Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Want Your Skull

You never know what you're going to find at my parent's house. With their garage sale obsession and shall we say, offbeat tastes, it's like P.T. Barnum, the Addams Family, and the Smithsonian Institution decided to merge their collections together and display it inside a suburban Florida home. you can turn up just about anything there; a stuffed bobcat, a Native American corn grinder, a barber chair, or a shrunken head that may or may not be real.

Not to say that they're hoarders. Hoarders have towers of old newspapers and fast food cups that they can't part with; my parents have collections and oddities. Well, I guess they would be collections if they were restricted to one or two interests and were more organized. I guess there's a fine line between collector and hoarder now that I think about it.

And you can't walk around a hoarder's house without sticking to their weird trash tunnels. You can walk about my parent's house with no problem. Well, except for the garage. You might get tetanus from the stacks of ancient tools and other outside garage sale finds.

Over Thanksgiving and Christmas I was poking around in closets, mostly to find my old collection of shark's teeth, but managing to turn up a Nazi helmet that I'm pretty sure my granddad took off of Hitler, two riding crops, two mandolins my great-grandfather used to play, a couple of Indian skulls, and an old self-portrait I did for high school art class.

Oh the skulls? Yeah, two skulls. Real human skulls that once held someone's thoughts and feelings. I thought it was odd that there were two skulls. I mean, I knew we had one - it was a skull minus the jawbone mounted on a black display that was apparently once owned by the Smithsonian, picked up by my parents at a garage sale in Bradenton, Florida.

I realize that most people might find it odd that a house would even contain one skull not connected to a living person, but those people have obviously never met my parents.

My mom was hanging around while I was exploring, trying to trick me into taking home some Cosby sweaters, so I asked her why exactly there was a half a human skull in the closet of what used to be my bedroom. The skull had a number painted on it, like a museum exhibition, so I figured it was an old museum piece that somehow made its way to Florida, like the original skull.

She got kinda weird.

"Oh that," she said in a tone I knew that was trying to shut down discussion. "I found that in Mississippi years ago. We found all sorts of artifacts. You've seen them."

"Yeah, but this is a human skull. You don't seem too excited about it. I mean, everybody's found arrowheads, but how many people actually find a skull?"

I asked some more questions, but she didn't reveal much more other than the fact that she dug it up with my dad sometime in Mississippi. My girlfriend was there at the time, so maybe Mom thought she was a snitch from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or something, and I let it slide.

But I couldn't stop wondering about it, in the same way I kept thinking that I really needed to bring that Nazi helmet home with me, even though I guess I couldn't really display it or anything, and if I hid it in a closet someone might find it and think I was a secret Nazi instead of just holding on to an important family artifact proving that my granddad took Hitler's helmet and...wait, what were we talking about again?

Oh yeah, the skull. I re-asked her over Christmas and she seemed sort of blase about the whole thing. My parents took a bunch of archaeology classes at Mississippi State and would go out on weekends and afternoons looking for artifacts. I remembered that because I was either with them and bored poking around field in the hot sun, or at home with my sister hoping they didn't get some ancient curse put upon them, and in effect, me.

So they turned up this skull. I asked how they knew it was an ancient Native American skull and not some fresh Mississippi murder, and they both kind of said that although they must have skipped the days when Professor Jones discussed ethics in archaeology, they paid attention the day he talked about how to determine a skull's age.

They cataloged their find and carried it with them for years, telling no one about it, with the skull's evil powers growing yearly until for some reason they decided to store it in the closet of my old bedroom. I'm sure it's what the proud Native American would have wanted, to be interred with my sister's old textbooks and my high school letter jacket.

Although now that I think about it, I'm not really 100 percent sure that skull wasn't in my bedroom while I was growing up, cursing me daily with its mystical rays. That would explain a lot, actually.

I took home the mandolins, left the Nazi helmet, and didn't touch the cursed skull. That thing can stay in Bradenton. I'm sure they've worked up a tolerance for the curses by now.

Hey, I just realized. I hope they don't get in trouble for having a skull now that I made jokes about it on the internet. Well, let's just say I made the whole thing up. Yeah.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Greatest Gift

I got all sorts of loot for Christmas. Over the years I got Atari cartridges, bikes, and just about everything you could stick a Star Wars label on. But probably the best present I ever got was a roll of paper.

I realize this sounds like another in a series of stories where readers think I grew up in the Depression or the prairie or something, but it was absolutely true.

When I was 6 or 7, my parents got me a huge roll of butcher paper. It was about five feet long and probably about two feet in diameter. That made for a lot of paper. It had a cutter - sort of like how you'd cut off Saran Wrap, only not as toothy. I was a kid, after all.

I have no idea where my parents would have found a huge-ass roll of paper, but I'm assuming they found it at a garage sale, which is where they buy about 80 percent of their non-food items.

I don't remember actually finding it under the tree, and I'm not even sure I cared that much about it at the time, what with all the other stuff I presumably got.

Over time, however, it probably ended up being the present I used the most. I would draw Star Wars movie posters, huge, Bayeux Tapestry-sized recreations of World War II scenes (which were really just a bunch of tanks and airplanes and battleships blowing up other tanks and airplanes and battleships displaying Nazi flags), shark attacks, and who knows what else. Probably a lot of Peanuts characters.

I don't know what happened to all those pictures. It probably isn't too easy to keep a 4 foot long kid's drawing around for very long, but man, if I could recreate some of that stuff, I'd be hailed as a postmodern genius for my depictions of Snoopy in a TIE fighter shooting down a shark in a Nazi airplane. That would totally get me the front cover of Juxtapose.

In retrospect, it was a pretty genius gift. It kept me quiet and amused for...damn, years, now that I think about it, and it helped develop the chops to become the best artist in just about any school I went to. Until I met Joel Simmons in 5th grade. He probably had a similar roll of paper.

I probably stopped using it around middle school or so, and the roll of paper was stored in the garage, where I'm pretty sure I saw it last Christmas, but it's really hard to be sure, since my parent's garage is an accumulation of decade's worth of garage sale treasures.

If you're looking for a gift for your kids this year, see if you can track down a big-ass roll of paper. I mean, don't cheap out and not buy them the Talking Elmos, or Cabbage Patch Kid or Furby or whatever, but in the right hands, a big-ass roll of paper can amuse and entertain for years. Plus, it'll keep them quiet for a while.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Head Facebook guy Mark Zuckerberg was recently asked why he wears the same clothes all the time. He responded, "I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life."

Tech dorks, bums, and business writers/CEO flatterers across the nation applauded this bold statement which reminded me of a phrase I heard a lot in college: "I dress for function, not fashion."

Bullshit. You know who dresses for function? Old-school monks. Circus pinheads. That might be about it.

And even their functional dresses had some flowers or polka dots on them.

If you really dressed for function, you'd wear a bedsheet or a diaper. Come to think of it, you'd dress like you were in Funkadelic, which would be a much more styling look for our dorky tech overlords. You would think that with the piles of money, influence and chance to wear whatever they wanted, those dudes would ditch their nerd uniforms and influence a generation to dress with more flash and flair, as seen in this photo of 1980s outer space dandies, Jonzun Crew:

If Apple CEOs dressed like this, I would buy everything they sold.
But no, each morning as they pick out another boring grey t-shirt, they think, "Puny hu-mans with your vanity and foolishness. While you wasted two minutes picking out a shirt, I have already figured out ways to sell your private information to advertisers or perfected an app that will destroy your ridiculous job or sweep away your frivolous real-world interpersonal interactions."

And it's not like they're curing cancer or designing rockets or anything. Zuckerberg's big contribution to the world was a way to waste time at work and stalk exes. And if I remember that movie correctly, those creepy rowing twins had a lot to do with it anyway.

I have a closet full of shirts that basically look the same, but I don't pretend that that's some noble act. I also don't act like it's a chore to pick one out to wear to work in the morning. No, I let my freak flag fly proudly, and when our tech overlords try to fit me in the grey shirt uniform, I'll blow some minds by puffing out my chest and showing my shocking plaids or confounding stripes. And that's not even getting into the dazzling mustard yellows or scandalous guayaberas that will bring about the revolution.

Who's with me? Down with our tech overlords! Reject the lame grey shirts, brothers and sisters! Waste up to two whole minutes each morning and let your freak flag fly!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Is Your Television Running?

I like running right when I get home from work. Well, I used to before daylight savings time turned 4 p.m. into midnight. Lousy farmers.

I was able to increase my mileage through the summer, even if it looked like I fell in a pool by the time I got home. Now the temperature is more pleasant, and I barely look sweaty at all when I return, and my shirt doesn't feel like chain mail clanking against my skin.

I have a running mix I play occasionally; it's full of '80s punk and hardcore where teenagers scream about Reagan and the cops, along with heaviness and screaming from all eras. I don't always use it, in fact now that running isn't so much of a chore, I'm more inclined to put the iPod on random and see what pops up.

The past few weeks, however, I've been playing Television's "Marquee Moon" at least once a run.

I'll pop it on after I've gone about two and a half miles, where the little aches and pains from the beginning have faded away and I've gone through Avondale with one of the parks on my left. The sun is starting to set, and I've seen other runners, old people walking dogs, and cats just hanging out on yards. The clouds are turning orange and purple and the 10 minute plus song is halfway over.

I'm feeling good - limber and relaxed with a sheen of sweat coating me and cooling me off. I start to think, "Hey, I could do this for hours. Maybe I should run a marathon. Or double marathons."

If I've timed it right, that whole chimey, intertwining guitar part at the end is building to a climax while the skies get brighter and more picturesque, and that bass line is reminding me not to go too fast, to sort of hang around and watch the skies. 

Plus, the thing's so long that it takes up a good portion of both my run and the sunset.

After that, I'm running back through Murray Hill in the dark, now listening to whatever else comes up, or maybe replaying it to get me back home.

It's funny that the song I now associate with nature and exercise and the awe-inspiring Florida sunset was probably written in some horrible filthy NYC junkie pad, but I guess you have to take your inspiration however you find it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Beast in Me

Occasionally while employing ancient Himalayan meditation techniques to probe the deepest recesses of my psyche to recall some funniness I can write up so you'll have something to use to waste time at work, I am struck by two blinding revelations.

One, I can write a mean run-on sentence.

And two, I was a terrible, shitty person during my adolescence.

I can take solace in the fact that most adolescents are terrible people, and for the most part, I didn't really hurt anyone.

Also, I am now a responsible adult, a pillar of the community, and generally follow society's rules, even the stupider ones, and I feel my many years of law-abiding have overshadowed my crappy past.

But sometimes, like Nicolas Cage driving out of his way to gaze at convenience stores in Raising Arizona, I can sense the devil whispering on my shoulder, reminding me just how much fun it felt to commit stupid, pointless acts of badness.

Sure, there's the everyday daydream that you know you'd never actually do in a million years, like when you think about just how easy it would be to slip that bored security guard's gun out of  his holster and drive away with the bank truck parked in front of the grocery store and start a new life somewhere.

No, the recurring bad daydreams I have are more mundane but more easily realized if I don't rigorously guard my behavior. Most of these occur while driving, mostly because like Gary Numan, I feel safe in my car, and I know I can make a quick getaway after my funny.

Like if I'm driving somewhere, sort of bored and not really paying attention to the music or podcasts I'm playing, I think how hilarious it would be just to start flipping people off.

"Hey, check out that dude in the Affliction shirt and ugly tattoos waiting for a bus. I'll bet he'd lose his shit if I just gave him a big ol' grin and a bird."

"I wonder what would happen if I just stared at the person in the car next to me til they were forced to look over and I just busted out with a musical Little Richard-esque "Whooooooo" and upraised middle finger."

Or I'll look at a bag of trash in the seat next to me and ponder how funny it would be if I just opened the window and threw it all out behind me on the highway instead of taking it home to my trash can like a responsible citizen. Sure, I'd make a noble Native American shed a tear, but for some reason, just the thought of a bunch of trash bouncing down the highway starts cracking me up.

And yes, I realize that now I'm a square middle-aged man, all my crazy, rebellious fantasies deal with junior-league stuff like littering and flipping people off, but what do you expect? I'm reformed.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Put a Bird on It

We had heroes back in my day; heroes who didn't talk about perfume lines or personal brands, but  who did things like jump canyons in rocket sleds or transport trucks full of Coors across America or hunt Bigfoot. Sure, some of these things could be considered foolhardy or stupid, but that was what made them so incredibly cool.

And they knew how to flip the bird.

And lo, these traits were passed down unto the children, who, even if we couldn't jump a canyon or be fitted with bionics, we could at least flip the bird.

These were simpler times, yet birds were deployed with panache and style. From the "read between the lines" gesture, to the "my thumb has a little crank that deploys the finger" move, as seen in this year's Guardians of the Galaxy, to that weird Italian-looking thing where you'd slap a hand on your inner elbow and raise your bird proudly in the air, these motions had thought and care behind them.

The target of the bird would respond in kind, or perhaps recite some of the era's taunting verse, like the fight-provoking, "Your ass is grass."

Not only did we pick these gestures up from adults, children's entertainment also provided role models like the foul-mouthed kids from The Bad News Bears or any movie where the action took place around a summer camp.

So what else were we to do, when all of our culture was encouraging us with these gestures? Sometimes the only logical response, especially if those rich kids from across the lake totally cheated in the big boat race, was a proud, defiant middle finger given in a overly complicated way coupled with a witty saying like, "Eat it."

Today we are more likely to respond to snooty waitstaff with a devastating Yelp review than with a "I'm just scratching my nose" hidden bird. And we're usually in too much of a rush to do that weird Italian gesture.

I myself, no stranger to more intricate bird maneuvers, generally result to a halfhearted display while running or biking (seriously people. Turn signals. Complete stops. It's not that hard.) instead of a more stylish "turning the raised hands around" move.

But we can change that.

My artisanal bird flipping service will bring you the handcrafted care we used to give rude gestures for the low price of $50 per move. Even the esteemed "Can you hear this, or should I turn it up" move will be showcased to the client of your choice. Authentic period sayings like, "up yours" are available at no extra cost.

You will be the envy of your kickball league, cassette trading circle, or mustache wax enthusiast party when moves such as the "Nasty Italian" are displayed. Sure, you can continue with your boring road rage "angry hand," but why not show some craftsmanship in your gestures?

If you don't do it for yourself, at least consider the children. Let them see the craft, the loving care that went into the gestures that once made this country great.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Computer Blue

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love that I can track down and download a song from some obscure band's 7" I heard once in 1986. I love the fact that I can find the answer to whatever question has been bugging me in a matter of seconds.

However, I have the tech skills of your grandma. I had to buy a replacement for my five year old phone recently and I had to listen to all sorts of stuff about coverage and 4G and 5G and Warren G and holy crap, I don't care anymore, here's my credit card just give me a phone.

That's how most technical conversations go with me. Just like when someone's giving me directions, after about the second sentence my mind checks out, except for a nagging thought saying, "Hey, dummy, you better pay attention to this, it's important," which luckily I can distract pretty easily.

Not only am I barely functional, technology-wise, but I have a deep distrust of our robot overlords, probably formed through my childhood exposure to science fiction stories where whatever it was that promised to make our lives easier was really going to enslave or eat us.

I don't think technology is going to enslave me, but I do think that my devices and websites have somehow learned just enough about my personality to understand how to send me over the edge.

Last month I was looking through my Ipod. Somehow I noticed that I was missing two songs, "You Got to Move" by the Rolling Stones, and everything but one song off that second Arcwelder album. This kept me searching for hours, wondering what else had disappeared. And these were songs I ripped from CDs I owned, not borrowed from work or ̶s̶t̶o̶l̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶  totally paid for. Luckily, I still have the physical CDs, so I was able to rip them, and probably go months without thinking about them again.

I've also been having problems with Shelfari, this page that keeps track of the books you read. Since I read pretty fast and have a terrible memory, it's a good way to keep track of what I've read so that I don't pick up something interesting at work, take it home, then realize I've already read it. When entering what I've read, it also hipped me to the fact that I'll read just about anything about shipwrecks or people having to survive in shitty conditions, which I had never really noticed before.

However, Shelfari will occasionally drop books from my list for no real reason. To me, this means that if I caught one or two, there's probably more that I've missed. So I'll think of authors or titles, and spend hours trying to fix my list.

Then recently Facebook decided to drop people off my friends list. I had no beef with these people, but after I noticed we weren't friends any more, I figured the problem was with me. I understand I'm sort of an acquired taste, and some squares just can't handle my telling it like it is.

Once again, I spent hours entering friends' names, wondering who else got dropped, only this time having to deal with the anxiety of wondering if they think I hate them now.

Look, I realize that we're moving into a post-ownership world, where everything is going to be on the cloud, and the simple joys of looking through a friend's music, movie, and book collection to silently or not so silently) judge them will soon be a thing of the past. That's probably a good thing, in that it cuts down on plastics and hurt feelings.

But for those of us with just a tetch of the OCD and who like repeated assurances that our stuff (or data) is still there, it can be a trying time.