Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Dumb Things You Do As a Child

I had a dream the other night that was more of a flashback really.

These kids were harassing my cousin Jake and me. Merciless harassing all day long. We went to one of Jake's sitters house. She was this cool 15 year old that dressed like Madonna meets LL Cool J. She told us to ride by and tell them, "We'll meet you at the crossroads."

Had no idea what it meant. In my dumb kid brain I thought it meant meet us at the train tracks to fight. Don't know why, I guess because the street crossed the train tracks and I knew people always said the other side of the tracks was the bad part of town. Still don't know how that was a threat. But Jake and I rode our bikes over to where these dumb kids were and told them we'd meet them at the crossroads.

This memory is one of those dumb things that sticks with you the rest of your life. Just embarrassing, stupid stuff you do or say as a kid. I have several of these memories.

I had an uncle that was a jerk sometimes.

I remember watching a PBS documentary, was probably 8 at the time, and they were explaining people with dark skin.

My uncle picked me up and I told him that black people and middle eastern people have dark skin because they are closer to the equator.

He laughed at me mercilessly. Made fun of me the entire car ride. I remember feeling really dumb.

It was only later that I realized I might have actually had more information than my uncle, just not all the information. I realized the documentary was probably discussing a theory of evolution where people's skin got darker over thousands of years to protect them from the harsh sun.

This same uncle, as he drove away from grandma Dobyns' house one Christmas Eve, left me with this wisdom, "Go find some yellow snow, it tastes like a snow cone." He laughed and drove away as I spent the next hour looking for yellow snow.

Luckily I did not find any.

Then there was this time when I was at Reach. We did a brain exercise where we had to describe an orange in the greatest detail we could. We had to describe how the skin felt, how the rind tasted, etc. I just remember being really hungry and not having a lunch with me that day.

Something about being an Elementary School kid at the High-school made me embarrassed to bring lunches. I would scrap together $.75 so I could buy a giant dill pickle. That's what I ate for lunch one day a week for that entire year.

Well while describing this orange, we also got to eat the orange. I was so hungry that I pulled the "What's that?" and pointed off to the side.

Not only did I pull this move, but I pulled it on a good friend of mine Paul. He looked right and I grabbed one of his nicely peeled slices of orange and ate it.

He caught me, turned me into the teacher (rightfully so), and I actually still had a slice left that I didn't see, so I had to give him that.

For some reason, that one has really stuck in my mind. It's something Paul probably hasn't thought about in 20 years, but it's going to be one of those things I probably mutter about on my deathbed when my brain isn't fully working.

Memories are weird man.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Having Physical Books in Your Hand

I held out for a while.

Being a literature major, I felt it was my duty to fight the good fight to keep physical books on a shelf.

It was some sort of symbol of how well read I was. Guests to my house could look at my hard bound collected works of Hemmingway and think, "Wow, this guy has some culture." Of course, this all relied on them not noticing how many versions of each Harry Potter and Resident Evil book also sat on these shelves.

And then Sal and I moved 4 times within 3 years and I got tired of carrying boxes labeled "Books."

I donated most of our books to Good Will, purchasing the much cheaper Kindle versions from Amazon. And our three overflowing bookshelves were re-purposed for the record player, Sal's nail stuff, and DVDs/Videogames.

What got me thinking of this was the bookmobile passing us on the highway recently. I thought about the joy a lot of kids are going to miss out on.

Climbing onto those brown and tan caravans that never felt stable enough to have 30 hyperactive kids running around them, was a treat.

For a voracious reader like myself, the Bookmobile meant I was going to bring home 3 new books. For the kids who hated reading, it meant they were free from class for an hour.

There was something about the musty smell of the bookmobile that forced a smile like the Joker's laughing gas. My strategy was typically to get one novel (usually a Star Wars book), one drawing book, and one military gear book. (Also used for drawing cool looking military guys)

There was also my personal favorite. The monthly Scholastic order. Every month, the teacher would pass out a small catalog with all of Scholastic's new books and toys. The class would spend Friday afternoon pouring over what books they wanted, running home to get an envelope and fill it with whatever loose change they had available.

I bought every drawing, joke, Star Wars, and Goosebumps book available.

And finally, like a religious holiday, there was the twice a year Scholastic Festival where Scholastic would set up a mobile store in the hallways of the school and each class would get an hour to flip through all of the books.

I remember sniffing new books at my desk, taking in that boxed book smell, rubbing my hands in anticipation for when I would be home and ready to tear through it.

Basically, I'm a nerd, but it was a good thing. I don't know if any of these still exist for kids, but it was so important to my childhood and my love of reading, that I hope they have something.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Halloween Candy

I'm realizing now how much of an idiot I was when it came to Halloween candy. This comes mostly from friends of mine discussing how much of their children's candy they are going to end up stealing / eating.

So, I went about my candy much like I do a meal. I usually taste everything on my plate to get a baseline of how much I'm enjoying everything. Then, I eat things in order of what I liked the least to the most.

Sometimes there are exceptions to the rule. I usually eat my salad first (unless it's the famous Heartbreak Salad) and whatever the main meat dish is last. I might nibble on bread if there's any left after the meal, but generally those are the only rules.

So the same went with Halloween Candy. The post trick-or-treat sorting was usually one hell of a project. Generally I would wander the neighborhood for 4 hours with a pillow case and I would come back with that thing 2/3rds full. I took Halloween very seriously.

So that night, after wandering for hours, I would come home and dump the pillow case on the floor.

I would first find all the Almond Joys, Mounds, 100 Grand, anything with coconut in it, Heath bars, black licorice, wax lips, and Good and Plentys and throw that crap in the trash immediately. I can't believe people had me hauling pounds of that dumpster garbarge around for hours.

Then, I would pull all KitKat's, Smarties, Crunch Bars, and Tootsie Rolls out. These were things I would eat if I needed to, but generally wasn't big on. The nice thing about these candies is there's high trade value for them. I could turn two KitKats and a Smartie into a Baby Ruth and Snickers.

Then I would separate the candy I liked into two different piles.

You had the fruity stuff like Starburst, Skittles, Life Savers, Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, Licorice, Warheads and put that in one pile.

Then the candy bars I loved went into another pile. Snickers, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Three Mustkateers were my most loved candies. I felt like Smeagol in Lord of the Rings. "Yes, my precious-es, I will eat you in April when I've finished all my other candy."

Here's the problems with my system.

  1. There was a lot of candy sniped by my two brothers and probably my parents. When you're dealing with that quantity, it's really easy to make a few candy bars disappear. 
  2. Candy that did survive until December, again took a back seat to the PEZ and Crown Candy chocolate I usually got in my stocking, pushing out it's scheduled eating another several weeks.
  3. Usually mid-December there would be a purge where most Halloween candy left was dumped.
  4. And if candy made it to February somehow, usually it was a stale, melted, former shadow of itself.
I think back to how many delicious candy bars I missed out on because I'm such a strange kid. It makes me a little sad. But then again, I'm an adult with an adult wage, and I can buy a full sized Butterfinger if I want to.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Movie Theme Night

Sal and I are preparing for a rare weekend where we have nothing planned. This usually means a couple bottles of red wine, cooking a labor intensive but well worth it meal, and renting movies on Amazon.

Sometimes we'll think of a theme for our movie binge weekends. It was when discussing our next theme and shooting down some of Sal's ideas that I realized I have very specific buckets I put movies into.

We started a rock marathon a few weeks back and had a solid list of about 12 films. We managed to only get through two of the films on the list. Sal wanted to add Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and my immediate reaction was, "That doesn't fit with the rock theme."

This movie is literally about two people trying to track down their favorite bands secret show, but somehow in my brain I didn't think of it like that.

Instead, I sort of put it in my... Zach Braff's People Coming to Terms with Change Indie Movie list.

Other films in this bucket are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Garden State, Wish I Was Here, and Away We Go.

And then I've got stuff like The Totally Rad 90s bucket. This includes Singles, Empire Records, and Reality Bites.

And then The Totally Excellent Late 90s Teen movie like Can't Hardly Wait, 10 Things I Hate About You, She's All That, and American Pie.

And then there's also The Totally Groovy Nostalgia Flick from the 90s about the 70s. This very specific bucket has Detroit Rock City and Dazed and Confused.

Then there are buckets based off of directors that keep a similar style or writing. Judd Apatow (This is 40, Knocked Up, Superbad), Wes Anderson (Royal Tenenbaums, Grand Budapest Hotel, Rushmore), John Hughes (Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink), Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Mallrats), and Michel Gondry (Be Kind Rewind, Science of Sleep).

When I think of rock movies like above, I think about Almost Famous, High Fidelity. Walk the Line.

Basically what I'm saying is, if you want to have a themed movie marathon with me, I probably have very specific movies that I group together. I'm probably more difficult than it's worth arguing with.

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.