Friday, April 10, 2015

A Boy Named Sue

I was about 13 the first time I was sued.

Actually, sued is a strong word. More like threatened to be sued. But when you're not even in high school and words like attorney, legal action and collection agency are being thrown around, you tend to lose your grasp of the subtleties of the English language.

I liked making models as a kid. While my finished versions never really looked like the photos on the box, something about assembling and having a miniature tank or helicopter or whatever really appealed to me. And the end results weren't too important anyway, since I tended to blow them up with firecrackers or set them on fire, imagining the awful carnage I was inflicting on my 1/32 scale world.

Looking back, perhaps I needed some sort of therapy.

One day I saw an ad in a comic book for something called the Young Model Builder's Club. Sort of like the Columbia House Record Club, you'd pay a penny for your first model, then get a model each month that you'd either pay for or send back. I don't remember the price of the monthly models, I just remember the offer of a free model and sent in my penny.



I had previous experience with Columbia House, carefully picking out the 12 starter albums, then waiting forever until they arrived in the mail. I didn't even get to open the box when my parents intercepted and made me send it back, telling me what a scam the club was and lecturing me on fiscal responsibility. I was pissed, because I could see ZZ Top's "Eliminator" there on the top, just waiting to teach me about being a sharp dressed man.

Luckily, my parents weren't home when the model box showed up. I assembled an F-16, painted it, and then probably blew it up.

Couple weeks later, I got a car. Car models were just OK, because I could actually see those in real life and they didn't have guns or bombs on them. But it was something to assemble, and maybe it would help me learn about engines and stuff when I got older. Oh, there was also a bill enclosed. I think it was for like 8 bucks. I was going to pay, but things got away from me and I forgot all about it.

Weeks later, I got another plane, along with a letter explaining that the Young Model Builders Club really wanted their money. Problem was, I was a little short at the time, and since nobody was really looking to hire 13 year olds, I was going to have to let them slide for a while.

This went on for a while. The letters were piling up, and I'd get scared, but I'd also get another model, so I'd tear the invoices up into little tiny pieces and hide the pieces in a coffee can I stored in the back of my closet. I don't know why I had a coffee can in my closet, but it came in handy in those days before shredders.

For the most part I could put my growing bill out of my mind, but every once in a while I would get a wave of fear washing over me, especially after the more sternly worded letters arrived, but I'd focus on something else, and my fear would shrink away.

Then I got a letter from an attorney, written on actual letterhead and everything. This attorney said that if I didn't send the money immediately, there would be severe legal repercussions. I don't remember how much I owed at that point, I just remembered there was no way I could get it. And I couldn't tell my parents, especially since they had told me before that these clubs were a scam.

I remembered a little figurine in my Uncle Norwood's study: a little man with a huge nose looking disdainfully back at you with the caption "Sue the Bastards" underneath. Now I was the bastard getting sued.
This guy haunted my nightmares.
I had saved a little money by this time, and I thought that if I mailed what that, maybe they'd go easy on me. The problem was, I wasn't sure how to send it. My parents told me never to mail cash, and I didn't really want to ask them to write me a check.

So I waited.

A lot of kids were frightened of nuclear war in the '80s. This is why we grew up to become slackers and grunge musicians. I was probably the only kid in the '80s worried about getting sued before the Russians pushed the button. I would be eating dinner or watching TV and feel the waves of heat cascading through my body while my stomach tightened and gurgled. I was going to jail, or debtor's prison or the stocks, or whatever images I could conjure up from TV or half-remembered history classes.

This seemed to go on for months. Eventually I was able to put the bill out of my mind for the most part. Finally I noticed that I hadn't gotten any letters for a while. In fact, the last one was from the attorney's office and that was a long time ago. I didn't want to jinx anything, but I was pretty sure I was in the clear.

After a few months had passed with no more legal threats, I realized I had learned two important lessons. One, never start a business where your profits are dependent upon middle schoolers mailing payment.  And more importantly, if something is bothering you, the best thing to do is ignore it and hope it goes away. This lesson has come in handy many times since.

 Oh yeah - the other time I got sued. I was in a car accident in Atlanta and I got served papers at 6 AM months later. Once they found out that I was making approximately nothing, that case went out the window also, somehow reinforcing my lesson.







Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Want Your Skull

You never know what you're going to find at my parent's house. With their garage sale obsession and shall we say, offbeat tastes, it's like P.T. Barnum, the Addams Family, and the Smithsonian Institution decided to merge their collections together and display it inside a suburban Florida home. you can turn up just about anything there; a stuffed bobcat, a Native American corn grinder, a barber chair, or a shrunken head that may or may not be real.

Not to say that they're hoarders. Hoarders have towers of old newspapers and fast food cups that they can't part with; my parents have collections and oddities. Well, I guess they would be collections if they were restricted to one or two interests and were more organized. I guess there's a fine line between collector and hoarder now that I think about it.

And you can't walk around a hoarder's house without sticking to their weird trash tunnels. You can walk about my parent's house with no problem. Well, except for the garage. You might get tetanus from the stacks of ancient tools and other outside garage sale finds.

Over Thanksgiving and Christmas I was poking around in closets, mostly to find my old collection of shark's teeth, but managing to turn up a Nazi helmet that I'm pretty sure my granddad took off of Hitler, two riding crops, two mandolins my great-grandfather used to play, a couple of Indian skulls, and an old self-portrait I did for high school art class.

Oh the skulls? Yeah, two skulls. Real human skulls that once held someone's thoughts and feelings. I thought it was odd that there were two skulls. I mean, I knew we had one - it was a skull minus the jawbone mounted on a black display that was apparently once owned by the Smithsonian, picked up by my parents at a garage sale in Bradenton, Florida.

I realize that most people might find it odd that a house would even contain one skull not connected to a living person, but those people have obviously never met my parents.

My mom was hanging around while I was exploring, trying to trick me into taking home some Cosby sweaters, so I asked her why exactly there was a half a human skull in the closet of what used to be my bedroom. The skull had a number painted on it, like a museum exhibition, so I figured it was an old museum piece that somehow made its way to Florida, like the original skull.

She got kinda weird.

"Oh that," she said in a tone I knew that was trying to shut down discussion. "I found that in Mississippi years ago. We found all sorts of artifacts. You've seen them."

"Yeah, but this is a human skull. You don't seem too excited about it. I mean, everybody's found arrowheads, but how many people actually find a skull?"

I asked some more questions, but she didn't reveal much more other than the fact that she dug it up with my dad sometime in Mississippi. My girlfriend was there at the time, so maybe Mom thought she was a snitch from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or something, and I let it slide.

But I couldn't stop wondering about it, in the same way I kept thinking that I really needed to bring that Nazi helmet home with me, even though I guess I couldn't really display it or anything, and if I hid it in a closet someone might find it and think I was a secret Nazi instead of just holding on to an important family artifact proving that my granddad took Hitler's helmet and...wait, what were we talking about again?

Oh yeah, the skull. I re-asked her over Christmas and she seemed sort of blase about the whole thing. My parents took a bunch of archaeology classes at Mississippi State and would go out on weekends and afternoons looking for artifacts. I remembered that because I was either with them and bored poking around field in the hot sun, or at home with my sister hoping they didn't get some ancient curse put upon them, and in effect, me.

So they turned up this skull. I asked how they knew it was an ancient Native American skull and not some fresh Mississippi murder, and they both kind of said that although they must have skipped the days when Professor Jones discussed ethics in archaeology, they paid attention the day he talked about how to determine a skull's age.

They cataloged their find and carried it with them for years, telling no one about it, with the skull's evil powers growing yearly until for some reason they decided to store it in the closet of my old bedroom. I'm sure it's what the proud Native American would have wanted, to be interred with my sister's old textbooks and my high school letter jacket.

Although now that I think about it, I'm not really 100 percent sure that skull wasn't in my bedroom while I was growing up, cursing me daily with its mystical rays. That would explain a lot, actually.

I took home the mandolins, left the Nazi helmet, and didn't touch the cursed skull. That thing can stay in Bradenton. I'm sure they've worked up a tolerance for the curses by now.

Hey, I just realized. I hope they don't get in trouble for having a skull now that I made jokes about it on the internet. Well, let's just say I made the whole thing up. Yeah.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Greatest Gift

I got all sorts of loot for Christmas. Over the years I got Atari cartridges, bikes, and just about everything you could stick a Star Wars label on. But probably the best present I ever got was a roll of paper.

I realize this sounds like another in a series of stories where readers think I grew up in the Depression or the prairie or something, but it was absolutely true.

When I was 6 or 7, my parents got me a huge roll of butcher paper. It was about five feet long and probably about two feet in diameter. That made for a lot of paper. It had a cutter - sort of like how you'd cut off Saran Wrap, only not as toothy. I was a kid, after all.

I have no idea where my parents would have found a huge-ass roll of paper, but I'm assuming they found it at a garage sale, which is where they buy about 80 percent of their non-food items.

I don't remember actually finding it under the tree, and I'm not even sure I cared that much about it at the time, what with all the other stuff I presumably got.

Over time, however, it probably ended up being the present I used the most. I would draw Star Wars movie posters, huge, Bayeux Tapestry-sized recreations of World War II scenes (which were really just a bunch of tanks and airplanes and battleships blowing up other tanks and airplanes and battleships displaying Nazi flags), shark attacks, and who knows what else. Probably a lot of Peanuts characters.

I don't know what happened to all those pictures. It probably isn't too easy to keep a 4 foot long kid's drawing around for very long, but man, if I could recreate some of that stuff, I'd be hailed as a postmodern genius for my depictions of Snoopy in a TIE fighter shooting down a shark in a Nazi airplane. That would totally get me the front cover of Juxtapose.

In retrospect, it was a pretty genius gift. It kept me quiet and amused for...damn, years, now that I think about it, and it helped develop the chops to become the best artist in just about any school I went to. Until I met Joel Simmons in 5th grade. He probably had a similar roll of paper.

I probably stopped using it around middle school or so, and the roll of paper was stored in the garage, where I'm pretty sure I saw it last Christmas, but it's really hard to be sure, since my parent's garage is an accumulation of decade's worth of garage sale treasures.

If you're looking for a gift for your kids this year, see if you can track down a big-ass roll of paper. I mean, don't cheap out and not buy them the Talking Elmos, or Cabbage Patch Kid or Furby or whatever, but in the right hands, a big-ass roll of paper can amuse and entertain for years. Plus, it'll keep them quiet for a while.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Head Facebook guy Mark Zuckerberg was recently asked why he wears the same clothes all the time. He responded, "I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life."

Tech dorks, bums, and business writers/CEO flatterers across the nation applauded this bold statement which reminded me of a phrase I heard a lot in college: "I dress for function, not fashion."

Bullshit. You know who dresses for function? Old-school monks. Circus pinheads. That might be about it.

And even their functional dresses had some flowers or polka dots on them.

If you really dressed for function, you'd wear a bedsheet or a diaper. Come to think of it, you'd dress like you were in Funkadelic, which would be a much more styling look for our dorky tech overlords. You would think that with the piles of money, influence and chance to wear whatever they wanted, those dudes would ditch their nerd uniforms and influence a generation to dress with more flash and flair, as seen in this photo of 1980s outer space dandies, Jonzun Crew:


If Apple CEOs dressed like this, I would buy everything they sold.
But no, each morning as they pick out another boring grey t-shirt, they think, "Puny hu-mans with your vanity and foolishness. While you wasted two minutes picking out a shirt, I have already figured out ways to sell your private information to advertisers or perfected an app that will destroy your ridiculous job or sweep away your frivolous real-world interpersonal interactions."

And it's not like they're curing cancer or designing rockets or anything. Zuckerberg's big contribution to the world was a way to waste time at work and stalk exes. And if I remember that movie correctly, those creepy rowing twins had a lot to do with it anyway.

I have a closet full of shirts that basically look the same, but I don't pretend that that's some noble act. I also don't act like it's a chore to pick one out to wear to work in the morning. No, I let my freak flag fly proudly, and when our tech overlords try to fit me in the grey shirt uniform, I'll blow some minds by puffing out my chest and showing my shocking plaids or confounding stripes. And that's not even getting into the dazzling mustard yellows or scandalous guayaberas that will bring about the revolution.

Who's with me? Down with our tech overlords! Reject the lame grey shirts, brothers and sisters! Waste up to two whole minutes each morning and let your freak flag fly!


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Is Your Television Running?

I like running right when I get home from work. Well, I used to before daylight savings time turned 4 p.m. into midnight. Lousy farmers.

I was able to increase my mileage through the summer, even if it looked like I fell in a pool by the time I got home. Now the temperature is more pleasant, and I barely look sweaty at all when I return, and my shirt doesn't feel like chain mail clanking against my skin.

I have a running mix I play occasionally; it's full of '80s punk and hardcore where teenagers scream about Reagan and the cops, along with heaviness and screaming from all eras. I don't always use it, in fact now that running isn't so much of a chore, I'm more inclined to put the iPod on random and see what pops up.

The past few weeks, however, I've been playing Television's "Marquee Moon" at least once a run.

I'll pop it on after I've gone about two and a half miles, where the little aches and pains from the beginning have faded away and I've gone through Avondale with one of the parks on my left. The sun is starting to set, and I've seen other runners, old people walking dogs, and cats just hanging out on yards. The clouds are turning orange and purple and the 10 minute plus song is halfway over.

I'm feeling good - limber and relaxed with a sheen of sweat coating me and cooling me off. I start to think, "Hey, I could do this for hours. Maybe I should run a marathon. Or double marathons."

If I've timed it right, that whole chimey, intertwining guitar part at the end is building to a climax while the skies get brighter and more picturesque, and that bass line is reminding me not to go too fast, to sort of hang around and watch the skies. 

Plus, the thing's so long that it takes up a good portion of both my run and the sunset.

After that, I'm running back through Murray Hill in the dark, now listening to whatever else comes up, or maybe replaying it to get me back home.

It's funny that the song I now associate with nature and exercise and the awe-inspiring Florida sunset was probably written in some horrible filthy NYC junkie pad, but I guess you have to take your inspiration however you find it.


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Beast in Me

Occasionally while employing ancient Himalayan meditation techniques to probe the deepest recesses of my psyche to recall some funniness I can write up so you'll have something to use to waste time at work, I am struck by two blinding revelations.

One, I can write a mean run-on sentence.

And two, I was a terrible, shitty person during my adolescence.

I can take solace in the fact that most adolescents are terrible people, and for the most part, I didn't really hurt anyone.

Also, I am now a responsible adult, a pillar of the community, and generally follow society's rules, even the stupider ones, and I feel my many years of law-abiding have overshadowed my crappy past.

But sometimes, like Nicolas Cage driving out of his way to gaze at convenience stores in Raising Arizona, I can sense the devil whispering on my shoulder, reminding me just how much fun it felt to commit stupid, pointless acts of badness.

Sure, there's the everyday daydream that you know you'd never actually do in a million years, like when you think about just how easy it would be to slip that bored security guard's gun out of  his holster and drive away with the bank truck parked in front of the grocery store and start a new life somewhere.

No, the recurring bad daydreams I have are more mundane but more easily realized if I don't rigorously guard my behavior. Most of these occur while driving, mostly because like Gary Numan, I feel safe in my car, and I know I can make a quick getaway after my funny.

Like if I'm driving somewhere, sort of bored and not really paying attention to the music or podcasts I'm playing, I think how hilarious it would be just to start flipping people off.

"Hey, check out that dude in the Affliction shirt and ugly tattoos waiting for a bus. I'll bet he'd lose his shit if I just gave him a big ol' grin and a bird."

"I wonder what would happen if I just stared at the person in the car next to me til they were forced to look over and I just busted out with a musical Little Richard-esque "Whooooooo" and upraised middle finger."

Or I'll look at a bag of trash in the seat next to me and ponder how funny it would be if I just opened the window and threw it all out behind me on the highway instead of taking it home to my trash can like a responsible citizen. Sure, I'd make a noble Native American shed a tear, but for some reason, just the thought of a bunch of trash bouncing down the highway starts cracking me up.

And yes, I realize that now I'm a square middle-aged man, all my crazy, rebellious fantasies deal with junior-league stuff like littering and flipping people off, but what do you expect? I'm reformed.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Put a Bird on It

We had heroes back in my day; heroes who didn't talk about perfume lines or personal brands, but  who did things like jump canyons in rocket sleds or transport trucks full of Coors across America or hunt Bigfoot. Sure, some of these things could be considered foolhardy or stupid, but that was what made them so incredibly cool.

And they knew how to flip the bird.

And lo, these traits were passed down unto the children, who, even if we couldn't jump a canyon or be fitted with bionics, we could at least flip the bird.

These were simpler times, yet birds were deployed with panache and style. From the "read between the lines" gesture, to the "my thumb has a little crank that deploys the finger" move, as seen in this year's Guardians of the Galaxy, to that weird Italian-looking thing where you'd slap a hand on your inner elbow and raise your bird proudly in the air, these motions had thought and care behind them.

The target of the bird would respond in kind, or perhaps recite some of the era's taunting verse, like the fight-provoking, "Your ass is grass."

Not only did we pick these gestures up from adults, children's entertainment also provided role models like the foul-mouthed kids from The Bad News Bears or any movie where the action took place around a summer camp.

So what else were we to do, when all of our culture was encouraging us with these gestures? Sometimes the only logical response, especially if those rich kids from across the lake totally cheated in the big boat race, was a proud, defiant middle finger given in a overly complicated way coupled with a witty saying like, "Eat it."

Today we are more likely to respond to snooty waitstaff with a devastating Yelp review than with a "I'm just scratching my nose" hidden bird. And we're usually in too much of a rush to do that weird Italian gesture.

I myself, no stranger to more intricate bird maneuvers, generally result to a halfhearted display while running or biking (seriously people. Turn signals. Complete stops. It's not that hard.) instead of a more stylish "turning the raised hands around" move.

But we can change that.

My artisanal bird flipping service will bring you the handcrafted care we used to give rude gestures for the low price of $50 per move. Even the esteemed "Can you hear this, or should I turn it up" move will be showcased to the client of your choice. Authentic period sayings like, "up yours" are available at no extra cost.

You will be the envy of your kickball league, cassette trading circle, or mustache wax enthusiast party when moves such as the "Nasty Italian" are displayed. Sure, you can continue with your boring road rage "angry hand," but why not show some craftsmanship in your gestures?


If you don't do it for yourself, at least consider the children. Let them see the craft, the loving care that went into the gestures that once made this country great.