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 the money that bought the meal came from our allowance courtesy of the person we were spending it on. But, it’s the thought that counts.  Since my Mom passed away last year around this time, I’ve had more thoughts about those years than ever and in light of the coming holiday decided to use the next few blog posts sharing them (also, because these memories are freshly minted). When stuff like this originally happens, the adolescent brain quickly blocks it out because, at that age, everything your parents do or say is an embarrassment. Plus, you get busy focusing on the future. First college and then the rat race makes us forget as we fight to get our piece of the pie, an ongoing struggle which Mom and everyone else seemed to be preparing us for in our youth.  My Mom prepared me for some things while neglecting others but I’m sure that’s the case with any family.  As a general rule, when telling stories about real people, rather than follow the marketing formula of Hollywood, focusing on some inciting incident that brought on drama (because drama means conflict which tends to vilify characters, if you’re not careful), the story should focus on the kind of truth that comes from crystallizing the essence of a character which is almost always good, despite any mistakes.  It’s counterintuitive for most people who came up in the 20th century because in the modern era, truth is something that can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, but in the pre-modern era, stories were always used to tell of a truth that’s not tied directly to any historical “fact” and instead distills history into an essence that people naturally interpret as insight into reality.  When the world hits us with bad, this is a nice thought, that we can find the good, defocus our lens from marketable and refocus on relatable.

I don’t mean to pidgeon-hole the modern era. While, it’s no real debate that the 20th century modernism was too polarized, this is mostly true when you push bias towards politics and the natural sciences.  The era also had its lighter side that catered to our non-scientific, relational side. Since the technique of animation can exploit any idea the imagination can cook up, cartoons handled it well with a tendency to give us a more human way of seeing things.  Though the natural sciences seemed to influence the western mind more than the human sciences, society was not shy about making fun of itself.  Just take a look at mainstream cartoons.  I’ve said before that Looney tunes was my favorite but there were other great cartoons as well. Hanna-Barbera probably took a close second. These painstakingly hand-drawn stories gave us a daily vacation from reality, a side-trip to an absurd place where taking things too serious was not allowed. Many of the characters taught us that if you try to control things too much, you’d just end up back where you started which is a healthy, family/kid friendly message.  My mom didn’t really like TV.  She even tried to pay us $500 to go an entire year without it (sounds like a good plan but fundamentally flawed due when using the honor system while dealing with 10 year olds who had friends with TVs.  I think one sister made it the whole year, the other made it 6 months.  I was done after 3.  She thought most of the programming was trash. Mom was a force to be reckoned with but she did let me watch all the cartoons my brain could handle.  She was a typical modern era stay-at-home Mom with one hell of a Mom look and Mom voice to back up her strong premonitions, both of which could stop us in our tracks when we only thought about doing something we knew we shouldn’t.  The authority figure archetype is probably the way most kids see their Mom because of all the discipline our parents laid down in the early years.  But once you get a little older, you start to see evidence of a youthful personality hidden inside.  When we get older, I guess we hide it because through the lens of youth, it feels so wrong and inauthentic.  We used to get embarrassed and roll our eyes when we were kids.  That’s not a criticism of youth because it’s to be expected. It takes years of life experience as well as some reflection on the past to have the capacity to recognize it for what it is.  I guess that’s the reverence for parenthood incubating inside, slowly bubbling to the surface.  One of the things that my Mom would do to let her inner child out, causing embarrassment (or even a little anger, depending on the circumstances), was her weird habit of falling on the ground.  My mom wasn’t very funny (though she thought she was), but she loved to laugh.

Reflecting on the past, I realize now that Mom was right.  “About what?”, you ask…. “everything!”.  What is it about Mom’s, teenagers and the sage advice that they give and we ignore? Advice about friends, girls, school…..boxer shorts.  One of the first memories I have of Mom’s “funny” side was the day one of her warnings came to fruition.  I must have been in middle school because I don’t think it had been long since the move. It was maybe the first or second Christmas in the house that would remain Home until leaving for college, and a second home we would visit many times during college breaks and post-college holidays and then gather in at the beginning of April, 2016 a final time for our first family meal without Mom, prepared in her kitchen and eaten on her table.  As a middle schooler, it had only been a year or two since I had stopped vegging out on Snagglepuss and the Flinstones. That Christmas, my sisters decided to help my effort to transition into adulthood with a grown-up gift (they were always doing that).  Christmas morning, after Dad’s traditional reading of the resurrection story, all the gifts were exchanged. As goofy as it sounds, the sisters gifted me a really nice pair of boxer shorts, silk, featuring a classy paisley pattern. We finished up our annual December ritual by scooping up the torn bits of wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, tape and other pieces of messiness that were beyond salvage so that we could jet off to our rooms and ready ourselves for the main festivities at Mimi’s house where tradition dictated that we meet up with the aunts, uncles and cousins to chow down on chicken n’ dumplins, smoked turkey and ham (courtesy of Uncle Reggie’s back yard smoker), along with various casseroles, vegetable trays, deserts, teas and soft drinks. As we began to break out into our own corners of the house to get ready, Mom pulls me aside and with a smirk on her face, she says, “You know…those shorts have a button on the front.  You have be careful with those”.  As usual, I though Mom had come up with another piece of ridiculous and irrelevant advice since parents are old and out of touch, so I rolled my eyes, and probably muttered something like, “You’ve got to be kidding me”.

My dad was a neurotically neat early bird.  He was in bed by 10 and rose at 5 to go running during the week and hunting or fishing on the weekends.  So, he got grumpy if people made too much noise after bedtime.  Our first house didn’t have a door that separated the living area from the bedroom hallway.  Our second house did, which is good because as we got up into high school, we’d stay up later and later.  So, it was a common practice to make sure that the door to the hallway was shut if we stayed up late.  Otherwise, Grumpy Dad would pop up out of nowhere in his tightie-whities griping about all the noise.  This must have rubbed off on me because one school-night, sporting my new paisley silk boxers (and nothing else), I was trying to sleep (I want to stress…this is not a weekend).  I’m sound asleep in bed when I hear laughter coming from the living room.  I’m annoyed, but you know how it is when you’re half asleep.  Whatever the source of a sleepy-time disturbance, you assume that it’ll go away if you just ignore it, so ignore it I do.  And in my manly arrogance, assume that the women will take a break from their girl talk long enough to realize that they’re forgetting a rule and out of respect for the working men of the house, someone will get up and resolve the problem without me having to waste my valuable time by getting up and doing it myself.  The laughing continues and I just get more and more annoyed to the point that I start to get mad (In my own defense, the door thing is a known rule). Convention never worked well for my Mom’s family but it did for Dad’s.  So, he had his rules and expected everyone to follow them.  This also is not a criticism.  In a Christian household in the 20th century, it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation.  We went to the Big Baptist church every week and learned from Biblical scripture about Men and leadership which offered guidance on how a household should run.  While that masculine perspective is legitimate, I think the 20th century may have placed too little emphasis on the feminine one which is identified in scripture as wisdom, A.K.A. “advice”.  Growing up with a Mom who loved giving advice to a son who loved ignoring it (I ignored my Dad too), I can say from experience that in traditional western society, the feminine perspective that gives rise to all that advice that we like to ignore is way underrated.

Laying there wide-eyed, I know that a rule has been broken, the offenders are aware of their trespasses and I’ve given ample time for the accused to remedy the situation that I can no longer ignore, so I jump out of bed, all huffy.  I throw open my bedroom door and march down the hallway.  I hear more laughter.  If I were paying attention, I would realize that it’s not usual for my sisters to stay up late chatting away like this, I mean it’s a school night for them too, and it must be close to midnight. With my eyes at half-mast I march swiftly down the hallway.  If I weren’t so hot-headed, I would also notice that there are more voices coming from the living room than we have sisters and Moms. But of course my skills of perception aren’t well developed due to my age and so I come through the doorway and round the corner with the words, “What in the world..blah blah blah!!!”, certain that I will find three familiar faces staring back at me. Unfortunately, what I do find, the scene that makes me stop in my tracks, cease and desist all actions, is a room full of girls, both adolescent and grown-up: my sister, two or three of her friends, their MOMS, and my Mom scattered around the living room, all staring, wide eyed, now completely silent. At times like this my brain always goes into panic mode, which for me is not fight or flight. It’s more like freeze or don’t move. It’s like a main power breaker blew, then the brain switches over to the backup generator, and the maintenance crew in my head is trying desperately to locate the bad fuse while the PA system plays the emergency instructions on loop, “1) Everybody keep me calm. 2)Don’t make any sudden moves. 3)Just back away slow”.   While I stand there in shock waiting for the signal that the power is back on, my eyes dart around the room from one person to the next and I see that our house guests are all looking right at me, trying to subdue a smirk or a snicker.

This is the point at which I start to babble & stutter, trying to figure out a way to save some face but, it’s too late.  My eyes dart over to my mom who’s wearing that signature smirk and I see that her eyes are also bugged out. As I back peddle she’s starting to slide slowly forward.  I remember her advice from Christmas morning and look down to verify that, “Oh thank God, I did remember to button the shorts”, but it doesn’t matter. Mom is now sliding towards the edge of her seat and my hopes that she’ll do something to come to my rescue are lost. Instead, she just falls from the couch to her knees and tips over like a felled tree.  Mom crashes over onto her side, rolls onto her back and erupts in laughter. Crap! Now all the girls and random Moms have been given carte blanche to respond in kind without feeling the guilt of impropriety.  When it just can’t get any worse, the best thing to do is retreat.  As my limbs start to regain some animation, I back up a few steps till I’m even with the hallway and then quickly turn and Exit…stage left….while my brain smacks itself in the face mumbling, “Heavens to Murgetroyd”!

Good one Mom.

 

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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.  It has a different flavor for each person because we all bring into it a different perspective.  And you have to be serious but not too serious.  I was serious about the work ethic but the culture vibe in college was more laid back.  I kind of went with the flow and being a goof in high school, I brought that frame of mind into it which surfaced every time it found an opportunity.  That’s one of the things about the college years that makes them unique.  Most people at that age don’t have a good reason to be too serious because of the nature of a youthful disposition.  That’s how my goofy disposition was able to coexist with the seriousness needed to do the work.

For example, I loved to goof off in high school.  At times when there was nothing special going on, my mind would wander and I’d think of something funny.  I credit the weekly four hour blocks in my youth reserved for looney tunes every Saturday.  Also like I’ve said before, I discovered my genetic pre-disposition for a goofy sense of humor which explains why, in those days, I was easily entertained.  As a senior in AP English, we read a lot of Shakespeare.  I wasn’t a huge fan because of the erudite nature of the old English prose.  However, a cool component to the class was that our teacher, Mrs. Trawick often showed a contemporary movie in class.  One of them was “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”, a satire adapted from the play of the same name.  It was absurdist comedy which I found to be really funny.  But, I was the only one laughing.  My classmates were more amused at the absurdity of my laughter than the writing in the film.  I loved the scenes where they play tennis with no ball or test the theory of gravity (that says that everything falls at the same speed) where they drop a feather and a bowling ball at the same time and the bowling ball goes crashing through the floor while the feather floats gently to the ground, a flawed experiment that appears to prove the scientific theory wrong.  When I think about it, this kind of comedy is similar to Looney Tunes.  I guess the thing that makes me a fan of these kinds of stories is probably the same reason why that day on the University Campus, I was more than a little amused when I ran across a group of student democrats that were acting unusually cordial as they eagerly awaited some unknown spectacle near the driveway to the rear exit of the student Union.

The Union is a Grand Mansion of a building, constructed, like many of the classic buildings on the 40 acres, in the Spanish Renaissance style.  It’s a good sample of Austin culture because it’s conventional style contrasts starkly with the buildings that sit right across Guadalupe Avenue, AKA: The Drag) which are more alternative in their style and function.  This eclectic mixture of style is an example of what Austinites call “Weird”.  The Union rear entrance opens up to a circle drive, the middle of which is sheltered by a car port.  The two ends of the driveway meet Guadalupe where thousands of students pass every day.  One day I was approaching the union where the walk angles away from the road to make room for a landscape installation.

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On both sides of the walk, there are short brick walls about four feet high, at the most.  The walls stop where the walk meets the drive.  I had heard that some big political event was going to be held that day but hadn’t been paying close attention because I wasn’t into politics (other than poli-sci majors….who’s got the time?).  So when I noticed a long line of students standing there bobbing up and down, left and right to peer out at some thing or other, I was a little perplexed.  I was in one of my goofy moods and the sight of eager young people in an absurdly ordered single file line with nothing special going on to warrant all that gawking, made my looney sense tingle.  I knew that somewhere in the vicinity, hijinks were afoot (or should be).

That year, I had a fairly new minidisk Walkman which I had gotten as a Christmas gift.  That thing was awesome because it was like the old tape based Walkman but everything was way smaller, the battery was rechargeable, and it was digital.  I used it to record audio for a couple film projects and I remember my friend Mark scoffed that he would not have one because they were too expensive.  However, that semester, I got my money out of it when I used it on my short film about Mikey, my “Stand Up Roommate”.  The results were so good that our instructor, Rachel (Greek pronunciation: “ra-khiel”), thought that everyone else had just screwed up on their projects and giving them lower grades.  They had used the old-school cassette tape recorders provided by the University which were ancient and had the sound quality to match.  “Stand Up Roommate” was about my buddy Mikey, his background as a D.I.Y. comedian and a first effort at open mic night at the local Cap City Comedy club.  Speaking of Mikey, he had copied a Poe CD onto minidisc for me (the one with Angry Johnny on it) and I played the crap out of that disc for a couple years.  Aside from that one song, I hadn’t been familiar with Poe but soon found that the whole album was really good.  It’s style was fresh or weird or counter culture or whatever you want to call it, but a fitting anthem for my film school experience.  So that day, I was probably listening to the “Hello” Album (or possibly a dub I had made from my Ugly Americans CD) as I cruised along on a sunny day, headphones strapped on, lost in my own world, not expecting a detour on my thus far smooth commute to the next class.

At the back of the line with my senses tingling away, I stopped and surveyed the scene, trying to focus my powers of perception and hone in on the source of the disruption.  My path to the south side of campus was pretty narrow because of the walls.  Just enough room for two way traffic on a normal day.  Of course, today it was jammed up with young, hungry minds waiting to get a glimpse of some mysterious sight.  In spite of the large crowd and its indescribable enthusiasm for what must be a once in a lifetime opportunity, the right side of the walk was completely clear.  So, I could get through if I was willing to angle around the oncoming traffic walking in the opposite direction.  looking all around for the source of the bottle neck, I hit the stop button on the end of the cigar-shaped remote clipped to my shirt and lowered my headphones to rest around my neck.  I had just come from the Communications complex which is on the northwest corner of the campus, right on the drag.

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We, the RTF majors had the best part of campus as home base for our core classes.  We were a hop, skip and a jump from Tower Records (which had actual records, as well as CD’s…real handy when you needed to find unique music for your student film score),

the Hole-In-The-Wall which had beer and the best fish tacos around.  Also, there were countless restaurants of all kinds within a five minute walk and a cool, weird coffee shop called Spiderhouse located in an old 1920’s home sporting a hardwood floor within ten.

And most importantly, the 7-eleven was right across the drag right next to the Hole-In-The-Wall which was a one-stop shop for cigarettes, Funyuns, Dr. Pepper and one of my favorites, the pecan praline during those late night editing sessions that sometimes went until dawn when you would eerily sense the sun coming up after splicing together the same two pieces of film three times in a row (dropping an F-bomb each time).

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The Praline is a handy snack because they come shrink wrapped.  You can stock up and have plenty to last you the day as you make your way between classes.  I had over an hour between my last class and the next one so, taking my time I decided to stop off for some pralines before heading down the drag for an elective class on the other side of the campus .  Back at the student Union driveway, the high level of anticipation as well as the strange line-forming behavior peaked my curiosity.  I had to find out what’s the hub bub…Bub.  As I navigate towards the front of the line, moving around stationary people as well as those just passing through, still munching on my first pecan praline, I maintain civility with the regular utterances, “Pardon me, Excuse me, Excuse me, Pardon me, Pardon me, Excuse me”.  There are no obvious signs that the event has begun but I can’t be sure plus, as I’ve said, I’m interested in the behavior of the people awaiting its coming.  As I move halfway to the drive, I sidle up to a girl in line, and turn to take another look at the spectators, this time from the front.  I could see their faces bobbing back and forth and yet, they weren’t looking at anything in particular.  The second thing that I noticed was that no one even looked at me much less did they get angry in spite of the fact that I had basically cut half the line.  Not even the person right behind the girl I was standing next to so much as broke her concentration on the location of this phenomenal event that was surely on the verge of gracing our presence and certain to change the life of one and all in a dramatic way.  I was astounded.  It was like I was invisible.

See, where I come from, you can’t cut a line without risk to your safety (or at least your ego).  I remember at Hubbard Middle School one year, it became all the rage to stand in line and buy lunch from the cafeteria instead of brown baggin’ because the lunch lady had been cookin’ up some mean chicken fingers.  At this age we were starting adolescence, branching out and discovering new choices in grown-up society where you have to get along with lots of other people and make decisions about whether you go with the flow or do your own thing.  For some reason it became an accepted practice to cut the line at the chicken finger station.  Once it started, it rapidly snowballed and after several days got to be a wide spread thing.  One day I decided to go with the flow and cut in front of my friend Lee, whom I’d know from Green Acres Baptist Church Sunday school class going back to the elementary school days.  I turn around and cheerfully say, “Hey, Lee.  What’s up“, then turn back towards the glorious chicken dispensary.  A few seconds later, he taps me on the shoulder prompting my undivided attention.  As he glares at me with his mean face, he says, “It’s fixin’ to be what’s down fooool“.  My bad.  I went to the back of the line

Praline

As I brush off a pecan crumb from my shirt, I have to take a minute to process this gross indifference that the liberal student body has to my blatant disregard of line etiquette.  I’ve only been in Austin for about a year, so I’m still getting used to the laid back nature.  My Looney sense tingles again telling me that this is no time for procrastination so, I have to get movin’.  Having finished my first praline, I peel the wrapper off a second and start munching, dropping more crumbs on the sidewalk as I go, not really paying attention to my snacking habits.  In Texas, pecans are a local crop so these praline things are everywhere.  Growing up here, I probably developed a slight addiction to these and Dr. Pepper too (Dr. Pepper is a Waco TX born native).  I resume my advance towards the source of attention.  Pretty soon I’m literally standing next to the girl at the very front.  Again, I turn around to see if my line cutting has subdued any of the festiveness of the crowd.  Sure enough, as before…no change!  The line had just gotten longer from my point of view which means I now see double the heads bobbing back and forth and this makes me smile.  So I turn back to the front, take another bite of praline.  With my elbow I lean against the wall to my right as I turn to the early birdie that had the best seat for the show.  My L-sense is tingling like crazy now.  Being a smart alec under the circumstances, I wasn’t being discreet any longer.  I glance at my soon to be new acquaintance, formulate a plot, look back at the driveway and take another bite.  Munching away I seeing nothing.  I generally like to do my homework before bothering people with dumb questions so, I thought maybe If I “Do as the Romans”, the truth about what we’re all looking at will reveal itself, so I start bobbing my head back and forth and up and down while checking my form against that of the people who had been standing here bobbing away for God knows how long….Still nothin’.  Finding out the nature of the event is a high priority but the sociology is important too and I’ve not yet gotten any kind of reaction out of this unusual crowd.  Working smart, not hard, I think maybe I can knock two birds out with one stone.  As I take another bite, smackin’ away with my mouth open, dropping crumbs with every bite, I execute the next step of the plan which is to engage the crowd.  Speaking with a wry smile full of sweet, sweet praline, I say to the girl, “MNyaaa…..Waht’s up Doc?”.  Surely this would garner an “Oh Brother”, rolling eyes,  possibly an oblique comment or even some scorn.  I was braced for sarcasm of some kind but no such luck.  My longhorn co-ed friend turns to me and with eyes buggin’ out of her head, she exclaims, “Ohhh.  Hilary Clinton is speaking in the Union today!  She’s coming out at any minute!”.  I take another bite and say, “Ahhhh.  Yaaaaa….that’s the ticket.  Hilary Clinton.  I knew that.  I heard that somewhere”.  With no abatement of enthusiasm, her eyes gleam back a reply, “Yaaa, I know! Isn’t that awesome!” then she turns her attention quickly back to the driveway.  Suddenly, someone yells out, “Here she comes!“.  I finish my last bite and dust off my hands as I notice that indeed, there is a detail of people coming out of the rear entrance, making their way to the cars queued up under the carport.  As they pile in, a murmur rises among the students.  I’m really determined now because I’m fresh out of pralines, running out of time and I need to think of something to get these people off kilter.  Now that I know what the spectators want, the line is even more absurd than before, mainly because of the wide brick walls on either side of the gawkers and not a single person has jumped up there to get a better look…weird!  Haven’t these kids been to Sunday School and sung the song about Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree?  My hands, now free, hoist me up and I take a seat on the wall expecting that my young democrat friends would take the cue and join me so as not to miss this chance of a lifetime to, not just see, but be seen by the First Lady of the entire free world.  I settle into my spot as the cars fire up and make ready their exit onto Guadalupe en route to the airport.  I look over my left shoulder to see if anyone has been affected in any way whatsoever by my disruption of the young liberals’ line-standing code.  Again…Nothin’!  They’re still bobbing up and down left and right in single file!  What the hell?!  Determined, I turn my attention to the head democrat as the cars pull forward.  I’m starved for attention and I’ve got to get some kind of recognition for all my efforts.  As the First Lady’s car approaches, the crowd murmur grows louder.  I notice that Mrs. Clinton has her window rolled halfway down and she’s waving at people but the only person that she can really see is the girl in front because all others are obscured by the wall….with one exception,  me!  At the very front, perched on the wall, I have the catbird seat.  As the car approaches The wife of The President with her waving hand cocked and ready to go, looks up and notices me just eight or so feet away smiling my wry smile and looking right at her.  She smiles back and shifts her entire body so that she can raise a hand and wave at me.

Now, I have nothing against Democrats.  Some of the most active Christians at the various church groups that I call friends are Dems.  I consider them just as much my family as the Republicans.  My actions are not about snubbing anyone but rather a scientifically relevant (how exactly, I’m not sure since I’m not a scientist) sociological study on human behavior in a group setting.

As The First Lady waves, she smiles real big right at me when she notices the big smile on my face.  I do not wave back.    Instead I keep looking right at her, concentrate, and amplify the wryness to a degree that is unmistakable.  At this she is taken aback and as the car passes she recoils a little as if she had unwittingly committed some kind of terrible faux pas, exiting the circle drive with a perplexed look on her face.

Bang! Reaction received.  Mission accomplished.  Bugs Bunny….eat your heart out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 ridiculous preconceived notions. I’ve even seen this happen in my own family when visiting the Midwest and here in my own back yard with the steady stream of American migrants flooding our once small town.  This sounds like the beginning of an anti-change rant from an ultra-conservative traditionalist but don’t worry.  I don’t really concern myself with the ills of growth (like high rent and property taxes) since the alternative, economic depression, is worse and Austin was headed in that direction back in the 70’s when the city council voted to keep Austin small with the attitude, “I we don’t build it, they won’t come”.

I’m good with progress, but I also have to insist on respect for our traditions because otherwise it would give credence to uninformed opinions, bad attitudes and capricious gossip influenced by the afore mentioned, preconceived notions.  Like, when I was a kid visiting family in Wisconsin, we were at our regular vacation spot in the north woods.

Boyds Family Photo

Some of the other kids from more local families heard about the Texas family and ran to find out for themselves.  Two kids ran up to my sisters and me and asked if we were from Texas.  We verified that we were and, they demanded that I, “Say somethin’ ”. With confusion, I stuttered, “Uh…what do you…want me to say?” When they heard my accent, they reeled in delight and then ran off.  A few minutes later they returned with five more kids and the cycle repeated, followed up by questions like, “Do you ride your horse to school?” and “How many oil wells does your family have?”.  Being from Texas, we were raised with a strong sense of hospitality so we always assumed that others were laughing with us, not at us.  It took many years’ worth of trips to other places to figure out that our homeland is widely misunderstood.  By contrast, attending college at the University of Texas during the years that the Austin campus became the largest public University in the U.S. by student population gave me the opportunity to meet and socialize with lots of people from lots of places including foreign countries. None of these foreigners knew anything about my culture and so there were no preconceived notions to cause a clash.  Most of them didn’t even realize that I had an accent.

Roberto was one of my college roommates, and to this day he’s still a good friend.  Sounds foreign right?  That’s because he’s from Mexico…..which makes him a “Mexican”. One day Roberto, his girlfriend Semone and I were hanging out at an Austin event joking around.  Being from south of the border, he and his girl were doing that Mommy, Daddy latin PDA thing.  Jokingly I made a comment about how I needed to get me a “Mexican Mama”.  Roberto and Semone thought this was funny and we all laughed.  A bystander overheard the comment and was not as amused.  A transplant who had just rolled off the turnip truck from the east coast, she approached with a look of solidarity and interjected with, “Uh, excuse me. The correct terminology is Hispanic”.  With astonishment we all turned to look at her as she stood there waiting for an apology with her arms crossed. Then we looked at each other and my two friends grinned at me waiting to see what I’d say.  I was also amused as I tried to figure out if she was serious or not.  Her look said that she was and so, the first thought to come to mind was, “Uh…No.  Actually the “correct” terminology would be middle eastern or American since my friend (that I’ve known for over two years, last name Elhaj) was born into a Texas family that emigrated from Iran over three generations ago and they all grew up in Houston”.  But I didn’t say that because I felt it would have been rude.  I was an idealistic and conscientious student, and my attitude towards the University institution was that its knowledge should be held in the highest regard.  I was studying the science of communications which obligates me to adhere to the SMCR model that describes the structure of dialogue for the purposes of responsibly dealing with the social problematic identified by the Maxim, “The nature of communication is mis-communication”.  So rather than be a smart alec, I kindly turned to the Neo-Austinite and said, “I think you mis-understand.  In order to know what I mean, you should know a little more about my background”, at which point I begin to recount the story of my genetic goofiness that I got from my dad, that he got from his dad (the whitest white guy to ever be born, 110% Scandinavian) who married an Italian immigrant girl (My Grandma) in the 1940’s when many Italians were heavily discriminated against.

Gma_mowers ad

Grandma Naleid

My Grandpa Naleid was from a wealthy family.  His dad, my Great Grandpa Art, was the son of immigrants from Norway.  As a kid, his family was too poor for him to finish school so, instead of going to High School, his mom insisted that he get a job in order to support the family.  The rumor is that he never forgave her for that but did as he was told.  Without a degree, he eventually found a job working in sales for a publishing company, a job which at which he excelled.  He did so well that he eventually rose to the top of the department and became VP.  His son, my Grandpa Naleid, was so meticulous with numbers he kept a register of all of his finances even as a teenager (My aunt still has it).

Gpa Youth Navy Uniform

Grandpa Naleid

As a teenager, he was given a job at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder in the accounting department of the publishing company and worked diligently for a couple years part time before heading off to college.  His first semester, he spent only a few weeks in class when he was given his first exam.  He stuck around for two minutes just long enough to put his name at the top.  He turned in his exam and walked out, saying to himself, “well, that’s enough of that!”.  He loved telling that story and I think it speaks volumes about his sense of humor.  He then married my grandma, volunteered for the war and after a couple years on a ship, the bomb was dropped, he was discharged, back home to the Midwest to pick up life where he left off.

It may be my Italian heritage, or maybe it’s my Cherokee Native American blood that I got from Mimi, my Mom’s Mom, but I’ve always been a little partial towards brunettes (and red heads).  My Grandma’s family, the Pavia’s, had immigrated from a remote village somewhere in the hills of Italy.

Pavia Family

The Pavia’s in the 1920’s

It’s so remote they have their own unique Italian dialect even to this day.  In Italy the Pavias were Catholic but converted to Baptist in the U.S.  They must have had trouble shaking some of the old world tradition because Grandma Naleid grew up in a household with twelve kids…..TWELVE!  They say that when number twelve hit the scene, the head minister made a special trip to the Pavia household, sat Great Grandpa Pavia down and was like, “Dude…You gotta chill.”.  Apparently he took the hint.  As a youth, my Grandpa’s family lived on Main street only a mile or so from downtown in a nice neighborhood right across from Lake Michigan.  They could afford it.

Great Grandpa/Grandma Naleid were modest and carried themselves with integrity which made them well respected in the community.  As such, their son probably could have married just about any girl in town and still he chose an Italian immigrant girl at a time when this ethnic group was getting to be very unpopular due to the war.

Grandma Naleid wedding dress

Grandma Naleid

Part of the reason my Great Grandpa Art had gotten to where he did is because of his work ethic, a lesson I’m sure he taught his sons.  Grandpa Naleid was an accountant.  He was serious as a heart attack when it came to numbers, but with everything else he was always joking around.  One of the Grandpa-isms that I remember the most is his nickname for women.  Jokingly he referred to them as “Chickies”.  Chickie, being a derivative of the word chick would be offensive to modern liberals but when my Grandpa used it, everybody laughed.  Sometimes it was used to describe family members and other times not.  I remember vividly at family reunions when he would call my cousins chickie, they would die of laughter…and these are very progressive women.  One is a federal immigration judge, another has been highly regarded in the advertising industry since graduating college, and a third is a guide on remote wilderness adventures (if she gets lost, people die).  The reason there was never any offense taken is because everyone knew Grandpa.  We were all familiar and had a common background which makes interpretation more accurate.  !Nerd Alert! The SMCR model of communication shows, to be effective, you need a feedback stage after a message is sent from one person (the sender) to another (the receiver).

SMCR model

By JasonSWrench (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In a family, you have feedback built into the group dynamic because when there is a mis-understanding, you can’t just walk away.  After years of interaction, and countless cycles of messages being sent (encoded), received (decoded), and feedback requests/responses, you just start to “get” one another.  The same thing happens with roommates and close friends.

The goofy Naleid sense of humor was passed down to my dad.  There’s even a picture of him in his youth, in what should have been a serious family photo, where he’s not paying attention and grinning at God know what as the camera snaps the shot.

Naleid Family photo_1960's

My dad’s humor had the same Midwestern flavor as Grandpa but he moved to Texas in his 20’s where he met my mom and settled to raise his family.  As you can imagine, Texas and Midwestern culture are about as similar as night and day.  So, the Midwestern Grandpa-isms transplanted into Texas Dad-isms sometimes went from goofy to the level of absurd simply because of the irony injected by the new cultural context.   One of the goofy Dad-isms I remember the most is his nickname for my mom…”The Red Radish”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He was always goofing off with her, goosing her and saying, “you Red Radish, you”.  She’d blush and try not to laugh.  I think that was probably one of the things that attracted her to him…his sense of humor.  I mean, who doesn’t like a good sense of humor?  Nobody, that’s who!

So, back to the original story…as I recount our family history for my new self-absorbed, communication challenged friend demanding reparations since I must have offended the poor “Hispanic” girl who clearly can’t defend herself against the ignorant “white” guy in spite of the fact that we’re both from the same place, have a similar family origination story and were both raised speaking English as our first and only language, I ended my tale with a rhetorical question (a little tongue in cheek) in order to drive home my point.

“Since Grandpa Naleid got his Lil’ Chickie, and Dad got his Red Radish….If I want to get my Mexican Mama…who are you to say no?”

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No Bounce

steenbeck

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.

Ta…Dowwww.

 

 

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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…Son of a Bitch!

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.

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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.

“dude”

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

This story is about 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.  This is the point at which I started to slow down and realize that living was not just about the career.  This new attitude gave my brain a little thinkin’ room to work on other things that I had neglected since graduating from 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.  I had just signed up for Facebook and decided to do a search and see who I knew.  I ran across a girl from my hometown that I had known in high school and remembered as being an extremely nice and all around attractive girl.  Her profile said that she had gone to graduate school and now worked in Dallas.  I messaged her to say hi and she quickly messaged me back, happy to hear from me and verified that yes, she was single.  We started up a long distance friendship which turned from chatting online to talking on the phone.  I was ecstatic because I had always liked this girl and we could talk for hours on end without any awkward pauses.  After a few weeks, we talked about getting together.  I was living in Austin but there was a mutual attraction and we were both looking seriously 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 a fairly new subdivision.  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 Texas hospitality, native accent and good looks.  So that night 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 dark haired girl around 28 or 30 years old with jet black hair sitting at a formal dining table in a strapless jet black dress with a subdued smile on her face.  In the middle of the shot is a vase with a single vibrant red rose with the pretty girl peeking out at the camera from behind it.  She was a little embarrassed of her smile in the picture saying that she didn’t like her cuspids, but was proud of the artistic composition of the photo.  I didn’t know exactly which teeth the cuspids were but she had been a science major and occasionally used big sciency words that I would pretend to know so as not to look stupid or make her sound like a nerd.  So, I told her I thought it was a really nice picture and her smile was perfect.  I was also excited by this turn in the conversation because we now had something in common that we could discuss.  From my own art history experience in college, 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 I had studied, so I was winging it (bad idea).  The example that I used was how the color black in western culture means death but in other cultures it symbolizes life.  Of course, just my luck, she took it the wrong way because within the context of the picture, she thought I was calling her goth.  (I hadn’t even thought of that as a possible meaning) so I back peddled some to try and avoid further offense.  Fortunately we had a good rapport so this one faux pas 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, even some of the 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 gave a big smiled and thought, “Wow.  This is going really well”!  So, we said our goodbyes, parted ways early that evening and I drove back to Austin since the business meeting excuse was a fabrication.  As the end of the year approached, I was planning to invite her to Austin for new years eve and started planning in advance.  During our next phone call, she beat me to the punch and invited me first.  I thought…”Man, we’re 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 went to a semi-nice restaurant that was about $75.00 per plate.  We had good conversation and a couple of drinks each.  We left in good spirits and she invited me back to her place for a night cap, an invitation that I gladly accepted.  Back at her apartment, she put on some music, we had a couple more drinks, and we danced a little.  Soon we started to kiss.  After a month of talking, this is the moment I had been waiting eagerly (and patiently) for.  I was stunned however because, strangely, there were no sparks, no chemistry.  My mouth continued to kiss but my brain was busy figuring out why no magic and what to do next.  Then it happened……She BIT me!

Talk about stunned.  I kind of let out a muffled “Ow”!  It wasn’t a little playful nibble like regular people would do.  She bit me hard.  At that point I was kind of just standing there not doing anything and my brain was like “What the hell is going on around here”?  Then she whispered, “Bite Me”.  So….at this point 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’m not into biting people.  Standing there with four drinks in me, a bloody lip and a strong affinity for this woman who had just become a take charge kind of gal, I start to wonder whether my reticence means I like her more (out of respect) or less because I’m not willing to do something weird.  As my brain searches for answers, I run through about a half hour of thoughts in a matter of seconds and start to recall details that had previously escaped my attention.  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.  For example; in the few seconds that followed the bite, I remember the comment about being in “HER family”.  In my mind I see that she was sitting with her wrists crossed in her lap and that her body shifted a little when she make the remark.  I can’t be sure but I think maybe she raised a hand as she shifted which would technically be a wave in my direction.  Then I remember the photo with her decked out in jet black with the bright red rose in the foreground.  As my mind pushes into to a close-up of her self conscious smile, I hear the comment about her large cuspids and then it hits me….the chick has fangs!   Now, I really don’t want to bite her because I don’t know all the Texas vampire rules, 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, since this all sounds crazy, 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 compromise with myself and…..I kind of bite her…just a little.  Not hard!  Just a little nibble.  Pretty soon after that we stop and she says that she’s exhausted and it’s after her bed time.  So, we say our good nights and I leave for the hotel.

The next day, we meet up for a late breakfast during which I’ve become concerned because my vampire friend appears despondent.  I make several efforts to strike up conversation with no luck at all.  This bothers me because it feels like the relationship is going downhill and I kind of panic.  I’m not sure If she’s just hung over or if its the whole bitey thing that caused the change of spirit between us, so I decide to bring it up.  I say, “I think you drew blood last night”, which causes her to recoil in embarrassment.  I notice the wince and panic a little by saying, “No, no its fine…uh…I…uh…I liked it”.   I was lying for her benefit but apparently she wasn’t as concerned for my comfort as I was for hers because at that remark she cringed even harder.  Now I’m bug eyed thinking, “Oh crap!  Now she thinks I’M the weirdo”.  I try to recover but after things have gone this far, there’s nothing one could say that will make anyone involved look like less of a weirdo.  So, I just stutter a little and ramble stuff like, “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 no response.  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 write a letter and then says that she has to go wash her hair.  I was pretty devastated.  Fortunately, after a few weeks, I was able to think about the situation from a new perspective, that my perception of the girl was way off base because she wasn’t as nice as I had thought.  Plus, she dabbles in vampirism.  That’s not good.

 

 

 

 

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Martin Scorsese Notes: Film is Dead

 A trending blog post mentioned a comment by Martin Scorsese. His opinion was that words and images don’t mean anything anymore.

bbnfishbowl

Born at the end of the modern era, it was still the 20th century when I was bit by the film bug.  In the 70’s the world technically crossed over into the postmodern age, but everybody I knew in the first 23 years of my life was still living in the modern past.  Maybe because “The Event” hadn’t happened yet…the thing that would serve as wake-up call to jolt us from our traditions of comfort and force us to recognize the world was changing…9/11.  It was either that or the reality that modernism was all we knew.  Whatever the reason, all that academic discourse I was exposed to in those last two years, concepts like postmodernism, the dialectic, and the promulgation of ideas across all western cultures didn’t really sink in.  I guess, like everyone else, I was focused on the pop obsession of the time; the fear that the end was neigh because those in charge of our new world, a.k.a the computers, would all cough, sputter, cache their last bit of data, and bite the digital dust in a super-synchronized sub-millisecond.  Another problem with not being able to absorb all that thinky mumbo-jumbo was that, unlike the theoretical ideology of the communications sciences (yes…it is a science), the film school (full disclosure: the degree is a bachelor of Science in communications) was fun which makes for a pretty handy distraction from all that real world stuff.  This distinction was made even more potent by my background in the arts.  As a youth, I dabbled in drawing and put in 5 solid years of piano and trombone.  Even with that formal training starting at a very young age plus 4 years of fudging around with a guitar, I just couldn’t find a way to creatively plug in until I stumbled onto film.  Thanks to my resurrected passion for the arts as an undergrad, I became hopelessly optimistic that I would graduate with a brilliant thesis film at the ready, receive acceptance letters to the top three festivals of my choice, get noticed by a slew of agents and studio execs and boom…T minus 10 to dream job (If you went to film school and you say your expectations were any different…”You Lie”).  But no sooner than strapping into the cockpit and finalizing the pre-flight checklist did I realize…Houston, we have a problem.

At 22 years, we knew a lot about what we believed and a fair amount about our artistic voice.  There was no short supply of vision.  When I now read stuff that I wrote in college, I sometimes think, I was smarter then than I am now (other times I think I must have been smoking something illicit).  Whatever I knew, it did not include a prescient dread caused by the impending collapse of the world we were building.  We couldn’t predict how the independent film space was fixing to change, how indie festivals would be co-opted by major studios, and the 25% of total screen time dedicated to true independent (read- “unknown”) artists would be one of the fibers in the carpet being quietly and methodically yanked out from under us.  This was a significant problem because we’re not establishment filmmakers. We don’t have relationships with studios. Many of us don’t live in L.A., nor do we have meaningful relationships with people that do.  When you consider the size of the California film industry and their stranglehold on the traditional distribution mode of the business…the truth is, we’re industry “Outsiders”.  Even with the new changes (predominately, freight distribution giving way to the internet), Los Angeles is still the core of the movie making apple.  The new media distributors now dwarf “the majors” in size measured by operating capital, however the two largest players Netflix and Amazon just setup new facilities in the L.A. area.  Even as late as the early 2000’s, I don’t think anyone saw that coming.  Instead of taking pause to take inventory, we, the new generation of new wavers continued to endeavor in the tradition that we were raised with; feature length stories about people and their conflicts, with relatable themes done in the Greek drama tradition, using ideas that no one had ever heard of.  Since distribution was largely controlled by big money, the indie festival experience/theatrical market was the only tool we had to get us launched.  Losing the festivals and theatre screen space to the “majors” was a huge blow.  Why?  Aside from the obvious financial and PR ones, there’s the art of it all.  In order for “Story” to have its intended impact it needs to be presented to large groups in one space; a stage or an amphitheater, on a silver screen, around a campfire…etc (replicated as many times as possible for greater inclusivity).  This experience, had by all cultures for thousands of years, was a true dialogue that invited the audience to ruminate over relevant topics beginning with one or two perspectives distilled from experience by inspired writers and brought forth via the extraordinary talents of the bard and acting troupe (i.e. the Speakers) before a public audience (the listeners) that rightly exploits the opportunity to react in the presence of the so called experts, forcing their conversational counterparts to adapt and synthesize an acceptable rendition of truth with each new performance.  As a guy with a degree in the science of communications, schooled in the history of the development of western culture, the concepts of market system design, rationality of man, plus my own history as a life-long Baptist (uh…I know what you’re thinking….Not that kind of Baptist), I can fully appreciate the social ramifications caused by the loss of “Voice”; voice of the People represented by public university art school alumni who collectively hail from far and wide across our great land.  So, in that way, Mr. Scorsese, I can relate.

However, that’s the break point at which I can no longer espouse the virtues of the old way.  Now that viewership in the digital age has fragmented to the point that even the majors have been forced to join the ranks of large conglomerates and re-format their entire organizational structure, I sometimes find myself at a loss trying to figure out where traditionally structured dialogue fits into a disassociated society (and, what the heck does that even mean?  How can you have a disassociated society?).    The paradox causes the OS in my head to crash but also gives birth to a revelation that the answer is largely subjective; because in order for the world to continue, it has to be.  Society has to keep moving forward in spite of the fragmentation and disparate conversations going on simultaneously in different venues.  More importantly, the mental blue screen of death forces another re-routing of electrical impulses through the smart switches that comprise the organic, carbon based network in my head (one might say the brain is the original internet…think about that invention Al Gore).  This change of perspective illustrates how I reluctantly came to believe that success in that old tradition is damn near impossible if you’re an outsider.  I won’t launch into tirade or attempt to proselytize my dissatisfaction with the industry by enumerating the litany of problems that pushed me towards a new frame of mind (but the list is long). Instead, I’ll generalize and say that I embrace the change.  Hey… progress!  In hindsight, I can say new attitude is priceless, but like most people raised with tradition, in the beginning, I cursed change.  A) it’s different B) the old way felt more organic and really did force us to think and learn and master the craft C) the new digital equipment was then so expensive that only the likes of George Lucas could afford it.

As I worked as a sound mixer in film, a designer and account manager in the TV system integration business for the first seven or so years of this changeover, I watched the tech slowly improve in quality as well as price.  The next seven I worked in TV systems engineering and from a distance watched a second round of reductions in price and an exponential increase in robustness and quality to the point that it could be legitimately called digital Cinema.  Now, for $10,000, I can have what George Lucas would have paid $200,000 for 15 years ago.  Not only that, but I can now say “So What” if the studios co-opted Sundance and Cinemark.  I have You Tube and Vimeo.  I also have access to Apple, Amazon and Netflix.  And if that’s not good enough for you, there’s even a production company here in Austin that built their own proprietary distribution network which completely redefines the concept of self-distribution.  These guys & gals are successful making lots of media for a loyal fan base with a fast growing slate and faster growing audience.

All this boils down to prosperity.  We dreamed of it, had it ripped out of our hands by an oligopolistic industrial aristocracy, a power which has since been watered down restoring some of the balance lost.  Courtesy of the benevolent market system tenet of atomism the balance is maintained by the social regulatory policy called network neutrality and this is a phenomenal shift which brings new possibilities for prosperity, that is, if the public’s viewing choices are not truncated by regulation or the lack thereof (depending on your definition of the word “regulation”).  In western society, the problem that hampers true progress (like in screenwriting) is usually bad structure.  In screenwriting it results in wasted time as a result of bad decision making, but in the world at large bad structure breaks society by inducing the toxic condition of market power.  This problem is distinguished from the former example because individuals didn’t create it, nor do they have the power to fix it.  I won’t go into a discussion on market system social structure, (that’s the other blog: www.homesteadprotection.wordpress.com), but the gist is that when economies of scale create barriers to entry for new business (I use the term business loosely since, we the artists are generally allergic to it.  But, I do use it in spite of this fact because the new path to prosperity for artists is to employ brand building), then atomism is lost and prosperity suffers.  Generally put, this is bad for the middle class.  More specifically, as it relates to the art community, it ruins the lives and careers of those whose inner voice led them to their calling: work in a creative capacity.  Since newborn tech has put the nails in the coffin of these centenarian barriers, I can actually look out and see a way to produce stories that people will watch.  Not only that, but if I’m diligent and smart, I’ll actually make enough money to live.

So, while I agree that the loss of tradition is hard, particularly for insiders equipped to leverage all of the fine resources provided by the juggernaut called California film, the simple reality is that in a natural (unadulterated) market the following is true.  Change: “It Is What It Is”.  Besides, they had a good run enjoying uncontested power spanning one whole century.  But now the tradition will change, the expanded world-wide industry will be heathier as a result, and it will be done in true western form.


P.S. – To Mr. President-elect Trump and family: I hope y’all consider this argument before you alter network neutrality.

P.P.S. – To Martin Scorsese:  Thanks for making so many great movies.  I cant wait to see Silence, another run of Mean Streets, and anything else you’ll crank out in the future.

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