Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alice Cooper angrily hangs up on his lawyer, again

Today is the last day of school in our district.

It's an odd day. I've mistakenly thought today was Friday five different times today, so aligned was the end of school with the end of the week in my mind. For some reason I was very aware that today was the last "drop the children off on the way to work" morning of the school year.  We'll be doing it all again in September, but I was filled with memories of walking out of my high school on the last day of school and hearing multiple cars blaring "SCHOOL'S OUT FOR THE SUMMER! SCHOOL'S OUT FOR-EVAH!" in what each driver planned for days or weeks in advance to be a clever and witty display of individualism.

"Seriously? No possibility for royalties? Remind me why I have you on retainer again."
There's a giddy energy in the air on the last day of school, seemingly regardless of the fact that I haven't attended school in any capacity in over a decade.

Though I have lingering doubts about its accreditation to this day.
On the drive to the first of the two schools attended by the children, they excitedly detailed their pending day of watching movies and eating snacks.  I could digress here into a lengthy tirade about how this has been true for most of the past month, and how school essentially becomes a glorified daycare facility once the standardized tests are taken in late April and the schools have locked in their funding for the next year, and how there is no homework, little classwork and nary a trace of curricula for the final five weeks of the school year as every evening's "what did you do in Science class today?" meets with a quick "Nothing. We just watch movies every day now," while we all wonder why the American public school system has fallen so far behind an embarrassing (and growing) number of countries around the globe...

 ...but I won't.

I remember that odd dichotomy of knowing how vestigial the last day of school was, how even the teachers had summer vacation on the brain and the building was practically vibrating with eagerness for the final bell to ring so we could all just leave, with no one really able to define the point of even being there... and yet knowing that it was all necessary, in some way. There had to be a last day of school, to punctuate the end of the long sentence we'd just spent the fall and spring composing.

So I made my way through the labyrinthine drop-off lines for the last time this year. This begins with the crossing guard, a kindly older lady who I somewhat naively thought was recognizing and waving at us each morning until I noticed that she waved at everyone who drove past her (very busy, at 7:30 AM) intersection.

I thought I was special, Mavis, you brazen hussy.
We've entered into a bizarre unspoken social contract now, as I remember to wave even if I'm actively swerving to avoid being T-boned by some idiot who has failed to recognize who arrived at the 4-way stop first. Otherwise I imagine she spends the remainder of her day in a despondent funk, wondering if I'm mad at her or if she did something wrong. I can't have that on my conscience, even though I know on a cerebral level that I could drop dead while writing this sentence and she'd never miss me, other than on her days at the salon with her girlfriends when she brags that she's come thisclose to meeting Drew Carey every morning for months.

Whose (Drop-Off) Line Is It, Anyway?

At the elementary school there has been much effort made to avert speeding. For one, the ingress to the school from the street is littered with parking lot curbs made to act as speed bumps, though in my experience they're unnoticeable at any speed below 117 mph.

Me arriving at the elementary school, back in February.
The drop-off lane was also designed to make it impossible to drive faster than about 15 mph for more than a few feet at a time, owing to the bizarrely twisting nature of the lane itself.  Here, courtesy of Google Maps, is said drop-off lane:

Not long after the school year began, complaints began to mount as parents spent precious get-to-work-on-time minutes sitting still in the drop-off line because of slow movement at the head of the line. To combat this, the school erected a sign at the very beginning of the sidewalk bordering the drop-off line, claiming that "STUDENT DROP-OFF BEGINS HERE," which you may have seen in old photos of Harry Truman.  The problem with this is simple: this sidewalk begins so far from the school building that the sign ought to read in full, "STUDENT DROP-OFF BEGINS HERE IF YOU OBVIOUSLY HATE YOUR KIDS." 

You could make your child get out at this sign, then inch past them two or three times as the line of cars creeps forward and lets you awkwardly wave at them each time, though the line certainly slows more as other people hop out of their cars to take photos of The First Person To Ever Drop Their Kid Off At That Sign Ninety Miles From The School's Front Door.

"Okay, hop out here. No, the school's up there, I promise. You just can't see it because of the storm system blowing into that part of town. You'll see when you get there."
Honestly, short of smashing freshly chewed gum into their hair as we pull up, I can think of no more disrespectful way to complete the drop-off at the elementary school. So we either wait our turn at or near the front of the line, or eschew the line altogether and execute the drop-off on the adjacent street, onto a sidewalk leading into the school.

The middle school has fewer concerns about speeding, with gradual turns and angles which invite entering the parking lot at a satisfying speed.

"Be careful, you know how badly you bit your tongue when I did that bitchin' burnout last week."
However, it was a prescient move by the district to cut costs in the speed bump department, since it is rare that I pull into the drop-off line at the middle school without having to veer around some asshole who has invariably pulled into the line and put her minivan in park, hazard lights turned on for minutes at a time while nothing remotely drop-off-a-child related is happening.

The drop-off line at the middle school.

It is always the same fucking woman.  She's made me revisit my views on violence against women on a near-weekly basis.  Her child is never having difficulty gathering things from the car nor exiting the vehicle. Indeed, this moron is sitting in Park in the middle of the drop-off line, carrying on animated discussions with a nearby teacher or faculty member while sticking her arm out of the driver's side window to wave other people around her like she's doing us all a great service by letting us know that she's perfectly aware that she's holding up the whole goddamned IDEA of a quick streamlined pull-up-and-drop-off line in the service of sitting there running her mouth about whatever goddamned thing passes for conversation with a halfwit, and-

Deep breaths. Serenity now.

Were it not for the real likelihood that it'd degenerate into the police telling me I'm not allowed within 500 yards of the school next fall, I would have marched up to this bitch's waving arm and told her to get her corpulent ass out of the way, and maybe think about how her actions affect others instead of devoting the whole of her cognitive abilities to analyzing the results of last night's American Idol episode.

And, with all that waving, maybe consider a part-time crossing guard position.
Though such a public and cathartic rage display, before a phalanx of arriving and mingling students, would guarantee that our middle-schooler never gets picked on by anyone again, lest they summon The Wrath of The Balding Lunatic themselves.

"I suggest biting the head off of a barnyard animal for emphasis. Then again, that's always my suggestion, so take that with a grain of salt and a chicken's skull."
It won't be long before I find out the unique challenges associated with a whole new drop-off line, at the high school in our district. I'm ready for anything. I expect the expected, which was the unexpected but is expected now because I expect it.

"You'd better have your backpack, because I'm not coming back through the line again today."
But for now, it is summer vacation.  Time to settle down and relax with a beverage and a good book.

Or this.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Spectacular Tambor #157 (the origin issue)

This is actor Jeffrey Tambor.

(I nearly ended this blog entry right here, as it made for some sort of dadaist performance art in blog form)

This is the beloved 1977-1984 sitcom Three's Company.

I loved Three's Company when I discovered it in my youth, and am unapologetic in still loving it today.  Everyone becomes a hero in death, but I'd been rhapsodizing about the ingenious physical comedy of John Ritter for my whole adult life and well before he passed away, and would continue to go to the mat for him as a latter-day Buster Keaton of pratfalls and double takes.

But this is not about how awesome Three's Company was, nor John Ritter.

It is an unsettling tale of a man we've probably all seen but not noticed.  The shadow that grows longer as you look away.  It's a story with a sinister undercurrent of schizophrenia, identity theft, and an insidious man willing to stop at nothing to get close to a certain group of people for reasons that shiver me with horror at the implications. 

See, Jeffrey Tambor has popped up in the Three's Company universe a lot. Enough that at some point someone hanging out at the Regal Beagle should have asked, "Hey, doesn't that guy remind you of that other guy who dropped by that one time, because they look and talk exactly the same?"

The problem is that we're not dealing with normal people, here.  Chrissy is an idiot. Larry is medically incapable of seeing anyone not constructed entirely out of breasts. 

"It's a waking nightmare! I can't hold down a job and my relationship with my sister-in-law is irreparably damaged!"
Mr. Furley spends all of his time standing next to a closed door and having palpitations because he can hear Jack on the other side, having a conversation about shower curtains that sounds like it could be about dongs. 
Someone please get him a glass of water and some better porn.
And Teri the hot nurse, also known as The One I Had A Big Crush On From The Show, hadn't joined the show yet.  So it would be patently unfair to expect her to break the case wide open. 

The nurse fantasy began here, for me. Your mileage may vary.
That leaves the two relatively intelligent people on the show.  I have no observations about Janet, since she's always reminded me just enough of my mom that it's just weird.  I keep waiting to see my dad wander through the background of an old rerun, waiting to romance Janet and produce me.  Just too bizarre.

And Jack was too busy being awesome, performing pratfalls that would leave strands of patella tendon in the hair of everyone in the room if attempted by a lesser comic, and ducking Mr. Angelino while still pretending to be gay in order to live in the apartment in the first place (the seventies were a strange time).  So I have to give him a pass.

Thus we have The Talented Mr. Tambor, insinuating himself in these people's lives while under a variety of assumed names and identities, his true intentions as chilling as they are inscrutable.

First he shows up as Winston Cromwell III, attempting to creepily woo Chrissy's equally stupid cousin, Cindy.
As my mom looked on disapprovingly.
Another time he shows up as Dr. Tom Miller, who, according to the Internet, was a co-worker of Teri's, which would require a complete re-write of an earlier paragraph in this blog if I thought anyone was reading.  Interestingly enough, in this episode everyone thinks he might be a serial killer, which is aided by the double-entendre nature of every single word that comes out of his mouth. I can only assume it was unfiltered Tambor that the Three's Company producers decided to leave in to avoid waking up to him standing at the foot of their beds some night soon.

"The problem is that they take so long to stop BREATHING, you really have to DROWN them. You know, those types of fabrics, that is."
And then, somehow, he pops up a THIRD time, now with a more full head of hair but still with an equally terrible assumed name, as Dr. Phillip Greene.  Who is Jack's dentist, and who was recently spurned by Teri.

Who recognized him neither from working with him before nor from the darkest corners of her nightmares.
What are his goals?  What is he trying to do?  Is anyone safe?


No.  No, they are not.

See, Tambor still wasn't done.  When the producers spun off the original landlords, Stanley and Helen Roper, into their own show, The Ropers, who do you suppose was their uptight neighbor, who answered (for now) to "Jeffrey P. Brookes III"...?

This blog needs an "Insert Crashing Horror Movie Sound Effect" widget.
Not coincidentally, the Ropers were never heard from again. Occasionally the San Diego police get an envelope in the mail with an unidentifiable lump of flesh in it, and they don't even bother DNA testing it anymore.  It just goes in the big box marked "EITHER THE ZODIAC KILLER OR JEFFREY TAMBOR."

We're talking about a psychotic who can't even be bothered to come up with particularly distinct alter-egos.  He's grabbed the "Dr." prefix twice and seems to think it will throw people off his scent if he randomly assigns himself a "III" at the end of whatever name he's come up with this time.

Hell, the last time he was barely USING a false name.  I can only assume that John Ritter's character on his next project had him interacting with a "Teffrey Jambor" while finally, hopefully, beginning to feel the tickle of deja vu before it was too late.

"Hey, that guy who just said hello and adjusted my collar for me... did he seem familiar to you?"

He is everywhere and nowhere.  You, the person reading this, have met him at least six times. He has never introduced himself to you in the same way twice.  He's probably watching you reading this right now, through a barely-ajar door or a thinned hedge. By the time you locate him, he's already behind you again. Looking. Watching. Waiting.

We all float down here, Georgie.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY but mostly Saturday mornings

When I was a boy, my dad took me to the Kerrville sMall (it aspired to be a mall someday, but that day is yet to come) to witness a well-publicized wrestling match between a man and a bear.

I imagine it went well.  I have no idea.  Evidently there wasn't a sufficiently compelling episode of Unsolved Mysteries on that night to keep the entirety of Kerrville's residents from cramming into the sMall to watch this epic brawl.  And, being a boy, I had no way of seeing anything that was happening in the hastily-constructed boxing ring in the middle of the sMall, even when my dad grabbed me by the armpits and lifted me above his head to try to see above the crowd.  I've never seen the sMall that filled with people, and I doubt the business owners therein have either.  I'm pretty sure there was a man, and a bear.  I feel safe in assuming that the bear was heavily sedated in order to make this fight possible without any genuine danger.

I wanted to put a comically juxtaposed picture of Yogi Bear here, but for some reason all Google gave me were old pictures of some baseball dude (who then later invented Yogi Bear, I guess?).
I have no idea if we stayed for the duration of the "match," but I know the crowd was having a blast since they were roaring with approval on a regular basis.  Whatever was going on in the ring, it was entertaining them.

There's a chance someone just wheeled in a TV instead.
It was an unassuming prologue to a most ignominious childhood fascination of mine, as I must now admit to you all that I spent a good nine months of my youth trapped in a personal obsession with professional wrestling. 

I'm not proud.

Frankly, I blame peer pressure. I hung out with several other kids who were eyeballs-deep in wrestling culture and who swore to me that it was awesome, and that I should check it out.  And as I was a child, with all of the principles, discernment and convictions that that label implies, I dove in with both feet.

A kid named James, from the next street over, was endlessly excited about some wrestler I'd never heard of.  Hardly a conversation went by without James excitedly mentioning him, and yet I had no idea what this wrestler's name was for weeks and weeks of hearing James talk about him.  This wrestler's name was Hulk Hogan. Now, surely you've heard of the man, but believe it or not, there was actually a time before Hulkamania ruled the nation and left the keys with its incompetent younger brother, Pastamania.

And since I'd never seen the man and only had James' bizarrely adrenaline-rich, run-together account of him, I was convinced that there was an awesome wrestler out there named Kokogan.  Like "cocoa-gun." That's how James said it, every time.  I had no idea what to expect when and if I finally laid eyes on Kokogan.  Was he Samoan?  Would he be wearing some sort of tribal headdress? Was he a wizard? There was no guess that could be tossed out as unrealistic.

Kokogan, I presume...?
James wasn't much help in educating me on any aspect of wrestling, as his compendium of wrestling knowledge seemed to be culled from his own fevered imagination as much as any true source. He rhapsodized at length about the Von Erich family of wrestlers, but in his typical fashion managed to cram all of their names into as few syllables as he could possibly convey to me, so I had no clue who was who or where a person's name ended and the sound of James swallowing began.  I was able to cull what I thought was reasonable, albeit not verifiable, information from James about the family's various famous wrestlers out of sheer name repetition, including Kerry Von Erich, Erich Von Erich, Sporty Von Erich, Posh Von Erich, Crosby Von Erich, Stills Von Erich, Donner Von Erich, Vixen Von Erich, and at least a half-dozen more who were each unfailingly referenced by their whole names. Never just a reference to "Kerry" or "Keenan Ivory," no no.  James breathlessly described a match he'd seen where one Von Erich was wrestling some dude, and a veritable gaggle of other Von Erichs materialized in order to gang up on this hapless dude in what sounded even then like a witness account of a hate crime. 

Pictured: some Von Erichs, in all statistic likelihood.
Given that the Von Erich family was on the fringe of popular wrestling, and thus not showing up in the World Wrestling Federation in its 80s heyday, I began to wonder if James had made them all up in order to impress me, which would have proven a flawed plan under scrutiny from any angle.

Speaking of the WWF, it wasn't long afterward that another childhood friend showed me the first three Wrestlemanias, on handy VHS tapes he'd obtained from his permissive parents when they weren't letting him watch all the 80s slasher flicks he could handle.  And I witnessed the theatrics of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and was instantly seduced by the wacky personalities and ridiculous live-action cartoon antics on display.  Within days of discovering Wrestlemania, my friend let me in on the fact that the WWF broadcast wrestling matches every weekend.  On TV. For free

And we gorged.  I almost immediately developed a favorite wrestler, and for as cool as The Artist Formerly Known as Kokogan was, and for as awesomely giant as Andre the Giant was, no one was as cool to me as Junkyard Dog.  I somehow came across a poster with his likeness, and promptly plastered it on my bedroom wall in public adoration.

No, he isn't nude here, though I thought so, too.
The more I look at photos of Junkyard Dog now, the more I realize how flimsy a gimmick one needed in order to flourish in the WWF in the mid-eighties.  "Uh... I always have this chain!" was good enough to grant a hook and flesh out a character. I imagine these guys spent as much time defining their gimmicks and nicknames as they did their abs and pecs.

"I still want to keep 'Cocoa Gun' hip-pocketed for my adult film career, so..."

Plus, in at least half of the photos I can find of the man, I'm reasonably sure he's the guy who played Isaac on The Love Boat, plus several years' worth of anabolic steroids.

He used that very chain to mix most of Gavin McLeod's drinks.
No one was less pleased with my new hobby than my dad. He detested professional wrestling with a passion that tells me he was once jumped by six or eight Von Erichs but is just too proud to cop to it. I never once heard him pronounce the phrase "professional wrestling" as if it was anything but a virulent gum disease.  We once had a spirited exchange which ended with my sputtering incoherently in anger at not being able to complete whatever I was trying to say to defend pro wrestling; thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to get this transcript from the Library of Congress:

Me: "Yeah, but you've gotta respect how-"
Dad: "No, I don't. I don't have to respect anything those clowns do."
Me: "Okay, but you've at least gotta respect how much-"
Dad: "No, I don't."
Me: "OKAY, but you at least have to respect the amount-"
Dad: "NO, I don't have to respect them. I have no respect for any of them."

I've completely come around to his side now, and had done so by the time I could be described as a pre-teen.  But in 1985 I could not be deterred.  Men were flying through the air dressed like parade floats, knocking each other over and shrieking crazy-eyed taunts into the nearest camera, every Saturday morning.  There is no way that computes to an eight-year-old boy as anything other than the most awesome thing ever to ever exist ever, ever.

Also, tear-away rubber shirts. Forgot to mention that.
Some of the most insane shit ever came from the WWF promotional department in the mid-eighties.  Just give this guy some Kabuki facepaint and some almost certainly gangrene-inducing armbands, plus all the cocaine he can fit into his skull at one time, and then put him in front of a camera with no script and tell him to riff on his upcoming match for five goddamned minutes!  Andy Kaufman couldn't have dreamed up a better scenario for entertaining little boys and/or mental patients.

Then they veered from the Day-Glo gooftastic shit a bit with the introduction of The Undertaker, who with his assistant, Paul Bearer, introduced a nation of kids to darker themes and almost certainly inspired the opening of the first Hot Topic store.

"And cool kids attach a chain to their... um, their wallets!  Yeah, that's it."
The Undertaker made a grand show of locking his opponents in caskets whenever he beat them in the ring, to much audience screaming and panicky commentary from the announcers about how on earth this man was allowed to have his assistant bring a coffin into the arena and proceed to murder a man via asphyxiation after their choreographed tickle-fight.  Amazingly, the evening news never seemed to cover the various public executions that the commentators believed The Undertaker was committing every week, but it was the eighties.  The news had stories about teenaged werewolves playing high school basketball to cover.

Anything to bring this asshole into police custody.

The gild began to flake free from the sweaty homoerotic lily, though, when I came to the crucial realization that some of my peers evidently never did, not quite a year into my infatuation.

Wait, he didn't even hit that guy, but the dude flew backward anyway!  ...Oh...

And the ember began to die, just like that.  I tried to continue in some sort of bubble of willful disbelief, but the whole enterprise was beginning to unravel for me.

For one thing, that much-ballyhooed free Saturday morning wrestling show was quite obviously shit.  The producers would march out some big name, like "Rowdy" Roddy Piper or Bret "The Hitman" Hart or "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan or Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake or Jake "The Snake" Roberts or Ted "Million Dollar Man" DiBiase...

No, it isn't just Mad Libs. And how do you even know what that is?
...and then pair him against some no-name jackass with no hook, no props, no garish makeup and no cool nickname, like he was just some contest winner or something.

"And in this corner, wearing a polo shirt and what appear to be recently ironed khakis, the challenger... Gary!"
These matches would end predictably even by professional wrestling's standards, with the no-name defeated in mere seconds so that the big-name wrestler could chew more scenery with his post-match interview which conspicuously promoted his appearance at the upcoming and super-expensive pay-per-view wrestling event where it was promised he'd be going up against a worthy foe.

Oftentimes there wasn't even a shitty match.  The Saturday morning show would literally parade big-name wrestlers out before the cameras solely to brag about how mercilessly they were going to pummel each other at Wrestlemania Call Your Cable Provider For More Information, then walk away and treat us to future ESPN Classics match-ups like Barry Horowitz vs. Tom "The Meek Accountant" Anderson, with a surprise appearance by Nathan "Doesn't Quite Have the Choreography Down Yet" Jones!

It was becoming awfully threadbare, as I began to develop taste and recognize that not everything put before me was automatically the greatest thing I'd ever seen.

You thought I was kidding about Pastamania earlier, didn't you.
And then came No Holds Barred, which was unabashedly one of the shittiest movies ever committed to celluloid.  I'm half-convinced that Hulk Hogan got some bad information from his doctor that he was terminally ill, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation stepped in to let him fulfill his dream of starring in a movie about how rad it was to be Hulk Hogan.

Turn to any page in the script and all you'll see is "HULK HOGAN DOES SOMETHING FUCKING AWESOME" with no punctuation to be found.
And I made the simple connection that there was absolutely no difference between this (barely) scripted film and the pre-ordained "sporting event" that was televised every Saturday featuring most of the same cast of characters (and the occasional Dairy Queen manager who happened to own a unitard). 

And, just like that, the last bridge collapsed between me and any want to keep watching professional wrestling.  I couldn't even think about it without fresh ridicule bubbling up.

"So, wait, this is a thing that people like, and root for in contests? And his name is Beefcake, but that's NOT his nickname?  How is that not Lars from Metallica, and why does he have Charo's dress on?"

And amazingly enough, I had made it out of childhood without having to wear a cast or hobble around on crutches for weeks on end after some sort of ridiculous attempt to emulate pro wrestling moves.  Nah, I removed yet one more degree of realism by saving all of my best injuries for my attempts to emulate things I'd seen Optimus Prime do.

And best of all, my dad got to see me take down my Junkyard Dog poster and turn my back on professional wrestling, and henceforth forever recognize that anyone making a reference to wrestling should be referring to the Greco-Roman variety if they're to be taken seriously and treated with basic dignity.

Y'know, to avoid embarrassment.

Monday, May 14, 2012

2nd Star From the Right & Straight On 'til That Really Ugly Building

When I first moved out of my parents' house, I moved into an apartment in San Marcos with my best friend Isaac, and we dubbed it Neverland.  Two years later he moved out and was replaced by another friend, Matt.  Two years after that HE moved out, and I negotiated a cut-rate rent deal to continue living alone in the two-bedroom apartment for another four years. Here are some disparate anecdotes culled from life in my old apartment, none of which are quite enough to be blog entry topics by themselves.

For the first month or two of living in the apartment, Isaac and I had no living room furniture to speak of.  We had his TV sitting on a squat little VHS carrying case, and a halogen lamp.  We ate our meals while either sitting on the floor or standing at the kitchen counter.  We were easily the two lamest "men" in North America.

Then Isaac's mom bought us what came to be known as The Gay Chairs, for reasons which would be obvious if you ever got a glance at them, and we almost immediately went back to wishing we were sitting on the floor again.

This, but in denim, and painted in a way that makes you question things about yourself that you'd rather leave unexamined.
In retrospect I have no idea why we dubbed them The Gay Chairs, as I've never met a gay man so lacking in style as to entertain the idea of owning one of these monstrosities.

They were just awful.  Puff-painted denim stretched corner to corner across a four-peaked black wire  frame (called "butterfly" by people who hate actual butterflies), with nowhere to rest your arms and no way to recline in any position that didn't leave your neck muscles fully responsible for the position of your head at all times, and NO FUCKING WAY FOR A GALOOT MY SIZE TO GET OUT OF THEM no matter what acrobatics one was prepared to perform.

"What am I supposed to do, a scissor-kick?"
We made friends with our downstairs neighbor, Gurch, who gave us the shittier of his two couches mainly to shut up our incessant pissing and moaning about The Gay Chairs; I'm pretty sure Gurch built this couch himself, as it was pretty much just a couple of random cushions thrown over a planks-and-two-by-fours skeleton that vaguely resembled a couch.

"I knew I shouldn't have etched-a-sketch of how I wanted it to look."
But it wasn't the floor, and (more importantly) it wasn't The Gay Chairs, so we welcomed it right up until Matt moved in and brought an actual couch with him.

Rudely cramming The Gay Chairs into the Dumpster at Neverland was one of the most cathartic experiences of my twenties and, given the chairs' nickname, perhaps my first attempt at a hate crime.


One night a game of Beyond Balderdash broke out (on a night that Isaac and his lovely wife Amy had just met and started hanging out, which lets me pretend I had something to do with their getting together) during a drink-enhanced get-together.  For the uninitiated, the game plays out via one person drawing a card with an obscure word on it, reads it aloud, then everyone else writes down what the word might mean. All responses are collected, and the card-drawer reads all of the definitions, including the real one.  You get a point if you're able to guess the right definition, AND you get a point if someone else thinks the answer you submitted is the real definition by picking it themselves.  

It is due to Beyond Balderdash that we formally inducted "soushumber" into our lexicon with the lofty and dignified definition "ball sores," among so many other unjustly maligned words.  Does "soushumber" mean "ball sores"?  Likely not. Google image search returns pictures of some flowers, some pears, and some children lying around eating chocolate.  How those three things could all be incorporated into the real meaning of "soushumber" terrifies me, so I'm sticking with the comparatively far less sinister sounding "ball sores." Adjust your inner thesauri accordingly.

Pictured: Soushumber, possibly.

Neverland distinguished itself in part due to its vast and varied cast of supporting characters who made up the periphery of our world thanks to the surrounding apartments in our building.  Like Just Chillin,' who unfailingly answered every friendly "how's it goin'" and "what's up" with his soon-to-be-nickname.  Every time.  For two years.  Or Ricky Nicky Picky Shitty, named for Matt's inability to remember his name, whose voice dropped a scientifically remarkable seventeen octaves within about three months as he hit puberty and suddenly spoke with a voice that was so deep it vibrated my tee-shirt if I was standing directly in front of him.  Or Heath Ledger, who wasn't actually Heath Ledger but looked enough like him that we eventually just stopped pretending we knew his real name even to his face, and he didn't seem to mind since he was constantly neck deep in ridiculously hot women since he was so fucking good-looking.  Or Sue, the live-in manager who was the inspiration for perhaps the most stomach-unsettling image I have ever rendered in Microsoft Paint.
Yeah, no way am I linking to it. Sorry.
Or The Tetherball Jesus League, consisting largely of assumedly homeless street urchins and several plastic Jesus sculptures posed in a loose circle around a tetherball pole mounted in what was the pool, in the middle of the parking lot. 

REALLY good at tetherball, even moreso when there's six of him.

Or The Domestic Violence Theatre, which housed its repertory company in the apartment next door and entertained us nightly with shrieking and smashing and other horrible things that had us on the phone with the police on a distressingly regular basis before finally helping to get that delightful family evicted.  Or the man I finally just started referring to as I'm A Hillbilly And I'm Screamin'!, since that's all he ever seemed to do, and mocking him was my one way to keep from throwing cups of my own urine down at him from the balcony.

The pool, as it was, is a burgeoning garden now (and the home arena of the Tetherball Jesus League) after having been drained and filled with dirt following countless complaints to management about its filth and mephitis.  But those of us who'd been there awhile know of the horrors it once held, like it was an occasionally-chlorine-filled portal to Hell. 
Let me do you a favor. If you're eating right now, stop.
We were there to see the landlord hire a cleaning crew to dredge the colloidal mixture that filled the pool.  We saw as they first pulled a dead squirrel, and then a DIRTY FUCKING DIAPER from the depths where they couldn't be seen through the hideous congealed surface of the water.  Oh yes.  We were there.  And what we saw, we cannot un-see.  Try as we might.

I tried to warn you.
…it should be noted that, a year or so after this horrible and unforgettable day, and despite his having been there to see the dredging as it happened, Isaac swam in the pool at five in the morning during a drunken moment with some friends.  This, at the very least, explains his easily visible soushumbers any time he wears shorts.  On some level I will always be awaiting his apology.


There really can't be enough said about the paint job on the building.  Honestly.  If you live in San Marcos and haven't seen it, I strongly suggest you take a drive to Jackson Lane and check out the Courtyard apartments for a rich and heady laugh that will eventually fade into a deep and searing empathy for all who must reside there.

(2012 UPDATE! They repainted the building. It looks normal now. I guess they were waiting for me to move out. Disregard this point of complaint, but still feel bad for me since it was as ugly as described throughout my time living there)

Since moving in I have referred to it as a Taco Cabana that the owners decided to lease out at the last minute, and that's a fair descriptor for the color scheme they opted to put on the walls, awnings and railings of the complex.  Isaac used to tell people that our building was a paint-related outreach program funded by Home for the Blind.  

Great job, boys! Let's lease this fucker!
When we signed the lease after having been shown the property once, the lady who walked us through the leasing paperwork asked if we'd seen the new paint job.  Our eyes filled with hope as we dared to dream that the owners had undone their atrocity, only to have her wince and tell us that the avocado-and-fresh-vomit-and-maybe-some-tan paint job we'd seen WAS the new paint job, and thus that there was no such thing as a loving God who wanted good things for us.


I once put together an ill-advised application to be on the reality game show Survivor back when it was still a ratings juggernaut, and got to use the apartment briefly in shooting my three-minute audition tape that consisted of me addressing the camera and describing calmly why I was an ideal contestant for their show, as I bludgeoned a mime to death and disposed of his body in a nearby creekbed.  

It was a public service as much as an audition.
Everyone to whom I've shown the video has laughed hysterically at it and berated CBS for not liking it more; given Domestic Violence Theatre, I cannot say with confidence that mine was the first mime pummeled with a frying pan in that building.  But it was fun.


It's time I told you all about the Babe Off, a shameful contest that I'm actually cringing while describing for you.  Essentially, out of boredom, I put together a March Madness style bracket of celebrity women, and Matt and Isaac and I each cast votes, round by round, as 128 women became 64 became 32 became 16 became 8 became 4 became 2… became the BabeOff champion.

I know.
Which meant… well, who can say?  We didn't really set guidelines other than "vote for your favorite," which didn't necessarily mean "who you want to sleep with more" even if it usually did.  Some of the match-ups came down to subjective criteria regarding who would be more fun to hang out with, or who is so repugnant that they must always be voted against on principle, and so on.

Sadly, we did four BabeOff tournaments, each growing in scale of both the celebrity ladies numbered therein and the number of judges casting ballots.  By its peak, in BabeOff 3, I was the stat master breaking down nine different ballots for a tournament that began with a mindboggling FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY women in an endless parade of "best of nine" voting matchups.  The results are interesting from an anthropological standpoint, as evidence of how our tastes have changed over the years; the first BabeOff, voted on by just the three Neverland fellows, elected Britney Spears as BabeOff champion back in 2001, when she was at the height of her power, edging out Faith Hill in a 2-1 vote.  Safe to say that THAT wouldn't have turned out the same way today.

Who can say for sure, though?
The subsequent champion crowns went to Katherine Heigl (who at that time was my long-time celebrity crush AND the crush of another judge, which helped her chances in the best-of-five matchups) in BabeOff 2, Catherine Zeta-Jones in BabeOff 3, and Natalie Portman (over Britney Spears in the final match) in BabeOff 4.  By that point eleven different people had served as judges, from close friends to coworkers who'd heard about the contest and thought it sounded like fun (and, to deflect the cries of misogyny, I point out that two of those enthusiastic eleven judges were women themselves, strategizing and watching their favorites advance or fall out).

Isaac summed it up best, after Matt and I had gotten into a testy email exchange about some possibly tampered results of one matchup: "Guys, calm down.  You're arguing about the results of a contest about who we want to fuck most, which embarrasses us every time we tell someone about it."

Just about sums it up.

"Oh no. He just asked what I've been up to lately. Now I must tell him."

We eventually just ended up calling it The Shaft, despite that it sounded like we kept some poor man's penis in our kitchen.

I worked as video manager at hastings, and thus came home with an ever-interesting yield of free tchotchkes and posters and lobby card paraphernalia related to whatever films were en route to the VHS and DVD markets.

Of wildly varying quality.
As the execrable Sam Jackson remake of Shaft was nearing release, I received a bunch of crap associated with the film, most of which couldn't be utilized in the store and was earmarked for the dumpster.  One thing that didn't get round-filed, though, was the little "shelf topper" that was supposed to be secured to the front lip of a video display shelf, at eye level, such that someone would walk up to it and see Sam Jackson's face and the font reading "Shaft: Still the Man" and be compelled to push the tiny red button beneath Sam Jackson's scowling mug.

Like this, except not hastily mocked-up with Google and Microsoft Paint.
I only had to press this button once to know that this shelf topper was not going to be utilized in hastings, but in my apartment.

Pressing the button unleashed a tinny, shoddily-recorded snippet from Isaac Hays' iconic "Theme From Shaft," massaging one's cochlea with a shrill and instant "Whooo is the man…"  The clip was only about eight seconds long, just long enough to censor out the "Damn right" at the end of the line right before fade out.

"I make nine cents every time he presses it!"
The Shaft ended up attached to the front of our oven hood at Neverland, and Isaac and I had an unspoken code of honor attached to it.  No matter what either of us was doing, be it dishwashing, dining or surgery, if one of us pressed the little red button at any point, both of us were required to break into a soulful*, seductive**, enchantingly*** liquid**** bit of Anglo***** funk dancing that could comprise whatever interpretive moves we each wanted to bring to the table each time, as long as we punctuated the final refrain of "SHAFT!" by turning and pointing one index finger at each other in a knowing and cool manner, which is a phrase I would mock more had I not just used every one of my allotted asterisks for this paragraph.  We reinvented 'jazzy' on a daily basis, and 'possibly autistic' on at least an hourly one.

(*not remotely soulful)
(**no.  Absolutely not)
(***you've gotta be fucking kidding me)
(****no idea what this even means)
(*****okay, that's actually accurate)

Wants these motherfuckin' losers off his motherfuckin' shelf topper.

(originally posted to myspace May 2008)