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.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Echo and the Bunnymen

When I started this foolishness, I had a simple goal. I wanted to document some of the stories that had been getting laughs or gasps from astounded listeners for years before the ravages of time left me unable to pass these tales on to the next generation.

Along the way I discovered my destiny - to bring a divided nation together through the power of story. While you might not have had the same exact experiences, you likely had something similar happen, and through that we can drop our differences, mellow out and groove together, discarding our hangups like I threw away my suit and tie from my square, plastic nine-to-five gig.

Which is why it always feels so strange when I find what I thought were universal experiences are anything but.

For example, for years I've thought that everyone had the same experiences falling asleep in the car as a kid. You'd be in the backseat, fighting to stay awake, and as you get sleepier and sleepier, the songs from the radio would get bassier and more echoey. Certain songs can still recall that feeling, like "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh, "American Trilogy" by Elvis, or "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits. Apparently my parents' car had a faulty bass speaker or I was making my own dub versions, because every time I try to explain this phenomenon, people just look at me weird and walk away puzzled.

It wasn't just the songs, although those were the main catalysts. Sometimes it would be my parents gossiping on the way home from a family event or the TV set from the other room. Either way, things would get all deep echoey and bassy and I'd slowly fall asleep. Just like Dire Straits, the theme from "The Bob Newhart Show" will get me feeling sort of sleepy and spacey, especially there in the little breakdown when the organ starts. Hey, for a square psychologist, Bob Newhart had a pretty funky theme song, huh?

While this was a pretty cool effect for the few minutes I could keep consciousness, it's one of the reasons I don't like falling asleep to music or TV now. My dub versions are relaxing, but in the back of my head I feel the struggle to stay awake which can be distracting and a little stressful.

So I put the question to you, loyal readers. Was this the universal experience I thought it was, or was this just a weird little kid who was somehow channeling Jamaican record producers, and if so, why didn't I make any money off this phenomenon?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Turn On Your Heartlight

What follows is a work of creative non-fiction. This conversation happened many times throughout the '90s, a decade when I was notoriously dumb. The setting could be a car, a room, a bar, anywhere I interacted with people. The other speaker can be male or female, or a group of both. Neil Diamond's hit "Heartlight" is playing.  Let us proceed:

Person: "Hey, the E.T. song!"

Me: "Ha, yeah, it's the E.T. song. Hey, wait. You're serious."

P: "Yeah, it's about E.T. Everybody knows that."

M: "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

P: "Are you insane? It's right there in the lyrics: "Gonna take a ride across the moon?" "Turn on your heartlight?"

M: "Yeah, he loved E.T. so much he wrote a song about him. You're thinking of Michael Jackson.
 Neil Diamond was a grown-up. And that stuff is just metaphors and shit. He's in love so he feels like he's riding across the moon. And the heartlight is...you know, like, love and feelings and stuff. In his heart."

Exhibit A. Although I'm not sure which side this helps.
P: "Did you not see E.T.?"

M (agitated): "Of course I saw E.T. ! And I cried when those astronauts turned him into Grey E.T. But that doesn't mean I think every '80s song is about E.T."

At this point, if the other speaker was male, I might affect a humorous "dumb guy" voice to drive my point home. For example: "Duh, all songs are about movies. 'Back in Black' is about Star Wars. 'Purple Rain' is really about The Color Purple. Duh huh huh."

As a gentleman, I would not employ the dumb guy voice if the other speaker was a female. In that case, I would employ a high pitched "lady" voice, as follows: "My name is (arguer's name). I looooooove Neil Diamond and E.T. I think about them all the time."

This argument was repeated many different times throughout the '90s, with many different people. I'm not sure exactly when I realized that the rest of the world was right and I was wrong, but I remember an overwhelming feeling of shame and embarrassment when the scales finally fell from my eyes.

I mean, it's right there in the song! Turn on your heartlight! How could I have missed that?

I'd like to think that by now I have apologized for everyone I argued with. If I missed apologizing to you in person, please accept my humble online apologies at this time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Are You Ready For Some Football?

I had an idea this morning. I wasn't fully awake yet, so I guess technically it was a dream, but I was aware enough that I could sort of watch over everything and tell myself that I needed to remember as many details as I could, as this was going to be the million dollar idea I had been waiting on.

In this dream, two guys decided to start a football league. Not like the XFL or anything, more like an adult intramural league, only with a Super Bowl involved. Actually, the more this dream unwound, it appeared that they were more trying to hijack an existing kid's league, like Pop Warner or something, but since their team was made up of adults (which somehow wasn't against the rules), they could crush the competition with no problem, and win all the money, fame, and accolades the Pop Warner Super Bowl awards.

As this dream was unspooling, part of me was watching, waiting to see what happened so that I could use it as a screenplay in my real, non-sleeping life.

The guys build a team full of grown-ups, including a huge fat guy who was originally going to be on the offensive line, but then they discovered he had an amazing arm, so the fat guy got promoted to quarterback.

There were some parts that didn't really make sense, like this guy who would pop up now and then wearing a white button-down shirt. He had a quarter-sized bloodstain on his shirt that would grow until his white shirt turned red. Nobody seemed to be alarmed by this. Maybe he was the coach.

Throughout the dream, another part of my subconscious was poking me, saying, "Did you get all that? Did you see that fat guy quarterback? Make sure you remember that. Fat guy quarterback is your ticket to a money-making screenplay."

When I finally woke up, I realized that my dream was a mish-mash of a bunch of different movies that pop up on cable on rainy Saturday afternoons, and I was much too lazy to write a bunch of scenes and characters or whatever it is you have to do with a screenplay anyway.

So I did the next best thing. By documenting the idea here on the internet, I have now registered a copyright, which I believe is how those things work. So when Fourth and Long starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson appears in 2015, I should get a sizeable paycheck.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


You realize you're getting older when the simple and wonderful act of sleeping causes aches and pains.

I would wake up sore occasionally when I was younger, but I could always pinpoint the cause, whether from skating, running, criminally excessive yardwork, or in older years, drunken hijinks. Other than the yardwork, I figured this was the infrequent price I paid for fun, and besides, for the most part, whatever aches and pains I had would fade away throughout the day.

Now that I am old and boring, there's a fifty fifty chance that I'm going to wake up in the morning with a sore neck. Which doubly sucks, since I can't take it as my penance for fun, and I don't even get any psychological peace out of it.

As far as I know, I'm just sleeping like a normal person. A friend once told me (kind of angrily, for some reason) that his dad insisted that nobody should ever sleep with their head higher than their body, but his dad was a chiropractor, which I'm still not sure is quackery or not. Still, that sort of stuck in my brain, so I try not to have a huge tower of pillows under my head.

Now that I think about it, this pain actually started when I was in the prime of my youth. I was about 25 or so and woke up one morning with a pain on the right side of the neck. Pain so bad that it hurt to straighten my neck enough to put on a shirt for work.

I made it to work like a responsible employee, where the pain got worse, so much so that I was  typing with my head resting on my shoulder. Some of my female coworkers gave me some cramp medicine, but that didn't seem to do anything. I tried a few times to straighten my neck out through the pain, but it wasn't happening.

There was a party that night, and I was in my twenties, so of course I had to go, even if my neck was clamped at a 45 degree angle. Maybe I looked like I was deep in thought.This would be my life from now on, a guy with his head fused to his shoulder. I should get used to it. I'd have to wear special shirts from now on, like in those movies where evil doctors transplanted another guy's head on some poor sap's body.
Hey, the guy on the left even looks sorta like me.

I was pretty sure that my neck vertebrae would eventually fuse to my shoulder blades or skull or something and I'd end up in a freak show like the Elephant Man. I drank a few beers that night which helped take my mind off my disfigurement and future carnival employment, then walked home and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up like a normal person. My neck was fixed! All it took was some alcohol and self-pity to fix things up, just like always.

Those were dark, pre-internet days. Now, within seconds I can find that I just had a pulled neck muscle. Pulled neck muscles are fairly common and it could have been solved by massage, which wasn't gonna happen, since the thought of massages sort of creeped me out at the time, and truthfully, kinda still does.

I'm still not entirely convinced, however, and still think that my morning soreness has something to do with the fusing of my neck vertebrae, which will reduce me to Elephant Man status in another 10 years or so. 

Eh, I was probably gonna end up working in a sleazy carnival in some capacity anyway, thanks to my laughable financial planning; at least this way I'll be in showbiz.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Poison Arrow

The opening day of Mowing Season is always bittersweet. Sweet, because after my lawn looks nice, I am free to judge my neighbors' shabby landscaping skills; bitter because I have to actually do work before getting down to the judging.

This year, as I was mowing around the flowers on opening day, I found an arrow. Yeah, an actual arrow, as in bow and arrow. I immediately blamed my shitty neighbors across the street, but their arrows were usually sonic. A few minutes later I found another one hidden in the grass. It didn't look like anything on the porch had been punctured, but it's not everyday that you find a quiver of arrows on your front lawn, so I was a little concerned.

I knew that there hadn't been any Indian attacks here in at least a hundred years, and even if the warpath had heated up, why start with me? Why not hit the sheriff or the ... stagecoach manager or something? I'm just an innocent homesteader, trying to scrape out a living here on my property.

Of course, they might not be recent arrows. They might be mystical revenge arrows launched from an ancient burial ground that was razed to build my house. That would explain quite a bit, actually, like why I've had to replace my TV 3 or 4 times, or why that faucet drips blood occasionally.

The cursed arrows. Hey, that's an awesome band name!
Using knowledge of the ancients, I submitted the arrows to a lengthy and intense cleansing ceremony, sort of like the one Billy Jack had to endure before kicking the crap out of those rednecks.

And hey, as an aside, ever notice how many southerners will claim some microscopic amount of Native American blood to make some tenuous claim of...well, I'm not sure exactly. Like, "Well, I'm actually 1/32 Cherokee," or "There's some Creek blood on my mother's side." Who do they think is buying that stuff?

Actually, I just left the arrows on the back porch and sort of forgot about them. 

Last week I put the haunted arrows in a bag of yard trash. You could see the tips of them poking out of the bag. I was a little concerned about the garbagemen getting cursed, but figured they probably had to take training on that sort of stuff, what with people regularly throwing out possessed dolls and ouija boards and whatnot. 

Yesterday when taking in the recycling bin, I noticed something was amiss. The trash bag was still there, but the arrows were gone. Some mystical Native American spirit took them from the Hefty bag and transported them back into the Land of the Dead. That, of course, is the only scientific answer to what could have happened.

With the arrows gone, I'm pretty sure any and all curses on the house have been lifted, but I might have to undergo another purification ceremony just to make sure. Or I might have to embark on an epic quest, like the time I searched for my niece in Comanche territory for five years. But that is a story for another time.

The view from my porch

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Arrested For Driving While Blind

I've received a lot of tickets in my driving lifetime. A few for speeding (thanks, 301!) , a failure to come to a complete stop which was totally made up, and a stack full of stuff on my last night in Bradenton, including driving without shoes, dim taillights, failure to produce license, and probably driving while being too much of an outlaw for the Man to deal with.

For the most part, I've accepted that I've been at fault, paid my debt to society, moved on, and wondered how many more points I can afford on my license before my insurance skyrockets.

But it came as quite a surprise when I was going to have my car searched on my way home from Atlanta earlier this week.

I was driving back to Jacksonville after another successful trip to see my girlfriend. I was keeping it around the speed limit, even though I feel that these unnecessary rules cramp my style.

I was probably doing about 76 when I saw the two cop cars up on an overpass. I was able to slow down without making it too obvious, and continued on my way, nervously checking the rearview mirror every few seconds.

After a few miles I figured I had it made. "Sorry, suckers," I thought to the cops. I was still under the speed limit when I passed another cop on the side of the interstate.

"Can't do anything about driving 3 miles under the speed limit, copper," I said in my best '30s gangster voice, as I mentally flipped the double bird.

A few miles later I saw that the cop had his lights on and was chasing some poor sucker. Hey! That sucker was me!

I pulled over, confused.

"The reason I pulled you over is because I think your windows are darker than Georgia law allows."

What the hell? I bought the car at a Honda dealer, not a crackhouse. They would have told me if it was illegal, right? And besides, I lived in Florida. Your Georgia rules don't apply to me.

He put some sort of weird device on the window.

"Yeah, see, this reads an 11 and Georgia law requires a 30."

"Wait, so I'm lower?"

"No, you're higher. 11 is less than 30. Do you have anything illegal in the car, like drugs or weapons?"

"No. No. Just some clothes and trash."

"Well, I have to ask you, do you consent to a search?"

Aw, crap.

As an ex-journalist and current librarian, I'm a firm believer in America's civil liberties. I mean, what else is gonna stop some English king from quartering soldiers in our houses or telling us what to print in our broadsides or searching our taverns and public houses for bootleg tea? I also think that the drug war has opened a whole can of worms involving quasi-legal search and seizure, asset forfeiture, and a host of other bad stuff. But thinking about how much I wanted to get home, all that ACLU stuff flew out the window.

"Yeah, sure."

He took my license. Shit, I wonder how long this is gonna be? Hey, I've only had this car for like three years. What if someone stashed a bunch of cocaine somewhere and forgot about it? I could have been driving around in Tony Montana's car all this time and wouldn't know it til I got searched and ended up in prison. Hey, what if the cop plants something in the car? He seemed like the type to do that. I mean, I am in Georgia. Do they still have chain gangs here?

He walked back and asked for my registration.

"Now, I'm not gonna find anything illegal in here, right?"

"Just clothes and trash. How long will this take?"

"It'll take as long as it needs to."

He studied my registration. "What year car is this?"

"'98. Oh, wait. '09." Shit. I was thinking of the old car. I'm totally going to prison now.

He walked away again and came back again after what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like 4 minutes.

"You know, if you have any sort of misdemeanor stuff in there, you can just dump it out here on the side of the highway, no harm, no foul."

What the hell sort of trap is that? Does anyone actually fall for that? He's totally gonna plant some cocaine in the car. That's how they got Dolemite in that documentary.

It was totally gonna escalate like this if I had been there a few more minutes.

"I don't have anything," I said, mentally preparing for hours in the Georgia sun watching my car being taken apart and waiting for my spot on the chain gang.

"Well, I thank you for giving permission for the search. Here's your license and registration back, along with a written warning. We just have to check every now and then with all the suspicious characters out there, you know?"

Yeah, you mean because I'm white, right? I thought super-aggressively at the cop. That showed him.

Whether it was institutional racism, my non-criminal wussy looks, the cop's laziness, or some combination of the three, I got let off with a warning. A really kinda bullshit warning, but at least I didn't have to wait while my car got taken apart, and was able to keep off the chain gang.

So if you're driving to Atlanta from Florida, watch your speed, make sure your windows aren't tinted too much, and don't fall for that misdemeanor trick. That's gotta be a trap, right?


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Agony of Defeet

I had this thing against wearing shoes when I was a teenager. I don't know where it came from, and as with most things from that time period, it seems pretty ridiculous in retrospect.

I'd drive down to the store to pick up a Coke or whatever, gripping the gas pedal with my toes like a chimp, then walk over the hot, disgusting cigarette butt and spit-encrusted parking lot to go inside the store. I also didn't carry a wallet, so I'd pull out a wad of crumpled bills, Spicoli-style to pay the cashier.

I have no idea why I did this. Maybe I was trying to reinforce Florida stereotypes. Maybe I thought shoes and wallets were for chumps who were brainwashed by society into conforming to what The Man thought was acceptable.

The soles of my feet must have been tough enough to walk on hot coals.

One night I was with some friends from my community college newspaper. The newspaper class was in the late afternoon, and a group of us would hang out in the newspaper office late into the night. Sometimes we were working on the paper, usually we were just wasting time.

I wore shoes at school, so I have no idea why I was barefoot at the time, but there I was, barefoot as Fred Flintstone. We were hungry, so we ended up at Denny's.

As we walked in, the server pointed to the "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" sign, which I had ignored in my hunger for a Superbird.

"You can't come in here without shoes," she said.

 "What? Who made that rule? Mussolini? This is totally bogus," I thought, or possibly said. 

We walked back to my car in defeat. Hey! I had a solution! I was going to get my Superbird after all.

I had a brown marker in the car. Why did I have a brown marker and not a pair of shoes in my car? That is a question I can't answer.

The paper's art director helped me decorate my feet into a pair of brown shoes. They didn't look half bad. Sure, you could see my toes, and the brown wasn't really evenly applied, but they looked good enough to pass. I think she might have even Sharpie'd some shoelaces on there.

I was totally ahead of the curve on this one.

You know you're getting older when you start to identify with the authority figures in the movies when you once supported the free-spirited kids. I mean, jeez, just shut up and do your detention, stupid Breakfast Clubbers. Don't you think the Dean has other things to do with his Saturday?
Poor Dean Wormer just wanted the parade to go off without a hitch.
I was promptly and rightfully kicked out of Denny's. I never got my Superbird. When I recall that night, I don't think of a free-thinking kid challenging a stupid rule and causing some squares to question their assumptions about their regimented life, I think of the poor server who was working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift and had to put up with a smartass who really should know better.

I'd like to think I learned something that night, and started wearing shoes like a normal person, but I know for a fact that wasn't true, since my last night in Bradenton I got a ticket for operating a vehicle without shoes. I didn't even know that was a law.

I'd also like to think the experience of walking around shoeless added to my distaste of men walking around in sandals or flip-flops. Seriously. Nobody wants to see that stuff. It's almost as bad as marker shoes.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Crime and the City Solution

Poking around the comics/graphic novel section at work the other day, I found CRIME, a big bound volume of '50s crime comics. With a title like that, you gotta take a look.

The library has a few bound collections like this - big color reprints of horror and crime comics that caused a stink in the '50s. Enough of a stink that there were Senate hearings and comic burnings.
They're not even storing them in plastic sleeves before burning them!
Soon rock and roll would take the heat for juvenile delinquency and fun, and comics were off the hook for a while.

As a librarian and a fan of entertainment with no redeeming social value, I've always been against the censors and banners of the world. And who the hell gets that worked up over some comic books, anyway?

Well, uh...maybe those squares from the '50s had a point. Holy crap, were those things gory. You've probably seen stuff from the horror comics, where bad people get their ironic comeuppance, like a greedy guy gets drowned in molten gold or whatever. The funny thing is, a lot of the 'bad' people didn't really deserve their fates. Like, for the crime of dancing with another man a woman gets mummified by her jealous husband, or a guy who is rude to waiters gets eaten by vampires. Kinda makes getting your hand cut off for stealing seem quaint.

That's to be expected in horror comics. What I didn't expect was how gory the crime comics were. Everybody's getting machine gunned or stabbed or shot on just about every page, all in beautiful detail. As in the horror comics, there is a moral at the end, where the criminal is either shot or led to the electric chair or noose. All of this is illustrated with lots of bright red blood, popping eyeballs and jumping tears of sweat.

I suppose the publishers could say that by demonstrating that crime doesn't pay, the comics were actually moral instruction. Possibly, although the only instruction I've gotten out of them so far is some cool slang, like, "Aw, go peddle a herring," and "Wot a night, baby! Dancin' wit you is like wrasslin' with a feather!" Which is answered with "Yeah, Slug! Ain't that music the nuts?" Look for me to drop those phrases in conversation the next time we run into each other. It'll be the nuts.

So with all this gore, violence, and outdated slang, I have to give CRIME Googoomuck's highest recommendation. Five stars, two thumbs up, 12 tommy guns blazing. Seriously, it's the nuts.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Casual Racism Fridays

A few weeks ago I'm at a training session at work. I'm waiting in line to sign the roster to get the all-important training credit (9 hours more to go!) and I'm talking to a co-worker who is behind me in line. I get distracted, probably looking inside to see if there would be cookies and somehow she snaked my place in line.

"Hey, how'd you get in front of me?"

"I'm crafty like that," she replied.

Without missing a beat, or even looking up, the woman manning the roster said, "All Chinese are crafty."

Now, ignoring the fact that the coworker I was talking to is blonde and blue-eyed, sort of the anti-Chinese, what does that even mean? Was she referring to the Coca-Cola thing? Because that has been thoroughly discredited. I mean, I'm sure at one point in history a Chinese person put some "pee-pee" in a Coke for humorous effect, but the vast majority of Chinese people frown on such hijinks and do not find urine in soft drinks to be funny at all.

But I don't think she was referring to that. I don't even know if she was referring to anything in particular. Maybe it's like that word association game, and "Chinese" is paired up with "crafty" in her mind. Or maybe she just has to tell the world her opinion about Chinese people for whatever reason.

I'd say that it bothered me all through the training session, but if I'm being honest, I was really more upset that we didn't get cookies.

Now, of course, I think I'm going to try to test her. Next time she's around, I'll mention specific countries and see if I get a response. I'll be sure to report back.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Shoplifters of the World

I used to shoplift when I was a kid. This shouldn't surprise anyone, since I think I've documented my adolescent (and pre and post) crapulence fairly well.

Occasionally, I'll look back on my younger exploits and wonder if there was any sort of deep psychological thing behind them, but I don't really think there was. Being bad was exciting and fun, even if I did spend most of my middle and high school years in constant trouble due to the consequences of my antics. In the case of shoplifting, stores had things I wanted, I didn't have money, so I shoplifted. Pretty simple, really.

I can't remember when I started, but I do remember that I soon perfected a technique. I would get an empty bag, then load up what I wanted when nobody was looking. This seemed to work better than the usual "jam a bunch of stuff in your pockets or under your shirt" technique employed by others. When taken to the grocery store by my parents, I'd get a bag, load it up with bakery cookies, Archie Comics, and whatever else appealed to me. I must have told them I had saved my money or something if they asked how I was buying things. Sure, it was risky, but later that night eating chocolate chip cookies in my bed catching up on Jughead's latest hijinx, it all seemed worth it.

From there I graduated to the mall. A friend and I would ride our bikes there and I'd get a bag from a store, then load up on records and dirty magazines.

We never got caught, which is pretty remarkable, considering that we would be conspicuously unconspicuously hanging around the magazine stand on the other side of the naked lady magazines, waiting to slip them into our bag.

Maybe I felt my luck was up, or guilt got the better of me, because I stopped. I'm not sure for how long, but I stayed on the straight and narrow for a while.

Until a toy store moved in to the spot by Eckerds. This was within biking distance, and I used to go up there to buy models. They also had a big display of Star Wars figures. This was after Return of the Jedi, when I felt I was too old for what were, in my eyes, children's toys. Today, of course, I know many professionals who buy Star Wars figures, but back then we didn't have those sort of role models.

So I figured it was OK to steal them. I'd wait til the teenaged clerk wasn't paying attention (which didn't take long), take them out of the box (I know! I was destroying the resale value!), and slip them in my pockets.

Looking at pictures of the figures on the internet, it looks like I ended up getting most of them. Again, I don't see how I got away with it.

Then came the end of my shoplifting career.

I went to the grocery store with my parents,  got an empty bag and walked over to the toy section of Walgreens. I had seen this pretty boss looking little vehicle earlier, and it was gonna be mine. These were vehicles that weren't really in the movies, they were just cash grabs, so I felt I was sort of justified in stealing it.
Admit it, that's a pretty cool toy.

I had it in my hands with the open bag on the floor. I was subtly glancing around to make sure nobody was watching. As soon as I slipped it in my bag, an old lady and her granddaughter appeared at the end of the aisle.

"Don't do that," she said.



I felt my stomach drop. Then they left. She was already talking to the manager up front. Holy crap, I thought. I'm finally going to get busted. My parents are just over in Publix and are going to have to come over and get me, minutes after they let me go. I am in such trouble.

They were obviously talking about me, and had seen me carrying the bag, so I thought my best course of action was to see if I can casually walk out the door. OK. Let's give it a shot.

"Can I see your bag?"

Oh crap.

"Oh yeah, sure," I said,  my insides churning like a cement mixer.

The mustached manager gave me a suspicious look and said, "Maybe we should staple this up for you."

And he did.


Seconds later I was out the door. I saw him talking to the lady, but by some fluke I was free. Free! I wanted to kiss the sidewalk.

I was scared straight. I didn't shoplift again. Now I am pillar of the community and a few months ago even mailed a 20 dollar bill to a restaurant when I thought I had stiffed the waitress. I'm sure whoever opened the mail spent it on drugs or a neck tattoo, but at least I sort of balanced the scales a bit.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


You want something that will make your life more majestic and cinematic? Check out "Ecstasy of Gold: Killer Bullets from the Spaghetti West." It's a series of super-limited (750 each) double vinyl collections of spaghetti western music. These sub-Morricone songs are all full of distorted guitars, horns, and shouted choruses. It makes a trip to the grocery store seem epic. You probably won't be able to get the actual vinyl, but you're pretty smart. You can probably find the MP3s somewhere on the internet.

You should also check out "Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey." Hundreds of reviews of forgotten '80s horror movies. Skipping more mainstream stuff like the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series, Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik focus on forgotten gems like Demonwarp (Bigfoot running wild ripping off heads!), Black Devil Doll from Hell (just watch it), and even Gainesville's own Twisted Issues. Saving most of their love for homemade shot on video masterpieces, the authors have written an informative and funny guidebook to a whole new chunk of movies to look out for. Now if Netflix would get on the ball and get a copy of Demonwarp, we'd all be a little smarter.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Go Gators!

The University of Florida's mascot is the noble and terrifying gator, which was picked because of the reptile's scariness and ferocity. As with most college towns, the mascot is everywhere - painted on the sides of stores, formed into mailboxes - if you can picture something, there's a gator on it, or in it, or holding it.

Which was fine by me, since alligators are cool and aesthetically pleasing. In fact, I had one staring at me every time I looked out my second floor window for a few months while living in Gainesville.

Years ago I was hanging out on the front porch with some friends and roommates. It was Gator Stompin' night. Gator Stompin' was a Gainesville pub crawl where you won a T-shirt and alcohol poisoning if you finished all the stops.

Our house was a block from University Avenue, so we'd get stragglers staggering by screaming out the official call of the drunk: "Whooooooo!" Naturally, we'd have to "Whooooooo!" back. You have to answer back. It's just good manners.

We passed some time on the porch, hanging out, watching drunks, and trying to figure out what we were going to do with the rest of our night. Then we hear a "Whooooooo!" louder than any "Whooooooo!" we had previously heard.

We saw a sprinting guy grasping a five foot fiberglass gator statue in his arms, Whoooooooing all through the night, running and clutching the gator like his life depended on it.

We had seen that alligator before. He stood at the entrance of a liquor store on University. We were happy that he got the chance to finally see the outside world, so we put a little more oomph in our return "Whooooooo!"

About a minute after that we saw two cops chasing the guy and his alligator. The night was getting a little more exciting.

The guy dropped his alligator during the chase. The cops yelled not to touch it. Fine by us.

Of course, as soon as the cops were gone, someone re-stole the gator and hid it.

About 15 minutes later, we see the guy running in the other direction, Whoooooooing through the night, a free man again. I seem to remember he had a pair of those twist tie handcuffs on, but that could just be dramatic license.

Brushing my teeth the next morning I looked out my second-floor window and saw the gator in his new home, nestled in a tree so he could look in on me and my roommate Scott, making sure we had adequate amounts of school spirit.

He stayed up in the tree for a few months. The landlord always thought we did it, but this was one of the few hijinx we were actually innocent of. One day he was gone, which was sort of sad. I had really gotten used to his reassuring grin.

Over the years, I would see that same statue in a variety of different stores in Gainesville, with a variety of different paintjobs. But I could tell it was him.

Oh, and the guy who stole the alligator in the first place? Well, the cops swore us to secrecy, but I can now reveal that he grew up to become one of our nation's finest vice presidents.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Rival

While visiting the family for Christmas, I amused myself by rummaging through a drawer full of old photographs. There was stuff jammed in there from before I was born all the way up into the 2000s. I found lots of pictures of pets (Henry the Cat was a favorite, and might have had more photos taken than any other family member, R.I.P.), family vacations, and tons of photos of me and my sister holding fish.

I also found many pictures of me wearing clothes that hipsters would kill for nowadays.

Exhibit A.

I was looking for Halloween pictures, since my sister and I can't remember any of our costumes, even though we remember going trick or treating and wouldn't have gone in street clothes. That's just not done.

I didn't find any of those, but I did come across some photos taken at our big performance at this drama day camp we went to. And yes, I went to drama day camp. It helped me become the man I am today.

That's when I saw him. My middle and high school rival.

Actually, I never really knew the guy, so I don't know if you can technically call him my rival. No, you know what? Screw that guy. Yeah, he was my rival.

Let's call the guy Chet Goodwin. It's close enough, and have you ever known a good Chet?

He was my age, and took a lot of classes at the place my sister took ballet. This was enough to get me to dislike him, since I had to hang around the boring studio with nothing to do waiting for her after school. Chet was the star of the end of the year performances, at least according to my mom. And I guess he was, since there was a photo of him in among the rest of the pictures of my sister dancing.

"That little Chet Goodwin is a great dancer," she'd say. I didn't care, since at that age and in those homophobic times, dancing was strictly for dillweeds and gaywads,* but it might have bothered my sister.

He was also in the gifted program, like me (my mom was actually the county's gifted teacher, so there might have been some nepotism involved). I got to hear about how smart he was all through middle school.

Somehow my parents kept up with him, even though I think he went to a different high school than I did. I still got to hear about how smart, talented, and well-dressed he was. That last one didn't really bother me. I mean, check out that photo again. I was styling.

I swear my parents got some sort of Chet Goodwin newsletter or something, keeping them abreast of every fascinating thing that stupid kid did. Naturally, I hated him, even though we had never met. For years this guy was held over our heads as the ultimate teenager. I can even vaguely remember yelling out at the dinner table, "Well, why don't you adopt Chet Goodwin," although that could be one of my faulty memories.

As I drove home Christmas afternoon, Chet Goodwin was on my mind again. I hadn't thought of the guy in over 20 years, but now I hated him again as much as I did when I was a teenager.

"I'll bet Chet Goodwin gave his parents a Lexus for Christmas," I fumed. "And is probably with his photogenic and loving family right now cleaning the oil of sick pelicans with their spare hundred dollar bills."

I looked him up on Facebook as soon as I got home. I hoped he was homeless. I was so looking forward to calling my parents.

"Hey, we know some of the same people," I thought. "No relationship status, but kids. Shit, wonder if he got divorced or had a wife who died young? Aw, that sucks."

Maybe it was the lingering Christmas spirit or my concern over his poor dead wife, but I couldn't hate the guy any more. I mean, hadn't he been through enough? Plus, I have more hair, and am probably a better dancer nowadays.

Jealousy is a pretty stupid habit. Even worse is comparing second-hand stories and Facebook profiles to your own life. Everybody has their secret trials and tribulations, and people who you think have it all figured out are frequently as clueless as you are. I mean, poor Chet Goodwin had an imaginary dead wife. I didn't friend the guy or anything, but I did feel a little better putting our one-sided, long-dormant, and forgotten beef to rest.

I still told my parents that he was a homeless crack addict, though.

*These were actual insults at the time. None of the kids who slung them around had any idea what they meant. I still don't. I mean, dillweed?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I forget a lot of stuff. I'm constantly leaving phones, belts, wallets, and lunches at home. Although the lunch thing might be my subconscious mind telling me I make boring lunches and would much rather have a Cuban sandwich.

I've sort of accepted it, telling myself it's the price I pay for constantly have so much on my mind. I mean, you wouldn't yell at Albert Einstein to comb his hair, right? Or tell Isaac Newton to ....patch up his pantaloons or whatever they wore back then.

Like my fellow scientists (hey, library science is a science), the mundane world takes a backseat to my churning mind, which is busy postulating theorems and formulating equations. OK, I'm actually trying to remember the lyrics to Squirrel Bait's "Kid Dynamite" or trying to figure out the best time for a nap, but there's still a lot going on up there.

As stated before, at one point or another I've left just about everything I need at work at home, but I've been able to manage, even if I do have a long day of pulling my pants up because I forgot a belt or have to sacrifice my boring, healthy lunch for a Cuban sandwich.

But I never forgot my pants until this morning.

I was riding my bike for the first time since the Great Jacksonville Blizzard of 2014, and it felt good. Great, actually. I got to ride down a beautiful morning Riverwalk, and didn't even have too many problems with traffic. People were even using their signals!

I got to work early. Things were good.

Until I realized I didn't bring any pants.

Usually I have a whole spare outfit at work for just such an occasion. Just like the Mad Men on the TV. But I had taken everything home for cleaning, which I will never do again.

Crap, I couldn't ride all the way home just to come back to work. That's a whole hour. And I couldn't do that anyway, since I had to be at a senior center in 30 minutes. I was thinking that I might be able to pull it off, since I was wearing my bad weather biking pants, which are sort of like the parachute pants many of you remember from the '80s. If anyone noticed anything, I could just start breakdancing, hopefully leading to a little old lady rapping, which, of course, is comedy gold according to the movies.

I got the city car early and was able to rush home. Strangely, nobody at work noticed I was wearing parachute pants. My pants were exactly where I left them the night before, in a spot right under my messenger bag so I wouldn't forget them.

I didn't get to wow the old people with my breakdancing skills, but I learned an important lesson that morning, a lesson in organization and mindfulness - a reminder to always double check everything before leaving. Of course, I forgot that lesson 8 hours later as I left my phone at work, but I'm sure that I'll be more organized from now on.