Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mission Impossible

It was never said out loud, never really discussed, but there was always this feeling that Baptists were this weird Christian cult when I was younger. I think it was the way that the Catholic clergy would sort of acknowledge their existence as if, "Well, they have fallen. We would welcome them back, but they have a long way to go. Their message is mostly right, but they get some stuff wrong."

And the Lutherans were almost treated as the halfway mark between being Catholic and being one of those weird cultist. "Well, they technically left the church, but most of our traditions and teachings are in tact. Really, they just lack sanctioned leadership."

I never actively thought much about Baptists. North County was a Catholic stronghold. I never really had to consider Baptists. In fact, I was unsure if they actually existed outside of the south.

So in high-school, we started seeing flyers for these war games called Mission Impossible. You met at  First Baptist Church - Harvester on a specific day, paid $5 for the bus ride and crew that set things up, and were whisked away to a farm out in Lake St. Louis.

I had a pretty close-knit group of about five guys at the time. Eric and I debated for roughly a week as to whether or not do this. We didn't know how closely affiliated with the church it was, both of us growing up Catholic, didn't want to be put in a weird situation.

Turns out, two of the other guys in our group actually went to that church. It was sort of one of those punch you in the stomach, "Oh yeah, the world is much larger than your views and lifestyle" sort of moments. They had assumed we were Baptists, we had assumed they were Catholics, turns out, you can totally hang out if your beliefs don't line up as long as you're not a jerk face.

So they talked us into going.

I was 16 at the time. I remember being able to drive Eric, Ben, and me. We showed up at the church, gave our five dollars, got out team assignment, and then were shuffled into the church while we waited.

Inside they handed us cards and asked us to fill out our contact information. For the first time in probably a decade, I thought, "I should really call my mommy and find out if this is OK."

I think I gave our old North County phone number and address. Either way, I know that I didn't end up getting any calls or mailings, but Eric did.

Anyway, we bused off to this farm and the set up was beyond anything I imagined.

The game involved you getting a mission (a piece of paper) from your base, sneak to the center of this huge field where a tent was set up, get the mission stamped, and then get back to your base.

They had rented a cherry picker and had it extended as far as it would go and set up two spot lights on it. The spot lights were hooked up to sound systems. So if the spotlight caught you, you would hear gun fire and have to give up your mission.

They had the Army ROTC crew in camouflage chasing us around. If they caught you, you went to jail and had to stay there until you heard a buzzer signifying your jail time was up.

They had dug tunnels out of certain parts of the terrain where you could crawl to the center base.

It was an incredible set up.

My team ended up having a lot of non-church goers from my high-school on it. We were doing pretty well. Every quarter they would tally up points and we were typically in the top 2.

Then, our team leader suggested everything is fair in war and we needed an edge. The team leader started handing us 3-5 missions at a time. That way, one or two could get torn up on the way to the base, but we would still have 3 points we could get stamped.

Now, as a side note, our team leaders were all part of the church. There's a part of me that thinks they were told to do this as a sort of morality test. And we failed terribly.

The last quarter of the game, we tripled our score, leaving all the other teams in the dust. We thought for sure, we were going to win this.

Then the game ended. We were sat around a big bonfire and told to wait until the bus arrived. This is when Eric and I felt really uncomfortable. One of the youth pastors asked for everyone to hold hands and pray. And then when done praying, he asked everyone to hug as a sign of brotherhood.

Eric and I went to two Catholic churches with a very hands off philosophy. The worst part of the Catholic service is when you had to shake hands with the people that had been coughing and sneezing all around you.

In a sort of homoerotic but survival mode, Eric and I just sort of put our arms around each other like true brothers for a long embrace, not giving a chance for any of these sweaty strangers to touch us. If they approached we sort of stared them down a little.

After the hug session, they announced that my team won, but were disqualified because we cheated. They gave the win to the second team, which I believe was $10 Wal Mart gift cards to each person.

So I guess this comes to the, "What is the point of this? What did you learn?"

Well, I learned that Baptists aren't cult members. In fact, I married one and now have many swell Baptists in my life. 

I learned that either cheating doesn't pay off or that I'm just terrible at cheating. 

I learned that when faced with hugging sweaty strangers, I would rather have a long bro-tastic embrace with a buddy of mine.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mall Ratting at Mid Rivers Mall

A few years ago, I posted about how empty my childhood mall, Jamestown was. (See Mall Ratting at Jamestown Mall)

Well, this weekend I went back to another one of my childhood malls, Mid Rivers in St. Charles.

This was one of the brightest spots about moving to St. Charles. I would earn my allowance, save it for a month, and then get dropped off at the mall.

The day of 15 year old Dan at the mall would go something like this:

  1. Grab a slice of cheese pizza from Sbarros. Sometimes I'd get orange chicken at whatever Chinese place was there at the time.
  2. Wander through Hot Topic looking for a Nirvana, Goldfinger, RX Bandits, Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Finch, or New Found Glory shirts. Didn't usually buy, just looked.
  3. Wander through PacSun when they were still focused on skate shirts. Find some good stuff and make note because I would never spend my precious allowance on clothing. I'd then bring my mom back and play dumb like I hadn't looked at clothes and hope she would buy me a shirt or two.
  4. I would then go get a frozen coffee drink. As a non-coffee drinker at the time, this would give me the best caffeine highs of my life. This is when the mall visit got interesting.
  5. Now before GameStop took over, there were three video game stores in Mid Rivers Mall: FunCoLand, Babbages, and GameStop.
  6. FunCoLand was always first. It had the nicest guys, but was also the smallest. It was best for finding older games for older systems.
  7. Then I would go to GameStop to check the bargain bin they kept on the counter. Games that they no longer had cases for sold for $1. 
  8. Then, still riding the high of my caffeine rush, I'd go to Babbages. Babbages is still the largest video game store I've ever been in. I'd chat up the guy at the counter, who often would point me toward some weird, smaller Japanese video game, and I'd walk out of the store with the strangest games like Mr. Mosquito and Incredible Crisis.
  9. Then I would return home to listen to Limp Bizkit and play my new games until 3 am when I would finally crash.
Most of my best memories in St. Charles come from these mall days.

What 31 year old Dan found was a cocktail of nostalgia and slight sadness.

The signs were already there. It's exactly how I remember Jamestown starting to close down. Three shops adjacent to each other and then in the middle of them is what looks like a shop, but you soon realize it's a window display for another business.

There were still tons of people there, but something doesn't feel right. It's like people are at a wake. No one really talking. No one jumping on the trampoline kiosk. No one in line for the movie theater. Half the food court was shut down.

The most depressing part of my visit was walking through the Tilt Arcade. No one was actually working in Tilt, not even at the prize counter. In the back corner was 20 or so unplugged or broken arcade cabinets parked like some sort of 80's grave yard. The games they did have were either from 1992 or boring one button ticket earning games like Deal or No Deal. (Which they had two)

Even the stock at huge stores like V-Stock were lacking. Shelves were only 2/3 full. And what was there were things no one wanted.

St. Louis was once the mall capital of the United States. But now, we only have a few malls that show strong numbers.

It's a combination of the two newer malls in Chesterfield spreading the already fledgling mall crowd too thin and Amazon.

It's a bummer. As someone that loves having a low-key weekend wandering the mall, I realize the life of these places is quickly running out. My only hope is that Amazon creates a virtual mall for my future VR headset and I can walk the Amazon mall from the comfort of my own home.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Music Videos as Short Films

When I studied film in college, we barely spent 2 weeks discussing Music Videos as short film. I got the sense that the professor felt that since they were no longer used as marketing trains for bands, (this was 2006 - 2007) they were somehow not important pieces of film.

Well, thanks to YouTube the music video has made a come back launching careers like Macklemore and Pomplamoose.

It's something I've thought about a lot lately as Sal and I have been having late night dance parties any random Friday night where we have nothing to do. We'll take turns shouting out a song we want to hear, put it on YouTube, and blast it.

Some videos are iconic like Micheal Jackson's Thriller, visually disturbing videos like Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun, and visually stunning videos like Daft Punk's Around the World and Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice.

The thing is, all of these music videos have directors. And sometimes those directors spend 3-5 minutes doing a visual art project. 

But then there are directors that somehow tell a really complicated story in their time. And the one I'm most impressed with is when they capture human infatuation with someone they love. 

I'm going to start with Third Eye Blind's cover of Beyonce's "Mine." This is really the video that sparked my brain to think about this. It came up randomly one night while I just hit play on the music section of YouTube. 

It's a view from the singer's eyes about a girl he is obviously in love with. All the little things he notices about her. Her silliness wearing giant pixel glasses, the wind blowing through her hair as the sun captures her natural beauty, and the way she laughs. And when you do see the singer on screen, he's happy. His attention is focused on her. 

In melodramatic more angsty teenager way, Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends" tells the story of young love torn apart because a young man decides to join the military during war time. This one is actually filmed like a movie, with scene's between the music, adding almost 3 minutes to the music video. 

It shows the struggle of being apart when circumstances are beyond your control.

And then there's Death Cab for Cutie's "A Movie Script Ending" showing the heart break of driving with a lover to the air port to see him off for what feels like forever. You can't enjoy simple things with your lover, like getting Chinese takeout, because you already miss him so much. 

And although, somewhat of an overused trope, Eve 6's "Here's to the Night" has a love struck man, supposedly filming a party, but very obviously focusing on the girl he likes. There's stimulation going on all around him, but he still zooms the camera past all his dancing friends to focus on this one girl. 

When you start thinking about Music Videos as short movies, it can change the entire feel of the video. Certain songs that weren't landing before might have a new emotional grasp on you when you see a story play out in front of you. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Childhood Utility Drawer

You know how every has that junk drawer in their house with a deck of playing cards, loose screws, a little change, and sometimes a hammer?

Well I had that when I was a kid, but it was much more fun.

I blame it on the Adam West Batman show. I used to watch the hour block of Batman everyday at my babysitters house and I was always amazed that no matter what sticky situation Batman and Robin found themselves in, they had a gadget to get out of it.

I also watched a ton of sitcoms, especially TGIF (Full House, Family Matters, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, etc) and SNICK (Are You Afraid of the Dark?, All That, Keenan and Kel)

So, in my young impressionable mind, I learned 1. to be prepared for any situation and 2. wacky adventures would pop up and you needed the tools to overcome them.

My first move was Christmas one year. My brothers and I would go through the Sears catalog and circle the stuff we wanted. I found a 101 Magic Trick set and quadruple circled it. To me, that seemed like buying a tool box before getting specialty tools.

Turns out this kit was a bust. There was the magic wand that would get longer by you tugging on the white capped end. The deck of cards that were tied together by a very obvious string that you could pretend to drop and pull back up like a yo-yo. And then there was a normal deck of small, cheap cards, and a book with 50 card tricks. Only one of the tricks kind of worked and it involved doing a swap-a-roo with the 6 and 9 of diamonds and hearts.

I then started building my specialty tool collection.

Arcades and skate rinks were primed for this. While my friends would turn in tickets for candy, I grabbed fake dog poop, a small screwdriver set (which snapped first time I used it), knotted metal rings, Chinese finger traps, an over sized checkers board, and one of those peg games you see at Cracker Barrel.

Beyond that, there were all these old quarter and dime machines that still had toys in them in my cousin's basement. The keys were long lost and we weren't made of quarters and dimes, (We were like 10, come on.) so we broke into them using a hammer and flat head screw driver. Ryan would pry the lid open as much as he could and I would reach my scrawny little hands in there.

I scored moldy temporary tattoos, a plastic Riddler shot glass, a dozen or so bouncy balls, and weighted dice.

These stayed in the same drawer until I left for college. It was one of those regrettable things where I just couldn't justify moving it and I knew my parents weren't going to hang onto this stuff. I went through it all, and realized that out of all the years, only one of my sitcom pranks worked and it was glorious.

That, was the exploding cigarette.

It was a small tin, much like what you get Altoids in, filled with these little seed looking things. You'd sort of pack the seed into the end of a cigarette and as the person was smoking, the seed would heat up until it popped, exploding the end of the cigarette.

I pulled a pack out of my dad's Blue's jacket, stuffed one in a single cigarette and waited.

A few days later, my dad came in the house laughing. "Did you do that? It scared the hell out of me."

My only regret is I didn't get to see it happen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to See the Foo Fighters

Last night, after just about 15 years of trying to see the Foo Fighters, I finally got to see them.

It's not for lack of trying. Every time I'm about to see them something happens.

November 1, 2000 was the first time I tried to see them. They were playing at The Pageant. I had recently turned 16, so I was free to actually drive to the show. And coming out of my dark Korn, Sliknot, Staind phase, I was excited to have happy rock back in my life.

I asked around and only my friend Megan wanted to go. I offered to drive if she procured the tickets. She agreed. She went to Sears to buy tickets from customer service. Yes children, there was a time where Sears was the quickest way to buy concert tickets.

I even remember a week before the show, I was working at Bandannas and the Point played a supercut of all of their hits at the time. Mind you, this is only 3 albums in and they had roughly 15 hit songs. This is even before probably their biggest hit Times Like These. I was amped.

Now, I had only known Megan for about a year at this time, so I didn't know one of her major character flaws. If she had a boyfriend, she would ditch you in a minute.

The Saturday before the concert, Megan met a guy through her older brother. This guy was really into fishing, hunting, camo, and Megan. And she was into him.

The day before the concert, Megan told me she had a new 18 year old boyfriend. The day of the concert I tried to call Megan. She didn't answer until 7 pm, where she answered her phone at the Pageant, and screamed over the crowd, "Me and Nathan are at the show. Where are you?"

I was crushed. I ended up sitting at home alone that night being really angry. I probably put on Staind because I was so angry.

The worst part was, I found out Nathan didn't even like the Foo Fighters.

I was in Columbia for the next two times the Foo Fighters came through.

The next time was over a decade later. Foo Fighters at Scottrade Center on September 17, 2011. Tickets went on sale in August. It was one of those things where the tickets were slightly too expensive to just buy them, so you had to talk to the significant other and make sure it was ok. Sal felt the same way.

By the time we got home from work that day and talked about it, the show sold out, and the aftermarket tickets were incredibly more expensive.

So we decided we would wait until pay day and see what was available. This is one of the few times where I can say waiting paid off. Before the next payday was when I broke my leg.

Completely buried in medical debt, unable to walk for months, we decided that the Foo Fighters show was not going to work.

So last night was a huge deal. And the show was great. Dave sat in his giant metal throne thanks to his broken leg, but still rocked. You could tell he just wanted out of his chair so he could jump around.

Unfortunately, with my bad knee and the lack of sleep Sal and I have been getting, we didn't make it past 10 pm. The lawn is not my friend anymore.  Luckily, that was already about 2 hours into the set. They ended up playing until 11. We felt like we got our fill.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Bunch of Idiots Sitting Around Playing a Card Game Online Instead of Socializing Like a Normal People

A recent trend among my friends and I are playing card and board games.

There was a solid 15 year period where I didn't touch a board or card game. I didn't have any use for them. Why would you pull out a game when there were so many other things to do? I was busy driving around St. Charles, watching my sweet DVD collection, and going to concerts.

It started when I went to Salt Lake City in 2007. My buddy Allen had this game called Killer Bunnies that we played several nights while I was there. The game was so fun, I ended up buying it and most of the expansions before I got home.

My love of the local, real life game faded a bit with graduating college, getting married, moving across state, getting laid off, etc. We didn't have time or friends nearby to play a game that needed at least 3 people to be fun.

Then there was a night where Sallie and I were sitting in bed next to each other playing "Words With Friends" which is a straight rip off of Scrabble.

There was a point where we both sort of looked at each other and thought, "This is really stupid, why don't we just bust out the Scrabble board so we don't have to look at this screen anymore?"

So for the next several weeks, we would sit in bed playing Scrabble against each other.

Our re-found love of games didn't really spill into the party arena until a game for terrible humans was released. Cards Against Humanity is a game much like Apples to Apples, except most of the cards are violent prompts with Hitler answers.

The first time we really played it was Christmas Eve 2011. Nick and Brett came over to our house and the four of us played through the entire deck because it was so hilarious. There were times where Nick was laughing so hard at a well placed poop joke that he couldn't read the rest of the prompt and drool was spilling from his mouth all over the coffee table.

Recently Sal and I got the itch to start a puzzle. We went to Target and after pouring over some really dumb puzzles of flowery fields and cartoon characters we didn't know, I found a puzzle of Scottrade Center in the clearance aisle. 1000 pieces for $3. Can't go wrong with that right?

Well, we worked on the puzzle several Sunday nights in a row, making slight progress. Soon we realized that it was a cheaply made puzzle. It was one of those where the picture was sort of blurry enough on certain parts of the crowd and the pieces could sort of be forced to fit that we weren't sure if we were actually making progress.

We gave up on that puzzle, but maybe we'll pick one up again soon. It was relaxing to do while watching TV.

A few weeks back, Brett, Rosie, Sal, and I were sitting around my brother's loft downtown wanting some entertainment we could all play. My brother was talking up Settlers of Catan, a game that was popular among my friends already, but I had never played it.

It was a blast. Unfortunately, it's only a 4 player game and somehow Sal and I tend to hang out in groups of 6 most often. So it hasn't come out since that first night, but I'm itching for more.

While we were shopping for Settlers of Catan, the guy at the comic book shop talked up a card game called Boss Monster. I just bought this using a gift card from my birthday. I can't wait to play it. I really can't.

It's weird having this love of the board game all of a sudden again. In a way, I feel like it's some rebellion against the screen. It's a way to keep people's attention span long enough so that their nose doesn't get buried in their phone browsing Reddit and you can just hang out like normal people.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Defender of My Mouth

I've never liked things near my mouth. I think it started the first time I went to the dentist and they started poking me with that damn hook and then I had to do a fluoride rinse that tasted like bubblegum dipped in sewage.

And because I don't like things near my mouth, my tongue has become the defender of my mouth. Anything gets near my teeth, it springs into action and attacks.

If I didn't have teeth, I'm 90% sure my tongue could do chewing for me.

I'm fairly sure my tongue even fights sickness. I rarely get strep throat. Yes, my tonsils do a pretty good job, but I think they get to sit back a little bit while the tongue keeps nasty things out.

If I do get a sore throat, it's because of my sinuses and that's all on my nose, which frankly has been doing a terrible job since I was born.

My tongue becomes especially problematic when I have to go to the pesky dentist.

A cleaning takes a ton of concentration on my part to keep my tongue from hitting all the tools coming into my mouth. I've had my tongue polished before and trust me when I say, it tastes awful.

I had to get a few cavities filled on Friday.

My first tooth was numbed up without much issue, but then my tongue realized trauma was happening.

The dentist brought the needle in for a second time to numb another tooth and my tongue sprung up and was like, "NAH MO-FO! This is my mouth. Who's house? Tongue's house."

My dumb tongue sprung up and knocked into the end of the needle. Yeah, tongue had a lot of fight in him until he went complete numb seconds later.

The next several hours my teeth were hurting, both sides of my mouth were completely numb, and I couldn't talk because my stupid tongue was hanging out of my mouth drooling everywhere.