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Friday, October 30, 2009

Finally, a Zombie Television Series: The Walking Dead Adapted On AMC

I think I may have mentioned once or twice, perhaps five times that I think a television series based around a zombie apocalypse would be a fantastic idea. Maybe it was a hundred times. Anyway, it appears that my geek fan boy fantasy has finally become a reality. The hit comic book Walking Dead will be made into a television show with

AMC, which has fast emerged as a top notch channel for dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, plans to air the show in 2010, according to IMDB. Now, I have never read the comic but just what I've picked up from the site and other areas online it follows my thoughts about how to portray a zombie outbreak over a period of time. Instead of just Normal Life / Outbreak / Death / Struggle / Death / Credits the series will follow the complete breakdown of society and the struggles of the characters to gather together and survive the aftermath and how that affects certain people's moral compass.

More interesting is that Frank Darabont is involved. He has a storied career including The Shawshank Redemption as well as some horror roots in Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and The Blob remake.

I haven't been a big fan of AMC in the past, mainly because of the diluted offerings of movies they carry while still maintaining the name American Movie Classics. As an additional pet peeve, I really get miffed that they don't close caption a lot of their content which any father can tell you is essential when you are trying to watch a show and you have little ones are sleeping or napping, nearby. I spend about 85% of my television viewing time reading captions because I have to keep the volume low.

Still, I am voraciously looking forward to seeing them pull this off on the small screen and will have my strained DVR ready to record for Live+7 viewing. I am also glad that the show was picked up by a cable network instead of the Big three or Medium 4, if you choose to include Fox. I'm sure Fox already passed on this show because they didn't have any other available time slots on Fridays to dump it like every other good show. From what I gather from an interview with the author, NBC almost had it and we've seen what happened to another "comic book" style show after its first season. We've also seen what they've done to their schedule. Having this show on television and on a major network would be a slow and painful death as it would have to be aired at ten o'clock which runs into Leno's show. I'm seeing a pattern of death here. Not to mention a show of this nature would be extremely sanitized of all content necessary for a gritty, post apocalyptic show about flesh eating living dead attackers.

So, kudos to cable for being a creative safe haven for great shows. Boo to the big networks for bowing to the sponsors and giving the audience a big old middle finger to bite off and chew. I may have to start reading the comic as research. That will be the official reason for me to be reading a comic book I'll have you know.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween For the Purist Part Two: Adulthood

In Part One, I talked about how Halloween was a special time for me as a kid. Unfortunately, there is a definite transitional period where Halloween is left in the time of a child and a few years go by where you don’t really have a lot of exposure to it as a teenager, unless you are invited to a lot of costume parties. I only went to one, as Freddy Krueger, and it was disastrous. It will be forever known as “The Afghan Incident.” Now, I did attend a Junior High School dance in that costume which was cool. I didn’t have a green and red sweater but I had a red and white one and a fedora. I was able to construct the glove myself, using a beige glove and foil covered Popsicle sticks that were tapered off at the end to look like Freddy’s blades. I then applied make up to achieve the burned look. It was pretty cool, but still not authentic.

In high school, I had a couple of occasions and even took part in that rite of passage known as corning or tic tacking. My friends and I lived near a lot of farms and would often sneak into the fields to steal corn which prompted the farmer to brandish his shotgun and fire over our heads. Kids would then go out at night and toss loose corn kernels at cars and houses around Halloween. That was probably the least damaging thing you can do. The more serious offenses involved other food items.

Another group of friends had decided to go egging one night. I had never done something this destructive but I gave into peer pressure and we went out and wrought havoc in the neighborhood. We drove up through one neighborhood, sneaking off the back of my friend’s truck and up to people’s houses to steal the pumpkins off their porches. Once nabbed, we tossed them off the back of the truck bed, smashing them onto the road. Then, we picked the one guy who had been egged one too many times and hit his house. He got in his truck and followed us, getting the license plate number. The next day, I received a call from the police saying my friends had already rolled over on me being involved and we got cited $93 each. My parents were none too happy and it resulted in the only grounding that ever stuck in my life. Worse yet, I had already spent money on tickets to see Def Leppard in concert and wasn’t allowed to go. After that, I pretty much stuck to watching movies on television and staying home on Halloween for the next couple of years.

Now, in college, there was a renewed opportunity to engage in some Halloween fun. Aside from an unrealized idea of trick or treating throughout the dorms with alcohol shots in place of candy, there was the occasional Halloween party at one of the coolest venues on the planet. That would Evaline.

It’s hard to describe what Evaline is, at least from my perspective during the years of 1995-1998. In fact, I don’t think you can describe it. You have to experience it. For those not looking for an existential understanding, it’s rather simple. Evaline is also called Hotel Evaline. It’s a venue, of sorts, on Evaline Street in Pittsburgh, near UPMC Shadyside Hospital. Now, for a couple of years I had been in regular attendance at FNI, which stands for Friday Nite Improvs. The people behind the madness were associated with the house on Evaline street and it was commonplace for there to be a Halloween Party every year. I had been to three separate parties during my time at Pitt. Each one more surreal than the previous. Actually, it was quite simply a chance for all of us in the theatre department, or on the fringe, to be those wacky things we call ourselves.

For the first year, I accompanied two friends of mine to the party entitled, “Pimps and Johns.” You basically had two choices for costumes. I went as a Puerto Rican pimp in a skin tight shirt and chinos with a hat, although people thought I looked more like Michael Jackson. My friend, Ray managed to snag a Pope style costume, complete with miter, and went as Pope John Paul Robinovitz. He was Jewish…you see. I was very drunk and wanted to stay all night because at a party like this, someone as single and lonely as I could have managed to find someone who was as drunk or worse. Unfortunately, like most Evaline parties, they always fell on the day before a Tech Rehearsal for a Mainstage show. I needed to be in bed for the early morning call.

The second year was “The Loving Dead” and I flew solo for that party. I dressed up as the Crow, complete with makeup and fake bird on my shoulder. I actually rode a PAT bus from campus to Shadyside before walking the rest of the way. Unfortunately, it was already after Halloween since it fell on a Tuesday that year. I got more looks than I would have normally had it been on Halloween. That was the first and last time I ever drank Pure Grain alcohol. It was mixed into something called Pain Punch and had no alcoholic taste whatsoever. I had six or seven cups from the dry ice filled cooler. I didn’t even feel drunk as I walked the entire way home, escorting a friend dressed as a roller girl…not the roller girl, but a roller girl back to her apartment. I then carried on the rest of the way home and work later in time to vomit the entire contents of my stomach into the toilet across the hall from my dorm room.

The third time I was dating a girl who had a slight resemblance to Uma Thurman so we went as Mia Wallace and Vince Vega from Pulp Fiction. This time, I brought in a ringer as a date. I didn’t get nearly as inebriated as I had in the past but still had an awesome time.

Since I’ve graduated, Evaline has raised the bar in its parties. I wish I could still attend but I reached that level of adulthood, and parenthood, in suburbia that was robbed me of my adventurous nature. In all seriousness, a lot of the guys involved are older than me and they have the proximity and the lifestyles that can still run with the crowd, I just don’t have it in me anymore. I have moved onto the next level of Halloween purity, which is on the other end of the spectrum from childhood.

When I began living on my own, I really didn’t have a lot of interest in getting my bachelor pad decorated for the holidays. My wife, then girlfriend, had other ideas. She had a childhood where the holidays exploded in their home, leaving traces of decorations from ceiling to floor. She had decided to do the same with my place.

When I had moved into my townhouse and she had pretty much moved in as well, I had the opportunity to decorate outside the home. This where the man should decorate, although I do have the responsibility of decorating the tops of the entertainment center and mantle as well as the trees for Christmas. However, outside is where the man lives or dies by the decoration. My first attempt at Halloween decorations took form as a hooded ghoul made of PVC pipe and dressed in black robes hiding behind a tree. It looked to be coming straight out of the ground around the tree which had headstones placed in front of it. These headstones were made from hard polystyrene, used in floral arrangements, and spray painted gray to achieve the granite look. A green flood lamp finished off the effect. For all my work, I spent the next month putting Mr. Pipes, as I called him, back together as the wind would tear him apart. I also had no real audience for Mr. Pipes to scare because I never saw a trick or treater while I lived there.

Where I live now is ridiculous when it comes to trick or treaters. I have a great venue to display my resourcefulness in constructing a yard display. I have a huge oak tree in my front yard and it makes for a great cemetery. My original headstones ended up getting tossed out so I had to redo them. I bought fake, bendable spiders and rubber snakes and some small plastic fencing that looked like wrought iron. I bought a hanging skeleton which I had no place to hang, so I mounted it on a metal rod that was used for a Citronella torch. It was very wobbly and when the wind hit the skeleton it would sway back and forth over the graveyard. My flood lamp came back into play and it was truly an awesome sight and got a lot of comments from passersby.

That all came to an end, though with the birth of my daughter. It has for now, anyway, until she is old enough to understand that the yard isn’t scary. Now, the house needs to be decorated in a more kid friendly way. I don’t necessarily mean in the types of decorations, I mean their placement in relationship to my daughter’s height. She has a knack for grabbing anything that looks interesting. And though she’s only two, I think she is getting the idea of Halloween. She’s got two costumes this year. She went trick or treating, as a cat, at the assisted living home where my wife’s grandmother is residing and on Halloween she will be a pumpkin for trick or treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, she wants to wear her little kitten ears and tail part of her first costume with every outfit, everyday. It’s cute but continually falls off everywhere.

And that first real round of candy getting she had this year has her fully anticipating the main event on Saturday. I do not envy my wife having to bring her home after trick or treating. I will probably take some turns over the next few years but right now, I have a bigger job. I am in charge of the candy dish. We have an insane amount of kids that end up coming to my door. This is where my grumpiness takes full effect.

I like the little kids that come up with their parents, in full costume, looking so proud of themselves. I hate the older kids that wear a mask and carry a pillow case as if that qualifies as a costume. Some, don’t even bother with the mask. They paint their face or wear a football jersey and call it a costume. Some, come back more than once. The first year we gave out candy at our house we were killed with walk ups. I ended up having to scrounge for granola bars and individual Hershey’s Kisses by the end. My wife wanted to be all Martha Stewart with little treat bags and we quickly realized it was like feeding hungry wolves. You just throw the meat and run. Don’t let them see the fear in your eyes and never run out of candy. That gets you egged, corned, or worse.

In order to combat this lack of Halloween commitment, I have two candy bowls. The one for little kids has the good stuff and they each get a couple of candy bars from it. The other is the stuff my wife couldn’t get her piano students to take after a lesson and it goes to the older kids and repeaters. If I am not paying attention, they might also find a beer bottle cap snuck into their bag by my brother in law as a “trick.” As wrong as it is, it’s always funny to think of some teenager getting yelled at by their parents because of the beer cap in their pillow case. Although, I highly doubt their parents check their candy for anything sharp.

While giving out candy is part of the fun, the real fun comes from afterwards. As soon as the end of trick or treating comes, we close the door, shut out the light, and eat. In the past we’ve had hot dogs and sauerkraut in the crock pot and my Father-in-law’s famous chili for dinner. Each as equally satisfying a meal for a cold October night. It’s sad really. Most of my holidays revolve around food and eating lots of it. It’s better than them revolving around trips to the hospital, which is usually the trend.

As the night winds down and the company goes home, I settle onto the couch for watching the “recorded from television” version of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I own a copy on DVD, but there is something about seeing it on television that makes it all the more enjoyable. In fact, in 2007, when my daughter was just four months old, I propped her up next to me on the couch to watch The Great Pumpkin. She half paid attention, which is understandable for an infant, but this year she was sucked in completely. Score one for me, my kid digs Charlie Brown.

I will also flip around to see if there are any scary movies or such on the other channels while cleaning out the candy dish. Come November first it’s all over for another year. The holiday season begins in earnest around here, after Halloween, but I have seen Christmas advertisements before November. Soon it’s back to the yard with the rake for the leaves and the discarded candy wrappers, damn kids. Another year is gone and it soon becomes harder and harder to get into full commitment to Halloween festivities, but Halloween for the purist is as ageless as the faces on the plastic masks we would wear way back when. The body may grow older, but the heart stays young. Some may say we purists where it on our sleeve…. Now that would be a cool costume.

So, what are your greatest Halloween memories? Share them here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween For the Purist Part One: Childhood

In the minds of children, three holidays usually ring out as the most fun. Easter, Christmas, and Halloween. It’s no surprise that all three involved getting some kind of treat whether it be presents or candy. In fact, all three have the distinction of sharing a duality with religious iconography. Santa Claus with Jesus Christ, The Easter Bunny with, again, Jesus Christ, and Halloween with the Zombie Jesus Christ….I’m kidding, of course. That’s because Halloween has more connections with Pagan themes than Christianity, unless of course you think of Halloween as being a Satanic holiday. If that’s the case you probably think kids who read or watch Harry Potter will turn into a witch and actually do magic. Face it, Halloween is the Celtic New Year’s Eve. All this demonic worship and references to the occult were added later. Anybody who chooses to look at Halloween as a reason to worship Satan is about as on the mark as people who believe that evil aliens live in volcanoes and for a price can make you famous actor. Jumping on couches is optional.

So, being a Halloween purist, I choose to look at the more modernized version of Halloween, stripped of any religious connotations and boiled down to the basic desire to have fun and be creative from the perspective of childhood and adulthood. To that end, I think if you are going to at least get involved with the holiday and expect others to take you seriously, you need to do at least some of the work.

It’s simple. As a kid, you dress up and go trick or treating, collecting as much candy as you can. You take a lot of time and effort to come up with the right costume. You are respectful to those you visit and you thank them for their treat. As an adult, you do your part to help make the experience for little ones enjoyable and you make sure they understand all the rules.

Growing up, I took Halloween seriously. Now, my mother told me of how her hometown would have trick or treating that would last an entire week. That would have been cool for a kid, and expensive for an adult. What I find sad is that nowadays, some kids are forced to go trick or treating during daylight hours and sometimes on a different day than Halloween. And additionally, a lot kids don’t even put in the effort to come up with a good costume and just walk around a camouflage shirt or football jersey and call it a costumer. They grab a pillowcase and go out with the sort of enthusiasm that makes you think that it really is Night of the Living Dead out there.

I remember the good old days of the early 80s. Your parents would go out and buy you that kiddie costume that consisted of an vinyl outfit and a plastic mask. It was the kind of mask that forced you to make sure you brushed your teeth beforehand because you’d be subject to your own breath for the next few hours, not to mention profusely sweating underneath that plastic shield held together with an elastic band. Visibility was a matter of perspective. If you tried to adjust your mask to see better, you risked cutting your eyes on the jagged holes punched into the mask or massive welts from the snapping of the elastic on your skin.

As I got a little older, costumes became a little more inventive. One year, I scrounged around our house and came up with enough supplies to pull off a fully wrapped up patient. Some old crutches, hospital gown, and a pair of long johns made up the bulk of the costume while bandages around my arms and head completed the look. It also served as a great costume for our grade school’s party. After we would get dressed up, the teacher would try to guess who we were as we sat in different seats. I still don’t know how she was able to easily tell it was me under those bandages. In any case the coolest of all costumes was in fourth grade.

In June of 1984, Ghostbusters had become a HUGE hit at the box office. By October, even at the age of nine I knew the cultural impact of the movie on the Halloween holiday. Come hell or high water, I was going to be a Ghostbuster. I don’t recall if costumes in retail stores had caught up to Pop Culture at this point, so I have no idea if there was already a version being sold to the public. In any case, I knew I could pull it off with what I had around me. As always, I could come up with grand schemes, but the nine year old mind had no way of understanding the mechanics of actually executing such plans. I called on the two smartest people I knew, my dad and my brother, for help.

We took an old gray snow suit and established it as the jumpsuit. I drew the logo of the ghost with a line through it and a name tag to be taped on the pocket area. My two genius engineers constructed the proton pack by taking an old black back pack and putting a cardboard box inside to square it up. Using a six volt flashlight and a discarded gun stock, with no barrel or trigger, they created the particle thrower. Taking the mirrored cone from the flashlight and the bulb they built a lighted front end of the gun and wired it to light up with a trigger on the gun stock. The wire was then run through an old corrugated vacuum hose to a battery inside the backpack. In all, it was a crudely designed costume but it was the coolest thing I’d ever wore and made me an instant hit during our school party. Someone had the 45 of the Ray Parker Jr. movie theme in class and played it as I did the dance from the end of the video, complete with a fake sliming that had me end up flat on my back. From the outside observer, I probably looked like the biggest dork on Earth but, in my mind, it was hippest thing I ever did in my life. Looking back, if someone were to have attempted that same costume, designed the same way, they would probably have been sent to the principal’s office for brandishing a weapon.

Fourth grade was the pinnacle of Halloween for me, as a kid. As adolescence set in, I became too old for trick or treating, but too young for wild Halloween parties. Soon, the problems of the world reared their ugly head into our lives. Kids from my generation were warned by McGruff the crime dog to not talk to strangers and long before Amber Alerts we were well aware of the creepy men in the trucks offering candy. I distinctly remember watching Adam on television and sat in disbelief as they found the body of little Adam Walsh. It was beyond the mind of an eight year old to comprehend that children could be killed. That was my first taste of mortality outside the passing of my grandfather. Still, that was not going to deter a kid on Halloween. We trick or treat no matter what. We are just careful and follow the rules. But when I turned 10 and had moved into a semi rural area outside of our town proper, trick or treating hours was moved to a Sunday afternoon between 2 PM and 4 PM.

That slight was a blaspheme to the heart of the Halloween Purist. I can understand with the danger of abductions and the amount of traffic that would zip along the infrequently monitored roads of my area, you had to be safe and what better way to be safe was during the day. However, the frequency of trick or treaters, along with the bad timing reduced the amount of visitors so much that my parents stopped handing out treats. In my last attempt at childhood, a friend and I wore makeshift costumes and went trick or treating in the middle of the afternoon which made some people scratch their heads. After all, when two thirteen year olds show up on your doorstep asking for candy, you think they are jackasses. But soon, adulthood would come into play and the holiday became fun again for the Halloween Purist. See you in Part Two.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The First Halloween *

“That house has its porch light turned on. Go ahead, Billy.” The young boy, dressed as a clown, approached the old house looking for a treat. As he walked he flopped his big shoes towards the front porch. He had remembered the rules his mother told him about trick or treating. If there are no lights lit, don’t go to that house and don’t eat any candy before you get home so that we can check it out. This was his first time trick or treating and Billy replayed those rules in his head as he walked. He also remembered his mother telling him that she would stand at the end of the yard, watching him. She wouldn’t let anything happen to him, she said. Feeling somewhat comforted by this, Billy continued to increase the distance between him and his mother.

It was only a few steps up to the door of the house. On the front porch he could see a chair which was being occupied by what resembled a scarecrow. It was a makeshift man made of straw wearing a flannel shirt and jeans. The buttons on the clothes strained to contain the straw which had been overstuffed into the garments. A brown bag, also stuffed with straw had a face scribbled on it with black magic marker. Billy thought the scarecrow looked silly and unreal and he chuckled a bit at its appearance. He looked back to make sure his Mother was still standing at the end of the walk, ready to run to his rescue. She waved at him and motioned for him to continue towards the door.

Billy topped the steps and saw that a bowl of candy sat on the porch, unattended. He looked towards the house and saw that the front door was open wide. He could see people moving around inside of the house and thought that maybe they had left their post briefly to fetch more candy or something else inside. He didn’t want to exhibit bad trick or treating etiquette by just taking a candy bar from the bowl and leaving. He wanted to ring the doorbell and show off his costume. He wanted to be proud of his clown get up and be paid for his cuteness in candy.

As Billy reached his tiny index finger out towards the doorbell, he never noticed the shape moving towards him. He only heard the sound of rustling straw and the stretching of nylon material on a creaky metal lawn chair. Immediately, to his right, the overstuffed straw man in the chair reached towards him and moaned a God awful sound that could only mean that he intended to eat the little boy. The silly face, scribbled with marker suddenly looked like it had sharp teeth and piercing eyes. Eyes that pierced into Billy’s being looking to suck the marrow of his soul.

The exchange took less than two seconds but Billy felt as if he was held captive on that porch for hours. Where was his mother? Why hadn’t she raced up the side walk to bludgeon this evil being with her handbag? Finally, the shock of seeing this seemingly seven foot tall scarecrow lunging at him wore off and Billy’s gelatinous legs solidified with a single purpose, run as far away from this monster as fast as possible. Billy tore off down the steps and up the sidewalk, his huge shoes flapping as if he would soon take flight. He raced towards the street where his mother stood looking at him. He could feel the arms of the scarecrow cutting through the air, continually trying to grasp at his neck, the foul hot breath of hell bearing down on his ears with the rotten smell of brimstone all around him. He dared not look back at his aggressor and shut his eyes and ran faster. At last he had escaped the clutches of the monster on the porch and took refuge behind the polyester pant legs of his mother.

A few minutes later, another young boy came trotting down the same street towards the house. On his way, he passed a mother consoling a little crying clown and he thought “Who dresses their child as Canio?” As he reached the top of the porch he could hear the elevated voices inside the house. Opening the front door, he made his way into the kitchen where a brown bag, stuffed with straw and sporting a silly face sat on the kitchen table as a teenager, a few feet away wearing the rest of the scarecrow costume explained himself to his mother. “Honestly, I never touched the kid.” He said, throwing his straw stuffed arms in the air.

“What happened?” The young boy asked his older brother.

“I dozed off for a minute on the porch. Some kid in a clown costume rang the doorbell and woke me up. When I reached into the bowl and asked if he wanted a candy bar, he freaked out and ran away, screaming. I could hear him crying all the way up the street.”

That was the last time my brother ever dressed up as a scarecrow and gave out candy on Halloween.

* This tale is based on an actual event that occurred when I was a kid. My brother thought it would have been fun to dress up like a scarecrow and pass out candy to trick or treaters. Although, the exchange and dialogue has been altered for dramatic effect, a kid did in fact approach come to our house for candy and was subsequently scared by the sudden movement of what was thought to be an inaminate object sitting in the chair next to him on the porch. I was out trick or treating at the time but heard the scream and saw the kid sobbing as he walked up the street, minutes later.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Man Arrested For Being Naked In Own Home

We have become a very litigious society. People will sue and counter sue at the drop of a hat. I spilled hot coffee on my lap. I must sue the fast food restaurant for serving me hot coffee. You get the idea. A majority of all cases involving suing for damages and what not are ridiculous cases that should never have gone to court. The fact that lawyers are willing to take on these cases just goes to show that Shakespeare was right.

On the other side of that coin of justice is the amount of asinine charges being filed against people for no reason. Grown adults have reverted into nine year olds on the playground threatening to tell their big brother to come kick your ass for kicking dirt in their faces. Sometimes when people abuse the justice or law enforcement system, it plays out to hilarious effects such as the continually aired 9/11 calls from people who aren’t happy with the burger they got from the drive through.

Case in point here is the Virginia man who was busted for indecent exposure while in his own home. Eric Williamson came downstairs, in the early hours one morning, to make a cup of coffee. He was naked at the time and alone in the house. A woman passerby spotted him and called the police. She was walking with a seven year old boy and cutting through Eric’s front yard from a path behind the house when she saw him. Police arrived and arrested Eric, charging him with indecent exposure. In reading this paragraph, you should notice two things about this case. The first one was that Eric was in his own home and the second was that the lady was trespassing on his property when she peeped in his window.

Now, according to the video posted within this article, the system has to prove that Eric intentionally appeared in the window naked, wanting to be seen by this woman. Unless this trespassing was a regular occurrence, how could Eric have known someone was outside. If it was, then you could argue that he may have been tired of people cutting through his property and wanted to give them a show as a prank OR he is truly an individual that does this for fun and knew that this lady or anybody else would be able to see him in his glory.

I say, this lady was should be charged for trespassing and possible invasion of privacy laws. Why even bother calling the police? Who cares? It’s your own dumb luck that you happened to be cutting through this guy’s lawn when he went down for a cup of French Roast with his coffee beans hanging out. I bet she wouldn’t have called the cops had she been cutting through the yard of Hugh Jackman or some other good looking guy and saw them naked in their kitchen.

Think about this, what if the roles were reversed? What if it were a guy walking by and noticed a woman? Who would have been arrested? That’s right. Even if he would have called the cops on her, he would have been given some kind of charges no matter who the woman was.

This is a complete waste of tax payers time not to mention perpetuating the precedence that you can just call the cops for little thing that you don’t like. I hope he beats this rap because it carries a stiff penalty of up to a year in jail. Certainly, any judge would be nuts to think that this case is anything other than other than stupidity. This guy is getting the shaft.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Best Zombie Films of All Time

Another day another list. This time, Entertainment Weekly lists their 25 Best Zombie Films of all Time. Groans and cheers filled the comments section and I, for one, find very little tastiness in what they offered. Here is the list they gave.

25 Planet Terror
24 Diary of the Dead
23 Land of the Dead
22 Zombie Flesh Eaters
21 Night Of the Living Dead (1990)
20 Resident Evil Extinction
19 Pontypool
18 Braindead
17 Homecoming
16 Dead Snow
15 I walked with a zombie
14 Undead
13 Serpent and the rainbow
12 Dead Set
11 Omega Man
10 Return of the Living Dead
9 Re-Animator
8 Day of the Dead
7 Cemetery Man
5 Night Of the Living Dead (1968)
4 Dawn of the Dead (1978)
3 Shaun of the Dead
2 28 Days Later
1 Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Despicable, isn’t it? Apparently, someone doesn’t understand what constitutes a zombie movie, let alone, a good one. Throughout the article the author states, “I know this is not technically a zombie film” and such but I have a simple reply, “Take it off the list.” For instance, The Omega Man is about vampires or at least apocalyptic viral vampirism. Dead Set is a television show, not a film. The gripes could go on and on. Now, I want to reorder that list, omitting and substituting some of the selections. I managed to do it in a list of only 15 with one honorable mention.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The original is the best, not the remake. I’ll give it some props when I come to it, but as far as zombie films go, you have to tip the skull cap to Romero. The feeling of despair and dread of living in a world gone mad is only heightened by the fact that in the zombie genre, simple mistakes lead to catastrophe. A complete breakdown in society and civil infrastructure is a huge element to modern zombie films. Not just flesh eating dead people.

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The predecessor to the modern day zombie movie can be summed up in one line, “They’re coming to get you Barbara.” Maybe it’s my proximity to the locations. I’ve been to Evans City Cemetery. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of being close to a big part of pop culture history. Whatever the reason, taking a group of people, trapping them in a small and easily penetrable shelter, and letting them turn on each other is great commentary on society.

3. Shaun of the Dead
Beyond the fact that it’s almost a spoof of the zombie genre right down to its title, SOTD deserves high marks for nailing the genre with its parallels of “Walking through life like a zombie” and making key decisions in bad situations and dealing with the consequences. Also, what to do when your mum becomes infected and doesn’t tell you. Not to mention it’s effing hysterical.

4. Thriller
WTF?!?!? (Internet Slang quota reached) You’re asking yourself, “Why is a music video on a list of films?” Well, I’ll tell you. Because, technically, it is a film, in short form. Also, it was eligible for an Academy Award. Now, I won’t say that it was eligible for a Best Picture Award because it was less than 40 minutes long. However, because it was featured with a special presentation of Fantasia, it was given eligibility by the MPAA for an Academy Award. That being said, you cannot argue that Thriller was not a great zombie film. Better than at least four of the ones on EW’s list. You have creepy corpses, rising from the grave. You have a damsel in distress. You have veteran horror film actor Vincent Price providing the “Thriller Rap.” Not to mention, you have a zombie dance number that was kick ass. Now, I’ve already been told that this isn’t a film by a trusted friend and while I respect their judgment and counsel, I maintain my position.

5. White Zombie
A classic starring Bela Lugosi. Though it did not earn a lot of street cred, or money, at the box office it stands as one of the original zombie movies, vodou not flesh eater.

6. Serpent and the Rainbow
True to the actual definition of the word zombie, SATR is not about flesh eating corpses but control, power, and vodou. While the author of the book for which the film was based on felt very displeased with the adaptation, the film still gives me shivers with its imagery and one specific scene involving a hammer, a spike and a naked man.

7. Planet Terror
If for anything else, Robert Rodriguez knows how to have fun with goo. Part of the Grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror boasts an all star cast including Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg, Michael Biehn, and Fergie…go figure. Gooey Zombies, bodily fluids, missing reels, and a really bad dog puppet that gets splattered on the road all provide the typical exploitive feel of a cheap drive in horror fest you’d find from the 70s. Taking those elements and using 21st century filming techniques compliments a rollicking good flick.

8. Day of the Dead
The film I consider the end of the Dead series started by Romero continues the story with scientists and military soldiers trying to coexist in a confined space. While one of the scientist domesticates a zombie called Bud, tensions ramp up as each group acts upon orders from the government which may or may not still be in control of the country as the zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of humanity. Like most zombie genre films, communication breakdowns lead to warring from within and ultimately destruction from the zombie at the door.

9. Return of the Living Dead
The Tar Man, Trash’s Cemetery Dance, the zombie who says, ”Send more cops” give the film that acknowledges NOTLD as a real event but not a prequel a great feel. Though somewhat of a comedic take on the zombie genre, ROTLD amps up the tension by changing the rules. Zombies crave brains, have intelligence and cannot be killed, again, by a shot to the head.

10. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Remakes are always a touchy subject for me. There have been several bad remakes or unofficial sequels to Romero’s work including the original NOTLD which was made into a 3D version in 2006 and it was pretty, pretty awful. However, the 1990 version directed by Tom Savini is just as good as the original and offers a different take on the fates of certain characters. In this version Barbara is not catatonic and as useless as in the original and actually survives the night after fleeing the house. Ben, played by Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination) is shot and wounded by Henry Cooper and hides in the basement as did the original Ben, but instead of emerging unturned and being mistakenly shot by police, he does become a zombie and is killed. Henry Cooper, who was killed by his daughter in the original, manages to survive, abandoning the others and hiding in the attic after being shot by Ben. The next morning when Barbara returns to the house to look for Ben she finds Harry alive relieved that she “Came Back” for him. She shoots him for his cowardice and says, “Another one for the fire.” The final images of the film carry the message of how we have become a monster all our own and have begun torturing the undead for sport and pleasure. This is a theme not explored in the original.

11. Braindead
Before King Kong and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Peter Jackson made some pretty wicked horror films including this one which was re-titled Dead Alive in North America. The premise is simple. Man attempts to smuggle evil weird creature into civilization, creature bites someone’s mother who becomes a zombie, that someone’s family member refuses to dispatch them, more zombies, more death, including death by lawn mower. It’s a splatter fest that still tops lists as the goriest movie ever.

12. Resident Evil
Based on what is considered the best Zombie Survival Horror Video Game Series, Resident Evil is an adaptation that actually works on certain levels as a good adaptation and good zombie film. The good: The theme of the Umbrella company developing a virus that eventually gets released turning employees and the residents of Raccoon City into zombies.Using elements of the game such as the Red Queen, The Super Train, The Lickers, S.T.A.R.S.,Traps like the laser grid that slices up members of the team.Cool zombies with cool moves and kills. Zombie dogs like the gameThe bad:Not a lot of congruity between game and film.Too much difference in the locations vs. the gameNot enough zombie threat. Granted, the game only has zombies in the first part, after that it’s all Bio Engineered Animals/Plants/Insects and mutated zombies.

13. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Again, remakes and sequels have a tendency to be really bad. This one is not as good as the original but does earn some cred for including a cover of Down With the Sickness by Richard Cheese and Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around in the opening credits. The best parts of the movie are pure zombie genre goodies. Ana fleeing her husband who abandons his pursuit to attack a robe clad neighbor on his lawn.Aerial shot of Ana driving from town as mass hysteria ensues including a car crashing through an intersection into a gas station and exploding.The death and reanimation of Frank (Matt Frewer) is a classic archetype moment of despair and dread being experienced by his daughter.The A-Team Bus ShuttlesThe crash and dismemberment of half the team while escaping.

14. Re-Animator
Cult classic status aside, this is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s work “Herbert West-Reanimator.” The tale imagines zombies as a kind of Romero/Vodou hybrid. They are willing servants to a master but are violent and in some cases cannibalistic. The movie adaptation spawned two sequels which work to adapt some of the beginning and end of Lovecraft’s serialization. Jeffrey Combs is the main character but scream queen Barbara Crampton makes an appearance as the daughter of the dean of Myskatonic University who gets molested by a zombie.

15. Night of the Creeps
Tom Atkins, known, mainly in his native Pittsburgh, for his expert portrayal of Art Rooney in the stage production of “The Chief” is also known for his role in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the horrible entry into the Halloween franchise. Here he is a cop trying to destroy slug like alien creatures that have infected and possessed humans, turning them into zombies. It’s campy, it’s 80s, it has one the funniest exchanges in dialogue, ever. “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here.” “What’s the bad news?” “They’re dead.”

Honorable Mention
Cemetary Man
aka Dellamorte Dellamore
This one has been making the rounds on Encore and other cable movie stations. At first I couldn't make heads or tails of what was going as my wife was sucked into this tale, but after watching again, I started to appreciate the commentary that the film follows. Rupert Everett is the titular character, dispatching zombies as they rise out of graveyard along with his mentally handicapped assistant, who begins a love affair with a reanimated head. Everett's Francesco Delleamorte carries out his job like so many of us in this world. "This is my business. They pay me for it." he laments as he blows away a resurrected biker who springs forth from the grave on his bike. The grim reaper also appears, as an over sized puppet, trying to recruit Dellamorte as a fellow reaper. It grows on you like only an Italian film can.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Saga of Balloon Boy

Andy Warhol coined the phrase "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Who would have known that Warhol predicted the age of reality television and the 24-hour news cycle almost two decades before the first Gulf War and Jessica McClure falling down a well.

On October 15th 2009, the world was gripped with fear and astonishment as a little lopsided helium balloon, which I’ve dubbed the Helium Falcon, took flight across the skies of Colorado. The experimental balloon, which looked like the love child of a Jiffy Pop pan and the Swedish Chef’s toque blanche, was tethered outside the home of a family in Fort Collins, Colorado. Reports came in that the six year old Falcon had climbed into the basket or compartment below the balloon and undid the moorings. The balloon then floated up and away from the home as onlookers wondered if this was an attack or a live promo stunt for ABC’s V, airing in November. That’s when the world started watching. Speaking of ABC and 15 minutes of fame, the Heene family was featured on the show Wife Swap.

As the detached dirigible floated up towards 10,000 feet, everyone sat on the edge of their seats wondering if little Falcon was inside. Wolf Blitzer covered it on CNN as analysts and pilots debated on the qualities of the balloons. Was it big enough to carry a boy Falcon’s size? How did the father construct the balloon? All manner of questions were thrown out to keep the story alive for longer than 20 minutes. Helicopters and camera crews watched in awe as the spinning balloon soared along the skyline towards Denver International Airport. Two Imperial Officers watched the balloon whiz by their tower, “Look, there’s another one.” “Hold your fire, there are no life forms on board.” To which the other officer replied “What are we being charged by the laser, now?”

Then as suddenly as it happened, the balloon gently landed in a field and little space men walked out and greeted Richard Dreyfus. Kidding, there was no Falcon inside the balloon. Where was Falcon? So, then it becomes a mystery as to what happened to this little boy. Did he fall out? Was he ever in the balloon in the first place? Now, a twenty minute story morphs into a media frenzy as search and rescue teams head out into the dwindling daylight to search a 15 mile or so radius for this detached basket. Soon, Wolf Blitzer throws up an image of the balloon and in the lower left corner of the image an object of some sort is seen in motion. Cue the Mega Pixel Giant Touch Map! Now we people trying to grasp and stretch this image that, wasn’t clear to begin with, into a huge blurry image so that we can try and perform a mass Rorschach test on live television. Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it Falcon? There was no clear indication what the hell that thing was except for the fact that it happened to be in the field of vision during the photo. It could have been a turkey flying over head.

Now, here’s where it gets even crazier. All the while during this media frenzy being dubbed Balloon Boy, which conjures up images of Jake Gyllenhaal in Bubble Boy, the Internet goes nuts with parodies. Shirts on Zazzle and CafePress hit the net. Writers in Hollywood start churning out spec scripts for a movie or at least a Lifetime Television Event. Everyone goes nuts until…….they find out the kid is hiding in the garage.

Around 6:15 pm, I finally switched back from watching Glee on my DVR to find out that little Falcon had been found alive, hiding in a box in the rafters above the family’s garage? His diary will be out next week. Seriously? The kid was hiding in the garage. Was this kid taking lessons from Bart Simpson? Did he just watch 12 Monkeys? WTF?!? (Internet Slang Quota Reached)

Now, what would have happened had this turned out differently? The entire media machine, including the amateur set of bloggers and shirt designers [read me, et. al], went crazy over the story and had we been wrong and the kid did fall out of the balloon or crashed, we would have been no better than the paparazzi standing alongside the wrecked remains of Princess Diana’s car in 1997. The ability to reach out and propagate a thought or fad or meme today is astounding. Blogs let us publish opinions and editorials, instantly. YouTube let’s upload movies…as long as they are not copyrighted… in minutes. I can produce and publish a design for a shirt in less time than it took for that balloon to crash into a field.

But, the joke could be on us. All of us who got sucked into the pseudo drama of Balloon Boy may have been taking for more than just a balloon ride. This could have been some Warholian attempt to get back into the spotlight. When asked by Wolf Blitzer why little Falcon didn’t come out when he was being called for, the kid didn’t answer. When his parents repeated the question, the six year old did what most kids do, say the wrong thing. “You guys said that, um [pause] we did this for the show.” What show, exactly? For show, meaning pretend? Then the kid gets sick, twice, during interviews on television, when asked the question, again.

Now, taking a day to digest all this, I watched the video of the “lift off” by the Heene family. After the balloon starts to float away, the father gets visibly upset, almost to the point of bad acting. Then, watching the Wolf Blitzer interview and hearing Falcon’s response, it almost seems like the kid was afraid to answer, like he forgot the preprogrammed response to that question. Asked about Falcon’s response, Richard says that Falcon was talking about a later moment when he was asked to recreate his climbing into the ceiling for the cameras.

As more and more comes out about this story, shock and awe turns to disbelief. The kids are allowed to swear and make rap videos? What about the report that the father asked his other son, Bradford, to take a ladder and get on the roof to look for the balloon’s heading. Then he states his fear that the kid could touch the high voltage supply inside. Was it 1.21 gigawatts of electricity?

As this all unfolds, you feel like this is some unscripted episode of The Office and Richard Heene is Michael Scott. Then the police hold their briefing today and the candor of the officer is just hysterical. I couldn’t hear all the questions being asked but at one point it sounded like a reporter asked him his personal take on the story and he responded, “I’ll tell you off record, perhaps over a toddy.”

And yet we watch and we watch and for 14 more minutes the world talks about Balloon Boy and his father Caractacus Potts. ABC is probably shuffling to find a spot in the schedule, so that they can rerun the episodes of Wife Swap featuring the Heenes. I’m sure the SNL is churning out specific bits for their live show on Saturday. I can see Bill Hader playing the beleaguered father while Fred Armisen plays the young Falcon. Robot Chicken could do an entire episode of bits with the balloon crashing into various Pop Culture clips like the aforementioned Star Wars interlude I spoke of or crashing into the balloon from the end of the Wizard of Oz after the Wizard breaks loose and even floating across the stage of the VMA’s in miniature as Kanye West halts the balloon’s progress long enough to say, “Im’ma let you finish, but Richard Branson has one of the best balloon videos of all time.”

See, we just can’t stop ourselves because our common sense is hiding somewhere in a box in the garage.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Afghan Incident

The title might suggest some sort of international disaster in Afghanistan, but it’s really just another in a long line of embarrassing moments in the life of Mongo.

In 1988, I was in trudging along through 8th grade. As anyone who survived adolescence will tell you, those are the dark days of growing up. After leaving the world of safety scissors and recess, that is grade school, you are thrust into the world of Junior High without a safety net. As you try to make that transition between childhood and adulthood, you are constantly being bombarded with the pressures derived from puberty, scholastic expectations and algebra. You’re brain is like a lit firecracker being held, tightly, in a fist.

It’s enough to want to make you crawl into a hold and die the first time you embarrass yourself among your peers. I was already becoming a pro at it. Teenage love and angst went together like chemical fertilizer and a detonator. Shakespeare was way ahead of his time writing Romeo and Juliet. If he were alive today, besides being really old and smelly, he’d probably be a writer for teen dramas like The OC and 90210. Honestly, he’d be the King of The CW.

Now, I tend to use Big Willie as a crutch in adolescent development analogies because he nailed it so well. Romeo and Juliet are the perfect encapsulation of what it is like being a teenager, to a teenager. Everything is life or death. You make one wrong move and you start the Mercutio Curse, setting off a cascading failure of events that eventually destroys your social standing. Sometimes you self destruct because a lack of self awareness and sometimes other people set the ball in motion. Usually, you find yourself digging a deeper hole, trying to rectify the misunderstanding, until the aftermath is the unraveling of an entire sweater thanks to pulling on one loose thread. This has happened to me.

One of my school friends had a Halloween Costume party at his house. Now, I didn’t have a store bought costume at the ready, because I was too old for trick or treating, and it’s not like I just buy costumes for the hell of it. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 had just come out in theaters a couple of months prior so, I decided to go as Freddy Krueger. My costume was cobbled together from an array of unauthentic elements. A red and white striped sweater was used instead of a red and green one. I had built the glove from a tan leather one, attaching sharpened emery boards, covered in foil, for the blades. My grandfather’s old green fedora served as Freddy’s trademark brown one. Still, it was passable considering I spent no money on the costume at all, though I still owe my mom some emery boards.

The guest list included a group of friends from school, all of which I had known for at least a year or more. There was my best friend, as well as a girl I liked, the non conformist punk type that managed to be your friend but still critical of you, and the very smart, yet always in trouble kid who also served as a nemesis/friend figure in my life. I say that because he functions as the sort of person that is friends with you on some days and against you on other days. We once ended being sent to the principal’s office after he lunged across the lunch table at me for knocking off his glasses. Yet, we sat there in hysterical laughter while we waited to be seen by the principal. See what I mean? With all these different personalities attending the party there was bound to be some sort of dramatic cataclysm.

At first everything seemed to be going fine but soon that social thread loosened and was about to be pulled. I don’t remember the exact details but somehow another kid’s shoe was thrown in my direction. I was holding a drink in one hand and did not have the cat like reflexes needed to block the projectile. My drink was knocked from my hand spilling all over my shirt as well as the blanket underneath me. But it wasn’t a blanket, it was an afghan knitted by a relative of kid who threw the party. Just after the shoe made contact with my drink and flew out of view, the kid’s father came into the room. I stood up immediately after feeling wet. The spilled drink that had pooled on my lap, fell onto the afghan in plain sight of the father. He immediately yelled out about the fact that the afghan was handmade. From the tone of his voice I thought he was joking so I nearly doubled over from laughter at his delivery. Apparently, he was serious and rather upset.

The gravity of the situation became worse as the nemesis and non conformist punk kid began adding insult to injury by lobbing supporting arguments at me in the form of “Why would do that?” and “What were you thinking.” Their participation in the situation painted me as a derelict that found pleasure in destroying other people’s personal property. Every step I took towards fixing the misunderstanding resulted in two steps back, in the content of my character, in the eyes of this man and no one else stepped in to help. I think it all just happened to fast to even comprehend what exactly had took place. It was a ping pong ball tossed into a room of mousetraps holding other ping pong balls. Before you even saw the first trap sprung, it was all over.

From that moment on, for the parents, I was labeled as “That Kid” while the best friend, who was the non conformist punk kid, was seen as the angelic friend to whom their son should aspire to be like. Meanwhile, the “angel” was sometimes friend and sometimes friend who used you as the butt of a joke to get laughs. Yes, for years I was known as “That Kid” and the will to overcome that was testament to the strength and resiliency of the teenage psyche. The long lasting effects of Post Traumatic Keds Disorder have finally ceased to hinder my ability to sit on woven materials while holding beverages.

Now, I cannot say with any certainty that this particular event was like the butterfly effect causing me to be cursed with ridiculous epic fail syndrome. I believe that this was a side effect caused by the skipping of “3rd Grade Swimming Lessons” for the class of 1993. That single event caused a rippling of bad juju throughout my entire class that ended up shortchanging us in a lot of things that were a part of every other class’ normal scholastic development and experience. But that is another story.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Legend of Zelda's

In the far off land of Oakland, PA, a young hero, named Mongo, set out on a quest to rescue a princess. His journey would pit him against evil PLCB officers, and drunken frat boys. Would he rescue his princess in time?

At the institution of higher learning known as The University of Pittsburgh, there was a bar name Zelda’s Greenhouse. For any student, who spent time living in the Litchfield Towers, before 1996, Zelda’s was pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to night life. In the wee hours of the morning, you could hear the distinct sound of trash cans full of empty bottles being emptied into the dumpster in the alley between the bar and the Towers. Living on the third floor, this became a very audible nightly ritual.

The bar itself was misleading. From the street it looked like any other bar, but once you got inside you found out otherwise. While the front looked to be rather small and compact, through a couple of doors in the back you found the “garden” aspect. The back was a huge walled room with plastic covering the roof in a big arch. During the warmer months, the plastic came off and you had great view up the side of the Towers. Another bar in the back allowed more drinks to be served to more drunken students.

It was one of the only bars on campus that an underage student could get into without the use of a fake ID. Common practice was having the guy on the bar stool outside honor student IDs as an acceptable proof of age. Seriously. Two dollars and a student ID could get you into a bar. In fact, to actually find someone over the age of 21 there was rare.

Some nights they would turn away minors because the evil PLCB or someone with ethics was lurking nearby. Other times, the entire bar was flooded with coeds blasted out of their minds on quarter priced drafts of the most wretched and watered down beer ever. Then, after getting liquored up they would all end up on the dance floor bump and grinding to the basest of dance music the mid 1990s had to offer. Many a young girl or guy wound up doing something they would regret later because of cheap beer. This young hero, however, did something stupid because of a girl.

It was a cool September night, Thursday to be exact, which was the official start to the weekend in college. I had gone to Zelda’s with some friends of mine and we proceeded to have a good time. Well, there was a young girl that caught my eye and suffice it to say, I was purely after her for her looks. We struck up a conversation and I felt that things were moving along smoothly. By the end of the night she was completely wasted and I was confident I was going to at least see her again. That was until the drunken frat boy showed up.

After awhile I noticed that there was another guy in the mix between myself and the girl in question. He was a complete scrub or as kids in my hometown would have called him, “scurfy.” Oddly enough, that is a real world with a different definition. Think of a piece of scaly skin or dandruff still hanging on to the body…that’s a scurf, dandruff. Here, a scurf was a drunken scumbag punk that was beginning to take advantage of an even more drunk girl. The only one noticing this taking place was me.

I noticed it because as I was standing there talking to this girl, the guy sitting behind her, intruding on our conversation, was now reaching his hand around her waist, below her shirt and groping her. It looked like that scene with John Hurt in Alien. There was this huge bulge underneath her shirt moving up her chest. I shot him a look and he shot one back, fully aware that I was watching him do this. So, he said, “Don’t look at me, man.”

Now part of me wanted to be mad that he was completely taking advantage of this girl. Part of me wanted to be mad that he was stealing my thunder. All of me wanted to dump his ass off of that bar stool and sit it on his neck. However, being a minor in a bar, I felt that violence would only attract unwanted attention. I made the decision to cut my losses. I told her I was going to go and as I went to leave something stopped me. I looked down and saw this girl holding onto my sleeve. While being drunk out of her mind, she had enough of her faculties about her to say, “Please, don’t leave.”

That was all I needed. I decided I had to do something and unfortunately, dealing with drunk people is hard. The simplest of tasks either become the biggest of chores or will cause resistance. Simply asking the girl to leave with me would have raised concerns with drunk boy and probably have gotten me punched. I needed reinforcements and a plan. I’ve learned in my life how to avoid violent conflicts by employing tactics to take the option out of the equation. This girl’s roommate was dancing with her boyfriend on the dance floor. I told her to hold tight and not go anywhere. I made my way to the couple and informed them what was happening. I asked her roommate to help get her to try and go home and I asked her boyfriend to just get in the way, effectively separating them. Now, he was a wrestler by the last name of Cox and he was a pretty intimidating guy. For some reason he was willing to listen to a guy he had just met.

The three of us made our way back to the bar where drunk boy was still trying to steal a cookie out of the jar. The plan went into action. Her roommate slipped an arm around her and yanked her away while Cox distracted drunken stool sitter. Unfortunately, they were not willing to leave the bar, so I agreed to take her home.

I walked her back to her dorm. Being in a different building than myself, I couldn’t just follow her up to her room. She would have to sign me in at the desk. My conscience became the most effective c-blocker ever and whatever desires I may have had brought on by being slightly inebriated and also a guy with a pulse went out the window. She showed enough presence to be able to get herself into the dorm and into the elevator so, I left it at that.

But, who says nice guys have to finish last? The next week I ran into her in the main dorm lobby and she apologized and thanked me for helping her out of that jam. I told her no problem and she said she felt real bad about the whole situation. She offered to make it up to me by buying me a drink at Zelda’s that Thursday. I immediately accepted and offered to meet her there. While, in my mind, the Devil that usually sits on my shoulder was giving the Angel a swirly in the toilet that was my mind at that moment. All was fair at this point.

Thursday came and I made sure to pay extra attention to looking as good as I could, with what I had. I made my way down to Zelda’s and something in my mind made me want to keep walking. There was something that just didn’t feel right. Instinct and self preservation kept walking and libido and primal nature decided to pull out my ID and pay my two dollars. However, instead of getting sloppy drunk, I decided to play it cool. Beer was too easy and since I wanted to be alert I opted for a real fluff drink and had Peach Schnapps and Sprite. Yeah, OK. I get it. Do I pee standing up? I do, but I wasn’t real interested in getting drunk.

That’s when it happened. Fifteen minutes after I walked in, bought my wussy drink and found the girl I was looking for, PLCB came busting in and raided the place. My instinct and self preservation were sharing a $5.00 pizza at The O with a busted up Angel sporting a black eye who decided to leave his post on my shoulder. They sat and laughed as more officers strolled past The O and filed into Zelda’s.

I couldn’t believe it. I was getting busted for underage drinking and all I had was a stupid Peach Schnapps and Sprite. Not to mention, I hadn’t even finished it yet. Now, there were two ways I could have gotten out of this whole mess besides not entering the bar in the first place. The first was by totally bluffing the guy watching the door. About three months prior to this night, I was pulled over for speeding and had been issued a citation. I am notorious for hanging onto paper and usually you can find a month’s worth or more of receipts in my pockets or on my dresser. Had I held onto that citation and had it with me, I could have shown it at the door and been able to walk out of there. That was the only way to get by the officer at the door and he barely even read what I showed him. The other way to have been let go was to claim I played for the football team. I didn’t find out until later that all of the football players were let go with a warning. This was the year Johnny Majors came back to coach and from what I heard a bunch of them told the officers that if “Coach” found out about this they wouldn’t be able to play on Saturday.

Needless to say, I did not try any of these tactics and, in fact, I became ipso facto entertainment while we all waited for the officer to fill out all our citations. Truthfully, since I was already up shit creek without a paddle, I might as well make the best of a bad situation. I even had the officer cracking up. Unfortunately, if I wanted to pull the old "Let's hope the officer doesn't show up" routine it became necessary for him to forget who I was in order to beat the charge. I didn’t do a very good job of it by making myself memorable.

After all was said and done, I ended up with a $100 fine, a 90 day suspension of my license, which began on my 21st birthday, less than six months away. Irony is a bitch, ain’t it? After that night, I never really spoke to the girl again and Zelda’s was shut down once and for all. For awhile it became a video store and a host of other small businesses that ultimately failed. Eventually, the building was torn down and fast food shops took its place.

Not to worry, though, other bars on campus took up the baton to be a haven for the underage. Another bar close to the dorms became the place to be without ID. But it got shut down, too.

Maybe it was a sign of the times. Maybe people just couldn’t keep a low profile. You’re not supposed to go around blabbing that you can get in a bar underage. IT’S A SECRET TO EVERYBODY.

Scanned article from the Post Gazette about the bust. Did you think I was making it up?

I wish. Grumble Grumble.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wikipedia Hates the Boston Red Sox

Wikipedia is given more credit than it should when it comes to accurately displaying information. That's why I joke in my Favorite Links List on the side that if it didn't show up in Wikipedia, it didn't happen. You get what you pay for when you let the Internet masses edit and contribute to one of the largest reference sites.

Now, either someone at Wikipedia or an outside party decided to edit the page for the 2009 American League Division Series. They included a line regarding their hatred of the Red Sox, who are playing the California Angels in game one of their matchup tonight. After I noticed it, I of course, screen captured it because as any game or computer geek knows, "Screenshot it or it didn't happen." So, I present to you a capture of said entry before it was caught. Notice the words right above Game 2.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Best Friends

My daughter has a best friend and she’s only two. I would think that, at such an age, she would not be able to comprehend the idea of friendship. She gets it, though. It’s not the kind of friend you find on Facebook. There was no need to confirm or explain the details. It just automatically happened. One day, she looked up and there he was. She smiled and that was all it took.

She makes time to sit and watch Sprout or just run around and play with her friend. They don’t spend every waking moment together, but they are pretty close. My wife asks her what she thinks of her friend and she simply replies, “My favorite.” They share adventures together and sometimes a cup of “pretend” tea. There has even been a muffin or two served. She even wears an oven mitt when she gets into her play oven to retrieve them. My wife pretends not to notice because she likes to just sit and watch them play, uninterrupted. They even share secrets. She has whispered in her friend’s ear a few times, although she doesn’t understand the concept of volume enough to bring it down to where nobody else can hear it.

I’m sure, one day, like most of our childhood friends, they will grow distant. Eventually, she’ll move on to new friends, but I hope she never forgets her because the first “best friend” is the one by which all others shall be measured against. I remember my first best friend when I was a child. I was probably only two or three at the time but, I still recall the times we spent together. It’s not the same thing, but with friends, it doesn’t matter. Friendship is universal, no matter what the case.

Little One's Best Friend

Monday, October 5, 2009

Project 10 to the 100 update

Way back in the beginning of the year I entered into a Google run contest called Project 10 to the 100th. It was an effort to pick an idea that could do the most good in the world. The winner would get financial backing or help in securing the financial backing to make the idea a reality.

The original vote date was in February. Then, it got pushed back to March. Well, after months of waiting for Google to evaluate the over 150,000 applicants, they’ve finally selected finalists to be voted upon. Unfortunately, I am not one of those finalists.

Now, I’m not expecting anyone to have actually been waiting for an update, but I figured I had to at least practice due diligence with having posted the information back at the beginning of the year. If you still want to participate and choose the best entry from the finalists, go ahead. May the best idea win.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Random Access Memory

Every time I hear Blind Mellon’s "No Rain" I am immediately taken back to my first year of college at Coastal Carolina University. It happens to me all the time. I’m driving along, skipping through radio stations and something like Blind Mellon or Hootie and the Blowfish comes up on some retro lunch hour dentist office station. Immediately, there I am, a Freshman at CCU, unpacking laundry from a Pizza Hut branded University of Pittsburgh drawstring duffel bag that I inherited from my brother. That, in turn, reminds me how I used to hate walking from the dorms down to the laundry room, which was about a half mile away. I once tried to ride my mountain bike there while carrying all my laundry and ended up wrecking in the middle of the road from being unbalanced. Then, that memory starts a domino rally of other memories like riding my bike all over campus to classes or to the Student Union to play Mortal Kombat in the small game room on campus. That throws me into a memory of being in the game room at the Student Union at the University of Pittsburgh, playing Soul Caliber. That fast forwards me into that following summer when I was working at Idlewild Park and watching people drop hundreds of quarters into the Mortal Kombat II machine while I stood there scratching at this huge gash on my leg that I got while sweeping the tracks over the trestle bridge that spans the Loyalhanna river. I missed a step from one tie to the next and fell into the open space. There is still an inch long indentation on my shin where I banged against the tie as I went through. Sweeping those tracks makes me think of Billy Joel’s "River of Dreams" song which was out about that time in my life. "River of Dreams" makes me think of the movie Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid and David Patrick Kelly. David Patrick Kelly makes me think of Jackie Earle Haley because of them using their full names which makes me think of that Nightmare on Elm Street remake that is coming out next year bringing me right back to the present day.

You ever have that happen? Somehow a sound or smell will immediately trigger a memory so vividly you feel like you are right back in that moment? Then, you shuttle around your life through a series of disconnected and unrelated images that somehow all gets tied together in one bigger string like a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon puzzler. Maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe I just had too much Lo Mein for lunch. Still, the ability for me to recall all of those mundane activities in my life is ironic in that I can’t remember what I was watching on television yesterday that featured an actress that I like. I’m recalling minute amounts of time over the last 24 years of my life in the matter of a couple of seconds but can’t remember something that happened in the last 24 hours. Is that a sign of Alzheimer’s or me just being a real dork? Don’t answer that.

Oh, and that reference to Kevin Bacon just made me think of his movie Stir of Echoes which featured a cover of The Rolling Stones "Paint It Black" which made me think of Matt Dillon because he hosted this show on Nickelodeon called "Wild Rides" which was about Roller Coasters and featured a bit with a scary looking custodian riding a coaster set to... "Paint it Black." It aired once New Year’s Eve in 1983 which makes me think of a friend who used to hang out with me on New Year’s Eve while our parents went out. That makes me think of the one time I went to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve with my girlfriend from high school and guess what CD my friend had playing in the background…. "River of Dreams".

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