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The Long Road To Fifty: 18 (Part One)

August 28th, 2014 No comments
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On the way to Ball State, under a pile of stuff in the back seat of Dad’s car. Unironically wearing an E.T. baseball cap. Yeah, I was going to fit in just fine.

The single strongest memory I have of my freshman year at Ball State University is of the song “Jack & Diane.” The lyrics of pre-Mellencamp John Cougar’s “little ditty” about “two American kids growin’ up in the heartland” are etched in acid upon my cerebral cortex. It was the soundtrack to move-in day at Wagoner Hall, and in the weeks that followed it played OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and oh yeah life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone

My first roommate was a classmate from Hobart High. I didn’t know Tim that well, even though we’d worked on several theater productions. I was cast and he was crew, and that seemed like enough of a relationship to make sharing a dorm room a good idea.

Partial view of my first dorm room. You can already tell the difference between my roommate and me. He's got the sunset photo, I've got the Star Wars poster and the videogame advertisements.

Partial view of my first dorm room. You can already tell the difference between my roommate and me. He’s got the sunset photo, I’ve got the Star Wars poster and the videogame advertisements.

It didn’t work out. As a first-year architecture student, he was rarely around. And when he was, we found that we didn’t mesh very well. Soon he announced that he would be leaving me for another architecture major.

I was lonely in those initial months. My best “friend” was a Tron arcade machine in the basement of the Student Union. I became very, very good at Tron.

That’s not to say I didn’t meet people, it’s just that for me social situations were like visiting a foreign country. I would go to dances and stand awkwardly still.

I think that I might’ve gone mad for a couple of days. I swore that I was hearing a phone constantly ringing in the distance. Thankfully, someone eventually answered it.

The biggest shock was learning that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought. As you may recall, I skated through high school in the top 10 percent of my class. But at Ball State, I quickly realized that I was rather average. A couple of guys down the hall played speed chess for fun, and even the one I took for a jock mercilessly crushed my king underfoot.

Things got better. I got a new roommate, Brian, who would be my BFF all the way through senior year. I began to make friends who didn’t require quarters.

And soon I found myself making a decision that would alter my life goes on long after the thrill of livin’ is gone oh my god it won’t stop

Twelve’s Night

August 28th, 2014 No comments

The arrival of a new Doctor Who is cause for both celebration and trepidation. As Peter Davison once said, “You quite never know what you’re going to get.” Some days you’re greeted with the charm of a Tom Baker or David Tennant, other times Colin Baker shows up at your door in a fucking clown suit.

Obviously, showrunner Steven Moffat was feeling trepidation about his new leading man, Peter Capaldi. And well he should, because for most of the nine years since Doctor Who returned to the air, the Doctor has been young and relatively handsome. His younger fans only know him as a manic, romantic figure. Along comes Capaldi, the second oldest actor to portray the Doctor, only months younger than William Hartnell was when he was cast in the part.

As someone whose first Doctor Who was Jon Pertwee, I’m perfectly okay with an aged, cranky Time Lord. Honestly, I’m slightly relieved. For as exciting as it was when Russell T. Davies suggested that there might indeed be “hanky-panky in the TARDIS,” it’s going to be nice to have a Doctor/companion relationship that isn’t centered around flirting.

So, how was Capaldi’s debut? Well, it wasn’t an out-of-the-park homer, more of a solid triple. (Hmm, must remember to substitute culturally-appropriate cricketing metaphor.) On the other hand, you can’t always go by initial impressions. The Eleventh Hour was a cracking good kickoff for Matt Smith, but look at how all that turned out.

Deep Breath was a low-stakes adventure, more of a “getting to know you” than a proper plot. Much of it centered around Clara’s difficulty accepting the Doctor’s changed face. (Which is odd, given that her status as “the Impossible Girl” has given her more insight into the Doctor’s many incarnations than any other companion.) By the time Matt Smith phoned up–a clever cameo recorded during last year’s Christmas special–to exhort her to give the new bloke a chance, it was hard to ignore the message aimed squarely at the audience. It’ll be okay. Mr. Bow Tie is gone, but Grandpa is nice too.

There’s one matter to discuss which is far too much of a spoiler to include without fair warning. Join me below for my thoughts about the mysterious “Missy.”

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The episode’s stinger was a short scene introducing a befrocked, umbrella-wielding woman named Missy. (You can see her at the far left in the above photo.) She referred to the Doctor as her “boyfriend,” and appeared to be the prime mover of recent events, down to giving Clara the TARDIS’ phone number back in The Bells of St. John.

My first thought was that Moffat was finally paying off the oft-repeated tabloid rumor that so-and-so would be playing the female renegade Time Lord known as the Rani. But in the post-show discussion that aired on BBC America, Chris Hardwick casually slipped in a theory that seems likely to be the correct one: Missy is the Doctor’s arch-foe, the Master.

It fits with recent rumors of the Master’s return. Moffat has denied the stories, but he’s got an obvious out here: he can always say “you didn’t ask me about the Mistress.” (“Missy” strikes me as exactly the sort of winking pseudonym in which the Master has frequently indulged.) It further establishes the idea of cross-gender regeneration hinted at in The Doctor’s Wife, and sets the table for a female 13th Doctor. Moffat toyed with this very thing in his charity skit The Curse of Fatal Death, in which the Doctor’s final regeneration was Joanna Lumley. (And it’s worth noting that it ended with the Doctor and Master pairing up.)

If so, this could go horribly wrong. I’m not eager for River Song Mk. 2. That said, I’m intrigued and very much hooked into the new season. As someone once said, it’s “change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon.”

Good…Bad…I’m The One With The Shark

July 30th, 2014 No comments

A recent installment of the YouTube video series PBS Idea Channel asked whether it was possible to deliberately make a movie that’s so bad that it’s good. Now, as this series is made for hipster doofuses, annoying jargon was required: “nanar” is French for “good bad” movies. I will not be using that word here.

Sit back and allow Mike Rugnetta to assail you with his ADD-friendly words and images for a few moments, then rejoin me below.

I’m going to agree with Mike here; you can’t intentionally make a “good bad” film. Many people have certainly tried, and some have even made a career of it. But these movies are at best pastiches and at worst, failed comedies.

Because, let’s face it, it’s easy to make a bad film. Even highly talented people do so. These days, any wiseass with a video camera and a few willing friends can haul down to Bronson Canyon and churn out a crappy sci-fi/horror flick.

What separates Plan Nine from Outer Space, Birdemic and The Room from the wannabes is the most important ingredient: sincerity. The directors of these films were passionate, and they inspired others to share that passion for a time. They didn’t set out to achieve badness; badness came to them. Ideally, the truly “good bad” movie ought to have something to say, being said by someone in no way qualified to get that message across. Birdemic wants to be an ecological parable, Plan Nine wants to warn stupid humans about the dangers of the arms race (also, exploding the sun). Their spectacular failure makes them all the more endearing.

Now, it’s entirely possible to make a good movie that emulates a bad movie. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a very funny pastiche of ’50s sci-fi, but it’s not a bad film by any means. It’s written and performed by people whose understanding of such cheap genre fare goes beyond the “look, you can see the strings” level of japery. My favorite scene is a pure comedy set piece: a dinner featuring a scientist and his wife, two aliens attempting to pass as human, and a villain whose “wife” is a feral amalgamation of “four different forest animals.”

And that brings me to the reason for today’s post, Sharknado.

For the uninitiated, Sharknado is one of many B-movie pastiches produced by The Asylum, a film studio that specializes in poverty-row “mockbusters” and exploitative monster flicks, most of which show up on the Sci-Fi SyFy Channel. They’re the people who create such artificially-induced “good bad” films as Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, which promise ludicrous spectacle, but are mostly kinda dull.

Sharknado is literally about a tornado full of sharks, and it ends with Ian Ziering chainsawing his way out of the stomach of a Great White.

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My Lego tribute to “Sharknado.”

And I will make the case that Sharknado is a good movie. Not “good bad,” but one that is largely successful at what it’s trying to do, which is to take The Asylum’s favorite formulas of aquatic monsters and city-leveling disasters to a logical, ridiculous conclusion. It’s not two minutes of “money shots” surrounded by 80 minutes of tedious dialogue. The shark attacks come early, often and in the least likely of circumstances. It’s the movie that Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus wanted to be.

Tonight sees the premiere of Sharknado 2, which I am approaching with trepidation. Everyone appears to be in on the joke now, and I fear that the sequel will fall into the category of failed comedy. After all, it’s far too easy to make a bad movie.

Fifty

July 27th, 2014 No comments

And here we are at fifty.

I’d thought that I might make one of my grand gestures for my 50th birthday–renting a movie theater, perhaps–but in the end I’ve got nothing much planned. Today is Sunday, which is board game day over at my favorite game store. At first, I thought, “Is that how I want to spend my big day, doing the same thing I do every Sunday?” Then I thought, “Well, that’s where your friends are, so why is this an issue?”

So, for my 50th I will participate in an X-Wing miniatures tournament by taking my new TIE Defender for a spin, and afterwards I’ll attempt to use my birthday as leverage to have one of my own board games hit the table for a change. Vicky is making cupcakes. It’ll be a nice time with good people, and what more does one need?

As I always do this time of year, I note that Jerry Van Dyke–my birthday-sharing nemesis–is still alive. I suppose that I oughta cut the old bastard some slack. I mean, it’s not as if I have a terribly good reason for despising him. You see, when I was a kid, I loved watching The Dick Van Dyke Show…but I couldn’t abide the two storylines in which he appeared as Rob Petrie’s brother Stacey. And the very worst thing about them was that they were both two-parters, which meant that next day’s episode would suck too. Still, are those crimes worthy of the bitterness I feel toward this lesser of the Van Dykes?

Yes. Yes they are. Suck it, Jerry.

The Even Longer Road To Fifty

July 21st, 2014 No comments

It should be blindingly clear by now that I am not going to finish this series in time for my birthday as originally conceived, given that the big day is this Sunday and I’m still only 17 going on 18. I’ve gone off on tangents and have split some years into multiple posts. I’ve skipped some days due to behind-the-scenes research and scanning, and others because I simply haven’t felt like blogging every available moment.

Rather than trying to rush 33 years into a single week, I thought about leaving the series unfinished. But I’ve still got a bunch of stories to tell, and at least some of my friends and associates claim to have been enjoying previous entries.

So, I’m going to continue. It’ll take some time, and I’ll probably intersperse some of my typical nerd rantings in between biographical bits. But hey, I’ll be fifty for an entire year, right?

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The Long Road To Fifty: 17 (Part Three)

July 15th, 2014 No comments

In my junior year, drama teacher Ms. Mumaugh told me that she had a future show in mind that would be perfect for me. So, when she announced Inherit the Wind as our senior year play, I assumed that I was a lock for one of the battling lawyers. Not that I didn’t give the audition my all; I made a big show of dramatically walking around the classroom as I delivered my oratory.

Now, it must be clear to you from this introduction that I did not get the part. It was certainly a shock to me. Instead,  in a deeply ironic casting choice, I found myself playing the fire-and-brimstone preacher Reverend Brown. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, if the person who was cast as Henry Drummond had been capable of learning his damned lines. Or not pronouncing “Copernicus” as “Kerpenis.”

inheritthewind

All in all, I had a solid if not spectacular high school career. As someone with talents for word-slinging and test-taking, I never had to try all that hard to academically succeed. I was never in contention for valedictorian, but I finished in the top 10% of my class and won a small scholarship from my college of choice, Ball State University.

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But before college came summer vacation, and with it my very first job. Dad arranged it with a friend of his, and I’m pretty sure that it was patronage employment in the grand tradition of Greater Chicagoland politics.

Mind you, it was a shit job. I spent the better part of the summer working on a road crew in Lowell, walking behind the truck and shoveling tar into potholes. I was hot, achy and covered in asphalt. I amused myself by giving proper burials to roadkill. Somewhere on the outskirts of Lowell there was a drive-in (or drive-on) pet cemetery.

Still, it was money, most of which went to buying new clothes. I had my friend Deb to thank for whatever level of fashion I brought to my freshman year of college.

 

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The Long Road To Fifty: 17 (Part Two)

July 14th, 2014 No comments

There’s a good reason that I’ve continued to watch the TV series Glee long after its inarguable decline, and it’s because it truly speaks to my high school drama club experience. No, we didn’t break out into highly choreographed cover renditions of popular songs, nor were our ranks filled with improbably beautiful football players and cheerleaders. We did, however, share the need to perform. We were perpetual underdogs. And, man, did we ever have the backstage romances.

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Well, I didn’t, and that became a source of frustration. Around me, the heat of the stage lights and the close proximity of the boys’ and girls’ dressing rooms cooked up a roiling hormonal soup. For me, however, the hookups and breakups remained at a distance. I was firmly in the “friend zone.” For my 17th birthday, I made a half-assed attempt at asking out one of my crushes, who–once she realized that I had not invited her to a party–delivered the dreaded, “But Dave, you’re like a brother to me.”

If there was an upside to my attempts to woo, it was that they provided the motivation for me to learn to drive. (This skill served me well on my single high-school “date,” dinner out with a girl named Laurel.)

At my most pathetic, I took the bluntest possible route in pursuit of romance. Like a latter-day Martin Luther, I tacked papers to the door of the girls’ dressing room. Rather than 95 theses, however, they were an invitation to join me in a backstage romance. Yes, I literally put it that way. There was even a sign-up sheet.

And while this lamentable effort did not catapult me into boyfriendhood, at least it did not lead to my being mocked into oblivion. As a matter-of-fact, a lot of people signed the paper.

Don’t believe me? I still have it.

signup

 

Honestly, it was rather sweet of them. And more than I deserved.

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The Long Road To Fifty: 17 (Part One)

July 8th, 2014 No comments

Hey, remember when I said you’d see that plaid jacket again?

seniorThat’s right, in my senior photo I’m wearing a nightmare jacket that I stole from the theater department’s costume room.

Looking back, it occurs to me that I always have challenged authority. I was especially troubled by matters of censorship. For my senior talent show, I wrote and performed a song-and-dance number about the Moral Majority, the would-be cultural arbiters at the time.

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Here are the (partial) lyrics, set to the tune of the old Frank Loesser song, “Murder, He Says.”

We’re trying to pass a law now
To ban sex on teevee
What you think doesn’t matter
You’ll have to follow our decree
We’ll boycott all of your companies and annoy ya
Just because we’re religious don’t mean we won’t destroy ya!

Ban it!
We say, we don’t think it’s right, we say
Can it!
Today, we’re achin’ for a fight, we say
Ban it!
All day, we’ll have to censor it all!

When it comes to satirical songwriting, I am not exactly Tom Lehrer.

Censorship became a more personal concern during my year on the school newspaper, the Ho-Hi Life. (Theme song: “Ho-hi! Ho-hi! It’s off to work we…guy?”)

hohi2I was in charge of the editorial page, which suited my dual interests in writing and having opinions. There I took bold stands against school buses and mandatory student convocations.

That winter, our intrepid news team encountered the heavy hand of The Man. Embarrassed by an unflattering story about one of his “Talk to the Principal” sessions, Dr. Wirtz declared that all future issues would have to be pre-approved by him. Outraged, I appealed to Indiana’s Attorney General. I still have the reply that I received. (“…it seems that the principal, in screening the paper, is acting as publisher. Understand that freedom of the press principles apply primarily to prevent outside interference.”)

I did have the last laugh, after a fashion. Around the masthead of our final issue, I carefully laid out a border of Morse Code dots and dashes: “Dr. Wirtz is a jerk.” Vengeance was mine.

Yet my enmity toward Dr. Wirtz was nothing compared to my white-hot resentment of the football team.

Understand that I attended Hobart High during the early years of Brickie Football mania. (Our team was named for the former brickyard which housed the football field until 2008. Our mascot Yohan was a knock-off of Purdue’s Boilermaker. So was our coach, Mr. Howell. Seriously, Coach Howell was built like Yohan. It was creepy.) Football was the only thing of importance at HHS.

I learned this the hard way the time our drama club tried to participate in the pep rally. We had rehearsed a skit that we felt would show our support for the team, but were booed out of the gymnasium. It would be the last time I had even the slightest school spirit. Thereafter, I made a point of sitting for the school song. I was just like Rosa Parks, except for the not-making-a-difference part.

Hell, not even the other sports teams were respected. After one notably unpeppy rally for Brickie Basketball, Coach Howell railed against the assembly, infamously declaring “We sweat blood for our jerseys!” Soon, “Sweat blood!” became a rallying cry for me and my disaffected friends.

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The Long Road To Fifty: 16

July 3rd, 2014 No comments

And then I had a mustache.

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My facial hair kept coming in thick and fast, and one day, after hearing the taunt “You’re growing a mustache!” for the eleventy-billionth time, I decided, “Fuck it, I will grow a mustache.” That showed them.

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Junior year was the pinnacle of my high school acting career. I scored the second male lead in the Cold War comedy Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys. (Take note of that jacket I’m wearing in the above photo. You will be seeing it again.) My “wife” in the production was a stunning blonde named Cathy, and I was to kiss her. It said it right there in the script. Now, you may be thinking “score,” but honestly, I was scared.

Miss Mumaugh ultimately had to pull the two of us into the spare choir classroom so that I could practice kissing. Again, I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was painfully awkward, and I’m sure trebly so for her.

I survived the ordeal, and went on to land the part of Buffalo Bill in the spring musical, Annie Get Your Gun. That was a lot of fun; I got to wear a white, spangly cowboy suit. I was also supposed to sport a ridiculous wig, but ultimately we opted for spraying my hair grey. I liked the grey hair look. Unfortunately, my follicles abandoned me decades before I would be able to adopt that look for reals.

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The following summer, I was one of a handful of HHS students selected to go to theater camp at Indiana State University in Terre Haute (a French phrase meaning “hot dirt”). It was my first time away from home for an extended period, and I was seriously freaked out. (It did not help that I discovered my roommate was stealing my prescription pills. Buddy, you were not going to get high off what I was taking.) I got a grand total of four hours’ sleep those first two nights. I was literally zonking out during our relaxation exercises.

After that I settled down and had a great time. I got to hang with the funny kids, listening to Monty Python albums and singing “Sit on My Face.”

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I was totally smitten with the girl in the white blouse in the above photo. You’ll note that I managed to slip in beside her for the group shot. Her name was Celeste, and she fit my “type”: pretty, brunette and smart. While, of course, I went absolutely nowhere with this summer infatuation, I did spend the next few years saying that I wanted to name my daughter Celeste. Eventually, someone pointed out to me that that would make her full name “Celestial.” And then I wanted to do it all the more.

 

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The Long Road To Fifty: Interlude 3

July 2nd, 2014 No comments

It should go without saying that I was one of the founding members of the Dungeons & Dragons Club at Hobart High School. Here is the initial membership in our virginal glory.

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You may notice that here I have proof positive that even back then there were female D&D players. Well, one. In my senior yearbook, however, eight are pictured.

Now, I’m not in this next photo, but I thought it was worth posting all the same. Here is the inaugural HHS Computer Club.

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“Computer Club” is a precise description. There was one computer for the club’s 17 members. According to the 1981 yearbook, “A new Computer Club was added to the students (sic) extra-curricular activities when a TRS-80 computer was purchased at the request of Principal Thomas Wirtz. Students were able to write their own computer programs, directing the computer to do certain tasks. The computer also came with pre-written games that the students enjoyed experimenting with during club meetings.” The reader is left to speculate upon the nature of these games.

I never did get my hands on the powerful TRS-80, but in senior year I did have my first computer experience with this beauty, a phototypesetting machine excitingly named the Quadritek.

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The first personal computer I would own–a Commodore VIC-20–was still more than six years in the future.

 

 

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