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Monday, August 31, 2009

Princess Leia and Kindergarten Redemption

It seems the older I get, the more I can spin silly and pointless stories by weaving the tiny, fine threads of relevancy into a thicker, more industrial strength rope of crap. Since I have been on a back to school kick this past couple of posts I thought I would share a first day of school story from my own life.

I was recently in a conversation with someone about how some schools, nowadays, offer all day kindergarten to students. I was taken aback by this revelation as I was firmly rooted in the mythos that kindergarten was a half day rite of passage for children. That first foray into public education was a small step, to be taken, and not a full gallop into eight hours of instruction. Besides, at the age of five, what can they be teaching kids that takes eight hours? Times have changed, I guess. In my day, I had afternoon class which meant I could sleep in and watch most of The Price is Right before having to be educated in subjects that aren’t as nearly as important as how much denture cleaner costs and should I bid a dollar, confident in everyone else’s inability to understand the actual retail price of a Zenith floor model television set in a fine oak cabinet. These are practices that would not be exercised again until I reached college some 13 years later and could schedule all my classes around this meticulous study of the economy and retail industry.

From the moment I set foot into the viper pit that is the public education system, I knew I needed to choose my path very carefully. I was in a strange land with unfamiliar native mores. I looked around at all the kids playing together and knew that this was something that could make or break me over the next 12 years. I was a little hesitant to jump in right away. Even though I had spent the previous year in preschool, I had reservations about doing this on a daily basis for the next nine months.

In preschool, I was known as a man who could get things. Other kids joined in my reign over the plastic kitchen sets. They would partake in my practical jokes, hurrying back in from recess to hide underneath the tables, in an attempt to confuse the teacher of our whereabouts. Once, I even convinced a friend of mine to help steal another classmate’s sandwich and we flushed it down the toilet. In preschool, I was someone. But in the real world, I was just another kid, like everyone else. And that world was about to get bigger as the one person who knew me was about to leave.

My Mother was getting ready to head for the door and for a moment I thought I could not hack this dreadful experiment. I could feel the knot tighten in my throat and the burning sensation in my eyes. Soon the air was filled with falsetto ranged wails and streams of tears, flowing down the doughy cheeks of a child not wanting to be left behind by his mama. But they were not my tears or my wails that had pierced the atmosphere. Before the first drop could form in the corner of my eye, another child standing a few feet away from me had begun to sob uncontrollably and latched onto his Mother’s leg with a vice like grip. I stood there gawking, not at his performance, but at the reactions of the other children in the room. All forms of play and interaction had ceased. All attention was focused on this child, flailing around at the door. His mother trying to pry his clasped hands from around her thigh, now numb from lack of blood flow. As the minute long exchange took what seemed like hours, we all witnessed the equivalent of the first day for fresh fish in Kindergarten. Somebody always breaks down crying. Happens every time. The only question is, who's it gonna be? It's as good a thing to bet on as any, I guess.

After the spectacle had ended, my Mother looked at me and we both shared a look of understanding. The kind of look that says, “I love you, but I can’t show it right now or I’ll never survive past recess.” She nodded and left. For the next four hours, I would have to fend for myself in this uncharted territory. An explorer in a foreign world of sand boxes, story times, and milk and cookie lunches. I figured I better make friends fast or I will be swallowed up by the system. Another casualty of social calcification, doomed to a lifestyle unfit outside these walls.

I scanned the room for someone I could interact with and not be dismissed as weak and inferior. This small towheaded boy sat on the other side of the room and I struck up a conversation. He was a rather quiet but cordial kid named Richie. We became friends that first week of Kindergarten. On the playground we took to imagining ourselves in the Star Wars universe. I was, of course, Han Solo and he was my loyal Wookie companion, Chewbacca. The merry go round was our Millennium Falcon and the slide that stood nearby served as The Death Star, with it steps on either side, an arched ladder in the back, and a space underneath to hold an imaginary Princess Leia. We made various attacks on that slide in many offensive campaigns against the Empire, which were real girls, at that age, always returning to the merry go round in victory after freeing the invisible Princess. Those were definitely the greatest days of my early scholastic career. Soon those days, like many in my youth would be over, converting to a sepia toned flash of synaptic nostalgia.

One night, a fire had broke out at Richie’s home and they had ended up moving away. I never heard from or saw him again after that. He faded into the tapestry of my mind and serves as a small, but bright stitch on a much larger and faded canvas of memories. I have no idea where he is in this world but I still remember the days of him gurgling out a passable bark as Chewbacca. His own voice, used so little in our conversations, is gone from my recollection.

There have been times when I have visited my parents’ home, nestled among the trees on the ridge overlooking my old Elementary school. I would stand on the edge of their yard, near sunset, looking down at that same playground that served as my “Long long ago in a galaxy far, far away” nearly three decades prior. The playground equipment still stands, however, standing on the edge of the merry go round, today, would invariable spin the metal plate off its axis, grinding it into the concrete slab beneath it. With my 30 years of growth, attempting to fit myself underneath the slide would result in needing the jaws of life or a really good can opener to extract me from my confinement. Those relics of recess past were better left seen at a distance in the pristine condition I could make out with my strained eyesight. Getting closer would reveal the Monet-like painted truths, rusted and worn and in places missing paint. Those chips could probably be found in the stomach contents of a small child enrolled in the school or a thirty-four year old, suffering from acute lead neuropathy.

In any case I hope my friend is out there, somewhere, doing fine. I hope one day I can shake his hand. I hope I can tell him that the continued missions of Han Solo in those days, minus Chewbacca, were victorious yet not as fun without him. I hope.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Great Back to School Movies

It’s not a complete list like EW did for the 25 Greatest High School films of all time of all time but it’s some of my personal favorites and other cheese ball goodies for those of us 80s bred HBO junkies.

Yep, I’m phoning this list in with no long drawn out commentary. Sorry. It’s the weekend.

Back to School
Rodney Dangerfield’s finest performance. Zabka in College. The Triple Lindy. Excellent.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The King of 80s Pop Culture, John Hughes, will be missed more than we have really let on at this time. How to cut school and get more of an education and not get caught.

Real Genius
College bound Freshmen should be required to watch this if they are thinking of any technical or engineering programs, because who doesn’t want to try and perfect the Space Laser Cooked Popcorn trick…since Mythbusters proved it busted.

Karate Kid
Outsider, new kid in school, Zabka, Miyagi-do karate, wax on wax off, 80s montage at a fun park. YES!

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Learn it, know it, live it…..and lock the bathroom door.

Sixteen Candles
Technically, not a back to school type movie. In fact, I found it rather odd that a wedding took place in the suburbs of Chicago during the school year and the weather was extremely nice. So, that puts it closer to summer but who cares….the donger needs food.

Breakfast Club
Another list on another blog post. I must be stalking this film…

Some Kind of Wonderful
Pretty in Pink for the rest of us realists.

3 O’Clock High
Only a handful of people will probably admit to have watched this multiple times. Casey Siesmaszko, Richard Tyson, Jeffrey Tambor and a pre X-Files Mitch Pileggi all can be seen in this day in the life of a teenager headed for a fight in the parking lot after touching the new kid.

Here is a school that self-destructed not because society didn't care but because the school was society. Or at least that’s what was supposed to happen.

The Faculty
For all of us who looked at our teachers like they were aliens…here’s a slick little number from the director of From Dusk till Dawn and Planet Terror, written by the guy who wrote Scream and Dawson’s Creek, and starring Frodo, Jean Grey, The T-1000, Santanico Pandemonium, and that guy from the Daily Show…

Pump Up the Volume
Underground radio before the days of the Internet. They shy introvert who hides behind a microphone and a pirate signal. Was Not Was, The Pixies, Bad Brains, Descendents, Henry Rollins, and a slew of other punk and alternative music before it was trendy and a sell out.

American Pie
Thanks to Harold er John Cho, the word Milf entered into the lexicon of dirty minded teenagers. Thanks to Jason Biggs, apple pie was never safe again.

Varsity Blues and Friday Night Lights
For some towns, high school football is like church. Friday night is as revered as Sunday. Varsity Blues is the MTV version of Friday Night Lights choosing to focus more on the kids lives instead of the impact of football on the town and the adults who love it so much.

Plain Clothes
As far as plot devices go, the cop or adult pretending to be a student was done a lot in the 80s. 21 Jump Street, Hiding Out, and the lesser known Plain Clothes with Arliss Howard, Suzi Amis, and George Wendt.

Jeremy Piven, Jon Favreau, David Spade, and George Clinton. The Pit, the Balls and Shaft club. The complete disregard for conformity among college students. Awesome.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Waxing Scholastic

Welcome back, kids. Welcome back to the world of cliques, and tests, and general apathy for anything coming from a text book.

I never really minded going back to school as a kid. I mean, it did suck that the summer was over and as I got older, the summer seemed to go by quicker and quicker. But I never felt the dread some kids felt going back to school in the Fall. Maybe it was the time of year. After all, high school football was starting up and I had been actively attending the games, in a service role, since I was nine or ten. My dad was/is a member of the Lions Club International, in my hometown, and they were responsible for concessions at the games. On Friday nights, I’d be at the game, pouring pop drinks, making cotton candy and popcorn. When half time rolled around it was usually a cue for us kids to get out of the way, due to the extremely busy flow of customers and our smaller stature being more of a hindrance than a help. At this time, I’d go watch the half time shows.

In high school, I was a drummer in the marching band and attended every game in uniform. During these years, school started two weeks early, for me, as we had to go to band camp every day. Now, you can make any joke you want, but the drummers were the rebels and usually got into more trouble than most kids. In fact, I can remember one poor chaperone, who is the father of one of my oldest and dearest friends, being a good sport in the wake of our antics having been saddled with us misfits. So, for that, I have to give a shout out to Big Daddy D in Memphis. At least he had no knowledge of the Black Velvet Cooler on the bus.

Unfortunately, after high school, I only attended one game and really didn’t pay much attention. I was home on Fall break and more interested in seeing my girlfriend at the time after being away for three months. I lost track of things after that. I grew up and was spending more and more time at college.

But then college ended, too. That’s when you get the real wake up call. For any kid who bitches and moans about having to get up for that first day of school, just remember, in a few years you’re going to have to get up every day for work. There is no three months vacation and if you’re lucky, you will still get off on the weekends. Savor these days.

In fact, I miss those days. Last week, I had to drive down to Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh and took a route through my old stomping grounds at the University of Pittsburgh. Long story, short, my Mother in Law had her first round of chemo treatment and didn’t react very well. She got admitted over the weekend and this particular Friday night, my wife parked her car in valet parking which closed before she was ready to leave, prompting me to come rescue her. We managed to get the car out of the garage but she had to follow me home by a different route since we were afraid the Parkway East was closed for construction.

Driving through campus brought me back 10 years into my mind, but the landscape had drastically changed. Gone was The Pit, a small black box theater just down the street from the Litchfield Towers and The O. Gone was the parking lot between Hillman and Carnegie Libraries, replaced with Schenley Plaza, a small five acre park that has a carousel operating between April and October. Still there are the memories of descending onto campus in late August and into the bowels of the parking garage beneath the dorms with thousands of other residents. Each one of us, fighting tooth and nail for a big yellow cart, had to haul our belongings up to the tiny antiquated dorm rooms overlooking the streets of Oakland. At night, we lie in our rooms, listening to the cars zipping along Forbes and Fifth Avenue. Above us, the sky thumped with the sounds of Life Flight heading to one of the many hospitals on campus.

While most of my friends moved off campus, I stayed for all four and a half semesters that I attended Pitt. There was something about living on campus that felt right. Being close to everything was part of my plan. My dorm was my bedroom and the rest of campus was the rest of the house. Rent would have been ridiculous, especially for the dilapidated, run down, slums of Oakland that were passed off as acceptable housing to us students. Not to mention having to pay and lose security deposits every year as well as having more stuff to move in and out. I could make it through the entire school year off of what would fit in the bed of my Dad’s truck.

Oh, to be a student again, without the responsibilities of adulthood would be great. I could stand going to class again, instead of work. I could tolerate being up until two in the morning if I didn’t have to be up four hours later. I could stomach eating campus food from the cafĂ© if I didn’t have to worry about what I ate as I have neither the metabolism nor digestive system anymore to handle O Fries and beer on a Friday night.

However, I know one thing that has changed, since I graduated, that would doom me if I were in my 20s, again. When I was in college, we didn’t have Facebook and MySpace and Twitter like we do now. We had just begun to get Internet access in the dorms when I first enrolled and even then it was a phone line that prevented you from getting calls to your room. If you forgot to put your phone on voice mail, you ran the risk of getting booted off the phone line. Back then, I had to pay seven cents for every call to the computer lab. Ethernet access wasn’t available for another year or two. Still, the greatest thing we had to distract us from studying was a few chat rooms online.

But now, I could see myself shirking homework to make sure I helped my friends on Mafia Wars or waited for crops to be ready for harvesting. I would spend countless hours chatting with friends and wouldn’t care that I had a huge paper due in Philosophy. With the Internet the juggernaut that it is today, I would surely be doomed to fail or at least squeak by with a 2.0 GPA as I would rather have been on YouTube watching cats play piano and God knows what would have happened if I would have had a WoW account?

All of the coolest gadgets and technology that came about in the last five years are dedicated to the demographic who can take advantage of it, the high school and college student. Of course, I would have really abused it by using Twitter and Facebook to coordinate cheating on tests and with cell phone cameras, I could have probably made a small fortune by attending and filming classes with the intent of putting them online for students who had better things to do. I would have even gone to classes I wasn’t signed up for in order to maximize my earnings.

Ten years ago, had I known what I do now, I could have easily made money on eBay through various questionable means and my shirt shop on CaféPress would have been a good investment in order to make some side money. Fifty bucks a month today is nothing, now, but to a 20 year old, I would have been the collegiate equivalent of Bill Gates. As it was, I never had a full time job until after I graduated. I only worked during the summers which had to last me the other nine months of the year.

So, welcome back students. Hit the books, live it up and remember a good education isn’t always found in the classroom. That’s why I’m here. Call me Mongo the Tank.

P.S. You can get any of the designs you see here at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! the store.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

G4 isn’t good enough 4 Goonies

Summer for those of us in Southwestern Pennsylvania has been a huge disappointment. The weather has been extremely unseasonable. It’s either been cold and rainy or moderately warm…and rainy. To that end, weekends have been a real bummer at the Mongo household. We would like to enjoy the new pool before we close it in September or it tips over and washes out the neighbors who live below us, whichever comes first. Of course, my yard does not get a lot of direct sunlight thanks to the four trees, two oaks and two maples, that sit at each of the four corners of yard that is somewhat level.

What all this means is that this past Sunday I opted to stay in, my butt firmly placed in the already established indentation on the seat of my recliner, and kick back with some old school DVD selections. As I was returning from getting some much needed Bob Evans Blueberry Stuffed Pancakes, my mind thumbed through the mental listings of movies I had at home. There was Tron, which is always good for a dismal Sunday and is heading into sequel land next year. There was The Goonies, which is just about near perfect on a rainy day. Or, as a last resort, there was Tango & Cash, a classic tale of two action heroes of the 80s learning to put aside their differences in order to work for the greater good. I say that with loving sarcasm as it ranks somewhere near the bottom of my Top Ten guilty pleasures on film.

Now, as any Mongo faithful will attest, what I should have done is go through and watch the stupid 96% of used space on my DVR. This would have been more productive as the Fall Season is right around the corner and I haven’t even seen where Izzie has a tumor or that Callie is in a relationship with Dr. Erica “It puts the lotion in the basket” Hahn. But, that is something I have to do, not something I want to do. I still have a couple of days before my crops are ready to harvest in FarmTown, so my plate of irresponsibility is empty.

When I got home, to my joy, I found that on G4 The Goonies was starting at 5pm. At 7pm, Tango & Cash was showing on ION. Oh, how fortuitous. I can watch one of these and not have to go downstairs and rifle through my DVDs. This act ultimately leads to that DVD being migrated to a different level of the house and not being returned to its proper place for six months. So, with my choices already laid out, before me, on digital cable, I have an optimal solution for slacktitude already in place.

If I haven’t explained in countless passages of self indulgent drivel, I simply love The Goonies. Forget the bad acting. Forget some of the bad staging of fights, namely the scene where Martha Plimpton punches Anne Ramsey on the gang plank of One Eyed Willie’s ship resulting in Anne’s hand coming up to her cheek in reaction before Stef’s hand “connects” with her face. Simply bask in the Goonie Goodness that is a coming of age treasure hunt done wonderfully by the man who brought you E.T. and Indiana Jones and the guy who directed Superman The Movie and the best parts of Superman II. The movie stands as a Regan era film in which kids talk and act like adults in the face of mortal danger and general bumbling silliness on the parts of what little part adults serve in the story.

Settling into my recliner, I mentally spoke the lines as they occurred on screen. I have this film mostly memorized and could talk countless hours about it, debating its importance in American cinema while simultaneously speaking for and against a sequel being made, now nearly 25 years later. I am after all a movie snob without pretense and a traditionalist in the discussion of wide screen over full screen. However, I do concede that I should have just got my lazy ass out of my chair and grabbed the DVD because what happened next was more of a travesty than what Madonna did to Don McClean in 2000, covering "American Pie".

Now, I understand that due to the language of the film and the fact that you need to fit in all those pesky commercials, the film has to be edited from its original format. That is a given. But to slap dash edit the film in such a way as to butcher not only the continuity of the storyline but the flow of such a tale was a downright injustice to my childhood. Notably missing was most of the dialogue between Mrs. Walsh, Mouth, and Rosalita describing the housekeeping chores in which Mouth translates all of Mrs. Walsh’s instructions into Spanish, misleading Rosalita into believing there are drugs separated in different clothes drawers, “Always separate the drugs, kids” and various torture devices in the attic.

From then on the movie was like a train wreck that I couldn't stop watching. I was caught somewhere in the realm of disgust and morbid curiosity. No scene depicting The Goonies attempts at contacting the surface by banging on the pipes underneath the Country Club. No additional scene depicting Chunk and Sloth finding the shaking pipes and audio gag following Sloth’s attempt to fix the situation. No discussion on the finer points of Martin Sheen playing President Kennedy while underneath the old Moss Garden Wishing Well. No pee break or snogging between a pubescent Mikey and curiously attractive cheerleader Andie. One of the biggest omissions was the water slide scene which was cut down to about five seconds, totally destroying the thrill of including those sets and action that took place on them.

Honestly, the editing was so bad it was like watching 30 unrelated scenes pasted together with no thought or relevant transitions. G4 should be ashamed for touting this movie as “Movies That Don’t Suck” fare for the geek masses that make up the channel’s demographic. Anyone who sits through this and likes it, without having previously seen the full, uncut version, should be taken out and made to do the truffle shuffle naked, in a snow storm.

I should have known better than to trust an entity like G4. The channel has fallen far from its geek roots. They have done away with such cool shows as Cinematech and Cheat!, which is now been reduced to a small segment of X-Play. Instead they are playing such drivel as Cheaters and a failed attempt to incorporate Star Trek with chat crawls called Star Trek 2.0.

From now on, my laziness will not be a factor in my…laziness of shirking other responsibilities to watch a movie I’ve seen literally thousands of times. I will get up and walk to my DVD library, pull out my own personal copy of The Goonies and watch it the way it was meant to be watched. Then, I will thumb through the extra features and watch both videos for Cindy Lauper’s “The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" staring Cindy, some of film’s cast, various wrestlers from the good old days of the WWF, and a set of female pirates played by the yet unknown, Bangles (see Susanna Hoffs infatuation.) If I’m in a rather saucy mood, I will watch the deleted octopus scene. If I still had a tape player in my car or a working Walkman and a bike, I ride throughout my neighborhood blasting the first and last song from the soundtrack, which I own on cassette, because that’s just how I roll.

So, I shall leave you to your own thoughts over the gang from the goondocks with a little song by The Atari's called, "So Long Astoria." It provides just the right mix of nihilistic nostalgia and allusions to the movie set upon your own childhood backdrop. And if you are listening Hollywood, don't you dare touch this one. G4 did a huge disservice to pop culture. Don't you dare screw it up by making some piss poor sequel. I won't allow it. Because this is my dream, my wish. And I'm taking it back. I'm taking them all back.

It was the first snow of the season
i can almost see you breathin
in the middle of that empty street

Sometimes i still see myself
in that lonesome bedroom
playin my guitar
and singing songs of hope
for a better future

life is


as good as the memories we make
and i'm taking back what belongs to me
polaroids of classrooms unattended
these relics of remembrance
are just like shipwrecks
only theyre gone faster
than the smell after it rains

last night while everyone was sleepin
i drove through my old neighborhood
and resurrected memories from ashes

we said that we would never fit in
we were really just like them
does rebellion ever make a difference

life is


as good as the memories we make
and im taking back what belongs to me
polaroids of classrooms unattended
these relics of remembrance
are just like shipwrecks
only theyre gone faster
than the smell after it rains

So long astoria
i found a map to buried treasure
and even if we come home empty handed
well still have our stories
of battle scars, pirate ships and wounded hearts,
broken bones, and all the best of friendships

and when this hourglass
has filtered outits final grain of sand
i raise my glass to the memories we had
this is my wish
this is my wish
im takin back
im takin them all back

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mongo in Motion

Come along with me on a trip. It won’t take…too long. It’s kind of like the Great Space Coaster, but with no giant fish skeletons or talking wildebeests. We’re going to go back to a time when Mongo could see his toes and had all of his hair the same color, the 80s.

I don’t know what it is but I’ve kind of become self reflective on my childhood since John Hughes died. I started designing a bunch of fake 80s school/college shirts for my shop. I really dipped into that well a lot to keep up with the idea that school starts up in a week or so. In any case, one of the ideas that came to me lead to a fake promotional shirt for Quicksilver Messenger service. Because, after all, what’s 80s nostalgia without a single degree of Kevin Bacon?

That got me to thinking, though, about my youth. When I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere. I had a paper route and did all my delivering by bike. The only times I did not was during the snowy winter months, when grass was not available to travel upon, and when I turned 17. At that point, I dropped my bike, all together, and drove my 1984 Pontiac Firebird. But prior to turning 16 or 17, my main mode of transportation was a bike. Unfortunately, it is a practice I have gotten out of doing and quite frankly, I could use the exercise. However, I live on a hill and I don’t really much want to ride my bike up a hill, so for now, the only pedals my feet will touch are the brake and gas in my Maxx or Sunfire POS.

As a small child, my main mode of transportation was my Spider-Man big wheel. It was like my mid life crisis convertible. I adored that thing. Then, one evening, my Mom had to move my Dad’s truck in the driveway and wasn’t aware that my big wheel was directly behind it. She backed up over top of my beloved big wheel and rolled it. It never was the same after that. It didn’t go as fast because the plastic wheel had been bent slightly enough to catch on the frame. The seat was now cracked, causing me to lean back a little more, which was uncomfortable. It also was a little lopsided in peddling.

For as much as I am a childhood advocate of riding a bike, I was a late adopter of the practice. I was actually seven before I really took to riding a bicycle. I remember for my first communion I got a black Huffy bike with the bread loaf seat and number plate with a big old ten that quickly got discarded. However, I had not been taught how to ride one yet so it sat on my porch for a couple of years. Meanwhile, my father made the attempt to teach me how to ride a bike by packing up my brother’s white and orange banana seat version and driving up to the local ball field.

We’d go up on evenings before sunset and he would start me out in the dirt infield. I would simply get a push and be off in concentric circles around the pitcher’s mound for about seven to ten minutes or until I fell down, whichever came first. After awhile I got pretty good. In fact, if I do say so myself, if bike riding was like NASCAR driving I would be the king of the leader board as I made only left turns for an entire summer on that ball field.

But my father worked and had other responsibilities during certain times and he couldn’t be there to help me push off from a dead stop. Eventually, I just started doing it myself out of necessity and on asphalt, no less. After a few bumps and bruises I finally got the hang of it and was riding my bike all over the neighborhood like Forest Gump running all over the U.S. However, I had a set of boundaries with my bike. I lived on the main road in my town and spanning that road were streets numbered nine through twelve. I was allowed within the grid of those streets running North to South and a three street perimeter running East to West with my house in the middle. I also had to be home when the street lights came on in the evening. That was a neighborhood wide rule in my town.

That didn’t deter me, though. I managed to pull off the biggest, super secret ninja mission ever in the history of kids behaving badly with their bikes. My friend Marc and I would push those parent set boundaries at the age of eight. We effectively crossed that line in the sand when we set out to ride our bikes to the Dari Chef for some ice cream. With our pockets filled to the brim with loose change, we attempted to traverse Route 119 and head up the road to the ice cream shop, nearby. Starting out from the Kingdom Hall on the edge of our preset boundary, we immediately crossed the highway and then made the treacherous climb up the hill to the plaza that contained the Dari Chef, Village Grocer, and Village Baker stores. The Dari Chef was the local version of a Dairy Queen and as kids we all loved it, especially on a hot day after a little league game.

Now, It may have only been a half a mile from my house to the store, but for two eight year olds, travelling by bike, uphill, along a busy highway, it was like sneaking into Mordor. First of all, we were not even supposed to be on this side of the highway, let alone this far up it. Still, we savored the taste of soft serve ice cream even more because this was against the rules for us.

For years, my parents never knew we had embarked on such a perilous journey. It wasn’t until I was old enough to legally drink that I ever divulged my super secret mission for ice cream. My friend, however, wasn’t so lucky. One of his parents’ friends recognized him at the store and had mentioned to his Mother that he was there. He was grounded for a week. But in true BFF fashion he never gave me up as an accomplice. I automatically assumed that she figured I was involved, as we were, after all, best friends. However, I had that charmed childhood where I envisioned these grand schemes for world domination and enlisted my friends to help me execute them.

As I moved onto new ones, the wreckage laid behind me was riddled with the various groundings and spanked bottoms of my friends who were patsies in my schemes. They took the fall as mastermind while I worked like Emperor Palpatine behind the scenes, pulling the strings. I was the Angel child, who could do no wrong, though my parents knew better. And I too will be prepared when it comes time for my child to begin riding a bike. I will probably have to low jack it or she will be halfway to Rita’s Italian Ice two cities away before I realize the loose change on my dresser has been pilfered.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rejection Is Not a Four Letter Word

This is a response to a great article from NPR. Rejection Is A Fact Of Life. Employers, Do It Right!

Quick summary. The author’s teenage son applied for an internship to which after he never received a rejection letter.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been rejected before. I know you must find it surprising to hear that with all this talent and charisma, someone like The Mongo, who, besides pretentiously referring to himself in the third person, has been rejected. It’s true. I’ve been rejected more times than I care to remember.

Now, that’s not to say that rejection is a bad thing. Quite the contrary, rejection is grist for the mill. The moment you accept rejection as a final answer is the moment you fail. Of course, I’m not telling you to keep asking for acceptance when rejected. It is certainly a case by case basis. Persistence can lie somewhere just below stalking. Sometimes you have to know when someone is rejecting you for the right reasons and move on with your life.

But back to me, because it’s all about me, right? Rejection is an old friend of mine and sometimes I wonder why he hasn’t called sometimes. I mean there have been countless times in the past when I have applied for some job and never received a response. Worse yet, when you get an interview and then you never hear from someone again, that can be a little worrisome. Was I supposed to call them? Did they try to call me and I missed them? If you become too self involved with the job hunting process you could end up being Jon Favreau in Swingers. You get a little glimmer of hope, like an interview, or even a second interview and then you begin calling and calling, leaving countless messages with the company that become more erratic with each instance. Soon, the company has blocked your number. If they would have just told you the moment your application became an afterthought you could have regrouped or applied somewhere else or even just decided to go in a different direction.

I can only begin to imagine the reasons for not contacting someone in regards to their application. It might be because they have to wait until the position is filled to contact those candidates that were not chosen. It might be an automated process within an HR recruiting application that spits out a list of tasks associated with applicants not being considered. There might be some underlying bureaucracy that hangs the position out to dry and until it is finalized they cannot contact all interested parties. Both cases offer a different reason for prolonging the inevitable but when a position hangs out in the HR aether for over a year because a suitable candidate has not yet been found, I think it should be safe to contact the “also ran” crowd and let them know they can exhale.

I have also been rejected as an artist. I’ve gone on countless tirades about how CafePress moves one of my images into pending status with either no explanation or one that is contradictory to why another, similar, design is considered allowable. Frankly, this is more about principle than about being right or wrong. I accept, wholeheartedly, that there are some designs that should be flagged, but at least be consistent about it. That’s all the page space I’ll devote to that abused expired equine.

I’ve certainly been rejected in love, many, many times. Yet I have come to accept that it only put me on a better path to where I am now. There’s no way to know what might have been had another woman accepted my affections, without the use of a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts of power, but that could create a huge paradox and unravel the fabric of the space time continuum. Of course, but making that previous statement you have the answer as to why there is no need to wonder what might have been. Regardless, it wasn’t the right time or place for that to occur. There have been plenty of “Let’s Just Be Friends” moments in my life and a few cases of uncontrollable laughter that followed such declarations of feelings but one thing has always remained true. I’ve never found myself so distraught that I could not get up in the morning after being rejected. Rejection is a part of love as well as life and it should be embraced.

I’ve also been rejected as a writer, too. This must come as a complete shocker to you as part of the “reader elite” that makes up the average 20 hits I get per day. Just in case this isn’t coming across, this post is heavily laced with sarcasm. After all, I’m topical, humorous, grammatically proficient, and quite honestly engaging and worthy of a good read. But on four occasions I’ve had a screenplay rejected. The first one came in 1996. I submitted a screenplay directly to MGM. However, they sent it back unopened with a letter stating that they do not accept individually solicited screenplays. What did I know, I was 21 and thought I had a killer idea. I also believed that if I mailed myself a copy of the script, that was as good as a copyright. I was mostly wrong, on both parts.

The other three occasions came from the a screenplay I submitted three times as part of those Project Greenlight contests that happened back in the front five of this decade. In this case, a screenwriter submitted a piece of work and had to review and judge other pieces. Then a selection of the best pieces based on votes from other screenwriters would send a script to the next round where a panel of judges in the industry would narrow it down further. The winner would get their screenplay produced into a film with a budget of one million dollars. In the first two instances the winners came up shy of box office totals that exceeded their budget. According to my own suspicions I felt that the early judging process was a little slanted. In order to win, most people are going to trash other people’s work to give theirs a higher score. The actual percentage of objective critiquing going on there was probably small.

In my own house, I get rejected a lot, too. My gut feeling to do more work on leveling out the yard before putting up the pool was rejected in favor or getting the sucker up before the summer was over. Not that we’ve had a lot of great days to go swimming this last two months of summer. It’s been unseasonably cold and wet. However, there, in my yard stands a monstrosity that is 16 feet round and four feet deep…on one end. It’s also moving as the support pools are leaning to one side.

I’ve also been rejected on a lot of ideas I’ve had for how to get things done. My wife and I try to work together to accomplish goals like cleaning the house, running errands to the store, or general care of our two year old. Yet, we always seem to tackle these jobs together in the same space but with different approaches. I’ve constantly told her, “Let’s split up and tackle these simultaneously. I’ll go to the store, you stay here and give the baby a bath” or vice versa. Still, she feels compelled to go as a group into the fray and usually there is bickering and trampling of each other’s toes.

In every instance that I’ve ever been rejected it stings. A lot of times it pisses me right off to no end. But rejection is there to balance things out and keep you grounded. I’ve spoken before about how I detest the trend among community sponsored sports where there is no sense of failure. Soccer games that have no score and other sports where everyone gets to play and no one fails. Now, I can understand that to a three year old, failure is a rather moot concept and giving kids a sense of accomplishment is a good thing. So is a sense of reality for that matter. Kids need to know about failure. Kids need to understand that, in life, you can’t always get what you want. It’s going to get a lot tougher out there and the sooner they are able to process rejection and move on they will be able to not let it be a detriment to their character or persistence.

My kid fails on a regular basis. She falls down, clunks her head and cries. We kiss it and make it better and she goes on about her business. She constantly wants to take more stuffed animals in her crib with her at night and we tell her no. She gets a little upset and even goes into shut down mode which involves throwing herself on the floor in a crying heap. Eventually, she gets over it and goes to bed without further incident. She got rejected, processed it, and moved on to another thing.

So, the next time you get rejected think of it as a little more fuel for the engine in your spirit. Of course, I say that and I feel that my engine isn’t getting as good of mileage from rejection as it used to. Perhaps there is a program like Cash For Clunkers when it comes to rejection. If anyone actually read my work or shared it with others or even donated to the cause or bought a shirt that would be nice. Nope? Rejected again. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bride and Prejudice

I wrote this out in my head on a synaptic cocktail napkin while attending my cousin’s wedding in York, PA. I had planned a whole series on weddings involving tips and other anecdotes for couples looking to get married but decided against it in favor of a little advice and wisdom to my two year old who is dancing with her cousin to a God awful Dance House remix version of Journey's “Don’t Stop Believing.”

I know. It’s blasphemous. I expected more from a DJ chosen by a couple who first met at a hardcore punk concert called, “Kill Your Idols” and now culminated their courtship by entering into the reception hall to Joey Ramone’s cover of “What a Wonderful World.” While the bride and her attendants were more traditional, the guys donned red Chucks to match their red ties.

Song and shoe selections, aside, I have only a few pieces of Fatherly wisdom for my little one as I dread the years to come that will be filled with boys and men and headaches and heartaches. If only I could lock her away until she’s 30. Undoubtedly, being my child, she’ll be able to figure a way out using a bobby pin and a duct tape.

First off, little one, as I refer to her in the blogosphere, elope. We’ll give you the money from the wedding to start off on your new life together or at least put a sizable down payment on a house.
Weddings have been done to death. You spend a lot of money and time trying to find all the pieces to this ornate puzzle and it all gets ruined by some weird thing. Not to mention you don’t even get to enjoy the day because you are being pulled in so many different directions that when all is said and done, you don’t even remember those pictures of you being taken. Go, get married on a beach or in a small ceremony and enjoy a nice time alone. These days, weddings are more a show for family and friends than they are about commemorating an event. If you are dead set on a ceremony then fine, but if there is a hint of doubt, I’ll try my best to save you and that boy the anguish of all that planning gone to waste.

If you do plan on going through with a ceremony, do it in the early to mid Fall. Everyone and their sister gets married in the summer. It’s hard enough trying to schedule everything as it is, having to deal with the peak wedding season is ridiculous. Also, it’s freaking hot, although the Summer of 2009 panned out to be unseasonably cool and wet. If you wait until Fall you get cooler temperatures and better colors with the foliage. That is if you plan on getting married around here. The wedding we were just at was at a place called Lauxmont Farms in Wrightsville, PA. It was a beautiful reception in their Rotunda but at three hours away, we were ready to make you walk home after being a little cranky for two straight days.

Don’t get hung up on the details. Before you know it the deal is done and you don’t remember any of it, anyway. Hell, I remember going through the whole ceremony only to suddenly forget my left from my right when it came time to put the rings on. I handed your mother the wrong hand and she didn’t even think twice about it. It wasn’t until we went down to hand the flowers to both sets of parents that my Father laughingly whispered into my ear, “ You’ve got the ring on the wrong hand, genius.” I covered but if he noticed, I’m sure someone else did.

Let’s just realize that bridesmaid’s dresses are perhaps the ugliest thing in the world no matter how you slice it. Again, I bring you back to point one as it is a stupid dress that no one will ever wear after the wedding day. You can’t take them back and you can’t resell them because who in their right mind would want such an ugly dress. So, just remember, you are the star and you don’t need to make everyone else around you look worse by dressing them in loud colors with unflattering angles.

Go on your honeymoon and don’t skimp. Your Mother and I opted to try and be a little frugal by going to Niagara Falls for four days since we were a month from Christmas. She spent most of the time sick as a dog in bed and the weather was cold in Canada in November….go figure. It’s been five years and since you came along, the odds of us being able to go on that official honeymoon I promised her are about as good as your Grandmother actually having that yard sales she keeps saying she’ll have. Honestly, my mother has loads of boxes in the garage labeled “Yard Sale” They’ve lived in that house 25 years and those boxes were from 20 years ago.

Lastly, do me a favor and marry someone you can feel comfortable with before you get married. Realize that while 50% of marriages may end in divorce, a good percentage of the ones that do survive do so out of fear of being a statistic. Settling for someone is never an answer and anything that you find intolerable as a couple before you get married won’t change afterwards. Men and women go through life letting their parents’ set the tone for how they perceive a partner. “You have to train a man.” “Remember, he’s dumb and doesn’t get it.” “You’re the one who is really in charge.” “Women are too concerned with the little things.” “Women shop and aren’t very smart about things.” These are stereotypes that are a product of all us growing up in the shadow of our parents. While your Mother and I are not exactly carbon cutouts of our parents, I believe we got the best parts and will try to at least pass that onto you. Just remember, it’s easy to get married, it’s hard to stay that way.

So, as I sit here watching you twirl around on your toes to this horrible version of a beloved classic I am saddened that someday you will grow up and you will get married. Although, I’ll be happy that you’ve found someone to love and that loves you, the sting of being replaced as the man in your life will hurt all the same, if not more. I can only hope that we can teach you well in this world and that you find that one person that gets you and can make you happy. My parting advice is this. Treat each other with respect, be friends first then lovers, and for the sake of all involved, don’t subject us to the Electric Slide.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fill Your Lungs With Thought

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It takes a moment to breathe and a lifetime to exhale. Sometimes you wonder if it will ever be enough to just exist in the space between disasters. We pride ourselves on our ability to organize and get things done in a timely manner but those seconds slip away when chaos rears her lovely head up into your world. We want things faster, smaller and cheaper but we don’t have the time to enjoy a good, night time read with our children. We worry ourselves over the most trivial of problems, not recognizing that poverty and illness do not just live outside our borders but on our streets and in our communities. Why is it never enough to get through the day with a sense of accomplishment over a job well done instead of worrying “Was today my last day?”

We live for sound bites and 280 characters when the expanded version of the written word can be so much more enlightening and enjoyable. Technology has done little to free up our time and instead enslaves us to a new gadget or format. We create bigger gaps in our physical interactions and rely on social networks and texting to communicate with abbreviations, acronyms, and slang.

We maintain and hardly correct or fix things.

We patch and upgrade when we should redesign and rethink.

We’ve filled in the edges of the map but haven’t gone back and looked at things we've already discovered from different perspectives.

We crave attention but hide behind anonymity.

There is a shoe somewhere, ready to drop. The sword is precariously dangled o’er heads.

We look down not up.

Efficiency is a sometimes a cleaner word for cheap and done by someone else.

We cannot enjoy. We selectively surrender.

We cannot expand. We must consolidate.

We cannot think. We must be told.

We cannot breathe. We must prepare.

We cannot move forward. We must go back.

We cannot forget. We must recall.

We cannot destroy. We must create.

We cannot threaten. We must encourage.

We cannot cut corners. We must explore.

We cannot close off. We must invite.

We can change. We cannot settle.

We can plan. We cannot assume.

We can assure. We cannot promise.

We can discover. We cannot discard.

We can recover. We cannot recondition.

We can relearn. We cannot cheat.

We can win. We cannot quit.

We can begin.

We can find the answers to any problem if we only share it with others. We can listen to what others have to say, no matter how hard it is to hear. We can open our eyes and see that we are all in this together. This is what it is supposed to be like if you let it. This can be some kind of wonderful. The times of thinking only of ourselves have got to stop, but the time to rely on others has just begun. This is our time…down here. This is to be our finest hour. This will only take a minute. This is not better than you. But you are better than this. Let in the fear for five seconds and then make a decision. It takes seconds to speak but a lifetime to regret.

This is today.

This is now.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Michael Jackson Tribute Album

I am so sorry. I’ve let nearly a whole month and a half go by without talking about Michael Jackson… What kind of sensationalist blogger am I to have let this dead horse go unbeaten?

Actually, I’ve had this post in the works now since the week Michael died. I thought that because of his death, Michael’s album sales would skyrocket and I was right. I also thought that because of his debt, existing albums alone would not be able to cover the costs so there needed to be some other way for the bills to be paid. Concert promoters, from his cancelled tour, will probably recoup their costs by selling footage of rehearsals and trying to establish the already purchased tickets as memorabilia that should be kept instead of refunded. But what about Michael’s children…and Bubbles for that matter. Somehow, I don’t see the chimp getting a job as a maid to pay the bills. This of course came from the interview, in which Michael stated that Bubbles helped him clean and read up his bedroom.

Anyway, to make a long story into a full length music video about dancing zombies, I began thinking about covers. MJ has had such an influence and impact on the music industry that somewhere, out there, artists are itching to cover some of his greatest hits. Why not produce and sell a compilation album of all Michael’s greatest hits, covered by popular artists or even ones that he influenced? All proceeds could go to settling his estate and taking care of any loose ends left untied by the performer’s death.

Now, covering Michael’s songs is nothing new. Mariah Carey did the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” in 1993 and Alien Ant Farm had a hit with “Smooth Criminal" at the beginning of the decade. What about other songs?

I present to you a Mongo’s eye view of what I envision as a tribute album. As always, your experience may differ. Any suggestions or changes are open to discussion.

Maroon 5 - "Smooth Criminal"
Yes, AAF already did it almost seven years ago, but this is a different arrangement. Think jazzy. Think bluesy. Think dark lounge with the tinkling of ice and bourbon in glasses. Think about Adam Levine slowly singing those lyrics “Annie are you ok?” with his voice. He has the timbre and the range to reach into Michael’s usual register.

John Mayer – "Human Nature"
Mayer already gave a peek at this one during MJ’s memorial. I say flesh it out and add his voice to the lyrics. Michael sang it with an almost whispered breath and John has used that same style before.

The Black Eyed Peas – "Wanna Be Starting Something"
Handing off lyrics to different members of the group and taking their new found energy from the release of THE E.N.D. gives TBEP an edge to hit this one out of the park.

Usher – "Billie Jean"
Usher’s performing style is what made me choose this song. He also has had songs in the past that have dealt with the same lyrical nature of "Billie Jean’s" premise.

Kanye West – "Black and White"
As much as I can’t stand Kanye, I think "Stronger" and the "Theme from Mission Impossible 3" has shown his collaborative talents and his ability to pull off this along with the lyrics.

Beyonce – "The Man in the Mirror"
A more stylistic approach to a more pointed song. Beyonce can give it some gravitas. Maybe get a collaboration with Mariah and Jennifer Hudson going.

All American Rejects – "Beat It"
More rock than Pop…though the video seems tame 27 years later, All American Rejects have the rock chops to pull it off.

Jason Mraz – "Leave Me Alone"
Mraz’s ability to hit out those nonsensical “doo” and “da” lyrics from “I’m Yours” gives him a foundation for playing with Michael’s lyrics. I think the arrangement should be changed to suit his style, too.

Justin Timberlake – "Thriller"
The showmanship and depth to his tracks on his last album have made him a great choice to cover perhaps the greatest Michael Jackson song. And if we can work Andy Samberg in there somewhere, so be it. Personally, I say get Anthony Hopkins or James Earl Jones to record the Vincent Price Rap.

Richard Cheese – "Remember The Time"
The Lounge Against the Machine have proven that you don’t have to be in Motown or another huge label to gain a following. Their cover of Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness” for the remake of The Dawn of the Dead film in 2004 proves that they have an uncanny ability to find the right framework arrangement for a song and make it work. Go back and check some of his albums and you can see why he could make this work.

Jonas Brothers – "PYT"
Because…we need to get the kids involved. It’s a nice poppy bubblegum type song right in their wheelhouse.

James Blunt – "You Are Not Alone"
His “Beautiful” song gives me the impression that he could tackle this in his own way.

Dave Matthews Band - "Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough"
It’s crazy, I know it. You must think I’m nuts but given the ability for Dave to twist his voice and hit a higher register he could carry the vocals with no problem. The song itself has enough sections to highlight all of the band’s talents. Boyd Tinsley’s strings would be awesome for the beginning. Unfortunately, the passing of LeRoi Moore leaves us with an indication on what might have been with the horn section.

Justin Timberlake - "The Way You Make Me Feel"
If you don’t accept that Justin can pull off "Thriller," I offer this secondary option of covering "Way You Make Me Feel."

Jason Mraz and Adam Levine - "Say Say Say"
Let’s get a duet and hopefully Paul McCartney’s approval.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Ruination Of My Child Is Now Complete

My kid is beyond hope and it’s all our fault. It only took two years but it has finally come to pass. I figured that we would have a few more good years before she went off the deep end but everything fell apart this past weekend.

As the summer winds down, the last attempts to fit in a barbecue or other party have taken over the rest of our calendar. My wife’s off again/on again employer had a first birthday party for his granddaughter and we brought our little one to join in the festivities. Other children at the party provided the first real interaction our daughter has had with kids not related to her. We should have known better. To our discredit, we haven’t given her a lot of kid on kid playtime. It’s hard to explain and the reasons are too ridiculous to even get into.

It was my turn to watch [read: chase] the little one around and another girl, roughly a year older, began playing with her. They began tossing around this little ball and at times they would inadvertently hit one another, by accident. This was expected as young children do not exactly have the ability to control their throws. I have, on numerous occasions, been the unintended victim of toy on Father violence as a few blocks and plastic foodstuffs have been hurled across the room in my general direction, which is usually behind my daughter. So, to see a kid take a ball and launch it wide right of another kid is nothing new.

However, this was not exactly a case of Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn myopia on this little girl’s part. In fact, I started to see a pattern forming. She would toss the ball wide right of my kid and then run down the ball before my daughter could get there. I think my child was not seeing the plan going on here. I was quite surprised at her for not just mowing down the other girl and taking the ball. Actually, It was kind of sad to see her lose the toy that she had went and retrieved from the flower beds after wandering around looking for something to play with in the backyard. The fact that this girl came over and took the ball, permitting her to now join in the new game, and then start throwing the ball past my kid and retrieve it herself was triggering the protective mechanism in me. I wanted to step in and try to even out the playing field.

But, as often as I am reminded of my daughter’s genetic disposition to act like her Mother, sometimes I forget that she will do so. After the third or fourth time of this little kid tossing the ball past my kid, she threw her hands out akimbo and said, “What the deuce?” I nearly died. I have no doubt in my mind that this little girl had no clue what my kid was saying to her but I did and I could not contain my joy/embarrassment. I was happy that my kid finally recognized that this was no longer a sharing experience and called the kid to the mat on it but I had to be a little concerned that she was starting to understand Family Guy a little more than just being the cartoon with Stewie on it. While the girl stood there and blankly looked at my daughter, my kid repeated, “What the deuce?”

Yeah, that first call from the teacher is going to be fun.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

The 80s Are Truly Over: RIP John Hughes

John Hughes

Judd Apatow might as well be dubbed the premier comedic director/writer of the first decade in the 21st century. Granted he’s only been hugely successful on the back half of the decade but that’s OK. He’s probably got a lock on pop culture that will look back on him with fondness in 20 years.

But while Judd has been able to recapture the 80s style of raunchy comedy with the likes of Superbad, Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, there is another writer/director that perfectly captured the angst of being a teenager 20 years earlier. Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks could be considered an updating of that genre of entertainment made popular by John Hughes, who died on August 6th. With his passing, a realization has set into my mind. The 80s are truly over.

I have preached on more than one occasion that I am a person deeply rooted in the 1980s. That decade shaped my entire life from the politics, the fashion trends, technology, and popular culture. To future generations the 80s will probably feel like the 40s or 50s. Nostalgic and revered by us. Misunderstood and scoffed at by everyone else.

So it goes that Hollywood and more importantly films of the 80s became a primer for those of us who grew up in it. We were taught that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. We learned that if you need to generate enough power to travel back in time, and don’t have plutonium, lightning will work. We understood that the only way to really impress a girl was to either stand outside her window, holding a boom box over our head, blaring Peter Gabriel or whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV. Beyond these essential life lessons we also learned that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.

That’s the teen movement in the 80s. The simplest and most convenient definition of who we were. Shallowness was something we worked through while aspiring to be Alex P. Keaton or Gordon Gekko. It was the rite of passage we had to take to come out in the 90s as a more rounded person. But no one spoke to us like we were adults, except John Hughes. He knew exactly what if felt like to be a teen growing up in the burbs of America, dealing with angst over dating and success after high school. The comedy was front and center but the subtlety of the dialogue reached through that pastel neon exterior into the bare soul of adolescence. He was able to merge the capitalistic themes of the decade with the fragile psyche that hid behind it.

Sixteen Candles captures the follies of crushes and coming of age so perfectly, you recognize it like It was your own life. Samantha Davis falls somewhere in the middle of social status, pursuing an older guy out of her league while being pursued by a younger, awkward geek known as Farmer Ted. The food chain moves along as status is portrayed as exciting and enticing but bad. Geek mentality is played for laughs but outside of the quest for a girl’s panties loyalty and true friendship are underlying. Whether John Hughes wrote himself as the character of Samantha or Ted is beyond me though I suspect that there might have been a little bit of him in both.

When The Breakfast Club first came out I was only 11, so I didn’t see it in the theater. Before the booming market of home video and VCRs I had to wait for things to come to HBO or regular television. Of course we all know that basic cable distills out all the crudity of bare breasts and foul language so, for the most part I relied on HBO for a better enlightenment. Initially, I was not allowed to watch the film because of the language. Looking back it was pretty tame for today’s time but back then, Middle America was still loosening up its skinny tie a bit.

The film serves as a breaking down of the High School class system, taking stock characters such as “Brain” and “Athlete” and actually turning them inside out so you can see the flaws in their armor. The Brain is a failure at shop class while The Princess hates her seemingly perfect life as top of the social ladder. Yes, we are seeing a narrow cross section of all the social groups but also remember that in the 80s, the layers of social strata were thick and few, like the layers of musical genres. It wasn’t until the 90s that there was a huge splintering of types of music adding sub classes and derivatives of themes to Pop, Rock, Rap, New Wave, Blues, Jazz, and Country. Social Anthropology among high schools was as simple as a box of eight crayons. The box of 64 colors didn’t come along until later.

So, here we have these damaged and flawed archetypes thrown together in a situation that they would never experience outside of the one common denominator among kids in secondary education, detention. Institutional punishment pretty much levels the playing field on how they are treated as their roles may protest. Soon, they see the evolutionary flaw that exists in adolescence during the decade. The path to social classification is a linear, black and white road. It’s not until they are forced to examine their classmates’ character that they understand that they encompass each one of them inside themselves. For whatever reason, whether it be intelligence, physical aptitude or money, certain expectations bubbled to the surface. While they may be starkly different in their facades, they are all the same underneath. Pressure keeps them afraid to fail. Lack of adult understanding keeps them from evolving. Perception keeps them from exploring their personality.

Weird Science was more of a Freakenstein Comedy than coming of age tale. In fact, the high school aspect is pared down to an opening scene establishing the main characters as helpless geeks that are more interested in the physical aspect of the female form instead of the entire package. But that’s all you need to work from in terms of plot. Gary and Wyatt set out to build the perfect girl by combining what they believe are examples of perfection. Pulling from a trunk filled with magazines and adding in formulated behaviors like brains and aptitude, they mix together all the elements that society, especially 80s society, considers to be perfection in terms of beauty and brains.

The result is Kelly LeBrock’s, Lisa, although, I wonder where they got the British accent from in their magazine clippings. She is built and smart and everything they wanted, yet they are utterly afraid of the idea that she is there for the taking. The first thing they do is take a shower with her, wearing their jeans. The genie in the hard drive bottle is set on turning their lives upside down in an attempt to show them that fame and popularity are fleeting concepts. Fidelity and heart are long lasting. They are cooler than they realize, but like that shower scene, they are afraid to act on their instincts because they’ve been beaten and embarrassed into submissive roles. It’s a pie in the sky wish list of 80s social high points disguised in a letter to Penthouse.

Set against another typical 80s environment, a Suburbanite-Teen-House-Party-While-Parents-Are-Away, the popularity of Gary and Wyatt takes an extreme upshot as the entire class body descend on Wyatt’s uptight, 80s upper class home. Things are broken, sullied and thrown about as Gary and Wyatt once again find themselves unwilling to partake in the forbidden fruit that has eluded them during their teen years. A final straw breaks the patience of Lisa’s teaching the boys how to be real men which is not the same as what they perceive as ‘men’ in their shallow and popular counterparts. When Gary and Wyatt deal away Lisa to Ian and Max in exchange for their girlfriends in a masochistic swap, Lisa decides to make Gary and Wyatt jump off the cliff as she sends mutant bikers into the home to assault their guests. Rising to the occasion, the boys finally grab hold of all they really need in order to be heroes. It’s not the money, the clothes, the fame, or the girls. It’s the willingness to give all that away in order to do the right thing.

What ends up being apparent is that this test is more about getting Gary and Wyatt to accept that they had the power all along and to act on it. It could be about approaching girls or bullying brothers. But with that power comes great responsibility to realize that these girls, that they would gawk over and imagine in romantic situations, are not concepts but real people with real feelings. Even in their geek state, they treated women just like Ian and Max did, regardless of their actual interaction with them. By the end, everyone gets a lesson in perception.

What John Hughes did for teen comedy in the 80s is the same as what Shakespeare did with comedy in the 1600s. If Shakespeare were alive today, besides being really, really old, he’d be writing for television and popular movies. His comedies are pretty much a pastiche of similar characters, settings, and themes. John Hughes worked the medium the same way but his impact on the culture made it profitable and enjoyable.

The ideas of House Parties and Nerd Vs. Jock conflict were a common idea in the 80s. Besides the teen aspect of life, Hughes captured the convention of family vacations and holidays just as well, especially the concepts of families spending time together and apart in these situations. Adults are just as damaged as kids are, especially when it comes to living up to or surpassing the expectations of their parents and family. The plot is driven by people trying to get from Point A to Point B while dealing with outlandish obstacles.

The Vacation series, Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors are all about families coming to grips with the idiosyncrasies that drive families to dysfunction and therapy. Man as the great world traveler. The loutish Uncle as the pseudo father figure. In-laws dealing with their different styles of parenting and social backgrounds. These all play out with tons of laughs, but it’s knowing how people really are that made Hughes a poet and genius.

Besides leaving a legacy of quotable films that no person born after 1991 will understand or appreciate, Hughes gave us all our upbringing in the 80s. He was our Dear Abby and Mike Brady, offering us advice and guidance through the murky waters of growing up during the end of The Cold War with bright colors and plastic fads. He will be missed, immensely. Even though he hasn’t been a public figure for years, his presence has been felt in movies today.

This year has truly been a sorrowful one as the icons of my childhood are slowly shuffling off the mortal coil. So, I think I will don my ripped up jeans, pop in a Thompson Twins or Simple Minds cassette, play some air keytar in my room as I reminisce about the glory days of the 80s when Farah was on my wall, Ed was on television, Michael was on the radio, and John Hughes was at the movies. Who’s with me? Bueller? Bueller?


Your all a bunch of Neo-Maxi Zoom Dweebies. The hell with you.

For the lighter side 80s cheese, check out one of my earliest posts, From The Path of Truth, John Hughes Hath Led Me Astray.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pool Be Sorry

I could go into a lengthy dissertation, babbling about how I am a water person, but I won’t…for the most part. However, I will preface this post by saying that I have been a lover of the water all my life. There was a time I could spend all day in the pool or the ocean. I would become so water logged that when I went to bed at night I could still feel my body sloshing around like I was still in the water. So, it should come as no surprise that I would have a pool when I finally became a homeowner, right? Well…

As a kid, I didn’t have a pool. I either went to a friend’s house or a public pool to swim. When we did go on a vacation in the summer, I would always lobby for the beach, but sometimes I would be forced to accept swimming in the lake at Prince Gallitzin. It just wasn’t the same. First of all, there was a rope outlining where the swimming area was, and within that perimeter it felt like there was a concrete slab underneath the sand. Still, I enjoyed it as a chance to be in the water. Maybe it has something to do with being a Pisces.

When I got older and went on vacations with my wife while we were dating, we always made sure the hotel we stayed at had a pool. After we got married and sort of graduated to renting a beach house, we only looked at houses that had a pool and being private made it more enjoyable.

One day, I vowed to have a pool of my own. To that end, I figured that if I was going to actually take the plunge and install one, I want to wait until I can afford an in ground pool. Unfortunately, that day may never come, at least where I am living now. My yard is not very conducive to sustaining a pool without massive landscaping. The yard starts at the back of my house and slopes gradually, and then sharply, and the not as sharp, sharp, and then gradual. It kind of looks like a graph of the economy over the last two years. That’s just going in one direction. From side to side, it’s also not level. I also have two huge maple trees in the back yard that have taken over underneath the yard with a root system that has found its way into the terracotta pipes underneath my garage and driveway. Not to mention, the canopy pretty much keeps the sun off the yard for the most part. Realistically, for me to put a pool in, I would spend more on landscaping than actual installation.

However, my wife is convinced that we could put up a pool with no problems and be floating around on our rafts. With our daughter’s second birthday this past July, my wife was hell bent on getting a pool. Now, I’d love to have one, but I know what has to happen. I once told my wife that three things had to be replaced before I could even think about a pool. The hot water tank, the furnace, and the air conditioner have to go belly up before I can devote time and money to a pool. The hot water tank went first. The A/C and furnace are kind of iffy at this point with the furnace really iffy because it’s original to the house from the 60s. And now, I think I’m going to have to add the roof to that equation, because I’m noticing some water marks on my ceiling.

That veiled threat was made before the knowledge of INTEX pools. These are the Wal-Mart special pools that are in the neighborhood of $300.00 and consist of a liner, pipes that stand on the ground connected to tee pieces that are connected to a ring of pipes slid into sleeves around the liner. A small pump and some hoses connect the filter into the liner and you have yourself a pool erected in a half an hour’s time. We nearly bought one. Well, she nearly bought one while I protested, shaking the George Cukor finger of shame, at her.

So, I did what any wary consumer in the world would do. I called my family. They have the wisdom and experience of being through this before. My brother, in particular, had recently built a house and had one of these pools in his back yard before getting a more permanent one installed. I called him from the store to ask his opinion on owning one. Is it worth it? Is it costly to maintain? Would he recommend buying one?

His response was simple. Don’t buy one. I thought I would be vindicated in this matter. He went on to explain that they still had theirs and it was sitting in a box, in their basement. He wanted to get rid of it but didn’t want to go through the hassle of selling it to someone who would be going through his house to see it or have to figure out how to ship for an online purchase. I had thought my sister would have had it but she doesn’t have the yard for it. Frankly, neither did I.

Unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth and also incur the wrath of my wife, I agreed to take it off his hands and he brought it to the house. The thing came in a sizable box along with a ground cloth and liner. It sat in my garage from July 5th until August 1st. Why? Because the yard needed to be worked on before I could set it up.

My wife was hoping we could just put it up the day it was delivered. I told her she was nuts, honestly. Looking at our yard, it slopes about a foot or more from the back of the house to about 20 feet out. We needed at least 17 feet for the 16 foot pool, although looking back, 18 feet would have been better, but I was pressed for time. I needed to do one of two things, dig or dump. If I dumped dirt on my yard to level out the area, I would have spent money and time on material and delivery…not to mention destroying my yard in the process. If I dig, I need something other than a shovel. I was doing the work myself and just digging up a five foot by two foot section proved to be a hassle with all the roots twisting and turning underneath the soil.

We decided to go with a hybrid approach. Dig down in the portion against the house and move that ground to the lower portion to build it up. Not such a great idea as I will explain later. We had a few false starts and down time during the week, waiting for things to happen. We were supposed to get use of a tractor with a blade on it but that didn’t happen. We also had to contend with all the rain we’ve been getting in this unusual summer. More ire from my wife who kept saying she would just go out and dig it herself forced me onto a guilt trip and I finally went out and dug up half the sod. I managed to break a shovel in the process.

By the time I got around to getting down to business, I was informed that all I needed was a rototiller. Well, now, why wasn’t that on the table from day one? I secured my Father-in-Law’s rototiller and began digging a hole. Unfortunately, the damn thing needed to have gas poured into the hole for the spark plug to start. Each time we had to quit and start up we had to repeat the process. I finished the first attempt around the 25th of July. I’d till and then hack away at a huge root. I’d till, then hack again, or toss rocks out of the way. By the time I was done, I had a more level piece of land but still way off. Not to mention, I was coming up short on the required 17 feet from front to back.

This past Saturday, my wife went shopping with our daughter, giving me the opportunity to get the job done. I attempted to till again and managed to break the ceramic spark plug in half trying to put in gas. Bleeding and furious, I began to just dig and rake the yard, building up the ground at the bottom of the circle…which looked more like an oval. I ended up having to dig more off the back of the yard to get more dirt and area for the pool. I was running into obstacles because the ground was more mud than dirt or more accurately, clay. I decided to take a break before I broke something else and went to the store for a new shovel, a garden rake so I didn’t break my F-I-L’s and sand. If I couldn’t get any more depth, at least I could get more girth.

Stupidly, I bought six fifty pound bags of sand. I should have bought at least ten. I returned to the house as it was nearing 4:00pm and decided to get back out there and finish this thing. Spreading the sand around I laughed as I realized how bad of a job I was doing. My thoughts went towards the sight of this pool snapping its posts and exploding, the water rushing down my yard and into the homes of the street below mine. After I finished, I said, “Eff it!” and went for the ground cloth. I had the cloth down and the liner spread out as my wife returned, putting the baby down for a nap. I made mistake number two when I decided to put the hose outlets on the house side of the pool. I was afraid of not having enough electrical cord and didn’t think about the fact that I was still uneven at this point. The water level would be off about six inches to a foot on either side.

Mistake number three came when I got the pool filled and noticed that there was a leak in the liner. I couldn’t tell where because of the ground cloth providing a surface for the water to seep along as it headed towards the outside. I should have filled it enough to cover the entire bottom and then inspected for leaks. But, I didn’t care. I was tired of this business and wanted the voices in my ear to stop. So, I filled it up. On Sunday, August 1st, I had the pool filled. The difference in depth on one side versus the other was laughable. My wife joked that I always wanted a deep end, and now I had it.

Mistake number four came when I added chlorine. Here’s a little tip for you… when you get those tablets…don’t sniff them. They smell like chlorine. Don’t look at the number of tablets inside the container either. There’s as many as stated on the outside. I managed to burn the hell out of my nose and lungs when I attempted to look into the container and inhale, slightly. After a few hours of dissolving one of the tablets in the floater, I opened it to see if it was all gone. I was at an arm’s length and it still got me. Don’t inhale. Your lungs will thank you. I went to bed Saturday night with a bead of sweat perched on my brow.

It used to be that I would go to bed at night, worried that the alarm wouldn’t go off in the morning or that the baby would have something wrong and I wasn’t there to keep an eye out. Those things were far gone from my need to worry as I kept a light sleep pattern, listening for the sound of snapping vinyl and metal pipes, followed by the sound of rushing water. The pool has managed to stay in one piece, but the damage is done. The front side is sinking into the shelf I built up and who knows how much more it will sink.

Now, I could take it down and fix it in a weekend but I would have to drain thousands of gallons of water, tear it down and try and fix it. The next month’s worth of weekends doesn’t allow for that kind of screwing around. So, we’ve decided to just swim in it as much as we can, close it for the winter and then see about fixing it in the Spring, if it’s still standing.

By the way, you may have noticed I started my list of mistakes at number two. The first mistake was telling my wife that my brother was willing to give me his. I should have just said he hated it and went from there. Of course, that would have come back to bite me in the ass later. Still, I don’t doubt that I went about this whole matter with poor execution and planning. It was just a case of letting someone else make the decisions and live with the consequences of that failure. That’s a 5000 gallon ‘I told you so,’ waiting to happen. Anyone want to take bets?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Actors and Actresses I Could Listen To Reading the Phone Book

There are certain people in this world who have a voice so awesome that they could read anything and I’d be riveted. They don’t even have to have the sweetest voice but it has to be unique. I don’t care if it’s stereo instructions or the phone book, it would be kick ass to hear it. Here is a list of actors/actresses that I love to hear record an audio version of the phone book. These are in no particular order.

Morgan Freeman – I could imagine him reading each name and adding that he remembered the first time he ever met Mr. J Smith. Looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over.

James Earl Jones – The granddaddy of all voices. He adds such gravitas to anything he reads. I could only hope he’d get to the listing for Best Buy and then he could say, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed.”

Alan Rickman – Oh dear God. This would be too friggin' awesome to have Rickman doing his Snape/Hans Gruber/Metatron voice for the phone listings.

Hugo Weaving – Could you imagine being half way through the letter “A” and him coming to Mr. Anderson?

Don LaFontaine – I didn’t want to lead off with a ringer but he is/was quite frankly the most compelling man to listen to when it comes to living “In a world” where “Only one man” can make the phone book sound like a Michael Bay film…but better.

Zee Avi – The 23 year old Malaysian singer just has very smooth voice like a fine scotch. Go YouTube her song "Bitter Heart."

Ben Kingsley – From Ghandi to The House of Sand and Fog to Mrs Harris, the actor has one of the most honest voices around, even when he’s playing the villain.

Patrick Stewart – Let’s make it so. Probably the third best voice in the world. His best work is when he’s being cheeky like on the Family Guy when he reprised his role as Jean-Luc Picard and asked Number One if he would join him in a laugh after saying that Commander Worf’s head looked like a fanny.

Zooey Deschanel – Her speaking voice is a tad nasally but her singing voice is pretty good. Actually, to get a great idea of how her voice really works would be to go and watch the animated film, Surf’s Up. I like it.

James Spader – As long as he’s doing it as Alan Shore he could read the warranty card from a refrigerator and make it interesting.

William Shatner – Say what you will about his style, he has a great voice for inflection.

Malcolm McDowell – More of a high baritone or tenor, but the way he holds a word out for a few seconds is spectacular.

Sam Elliot – He’d give it a western cowboy take that would work for me.

Dame Judy Dench – Class, earthiness, all around top notch vocals from the Dame.

Vincent Price – He may be dead, but I’d be thrilled if he could do it.

Samuel L. Jackson – I could sit in one room and he could sit in the other and just shout out the names. That would be cool.

Anthony Hopkins – His real voice is somewhat different then the voice he’s so famous for. That would be awesome though to hear Hannibal Lecter read some of the names out.

Kathleen Turner – Husky, deep, sexy, think Romancing the Stone or Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Christopher Walken – I know it’s a bit squeaky and syncopated but it would still be interesting to hear him do it…with more cowbell.

Seth MacFarlane – The multi faceted voice of MacFarlane would be great if he could alternate between Stewie, Brian, and Quagmire.

Michael Emerson – He’s best known as Benjamin Linus from Lost and even as the decoy Jigsaw, Zep Hindle, from the first Saw movie. He adds a very nice sardonic tone to speaking and I could imagine him going through the listings of people noting if they are good or bad.

Tommy Lee Jones - Another solid voice with a Texan accent that would be a trip to hear for the length of time to read the book. I could say, "Tommy, it would be better if you read slower." and he could say, "I don't care." like he did in The Fugitive

Steve Perry – The former Journey front man doesn’t have a distinct speaking voice…so, he’d have to sing the entire book, but that would be too cool.

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