends. And with a cast, band, crew, etc... of around 100 students doing 4 shows, we went SRO all four shows and did okay. Apparently it helped fund our next show or two.

We had a complete set change between every number or two, which was interesting. We had to recruit a bunch of freshman who'd never worked a play before, but we got our act together, and our little unit never missed a beat. I'm still proud of those kids.

Oddly, I blame this play for my recurring nightmare. Its not dissimilar to the standard "I'm back in school, and I need to take a test" dream that, reportedly, you never shake. About 3 or 4 times a year, I still wake up in a cold sweat having dreamed that I showed up to work backstage at a play, but I was supposed to be in a musical, singing and dancing. I have neither skill, so I feel frustrated that someone put me in the position of being in the play in the first place, and I am not clear on how it got to be opening night and I never knew I was in the show.

Backstage, its very much like the "Bit O' Broadway" musical revue. But on stage, I have no idea what's happening. Its something else entirely.

To my credit, I refuse to give up in this dream, declare that the show must go on, and always sort of wander out on stage, waving my arms around and sort of shuffling to the music. I will be happy to demonstrate sometime.

Not wanting to draw attention to my lack of rehearsal, I always kind of hang around the back of the chorus, just try my best to lip synch to the rest of the kids, and get off stage as quickly as possible. Sometimes I have to improvise a solo, but most times, not.

What's weirdest is that some mental sub-routine always actually has songs going to some made up dream musical that some part of my brain is writing. There are sets and costumes and the whole nine-yards that my conscious brain is incapable of putting together. I'd really love to know what this musical is, sometime. Which reminds of the library in the Sandman comics, of the books that people had dreamed but which had never existed.

Anyhow, it always has a sad lack of Amanda Palmer.

Monday, April 27, 2009

6th and Lamar

This weekend I watched "Slacker", the circa 1990 movie from Richard Linklater that more or less made the Austin film scene.

From the opening scene, its clear its an Austin that many in the town today will have found plowed under and turned into condos. Even the opening shot, looking out the window of a bus headed north on I-35 at dawn passes the location of what was Robert Mueller Airport, where today we have tract housing, Best Buy and a sea of chain retail. I think the only thing still standing and the same today in the extended shot is the McDonald's at Capital Plaza.

As a movie and cultural artifact, Slacker is a curious item to watch. I've come to have more personal feelings on the thing than I usually associate with a movie. Its a time capsule from an era of my youth when I was coming of age. Its a time capsule from a period in Austin that most of the people I know in Austin don't recall, or weren't in town for yet. It may also be responsible for some of the image making of Austin, which has led to the flood of people into Austin, which, in turn, has greatly changed Austin. In some ways for the better, and in many ways...

There's a scene about thirty minutes into the movie where a guy is buying a newspaper (a USA Today, I think) and he's at the GM Steakhouse, and the horizon is flat. The high rises of the intersection aren't even imagined yet. Traffic on Lamar is moving fast headed south. There's an auto dealer, Charles Coffey Motors, I think, that had been there for decades.

Today, Les Amis is gone. That whole area has been bought by real estate developers and they put in a Smoothie King and a Panda Express.

The entire film is, in so many ways, the same rush of sense memory you get when you step into your parents' house after being away too long. Or, perhaps even more, when something smells exactly how your grandparents' basement smelled, a place you would have to dig deep to recall when was the last time you spent time there.

Sure enough, time goes by. The town has always been transitory to an extent, memories are short. And those places were houses and other things that people may have lived in before I was imprinting on them as record stores and cigarette shops. Time waits for nobody, but that doesn't mean, I think, you can't be nostalgic. Or that you can't feel a bit of melancholy that time has marched on, especially when you wonder how you suddenly got so old.

Intentional or unintentional, there's something to the young faces of the film living in the old, unpolished parts of the city. In houses left over from grander eras, walking past the burnt out and unused warehouses that once made up several blocks of Austin (and which, from what I've read, on that land may have been brothels and bars before the warehouses took up the space).

Seeing people as I remember them from that era, not as how they appeared on TV from studios, or how they looked in catalogs, or taking their fashion cues from either. Texas accents. All that. It makes it tough to separate nostalgia (and what was at the time, recongnition) from any objective viewing of the film.

The content of the film, is, of course, the 2:00 AM-over-a-beer academic discussions of the 20-something quasi or pseudo intellectual, that rarely appeal to or fit in with the hours available in a life once you've rolled into a job, paying taxes, etc... Even when or if you fundamentally still agree or find yourself arguing with 20-something you. Its distended out to two hours, and at times its a bit much, and at times you want to slap the characters, but its also still a bit like slowing down and listening as you walk across campus. Students will always be students, and Linklater was just out of school (or maybe still in?) when he was working on Slacker.

And that's not going to do a lot for a lot of people. And I appreciate that. Or, I guess, I am aware of that. And the undercurrent of anarchy that's romanticized will drive some nuts. But, as I said, its a time capsule. And its not indicative of many people's time in this town, even lifelong residents.

My favorite scene is still that of the old revolutionary/ anarchist who takes a liking to the young man pointing a gun at him. That's going to be Jason in 30 years, so help me.

Admittedly, at one point, I was fairly certain that was pretty much what I'd be doing in my mid-20's (I was about 15 or 16 when I saw the movie the first time), and had I not jumped in that taxi, who knows where I would have diverged and seen this life as a dream, right? One does not work towards a history and film degree because one's life's plans are centered around financial security, 2 kids and a house in the burbs. It wasn't so much an aspiration as much as what seemed like a likely trajectory when you really have no clue what you're going to do with yourself beyond your 21st birthday.

Anyhow, its a movie I find odd in what a gut, emotional reaction I have to it for reasons that aren't necessarily tied to the content, although that certainly plays a part (at least as echoes of old voices).

Since the movie was released, the term "slacker" was co-opted, most egregiously by the movie "Slackers", which was sort of a gross-out comedy of no redeeming value. Various websites, properties, etc... have tried to take on the term. But, whatever.

All part of it I suppose.

It's like getting a little closer to the rock goddess herself.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Me and Chuck E. Cheese

Edit: I am a bit horrified to find that Whitney Matheson of Pop Candy has re-redirected her readership here to The League (big fan of Pop Candy! Hi, Whitney!). Welcome one and all. I also apologize for the many, many grammatical and typographical errors. If I'd time, I'd clean it up, but alas.

Every year on my birthday, people ask where I want to go for dinner to celebrate. And every year, I say the same thing. I say that I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese.

Its partially a test. The truth is, I sort of figured out a long time ago that even if its your birthday, you sort of need to pick neutral territory that everyone will like. You cannot say "I want to go to Chuck E. Cheese", because nobody over the age of 9 really wants to find themselves at Chuck E. Cheese for any length of time. Which is why they sell beer (or they did). So its always a fun litmus test to see how batshit people (especially Jason) will go when you quietly insist that, yes, you DO want to go to Chuck E. Cheese. When pushed, I insist that I like pizza, videogames and a complementary animatronic floorshow. And offer up helpful bits like "I told you where I wanted to go, and if you don't want to go there, that's fine. Just take me wherever."

I have actually had two birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese. When I was in 5th grade, my parents finally caved and agreed to let me have my party at a Chuck E. Cheese somewhere in Austin (probably off Burnet). And I recall pretty distinctly all of my friends just sort of milling around, realizing we were too old for Chuck E. Cheese. Whether we were too big for the "rides", or weren't into the robots anymore, or whatever... I just remember an awful sinking feeling that I'd made a mistake.

They probably still do this, but they would announce the names of kids having birthdays and bring out these cakes with these goofy sparkling candles, and Chuck would come by and give you a present. And as all of this was going on, all I could think was "Oh, Jesus Christ, I'm too old for all of this..." And as I was about to open the present from Chuck, this girl in a visor who worked there sort of apologized to me in advance, letting me know "we only have presents for little kids..." as I opened up what was a dollar-store Fisher-Price knockoff toy car. Pretty clearly intended for a kid, ages 2-6.

You Want Money, You Better Earn It

At age 16, I was informed I was to find a job once school let out. There was a certain window of time when school let out when people would plan to hire kids for the summer. This was kind of understood by me and my high school pals but possibly less understood by my folks. That year we headed out of town shortly after school let out, and remained gone for a couple of weeks. When I returned, I hit the road every day for several hours filling out applications, but to no avail. I was told at every place I applied that I could fill out an application, but they weren't hiring. For reasons unknown to me to this day, my inability to find a job was met with skepticism by my parents, who seemed to believe all you had to do to land a job was walk in the door of whever you wanted to work, and they'd hire you.

I confess I had a couple of rules.

1) I wouldn't sack groceries. Houston summers can be brutal enough, and I wanted to not wear the goofy bow-tie, long pants and smock get-up Randall's employed. Apparently the Randall's corporation believed that such a get-up would fool their patrons into believing that they were shopping in some Mom and Pop corner store during the early days of the 20th Century rather than in a state of the art grocery with automated rainfall on the out-of-season produce and endless aisles of preservative-laced foods.

In short, I didn't want to sweat so badly in my job that I'd not get tips, which is how the sackers made their dough.

2) I was avoiding the food industry. Apparently The KareBear had some amazing experience working at the same restaurant as a waitress for years as she made her way through school. But everyone I talked to made it sound like a lot of late nights and uncomfortable situations with assistant managers. Also, I get grossed out by other people's partially eaten food.

I wasn't going to land some sweet gig that my parents set up for me (which was something to always be jealous of), and I was starting late, after every 16 year old in the greater Spring area was already out and looking.

Landing the Job

But... Chuck E. Cheese was hiring.

When I asked for an application, the manager pumped my hand and asked if I could come back the next day. He was in his 30's, 6'4", wore a tie, and seemed like a great guy. The next day he put me in a booth, we chatted lightly (I had no experience doing anything but reading comics, shooting free-throws and doing homework, so... not much to chat on), and I thought we hit it off great. I was in!

I'd be nowhere near the food. I'd be working the Game Floor, which I imagined would be a bit like playing casino host to a bunch of 5-10 year-olds, handing out tokens, occasionally polishing a game, and getting free food.

Jason begged me not to work at Chuck E. Cheese. Family Pal Larry Lee had worked at a Chuck's in Austin when he and Jason were in high school.

"You don't just play the videogames," Jason told me. "You're going to hate it."

I steamed. Chuck E. Cheese was supposed to be fun, by definition. I had a job, and he didn't, so was clearly jealous of my job-landing skills, which... when the manager saw me, he clearly saw the potential that I thought pretty much darn near everyone SHOULD see in me.

I started a week later to the semi-surprise of the two managers on duty, Angel and Jim. Angel was probably in her early 30's, but looked older. I had a foot on Jim, and a head of hair he lacked, which at age 16, made me estimate him at somewhere between 20 and 95. The manager who had hired me was no longer with the store. No explanation was given.

With a few others, I was led to the back to be given a uniform and some cursory instructions. Stuff like "food isn't free, but it is half-off. Plan to be here for a two or more hours after closing every night. More on Saturdays" It was true I would be on the gamefloor, which thrilled me. No clearing plates of other people's slobbered-upon pizza crusts. No touching cups with lipstick smears. I would sweep up, I would wipe down machines. And, curiously, despite an utter lack of experience with anything more than a crystal radio kit, I would repair machines and games. And, give out tokens to kids who claimed they'd "lost" a token.

But there was literally no training. The tasks we were to perform were mostly so idiot simple (go sweep up pizza crusts), that I guess spending time training wasn't really necessary. And, what I would soon learn about the staffing issues probably led the managers to believe it was a waste of time.

Some vintage Chuck horror

The Uniform

Not clear on the spirit of the law, but intent to maintain the letter, I listened carefully to the uniform instructions. I was to wear what they gave me. No exceptions. A red, collared shirt with my name-tag. A blue visor with the logo. And a pair of khaki pants that was pretty clearly too small for me.

Someone asked if we could substitute our own clothing.

The answer was a definitive "no".

I have no recollection of my first day, other than squeezing into the pants I'd been assigned and worrying a great deal about whether I would burst, Hulk-like, from the pants should I squat down, and exactly how much of my wedding tackle would be on display at each shift, because... golly those pants were tight.

Plus, the visor pushed my hair up into a weird sort of explosion, jutting out the top of the elastic band.

I hopped into my disintegrating '83 Honda and headed off for work.

I was relieved to find we wore these little blue smocks that covered the area of primary concern, but did nothing to disguise the action going on in the aft.

The Way it Works

The most important thing to know is how totally gross a place full of children eating greasy pizza really is. Especially kids full of sugar who believe all bets are off because the ranting, robotic mouse keeps telling them they can "be a kid". Which, apparently, means pushing, shoving, kicking people in mascot costumes in the crotch and ass, and occasionally vomiting for no particular reason.

If I had a triumph in the summer of 1991, it was that I drew a line in the land which stated that I would clean neither the stalls, nor the vomit from the floor. That job, I bargained and bartered my way out of it. And you knew you were in dutch with the managers if you had to clean the bathrooms, but at our store, that usually fell to the "show floor" staff, who were perceived to have it somehow easier than the game floor staff during the usual hours.

But kids sort of leak fluids. Never, ever, ever allow your child to play in the ball crawl. No matter what they tell you, you can't actually clean one of those things. Just vacuuming the thing thoroughly, which was done a few times each week with a shop-vac, took the entire evening cleaning shift from 10 - 12:00 or 12:30. There was a semi-annual schedule for actually cleaning the ball crawl, and reportedly they found all kinds of stuff in there.

Walk into any Chuck E. Cheese, and you'll see some schlub constantly wiping things down. That's because greasy little kids are putting their greasy little hands on everything, always. Leaving handprints. The definition of sisyphian task was trying to keep the glass doors to the place hand-print free on a Saturday. Which the managers would do if they were displeased with you for some slight. Or, if they were really irritated, you could be condemned to rub the rubber floor edgings with lemon oil.

My Fellow Staffers

The turn-over was incredible. The entire crew I started with was gone within three or four weeks. Having a new person wander out to join you on shift occurred with such regularity, I mostly identified people by their physical traits instead of names. Guy Who Talks About Being Drunk All the Time. Girl With Too-Huge Boobs. Old Person. Too Much Make-Up Girl. That Guy Who Wears Shorts Even Though Its Not Regulation, But Nobody Says Anything. We were also not really supposed to talk to each other, anyway. Perhaps they feared Chuck himself would lead a Norma Rae-line uprising.

I didn't work many mornings, which was when you wanted to work. Customers tend not to hit the Chuck until later afternoon on weekdays, so the place is oddly sedate for the first few hours, especially before opening. And there were these two women who were in their late-40's, I'd guess, who had been there in a minimum wage position for over a decade. We were going through staff like people go through grapes, and these two had been there and seen it all. They were entrusted with the amazing "token counting machine", which had to be run every morning so they'd know how many tokens were in the store. I remember asking why they didn't become managers if they were there so long, and the conversation became suddenly very awkward until one of them assured me that they didn't want all the trouble of being a manager.

And from what little I knew of Jim and Angel, I didn't blame them. Angel seemed only like she constantly wished to be anywhere but there, but was at least kind of useful. Jim just dreamed up stuff for you to do, like polishing the baseboards. He just seemed particularly frustrated, and refused to crack a smile, even when I slipped and fell in the kitchen and the first words out of my mouth were "there's a lawsuit in there somewhere!" I spent that next Saturday cleaning windows.

Career Advancement

Sure enough, I learned how to fix the ski-ball machines through a sure-fire method of trial and error that would make any psychology lab proud. (If you perform this action, you will receive an electric shock... if you perform that action, the game will come back alive, and you get to play a few rounds to test the machine).

I cleared out hobos. Once ate a handful of the pink powder they use to make cotton candy, right out of the box (do not recommend). Gave away handfuls of tokens to kids who lied about losing them. But never dressed in the mascot suit, for which my carriage was too large.

I did almost wear it once on a slow day, but a party of several dozen showed up, unaware you were supposed to schedule a birthday party in advance. Thus, my one chance for wearing the suit (and going to Fiesta to drum up business, which is what I told the manager I was going to do), was foiled.

Losing Faith in Humanity

I don't know if any particular incident occurred during my summer at The Chuck, but I do recall coming home every night increasingly despondent over what I saw as some less-than-stellar parenting. Drunk parents. Parents who yelled. Parents who felt that Chuck E. Cheese was some sort of "time out" for them, and that whatever happened on behalf of their destructive little monsters within the confines of our store was our problem. Kids whose parents tried to use the Chuck as a daycare.

And I'll never forget the dad who walked up to the ball-crawl while I was on duty and just heaved his infant into the balls. I didn't actually see the action occur so much as looked over and saw the top of an infant's head disappearing beneath the balls, which were about 6-12 inches higher than the actual balls. Plus: Infant with no motor skills and 10 year olds doing flips off the sides into the pit is just a bad combo.

"Sir," I said, yanking the baby out of the balls. "Is this your child?"
A guy I know didn't look like Jeff Foxworthy, but that's how my brain recalls him, sort of stared at me through the netting.
"Sir, I don't think this is a good idea."
I now know that the look of incomprehension probably came from a pack of Coors Light which had probably been consumed pre-Chuck, but I watched as he tried to sort out what I was saying.
"The ball pit is actually pretty deep. I don't think its good for your child."
"She likes it!" he insisted.
The child was actually somewhat emotionless, which was impressive, given the fate which could have greeted her at the bottom of the ball pit.
"Aren't ya'll supposed to watch these kids?"
"Well, yeah. But this isn't really safe."
"You don't think...?" He said, resigned to the fact that he was going to have to return to the table with his child instead of just heading to the counter for a pitcher of the lousiest beer in Spring.
"She may be a little small for the ball crawl," I explained. "She can't stand up in here."
"I think she'd have fun," he was still looking for an angle.
"I don't think so......"
He reluctantly took the child back. And I flashed forward to a lifetime of similar decisions this child was going to endure at the hands of her idiot father. I imagined sitting on the handlebars of an ATV couldn't be too far off in her future.

The Floor Show @#$%ing Sucks

I'd been working at Chuck E. Cheese all of a week when I was having dinner at my friend Mari's house and her brother asked, "So, are you in the band?"

I didn't have super-fabulous memories of the Rock-a-Fire explosion from Showbiz Pizza, or the mishmash of other characters that had populated Chuck E. Cheese when I was little. But I do remember that they played familiar radio tunes. And by played, I mean awkwardly jerked around in something always approximating the beat, but not actually on beat, with the patented delirious eye-rolls and herky-jerky laughing, lifted straight from the on-cue guffaws one saw on TV variety shows of the era.

At some point between when I'd last stepped into a Chuck E. Cheese, and had been weirded out that Mitzy Mozzarella was receiving a spotlight solo for lip-synching the Bangles' "Eternal Flame", and when I started work, someone in the Chuck E. Cheese corporation figured out they could save money by penning original, family friendly tunes. About stuff like "Summer Fun".

And so, every 55 minutes or so, I was reminded of the summer fun kids were supposed to be having while I was pushing a dust pan around and sweeping up stray pizza crusts, waxing the floorboards and telling little scam artists that I would not give them a handful of either tokens or tickets at no charge. Not even if they volunteered to be my friend (which happened more often than you'd think).

The band was sort of a weird deal, in that they had the different pre-programmed sets, and I don't really remember them every breaking. They just never seemed to be programmed all that well to begin with. And when they were taking a break or whatever was supposed to be happening behind the scenes, they still bombarded the place with music and video of the band. So, really, from the minute you walked in until the minute we closed the door behind Tipsy McStaggerson and Family, you had to hear the same loop of half-assed, crappily penned and performed tunes about important topics like fun, friendship and hygiene.

This is sort of the set up we had.

Our store may have been a former Showbiz, from before the merger, as the layout was a multi-stage affair, and different from a lot of what I see on YouTube. They'd reskinned the Rock-afire explosion during the conversion, or something. I don't know. I never thought to care enough to ask.

The show emulated a bygone era of a band, an MC and a comedy act, which the kids, short on their fandom of "Our Show of Shows" may not have been picking up on the origins of the borscht-belt humor and stylings. But, hey, talking rat and his horrible, Italian stereotype, Pasquale and whatever the hell else made up the band (such as purple horror, Munch), always hit their cues and were far less trouble than the average Chuck E. Cheese employee.

I honestly think the kids kind of hated the band.

One Armed Bandits and Free Videogames

My friend Dave (not his real name) took a job at The Chuck shortly after me, apparently intrigued by the possibility of wearing the mouse suit or something. He somehow ended up behind the counter, which is where veterans usually worked (you know, people with 6 months of experience).

I noted that he would often be on the floor playing games during my shift. Often at multiple times, with the smock removed and his visor off, indicating he was "off duty". His girlfriend was often hanging out next to him, despite the fact she didn't work there.

"How did you swing two breaks today?" I asked him as I passed the Whack-a-Mole machine one day (I'd gotten amazingly good at Whack-a-Mole, which needed constant fixing). He looked at me like the sucker I was, and continued playing.

"Dude," he explained. "They never pay attention. I just take breaks whenever I feel like it."
"But don't they notice all the breaks on your time card?"
This was met with a sigh. "I don't ever actually clock out."
"Yeah, you're the only person who doesn't do it. Haven't you ever noticed that?"
"No," I answered honestly.
"You need to start."
I never did.
Like everyone else, he was also using the stash of tokens to play the games for free. And while he wasn't exactly robbing the place blind (really, there was little to steal in a commerce system that worked on Chuck E Currency), he had figured out how to game the system in about two weeks. I never did.

Dave had been born with one-arm, which hadn't slowed him down at all. He played sports, including lacrosse, which he was much better at than me, what with my two hands.

It was never an issue for anyone until he was assigned to wear the mouse suit and the kids noticed Chuck had an arm that didn't look quite right. The rules were pretty simple for wearing the suit, which I didn't do, as I was too tall. Put on the suit, walk around (but not when Chuck is on stage), shake hands, wave "hello" to babies, and when kids start to attack, which they always will... retreat. And never talk when you're in the suit.

And so it was that some kid spied Chuck's arm just sort of hanging there and called him out.
"Hey, you're not Chuck E. Cheese! You're the guy from behind the counter."
Dave waved a "no" motion with his one hand.
"Yeah, you are!"
"Yeah, you are!" a chorus of suddenly ugly little children chimed in.
"Shut up, kid!" the mouse said in a muffled voice, his plastic mouth never moving.
"Yeah, you are! You're that guy from the counter!"
And, of course, the kicking and hitting began as Chuck uttered some profanities and retreated to the stage door.

Here's a training video someone put together, probably in response to how uninspiring it is to get in the suit and beaten for $4.25 an hour.

Also, you can see the basic uniform I wore at the time. Also, why is there jazzy 80's keyboard music through this whole thing?

All Good Things Must End

In my final weeks, I remember feeling daring and going into work in non-regulation pants. After weeks of seemingly smuggling grapes into Chuck E. Cheese, not one person noticed or said anything about my pair of non-reg khakis that allowed for greater freedom of movement, shall we say.

I wound up scheduled in the ball-crawl a lot. Which I hated, but I kind of hated it less than other jobs, because usually you were scheduled alone in the ball-crawl, which meant it was less likely you'd get stuck with Only talks About How Much he Drinks Guy, and spend six hours hearing about how very much liquor he'd drunk out of his parent's cabinets the night before.

Until one day I crawled into the ballcrawl and someone came in right after me. We chatted for a while, agreed it was weird we were both scheduled in there, and then I went back out to check the schedule. I was nowhere to be found on the chart.

"What the hey?" I asked Angel.

Apparently after I'd checked the schedule on Sunday (when it was supposed to be final), she had changed it, and I was supposed to show up and work Monday instead of Tuesday. When i didn't show Monday, she'd assumed that, like everyone else, I'd quit and rescheduled my shifts to others for the entire week and closed me out as an employee. This was just how most people quit. You just quit showing up, and if you didn't show, they weren't going to pick up a phone and call you or anything crazy like that. My absence was taken the same as every other of the hundred or so similar disappointments they would see breeze through that year.

"We've made the schedule for the next week, already. You aren't on it. Maybe the next week?"

"Honestly," I sighed. "I was quitting then. I start school and have after-school obligations."
"Well," Angel and Jim (who'd shown up) assured me, I would have a place at Chuck E. Cheese any time if I wanted to come back.

I considered it that fall when the play I was in ended, but another play came immediately after, and so on. Alas, I never returned to The Chuck to work.

Return to the Chuck

I went back in high school after quitting to take some students from my mother's class out for a "special day". The food was terrible, I used up my non-free-tokens in about five minutes and so retreated to a booth and watched the show.

A few of my classmates were there working, and I saw nobody who had worked there with me. I felt badly for all of them. Especially when Michael P. was yelling at me through the Munch mascot costume so I'd know it was him in there.

They've changed Chuck's look. He no longer dresses like a ringleader, pimp or showman, all in red sparkles and a fancy hat. Instead, he's now a sort of mid-90's idea of corporatified "cool for kids", with a sort of sporty look, as if he might go roller blading or something else edgy or "in your face". I dunno. Miss the old Chuck. I sort of think of him as this old, outmoded entertainer, and I've always thought of him that way. No need for kneepads and a skateboard.

And then sometime in 2002, just before I moved, my co-workers packed into cars and took me to Chuck E. Cheese for lunch on my birthday. The pizza was better than I remembered, and the show just as creepy and bad.

We hung out way too long, and got back to work an hour late, thanks to playing video games. And I tore a four inch hole in the leg of my jeans jumping onto a jet-ski video game, ninja style.

I confess I don't know if I entirely feel good or healthy in regards to Chuck E. Cheese. Or about trying to drag friends and family into my annual desire for self-immolation by way of animatronic floorshow. But it is what it is.

There have been rumors we may be returning to Chuck E. Cheese pizza in the coming week in celebration of my birthday. I let my annual threat slip, and I think people are taking me up on it.

More reports as events warrant.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The League Re-Watches: The Breakfast Club

Another sign I am getting old:
I watched about 80% of the seminal 1980's teen movie "The Breakfast Club" on cable last night. And I found myself identifying far more with Dick Vernon than those crazy kids.

My first thought when tuning in was whether, in this day and age, anyone would cast a movie about teen-agers in an American high school with such a lily white cast. Or keep issues such as sexual identity completely off the table.

It's almost pointless to critique a movie more than 20 years and when its aimed at a much younger, more cloistered audience who more closely resemble the five characters. I recall liking the movie quite a bit myself, watching it repeatedly into high school, but its been years since I watched more than a snippet on TV. The film isn't aimed at 30+ state employees, but at kids who do believe in the trials and hardships of being upper-middle class and showing up for school (b-o-o, h-o-o).

And I also came to the startling revelation that I have no idea what the title "The Breakfast Club" means. Is it a little used term? Does it have historical connotations? Did it just sound good? I have no clue. Someone throw me a bone.

I will give Hughes credit. When one sees the endless parade of assembly line teen comedies and tween-aimed movies starring teen-agers, which were just as common in the 80's, its a miracle anyone ever bothered to take a look at high schoolers as people. But one also finds the ending of the movie to be more than a little pat.

The jock and basket case find romance? Based on what? The prom queen sneaks into the closet with the thug and possibly has sex with him? And the principal accepts one, single-page paper which would seem stunningly out of context for ol' Dick Vernon?

There's a huge amount of fantasy that creeps in around the edges of The Breakfast Club, and that's okay. The intended audience is more likely to buy it, and it helps to cement the notion of the film that we've all got something in common once you move outside of your tribal identity. And believing it can end in smooching isn't so bad, I guess (unless you're "The Brain", in which case, no smooch for you).

Its easy to be cynical with so much water under the bridge, and looking back at your own high school career with what feels like a permanently etched wince.

I guess what struck me on this viewing was how much the script stacked the deck for John Bender. Nobody ever really challenges Bender, aside from Vernon, who more or less seems to freak him out completely. In most ways, he's a bully who dominates the conversation through shouts, an actual threat of serious physical violence, and often random humiliation. But as he's a bit charming, the audience is meant to root for him. Right up to the point when Molly Ringwald, who he's badgered, berated and made unwanted sexual advances upon for the duration, for some reason slips into the supply closet to make special time with Judd Nelson.

It speaks poorly for "Claire" as written that, apparently, any attention at all seems to be enough, and she seems to be heading into what will surely be an emotionally one-sided and possibly emotionally abusive relationship by film's end.

Brian, who admits to suicidal feelings, is more or less dismissed because he didn't do it this time. But what happens when he can't light the next elephant lamp?

Perhaps 2 hours is too little time to fit in any exploration of the more-or-less real-life issues (although I still have no idea what was supposed to be up with Ally Sheedy. She's never really given any story), but its surprising how well the movie has succeeded despite the fact it doesn't really try to close the loop on the situations thrown out to move the characters beyond their stereotypes.

Perhaps the staying power stems from the fact its a movie that acknowledges its intended audience as having an inner-emotional life that isn't the usual, cheesy fair one sees in after achool specials, or that goes beyond the "will the cheerleaders win the cheer-off?" plots that most teen-oriented films contain, the film has held up for over two decades.

The movie acknowledges sex, overbearing/ suffocating parents, finding out someone gets hit at home... a lot of the messy stuff that pops up in high school but for which the audience doesn't have a serious tool-kit yet for managing. And so, in many ways, its appropriate that we don't know what happens on Monday morning, or even Saturday night with these characters. There's no American Graffitti style conclusion.

I wish today's kids the best with the movie. They'll never believe the soundtrack sold like crazy, or that the Molly Ringwald dance became sort of a thing, but there you go. But I would honestly like to see the movie re-made. Or something along those lines, if for no other reason than so that maybe teen-agers can see some reflection of high school on the screen that doesn't come from "The Hills", "Gossip Girl", or the latest teen-sex romp. It'd be nice to acknowledge at that age that you're a human, and not just so you can be marketed to, pitched a lifestyle, or given some small thrills with your cheap laughs.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Few Points on the Previous Post

So, this whole "getting blasted by the past" bit is turning into something of a Rorschach test.

I do feel the need to go on the record about a few items.

Most importantly: I think Lesley has a much better sense of humor about this whole ordeal than I really gave her credit for in the post. I didn't want to dwell too much on our actual conversation in the post, and I confess to being thrown into a bit of a tizzy, so I may have highlighted some of the wrong points. So credit where credit is due.


1) I did send "Lesley" a written apology. Give me some credit, people.
2) I do not expect a response. Nor would I. Expecting a response assumes she would give a rip about me after all these years, which I would think she would not. I don't usually expect any response when I send off a Facebook request to begin with.
3) I did not intend the post as a "woe is me, someone does not like me" thing.
4) I am just (a) surprised at the turn of events, and (b) a little embarrassed about the whole thing. And I usually feel like the best way to deal with embarrassment is to share.
5) I should mention that the entire conversation described with Jason and Jamie was part of a much larger conversation in which I was bemoaning the fact that I'd "lost my edge". The snippet you read was intended to impart a moment when a recent life lesson was learned which was then applied, whether I liked it or not. Jason was not just sitting around thinking of ways to shatter memories of a happy childhood.
6) I certainly did not mean the post as a way to extend an olive branch in some faint hope that Lesley would discover it. That's giving me a lot of credit for a fairly complicated plan that I don't really have the capacity to plot out.
Also, that's sort of weird, so... no.
7) Sadly, I am not Lesley's "friend" as of this writing. The dream of reconciliation is gone.
8) Before we go off the rails imagining The League pantsing people, rat-tailing skinny kids in the showers, and lurking about taking people's lunch money, I do not believe that was the case. I think I was just really, really annoying. Like being stuck in elevator with Rip Taylor for eight hours. It's amusing for the first two minutes, and then...

Anyway, it's been an interesting exercise. I appreciate the feedback.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The League realizes maybe he's not such a great guy

So today I stumbled across a familiar face from grade school on Facebook.

I hadn't spoken to this person, whom I shall call "Lesley", since 9th grade, as best I can recollect. We'd lived about three streets apart while I was growing up in Austin, had been in classes together in Elementary School, attended Middle School together, and had art together in 9th grade (possibly more classes, but I recall Lesley in the art class).

With such camraderie during our tender, formative years, and with the lunch hour of 5th grade to wax rhapsodic about, I sent Lesley a friend request.

It seems that while I have fond memories of Lesley, the feeling is not mutual. In fact, it seems Lesley's memories are of a person who was a bit of a thug to her for several years of her adolesence and for whom she feels a bit bitter.

I know. You're thinking, "League, you're totally an awesome guy. How can this be?"

Oddly, just a few weeks ago I was complaining to Jason and Jamie that I used to find more things funny, that I'd lost my edge and sense of humor.
"If you mean being a jack-ass," Jason nodded, "Then okay."
I was horrified. "Sir," I said. "Clearly you have your facts wrong, and I demand satisfaction."
"You, my friend, were a rotten little punk growing up."
"You've clearly mistaken me with someone else," I insisted.
And then he unspooled a whole reel of outtakes from my teenage years which, while interesting stuff for the DVD extras, don't really fit in too well with the narrative I'm working with here at The League.
"You and your little crew were a bunch of snot-nosed punks," he concluded. Which was not the same conclusion I'd come to regarding my youth, but few would not find his evidence compelling.
"People knew we were kidding," I dismissed the accusations with a wave of the hand.
"Did they?"
My brow furrowed. Upon reflection, it did seem possible that making someone cry wasn't particularly funny to everyone involved.

And so it came that, while I do not believe I ever made Lesley cry, I did not make the relatively awful experience of middle and high school any better. In fact, it seems, your faithful League is in no way remembered fondly by his former busmate. And yet, somehow, Steanso IS remembered fondly, which I think is a scam.

I put it to you, Leaguers... Is it possible that I am not the absolutely gallant person, friend to the children, and kind hearted servant of the people that I think I am?

Could this be?

Well, apparently, yes. Some evidence suggests, I'm a big old jerk when given the chance.

So now I feel terrible. Growing up in suburbia has its pitfalls to begin with. I'd walked around thinking nothing but good things about Lesley for two decades, while, it seems, not so much love was coming back The League's way.

Tragically, as I remember it, part of what Lesley felt to be harassment, I recall as good natured heckling, feeling she was in on the whole gag, playing the straightman to my wise-cracking self. Not so.

How The League saw things

How "Lesley" saw things...

I want to be clear. I didn't break Lesley's glasses or anything.* I did once blackmail her into making me and Peabo lemonade. And, I know I'd picked a not-so-great nickname for her which I will not relate (but it was always meant with love). And, I am sure, as we shared a bus stop, I came up with all sorts of awful ways to make the fifteen - thirty minutes per day waiting for the cheese to sweep us away something that was not to be looked forward to. You can't expect everyone to love spending time with me.

But, honestly, I'm horrified at this turn of events and am a bit ashamed.

So, now I tiptoe a delicate line.

Does The League put forth an effort to make amends and set right 20 years of bad feeling, or do we merely leave Lesley to her peaceful life, free of The League and his nagging insistence that we can all be pals? Can The League set things right?

And who else is walking around with a less than loving memory of The League? And how can I make amends to those folk? HOW?

Only time, and Facebook, will tell.

*That was some other kid whose glasses I broke.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Back from Houston/ Here's some of those tapes

Jamie, Lucy and I went to Houston over the weekend to visit with my grandfather. He was feeling better this weekend than he has in a while, so it turned out to be a good time to visit. I was pleased to see how nice his assisted living facility had so many amenities.

It's an odd sort of communal living, and while I understand 100% why they have it for older folks, man... you'd think a bunch of apartments with a sort of cafeteria for non-older folks might sell, too. If anyone wants in on my idea for a unique development project, send me a note.

Here's Jamie and Lucy sitting on the bed in my old room. A rare occurrence for Lucy to actually look at the camera.

I forgot to take a picture or two of my grandfather, which is actually why I stuck the camera in my pocket. But since we were on the topic...

Here's a small portion of my tape collection left at my parents' house from yesteryear. A lot of my tapes went to college with me, and so a lot of the cases were actually empty. I had a few other tape containers as well, but I have not a clue what became of those cases/ tapes/ etc...

I actually found some of those tapes that I was talking about in my last post.

As well as many that I was slightly less excited about.

And some I probably should have mentioned but did not.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jim Parsons interview thing

I'm still getting used to the idea that Jim isn't just appearing on TV, he's actually becoming a bit of a celebrity thanks to hsi role as Sheldon on CBS's "Big Bang Theory". Kind of bizarre, but well deserved, I think.

Here's Jim answering fan mail on the website via streaming media. Now here's the weird part:

One of the letters Jim reads from is from Brownie High, who was a drama teacher at our high school my sophomore year. Ms. High actually left at the end of Jim's senior year amidst bad-blood and UIL drama scandal, which seemed like just a super-huge deal at the time. Meredith may recall the incident.

Anyway, I hadn't thought about that in years. And I am sure Jim had not either. But I would love to know what was playing in his mind when he saw she'd written him the letter and he had a camera in his face.

Weird Al and Shatner

I'm watching this thing on Bio that's an hour-long documentary on the life of Weird Al.

yeah. Go ahead and laugh. How many albums has your favorite band put out and how long has their career lasted?

I also have to admit that I've long been oddly fascinated by Judy Tenuta, who keeps showing up in this doc. And I don't know how I feel about having a crush on Judy Tenuta. I guess I just like a woman with an accordion shouting at me and calling me a pig. I guess its an acquired taste.

But to my point, it looks like Shatner is getting a talk show on the Biography network.


The prospect of the minds of our time coming face-to-face with The Shat is, for me, equal parts mind-boggling and gratifying. I was the guy who actually watched Lauren Hutton's short-lived talk show in which I learned each show far more about what a freak Hutton was than anything about her guests (I use freak in the most loving way possible. Let's just say the woman is an enigma). And I hope to get even more of this out of The Shat.

He's named his show "Shatner's Raw Nerve". I am so there.


I FINALLY got around to downloading Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals". Thanks to JAL for the suggestion.

Of late I'm not too sure what I like and don't like in my music. But I do really like Feed the Animals. It may not be your bag, but here's the link to the site.

I'm not sure how they got around paying royalties, or expect to avoid lawsuits. Perhaps the sample used from each song meets some minimum sampling duration, but it doesn't seem like it. I just don't really know.


May I recommend "Tales Designed to Thrizzle"?

I can't guarantee it will be your cup of tea, but I find it funny.

For free online comix hilarity, try Achewood. And, btw, Chris Onstad will be at Austin Books on December 6th. I think I'm joining the Shoemakers for the signing, if you want to go. (That's "The Great Outdoor Fight" I'll be getting signed)

I checked our hits at, and Comic Fodder did something like twice its normal traffic today following my admittedly negative critique of the state of things at DC Comics these days.

It's not too tough to see trends when you've done this for a while. I meant everything i said, and I certainly wasn't trying to just generate hits (after all, I don't make a dime from blogging). But usually when you go off on a bit of a rant, you seem to see a spike as folks check in to see what the freak is saying.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The League Revisits: Pump Up the Volume (and DITMTLOD)

In 1990 the Steans Clan packed up our stuff and moved from Austin to Houston. The Admiral had transferred to what turned out to be a pretty good job. Like a lot of high schoolers, I was less than thrilled to change schools. I'd already put in the leg work with three years of middle school and a year of high school with the people I'd expected to endure until I escaped to college. Now I'd have to start all over again.

What would be odd, as per my living situation, was that we were leaving Jason behind in Austin. It was sort of like deciding the family dog was too old and wouldn't like the new arrangement, so you leave it with the neighbors. He was to finish out his Senior year rather than slog through a new school just in time to graduate.

Shortly after we arrived in Houston, the newest Christian Slater flick "Pump up the Volume" made its way to the Loew's theater a few miles from the house, right by the blimp hanger. It piqued my interest for two reasons (a) I was a big fan of "Heathers", and (b) it featured Pirate Radio.

Jason had spent some time in prior years trying to figure out how to set up a pirate radio broadcast out of his bedroom. Eventually, he abandoned the idea, I think due to legal concerns (not wanting to go to jail).

At the time, I loved the movie. It had teenagers talking about teen-agery type stuff. It had a pirate radio station. Christian Slater stuck it to The Man (ie: the crusty principal), and mostly, circa 1990 Samantha Mathis.

Oh, Samantha Mathis, your art-school girl chic made my heart pitter-patter

"Pump up the Volume" may or may not have been the original name for the movie. But it's a terrible title and suggests a late 80's break dancing movie. I have suspicions this was some MC Hammer-inspired tweaking when someone from marketing realized that they were marketing a movie to teens that didn't feature music that it was, at the time, perceived that teens listened to.

The soundtrack features Concrete Blonde, Leonard Cohen (I think), the Pixies and others of the late 80's, early 90's, pre-Nirvana music scene, and starts by establishing Slater's character's cred with his record collection. All on cassette. Because I think in 1990, I knew one person with an actual CD player.

The movie, really, hinges on technology and the Newsweek-covered hot button parental issues of the era. Today's teens would see a neolithic world before cell phones, internet lines, and when teenagers with their own computers were a pretty darn rare commodity. Only one character has a computer in their room during the course of the movie (and he dies!).

Re-made today, no doubt the idea would basically be a well-run website with illegally distributed MP3's, a chat room, some e-mail, and podcasts of Mr. HHH. At the time, the idea of just anybody taking to the airwaves was considered extremely difficult and illegal. (I should pause here to give a mad shout out to the 1993-1994 residents of Jester West, 12th floor. Patrick and Jeff put together a small radio broadcaster from scrap parts and their TV antenna. Jester briefly enjoyed the rockin' tunes of Jester Pirate Radio. Until, that is, we wanted to watch TV again. And, yeah, they let me on the air once or twice. And I was awesome.)

The hot button issues of the day were teen pregnancy and teen suicide. The suicide angle kind of also explains the entirety of "Heathers", and the tune from Heathers: Big Fun's "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)". Anyhoo, the switch to the real drama of the movie occurs when some kid kills himself because Slater didn't tell him not to. The witch-hunting overreaction by parents as part of the sequence is still actually pretty darn accurate.

As a 33 year old watching this movie, one winds up feeling less like Christian Slater is speaking for you (or anyone). It comes across more as a lot of teen angsting, talking about how the whole world is screwed up and needs change, but there aren't a lot of specifics regarding what needs changing. Slater eventually winds up spouting this really crazy diatribe about how the earth and trees need healing... and uncensored pirate radio, I guess.

None of it really makes a lot of sense, unless you consider Slater's character was just moved from NYC to what was a stand in for Paradise Valley, Arizona circa 1990. In which case, the dissatisfaction is all too rational.

In order to provide the audience with an actual antagonist that isn't just Slater V. Society-at-Large, there's a cockamamie scheme cooked up in which the Principal is magically expelling teenagers with lower SAT scores so she can keep up some sort of public funding for the school. It's a little convoluted, and really tangential to whatever is supposed to be going on with Slater's pirate radio show. And suggests that this is a school in which no parents are involved, and nobody fears a lawsuit.

Probably the two weirdest moments in the movie belong to Samantha Mathis, whose character suddenly goes topless in one scene (something I cheered during my first viewing as I believed the movie to be PG-13). And, as a plot point, we learn she's failing high school math. Which... is unintentionally hilarious.

Failing math = Not terribly attractive

The movie is oddly ham-handed in other ways.

-Hip-hop is used as a sign that the kids are getting too rebellious for the likes of the ever-crusty faculty.

-Slater's character drops a half-dozen clues that would immediately identify him as HHH. Mr. Magoo could unravel the mystery.

-And there's a lot of insinuations that (a) this is the least happy bunch of privileged kids EVER, and (b) something is very, very wrong at Harding High, but they manage to make it through the 102 minute runtime without ever saying WHAT is wrong.

In many ways, I'm left peppering the movie with the same "What?" that I usually reserve for movies like "D War Dragon Wars".

The ending is absolutely ludicrous, with Slater and Mathis hauled off in a paddywagon, sure to go to jail for some vague moral victory. I'd worry more about her future, but with that "F" in Math, I'm not sure that Mathis's character couldn't use the focused environment of prison in which to get her GED.

And, of course, a million kids supposedly take to the airwaves with their own pirate radio shows... The end

The Internet has, of course, taught us what teenagers and adults will do with a public forum. If this blog is any indication, it hasn't healed the rocks and trees, and its mostly given nutjobs like myself a bull pulpit from which we can espouse our half-baked sasquatch theories.

Still, it's got Samantha Mathis.

This look of loving concern at our hero's exploits is the opposite of what I was used to from the ladies of KOHS. Change this more to a look of disapproval.

A brief DITMLOD: Samantha Mathis as "Nora Diniro"

I'm not ashamed to admit that in middle and high school, I had my eye on the stripey sock girls. Give me a girl in an over-sized black sweater and clunky black shoes, and any young lady automatically got a second look (this predates all the Marilyn Manson co-option of the art-school girl stuff, which... doesn't work so much for me).

The look showed up in a few movies. Sort of sported by Winona Ryder in "Heathers". Absolutely seen by the female lead in cult classic "Three O'Clock High". But I still think Mathis does it best.

Despite 13 long years of loyalty, Jamie seems to get a little jealous whenever this previous fascination is brought up. I think Jason initially revealed my old achilles heal to Jamie, and every once in a while it becomes a point of contention that I did not fancy Jamie before I had, in fact, met Jamie.

Whatever. Jamie loves 1988 Greg Louganis.

Anyhoo, yes. As a teenager I thought Samantha Mathis was the bee's knees. She was cute, did the stripey sock thing very well, was occasionally topless, and, to a kid who'd just moved and went weeks in a new school without talking to anyone... the idea that such a girl was hiding under a rock somewhere at KOHS was deeply appealing.

That is not to say that KOHS was devoid of awesome ladies (you know who you are). But, you know, we were sadly lacking in Samantha Mathisii.

I should of just learned that the girls who smoked behind the school at lunch were more fun...


I salute thee, Samantha Mathis as "Nora Diniro". You left an indelible impression upon my youthful psyche.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Lollapalooza 1991

I would say Lollapalooza seems safely back as one of the premier music festivals, seemingly leaving ACL Fest (at least this year) pretty far in the dust.

When I was 16, my parents gave me a strange taste of freedom. It was not the usual for Karebear and The Admiral to hear out a plan, and just agree to it. But it was also an unspoken indicator that my folks recognized Jason and I were now older (he'd just graduated high school, so perhaps no big a deal to him after living on his own for a year as he wrapped high school in Austin while the rest of us had zipped off to Spring), but somehow I landed permission to attend that first tour of Lollapalooza, back in 1991.

This was, for our younger readers, before Nirvana and Pearl Jam and that awkwardly affixed title of "alternative music". The show was at the then-titled "Dallas StarPlex Amphitheater", and I think we attended the show they scheduled after the first show sold out (but which wound up scheduled for the previous night). Which means the line-up that's listed on Wikipedia isn't actually the line-up I saw in 1991.

They have:
Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T & Body Count, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, Violent Femmes, Emergency Broadcast Network

I saw:
Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Ice-T & Body Count, Fishbone, Butthole Surfers and Rollins Band.

Jason is going to need to correct me if I'm wrong about that line-up. I mostly recall that the sun was very high in the sky to have to come face-to-face with the Rollins Band, which I'd never heard of at the time. And we thought Butthole Surfers were just great, but probably needed rehab.

Mostly, I remember the first roadtrip. For some reason we'd included a friend of Jason's from Austin, so our travel was a jump from Spring to N. Austin, to Dallas. Which, despite the breakneck speed of Jason's champagne colored '84 Camaro, was a lot of miles. Especially when we had a moment of panic, realizing that our directions to crash at Cousin Sue's house were coming in on I-45 from Houston, not I-35 from Austin.

So, sometime before it got too dark, we picked out a two lane farm road on a map to make the jump from I-35 to I-45, adding on more time to our drive, but getting lost in Dallas in the dark seemed even diceyer. Keep in mind, this is all pre-cellphone. And I have this memory of us driving west-to-east down this two lane road between corn stalks and wheat and sorghum an hour or so before dark, driving just way too fast, and probably doing exactly what Karebear was hoping we wouldn't do, playing freeway tag with two cars with the sun coming in over the head of the crops in this lovely amber light.

Anyhow, Sue let us crash on her wood floors in urban Dallas.

Lollapalooza itself was never the same after that first year. After the first year, when it got all the good (and well deserved press) in SPIN, Rolling Stone and the MTV, the festival which had been one stage with regular beer concession and a few tents selling art and hemp bags and whatnot turned into a corporate sponsored alternative event. Any of the feeling of "we're gonna do this ourselves, because it sounds like a good idea" was gone. And looking back, it seems so very strange that the press was initially skeptical of this "festival" idea. And that Perry Ferrel (a man prone to believe his own BS) had given it this whimsical nonsense name that in itself somehow stewed up controversy. Within two years, the "Palooza" suffix would be universally attached to any event, but at the time...

The next year Houston had its own stop on the tour, and the thing had quadrupled in size, along with creating a traffic nightmare that lasted hours (I missed Lush and part of Pearl Jam). And while I enjoyed it, partially because my group of friends ballooned from 4 of us in total to two cars full of people, you could see the places where the MTV's and Budweisers were getting their hooks in.

Another year later, and the conversion was mostly complete. The term"'Alternative Music" had been coined, thanks to the press's inability to categorize Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, and the Sorority Girls had started showing up to see Arrested Development.

By '95 I'd lost interest in the bands they were putting in the line-up, and I'm not sure Perry Ferrell was involved anymore. But the point is: I didn't show up. Mostly, honestly, because I was so poor that summer, that I made the decision to make money instead of spend it.

And by 96', despite the fact the Ramones were going to be included, the thought of Metallica fronting a music fest that had been inititally set up for overlooked and somewhat underground acts seemed preposterous. It was moving towads the "Monsters of Rock", and I just wasn't interested. And I could see the Ramones any time. They weren't going anywhere any time soon...

Although, looking at he '97 line-up, one can only wonder about the ephemeral nature of rock stardom. One day you're Orbital and almost unknown, next you're pretty much headlining Lollapalooza. By 2001, you're forgotten.

And yet Goo Goo Dolls and Blink 182 are still around. There's no @#$%ing justice, I tell you.

But I guess my point is: It's tough to share what it was like to be at the StarPlex on that balmy day in 1991. Being the second show, it hadn't sold out, and so while there were a lot of tickets sold and folks there, it wasn't the crushing thing that Lollapalooza became. It was just a few thousand people. And like all good, fun things, it wasn't something everyone knew about. Not yet.

And certainly before marketing agencies had pegged the audience for non-Top 40 music as a demographic to be marketed to (we'd have the rest of the 90's to suffer through before they finally figured out how to reach that audience with Hot Topic and Suicide Girl chic). And I think for a lot of the kids like me from our bedroom communities, and the kids who were the ones who got beat up living in Hogstick, Texas for their refusal to sport a mullet... it was a revelation to see you and the four pals you hung out with weren't the only ones who liked this album or that band. That, though "Color Me Badd", Amy Grant and "C+C Music Factory" were burning up the charts, if there were enough folks into the same thing, this could be a good thing, even if you had to jump cities to see a show.

Mostly, I remember an odd bit of crying when the last band left the stage and those harsh flood lights were turned on the audience and the Star Plex had to beg people to leave. Who knows? Those crazy kids were probably just having a teen angsty moment, but I can read into it what I want.

I'm old and decrepit, and I probably know less about what the kids are listening to than other folks my age. I'm routinely baffled by the popularity of bands like "My Chemical Romance", forgetting that this is some 15 year-old kid's first time. And that my bands were, no doubt, just as ridiculous to some 30 year-old at the time. And I'm now more than twice as old as I was when we hit the road that summer morning to head out for our three city tour.

And I'm a lot more at ease these days with sponsorship deals, and how you fund a festival like Lollapalooza 2008. And I'd probably feel worse for these kids, not seeing this stuff untouched, but I'm pretty sure that clubs haven't changed that much, and even the kids in Hogstick, Texas are going to wind up in a city as soon as they graduate. And they'll wind up at some bar not too different from where I was trying to get into (if they hadn't closed Liberty Lunch).

It was just fun to be there that first summer.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Comic Geeks

I was reading this post at The Beat, and it gave me a moment of pause. Apparently comic fan Steve Marmel has taken exception to how some of the newer, non-comic-fan attendees regard the Con. And how it chaps his hide.

Really, I was with the author until:

I love this form of story telling. For those of us who weren’t the “winners” in high school, there was always something wonderful about comic books (or gaming) because those were morality tales where good and evil was clear, outcasts were respected…

…the good guys won, even if they weren’t popular.

And the San Diego Comic Con is their super bowl. Their prom. Their homecoming. If you don’t know that Wolverine is supposed to be short, and that Batman doesn’t kill, you are a welcome guest. But somebody let YOU past the velvet rope, not the other way around.

I've mentioned a few times before how I don't really understand the constant reinforcement in comics of jocks picking on geeks and other convenient stereotypes.

The post says so very, very much about comics, their fans and their creators. The fact that Marmel so closely relates his love of superherodom to a painful adolescence doesn't really do a lot to shake the image of the lonely comic geek living in Mom's basement, or why the rest of the population looks at us comic fans a bit cockeyed. How many years on and this guy isn't just romanticizing outsider status, but he's drawing a clear line to some sort of moral superiority?

Do we ever really escape high school?

And is it really the majority of comic readers who felt they were having a rough time of it between gym class and Algebra? Or is it just Con attendees?

Look, I'm not going to try to play up my vision of myself at age 17 one way or another, but I certainly never felt drawn to comics because they reflected some way in which I felt I'd been kicked to some social curb. But in some ways, I feel like Marmel is speaking for comic geeks and he's making a lot of assumptions that have nothing to do with my reality.

When I use the term "comic geek", I use it lovingly. Because "fan" doesn't really do it, and enthusiast makes it sound like I should somehow be using model glue and be wearing lures in a fishing hat. Calling myself a comic geek is co-opting the derogatory and owning the term, stripping the words of the negative. I know my fellow comic geeks are folks of all different stripes, of different backgrounds and with several different brands of social dysfunction. Some of them living in a world where squeezing into a homemade Flash costume when you are far from a Barry Allen physique makes the costume less than practical. Others are folks who wouldn't be caught dead in a unitard.

Does that make it okay for the Hollywood suit to show up and roll his eyes at the guy in the Flash costume? Well, if comic fans want to see comics come back out of the basement, they're going to have to know that not everyone embraces the spirit in which such a costume is donned.

The thing is, I do agree with many of Marmel's points. It's probably right to be suspicious of the suits there trolling like sharks, trying to figure out how to, literally, exploit an as-yet-unsigned comic property for development in some other medium.

But as long as the geeks keep couching things in terms of some hurt feelings from 10-20 years ago, the longer the stereotype of the guy in the ill-fitting Green Lantern t-shirt will persist. And as a guy with a closet full of Superman shirts, I'm not asking anyone to change how they're living, but I am suggesting that Marmel quit worrying about something as ludicrous as high school popularity and working through some misplaced mix of entitlement and persecution complex.

Comics have always taken heat for their black and white morality portrayals, so when I see someone pairing their LOVE of guys in white hats vs. guys in black hats, juxtaposed, perhaps unconsciously, with their own feelings regarding the suits as "bad guys", and outcasts living in a world where they get the respect they deserve...

Many people are geeks in one way or another. And, honestly, people who aren't geeks sort of creep me out in a Stepford Wives sort of way. What kind of a life are you living if you aren't passionate about something for yourself, be it comics, airplanes, hunting, movies, lawn maintenance or even some crazy-bizarre conspiracy theory you're trying to propagate? And many of those guys and girls you sneered at in high school... they weren't so bad (and some of them were)... but, honestly, who cares?