Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rhymin' and Stealin'

I was headed to Gainesville after work. It was my birthday. I was tired, because I am now officially old. I'm waiting in a convenience store to pay for some gas and I get a genius idea.

"It would be really funny if I stole a candy bar."

Nobody is paying attention to me. The candy is right next to my hand. I don't even want a candy bar, but the idea strikes me as so hilarious that I'm actually half-seriously considering it.

"What can they do to me," I think. "It's my birthday. And it's what, like a dollar? If I get caught I'll just throw down a bunch of bills and run out. That would be hilarious."

I also reason that after I explain that it was obviously a joke, management or the cops or whatever will have to let me go. Of course, if you've ever worked retail, you'll know that as soon as someone gets caught shoplifting, the first thing they say is, "Look, I've got the money right here - it was just a joke. I'll pay for it."

But it was my birthday. That gave me immunity. And shit, I was buying over 20 dollars in gas. They sort of owed me a candy bar.

But aside from economic justification, I'm really thinking of doing it just for the comedy.

How funny would that be, I'm thinking. I'm an middle-aged adult with a house, and a car, and real job and everything, and I'm just gonna totally steal a Twix. It'd be even funnier if I just threw it back into the store as I left. Just to let them know that I stole it. Maybe the cops would chase me all the way to Gainesville. Hilarious! A high speed chase over a dollar candy bar. It would probably make the news.

Then I'd get to explain to everyone why I got arrested on my birthday. Man, I'd be telling that story for years.

"What'cha need?"

"Twenty-five on three."

I walk out of the store, the candy still safe in the box.
Hours later I'm driving back home. I'm deaf,*my sinuses are killing me, and I'm even more tired. "You know what would be hilarious," I think. "If I just ran this red light for the hell of it."

*If you get a chance to see The Melvins, do it. You'll be deaf afterwards, but who needs hearing anyway. Plus, they came onstage to a recording of the "Blazing Saddles" theme.That gives them a point or two right away.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Coldest Winter Ever

It can get cold in Florida. I realize I've already lost a good portion of you with that statement, but it's true. Most of the houses I've lived in were built before the invention of insulation and had spaces around the windows and doors that let in gusts of arctic air, so you really notice when the temperature gets low. We also don't have a lot of cold weather clothes. Well, maybe some people do. On my first trip to Chicago I had one glove that I would turn inside out and switch back and forth depending on which hand was cold, sort of like a hobo Michael Jackson.

I think I've mentioned my post-college nighttime heating system, where I had an ancient space heater with a duct taped cord propped on a milk crate and a board about an inch away from my feet. That was dangerous but highly effective, and it was like a greenhouse in the Amazon compared to the Storm of the Century.

What was the Storm of the Century? Well, every couple years the weather will get weird for a couple days and local newscasters will throw the label around as frantically as national news throws around  Trial of the Century or whatever-Gate. But the specific one I remember was in the early '90s, a wonderful and magical time.

I was driving the band Spoke around on a mini-Florida tour over Spring Break*. It was pretty fun. The last night of the tour was in Sarasota, close to my parent's home in Bradenton. The day before in Miami most of us had gotten really, really sunburned. I was also pretty fevery from some sort of sinus infection or the grippe or smallpox or something.

Naturally, it being a punk show, the starting time of 11 really meant closer to 2, and by the time Spoke was over, I was done. I was a man, and a dude, but I was going home to sleep in my own bed that night, instead of trying to doze off on some cat-stained couch while Misfits bootlegs blared in another room. The other guys could pick me up tomorrow.

It was raining pretty heavily as I drove home, and the sky was a strange glowing purple color, but I didn't care. I was shaking with chills and I was going to sleep in my actual bed.

After about three hours of sleep my dad woke me up.

"You've got to move your car." 

The river had risen in the early morning and had flooded my car. It was close to coming in the house, pretty remarkable since we were 3 houses down from the actual water.

So I moved my car to higher ground, then spent a few non-sleeping, sunburnt, feverish hours moving furniture and ...I dunno, sandbags? No, we probably didn't have sandbags.

Proof that everything written on this blog is 100 percent true and not exaggerated at all.
The band picked me up in the early afternoon. The rain had stopped for the most part, but we had to dodge limbs and street signs falling in the road, then we saw a car explode on the side of the interstate. It was some real Mad Max shit. I was still struck with the brain fever in the back seat with the drums and possibly a couple other people. I can't remember. I do remember a long tunnel with light at the end of it. My Aunt Tiny was talking to me. It was nice.

We finally made it home. While the storm spared Gainesville for the most part, it brought an unseasonable cold snap and managed to knock out the power in our neighborhood. Since they were in a band, the other guys had girls who would put them up and vanished, deserting me as quickly as I deserted them the night before. It was still Spring Break**, so there weren't that many people around.

In fact, out of the nine people who lived in our house, only Dave Frank, my next door neighbor, was around. With no electricity and no roommates, it was very quiet. And cold. Very, very cold. We could see our breath inside, something Floridians should never experience. The only source of heat we had was an old voodoo candle I bought in Ybor City years ago. Dave and I huddled around the flickering candle watching the sun slowly set, knowing we would soon be dead, sort of like the final scene in The Thing.

We were half thinking about gathering up whatever wooden items we had in our apartments and building a fire in the oven (which probably wasn't even in the top five of bad ideas that we came up with in the year that we lived in that house), but it seemed like too much work. Plus, my Aunt Tiny was telling me about a wonderful place where I'd see her and all my old pets again, so it was sort of hard to concentrate.

Actually, after a few hours Dave called some friends we knew in the dorms and we spent the night hanging out with girls and watching cable, but I swear we were only minutes away from leaving two frozen corpses for our roommates to find later and feel really bad about.


** WHOOOOO!!!!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Toughest Butterfly Collector in the World

Even though I spent a good amount of time half-assing and wandering around campus, I loved writing press releases for the University of Florida. I'm naturally curious, and love to hear people's stories, so listening to professors tell me the details of their work was fascinating. Plus, meeting and talking to people so wrapped up in the details of some small area of study could be inspiring. Sure, it might mean nothing to 98 percent of the world, but feeling this person's excitement over whatever crazy research they dedicated their lives to was pretty cool.

Like the butterfly expert. Before retiring he had saved and reintroduced a species of butterfly back into South Florida after Hurricane Andrew, which was pretty impressive. I mean, have you ever saved an entire species of anything? The interview went well, I had more than enough information to write a good two page release that would probably be picked up by the wire services, and he was a likeable guy. Wrapping the interview up, I asked one of those throwaway questions, like "what have you been doing recently."

"Well, there was the time I fought an alligator," he said, totally deadpan.

"Well, yeah, of course you're gonna - Wait! What?"

"I was in a swamp gathering specimens when this alligator came and grabbed me between the legs," he said, in a tone that you or I would use for relating how we went to the store earlier or raked the yard or something. "I knew that I was a goner if he dragged me down, so I started punching him in the nose, and eventually he lost his grip and swam away."

I must have sat there for a couple seconds with my mouth open. Butterfly guy totally punched an alligator in the face!

"So what are you doing now," I asked, after gaining my composure.

"Oh, just waiting around for death," Butterfly guy replied.

I'm sure he kicked Death's ass also.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Unified Theory of Everything Awesome

I've been reading "The One: The Life and Music of James Brown." It got good reviews, but I probably would have checked it out regardless.

Something I learned: James Brown and the Flames' first paying gig was at a theater right after a showing of "House of Dracula." For those of you who don't know, "House of Dracula" was one of the mid '40s Universal movies where they just started throwing monsters together for maximum awesomeness. Like, Dracula would unthaw the Frankenstein monster to hang out with the Wolfman and they'd go around ...I dunno, terrorizing the town together until the Invisible Man would ride in on Mothra and fight them (I might have made up that last part). I caught "House of Dracula" when I was in second grade in Mississippi on "Friday Night Frights," and was hooked, like any reasonable person should be. Here, check it out:

So consider this. You've just watched Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolfman monster it up for an hour or so. Things can't get much better than that. You're thinking about heading home, but decide to stick around and watch a song or two from this band.

Holy crap! You just saw James Brown! While he didn't yet have that fake passing out only to be revived by his magic cape move (the greatest stage move in music), and "Please, Please, Please" was about the only song they had up to that point, the book states that Brown was competitive and hungry during these early shows he would attack the stage, dancing, fake crying, whatever it took to enough that keep an audience's attention and steal the spotlight from other bands.

This brings up another awesome coincidence. On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to step on the moon. Some might argue that the space program was a waste of resources, that we spent millions just to walk around up there, pick up some rocks and hit some golf balls. But to quote the inspiring words of John F. Kennedy, "We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because THEY ARE TOTALLY KICK-ASS."

People looked at the moon for thousands of years and we get an opportunity to drive little golf carts on it and jump around on the surface? Hell yeah, we're gonna go to the damn moon.
On the same day fifteen years later, SST Records releases two double albums, Husker Du's "Zen Arcade" and "Double Nickels on the Dime" by the Minutemen.

As a discerning individual, you probably don't need me to tell you about these albums - two of punk/hardcore's finest moments, albums that could be both raging and searching, expanding the musical palate, and creating dynamic, ambitious works of art that, to quote President Kennedy again, were "totally kick-ass."

Neil Armstrong on the damn moon. He's proud, excited, and humbled, yet still a little pissed he has to wait 15 years to hear "Turn on the News" or "This Ain't No Picnic."

So what does all this mean? Simple. Usually the Gods of Awesome dole out the treats over time, so we mortals don't get too used to things being amazing all the time. They realize it would make us lazy, weak, and dependent, and possibly wreck several economies.

Sometimes, however, they go a little nuts, like the people behind "House of Dracula," and just start throwing the awesome around willy-nilly. Religious scholars tell us that this keeps us on our toes - we never know when the next James Brown/Frankenstein team up will happen or when two seminal albums will drop on the anniversary of one of the awesomest events in world history.

Because of this, we can't give up. There are always going to be new corners of the world to explore, new music, new art, new awesomeness just around the corner. Sometimes it might take a while to find, but sometimes it explodes in our faces like a monster battle royale. All we have to do is be receptive.

Man, James Brown and Dracula. That would be the greatest show ever.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Word Bird

My first professional job was writing press releases for UF. If you read a newspaper story in the early '90s that started "GAINESVILLE (AP) Researchers at the University of Florida have ...," there's a chance it was one of mine.

The job was great, even though I was only making about 5 bucks an hour and was never going to get hired full-time. I got to interview a lot of interesting people, heard some amazing stories, and it was a step into the professional world. For instance, I learned it was probably better to shave and wear a button-down shirt instead of a ratty Antiseen t-shirt when conducting interviews with department heads. Hey, I thought it was going to be a phone interview.

I would interview a professor, write up my story, run it past my editor, make corrections, then send it back to the interview subject for approval and more corrections. This was usually fairly simple. I did have a business professor tell me my story sucked once because I had the gall to interrupt his golden quotes with AP style ledes and summary paragraphs. I hope that guy got busted for insider trading.

But for the most part, the professors were cool - they wanted to get published and so did I. They would occasionally suggest different wording or phrases into quotes I had for them, which was fine.

One time an interview subject faxed back his story with the word "cornucopia" written beside a paragraph with an arrow pointing to where he thought it should go. I didn't remember him using the word in our interview, and my editor gave me a raised eyebrow when he saw it.

I spoke to the professor who replied, "Oh, I just try to fit the word cornucopia into everything I write. It's sort of a game."

Not being one to stop someone's fun, I told my editor, and the word survived.

When recalling that story a couple weeks ago, I wondered if I had a favorite word, something I try to cram into sentences or stories no matter if it fits or not. Sadly, I don't think I do, or if I do, it's nowhere near as cool as cornucopia. Then I remembered, I do have a list of words that I think are funny and/or awesome.

Off the top of my head, my top six would be:

Ghost - I just think they're funny.

Beast - Don't know why I like this word so much, but it sounds cool.

Treat - If you've been around me for more than a couple hours you've probably heard me use this. A treat (or tasty treat or treater) is generally some sort of food, but is more widely used to describe, well, anything good.

Creep/creepy - Pretty self-explanatory.

Ape - Who doesn't love the apes?

Boner - Heh.

You'll notice that with the exception of boner, they are all one syllable words. I'd like to think that is a remnant of my journalistic training, that I'm looking for sharp, fast, effective action words, but it's more likely just that I'm immature (heh, boner), and I have a poor vocabulary. I don't use these all the time, but appreciate them when they show up. Naturally, combining these words are even better, like a giant Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of language. Check it out: Ghost Ape.  Ghost Boner. OK, maybe just putting Ghost in front of anything is awesome.

Now that I have identified the greatest words of the English language (it's true - just remember Shakespeare's immortal "The Ghost of the Creepy Ape." Or maybe that was a Hardy Boys book), please use as many of these as you can when writing or conversing with me. It will ensure pleasant conversation and will mark you as a gentleman or lady.

Hee. "Ghost Boner."