Thursday, August 30, 2012

There's a(n Ice Cream) Riot Goin' On; or Stories I Like, Yet Am Not Entirely Convinced They Are True, Part Two

Jacksonville's logo, "Bold New City of the South" brings to mind several things: like Atlanta's logo "A City Too Busy to Hate," it sent a message that we weren't like the rest of the South, we were progressive, forward looking, and open for business. It also brings to mind this photo of our old mayor about to get smacked in the face with a titty while his Benny Hill-esque sidekick looks on:
I wish I knew how to embed "Yakkity Sax" here.

But Jacksonville had a darker side, a face we hid from the rest of the nation. No, I'm not talking about the paper mills, those have been gone for decades. No, not the Civil Rights struggle, white people were dicks here just like in every other Southern city.

I'm speaking of the Great Ice Cream Riot.

Local historians ignore the Great Ice Cream Riot of Sometime in the Mid '90s. This could be a deep-reaching conspiracy to protect the city's image. Or it could be because it was all made up.

I'll explain:

We had a great team at the Fine Arts Department at the old Hayden Burns Library. One of the advantages to working there was that the new Main Library was about to open, so nobody really cared about the old library. That meant we could do whatever programming we wanted.

And boy, did we.

We had a series of themed amateur film festivals, which went over well - the theme would be whatever our obsessions were at the time - Liberace, '70s truck driving movies, whatever. They were a lot of fun and got a few people into the library who otherwise might not have come. We hosted annual Halloween festivals which would combine whatever public domain movies we could play with live bands and whatever scripted foolishness and in-jokes we could get our part-time pages to perform.

Then one of the librarians mentioned something about an ice cream riot.

She vaguely remembered hearing something on the news years ago about a riot erupting at the Jacksonville Landing after the frozen treats ran out during a free ice cream day.

We had a new obsession and had to had to have a program. So, tempting fate, we decided to stage an ice cream social, combining more public access films with special guest appearances from Kenny Rogers and a cranky Thomas Edison. I'm sure Liberace was in there somewhere, along with the free ice cream. We immediately started work on the centerpiece of the program, a Ken Burns-like recreation of the Great Ice Cream Riot's aftermath.

We wanted to slowly pan over a sepia-tinted photo of kids clutching ice cream cones while lying on the ground while a narrator said something like, "Ice ... cream...Everywhere, I see the remnants of ice cream."

Then we discovered that such a film was way beyond our capabilities and some digging discovered...well, I'll let her tell you. Ladies and Gentlemen, Laura will walk us through the real story of the Great Ice Cream Riot.

Q: So did you have the Great Ice Cream Riot in your mind for years? Like if someone mentioned the Landing was that the first thing that came up?

Do you remember our plans to reenact the Great Riot? I seem to remember wanting to do a Ken Burns-style panning over the bodies reaching out for ice cream.

A: Yes, for some reason that story really stuck with me and it did come to mind when I thought about the Landing. Something about those 11 o’clock news stories. There was another one about a guy who donated a giant robot (like the ones they have at monster truck shows) to a small town in Texas and the police used the robot to tear down crack houses. You might want to research that for another “Great stories that might not be true.”

I’m sure the reason we never made the film about the ice cream riot was because our vision was so ambitious.

Q: So it was basically just a food fight that broke out in the food court, right? How did that make the news? And this would have been in the early ‘90s, right?

A: It was in the mid ‘90s. Maybe it was a slow news night? I wish I had saved the article Glenn found for us. The problem is I wanted to believe the riot was a result of the ice cream social so much that I forgot the truth. I think they were actually two separate news stories from the same night. We found evidence that the Winn Dixie-sponsored ice cream social happened at the Landing and Glenn found a story about some guys who started a food fight up in the food court. For some reason I’m thinking the guys were in their early 20s and the whole thing started at Sbarro but I could be making that up.

Q: I seem to remember you were pretty disappointed when you actually found the truth. There is a lesson there. Not that it stopped us from trying to portray the Great Ice Cream Riot in all our following programs. Speaking of which, am I correct in remembering that you and Matthew both feel the Thomas Edison Ice Cream program was one of our worst? I think that was a totally underrated program. 

A: You’ve been talking about how great the Edison program was for so many years that I’m starting to believe it myself.

Q: Was there a point after you found out the truth that you didn’t want to accept it or at least tell me and Matthew about it?
A: No, Scott. That would be crazy. My version of the story didn’t mean enough to me to consciously deny it.

Regrettably, the story of the Great Ice Cream Riot will have to be rated FALSE, which deeply pains me, as the idea of a riot breaking out over free ice cream is simply awesome. HOWEVER, even if the story itself is false, it inspired both some extensive library research and an underrated program, as well as an entertaining story, so we shouldn't be too hard on it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Star Warrior

Some of you know how hard it can be to get me out of my house once I get settled. I have a comfortable routine (some might call it a rut), and why go messing with that in the scary outside world?

But many of you also know that I'm susceptible to peer pressure, and if given enough time and a semi-persuasive argument (usually something like, "Aw, come on.") I'll flip-flop and decide to venture outside my compound in search of excitement.

Which is what happened Sunday. The night before a friend texted asking what I was doing and saying that I should go to this Star Wars convention in Orlando the next day. Responsible me realized that I had just spent a lot of money getting my brakes fixed a week ago, and I was heading back to Atlanta soon, so I probably shouldn't spend the money. Besides, I had stuff I needed to finish up around the house on Sunday.

A few hours later I realized I had completed most of my responsible weekend stuff already, and while I was broke, I did have a credit card, and I wasn't really doing anything Sunday anyway, so why not?

Which is how I found myself in Orlando the next day in a convention center full of Star Wars nerds. We got there late, so we missed a lot of stuff, but I did get to pose for some funny pictures, something I couldn't do at home, apparently.

But on the other hand, if I stayed at home Sunday, I wouldn't have been coughed on and jabbed with light sabers in a herd of people every third step.

There were tons of these. Yep, lots of bearded dudes wandering around. But yeah, there was this whole parade of R2s that people made and customized that would roll around and beep and do magic and grant wishes and stuff. That was pretty awesome.

Here's another blurry photo.
Many people went in costume. Apparently I went as either "Stunted Man-Child" or "Florida Retiree." Here I am trying to eat one of the frogs from Jabba's bong. It didn't exactly come out right.

Tonight there's gonna be a jailbreak.
As you can probably tell by now, I had definite ideas behind the photos, but the execution didn't always work out. These (since they were taken by someone else) look a lot better than the pictures I took of my friend. Here's an excerpt of a conversation on the ride home:

"This one's blurry, too! And..Hey, this one, too. What the hell's wrong with you?"

"No, no, it's fine. You're looking at it on your phone. Wait til you see it all blown up on the computer. It's gonna look awesome."

"Did you take this one in a hurricane?"

"Aw, it's gonna be great. Just wait and see."

"You need to go to a doctor or something and get your shaky hands checked out."

"It's an action photo. Its supposed to look blurry."

So yeah, uh. Sorry about that. And while we're at it, sorry that my terrible sense of direction made us wander around the convention center for about 30 miles looking for the parking lot and - Hey! Let's see some more pictures!


Chewie made from Legos. I don't know why that made me grab my pee-pee.

When in doubt, the double thumbs up is always a picture classic.

The crappiest robot.

Like most kids that grew up in the '70s, I was obsessed with Star Wars, even eclipsing my dinosaur mania. I begged for or bought anything that had that logo on it, and it was pretty amazing to see a whole convention hall full of everything I had ever owned or lusted for as a child.

Other than the hefty admission fee, I didn't buy anything, mostly because I really couldn't. I did see a copy of the first issue of the Star Wars fan club magazine my parents got me as my first magazine subscription, but I couldn't justify spending money on it since all my back issues will probably turn up at their house someday.

So was it worth driving forever and spending money I didn't have to wander around in a convention hall for three  hours taking blurry pictures? You do see that picture of me hanging out with Hammerhead, right (a figure I never had, by the way - get on that Mom and Dad)? Of course it was worth it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cap'n Gown

Went to see some Yacht Rock in Atlanta this weekend. For the uninitiated, Yacht Rock is a term to describe the smooth rock hits of the '70s. If you're of a certain age, its the stuff you fell asleep to in the backseat of your parents car. You know, like this:

If you're a few years younger, it might be the music your parents played while they made you in the backseat of their car.

So this band of younger guys resurrected the songs, occasionally getting the original artists to sing or play guitar or whatever.

Sure, you could dismiss it as campy or kitschy or just another case of hipsters being ironic. Or you could just mellow out and sing along to "Brandi," like the happy people here:

Me with my hostess. Probably singing "Brandi."
It was a pretty swell night. I also saw someone suggestively lick a light saber (I don't know why there was a dude with two light sabers walking around. Maybe he was from the future.)

I sense a great disturbance in the Force. A great sexy disturbance.
So yeah, it was pretty fun. You know what's not fun? Driving the 5 1/2 hours back to Jacksonville the next day through a monsoon. I don't mind long drives too much - day to day driving can suck it, but long trips can be relaxing when I don't focus on how just a few inches of space separate two two-ton vehicles speeding along at 70 miles per hour and holy crap, isn't it amazing that I haven't died multiple times driving?

I used to make up games in the car to keep me focused and awake. One of my favorites was trying to hold my breath over every bridge I drove over. My ex-wife didn't like that game, probably because my stubbornness made me speed up to cross the bridge rather than give up and inhale, even if I was turning red and purple.

Looking back, maybe that was sort of dangerous.

I had other rituals, like how I wouldn't shower the last day of a trip, the idea being that sitting in your filth would make it that much better when you got home and could clean up. She didn't care for that game either.

As I left my host's neighborhood, I knew I needed a new challenge, something to keep me occupied on the long ride home. But what? I needed something that had just the right amount of stupidity. Glancing in my front seat, I had it - with our tickets we also received these captain's hats. You can see mine in action up there. I decided I'd wear my captain's hat the whole trip home. The only rule I had is that I couldn't take it off - not to buy gas, to eat lunch, change a tire, whatever. The captain's hat had to stay on my head the entire journey.

After the first half hour it felt kind of natural. "I should wear a hat more often," I thought. "Look at this thing - look how sophisticated and dashing I am. I look like I should be commanding a PT boat with JFK."

I pulled up next to a carload of college kids playing The Cure's "Why Can't I Be You" at my first gas stop. I gave them the cool guy head nod. They didn't really pay any attention. Probably intimidated.

In fact, it was disappointing how nobody really glanced at my hat when I'd stop. I was hoping for some sort of acknowledgement or laughter or subtle points or something. But no, nothing. Not a muffled "Gilligan" or "Aye, aye Captain" - nothing.

Things were different on the road, where I could sense fellow motorists were suitably impressed. A truckload of Victoria's Secret models frantically motioned me to pull over. A Cadillac full of old people silently saluted me for my service to the country.

But I couldn't stop for any of them, nor could I remove my hat. And I'd like to think I learned a little something on that trip.

By subjecting myself to potential ridicule all day, I gained more empathy, more understanding. Never again will I make disparaging comments on the internet about someone I don't know, but who strikes me as funny. And aren't we all wearing our own captain hats in life? Did I not learn that from my journey?

Nah, I just wanted an excuse to wear a ridiculous hat all day. Nice try, though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I'll House You

For a couple weeks in high school, my friend and I had our own house.
We didn't actually pay rent or live there or anything. We would just sort of hang out there every once in a while.

We were walking home one day after cross country practice and a celebratory bonus meal at 7-11 (that was when you'd buy a Big Gulp and stash a microwave burrito in the cup. The plastic wrapper kept it from getting wet) and got caught in one of Florida's summer downpours.

We sat under the carport of a house for sale waiting for the storm to stop. While discussing the dangers of misdiagnosed mental illness expressed in Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," we noticed the door to the house had Jalousie windows.

If you grew up in Florida, you know what Jalousie windows are, even if you don't know the name. They were those horizontal glass Venetian blind looking windows. Here, like in this picture I stole off the internet while searching for "old Florida horizontal glass venetian blind windows."

While they offered several  benefits to Florida homeowners, including brightness, an ability to catch breezes and a cool mid-century design, they had a few drawbacks, the main one being the fact that a couple of high school delinquents using no tools can take out enough of the glass panes to slip in the house in about 7 minutes.

It was strange once we were in the empty house. We were quiet and probably a little scared. Still, we figured if we got caught, we'd just say the door was open so we came in out of the rain.

We noticed the previous owners had left some stuff behind in their move. Nothing too interesting, some glasses and silverware, some food and supplies and a Penthouse magazine I let my friend keep, a move I instantly regretted.

We remained fairly respectful and quiet in the house that first day, and left soon after splitting our feast. Of course we were going to go back.

We couldn't wait to get out of practice the next day to break back into our new clubhouse. Again, we just sort of hung around inside, ate some shoplifted 7-11 treats and poked around to see what the owners had left behind that we missed the first day. It was a weird feeling; we knew we shouldn't be in there, and we still remained fairly quiet in the house. That would change soon.

We had been visiting our house fairly frequently when in a rare case of quitting a bad idea while we were ahead, we decided we should probably stop hanging out there. So we decided to go back one last time, but this time instead of exploring, we would dedicate our last day in the house to science and the arts.

Specifically, I had a science project that had vexed me for years while looking at my parent's sliding glass doors. If a scientist were to throw a glass at such a door, would the glass shatter on impact or would the momentum be enough to leave a cartoon-like hole in the door? While I had made many advanced mathematical equations, I still needed real-world testing, testing  my science hating parents would probably try to actively discourage.

So we tried it out. As a teenager, it is insanely liberating to break something. It is even more liberating to do so inside a house you aren't supposed to be in. The sound of the breaking glass was magnified through the empty house, and while we were dedicated scientists, we weren't robots - it was exhiliratingly funny.

The arts portion of the trip involved us squirting some left behind Elmer's glue on the floor and coating the design with a box of cereal we found in one of the cabinets. I can't recall exactly what we made, but I can almost guarantee there was at least one anarchy sign.

We threw all the abandonded food (including a bag of flour) we could find through the house, a glorious food fight against ... the house? Squares? Homeowners? The Man? Probably all of the above. We had brought along a can of spray paint and decorated the rest of the house with punk rock slogans and band logos, along with what I considered the crowning touch -  "LEAVE THIS EVIL HOUSE" in all caps above the mantle, as if a ghost got a hold of some haunted spray paint, leaving a terrifying warning to the human residents.

We left the house, carefully taking our spray paint can so it couldn't be dusted for prints, and walked away, never to return. And I can only speak for myself, but I remember feeling a bit depressed. Not only because we were walking away from so much  potential science and art, but because we had found a place where we were guaranteed not be hassled or oppressed, a place where we were free to create however much mess and trouble we wanted without facing any consequences of our actions.

Its sort of a sick joke that as a teenager you have all this extra energy built up and only a handful of acceptable ways to let it out. Once I become President, I will take all the nation's foreclosed homes and open them up to teenagers to vandalize and destroy. This would not only help the kids blow off steam, it would help the economy by employing workers and cleaners round the clock.

And in our case we actually did  help the economy, sort of. Years later we were telling the story of our house on the track team when an older runner got sort of quiet.

"My sister tried to buy that house," he said.

Oh shit. Was this guy gonna kick our ass for messing up his sister's house?

"Yeah, because it was so trashed, her and her husband got it for like, next to nothing."

So remember kids, vandalism is a win-win. Not only is it fun and stress-relieving, you also have a great chance of helping out some struggling homeowners.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hangin' Brains

I made it up to Chicago to check out the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2009 as part of my Divorced Guy North American Tour. I had a great time.

Saturday afternoon, my friend Jon was driving me and my friend Kevin to the second day of the festival. We were running late and had already missed two of the bands I wanted to see, so I'd like to imagine Jon was driving all French Connection to get us there without missing any more fun, although I know that when looked at through a purely factual worldview, that's not exactly true.

What I do know for sure is that Jon was playing a Bad Brains CD in his car. There was some discussion as to whether it was the self-titled album (you know, the one with the lightning bolt of righteousness striking the Capitol building) or "Rock for Light." I can't remember which one it was or which side I was on, but since I'm writing this blog, we'll go ahead and say I was right.

There was much singing and pumping of fists and pointing for emphasis. There was much talk about how insane it was to finally see the lyrics if you had a dubbed tape of the album and wondering how all those words fit in there when all you could make out was "hackabackabackabackaPOISONWEEEELL." There was much skipping of reggae tracks.

Discussion floated from mutual friends who were lucky enough to see Bad Brains in, if not their peak, at least not in their crazy, 'you might get energized HR, might get reggae, might get crazy no singing HR' days of the last ...holy crap, 20 years, to the awesomeness of "The Big Takeover."

Here, check out this stolen Youtube clip from 1983:

While this cuts out the awesome Morse code sounding intro, and Dr. Know's guitar solo doesn't sound as much like a semi truck as on the studio versions, it still shows just how vital and explosive the song is. Now for the rest of the week I'm going to be singing "jusanotha nazi scheeeme. Heeeaay." And check out that blonde girl on the stage happily singing every word. I wonder what she's doing right now?

As Einstein and Doc Brown have taught us, time is a crazy thing. Sometimes I think that Pitchfork fest was just last year, sometimes it seems like about a decade ago. Then I realize that I've known the people in that car for over 20 years. Our friendship is old enough to drink! I was married for over ten years. I've been at my job for longer than that, even though thinking back, the past 30 years or so seem like they've gone by in a flash - all my stories, all my experiences seem like they happened in the blink of an eye, which, I guess in the grand scheme of things, they did.

 I'd say that listening to decades-old hardcore songs made the three of us feel young again, but, at least in my case, I feel about the same as I did when I heard "The Big Takeover" for the first time. A little fatter, with possibly a few more life lessons under my belt, and with marginally better skin, but not too much different from my late teens or early or mid 20s. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I do know that when it came time for Jon to drop us off, after listening to Bad Brains for about a half hour, we all sort of looked at each other, knowing that with all the bands we were going to see that weekend, none of them could touch what we were listening to at the moment. I think we made him drive us around the block just to milk a little more Bad Brains out of the afternoon.