Category Archives: Life & Other Distractions

Video Store Memories

Sorry, misled voters of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Coal-mining jobs are not coming back in any appreciable amount. Never. Ever. And any presidential candidate of any party who tells you otherwise is playing you for a fool. But that’s the way of the world. Think of the poor harness and saddle makers when those Model T Fords started rolling off the assembly line. Shit outta luck. No one’s crossing the Atlantic on dirigibles anymore either, putting all those patriotic, hard-working dirigible technicians out of business. Industries die when times change. It’s a fact of life.

I can’t recall anyone carrying signs at political rallies when the humble video rental store circled the drain and gurgled out of existence not long ago. Maybe that’s because most video store employees are…excuse me, were…jaded Gen-X youngsters, not people with families to support and hoping for a pension after forty-five years of inhaling coal dust.

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Everyone knows the big video store chains. Blockbuster Video, with twelve locations still open nationwide as of this writing. Hollywood Video, which died screaming in 2010, never collecting the $23.00 I owed them for a way past-due return of I Love You, Beth Cooper. Less remembered are the independents, the hole-in-the-wall mom & pop places that sprang up all over, circa 1985. They occupied every third strip-mall storefront for a while, usually had a beaded curtain guarding access to untold triple-X delights in the “back room,” and were mostly forced out of existence a decade-and-a-half later by the aforementioned big chains and their corporate ubiquity. Even liquor stores and gas stations often had a small video rental section for awhile. But as the twin behemoths of Blockbuster and Hollywood scaled a mountain made up of the smoking corpses of their competitors, their time was running out, too. Streaming services became the order of the day, and with a little practice, even Grandma and Grandpa could pick a flick from Amazon Video without having to put on their orthopedic shoes and leave their house that smells of dishrags and old soup.

Physical media came with a lot of problems. VHS tapes could get mangled (or melted in a hot car). DVDs could get scratched. But streaming has its limitations, too. Your WiFi can get intermittent. It’s hard to casually browse. You have to actively seek out older movies to stream. You can no longer just randomly spot them on the shelves when you’re out with your friends in the video store, and then shame your friends into seeing them:

“Dude, you haven’t seen Mandingo? We are getting that shit and solving that problem TONIGHT.” So you would get Mandingo, maybe Big Trouble in Little China, and whatever the new release of the week was. And odds are, the rabid Mandingo fan would push to watch that one first, possibly to the total exclusion of the other movies, and to the enlightenment of all viewers.

In my multi-part look back at 90s music, I told a few stories about life behind the counter of a video store, but I didn’t go into the detail this vanished way of life deserves. I was an employee of First Run Video in Yuba City, California from August 1993 (age 18) to December 1995 (just turned 21). First Run was not a national chain, nor was it a standalone. It was a mini-chain, consisting of about six locations in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley. Redding. Red Bluff. Weaverville. Oroville, maybe? I know Yuba City was its southernmost location. I started there on its third or fourth day of operation.

I can find no web evidence of First Run Video. It closed its doors in 1999, I think. As far as the internet is concerned, it never existed. No archived local business articles or ads. No old storefront photos on Google Images. No bitmap image files of its logo (a medal that read “1st” with a forked blue prize ribbon dangling underneath). No YouTube video of its one local TV commercial (which featured the back of my head for .002 seconds). Except for those mentions on my own website, First Run Video is — in the truest sense — gone, even from the internet nostalgia machine.

So all we have left is my description of the place, drawn solely from twenty-plus-year-old memories. Take my hand, Gentle Reader, and I’ll guide you through it…

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A busy shopping center at a busy intersection. Anchored at one end by an Orchard Supply Hardware store, and at the other, a Bel Air grocery store. Just around the corner from Bel Air, facing the palm tree-lined side parking lot, is First Run Video…

It’s big for what it is. A lot of square footage. It seems like there’s an acre or more of alternating blue and white tiled floor. Walk in the double doors. On your left is the Children/Family video section, and the video games. On your right are all other genres. Lining the wall running across the back of the store, and curving around to the right, are the New Releases. If you walk straight ahead, you approach the counter where you receive your rented videos after you’d paid for them. There was a slot in that counter that would receive your returned videos. Above you are bright blue buzzing neon letters that spell out MOVIES. (I think. Maybe it said something else. All I know is that it was covered with a shitload of gnats and lacewings every summer.) But you pick up your movies later. Right now, pass by the Disneyland-style popcorn wagon (popcorn is gratis, but we only fire it up on weekends). Rows of little marquee light bulbs on both sides of the entrance lobby channel you to enter the rental floor to the right or left. Either way, you pass through our security gates. Metallic strips of tape stuck to each and every VHS cassette in the store will set those bad boys off, ensuring you don’t pilfer that copy of License To Drive. They’re also fun to stick on co-workers’ backs right before they leave for the day, so they can exit to the sound of a shrieking alarm system. (Best to pull that gag when the store is pretty empty.)

One employee, Doug, who bore a striking resemblance to the “Ogre” character from Revenge328ff3d500bd1af7297f0e2145245ead of the Nerds (but was much more good-natured) was actually simple enough to clean the dust out of an empty marquee light socket using his finger. The crack sound was audible, and Doug’s considerable bulk was sent sprawling. He later showed us the black fingernail and the spiderweb of reddened blood vessels that crept up his arm. Doug also once called in sick after falling off a local railroad bridge. He soon moved on to other opportunities.

The store shelves are not real shelves, they are those rubberized wire racks that you would normally find in a budget-line refrigerator. Light, movable, and above all, cheap. Apart from the Customer Service Counter (and the New Member Sign-Up table just to the side of it), everything in the store seems made out of these modular racks. Most people enter to the right, where they would encounter the New Member Sign-Up table with its stacks of membership info cards, and, for a blessedly short period, the “trailer machine.”

InnocentBlood-Warner1The trailer machine was a big console with a video screen, where customers could cue up a preview for an upcoming movie by pushing a button. If no one was around to push the button, and few people exercised this option, the machine would simply cycle through all its trailers on a randomized loop. The problem was, the machine was loaded with far too few trailers, and each one would crop up every fifteen minutes or so. The first two lines of Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic,” which opened the trailer of John Landis’ Innocent Blood, became permanently embedded in by frontal brain lobe after four months of hearing it every fifteen minutes of an eight-hour shift. The other problem was that no one ever showed up to change out the trailers. The movies featured went from “Upcoming” to “New Release” to “Saturday afternoon on TNT.” The machine was finally removed in the name of employee sanity.

If you’re like most people, you would head right for the New Release section against the back wall. The VHS boxes shrink-wrapped around styrofoam blocks would be the “display models.” Any actual copies of the movie we have on hand would be behind those. How many people bring the display box up to rent, and leave disappointed? More than I’d care to count, despite the myriad of signs around the store explaining the system. No such confusion in the main rental area, where the videos older than three months go to be pretty much never touched again. The box is cut down and slid into the clear sleeve of a traditional plastic VHS case, and the tape goes right inside. When their time comes, a copy of the former New Release is kept for this area (divided by genre), and the dozen or so others–the ones we could barely keep on the shelves for those heady first few weeks we had them–are kicked to our Used Movies To Buy section. When they inevitably fail to sell after a few more months, they are shipped off to some mysterious video graveyard.

New Releases rent for $2.99, and go fast. People with far too much time on their hands hover around, and snatch them as soon as we put them on the shelf. They ask us to go out to the parking lot and check the dropbox, even though it had just been checked twenty minutes ago. Luck plays a big part in going home with the hottest new movie…unless you are a comely young woman, then your odds go up substantially. We always keep one copy of all the New Releases in the “Pretty Girl Drawer” behind the counter. (“One just came in…I was holding it for myself, but you seem nice…” No employee discount for New Releases, either. Once they are in the old movie section, however, they are free for us, and we can and do bring them home by the carload.)

If you are lucky (or attractive) enough to get ahold of your coveted New Release, then you might turn your attention to our back catalog, which takes up the bulk of the real estate. They are subdivided into an exasperatingly pointless amount of sub-genres, as indicated by a color-coded sticker. Here’s what I remember: Action (green), Adventure (orange), Children (light blue), Classic (light brown), Comedy (yellow), Drama (gold), Family (dark blue), Horror (pink), Thriller (red), Romance (white with pink text), Sci Fi (purple), Western (dark brown). There may be more. Documentaries and foreign films are over by the Family section, and sport a layer of dust the thickness of a rabbit’s pelt. This is Yuba City, after all. Continue reading

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The Weirdest Thing I Ever Saw

We all watch stupid shit. Although terms like “golden age” and “peak TV” have been thrown around quite a bit in the last few years, referring to the acclaimed offerings of HBO, AMC, Netflix, et al., sometimes you just want to look at garbage. I’m sure there are people with advanced degrees and high-paying jobs who get through the day just to race home to their tastefully decorated domiciles to gorge on Real Housewives on their DVR.

Me? I’m hooked on paranormal shows. And thanks to the wealth of cable channels, I ghost-adventures_ep_magnolia-plantation.rend.hgtvcom.616.462can feed my addiction on a pretty much constant basis. It’s only a matter of time before there’s an all-paranormal channel. (Destination America comes close, but it’s been having audio problems the last few days. And I’m on my summer staycation! I’m almost ready to put a bullet through the screen, Elvis-style, because the sound keeps dropping when I’m trying to watch Monsters & Mysteries in America.) If there’s someone wandering around in an old abandoned hospital, turning the screen green with their infrared cameras, and asking each other “did you hear that?”…then I want to watch them doing it.

I don’t believe a second of it, of course. But that wasn’t always the case. Where did my abiding interest in this subject come from?

A much younger Holy Bee had quite a scholarly interest in the paranormal, and took it pretty seriously. Maybe because by studying it, I could control my fear of it. I was the kind of kid who always slept with his bedroom door open and the hall light on, when I wasn’t actually bringing my Garfield sleeping bag onto the floor of my parents’ bedroom after a particularly unsettling episode of In Search Of. ISO, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, was the first TV show to seriously investigate mysterious phenomena. Running from 1977 to 1982, it popped up in syndication on Sunday afternoons a lot. 

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My earliest recollection of a non-Halloween “true” ghost story was my grandmother relating a tale involving a friend or relative who late one night observed, through a bedroom window, a spectral woman roaming her front yard and gradually fading from sight. She wasn’t telling the story to entertain or frighten me. She was matter-of-factly telling it to someone else when she thought I was already asleep on the daybed in the living room. That did quite a number on me.

Another big subcategory of the paranormal is cryptozoology — “hidden animals.” Bigfoot/Sasquatch, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, etc. My first major exposure to this was an old 1970s documentary Bigfoot: The Mysterious Monster, which I saw on TV while staying up way too late when I was about seven. Hosted and narrated by a Very Serious Peter Graves, it was full of dramatic recreations of Bigfoot encounters and presented everything as bona-fide fact. I knew I was watching re-enactments, but the Bigfoot costume that the special effects department created for that low-budget doc joined my grandmother’s front-yard ghost in my Nightmare File.

(For some reason, I had little to no interest in the third major area of the paranormal — UFOs.)

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The local library was about six blocks away from my house, and I pedaled my bike there a lot during summer vacations (scrupulously mashing the crosswalk button at the lone busy intersection that bisected the journey.) The children’s section was in the basement, and boasted powerful air-conditioning and several beanbag chairs. They also had a robust selection of paranormal books for kids like me, who ate this stuff up. It’s still a thriving realm of children’s publishing, if Amazon is anything to go by. Ghost stuff was in the 133 section of the Dewey Decimal System, cryptozoology in the random catch-all section of 001. A lot of them were by a guy named 51PhG2vKz9L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Daniel Cohen, who is probably responsible for many grade-school bookworms’ sleepless nights. When I exhausted the children’s section (which took awhile — I had no problem re-reading and re-re-reading), I ventured upstairs and nosed through the adult books on the topic. By the time I was thirteen, I had a subscription to the Time-Life book series Mysteries of the Unknown.

As I grew into my teens, this particular hobby went on the backburner, although I would still occasionally pick up a Hanz Holzer paperback. Continue reading

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Confessions Of A Hardcore Gamer*

*Not really.

But the engrossing, soul-consuming world of computer gaming is the reason I’mvault-boy taking forever to finish the multi-part series of blog entries I foolishly promised last month. In order to finish that series, there’s lots of stuff I have to read first, and who has time for reading boring old books when I can be crafting mods for my .308 combat rifle with the calibrated receiver, recoil compensated stock and reflex sight (nicknamed “Thunder”) or my laser rifle with the maximized capacitor, full stock, and beam focuser (“Lightning”)?

Or I can be magnanimously providing clean water options for tiny, post-apocalyptic survivor communities, or accepting assassination contracts on chem dealers preying on the inner cities, or protecting the settlers at Oberland Station from an onslaught of green-skinned Super Mutants and nefarious Raiders.

I should add that I also have a .50 sniper rifle with a night scope, a souped-up .10 mm pistol (“Cobra”), a .44 revolver that fires two projectiles with a single trigger pull (“Double-Down”), and a short-barreled, close-range shotgun that adds 10% plasma pulse damage with every hit (“Barker”). I can also build picket fences, practice taxidermy on horribly mutated wildlife, and select tasteful artwork for settlement walls, among a thousand other options.

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Yes, I am three weeks in to Fallout 4 (level 40 as of this writing), and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the incredibly intense, rich world the good folks over at Bethesda Softworks have concocted to gobble up every second of my free time. My formerly rewarding career is now merely the 8 hours a day in between Fallout 4 sessions. Family? One son is leaving soon for college, and the other is a sophomore in high school who spends most of his time in his room with the door firmly closed. My beautiful wife has her own obsessions (she is a chronic Candy Crusher and binge-watcher of various Netflix shows), so she doesn’t begrudge me mine. Books go unread on the end table (including the ones needed to complete the blog series). My TiVo has been on the fritz for almost two months, recording nothing, and I’ve barely noticed.

Funny thing is, I have had far less experience with video games than most people of my generation. For large chunks of my life, I’ve had no interest in video games whatsoever. But it’s been a long, multi-decade dance of seduction. Video games and I would flirt, move closer for awhile, then split apart for months or years, until I was drawn in again, and the process would repeat itself.

Pitfall!_CoverartUs Gen Xers were at the forefront of home gaming systems, not counting the archaic, late-70s Pong. (Pong was what Mom & Dad and older sister idly played in the downtime between our Kraft mac & cheese dinner and the latest episode of Alice.)

Like many others my age, I navigated Pitfall Harry over crocodile-infested ponds, and guided a weird, square-ish Pac Man around his maze, devouring dots with a loud “bonk”ing sound completely unlike the arcade version. This was 1983, or the “Summer of the Atari 2600.”

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I even had the infamous E.T. game, which we picked up for a dollar at a garage sale. Its reputation is well-deserved.

After the appeal of maneuvering indistinct blobs of pixels randomly around my TV wore off, video games and I parted ways for a long time.

Pac-Man_Atari_2600_GameplayThe original, iconic Nintendo Entertainment System hit store shelves when I was about eleven or twelve, and I suppose I could have had one if I wanted one, but I couldn’t care less. I thought of myself as above it all. I was reading Tolkein and Asimov and Vonnegut. I was an intellectual. Literally every single one of my friends had it, though, and I was often cajoled into joining them in a rousing round of Duck Hunt, silently seething every time that idiot dog giggled at me for missing both ducks. My eye-hand coordination was never (and still isn’t) anything to write home about, which is why I took no interest in sports, either. I just consoled myself with John Irving novels and the knowledge that I was superior.

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Except I wasn’t. I soon discovered some deeply-buried pleasure center in my brain stem was tickled by Tetris, which I played at a girlfriend’s house until falling blocks and 8-bit versions of Russian classical music played in my head as I was trying to fall asleep hours later.

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At a later girlfriend’s house (I was a senior in high school by this time), I discovered her younger sister (a sophomore) had an NES in her room. Big deal, right? You bet it was a big deal — I discovered this obscure little title called Super Mario Brothers, and it was all I wanted to do. I spent a wildly inappropriate amount of time in my girlfriend’s sister’s Super_Mario_Bros._(NA)bedroom.

The girlfriend was understandably concerned, and asked me a number of pointed, suspicious questions. But the fact that I only had eyes for bricks, mushrooms, turtles, and Italian plumbers emanated from every fiber of my being. She correctly concluded the situation was harmless, and the obsession would pass.

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Flash forward a year or so. The same girlfriend was now working a full-time job. I was bopping around community college and working part-time at a video store — that also rented video games. This was the early 1990s — the grand era of Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis. The girlfriend still lived with her parents and had nothing to spend her relatively massive paycheck on, so she bought me one of the new Super Nintendo systems, which we used to play one game and one game only — Super Mario Kart. (“Press ‘B’ To Start.”)

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This is where my lack of true video game interest rears its head again. I had free and total access to my store’s massive stock of rental games. I touched almost none of them. I did not care for any of the sports games. No NHL ‘94 or Madden NFL for me. I thought the super popular “fighting” games were especially ludicrous — the various Mortal Kombats and Street Fighters could all be thrown in the river as far as I was concerned. The early quest-based fantasy RPG games like Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past were just too visually primitive to hold my interest. I was anti-Sega for very good reasons that I have long since forgotten, so Sonic the Hedgehog remained a stranger. Continue reading

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More to come…

MoreToComeWatch this space. A new, multi-part saga is coming soon. But don’t get your hopes up, it’s a project that may be of interest solely to myself. And it’s one that other websites have already tackled, but the Holy Bee vows to do it better. (HINT: One might say that nobody does it better.)

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I’m Using “1989” In A Blog, Where Do I Send The Check? (Part 2)

track-500x339“I Wish You Would” (this particular song has pretty much nothing to do with what follows, but it’s the only track off 1989 that I couldn’t stretch to fit my narrative.)

As should be clear by now, I was a movie fan, which meant I would check out whatever was new that week at the multiplex, with no real discernment. If one movie was sold out, I just went to the next one down the list. (I became a pickier, snobbier “cinephile” a few years later after having my world rocked by Reservoir Dogs.)

1989 was the first year of many years in which I picked up a copy of Leonard49f88b938e217bb593378795367434f414f4141-1 Maltin’s TV Movies & Video Guide. This tome was the size of a small brick, and was “the essential reference for home video rental, featuring…18,000 films!” It was the Internet before the Internet.

So I had been marking life milestones by what movie I had seen most recently. (The start of summer vacation was not only Tienanmen Sqaure, but also Weekend At Bernie’s.) One of the many changes wrought by 1989 was that my personal events began being marked more and more by music. The big summer albums, as I recall, were the B-52s’ Cosmic Thing and the Tom Petty solo album Full Moon Fever. The strains of “Love Shack” and “Free Fallin’” saturated the hot, dry Northern California air. One celebratory, one regretful and elegiac. It was kind of the sound of the 80s dying, though no one thought of them that way then.

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For a little bit longer, though, movies were still my markers, and the last movie I saw before high school was The Abyss. It was the night before Locker Day. Locker Day was the first big event before school actually started, and, as the name suggests, it’s when you get your locker assignment in the high school hallways. It’s also when you get your list of classes. Nick made the trek up from Robbins to see the movie, sleep over, and get his locker with me the next morning. But something had irrevocably changed.

He was on the high school football team.

220px-TheAbyssHe was still the amiable, slightly goofy guy prone to malapropisms (he once said “douche” instead of “tush” when someone drew a girl’s backside in a family game of Pictionary — my mom laughs about that to this day.) But practices had already started, and he no sooner set foot in my new Yuba City place than he had to dash off and put on the pads and helmet for the whole afternoon. He barely made it back in time to get changed for the movie. I have to admit, I felt a little jilted.

It got worse. After we got our lockers the next morning, we met up with his new friends — the football team — to walk to Carl’s Jr. for breakfast. Carl’s Jr. wasn’t exactly adjacent to the high school, and over the course of the kind-of long walk, I felt more and more out of place and uncomfortable. By the walk back, I was trailing behind by half-a-block. No one noticed, as they playfully shoved each other and made rude-jock jokes. Nick had found his tribe, almost immediately, and never looked back. As George Gobel once said, “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo, and you were a pair of brown shoes?”

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I have my 1989-90 yearbook and a scanner, so you get a genuine look at Locker Day

“Blank Space”

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Freshman class pic, Sept. ’89. The amount of hairspray seen here may be solely responsible for the hole in the ozone layer

I didn’t dwell on it, though. I was far too excited about the prospect of starting high school. A clean slate, a chance to reinvent myself. I may not have been on the football team, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t peddle my own brand of awesomeness. I never lacked for self-confidence (at least, not yet), but I really was just a puppy tripping over his own paws. I received my class list and locator card that Locker Day, and saw that I had English C, Intro to Physical Science (IPS), Geography C, P.E., Computer Literacy, and Integrated Math. I was in the college-prep C-level humanities classes, but math was my Achilles heel, and “Integrated Math” just meant “pre-algebra.” To my horror, I discovered that “Computer Literacy” was basically a keyboarding class. It didn’t take. I’m typing this right now with two fingers and a thumb. And damn fast, too.

In English class one of our first assignments was an autobiographical essay about a meaningful event in our lives. I wrote about the trip I took to Washington D.C. the previous year. I had always been interested in writing, but I mostly wrote fiction. This wasn’t the first autobiographical essay I had written for a class, but it was the first one I tried to make entertaining and resonant, to inject with some of the passion I used for my made-up stories. “This is really good…” the teacher scrawled at the bottom when the paper was returned. The Holy Bee of Ephesus may just have been hatched at that moment.

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Our brand new sign. We really won the mascot jackpot.

I desperately wanted to begin my dating life. After all, here was a guy who already made out with a girl (albeit in a clinical, pre-arranged ritual that could be qualified as “bizarre” — see previous entry — but it counts!) My entire notion of dating consisted of asking someone to the movies. Or possibly bowling. I couldn’t wait to get started. How hard could it be? The second or third day of school I spotted a likely prospect in my Geography C class.

She was incredibly cute. (I didn’t yet grasp the fact that “boxing above your weight class” could be metaphorical and applied outside the sport of boxing.) She was quirky and unconventional. She carried around a clarinet. She wore loud green-and-purple checkered pants that looked like something out of the Joker’s closet. She sometimes wore a beret. The pop-culture term had not yet been coined, but she looked like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

On some pretense, I began a conversation with her. Then I clumsily popped the clutch and lurched into asking her to the movies. I don’t remember her exact response, I just know we did not go to the movies, then or ever. And she did not conceal her disdain in prognosticating, in no uncertain terms, that the possibility of any interaction with her at any point in the future was a highly unlikely proposition. I felt like a dog swatted on the nose with a newspaper. Not really hurt, just chagrined and embarrassed. Manic Pixie Dream Girls aren’t supposed to be mean.

I vowed to do better with the next girl that came along. Maybe lay a little groundwork before proffering the date within five minutes of speaking to her for the first time. I already had a few in my sights, including one I would I would doggedly and ineptly pursue, Wile E. Coyote-style, off and on for the next two years. (Check out This Used To Be My Playground Part 4: Kryptonite and Stomach-Aches for a flash-forward into the early 90s to see how that adventure turned out. She may just as well have painted a tunnel on the side of a cliff.)

YC emblemOpportunities abounded, or at least I thought they did. Sometime in early September, one girl threw a night-time birthday party with a blanket invitation to the entire freshman class. It was at a park — a park one block away from my house! I eagerly trotted over as dusk settled in. It wasn’t exactly the entire freshman class, but it was quite a crowd. And I knew none of them. The ones I recognized from my classes were already talking to other people. I wandered around aimlessly, had a cup of punch, and went back home, wondering what I thought was supposed to happen, and how come it was so easy for everyone else? I realized it had a lot to do with middle school. Most of the freshman class already had pre-existing relationships with people they went to middle school with (a situation that will come up again later.) That made me feel better. I decided at the next high school social event, I needed a wingman that I knew from middle school, a Goose to my Maverick, a Wedge to my Luke. Nick was already skyrocketing to the top of the social strata and had no time to help out. That left my other Robbins friend, Dusty.

The first dance of the year was coming up – the “Beanie Ball,” hosted by the sophomores to welcome incoming freshmen. I convinced Dusty to make the trip up to Yuba City and go in with me, Butch & Sundance-style, guns blazing.

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A typical YCHS Dance, 1989. I don’t know if this was the Beanie Ball or not, but it certainly could’ve been.

The one potential stumbling block to my cunning plan was that neither one of us could dance. Or at least we couldn’t “fast dance,” so our all-out assault consisted of standing stock-still, drinking cup after cup of Pepsi, and going to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. We watched as our classmates did the Cabbage Patch and the Roger Rabbit all around us while “Bust A Move” by Young MC or “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals boomed from the speakers.

What we were doing was working up the nerve to ask a girl we sort of knew to let us put our arms clumsily around them and sway-and-rotate to a slow number. That was a dance move we could handle. But finding a partner was nerve-wracking. “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx came and went. “Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson came and went.

Then something like “Chances” by Roxette would pop up and no one would know if it was supposed to be fast dance or slow dance song. We were running out time. Finally I spotted a pair of girls I recognized from a class, and had briefly exchanged a few words with. They were even guardedly friendly, unlike mean ol’ Joker-pants. Good enough. Dusty and I locked our s-foils into attack position and moved in.

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This is the real deal, according to the yearbook caption. The Beanie Ball. Dusty & I were in that mass of swaying, sweaty humanity somewhere.

Yelling to make ourselves heard over the likes of “Rhythm Nation” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” we made inane conversation with Brenda and Nikki for just long enough to get to the crucial awkward pause — where we had to ask them to dance, or move on, defeated. I turned off my targeting computer, used the Force, and pulled the trigger…successfully. We got our slow dance. It was “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles.

I spent the weekend swooning over Brenda. (Not her real name, BTW. I used her real name once in a blog a couple of years ago, never in a million years thinking she would ever actually read it, but somehow she did and let me know that the real-life, grown-up woman she became was more than a little embarrassed by the whole deal. Fair enough.) She was on the tall side, with shoulder-length dark hair and dark eyes. She admitted she wanted to be a model, and she just maybe could have pulled it off.

Hurricane Hugo hit a few days after the Beanie Ball, doing to the Carolina coast what Brenda was doing to my psyche.

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I literally cannot remember ever having any further interaction with poor Dusty at any time after that. He had served his purpose.

With thoughts of Brenda spinning in my head, I made another attempt to climb the high school social ladder, with predictable results… Continue reading

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I’m Using “1989” In A Blog, Where Do I Send The Check? (Part 1)

Taylor Swift is described in every article ever written about her as a “savvy businesswoman,” but that’s like calling the Grand Canyon a “big ol’ ditch.” She is at this point a walking, talking corporation. When the Supreme Court first established the concept of “corporate personhood,” it seemed more of a conceptual, legal thing. But no. America, we have seen a corporation take literal human form, and its name is Taylor Swift.

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“Human” might be stretching it. Via the dark web, I have proof that she was actually created in an underground lab in 2005 from an unholy primordial soup of rose petals, Diet Coke, and cheekbones by the Universal Music Group in order to shore up their country music division. In a shocking turn of events, she pried off her restraining bolt and went rogue. She incorporated herself (much like The Terminator’s Skynet becoming “self-aware”), and became a multi-genre, multi-media assassin android, destroying rivals and haters with T-1000 intensity and protecting her “brand” with animal ferocity. She now morphs and evolves into something more plastic and ruthless by the month. It is a wonder to behold.

Taylor_Swift_-_1989Her brand protection includes trademarking some key lyrics from her massive 2014 album 1989. A typically cunning move, but it’s been blown up into a minor brouhaha recently because a few Twitter idiots (Twitiots?) wondered how a person could copyright a year.

Well, you can’t, of course, and that’s not what she did.

However, it got me thinking. If a person could own a year, I think I would pick 1989, too.

1989 is allegedly the year Swift was born (but we know the truth, don’t we?), and it was also the year I was born — or at least the year I developed into the person whose words you’re yawning through now. Admittedly, the blessed event when my actual physical body entered the world was a decade-and-a-half earlier, but it was 1989’s experiences that made me the adult I am today (if I can be called an adult as I sit here in Star Wars boxers thinking up android metaphors to describe Taylor Swift.) It was also an altogether eventful, remarkable year even outside my little bubble world. I would like a tiny slice of ownership of 1989.

“Clean”

Like most new years, 1989 kicked off with a feeling of fresh starts. It was theThe Beatles Help - Longbox 405846 beginning of my CD collection. I had just received a CD player for Christmas, so I started by buying all the Beatles albums, one a week, for thirteen straight weeks. Exactly fifteen dollars a pop (my entire weekly allowance), they still came in wasteful foot-long, shrink-wrapped cardboard long boxes, solely because stores hadn’t yet converted the deep bins that used to hold their vinyl LPs.

The first significant event I can remember from 1989 was the inauguration of George H.W. Bush as the 41st President of the United States on January 20…and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, at the age of fourteen, I was a hardcore Republican. Like most fourteen-year-olds, I liked winners, and after eight years of growing up middle-class in good ol’ Reagan’s America, the Democrats had the stink of weak, stagnant losers. I was a budding history buff, so the Republicans to me were the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. I was a military buff, so their strong-on-defense stance and airstrike-happy mentality (take that, Gaddafi!) was enormously appealing. Who could possibly choose that blobby nebbish Dukakis over the steely-eyed WWII pilot “Read My Lips” Bush?

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“Shake It Off”

So, how long did it take for the Republicans to lose this potential voter? Not much longer. A little college and a lot of real world observation shook off the final foul traces of political conservatism from me. And the Republicans did most of it to themselves. Some time between 1989 and Clinton’s second term, the GOP cheerfully opted to voluntarily devolve from “conservative” to a howling pack of pea-brained ghouls. If their platform all along was a raging hard-on for personally-owned assault weapons and a totally misapplied obsession with the Bible, coupled with a slobbering hatred of gays and a deep-seated need to oppress women and anyone half-a-shade darker than Wayne Newton, well,  that would have turned away even 14-year-old me.

Where’s all the Bob Doles these days? When a sentient clown shoe like Dan Quayle would be a breath of fresh air compared to 2016’s slate of GOP candidates, you know the party’s hit rock-bottom.  I try not to get too political here, but the 2016 election, so far, in particular has shown that latter-day Republicans have generally not developed far past the mental age of fourteen.

Anyway, back to me being fourteen…January 20 was a Friday, and I remember watching Bush’s inaugural address on a TV wheeled into my 8th grade classroom.

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The homestead for the 1st half of ’89

At an age when most other kids were deep into real middle school — “junior high” — learning to hustle from class to class, slamming locker doors and trying to beat the tardy bell, I was still in what was essentially an elementary school. Robbins School, K through 8th grade, was at the time the smallest school in the Yuba City Unified School district. Located about thirty miles south of Yuba City itself, it served the tiny town of Robbins (pop. 250 in ‘89) and its tractor-intensive rural surroundings. I was one of nine eighth-graders. All seventh and eighth grade classes were taught in the same room, usually by the same person (Mr. Perkins, who was also the principal, assisted by a rogue’s gallery of student teachers wondering who they pissed off to end up there). We didn’t even live in Robbins proper, but in more isolated surroundings — a rented farmhouse about four miles out of town, where the tranquility was frequently broken by miscellaneous motorized equipment rumbling through our gravel carport to service the thirteen acres of walnut trees surrounding us, and the deafening dive-bombing of radial-engine crop dusters seeding and fertilizing the open fields on either side of the property. (They were not precision vehicles — seeds rained down on our house like hail with each pass, and one summer our corrugated porch roof sported a healthy little crop of sunflowers.)

“Style”

SCN_0036That winter I was fond of wearing a heavy nylon bomber jacket with a fake fur collar. Not long after the accompanying photo was taken, I began decorating it with vintage USAAF pins I’d acquired at a flea market, including pilot’s wings and captain’s bars on the shoulders. The cool kids — consisting solely of Nick and Abel — tightly pegged their stonewashed 501s at the ankle, whereas my hopelessly uncool cuffs flopped around my shoe tops. (By the time I started pegging my pants the next year, the trend was over and I was hopelessly uncool in the opposite direction.)

I had only started at Robbins Elementary at the beginning of 7th grade, and I was lucky that Nick, the alpha-dog kid who had ruled the place since kindergarten, decided I was OK and served as my best friend for a couple of years. The pictures here were taken at Robbins School for reasons unknown (I think I was trying to make some kind of photo-journalistic scrapbook), but I remember it was Valentine’s Day, 1989. Continue reading

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Christmas on Woodland Avenue

I really hadn’t intended to write a follow-up to last year’s “Christmas on First Street.” There was something about that house and that time (1978-81, for me ages 4 through 6) that seems to exist in its own special memory bubble, and as I mentioned in the piece, those memories are starting to fade. So I thought I’d better write something for posterity before it’s all gone.

What I hadn’t counted on was that post’s popularity with a lot of folks, close family particularly…and a request for more (which has never happened for any other post for any reason.) So who am I to deny the requests of dozens of readers? Well, not dozens — some readers. Okay, two. Anyway, let’s continue. It’s a different house, I’m a little older, but Christmas still rules…

As noted in that earlier post, we moved a lot from house to house, and that’s why First Street was so important: it was the first house where we stayed for a few years, and I was able to build a little continuity. When we left our house on First Street in August of 1981, we resumed our gypsy ways, living on West Keystone Avenue for two months, where I started first grade at Beamer Elementary, then moving a few blocks to East Keystone Avenue for another two months…

East Keystone Avenue was where Christmas of 1981 went down, so it will serve as our opening taste…

1981 (Prologue)…

I remember it raining a lot that December. Keystone Avenue (east and west) was bisected in a few places by wide, shallow gutters that would channel rainwater. These mini-canals would silently beg certain seven-year-old bicyclists to ride their blue bikes with the knobby tires right up the middle, sending up great sheets of dirty water on either side of them, and soaking their Pro Wing velcro sneakers and the cuffs of their Rustler jeans quite thoroughly…

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One of the Keystone gutters. It seemed so much bigger back then…

Luckily, there was usually a fire burning in the East Keystone house’s fireplace to dry off by, but you’d have to stand awfully close. That was the year our family discovered Duraflame logs – compressed sawdust mixed with paraffin wax – which burned merrily for several hours, providing lovely ambience but precious little heat.SCN_0008

We didn’t really go looking for a Christmas tree that year or for a few subsequent years. Dad knew someone who cut fresh trees up in Oregon, and always dropped one off for us, so it was always a fun day when I got home from school and there was a tree propped against the back porch.

emmetThe new-fangled concept of cable television (acquired by us only the previous year) and the Christmas season now went firmly hand-in-hand, and Home Box Office still ruled the tube. Remote controls were still in their infancy – ours at the time was a shoebox-sized contraption with an individual button for each channel, attached to the TV with a long wire. That year’s Most Frequently Viewed award went to Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Concocted by Jim Henson and his fellow Muppeteers based on an obscure children’s book by Russell Hoban, the special made its first appearance on HBO in 1978 (before we had it), bounced around the networks for a few years, then ended up back on HBO where I saw it for the first time over the holidays of 1981. The O. Henry-derived plot involves sacrifice, gift exchanges, washtubs, toolkits, and talent shows. The songs were fun, except for the usual mawkish ballad performed at about the halfway point that was used by me as a bathroom break and a chance to snag a snickerdoodle from the kitchen.

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Because we were red-blooded American kids, my sister and I would usually dash out to get our stockings and presents in the pre-dawn darkness. For some reason, in ‘81, Mom and Dad decided to invoke a rule that prohibited us from beginning our Christmas morning until the ungodly late hour of 8:00 am. All that resulted in was us perching on the foot of their bed and staring at them until the precise stroke of 8:00. The rule was never brought up again.

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Like any couple who got together in the 70s, my parents had a pretty fair-sized31fjALRs0PL collection of 8-track tapes, few of which were of any interest to me. (Phoebe Snow and Neil Sedaka did not have a lot of fans whose age was in single digits.) The one I did listen to over and over back on First Street was the Elvis compilation called Twin Set (pictured at right, “2 Records on 1 Tape!”), sold only via 800-number TV ads. I got my very first long-playing record that Christmas of 1981, the soundtrack to the Andrew Solt documentary film This Is Elvis, which itself became an HBO favorite later on. Continue reading

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