Uncle Tom Goes to The Line (Mom Saves the Day). Mother’s Day Trilogy 2017: Episode 2

My mom put in a hard 18 years of parenting before I became an adult (in Texas that’s 17 according to the justice system).  I don’t discount the work and stress that dads endure at the office, but in a traditional family the stay-at-home mom does most of the child rearing while the dad brings home the bacon (and the discipline.  One of the Mom-isms that I remember the most from the early days is “just wait until your dad gets home).  I don’t have kids but I have to guess that by the time the young-uns get close to the end of the high school career, their highly contagious senioritis spreads to the parental units pretty quick….

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A Boxer Shorts Slumber Party (Mom’s on the Floor Again) Mother’s Day Trilogy 2017: Episode 1

As kids, we celebrated Mother’s day with goofy gifts that never got used or took Mom out for dinner, us three kids splitting the bill.  Even though the gifts were terrible and Mother’s Day dinner was pretty much like any other family night out particularly since…

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Looney Liberals

I was talking with a friend over coffee about what it is that makes us tick and why we do what we do.  He asked what it was that made me want to go out and make movies.  I said that there’s no single thing and the motivating factors change from time to time.  It’s a counter culture with a limited life span.  It’s a worm hole into another world with different rules but it’s also what you make of it…

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Lil Chickies, Red Radishes, and Mexican Mama’s

When I got to Austin in the late 90’s there were no high rise condos and the stats showed around a hundred new people were moving here every day.  Having traveled around the country dozens of times, I can say that other American’s just don’t understand us at all.  I’ve been to the South (Texas doesn’t really qualify), the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West coast on numerous occasions and it’s painfully obvious that people interpret us based on…

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No Bounce


I played a lot of sports growing up.  I think that’s what gave me my sense of coordination.  How I became adept at falling I can only guess.  Maybe it was my creative side that, in my youth, created in me a tendency to walk around with my head in the clouds.  My mom once commented that creativity was a virtue that I got from my grandfather, the singer/songwriter.  Or maybe the ultra conservative media critics of the 1980’s were right and I became the most coordinated klutz in Texas because I watched four hours of Looney Tunes every Saturday throughout childhood.  That’s a good possibility because the results were often highly comical.

For example, when I was in the Green Acres Baptist Church basketball league in the eighth grade, I remember once after a turn over, I was chasing my guy who just received the pass.  As I sprinted, my toe landed on his heel tripping me up, propelling me forward on a trajectory that would have put your average athlete face down, sprawled out on the floor.  But somehow I executed a summersault in mid air, came down on my back, and bounce/rolled forward, landing on my feet, kind of like a cat.  It happened so fast that people in the stands were astonished, there were gasps and, after the game, smiling spectators complimented me on my acrobatics.  The same thing had happened a couple years earlier at Pine Cove summer camp when my cabin mates and I were walking downhill headed towards the location of our daily activity.  I tripped on a tree root and flew forward only to pop back up like a weeble wobble a half second later.  My camp buddies were equally amused and impressed.  While I like to brag about these and other humorous challenges to my athleticism experienced in my youth, nothing beats the college feat when I fell off the Dessau Hall stage, backwards, while filming a movie, without knowing it…….. and stuck the landing.

It was our first year in the program.  I didn’t know anybody when I started out so I had to make friends.  I’m not one of those kids who’s been making movies since age eight.  It sounds archaic to millennials with smart phones but in the 80’s VHS camcorders were like $$$ two grand $$$ and my family was too low on the income scale to justify spending that kind of bling on a “luxury item”.  If there were any events to be filmed such as me or my sisters playing sports, my dad would borrow a camera for the day and he was very clear that this was a tool, “not a toy”.  So when I started film school, I had to be proactive in learning the craft as well as networking with classmates who had already paired up and formed groups.  By the second production class, I had built a reputation for being somewhat skilled because In Production I, I had gotten to direct one of the semester end multi-cam studio projects with a really good blues band and the production turned out well in spite of the ambitious multiscreen rear projection set design that we implemented.  So When I approached Bryan and Mark about teaming up for various projects, I already had a little street cred.  Our program used a co-op type structure in that we all wrote and produced our own films and helped each other out as crew.  Bryan was in a band called The Roam.  His dad had been the keyboard player in Buck Owens’ band on Hee-Haw, a sketch comedy show from the 1980’s which means he was from California, but his mom was from the Texas Hill Country which, I suspect, was the reason he came back to Texas for college after their divorce.  Mark was a native Austinite who had gotten bit by the film bug when cast as a freshman student in the film “Dazed and Confused” an indie film shot in the Austin area in the early 90’s.  These guys were pretty cool and we would end up working on many films together over the next couple years.

One of the essential lessons used to teach film narrative structure is the “In Camera Edit” project.  In this exercise, there is no post production editing so you have to film the shots of your story board in order, hence the name.  We were shooting on 16mm film, no sound, no elaborate blocking of talent,  just basic stories and simple shots.  The camera employed for this task was the workhorse of the mid-century newsreel era…a Bolex.  The Bolex was designed for versatility.  There was no need for batteries because the motor mechanism was wind up, effective anywhere in the world, including undergraduate film schools all around the U.S.  Everything was mechanical, no electronics.  So, the trigger for turning the camera on was also mechanical, a spring loaded switch that the operator would pull towards him or herself and hold until the director called cut and then release to stop filming.  Another peculiarity of the cinematographer’s version of the swiss army knife (Bolex is Swiss), is that there was no zoom lens.  It had a lens turret that would rotate between three prime lenses, usually a wide angle 12mm, a normal 25mm and a long 75mm lens.

Bryan had a story idea and in the true new wave tradition, it centered around something ready at hand, for us that was a band.  Since The Roam had an upcoming concert scheduled at Dessau Hall, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to use these available resources as a setting for the film.  So we showed up to the venue a few hours early and scoped out the setting.  This was a large venue that must have held around 6,000 patrons.  The stage was large and sat at an elevation of about six feet off the ground.  In front of the already deep stage, there was a giant speaker box that extended the performance space out another three or four feet.  Well, we fell behind due to problems with loading the camera.  Once that was ironed out we start filming.  We take turns with the camera operator duties and when it comes time to shoot the drummer sequence, it’s my turn.  According to the storyboard, this sequence starts with a close up of the drummer, then goes to a medium shot including a couple more band members, then a wide shot of the entire band.  The venue operator is getting antsy because we only have 30 minutes to finish up before doors open.  My partners are rushing me as a result and so, in order to get the shots, I start moving pretty fast.  With the Bolex fully wound and the 75mm lens rotated onto the sweet spot, I get the close-up of the drummer drumming away with no problem.  Then for the second shot, I move the lens turret onto the normal position and find that I have to back up quite a bit to get a medium shot as indicated in our chicken scratch hand drawn images.  Since I’m up on a high stage, I’m keenly aware that I have to be careful since the edge is at my back.  As I frame up the shot and find that it’s not wide enough, I look back at my right heel to locate my footing and verify that there’s room to take a step back.  I’m moving so fast that, as I step back, I simultaneously whip my head forward while raising the camera to my eye, so fast in fact, that I don’t even comprehend what I’m seeing until my eye comes to rest on the viewfinder and I register the band standing there waiting for me to get set so that the director can call action.  Well I had to step back several times and check the framing before getting the second shot but, the shot goes off as planned.  Now I’m pretty far towards the front of the stage and we’re ready for the last shot, I have to rotate to the wide angle lens before framing up the shot and finding that, yet again, I’m too tight.  So I look down, step/whip, focus….still not wide enough.  Again…look, step/whip, focus….close but no cigar….again.  This time as I look down, just behind my right foot, I see the edge of the stage.  Just behind that is the giant speaker box.  I say to myself, “Sweet.  That extra four feet is just what I need to get the shot”.  The venue manager comes back around again, nervous as ever and reminds Bryan, loudly so that I’m sure to hear, that doors are opening in fifteen minutes.  By now I’m pretty proud of my pacing and I’m sure that one more look, step/whip, focus is all I need to pull this thing off.  So, sure enough, I look down at my right foot, whip the camera up to my right eye while closing the left so that I can focus as I step back onto the speaker box….with my left foot.

Come to find out, that speaker doesn’t actually go across the entire front of the stage.  The outer edge is smack dab in the middle of the spot where I’m standing so, I step back onto nothing at all!  But, I’m moving so fast, and with my left eye closed and right eye looking through a lens, that I couldn’t tell.  I’m looking through the viewfinder expecting to see the same group of twenty something rockers staring back at me that I’ve seen on every other view through the camera, but instead they’re just gone and I remember thinking to myself, as I fall backwards through mid air like a 100 foot tall pine tree felled by a lumberjack, “Hey, where’d everybody go”?  Then…….WHAM!  OWWW…what the HELL?  I land flat on my back.  Upon impact, people around me, exclaim, “OOOHHHH!” in unison and just stand there for a few seconds, stunned.  Then they come to their senses, rush forward and check to see if I’m ok.  Falling from the height of six feet onto your back is not a pleasant experience but in hindsight, It’s kind of funny since I stuck the landing.  No bounce, no roll, no sprawl, no broken body parts.  I just landed flat, “BANG”.  If stage diving were an Olympic event, this would be judged an 11, Gold medal all the way.  I laid there stunned for about a minute then my partners picked me up and walked me off to rest up.  Not only did I not get a concussion, I didn’t even hit my head.  If I had been aware of what was going on during the fall, then I probably would have broken something but, I held my form.  I kept stiff.  That’s the secret, stay stiff.

After the fall, my crew picked up where I left off without skipping a beat.  We got the shots, finished shooting the film and the concert went off without a hitch.  About a week later, we get the film back from the lab.  Bryan and Mark screen the film without me (I was working on some other project).  As they sit there at the flat bed editor running the work print through the ancient machine, an experience constructed of loud humming noises, the smell of old, hot lamps burning and dozens of mechanical sprockets and gears turning, pushing the 100+ year old medium of celluloid past a projection gate, splashing light passing through the film onto the top mounted viewing screen, they finally get to the drummer sequence.  The first shot goes by and cuts smoothly to the medium shot.  As the third shot pops up, Bryan is like, “whoa whoa whoa.  What was that?  Did you see that”?  Mark pauses the machine.  Bryan: “roll that back”.  Mark rolls the film back and pauses it in between the medium shot and the wide shot, which is strange because there’s not supposed to be an in between.  The budding filmmakers sit there with their heads cocked to the side like two dogs trying to figure out what to think about a strange noise.   Mark, with confusion ponders, “What IS that”?  On the screen is a dingy yellow, cross hatch kind of a thing.  They roll forward and find that the grid like pattern is on only three frames.  Suddenly, they recall that this is the point at which I did my Greg Louganis (or was it more of a Triple Lindy?) off the 2 meter platform, they can only conclude that it must be the ceiling of Dessau Hall and their conclusion would be correct.  Remember that spring loaded trigger?  Apparently, I hit the ground so hard, it turned the camera on…….for about a tenth of a second.

Now that’s, New Wave!

Feature Image: Steenbeck 16mm flatbed ST 921

Copyright Drs Kulturarvsprojekt 2012

License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Some Rights Reserved


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It’s Friday

As a teenager, my music preferences were mainly alternative rock, but in the early 90’s gangsta rap hit the scene and we were dropping names like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Ice-T and other rappers from south central L.A.  Middle class suburban kids pumped Un-Godly sums of money into the rap game.  Urban lingo became part of teenage vernacular across the US, in spite of the fact that middle class white kids sounded ridiculous using it.  We didn’t care.  We knew how ridiculous we sounded; that was the fun.  When it comes to movies, I was always more of a drama fan than horror.  However, I do like a good suspense plot.  With suspense you could go either way, drama or horror.  A third option would be the horror spoof comedy like the movie my buddy Brian Shaw would make a few years later on VHS about a evil, stuffed, cursed, cock a slasher spoof where a taxidermed chicken animates and begins dispatching housemates one by one, leading up to a showdown with the head “house dude” at the end.  But I wouldn’t see “Foul Game” until college and this story takes place a couple years before that which means, my horror movie experience consists of only the pop culture films of the seventies, eighties and nineties, you know, before the push for realism makes the horror genre really disturbing.

Yep, I’m definitely more for camp horror than ultra-realistic, truly scary, pushing the envelop faire.  One of the great things about horror movies is that you can heckle your friends that hide their eyes and scream at the “scary” parts.  In the 12th grade my friends and I met up on a Friday night and rented the horror film “Candy Man”.  There were about ten or twelve of us, both guys and girls.  At the time, this was supposed to be a pretty scary movie.  It’s a take on the Bloody Mary plot where you say the ghost’s name over and over in the mirror and they come back from the dead and kill you.  In this reboot of a classic, the Candy Man was the son of a former slave who had an affair with an affluent man’s daughter and was brutally murdered for it.  Saying “Candy Man” in the mirror five times would summon his angry spirit and you’d be sorry.  After the first act, I wasn’t really into the movie but the girls in the room were and, as would be expected, they were pretty freaked out since the first murder had already happened.  At some point in the second act, I announced that I was going out to get a pack of cigarettes. My buddy Kevin offered to drive and we were off.  The legal age for buying cigarettes was 18 and just before leaving to meet the crew, I had gotten my new license in the mail which, in Texas shows your face looking straight ahead instead of in profile designating that you’re no longer a minor.  I really wanted to try it out.   On the way to the corner store, Kevin was pumping some hip-hop with lots of bass…I think it was Ice Cube.  When we get to the gas station, there’s a long line (all adults) that I have to stand in which of course makes for an uneventful traffic jam holding up my right of passage on this landmark Friday night.  That and the lack of excitement found in your average convenience store makes me even more impatient.  East Texas has a reputation for being stodgy and ultra-conservative but that’s only true some of the time.  Tyler, TX was established the same year we joined the union.  It’s fairly urban for a population of 90 to 100k and so you have all types…even liberals (they fly under the radar but they’re there).  When I finally get to the front, the line is still long from a steady stream of customers filing through the door.  With much anticipation, I put in my order with enough volume so that all can hear, “a pack of Marlboro lights please.”  The clerk dutifully asks for my I.D. (as I knew she would), a request for which I’m locked and loaded.  My raised arm snaps down releasing the card like an ace in the hole on poker night.  As my crisp new plastic totem of independence smacks the counter, I exclaim, “TA DOWWWWW!”  It sounds cliché now but at the time it was fresh, ironic, and hilarious.  The clerk, though startled, begins laughing heartily as do all of my new fellow grown-ups standing in line.  With a triumphant smile on my face I pay the lady, take my smokes and exit victorious.

Back in the truck, Kevin had cycled the cd changer onto some Snoop Dog, “Gin and Juice”, and we headed back to the party where all the girls were by now surely jumpy enough to be an easy target for a prank (and being a typical teenager, I was always looking for an opportunity).  Now…there are those times when a plan just comes off perfect.  It’s not all the time.  It’s not even most of the time.  Some of the time, you even fall flat, right into a pile of embarrassment.  But, if you don’t ever take risks, then you’ll never have a story to tell where all the planets align and you get to be a hero.  This day is one of those days where it all pans out so well that I won’t even try to take all the credit.  There were no cell phones, so I couldn’t call anyone inside to find out when a scary scene was coming up.  No matter.  When you don’t have enough information, you’re going off your gut, and the universe comes alongside and shows you the way.  And that makes success smell all the more sweet.  I had a plan, so we turn off the music a couple blocks away and pull up one house down so as to stay incognito.  I sneek up to the front door, not knowing that inside on the TV, another summoning of the Candy Man is under way.  Right as the fifth “Candy Man” is uttered by the soon-to-be new victim, I turn the knob, put my shoulder into the door, quickly throw it open, and burst into a dark living room while screaming at the top of my lungs.  As I get a few steps in, I stumble and fall to the floor, roll over onto my back and fake a seizure while clutching my chest with both hands.  By the time I hit the floor and start to twitch, my lower pitched scream is displaced by five or six higher pitched and much louder ones.  When the dust and laughter settle, I celebrate my second win of the first day of the rest of my life as I revel in the exasperation of my fairer friends as they accost me with “the nerve” to induce a mass heart attack.

I said it once and I’ll say it again.




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The Eighth Word You Can’t Say on TV


Most kids start cussing in elementary school.  In the fifth grade, I was reluctant but under pressure from two friends (one of which was a girl), I uttered my first cuss word and worked steadily on my technique throughout college.

After about 12 years, I could do it with such panache that it didn’t seem the least bit vulgar and would even make others laugh.  My first job out of college I started working as an installer in the systems integration business.  Technicians in the AV/TV/Film industry lean a little blue collar which meant that I fit it just fine and my occasional cuss word did too.  After about 10 months I decided to move into account management which meant I had to give up the habit because with a sales job I needed to adapt my style of communication to meet expectations.  Another aspect of sales is that it’s extremely time consuming.  On top of my regular responsibilities, I was required to plan and host product demonstration seminars.  I wasn’t really opposed to that in general but the problem was that they didn’t generate sales.  My income was 100% commission based so current business always took precedent meaning that I would be working on the marketing up till the night before the event.  Since I was always getting side tracked by paying clients and because my boss was so cheap, I never had time or money enough to be fully prepped for the show.

One of my coworkers who helped with show execution was a friend who goes by the handle “Toast”, a musician who used tin foil to burn images into bread…AKA: “Toast Art”.  He was also a funny Italian guy who worked as a technician for the company.  As a techie, it’s no surprise that my friend was also an artist with dirty words, just like all the other technicians that I knew.  We lived and worked in Austin but our boss wanted to expand into San Antonio so I setup my first event about a month in advance of the planned date.  As usual, I ran out of time and had to scramble to finish prepping the demo project the night before.  The plan was to record Toast performing on video and use that as demo footage.  We were to record him at the shop, ingest the footage, setup the demo project, finish stickerizing literature, and send out the final email blast.  So he shows up with his guitar wearing a white undershirt, unshaven, and looking a little disheveled (like any good artist should).  While we’re setting up, I’m assuming that he’s going to change clothes at some point but instead he sits down with his guitar and starts to practice.   I ask, “Uhhh did you bring a change of clothes for the shoot”?  He say’s, “What shoot?  I thought it was just audio.”  So without any time to reschedule the shoot, much less the event, we go ahead and video tape an original toast song with wardrobe left as is.  As we work, we’re joking around as usual, trying to keep it light and Toast drops a word that I had never heard from anyone other than him.  He’s a funny guy and true to Austin form, weird (idiosyncratic).  Going off of context clues and my understanding of the word’s creator, I assumed its meaning was benign.

The next day, having finished as much prep work as humanly possible, Me, Toast and another tech load up all the gear into the company van and head south on IH35 to get setup for the show.  After we’re all done and the guests finish rolling in, I notice that the turnout is twice what we’re used to in Austin.  We have 80 or more attendees and I’m feeling good about the presentation.  I had done lots of them in college and learned that the key to success was being completely natural rather than memorizing a script.  So as I start my presentation, I rely on my natural vernacular (a perfect example of why it’s important to develop a professional vocabulary in one’s personal life if you work in sales) which carried some influence from my technician friends due to our many hours spent together just the night before.  I was a little reticent using the footage of a messy looking guy in a tank top t-shirt, but I was feeling good about my pitch and proved adept with the material as I ran the demo (surely the audience would overlook one slightly awkward part of an otherwise brilliant experience).  As I find my rhythm, the “Toast-ism” from the night before  naturally finds it’s way into the conversation.  Everything’s going better than average and I’m delivering a killer presentation!  The thing that struck me as weird was that usually during these events, people raise their hands, or interrupt at regular intervals to ask questions.  But, this room is dead silent.  I mean, throughout the entire presentation, if I’m not talking, it’s crickets.  As I scan the crowd, I don’t find many people making eye contact.  The woman front & center is leaned back like a theatre patron sitting too close to the screen with her eyes slightly bugged out of her head, arms stiff, as she glances around furtively to get a peek at the people around her.  I’m more than a little nonplused because I’m in rare form.  I can’t figure it out…”What’s up with these people?”  I even stop a couple times to ask if there are any questions.  By the end of the seminar, not one person has asked a single question; not even during the Q&A session at the end.  I think, “Man, this IS weird.  This town has no freaking pulse.”

Back in Austin the next day, it all starts to make sense.  Apparently somebody had called the shop.  My boss asks me about it and I’m like, “yea…so what”?  He says, “Uhhh.  I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”  So, I do a little research.  Come to find out, my new word IS pretty bad.  Not only that but, the song our artist chose for his performance (I had been run so ragged with planning, that I hadn’t paid attention to the lyrics during the recording session) was his one and only murder ballad.  So as I replay the previous days events in my head, Instead of a brilliant presentation, I see myself at a professional event wearing business attire regularly dropping a word that’s so taboo that it doesn’t even make it into the George Carlin bit, while I stand in front of a giant projection screen featuring a song that recounts the tale of a man killing his wife and hiding the body.

George Carlin was right when he observed, “We need a list.  Why is there no list?!”  Thanks and good night San Antonio…..I’ll be here all week.

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Flux Capacitor Optional

When I was in high school, I had a chance to date the prettiest girl in Texas and had no idea.  But I’m getting ahead.


There was no access to indie films in my hometown.  In the theatre we mostly had Hollywood blockbuster films like Back to the Future and the alternative on late night cable, horror movies such as “The Fly”, both of which I watched multiple times.  I didn’t know that there was a career path called “filmmaker” until my sophomore year in college.  The arts, overall, were not very prolific in Tyler and I wasn’t any exception so, people who had any kind of involvement with the entertainment industry were out of my league.

Stacy Outhouse was on the cover of seventeen magazine like eight times.  Her brother Jason and I were in the same Sunday school and physical science classes our sophomore year.  She was only a freshman but even at that age, she easily beat out all the other girls in our entire 5A high school).  One Sunday afternoon, I was at the Outhouse homestead where Jason and I were studying for a test and simultaneously  rockin’ some pearl jam from the Singles movie soundtrack.  Suddenly, Stacy (a Southern Belle) comes bouncing into the kitchen right past the table where I sit.  As she goes by she chirps, “Hey Blake”!  I look up kind of surprised because I have no idea she even knows who I am.  I say, “oh…uh…hey Stacy”, pause to take in her radiance and then, as she glides over to the refrigerator, I look back down at my books.  She opens the door to the fridg and says, “I’m going to get a capri sun”.  I raise my head again with a kind of blank look and say, “uh..oh…ok”.  Not taking the cue, I look back down as she leans against the counter, pokes the straw into the drink pouch, and takes a sip.  Then she says, with a little emphasis, “Do you want a Capri Sun”?   I look up again, not picking up on the signal, smile and say “Um…no thanks.  I’m ok”.  I look back down and she takes another sip.  This time with more emphasis than before she says, “are you SURE you don’t want a Capri Sun”?  Again, swoosh….right over my head.  I say, “Uhhhh.  Yea…I’m pretty sure.  Thanks though”.  At this point Stacy gives up and says, “Ohhh Kaaay” and bounces back out of the room.  After she’s gone, I think, “that was weird” and almost ask Jason “what’s up with your sister” and “does she have some kind of juice problem we need to have addressed”?  But I keep it to myself.

In college, memories of the past get pushed aside because there’s so much future to think about.  After graduation, my busy schedule slowed down a little and memories of the proverbial glory days start to filter back into my mind.  One Saturday, late morning I decide spontaneously to take a photography day trip into the Texas hill country.  As I’m driving down the highway, the memory of that day pops into my head.  I recall Stacy and her Capri Sun and as before I think, “huh that was weird”…..then the light bulb goes off.  No sooner than I realize my mistake, do my eyes bug out of my head, my foot lets off the gas and I let out a loud,”Awwwwwww” while my eyes and hands grope mindlessly around the dashboard for few seconds looking for the flux capacitor button so that I can go back to 1993.  Once I come to my senses and remember that flux capacitors are fictional (and worse, even if they had been real I never would have sprung for the option), all I can do as I coast down the highway is smack myself in the head with both hands and exclaim, “Son of a Bitch”!

I was so disappointed with myself that day that I didn’t feel like doing any photography, so instead I pulled over at a roadside bar in the quaint hill country town that I was passing through.  I sat there for an hour nursing a single beer while designing a flux capacitor on about a half a ream of cocktail napkins.  From a distance, out of the corner of my eye, I can tell that the bartender is eye-ballin’ me with an annoyed look on her face.  She declares, “Don’t worry about me.  I was fixin’ to go out back an cut down a entire forest anyways”?   At that, I realize that I had probably used one too many napkins about a half a pint in to the project and feel obliged to tell her the story about 1993 and the prettiest girl in Texas to make up for depleting her paper stock.  She sympathizes and says, “Ooohhhh…that’s rough” and then jokes that, “all the cocktail napkins in the world aren’t going to make up for that bonehead move”.  As she replenishes the dispenser, I retort, “I beg to differ.  The flux capacitor is real.  The trick is that you have to get all three dots lined up just right”.  She glances down at my work and notices that every napkin sports the exact same drawing.  Feeling the unasked question behind her raised eyebrow, I remind her that “Practice make perfect”.  With a flirtatious tone and bemused look she implores, “Uh-huh…and what happens if you mess up the dots”?  I say, “You just turn into a giant insect and start throwing up a lot”.  Then she blurts, “Ahhhhhh!  I think our flux capacitor goes on the fritz every Friday around happy hour”.

Image “Flux Capacitor” Copyright Dave Coustan – Creative Commons Attribution License. Image cropped


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The Dukes of Smith County (AKA: Dude, I lost my muffins)

In high school, as middle class suburban kids, we had it pretty easy much of the time.  We went to school, hung out with friends, did homework, went to the lake, watched TV and on occasion tried to make a little cash.  I watched most of the old popular reruns, my personal favorite was Looney Tunes.  My buddy Josh was a huge Dukes of Hazard fan.  It was his favorite TV show by far.  The first job I tried was lumberjacking on the family farm.  Josh chose a paper route.  Both are tough gigs but what possessed him to want to get up at 4AM on a weekend and rush around delivering huge piles of newspapers as a high school student….I’ll never know.  Somehow his recruitment efforts were successful for the first run so I was onboard.  His plan was to take his parents’ suburban to handle the route.  So, one Saturday night our sophomore year I spent the night at his house so we could get an early start the next morning. This was in the days before the term “Sport Utility Vehicle” existed.  The mid-80’s models were still built on truck chassis, so driving these boats was just like the 70’s model heavy half pickup that I borrowed from my dad on occasion, and they were just as tough.

4AM came early and I reluctantly roll out of bed, tired and hungry.  Normally, Josh’s mom would have had breakfast ready at this point in our day but at 4AM…no such luck.  So instead he fires up the suburban as I wearily survey the scene.  I thought it strange that he had removed the back seats which had to me physically removed from the vehicle.  As soon as we leave the house, it becomes clear that we we’re going to have to stop for road food, but we have to pick up the papers first.  We arrive at the Tyler Morning Telegraph within a half hour and as they load us up, my eyes get wider and wider at each incoming load.  By the time they finish, my jaw is agape and the suburban is stacked front to  back about 2/3 of the way to the top.  This is the Sunday edition laden with ad circulars and comics.  At 16 years old, we don’t exactly have a seasoned work ethic or attention to detail so, naturally we get a little behind.  The first problem is the road food.  We hadn’t planned ahead to bring snacks from home.  Josh seconds my motion to stop off and fuel up  (I’m craving some blueberry muffins and a Dr. Pepper).  As I pop open the package we get back onto the road and checked the route.  Here’s the next logistics problem.  We failed to  go over the plan in advance and with less than a year of driving experience, don’t know the city roads well.  Checking the clock, Josh gets nervous because if we don’t deliver all of the papers by the deadline, the customers don’t have to pay the bill and he gets docked or maybe even fired.  Since we’re behind schedule, he’s driving like a bat out of hell.  I’m not feelin’ the rush so I’m like, “dude, you don’t have to speed, the papers aren’t going anywhere”.  Not only does he ignore my advise, but he decides to gamble on a shortcut.  We just happen to be near my neighborhood which he kind of knows so, it looks like a good opportunity to shave off a few minutes.  We turn onto a road that passes right by my house.  It’s a steep downhill from Shiloh Rd (a major thoroughfare) into the residential area.  At the bottom of the darkened hill is a two way stop (for some reason, this intersection was built with huge dips on each side).  Because of the lack of visibility, I’m shocked to find that as we roll down the hill towards the intersection, Josh isn’t letting off the gas.  Disturbed by this, I’m like, “dude, you need to slow down”.  Yet again, he doesn’t listen.  I repeat my warning as I remember the giant dip at the bottom and the stop sign which gives right of way to crossing traffic.  “Hey man, slow down”, I project with a sense of urgency through a mouthful of blueberry muffin.  In a 4,000 pound vehicle filled with another couple thousand pounds of newspapers, we’re barreling towards the stop sign like a runaway freight train towards a “bridge out” sign.  This is the point at which I started to get freaked out and in a panic belt out my demand to “Slow the F*!% down.  With the bag of muffins in one hand and the other reaching swiftly for the “Oh S*!%” handle above the window, I yelled, “DUDE!…there’s a DIIIIIIIPP!!!”.  Before he can react, we slam into the crossroad, which at 40mph is like a giant speed bump.  We simultaneously yell, “AHHHHHH…..”The front suspension gives way so much that the front of the truck frame pummels the pavement as we skid through the intersection, sparks flying.  The suspension rebounds as we cross the midpoint of the road which sends us and the several hundred copies of the Sunday telegraph flying into the air, all four wheels off the ground.  As we continue our cry “…HHHHHHHHHH…” In mid-air, I swear I can almost hear the musical horn of the general lee and smell swiss steak simmering in the kitchen, (which my mom used to cook often with mashed potatoes & gravy while I watched reruns on cable).  Bottoming out a 6,000 lb vehicle is a violent collision so the newspapers launch upwards into the roof while my precious blueberry muffins fly out of the bag that I still grasp in my left hand.  Papers are falling into our laps while the muffins are bouncing off my face, the dashboard, windshield and everything else.  As we come down on the other side of the intersection, by some miracle, Josh regains control of the faux chrome trimmed, two-tone, three ton beast as we coast to the next stop sign, me in an adrenaline laced stupor and him with an idiot grin on his face.  We come to a stop at the next block, look at each other and he says in laughter, “Whoa….that was Bad Ass!”  I say in anger…”Dude…not cool.  I lost my muffins”.

It was true.  Sadly, every last one of my gluten rich mini muffins had landed in the floorboard and there was no time to refill.  So we spent the next several hours delivering massive stacks of newspapers to random locations on an empty stomach.


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I Want to Suck Your Blood (and maybe have some babies)

The time I inadvertently dated a Vampire.

After spending seven or eight years in the TV business, I was starting to get burned out with the constant work.  It made me slow down and consider that living was not just about the career.  This new attitude gave my space to work on other things that I had neglected somewhat since college, such as family, marriage, etc.  I hadn’t been on a date in a while, so I decided that I was going to work less and date more.  After looking into a few dating websites, I discovered they were all a scam designed to bilk money from lonely men. So, I got a Facebook account and searched for people that I already knew.  I ran across a girl from my hometown that I remembered fondly, a genuinely nice and all-around attractive girl.  Her profile said she had gone to graduate school and was now a professional in Dallas.  I reached out and she quickly messaged back, happy to hear from me and verified that she was indeed single.  We started up a long distance friendship which turned from chatting online to talking on the phone.  I was elated.  I had always liked this girl and it turned out we could talk for hours on end without any awkward pauses. I couldn’t believe she was single.  After a few weeks, we decide to get together.  We were living 200 miles apart, but there was a mutual attraction and I guess we were both looking for something serious, so neither of us thought distance was a problem.

One day, I made up a lie about having to go to Dallas for business and she said that we should hang out.  I made the trip and pulled up to her apartment which was in a nice part of town, not fancy but she had clearly done well for herself.  When she came to the door, we were both excited to see each other and I was not surprised to find that she still had her good looks, Texas hospitality, and native accent.  We went out and had a good time at dinner where we talked about many things, art history among them.  She was a hobbyist with a paint brush and enjoyed photography, evidenced by the picture that she pulled out to show off.  Imagine a pretty young girl around 28 years old with jet black hair at a formal dining table in a strapless jet black dress sporting a coy smile.  In the middle of the shot is a vase with a single vibrant red rose.  She, with her long black hair, peeks out from behind it.  

She was a little self-conscious of her smile in the photo saying that she didn’t like her cuspids.  I didn’t know exactly what a cuspid was, but she occasionally used big sciency words that I would pretend to know so as not to look stupid or make her sound like a nerd (she had been a science major.)  So, I told her I thought it was a really nice picture and her smile was perfect.  I noted the black/red color scheme and we now had something in common that we could discuss.  Recalling something from my own art history education, I followed up with a comment about symbolism and how meaning changes from one culture to another.  She sounded interested so I elaborated.  It had been a few years since college, so I had to wing it.  The only example that I could remember from class was how the color black in western culture means death but in other cultures it symbolizes life.  Just my luck, she took it the wrong way and thought I was calling her goth.  Even though I hadn’t thought of that as a possible meaning I back peddled and did my best to recover from the faux pas.  Fortunately we had a good rapport so it wasn’t a deal killer. 

We went back to her place to continue our conversation.  By now we were well acquainted and started to talk about family history, personal stuff that you don’t tell just anyone.  After a little while she said something that I interpreted as a sign of our friendship moving onto a new level.  I had been explaining that my family had suffered some obstacles that go back several generations and she sympathized with me saying, “Well, you’re in my family now”.  I smiled and thought, “Damn.  This is going really well”!  It was only the first real date, so we hugged, said our goodbyes.  I drove back to Austin since the business meeting story was a fabrication.  As the end of the year approached, I started planning a New Years eve date in my town.  During our next phone call, she beat me to the punch and invited me first.  Now, I’m thinking,”Maaaan, we are on the same wavelength.”

So, she made the dinner plans on new years eve while I was on the road and I arrived in time to hang out for a hour or so before dinner.  We catch up and then head to a semi-nice restaurant thats about $75.00 per plate.  We had good conversation and a couple of drinks each.  We leave in good spirits and she invits me back to her apartment for a night cap, an invitation that I gladly accept.  Back at her place, she puts on some music, we have a couple more drinks, and we danced a little.  Soon we start to kiss.  After a month of just talking, this is the moment I had been eagerly awaiting.  A couple seconds in, I’m stunned.  Strangely, there are no sparks, no chemistry.  My mouth continues kissing while my brain is desperately trying  to make sense of this extreme paradox.  Then it happened……She BIT me! 

To say that I was stunned would be a gross understatement.  I kind of let out a muffled “Ow”!  It wasn’t a little playful nibble like people sometimes do.  She bit me hard.  So I’m just standing there and my brain is like “What the hell is going on around here?”  Then, in a sultry voice, she whispers… “Bite Me”.  Now, my mind is racing because I only have a few seconds to act and I’m really conflicted.  I mean, I really like this girl but I don’t want to bite her!  Standing there with four drinks in me, with a bloody lip and a strong affinity for this comely woman who, come to find out, is a serious take charge kind of gal, I start to wonder whether my reaction means I like her more (out of respect) or less because shit’s starting to get weird.  I come to appreciate how extraordinary the human brain really is as it runs through about two months of memories in a matter of seconds and brings to attention details that had been logged but escaped analysis. 

It’s funny how something can be right in front of your face but if your mind isn’t given the proper context, you’ll miss it, especially if your dealing with those well versed in deception.  In the few seconds that follow the bite, I remember her flattery from the first date.  I piture the scene in my minds eye.  She’s sitting, wrists crossed in her lap.  As she carefully enunciates, “you’re in my family now,” her body shifts a little and,  I can’t be sure but I think, maybe, she raised a hand a little as she shifted?  Was this a wave in my direction?  Then I picture the photo with her decked out in black with the red rose and remember the goth symbolism from art history.  My brain almost puts two and two together when I recall the complaint about her large cuspids and the photo pushes in to a close-up of her self conscious smile… Bam, it hits me…. chick has fangs!  

Now, I really don’t want to bite her because I don’t know all the Texas regulations on vampires, like if I bite her back does that make me her minion?  I don’t want to be a minion!  But on the flip side, I don’t want to not bite her because it might send the message that I think she’s weird and that would blow the whole relationship.  I have no idea what to do.  So in the heat of the moment, I make a compromise… and… I kind of bite her… a little.  Not hard!  Just a nibble, I didn’t even break the skin.  a few seconds pass and she pulls back and says, “alright, I’m going to bed.”  I respond by nodding profusely saying, “Uhhh yeah.  Me too.”

The next day, we meet up for a late breakfast.  I’m worried that vampire friend is extremely lethargic.  I make various efforts to strike up conversation with no luck at all.  Even though I’m fully aware of her deal vis-a-vis my conservative upbringing, I’m worried because it appears that the relationship is going downhill. For some reason, my revelation from the night before was not enough to make me want to move on.  I’m not sure If she’s just hung over or I’m hung over or the whole bitey thing has ruined our chances. My anxiety is rising.  I can’t help but bring it up.  I say, “I think you drew blood last night.” She recoils in embarrassment.  The wince is unmistakeable and I panic a little.  I say, “No, No its fine! Uh…I liked it!”   I’m lying for her benefit but she does not pick up on the chivalry and cringes even harder.  My eyes bug out and I think, “Oh crap!  Now she thinks I’m the weirdo”. 

I tried my best to recover but after things have gone this far, there’s nothing anyone can say that will make things any less awkward.  I stammer, “I mean…No, I….that’s not what I….Uhh…I mean…Uhh”.  We finish breakfast in relative silence, she’s cordial as we say our goodbyes and I head back to Austin.  A few days go by and I call her.  She does not return my call.  I few more days go by and I call her again.  Still nothing.  Back then, I was not familiar with the concept of ghosting, but  I now have a strong premonition that the relationship was torpedoed on the last date and so I write her a letter.  She calls me back in order find out what possessed me to do something so weird.  Now that she’s dropped the axe, she ends our last conversation with, I have to wash my hair

I was devastated.  The separation pain was intense for the next three weeks.  I mean the whole relationship failure was bullshit,  I was totally setup.  After the fourth week, practically overnight, the spell wore off.  My own independent mind was now restored and I was free to undertand that my original expectations were way off and she wasn’t as nice as I thought.  Plus, she dabbles in vampirism.  So…… That ain’t good.

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