Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Agony of Defeet

I had this thing against wearing shoes when I was a teenager. I don't know where it came from, and as with most things from that time period, it seems pretty ridiculous in retrospect.

I'd drive down to the store to pick up a Coke or whatever, gripping the gas pedal with my toes like a chimp, then walk over the hot, disgusting cigarette butt and spit-encrusted parking lot to go inside the store. I also didn't carry a wallet, so I'd pull out a wad of crumpled bills, Spicoli-style to pay the cashier.

I have no idea why I did this. Maybe I was trying to reinforce Florida stereotypes. Maybe I thought shoes and wallets were for chumps who were brainwashed by society into conforming to what The Man thought was acceptable.

The soles of my feet must have been tough enough to walk on hot coals.

One night I was with some friends from my community college newspaper. The newspaper class was in the late afternoon, and a group of us would hang out in the newspaper office late into the night. Sometimes we were working on the paper, usually we were just wasting time.

I wore shoes at school, so I have no idea why I was barefoot at the time, but there I was, barefoot as Fred Flintstone. We were hungry, so we ended up at Denny's.

As we walked in, the server pointed to the "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" sign, which I had ignored in my hunger for a Superbird.

"You can't come in here without shoes," she said.

 "What? Who made that rule? Mussolini? This is totally bogus," I thought, or possibly said. 

We walked back to my car in defeat. Hey! I had a solution! I was going to get my Superbird after all.

I had a brown marker in the car. Why did I have a brown marker and not a pair of shoes in my car? That is a question I can't answer.

The paper's art director helped me decorate my feet into a pair of brown shoes. They didn't look half bad. Sure, you could see my toes, and the brown wasn't really evenly applied, but they looked good enough to pass. I think she might have even Sharpie'd some shoelaces on there.

I was totally ahead of the curve on this one.

You know you're getting older when you start to identify with the authority figures in the movies when you once supported the free-spirited kids. I mean, jeez, just shut up and do your detention, stupid Breakfast Clubbers. Don't you think the Dean has other things to do with his Saturday?
Poor Dean Wormer just wanted the parade to go off without a hitch.
I was promptly and rightfully kicked out of Denny's. I never got my Superbird. When I recall that night, I don't think of a free-thinking kid challenging a stupid rule and causing some squares to question their assumptions about their regimented life, I think of the poor server who was working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift and had to put up with a smartass who really should know better.

I'd like to think I learned something that night, and started wearing shoes like a normal person, but I know for a fact that wasn't true, since my last night in Bradenton I got a ticket for operating a vehicle without shoes. I didn't even know that was a law.

I'd also like to think the experience of walking around shoeless added to my distaste of men walking around in sandals or flip-flops. Seriously. Nobody wants to see that stuff. It's almost as bad as marker shoes.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Crime and the City Solution

Poking around the comics/graphic novel section at work the other day, I found CRIME, a big bound volume of '50s crime comics. With a title like that, you gotta take a look.

The library has a few bound collections like this - big color reprints of horror and crime comics that caused a stink in the '50s. Enough of a stink that there were Senate hearings and comic burnings.
They're not even storing them in plastic sleeves before burning them!
Soon rock and roll would take the heat for juvenile delinquency and fun, and comics were off the hook for a while.

As a librarian and a fan of entertainment with no redeeming social value, I've always been against the censors and banners of the world. And who the hell gets that worked up over some comic books, anyway?

Well, uh...maybe those squares from the '50s had a point. Holy crap, were those things gory. You've probably seen stuff from the horror comics, where bad people get their ironic comeuppance, like a greedy guy gets drowned in molten gold or whatever. The funny thing is, a lot of the 'bad' people didn't really deserve their fates. Like, for the crime of dancing with another man a woman gets mummified by her jealous husband, or a guy who is rude to waiters gets eaten by vampires. Kinda makes getting your hand cut off for stealing seem quaint.

That's to be expected in horror comics. What I didn't expect was how gory the crime comics were. Everybody's getting machine gunned or stabbed or shot on just about every page, all in beautiful detail. As in the horror comics, there is a moral at the end, where the criminal is either shot or led to the electric chair or noose. All of this is illustrated with lots of bright red blood, popping eyeballs and jumping tears of sweat.

I suppose the publishers could say that by demonstrating that crime doesn't pay, the comics were actually moral instruction. Possibly, although the only instruction I've gotten out of them so far is some cool slang, like, "Aw, go peddle a herring," and "Wot a night, baby! Dancin' wit you is like wrasslin' with a feather!" Which is answered with "Yeah, Slug! Ain't that music the nuts?" Look for me to drop those phrases in conversation the next time we run into each other. It'll be the nuts.

So with all this gore, violence, and outdated slang, I have to give CRIME Googoomuck's highest recommendation. Five stars, two thumbs up, 12 tommy guns blazing. Seriously, it's the nuts.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Casual Racism Fridays

A few weeks ago I'm at a training session at work. I'm waiting in line to sign the roster to get the all-important training credit (9 hours more to go!) and I'm talking to a co-worker who is behind me in line. I get distracted, probably looking inside to see if there would be cookies and somehow she snaked my place in line.

"Hey, how'd you get in front of me?"

"I'm crafty like that," she replied.

Without missing a beat, or even looking up, the woman manning the roster said, "All Chinese are crafty."

Now, ignoring the fact that the coworker I was talking to is blonde and blue-eyed, sort of the anti-Chinese, what does that even mean? Was she referring to the Coca-Cola thing? Because that has been thoroughly discredited. I mean, I'm sure at one point in history a Chinese person put some "pee-pee" in a Coke for humorous effect, but the vast majority of Chinese people frown on such hijinks and do not find urine in soft drinks to be funny at all.

But I don't think she was referring to that. I don't even know if she was referring to anything in particular. Maybe it's like that word association game, and "Chinese" is paired up with "crafty" in her mind. Or maybe she just has to tell the world her opinion about Chinese people for whatever reason.

I'd say that it bothered me all through the training session, but if I'm being honest, I was really more upset that we didn't get cookies.

Now, of course, I think I'm going to try to test her. Next time she's around, I'll mention specific countries and see if I get a response. I'll be sure to report back.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Shoplifters of the World

I used to shoplift when I was a kid. This shouldn't surprise anyone, since I think I've documented my adolescent (and pre and post) crapulence fairly well.

Occasionally, I'll look back on my younger exploits and wonder if there was any sort of deep psychological thing behind them, but I don't really think there was. Being bad was exciting and fun, even if I did spend most of my middle and high school years in constant trouble due to the consequences of my antics. In the case of shoplifting, stores had things I wanted, I didn't have money, so I shoplifted. Pretty simple, really.

I can't remember when I started, but I do remember that I soon perfected a technique. I would get an empty bag, then load up what I wanted when nobody was looking. This seemed to work better than the usual "jam a bunch of stuff in your pockets or under your shirt" technique employed by others. When taken to the grocery store by my parents, I'd get a bag, load it up with bakery cookies, Archie Comics, and whatever else appealed to me. I must have told them I had saved my money or something if they asked how I was buying things. Sure, it was risky, but later that night eating chocolate chip cookies in my bed catching up on Jughead's latest hijinx, it all seemed worth it.

From there I graduated to the mall. A friend and I would ride our bikes there and I'd get a bag from a store, then load up on records and dirty magazines.

We never got caught, which is pretty remarkable, considering that we would be conspicuously unconspicuously hanging around the magazine stand on the other side of the naked lady magazines, waiting to slip them into our bag.

Maybe I felt my luck was up, or guilt got the better of me, because I stopped. I'm not sure for how long, but I stayed on the straight and narrow for a while.

Until a toy store moved in to the spot by Eckerds. This was within biking distance, and I used to go up there to buy models. They also had a big display of Star Wars figures. This was after Return of the Jedi, when I felt I was too old for what were, in my eyes, children's toys. Today, of course, I know many professionals who buy Star Wars figures, but back then we didn't have those sort of role models.

So I figured it was OK to steal them. I'd wait til the teenaged clerk wasn't paying attention (which didn't take long), take them out of the box (I know! I was destroying the resale value!), and slip them in my pockets.

Looking at pictures of the figures on the internet, it looks like I ended up getting most of them. Again, I don't see how I got away with it.

Then came the end of my shoplifting career.

I went to the grocery store with my parents,  got an empty bag and walked over to the toy section of Walgreens. I had seen this pretty boss looking little vehicle earlier, and it was gonna be mine. These were vehicles that weren't really in the movies, they were just cash grabs, so I felt I was sort of justified in stealing it.
Admit it, that's a pretty cool toy.

I had it in my hands with the open bag on the floor. I was subtly glancing around to make sure nobody was watching. As soon as I slipped it in my bag, an old lady and her granddaughter appeared at the end of the aisle.

"Don't do that," she said.



I felt my stomach drop. Then they left. She was already talking to the manager up front. Holy crap, I thought. I'm finally going to get busted. My parents are just over in Publix and are going to have to come over and get me, minutes after they let me go. I am in such trouble.

They were obviously talking about me, and had seen me carrying the bag, so I thought my best course of action was to see if I can casually walk out the door. OK. Let's give it a shot.

"Can I see your bag?"

Oh crap.

"Oh yeah, sure," I said,  my insides churning like a cement mixer.

The mustached manager gave me a suspicious look and said, "Maybe we should staple this up for you."

And he did.


Seconds later I was out the door. I saw him talking to the lady, but by some fluke I was free. Free! I wanted to kiss the sidewalk.

I was scared straight. I didn't shoplift again. Now I am pillar of the community and a few months ago even mailed a 20 dollar bill to a restaurant when I thought I had stiffed the waitress. I'm sure whoever opened the mail spent it on drugs or a neck tattoo, but at least I sort of balanced the scales a bit.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


You want something that will make your life more majestic and cinematic? Check out "Ecstasy of Gold: Killer Bullets from the Spaghetti West." It's a series of super-limited (750 each) double vinyl collections of spaghetti western music. These sub-Morricone songs are all full of distorted guitars, horns, and shouted choruses. It makes a trip to the grocery store seem epic. You probably won't be able to get the actual vinyl, but you're pretty smart. You can probably find the MP3s somewhere on the internet.

You should also check out "Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey." Hundreds of reviews of forgotten '80s horror movies. Skipping more mainstream stuff like the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series, Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik focus on forgotten gems like Demonwarp (Bigfoot running wild ripping off heads!), Black Devil Doll from Hell (just watch it), and even Gainesville's own Twisted Issues. Saving most of their love for homemade shot on video masterpieces, the authors have written an informative and funny guidebook to a whole new chunk of movies to look out for. Now if Netflix would get on the ball and get a copy of Demonwarp, we'd all be a little smarter.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Go Gators!

The University of Florida's mascot is the noble and terrifying gator, which was picked because of the reptile's scariness and ferocity. As with most college towns, the mascot is everywhere - painted on the sides of stores, formed into mailboxes - if you can picture something, there's a gator on it, or in it, or holding it.

Which was fine by me, since alligators are cool and aesthetically pleasing. In fact, I had one staring at me every time I looked out my second floor window for a few months while living in Gainesville.

Years ago I was hanging out on the front porch with some friends and roommates. It was Gator Stompin' night. Gator Stompin' was a Gainesville pub crawl where you won a T-shirt and alcohol poisoning if you finished all the stops.

Our house was a block from University Avenue, so we'd get stragglers staggering by screaming out the official call of the drunk: "Whooooooo!" Naturally, we'd have to "Whooooooo!" back. You have to answer back. It's just good manners.

We passed some time on the porch, hanging out, watching drunks, and trying to figure out what we were going to do with the rest of our night. Then we hear a "Whooooooo!" louder than any "Whooooooo!" we had previously heard.

We saw a sprinting guy grasping a five foot fiberglass gator statue in his arms, Whoooooooing all through the night, running and clutching the gator like his life depended on it.

We had seen that alligator before. He stood at the entrance of a liquor store on University. We were happy that he got the chance to finally see the outside world, so we put a little more oomph in our return "Whooooooo!"

About a minute after that we saw two cops chasing the guy and his alligator. The night was getting a little more exciting.

The guy dropped his alligator during the chase. The cops yelled not to touch it. Fine by us.

Of course, as soon as the cops were gone, someone re-stole the gator and hid it.

About 15 minutes later, we see the guy running in the other direction, Whoooooooing through the night, a free man again. I seem to remember he had a pair of those twist tie handcuffs on, but that could just be dramatic license.

Brushing my teeth the next morning I looked out my second-floor window and saw the gator in his new home, nestled in a tree so he could look in on me and my roommate Scott, making sure we had adequate amounts of school spirit.

He stayed up in the tree for a few months. The landlord always thought we did it, but this was one of the few hijinx we were actually innocent of. One day he was gone, which was sort of sad. I had really gotten used to his reassuring grin.

Over the years, I would see that same statue in a variety of different stores in Gainesville, with a variety of different paintjobs. But I could tell it was him.

Oh, and the guy who stole the alligator in the first place? Well, the cops swore us to secrecy, but I can now reveal that he grew up to become one of our nation's finest vice presidents.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Rival

While visiting the family for Christmas, I amused myself by rummaging through a drawer full of old photographs. There was stuff jammed in there from before I was born all the way up into the 2000s. I found lots of pictures of pets (Henry the Cat was a favorite, and might have had more photos taken than any other family member, R.I.P.), family vacations, and tons of photos of me and my sister holding fish.

I also found many pictures of me wearing clothes that hipsters would kill for nowadays.

Exhibit A.

I was looking for Halloween pictures, since my sister and I can't remember any of our costumes, even though we remember going trick or treating and wouldn't have gone in street clothes. That's just not done.

I didn't find any of those, but I did come across some photos taken at our big performance at this drama day camp we went to. And yes, I went to drama day camp. It helped me become the man I am today.

That's when I saw him. My middle and high school rival.

Actually, I never really knew the guy, so I don't know if you can technically call him my rival. No, you know what? Screw that guy. Yeah, he was my rival.

Let's call the guy Chet Goodwin. It's close enough, and have you ever known a good Chet?

He was my age, and took a lot of classes at the place my sister took ballet. This was enough to get me to dislike him, since I had to hang around the boring studio with nothing to do waiting for her after school. Chet was the star of the end of the year performances, at least according to my mom. And I guess he was, since there was a photo of him in among the rest of the pictures of my sister dancing.

"That little Chet Goodwin is a great dancer," she'd say. I didn't care, since at that age and in those homophobic times, dancing was strictly for dillweeds and gaywads,* but it might have bothered my sister.

He was also in the gifted program, like me (my mom was actually the county's gifted teacher, so there might have been some nepotism involved). I got to hear about how smart he was all through middle school.

Somehow my parents kept up with him, even though I think he went to a different high school than I did. I still got to hear about how smart, talented, and well-dressed he was. That last one didn't really bother me. I mean, check out that photo again. I was styling.

I swear my parents got some sort of Chet Goodwin newsletter or something, keeping them abreast of every fascinating thing that stupid kid did. Naturally, I hated him, even though we had never met. For years this guy was held over our heads as the ultimate teenager. I can even vaguely remember yelling out at the dinner table, "Well, why don't you adopt Chet Goodwin," although that could be one of my faulty memories.

As I drove home Christmas afternoon, Chet Goodwin was on my mind again. I hadn't thought of the guy in over 20 years, but now I hated him again as much as I did when I was a teenager.

"I'll bet Chet Goodwin gave his parents a Lexus for Christmas," I fumed. "And is probably with his photogenic and loving family right now cleaning the oil of sick pelicans with their spare hundred dollar bills."

I looked him up on Facebook as soon as I got home. I hoped he was homeless. I was so looking forward to calling my parents.

"Hey, we know some of the same people," I thought. "No relationship status, but kids. Shit, wonder if he got divorced or had a wife who died young? Aw, that sucks."

Maybe it was the lingering Christmas spirit or my concern over his poor dead wife, but I couldn't hate the guy any more. I mean, hadn't he been through enough? Plus, I have more hair, and am probably a better dancer nowadays.

Jealousy is a pretty stupid habit. Even worse is comparing second-hand stories and Facebook profiles to your own life. Everybody has their secret trials and tribulations, and people who you think have it all figured out are frequently as clueless as you are. I mean, poor Chet Goodwin had an imaginary dead wife. I didn't friend the guy or anything, but I did feel a little better putting our one-sided, long-dormant, and forgotten beef to rest.

I still told my parents that he was a homeless crack addict, though.

*These were actual insults at the time. None of the kids who slung them around had any idea what they meant. I still don't. I mean, dillweed?