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.