When Bad Guys Were P*ssies.

Maybe it was 9/11, you know? Like, maybe the horror and shock of that day forced us to ‘grow up’ for better or worse. We got tougher, a bit more wary and jaded. I don’t know. Maybe it was something else; Western Culture catching up a tiny bit with our European brethren, psychologically speaking. Whatever the case, the fact remains that back in the 80’s and early-90’s, we were soft, pink, mewling little kittens. 2015 us could wipe the floor with 1988 us.  Fact.

Here’s what led me down this particular path of discovery.  Recently I was doing an image search for actor Lee Tergesen.  I’d considered putting together another “That One Guy” blog, with a slight difference in focus:  I’d concentrate on one particular actor. Perhaps make a series of such posts, one for each iconic character actor. Lee is one of those guys who’s been in a lot of films and TV shows, usually sort of disappearing into his role, which is what makes him such a great actor.  The same guy who played Tobias Beecher on HBO’s prison drama ‘Oz’ also played one of Wayne and Garth’s metalhead buddies, thrashing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before appearing as Evan ‘Scribe’ Wright in ‘Generation: Kill’ and so on and so forth.  Anyway, one of his earliest roles was that of Rosie in ‘Point Break.’

Rosie was the archetypical scary biker tough guy.  Bodhi’s muscle, in a very real sense. (Note to self: consider a blog entry that examines how Bodhi, Utah, and Rosie were all manifestations of the Super-Ego, Ego, and Id.) Rosie was frightening, and supposedly capable of gutting someone with nary a concern other than trying to avoid getting any ‘on his shoes.’  I remember seeing the film when I was not quite twenty years old and thinking he was fairly intimidating. Rosie wasn’t a surfer, he was ostensibly some sort of biker.  An outsider, even among the outsiders. He was a savage, and hey, remember that scene at the bonfire?  Remember?  The others are out surfing at night, but Rosie is back on the beach, drinking, and spitting booze onto the fire, making it flare up.  Remember?  I wonder what sort of wickedly potent, liver-pounding rot-gut booze he was slugging?

Wait…seriously?  He’s drinking…

KICK THAT FIRE, ROSIE!  YEAH!  KICK IT!  KICK IT AGAIN!

KICK THAT FIRE, ROSIE! YEAH! KICK IT! KICK IT AGAIN!

CORONA?!  Are you fucking kidding me? A beer?! I mean, don’t get me wrong: beer is great. And Corona is easily one of the top-fifty beers from Mexico. But, c’mon. Rosie is a terrifying monster in bike leathers. He should be drinking moonshine or whiskey…maybe 151…ANYTHING approaching 100 proof. Beer? BEER THAT ONLY TASTES GOOD WITH A STINKIN’ LIME IN IT?! Might as well have been a Zima. (Actually, Zima was a malt liquor beverage with a higher alcohol content than most beers, so it would have been MORE manly.)  A kid that had never actually (up to that point) been to an illegal beach bonfire or nearly incinerated a friend while spitting and igniting grain alcohol and other things that maybe I should stop talking about right now might have been impressed with Rosie.  Shit, I was.  Now I realize he’d get his ass kicked in any place outside of Malibu.  Perhaps his ending was the most realistic part of the film.  It happens off-screen, but Utah tells Bodhi that Rosie apparently got knifed to death in Mexico.  What if that was Rosie’s first trip outside of his home county?  He thinks he’s a tough guy, orders a Corona ‘straight up’ and the Mexicans beat the living shit out of him with bottles of Pacifico and Modelo.

So, R.I.P Rosie and his tough-guy image. I sat there thinking about him, and my mind flashed on another badass that maybe wasn’t. Bennett.  The bad guy from ‘Commando.’ the actor’s name is Vernon Wells, and yes, I could do an entire ‘That One Guy’ on him.  The dude’s appeared in everything from ‘The Power Rangers’ to ‘Innerspace’ and has no fewer than twenty-one projects due to be released this year alone. But the role you will probably remember him from was from the iconic Mad Max sequel, ‘The Road Warrior.’  He played a character named Wez and holy shitballs, was he scary.

Even the Kurgan would turn tail and run from all that crazy.

Even the Kurgan would turn tail and run from all that crazy.

Wells would go on to almost exactly replicate that performance as a party-crashing biker/euphemism in ‘Weird Science.’  Again, an impressively crazy, wild-eyed psychopath on a motorcycle.  Jesus, I almost crapped my pants just thinking about him.

When the guy from 'The Hills Have Eyes' is your sidekick, you are officially a bad-ass.

When the guy from ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is your sidekick, you are officially a bad-ass.

So when you learn that Vernon Wells is playing the nemesis in an Arnold Schwarzenegger action-adventure flick, you think “AW, YISSS!!  MOTHER FUCKING BAD-ASSERY!” and then you get to the theater and see…

Hey, nice tactical sweater-vest!

Hey, nice tactical sweater-vest!

Freddie Mercury?!  What the actual fuck, man?  What happened?  Is that vest made of old pop-tops or just nasty grey yarn that his grandma didn’t want, because seriously, who wants an olive-grey tea cozy?  Nobody, that’s who. Good call, grandma. While I’m talking about relatives, Bennett looks more like your weird uncle Gary that collects Thomas the Tank Engine stuff even though he doesn’t have any kids.  Maybe that’s more unsettling.  Could the makers of Commando been deliberately trying to give off that pedophile subtext?  After all, the main point of the ‘plot’ is that Arnold’s daughter has been kidnapped…were the studio types making a statement?  A subtle, veiled threat to the virtue and physical well-being of the girl in order to make moviegoers even more uneasy?

"Hey, kids...wanna see my Percy?"

“Hey, kids…wanna see my Percy?”

Or had Wells simply let himself go between roles?  Like, the casting director didn’t request an up-to-date headshot, and when Wells rolled up to his trailer on the first day of shooting, the director was all “Well…huh.  Fuck it, we’re on a schedule people.  Keep the mustache.  We’re rolling in five.”  Occam’s Razor makes that seem like the more likely scenario.  Either way, though, you’re never truly convinced that this doughy, sweater-vested, Bob’s Burgers cosplay guy is going to be able to physically match up with Arnold’s character.  They may as well have cast Kevin Spacey as the bad guy, although holy shit: Kevin Spacey in a mustache would be a GREAT Bob’s Burgers cosplay.

A really smug Bob 'Keyser' Belcher.

A really smug Bob ‘Keyser’ Belcher.

The point is, we were seemingly much more easily intimidated back in the day.  I won’t even get into how the Friday the 13th movies look so dated compared to modern horror films and television.  Seriously, the Jason Vorhees flicks remind me of old 50’s Martian invasion movies.  But initially, they were terrifying enough to spawn a generation’s worth of sequels.  I guess that’s sort of comforting.  The things that scare us often turn out to be not so bad after all.  Laughable, even.  (Gene Simmons used to terrify people.  Let that sink in for a second.) There’s a lesson there somewhere.  Sleep tight, America.

Saying Goodbye With a Crappy Movie

You can’t go home again. It’s a tired expression, but damn it if Netflix doesn’t bring it into relevance with alarming regularity. Case in point:

Something sad but hopeful happened a few weeks back. The world lost the great Leonard Nimoy. He was many things, a poet, director, artist, singer (well, okay) but his most enduring legacy will be the character he developed and perfected, the incredible Mr. Spock. (Spock lives, forever and ever.)

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind...

Although perhaps he COULD make up his Vulcan mind…

So there I was, sad that he was gone, but overjoyed for the human race that the man existed at all, and boy had he lived a great life. Nimoy exemplified The American Dream: the son of Jewish immigrants rises to Hollywood immortality. But I was still selfishly sad. I needed closure. To say my goodbye, it would have been easy to just pull up Wrath of Khan, for obvious reasons. Instead, I decided to go back and feel, as Carol Marcus would say “Young, as when the world was new.” I ran to Netflix and watched a flick I hadn’t seen in its entirety for well over twenty years. The original 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I remembered it being one of my least favorite episodes of the series, and I also remembered having a bit of buyer’s remorse after seeing the film in the cinema with my mom and brother. We’d had the option of seeing Disney’s The Black Hole and opted for Trek instead. Keep in mind that we kids had already been blown away by Star Wars two summers previous, so it was going to take an awful lot to impress us. I think my brother might have dozed off during STTMP. Maybe it was me. I’m sure someone was snoring. Fast-forward to many years later and Star Trek the Motion Picture’s appearance on one of the cable movie channels. I watched it with a more discerning eye, a little more seasoned. I remember thinking that it wasn’t terrible, but still not great. Plus, I really appreciated the late Persis Khambatta. Mmmm-hmmmm!

"Stand back, Jim. I'm not sure how big this thing gets."

“Stand back, Jim. I’m not sure how big this thing gets.”

So that brings us to now. I hadn’t seen the film all the way through since that cable experience in my early-20’s. I sat through the entire thing on my couch, and…wow, is it bad. I mean, really bad. I’ve heard (but not yet researched) that the original plan was to make a revamped Star Trek television series, but after Star Wars made such mad dough, suddenly every studio wanted a big space epic. As a result, what should’ve been maybe a one-hour TV pilot became over two-hours of…well…mainly the bridge of the Enterprise.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

You could literally re-enact 97% of the movie with this one playset.

Seriously, there’s a long (TOO long) exterior shot as Scotty and Kirk fly out to the newly-overhauled and refitted NCC-1701 and it’s nice, for about forty-five seconds.  Then it’s “Oooo, there’s the old gal! She looks so silvery! And look! They’ve added 1957 Bel Air wings to ‘er!” Afterwards, it’s mainly the bridge and a few corridor shots. And for some reason (perhaps to distance it from the primer-colored uniforms of the original series) they opted for a de-saturated color palette. Everything is grey or shades of flesh-colored fabric. It’s really quite bad. The only saving grace is the incredibly sharp grey-and-white dress uniform that Admiral Kirk wears in his early scenes.

All the poon.  James T. Kirk got ALL the poon.  In the galaxy.  All of it.  There ain't none left.

All the poon. James T. Kirk got ALL the poon. In the galaxy. All of it. There ain’t none left.

Those uni’s were sharp enough to get re-cast in the J.J. Abrams reboots. Classy duds. Especially compared to Kirk’s weird, too-snug, short-sleeved white tunic that looks like it belongs on Mr. Clean or a tropical cabana boy. Bizarre.

"My God, Jim!  He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!"

“My God, Jim! He just used the same photo twice in the same blog!”

But the stuff that really looks cheap are the matte paintings. Gods be good, but I’d swear most of them looked like they’d been borrowed from Forbidden Planet. Don’t get me wrong: Forbidden Planet is one of the all-time great science-fiction films and one of my personal favorites…but Jesus, man. We’d just seen Tatooine and the Death Star. You can’t come at us with eight-color acrylic industrial landscapes and expect us to take you seriously.

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

Seriously, is this like a Colorforms playset?

But for all the lackluster elements to the damned flick, it did boast a huge check mark in the plus column: that wonderful score, repurposed years later for Star Trek: The Next Generation. A word about that Jerry Goldsmith composition. It really is at its best when they use the largo version, slowed a bit, a more rolling pace. It’s actually a movement entitled “The Enterprise.” It sounds nautical. Grand. Somewhat melancholy. Lovely. (It gets really familiar around 1:37)

Even though TRUE Star Trek fans know that THIS is what we think of when we think of Star Trek movies…James Horner’s brilliant and enduring Wrath of Khan stuff.

Then again, Michael Giacchino’s “Enterprising Young Men” has been also been a smashing success…

(Not to self:  do an entire blog about sci-fi musical scores.)

I guess in closing I’d say that it’s sort of a miracle, to me, that the studio even decided to go ahead with a sequel. It really was a make-or break proposition. When you think about it, STTMP was one of the earliest examples of a Hollywood reboot. New ship, new uniforms, new Klingons, new score. Consider that the production budget was (according to Box Office Mojo) around $35 million dollars. Joss Whedon’s Serenity had a budget of $39 million, and Star Trek Into Darkness cost $185 million…but adjusted for inflation, that first Trek would’ve had a budget of over $112 million dollars. Sort of right in the middle of the big sci-fi epic production costs. So when it earned just shy of twelve million dollars (less than half the cost to produce) on opening weekend, well…I imagine that some folks at Paramount likely shit their collective pants. The good news is that the film went on to earn $85 million, so the studio ended up doubling their money and then some. Thus was a franchise born. And now, here we are 36 years later, in the midst of another cinematic reboot. New cast, new ship, new Klingons.

A new Spock.

You really can’t go home again…but that’s fine. Because its so much fun to wonder what’s out there…thattaway…

The Unified Space Epic Theory

What if, true believers, what if?  What if instead of the lackluster Alien sequels that we were saddled with (beginning with Alien3) we got a more Starship Troopers-style invasion pic? Just imagine a full-on war, here on Earth: Colonial Marines in grand, pitched, shoot-em-up battles with hordes of xenomophs. It would’ve been quite a spectacle, and would’ve looked sickeningly gorgeous in CG. Those big piles of zombies in World War Z? Imagine thousands of leaping, skittering aliens; tails thrashing, secondary mandibles biting, and now and then one gets blown to bits and soldiers get showered with acid. The utter chaos of it all, the thrill, the terror, the underlying message about the futility of war…it could’ve been great. Would humanity survive? Or would the alien menace simply overwhelm the stalwart armies of mankind? A pity that we’ll never get to see how such a dramatic and potentially tragic conclusion would’ve played out.

 

Unless we already have.

 

What if the post-alien fate of humanity has already been told via two different sci-fi television series and a classic film? I will now present to you a tale which I believe to be a completely plausible multi-level saga. Follow along. Be patient, because this shit gets good. Good and deep, just like shit gets sometimes. Yeah. Okay. I didn’t need to actually type that. Okay. Good. Moving on.

 

Our story begins on Earth. Either Ellen Ripley or another one of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation drones manages to deliver a few viable xenomorphs to our fair planet. And as they do, the damned things get loose. They run amok and cause a great deal of trouble for the humans that are still here on this rock.

Like, SERIOUS trouble.

Like, SERIOUS trouble.

 

Still here?” Did you read that correctly? Yes. Yes, you did. This brings us to our first Easter egg. You may have heard the fan theory about how the Weyland-Yutani corporation (the Alien franchise) exists in the same world as the Tyrell Corporation (Blade Runner.) Most of it is simply fanboy conjecture, but then Ridley Scott chimes in and basically confirms in an interview that the heads of those two mega-companies did indeed know one another. Interesting.

 

Okay, sorry. Focus. In Blade Runner, most people with the means to do so have gone “off world.” Those that remain on our spent husk of a planet deal with smog, pollution, constant drizzle and greyscale everything. Now, notice we never see much of Earth in any of the Alien movies? Ripley lives in what might be tenement housing, or even a block of company-made dormitories. Maybe the world outside is the same bleak cityscape whose streets guys like Deckard patrol. Of course, we humans aren’t the only sentient beings that inhabit future-Earth. There are the skin-jobs. Replicants made by the Tyrell Corporation, and equally-lifelike synthetics produced by Weyland-Yutani.

 

Still with me? Okay.

 

So, the aliens go nuts and are on the verge of wiping out what’s left of humanity, or at least the shreds still clinging to our turd of a planet. So the rest of the humans take off. Get out of Dodge. Split. And who do they leave behind?

 

The robots. Replicants. Artificial persons.

I don't...oh, jesus.  Did I miss the last shuttle off-world?  Fuck.

I don’t…oh, jesus. Did I miss the last shuttle off-world? Fuck.

 

Those thinking machines of various mechanical and genetically engineered construction stave off the aliens until the rest of us can get off-world. Just maybe everyone is getting off-world because of the alien invasion. Whatever the case, the plan is to let the aliens run out of human hosts and die, so that mankind can return and resume our civilization. (Think WALL-E only much darker.) Only it doesn’t work out that way. The bio-mechanical xenomorphs, as we’ve seen in the sequels, can adapt to whatever host organisms are present in any given environment. Perhaps even bio-engineered skin-jobs. Eventually, the aliens are just too numerous. The replicants are faced with one final option: take off and nuke the site from orbit. And by “site” I mean THE WHOLE DAMNED PLANET.

 

I’d imagine it would come down to some sort of group decision, maybe a cadre of inner-circle synthetics who finally made the call. And what if one of them was modeled after the son of corporation founder and head genius Eldon Tyrell? Maybe he has a similar name. And maybe over the centuries that followed mankind’s exodus, the spelling of the last name changed (much like Shawn, Sean, or Shaun. Emory and Emery. The various Mac and Mc spellings of Scots and Irish surnames.)

 

Yes, Eldon Tyrell’s legacy is Galen Tyrol. One of The Five. The Five sentient mechanical beings who at one point were more human than human, even capable of sexual reproduction. The Five that nuked our planet in order to finally destroy the alien menace.

But you've gotta admit: kick-ass shirt, you gods-damned toaster!

But you’ve gotta admit: kick-ass shirt, you gods-damned toaster!

 

And what of humanity? Of course, most ended up living on Kobol or Caprica. But another group, the REAL “lost tribe” found their way to another system (or systems.) There, as on Earth, the monolithic corporations seized power. There, like on Earth, the rich were able to live life flush with the latest technology. Others, not so much.

 

In fact, some folks keep using the old tech of Earth That Was. For example, this anti-aircraft gun…made by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.

See that logo?  Top center? Keep in mind, this is Mal Reynolds' gun from the battle of Serenity Valley.

See that logo? Top center? Keep in mind, this is Mal Reynolds’ gun from the battle of Serenity Valley.

 

All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

 

ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE:

 

There’s a very Asian feel to Deckard’s Blade Runner city. Much like the preponderance of Chinese influence in the world of Firefly. And when Anders becomes the “hybrid” in BSG, the walls show cascading symbols that seem to be either Chinese or Japanese in nature. And maybe Kara Thrace isn’t painting the Eye of Jupiter in this piece…

Sidebar: she is NEVER getting her deposit back.

Sidebar: she is NEVER getting her deposit back.

…but rather this…

 

 

That's Chinese for FRAKKIN' TOASTERS!!

That’s Chinese for FRAKKIN’ TOASTERS!!

 

 

Kara Thrace.  No power in the ‘Verse can stop her. And finally…FINALLY…while there are several toy spaceships that make an appearance during a shadow-puppet theater show in the Firefly episode “Heart of Gold” (like, is that the Enterprise at the top?) the circled ship could be a Colonial Viper, yes?

Also pictured: at least one of your mom's dildos.  ZING!

Also pictured: at least one of your mom’s dildos. ZING!

 

 

Okay, maybe a stretch. However, in the original Battlestar Galactica re-imagined mini-series, the following ship does a fly-by outside the doctor’s window there in Caprica City. Huh. Wouldja look at that?

 

 

Or, again...one of your mom's dildos.

Or, again…one of your mom’s dildos.

 

IN CONCLUSION:

 

There will be folks that pick this apart and do some sort of timeline reckoning and poke numerous holes in my theory. Fine. It’s just silly fan stuff, and that’s one of the wonderful things about the sci-fi community; the endless debates and comparisons. Bottom line: it’s all good. Literally. There are some wonderful stories and grand mythology out there. Dig in and enjoy ‘em all. And expand upon them! This sort of conversation could go on forever! Was the Predator that came to earth in the near-future Los Angeles here to hunt Aliens? Were they already present? Perhaps they actually began life here on Earth! Bio-engineered by Weyland-Yutani and shipped off-world to incubate on another planet, another system, far enough away to pose no danger to mankind.

Pictured: deleted scene from Alien VS Predator

Pictured: deleted scene from Alien VS Predator

Was the rainy, grey nature of our planet in Blade Runner the result of some last-ditch effort to terraform our own homeworld after it was ruined by pollution and greenhouse emissions? Is that why it looks so much like Acheron/LV426? Constant drizzle and gloom? In an alternate timeline, did a synthetic (sorry, artificial person) begin Star Fleet, because Commander Data? Is Earth an offshoot (lost colony) from some race in Star Wars? And did THESE GUYS…

Very good.  Now turn to your right.

Very good. Now turn to your right.

Inspire THIS GUY?!?!

HOORAY, TOASTERS!

HOORAY, TOASTERS!

This has all happened before, this will all happen again. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

 

 

My head hurts. G’night, all.

 

 

 

 

 

Musings.

Okay, you know the drill (unless you’re just now discovering this blog, in which case, welcome!  Have some dip!  It’s delish!) Now and then the random crazy thoughts and notions in my head must be purged, so here we go again.  A little housekeeping.

I used to smoke a pipe.  A tobacco pipe, no less.  It was the 90’s.  I would probably still smoke one to this day, but smoking a pipe is much like eating Buffalo wings:  it’s too much work for the amount of gratification.  You hafta pack the tobacco in strata of compaction and texture, then light it and possibly re-light it and sure, the amaretto vanilla smell is extraordinary, but Jesus…it’s just easier to grab some Black & Milds and go to town. That thought led to me to this one:  why the hell haven’t the hipsters taken up pipe smoking?  They already have the old-school glasses, neckties, Smith Corona typewriters and Schiltz beer (I am trying to get hipsters to drink that stuff so they leave the decent beers like PBR and Hamms alone) so it would make total sense that they would all take up the ludicrously time-consuming and attention-grabbing act of tobacco pipe smoking.  They should be all over this shit.

I left the Shire before it was cool.

I left the Shire before it was cool.

I think I may have covered this in a different post, but here’s one hard fact of life, my friends: The green and pink hippos in Hungry, Hungry Hippos always rule. They are good and fast, with smooth action.  You always get tons of marbles with those two.  However, the other side of that coin is that the yellow and orange ones (at least one, usually both) suck.  Terrible.  The jaw sticks open, the neck doesn’t go all the way out…something.  Avoid at all costs. BTW, did you know all those hippos have names?  I don’t know what they are.  Probably something like Geoff or Brad.  Brittany, maybe.

Pictured: utter, dismal failure

Pictured: utter, dismal failure

There was a series on Showtime way back in the day (back when we’d watch the cable movie network late, late, way after we should’ve been in bed, in order to glimpse the nightly showing of Porky’s, Zapped, or some Shannon Tweed flick; anything with some skin) called “Steambath.”  Here was the entire premise of the show: heaven (Nirvana, Elysium, whatever you prefer to call your afterlife) was a steam bath.  That’s it.  Guys died, they went there, they sat around talking about life or whatever (I honestly don’t remember much of the show, as I was about twelve and it didn’t have laser guns or tits or laser-tits, so I couldn’t be bothered.)  I think this is a show ripe for a Netflix revival.

I think this is from the actual show, and I'm pretty sure that's Bill Bixby.

I think this is from the actual show, and I’m pretty sure that’s Bill Bixby.

There are two phrases that have been completely ruined by musical numbers from animated films within the last year or so.  They are expressions that you can’t possibly utter now without hearing someone belt out their own rendition of the song that incorporates the phrase in question.  They are “Let it Go” and “Everything is Awesome.”  The sad thing is that I never realized how often I use both phrases until the goddam singalong thing started.  It’s a living hell.  It’s like living in my own private ongoing production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” done as a Disney/PIXAR monstrosity.  Fuck.

So close.  Maybe Frank would work better in a Ren & Stimpy revival...

So close. Maybe Frank would work better in a Ren & Stimpy revival…

I think hats fell out of favor because of Hollywood.  See, men in particular (but everyone, really) used to wear hats.  Fedoras, Derbys, Homburgs, etc.  But then they started making movies.  And in the movies, you want to see the faces of the big, bold stars up there on the silver screen.  So they’d contrive to have the hero go without a hat.  Seriously, think of Humphrey Bogart.  Sure, he had his lid on for a few minutes in Maltese Falcon and at the very end (the tarmac scene) of Casablanca…but otherwise, it was his slick pompadour and a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth.  And guess what everyone in the United States of America has always done?  Imitated the people they see in the movies.  Slowly but surely, as fewer hats appeared onscreen, fewer were seen on the heads of the fine young men and women of the USA and freedom-loving peoples all over the world.  That’s why even today you’ll find everyone in North Korea wearing hats.  Because those godless commies don’t allow easy access to American cinema.  (Okay, I really don’t know what the hat situation in North Korea is, but fuck ’em.)

And no, Bogey.  Liking margaritas does not make you gay.

And no, Bogey. Liking margaritas does not make you gay.

Television science guy and ambassador for rationality Bill Nye is NOT the same guy as crusty English actor/sea monster Bill Nighy. They’re two completely different people.  In fact, one is English and the other is not.  Plus, according to some internet sources, one of these two pronounces their last name “Nigh-hee.”  Just wanted to clear up any confusion.  Also, Gordon Lightfoot might look sort of like one of these two, but he is not.  Not either of those two guys.  The science one and the English dude.  Okay, I wanna go home now.  Seeya.

See, now I don't remember which is which.

See, now I don’t remember which is which.

Job Love.

So, here it is.  4:39PM on Friday, January 16th.  I’m at my desk.  I’ve done all I can really do today.  This week.  For now.

“And what is it that you do, exactly?” you ask.  Ostensibly, I’m a copywriter.  So that means I’m tasked with providing the written words for any number of different advertising campaigns. Projects carried out by my employers, the highly-regarded Asher Agency.  From the script for the flu bug radio commercial or the miniature screenplay for those Indiana Tech television commercials.  The hashtags on that Subway print ad.  The direct mail piece you got from PHP Healthcare.  That’s me.  That’s what I do.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Just as I discovered in my radio career, each member of a team does more than one thing. “Everyone fights.  No one quits.”   We all have our particular focus, but the overlap is considerable. Each member of the creative team chips in with and develops concepts, comes up with visual ideas and directions, creates via the great crowd-brain-hivemind here in the creative department.  I love that shit.  I truly do.

I love being part of a team.  That was one bright spot in my radio career: even when things got dodgy,  I knew my teammates (the other  members of our on-air staff) were there with me.  As with any team, when everyone pulls together and does the impossible? Well, like Captain Mal says:  that makes us mighty.

But there are other perks here in advertising land.  For example:  I’m sipping a Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout from a pint glass at my desk  During business hours.  Things have certainly changed since the ol’ Don Draper days.  Folks don’t keep bottles of scotch or rye at their desks (Okay, some do.  Seriously.  But we don’t flaunt it, don’t partake all damned day.  We save it for the Friday of a long week or for special occasions. Everyone here is a professional.  We act like it.  That’s what we rule.  The stakes are just too high nowadays, the demand for quality too great to be achieved by a bunch of drunks.)  It’s still nice to unwind at the end of a busy week.  Feels good, man.

As I sat here doing maintenance/cleaning house on my email inbox, I rediscovered the following exchange which sums things up so very nicely.  See, last week I wanted to tip my supervisors off to the fact that I would be missing the first hour of so of the workday this past Monday (the 12th) for a routine doctor’s appointment. I start by sending this to my bosses, Dan and Kelly.  They’re both brilliant guys.  Geniuses.  So goddam smart and creative. Anyway, here’s what I said:

 


From: Turner

To: Dan, Kelly

re: Doctor’s appointment

Hey, fellas.  I have a doctor’s appointment Monday morning early, so I’l likely miss the traffic meeting.  Just wanted you to be aware, and not freak out and think “He’s finally done it!  Run off to live the life of a hobo, riding the rails of this great nation.  Sleeping in box cars, eating soup right from the can.  Fare thee well, strange tattooed man!”

 
Or whatever.
 

 

My first response was from Kelly, who I imagined chuckling, his shoulders convulsing as he typed.  He said simply:
 

From: Kelly
To: Turner
CC: Dan
Re: doctor’s
 
LOVE IT!!!

 

Three exclamation marks.  THREE!  And then Dan chimed in:

From: Dan
To: Turner, Kelly
re: Doctor’s appointment
 
All the while listening to Box Car Willie’s Greatest Hits on a Sony Walkman he picked up at the Salvation Army using batteries stolen from the countertop wire rack display at a 7-11 near the train yard in Waterloo, Iowa.

 

See what he did?  He continued the story! That’s fun! He could’ve ignored it, or sent an “Approved” message.  He didn’t.  So I expanded…

From: Turner
To: Dan, Kelly
re: Doctor’s appointment
 
Not “technically” stolen.  I left an old silver dollar my pappy gave me, and the promise to return once I’ve made my fortune.

 
(But really, I‘ll be at the doctor’s.)
See, I wanted to underscore the fact that I would be at the doc’s.  Dan’s warm response:

From: Dan
To: Turner, Kelly
re: Doctor’s appointment
 
Perfect. Be well. Don’t let the Doc poke and prod too damn much.
 
Now, the thing is, those guys could’ve handled my note in a couple of different ways.  Their response could’ve been very matter-of-fact.  “Okay.  Let us know when you arrive at the office on Monday.”  Or even “make sure this time is covered under office coding procedure vis-a-vis your timesheet.”  They could’ve responded with a terse “OK.”  Or, they could’ve been complete dicks and fired back “In the future, clear any and ALL delays or time away with us ahead of time.”
None of that happened.  Instead, they treated me like a valued employee.  Someone whose continued happiness within the company framework was important to them.  It was amazing.  It was…new.  To me, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong:  I’ve had a bunch of great supervisors in my professional life.  Radio, pawn shop, parts department, ice rink…wherever I’ve found myself employed.  But the stakes are just…higher?  I don’t know.  It’s just weird.  In a good way.  My sister-in-law works for Google out in Mountainview, CA. In the past, she would tell me stories much like this and I’d scoff.  I thought that there was no way that a worthwhile company would play it so fast-and-loose with employees.
One of these two is a friggin' VP.  How about that?

One of these two is a friggin’ VP. How about that?

That’s before I worked for a company that “got” it.  Like Google does.  Like Blizzard and Microsoft and a dozen different advertising agencies do. And it struck me that the best companies, the ones with a pulse, the ones that know what the hell’s happening out there…they’re great for a reason.  And it ain’t the amount of money they bring in (although that certainly helps matters) or the number of people they employ.  Its because if you work for them, they want you to be happy. (My wife works for a software engineering company that has a ping-pong and corn hole room for de-stressing during the day.  It’s no surprise that they’re a company that’s growing exponentially, hiring and building.  They’re going to be massive.)  Ye gods, what a great concept.
May you all be so lucky to work for such an enterprise some day.  Cheers.
(By the way, I recently signed up for a Behance account, sort of like an online portfolio.  If you’re curious about some of the stuff I’ve been lucky enough to have a hand in, check it out at https://www.behance.net/turnerwatson)

Before and After

So, Motia (Mo-TEE-ya) says that I should blog more, and I should. Lately, though, she’s been very specific, suggesting blog subjects and the like. The nerve of some people. Telling me what to do. Directing my behavior. Punching me in the arm. Expecting me to get drunk at the company Christmas party.

I think she might be a prophet.

Anyway, we had a discussion the other day regarding certain moments when you realize that nothing will ever be the same. Events or moments in one’s life or in society, the arts, that forever change the medium. Rock ‘n’ Roll music is one of those. For example, in 1957 Elvis finished the year with the number one single on the pop charts with “All Shook Up.” The number two song overall? Pat Boone with “Love Letters in the Sand.” Yes, Pat Boone. By 1958, Pat dropped to #24 overall, and in 1959 he didn’t have a song in the top-100. Obviously, this was a more gradual change, but the point was made: rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay.

But let’s narrow our focus a bit. How about we look only at three different things that happened within the last thirty years or so. And we’ll keep it to one medium: cinema. There have been all sorts of innovators in film, and you could go back to Citizen Kane and Casablanca and discuss how groundbreaking those films were (and let’s be honest, I probably will one day) but I’ve narrowed it down to three events/watershed moments. We’ll start with perhaps the most obvious.

CGI

The original TRON was the first major Hollywood film to utilize the ground-breaking technology of “Computer Generated Imagery.” However, not only were the effects crude and clunky, but they only accounted for a small portion of the overall special effects.

Eerily lifelike.

Eerily lifelike.

The rest were old-school makeup, prosthetics, matte paintings, and colorizing/color replacing most of the footage. That same year, moviegoers had the piss scared out of them by John Carpenter’s The Thing. Carpenter’s film relied almost entirely on Bob Bottin’s stop-motion and puppetry (with a slight assist from the legendary Stan Winston) to create horrific and terrifying creature effects. However, within a couple of years after TRON’s theatrical release came 1984’s The Last Starfighter. In just two years (or less, since the movie was in production well before its release date) the ability of CG artists had leapt light-years ahead, rendering 3-D Gunstars that, while terribly crude by today’s standards, were still pretty cool.

Yeah, try and TELL me that ain't what a spaceship looks like, son.

Yeah, try and TELL me that ain’t what a spaceship looks like, son.

And in less than ten years’ time, we had Doctor Grant marveling at a herd of brachiosaurs. (Even though the famous velociraptor kitchen scene was done mostly by guys in dinosaur costumes.) Now we enjoy everything from Shrek to the Transformers series and everything Marvel Studios has produced. Think back to the “crawling spider-head monster” from The Thing. If filmed today, it would be completely rendered in CG. Would a CG version be better? Creepier? More realistic? Possibly. In the right hands, maybe. But the fact is that no studio would do it old-school today. Old-school SFX are still out there, but there isn’t a studio head in the business that would risk a shot like that without doing it CG.

Not to be confused with the Headcrabs from the Half Life series.

Not to be confused with the Headcrabs from the Half Life series.

Batman Begins

The argument could be made that 2000’s M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable was the first “realistic” super hero movie. But it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan helmed Batman Begins in 2005 that things got, well…serious. We’ve all grown jaded by the words “gritty reboot” but that’s exactly what Batman Begins was. After Joel Shumacher pretty much undid all the good work begun by Tim Burton’s time with the Caped Crusader in the late-80’s, ol’ Bats needed a new start. And when you spend the first part of the film showing millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne studying with ninjas in order to become a lethal assassin, people sort of forget about nipples on the Batsuit.

Until now.

Until now.

The phenomenon took off. Maybe it was perfect timing. In a post- 9/11 world, maybe glib one-liners and a vibrant color palette didn’t belong anymore. And yet, people still needed heroes. Enter The Dark Knight. Through three brilliant films, Nolan made us re-think exactly what we wanted from a comic-book movie. The ripples were felt as far away as M.I.6, as the following year a new, lean, hard, and violent-as-hell 007 debuted in a (all together now!) gritty reboot of the James Bond franchise. Casino Royale was also a dizzying success, and now even fluff movies like Guardians of the Galaxy contain enough gravitas (um, Peter Quill’s mom dying of cancer to start the goddam movie?) to make them feel “real.” Real enough, anyway.

Judd Apatow

Okay, this is actually the thing that got Motia and I talking about this concept of game-changers. I’d mentioned re-watching the original Dumb and Dumber recently, and here’s the thing: it’s really not that funny. Sure, it has its moments, and everyone can recite a handful of lines. But it just falls flat. What happened to cause such a diminishing return? Judd Apatow.

Apatow had been working for a while, writing, directing, producing, and often re-writing scripts for other people. Not many people watched Freaks and Geeks when it originally aired on FOX, probably about as many people as enjoyed The Ben Stiller Show (another example of Apatow’s handiwork.) But in 2004, Apatow produced a little film called Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Then he wrote and directed The 40 Year Old Virgin. And then Knocked Up and Talladega Nights. He produced films like Superbad and Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and Bridesmaids.

God damn.

In fairness, ol’ Judd had some turkeys in there, too. Year One, for example. And he co-wrote Don’t Mess With the Zohan. But when you look at the scope of comedic films he’s had a hand in over the last two decades, it’s hard to argue that he’s the King of Comedy in Hollywood. There’s a reason for that. Remember how we just discussed the gritty nature of superhero movies since Batman Begins? Comedy works the same way. Judd’s movies generally (not always) have an element of reality in the midst of all the ludicrous shenanigans. I mean, you can watch his films and know those characters. Yes, there are absurd people like Brick Tamland, but there are also kids drawing dicks and foul-mouthed best-friends. Jilted lovers and chronic pot-smokers (pun intended, if redundant.) You know those people. The plots for 40 Year Old Virgin and Bridesmaids could absolutely happen in real life. And as much as it was panned, I even found the Anchorman sequel to be a biting satire of modern cable news media. That’s reality, folks.

The plot of Me, Myself, and Irene could not ever happen. Ever.

Like anyone would seriously believe that these two, would...uh...oh.

Like anyone would seriously believe that these two would…uh…oh.

Speaking of which, I’m not saying the films of the Farrely Brothers or Adam Sandler or Mike Myers aren’t good, or even funny. Kingpin has some of the best sight gags ever, and even though it doesn’t hold up very well, Austin Powers was a fun little movie (and the sequels weren’t terrible, really.) It’s just that after Judd Apatow, when I watch those other flicks I feel like an adult listening to 8th-graders tell jokes. 8th-graders can be hilarious, but most of their humor is sort of one-note: farts, gays, lady parts, etc. And all of those subjects can also be hilarious in the right context. But if that’s all you’re going to give me, I grow tired of it all very quickly. Thanks, Judd Apatow. You’ve ruined me for stupid comedies.

And Then THIS Happened

I waited.  I didn’t sleep.

 

I waited.  I mean, I was lying on a thin pad of a mattress.  A mattress that felt like it was stuffed with dryer lint and potatoes. A mattress shoved into the corner of the room, right on the greasy linoleum floor. Waiting, not sleeping.  Propped up on one elbow, stamping out one smoke and lighting another.  My legs were covered by grimy grey sheets which I’d pushed down in the middle of the night simply because my torso rejected the very idea of them.  The one tiny window (or rather, the hard blade of yellow sunlight coming through it) told me it was daytime.  I didn’t give much of a fuck what time it was.  The only company was the smoke and dust and a gnat or two that swirled through the shaft of sunlight, reminding me of the old Star Trek transporter effect.  I waited, and I had to pee.

The door exploding inward startled me.

No.  No, that’s bullshit.  It scared the living shit out of me, made me jump literally to my bare feet, hand flailing at my hip, searching instinctively for a weapon that wasn’t there. Hadn’t been there for days.

Fucking Motia.  Give that crazy witch credit, she knew how to make an entrance.  She liked to announce her presence with her boot flying into something it shouldn’t, whether it be a man’s junk, a flimsy wooden door (like right that second) or a pit full of timber rattlers.

Then you know what that maniac did?  She laughed. She stood there with that psychotic smile and laughed out loud. Laughed at me.  

She stifled the guffaw with a hand to her mouth.

“Get your shit together and come with me.”  All business, Motia.  “He’s waiting, goddammit!”

My arm hurt right above the elbow, a yellowish bruise from the last time she’d grabbed my carcass, hauling it out of yet another predicament.  I didn’t give her the chance this time, shrugging her off and side-stepping.

“Okay!  Jesus!  Let me at least grab a shirt and–”

She didn’t grab my arm.  She grabbed a handful of hair on the back of my skull and threw me out the door.  One-handed.  Hard.  Like I’d imagine a linebacker tosses his laundry bag down the stairs.

So that’s how I came to meet Dan.  Barefoot, stinking, shirtless. I smelled of last night’s booze and this morning’s stale nicotine and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten or showered.  Hell, I wasn’t even sure which one I wanted more:  to be clean or to be fed.

Except, of course, none of that is true.  Okay, let me switch gears here.

2014 has been the Ragnarok of Radio.  Yes, we’re going back to when I was in professional radio.  I lost my gig in June, for those of you that care and/or want backstory.  It was nobody’s fault, really.  I gave my employers enough of a way out, and they took it.  I won’t say it was amicable, but it really did work out for all parties.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.  I ended up being better off, and I’ll explain later.

But it wasn’t just me.  Ft. Wayne radio got shaken to its very core this year.  People got fired.  Lineups changed.  Stations disappeared.  Much of the change was actually just aftershocks from the big WOWO/Bob & Tom switcheroo from a few years previous, combined with a few new ownership groups playing chess with their properties.  The dust is still settling, and even though nobody likes the idea, the fact is that there could be more changes to come.  That’s business.  That’s life.  That’s radio.

But it wasn’t just this market. For God’s sake, South Bend got gutted. Ft. Wayne got shaken pretty hard. Some folks got displaced  (or left of their own accord) and found their way out of town. WAAAAAYYYY out, for folks like Chris Cruise, who’s now doing country (!) radio in the Pacific Northwest. Some folks are still waiting for a ride, and wondering if they should even try tho find another job in the biz.  And then there are people like Jenna.  The Jenna Raetor.  Former midday host at The Bear, and more recently employed as a social media guru and host at some station in California.  That is until she lost her gig there, too.  I’m telling ya, folks:  radio is a fucking pit of vipers and nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.  Remember that scene in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen asks the soldier “Who’s in charge here?” and the dumfounded guy responds “Aren’t you?”  That’s what radio is.  And that’s a big part of why I’m glad to be out.

So, what exactly am I doing?  I’m doing work, son!  My title is “copywriter” but as I quickly discovered once I joined the award-winning Asher Agency, that barely scratches the surface.  Yes, I write copy (the words, the text) for radio, print, and television commercials.  But I also conceptualize advertising campaigns, and come up with creative ways to get the message out.  I work with our graphic designers and artists, telling them what I want or need and then watch as they masterfully put it all together.  I storyboard TV shoots and cast the actors.  I pick the music for spots and the announcers. I direct.  It’s awesome.  As my friend and podcast partner Joe Schultz says “It’s like a modern-day Mad Men!”  And he’s absolutely right.  And it’s awesome.  And I am happy.  And it’s awesome.

EPILOGUE:  I’d long since tuned-out the beeping of the monitors or whatever the hell they were.  The distant low hiss of some respirator somewhere in the next room.  I just sat.  And watched.  I waited for her eyes to flicker open or something.  Anything.  It was terribly discomforting to see her like that.  I’d never seen Motia in any other condition but wild berserker blitzkrieg or falling-down drunk.  The person in that bed, the person recovering from surgery couldn’t possibly be the same woman.  And yet it was.

A grunting cough shook me from my reverie.  Caleb.  That guy hadn’t left her side for a second.  I don’t think he’d even slept.  And for most of the time since they’d wheeled her back in, he’d had his eyes bored directly into me.  The dude was a helluva watchdog, that was obvious.  He loved her.  That, too, was unmistakeable.

“Relax, cupcake.” I smiled at him.

“Hmmph.” He snorted back.  The only reason he tolerated my presence just then was because he knew that Motia respected me.  Sure, she may’ve tried to kill me a few times in the past, but there was a level of trust there.  Caleb’s huffing and puffing was his not-so-subtle way of saying “Thanks.  You can go now.”

He was right, of course.  She had a guardian.  A hulking, shaven-headed sentry with a snub .38 tucked into the back of his belt and brass knuckles in his left-front jacket pocket. It dawned on me that three of the most dangerous bastards I knew were in the room.  There really was no one that would dare mess.  Not here.  Not with her.  Not today.

I stood.

“Well, good luck.” I smiled.

“Brrrrrmmm.” Or something like that.  That’s what came out of Caleb’s throat

I smiled again in spite of myself.

 

(In all seriousness, get well soon, Motia!!)

The Story So Far.

 

Most episodic television programs begin with a “previously on…” montage of scenes that lead right up into that evening’s episode.  Tigh and Starbuck have an argument, Baltar has a conversation with Six, and so on. Maybe it’s Rick and Daryl running through the woods, Carl doing something stupid, and then a closeup of Maggie screaming “RUN!” Whatever. Sons of Anarchy, Burn Notice, The Blacklist. Lots of programs use that storytelling technique.

Wanna hit Starbucks?  Nah, she's out playing pyramid. ZING!!

Wanna hit Starbucks?
Nah, she’s out playing pyramid.
ZING!!

 

Other shows just go right into the latest episode, basically telling the viewer “If you don’t know what’s up, we’re not going to slow down and fill you in. Keep up, already.” Breaking Bad was great at that. Before the titles, you’d see Walt up to some sort of nonsense in the desert, or Mike doing something shady, or some seemingly unrelated shot: a pink stuffed toy, charred and water-logged, floating in a swimming pool. The writers and directors on those sort of programs usually do a masterful job of weaving it all together by the end of the episode. (Or by the end of the season, at least.)

Does this look a little pink, man? ZING!!

Does this look a little pink, man?
ZING!!

 

The point is, I’m not sure what sort of show this is. (I know it’s not a show. It’s a blog. I get it.   I’m not stupid. WHY YOU ALWAYS GOTTA CALL ME STUPID?!) But I do feel like filling you in before I begin the next episode. Because the next episode is a must-see, can’t-miss rollercoaster ride of thrills and excitement! The San Francisco Chronicle raves “Totally engrossing form start to finish” and the Indianapolis Star writes “It’ll have you guessing right up until the very end!” My mom adds “IT’S A BLOG!! SHUT UP AND GET ON WITH IT, ALREADY!”

 

Okay.

 

 


We OPEN on a dusty western street at dusk. Smoke or some other haze almost totally obscures the sinking, orange blob of sun, distorted and watery through the ripples of heat from the desert below.

 

IN THE DISTANCE, a vehicle approaches towards us down a twisting dirt track (editor’s note: in the first draft, this was a DURST track, and Limp Bizkit played underneath for the whole scene. You can see it in the DVD bonus features, although you won’t really want to.)

 

A MAN (We’ll come to know him as TURNER) stands in the street, facing the approaching vehicle. TURNER wears Wayfarer sunglasses and holds a smoldering, half-smoked MARLBORO CIGARETTE with about an inch of ash on the end.

TURNER doesn’t seem to notice, his vision fixed on the approaching car…or beyond it. It’s hard to tell, because, you know…sunglasses.

 

TURNER takes a drag of cigarette, and exhales slowly.

 

TURNER: Mo-teeeeeee-ya…

 

He tosses the butt to the ground.

CLOSE on the heel of his cowboy boot as he grinds the cigarette into the dusty street.

 

In the BG we see the car more clearly: it is a tan-and-cream colored late-model sedan, like a Lincoln Mark V. The hood ornament is a mounted longhorn steer’s horns.  (editor’s note: in the original shot, the car actually seems to hover about a foot off the ground, while the theme from Twin Peaks plays underneath the scene.  Also, for some reason, the bull’s horns are replaced with twirling chains of chocolate-covered cream-filled long johns, but since no one could remember why it was written that way, this portion of the script was written off as simply “drugs” and forgotten.)

 

CLOSE on TURNER as he smiles.

 

We PAN DOWN the length of his torso, coming to HOLD on the ridiculously large, chrome revolver on his hip as he UNCLASPS the leather strap holding it in place. (editor’s note:  originally, producers wanted the revolver to be two silver-dollar pancakes stapled together.  No one knows why.  Everyone involved in the creation of this episode was terribly hungry.  And tripping balls.)

 

TO BE CONTINUED!


 

 

Well, no. Not really. But damn it, now I have to wrap it up. Guess I’ll have to fill you in next time. It’s a really good story. No, it is!

 

See you next time on “TURNERWATSON.COM!!”

 

(That doesn’t make any goddam sense.)

 

 

Listen, Watch, Read.

Listen.

I wanted to wait until we had the kinks worked out before I told you about my new podcast.  Since that will likely never come to pass, I figure what the hell.  Besides, it’s all in the reflexes.  Long story short, my buddy Joe Schultz has been hankering to do a podcast for a while now.  So he went and bought a bunch of podcasting stuff.  I mean, who knew there were such things?  Not I.  He asked if I’d help.  I agreed.  Now we have one.  It’s called “The Velociraptor Incident” which is an inside joke of sorts related to my termination from my previous radio job.  Don’t worry about it.  Just listen.

Here’s the page link: http://directory.libsyn.com/shows/view/id/thevelociraptorincident wherein you can check out all the episodes.  (And by “all” I mean “both.”  Work in progress, people.)

Or just click on this direct link to the latest episode: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/3065768

But wait!  There’s more!  Say you’re a fancy-schmancy iTunes person.  We’ve got you covered, as the podcast is available for free on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-velociraptor-incident/id918855698?mt=2

 

So there you go.  I’ll warn you, the language (especially in our rambling, juvenile, self-indulgent first episode) is NSFW at times.  Again, work in progress.  But give ’em a listen when you get a chance.  Thanks.

 

Watch.

I’m always behind on things.  Like, I never watch television when it’s on.  I rarely watch “live” shows.  I always catch them on Hulu or Netflix or, in the past, on DVR.  I have two rambunctious boys who demand a lot of time, there are always sports and school things to take care of, and of course, getting down with the old lady and drinking too much.  It all takes up so much of my precious time.  Plus, I don’t have cable.  So there’s that.

Anyway, the wife and I have been binge watching and catching up on some shows.  We started “Orange is the New Black” and found it to be really good.  Sure, it’s a chick show, but I dig it.  Well done, all around.  If you haven’t seen it, I would describe it as “Private Benjamin Goes to OZ.”  (That’s the Oswald Correctional Facility, not the place with the yellow brick road.)  And of course, we follow The Blacklist on Hulu the night after it airs on NBC.  Basically, it’s like watching DVR’d shows, and that’s nice.

But in the spaces between, we’ve been catching up on shows we missed the first time around. Shows like Fringe.  Yes, everyone tells me that the seasons go downhill sharply after the first couple, much like Dexter, but so far we’re still in honeymoon mode well into season two.  Still freaks me out to see Charlie Conway in X-Files mode instead of triple-deking, but he’s good.  Plus, the J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci chemistry is strong.  Good stuff.  Speaking of sci-fi geekdom, I also finally started (and have since become obsessed with) Battlestar Galactica.  Holy shit, why didn’t I listen to everyone when this show was first on Sci-Fi?!  And an even better question:  why the hell did Sci-Fi (now SyFy) stop making quality programs and instead opt to shovel shit like Sharknado out of the ol’ television poop-chute?  I’m not even halfway through BSG, yet I have laughed and almost wept so many times…it’s like I don’t want it to end.  I know it will, but I want it to keep going.  I want it to be one of those series that wraps up after eleven years on the air when people are saying “yeah, they ran out of story after season eight.”  Then again, kudos for teling the story and getting out.  I like that, too.  Better than that Hobbit movie bullshit, dragging it out, adding fluff, and basically ruining one of my favorite stories, but hey.  That’s another conversation.  Maybe we’ll cover that on the podcast.

 

Read.

Speaking of The Hobbit, here’s my final observation/recommendation.  You must read the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.  My gods, but this is another time when I was late to the party, but now that I’m here I don’t want to leave.  In a nutshell, I’ll say this:  if you enjoy the writing style of George R. R. Martin, you’ll dig Abercrombie.  He uses profanity, in a realistic way.  There are skulls split open and some sickening, bone-crunching moments of gore.  However, in many ways, Abercrombie is a better storyteller than Martin.  The world he creates is less treacherous and back-stabbing than that of Westeros, but the danger and scope are still there.  Like Song of Ice and Fire (or simply Game of Thrones, if you just watch the wonderful HBO series) there’s magic here, and wizardry…but like Westeros, it’s a faded, dull sort of thing.  It’s a sun-bleached poster, or thin, lukewarm coffee.   As one character puts it, magic has “leaked out of the world.”  The rest is swords, spears, armor, and brutality.  The author is obviously part of the new style championed by GRRM, less poetry than Tolkien or Salvatore, but beautiful nonetheless.  (Think “Deadwood” if it were set in the middle ages.)  Abercrombie’s characters use profanity, in a very realistic and often amusing  “shit, shit, SHIT!” sort of way. ” But what really sets this fast-paced, taut little trilogy head and shoulders above the rest are the wonderfully developed characters.  They are so very real, and so very flawed.  And often hilarious.  I literally laughed out loud many times, especially at the dry wit of Sand dan Glokta and the Mal Reynold-ian take on things delivered by Logen Ninefingers.  It’s so wonderful to see these characters grow and change and become something larger, stronger, better.  Most all of them are trying to improve themselves, trying to overcome their mistakes and weaknesses.  Most of them don’t even realize they’re doing so, consciously.  That makes the change even more wonderful.  Several of these living, breathing people think themselves condemned, victims of their own mistakes or selfishness…and some of them are.  But they all keep trying anyway.  That’s heroism.  There are many tragic moments when you say “oh, no…no, please, don’t do it…” as you realize someone is about to backslide. But you read on, hoping they make it.  You keep reading because Joe Abercrombie makes you give a shit about these people and what happens to them in the next paragraph. Chapter.  The next book.  And then it’s all over and you sit back and applaud and wish there were more.  If you love great fantasy/adventure stories, this one is a must-read.

 

Tee Totalling

Within the framework of this blog (as well as in real life) I’ve often lamented the loss of style in the modern world.  I’ve droned about hipsters, men without hats, pomades, etc. but must admit that there’s one item of casual dress that I wholeheartedly embrace:  the time-honored tradition of the T-Shirt.  I am such a fan that I must periodically return to my overstuffed t-shirt drawer and begin the painful process of weeding my collection of ratty, threadbare shirts.  It’s horrible.  I hate getting rid of my treasures.  So much so that I clutch tenaciously and feverishly to at least two different favorites, and in reality there are way too many.  Once as black as the darkest night, now they’re sort of light charcoal, and so theadbare and worn that when held to the light they resemble some loosely-woven mesh.  Cheesecloth, maybe.

However, the field must be tilled ever so often and fresh soil risen up to the daylight.  That’s what I do.  I churn my shirts, so to speak, and the ones that haven’t been seen since last summer are the first to go.  This process brought some old memories to mind, specifically thoughts of old t-shirt fads long gone.  Today’s Realtree fad will soon fade, and hopefully those ubiquitous “KEEP CALM AND BLAH BLAH BLAH” shirts will disappear from public consciousness, at least until the great retro 2010’s craze of 2025 rolls around, at which point reproductions will fly off the shelves again.   Certainly some trends will continue as they always have: throwback soda and candy logos, band tees, beer and sports teams…these will never perish from the chests of frat boys, hipsters, and concert-going blue-collar types. Ever.

The same can’t be said for these bygone relics…

 

Big Johnson

Technically, these shirts were introduced in the late-80’s, but they really seemed to take off circa Spring Break 1994.  Seriously, you couldn’t go to to the mall, the sports bar, or the beach without seeing some dude with a Big Johnson shirt.  The whole gag consisted of thinly-veiled sexual innuendos, like “Big Johnson Surf Boards…If It Swells, Ride It!” or “Big Johnson’s Casino…Liquor Up Front, Poker In The rear!”  They seem dated now, and the jokes are so stale they’re probably made of the same material as your basic M.R.E.  But the catchphrases were brand-new at the time, and twenty-something bros found them hilarious.  I mean, who can argue with this gem?

Subtlety.  A lost art.

Subtlety. A lost art.

 

Hard Rock Cafe

This one makes me a bit sad.  The Hard Rock Cafe still exists and seemingly thrives, most notably the casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, as well as vacation destinations such as Myrtle Beach and exotic Detroit.  However, the corporation seems to be just as dedicated to spreading the good old-fashioned American rock-n-roll experience to the rest of the unwashed world, with locations in Jakarta, Angkor, and Phuket (how that never made it to a Big Johnson shirt, I’ll never know) in addition to European strongholds like Oslo and Amsterdam, because there’s nothing else to do in Amsterdam, right?  Duh! The sad part is how the internet and cable television have sort of taken the mystery and adventure out of seeking out a place to get over-priced (but still pretty tasty) burgers whilst surrounded with all sorts of rock-n-roll memorabilia.  I remember sitting in the New York Hard Rock (see, that even sounded cool in 1988), scarfing down a burger and Dr. Pepper, while overhead loomed the awesome, gnarly axe-shaped bass guitar of the God of Thunder himself, Gene Simmons.  Nowadays, I can go on Ebay and shell out some hard-earned PayPal cash and own the sonofabitch.  (The axe, not Gene Simmons, although if the price were right…)  I could also order a Hard Rock t-shirt from the comfort of my living room, and never have to spend time at an airport or drive the six-plus hours to Toronto’s Skydome (that’s what they used to call Rogers Centre) to get the same exact shirt I picked up there in 1991.  The excitement, the discovery, the Kerouac-like feeling of literally being on the road, going somewhere; maybe somewhere you’ve never been.  The pride you felt when you pulled the shirt on and left your apartment and somebody read the words “Hard Rock Cafe Miami” and met your eyes with a look of envy and wanderlust.  Those days are over.  Thanks a lot, stupid fucking internet.

The SkyDome logo had a snappy, ultra-modern redesign.  This was it.  No, really.

The SkyDome logo had a snappy, ultra-modern redesign. This was it. No, really.

 

Hypercolor

I must admit that I was never cool enough to own a Hypercolor t-shirt.  Apparently, I was the only human in North America that walked the streets with a regular old shirt that didn’t change color when someone held their hand on it for like five minutes.  For the uninitiated, the whole gimmick was due to a revolutionary dye that changed tint when it experienced a change in temperature.  You’d put on a purple shirt in the coolness of your bedroom, go out to catch the bus in 80-degree weather and MOTHER OF GOD!!  MY SHIRT IS NOW RUSTY ORANGE!  Then they got tricky and started printing the damn things in tie-dye patterns, so it was a swirling cauldron of ambiguous chromatics, dizzying and dazzling onlookers and passers-by.  “WHO IS HE?!  A WEATHER-LORD OF TIME AND SPACE?!?  ONE OF ELTON JOHN’S BAND MEMBERS?!  YE GODS, LOOK AT HIS MAGICAL ATTIRE!  BEHOLD HIS COMING!”  Plus, yeah; when someone gave you a hug, you could totally see where they put their arms around you.  Show-off motherfuckers, gettin’ hugs and shit.  Some bullshit, right there.

Show me on the shirt where he touched you...

Show me on the shirt where he touched you…

 

I know I’m leaving some out.  I decided against the brand-name trends, like United Colors of Benetton, Gotcha!, et al., because that sort of thing is in constant flux.  Remember when a couple of years ago you saw FUBU everywhere?  Yeah.  But hey, feel free to suggest others in the comments section.  Especially you youngsters that might remember stuff from the turn of the century that old guys like me sort of missed. (Those shirts Guy Fieri wears, for example.)  On second thought, nobody mention Guy Fieri.  The rest is fair game.  And as always, thanks for reading.