Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Highlights

Even though I’m too old to Trick or Treat and don’t have any kids to do it for me, I’ve stayed plenty busy this Halloween season. Here are a few of the highlights:

The Costume:

Saturday night after the adult session of Stake Conference, I pulled out the old fringe jacket and put together the 2007 Edition of the Funk Daddy costume. Two years ago I managed to borrow a furry white coat and leather pants to create probably the most unique version of this outfit, but this year I augmented my jacket, afro and boots with a generous assortment of bling and attitude, resulting in a warm welcome at Jared Bryson’s party Saturday night.

The Corn Maze:

Hard to say how long the Corn Maze trend will last, given the hyperactive building craze in Davis County. Last year Farmington’s most prominent maze had been turned into yet another subdivision, and the maze down the road “catered to more of a family crowd”, meaning it closed at 7pm. This year some friends and I made the trek out to a maze in Syracuse, which is a Native American term for “not quite in the Great Salt Lake, but we’ve still got tons of mosquitoes”. Thanks to a hefty Ward FHE budget enhanced discount, I got to spend an hour wandering around some dude’s field for the bargain-basement price of $2.

The Party Circuit

It's getting to the point where Halloween parties are like mid-summer fireworks displays. There's not just one big display that everyone goes to; there's more of a circuit that you have to rotate through. Such was the case this year, starting last Saturday night in Farmington, continuing Monday night at a quad-ward FHE, forging on through tonight's family gathering, and finally to the Avenues District, where a shoulder-to-shoulder party landed a visit from the cops around 11pm. Those are just the ones I went to. I can think of at least four more I turned down invites for. All of the parties I attended were fun, though none life-changing, but it's always nice to have another venue to pull out the fringe jacket.

And to see friends wearing blue tights in public.

Pumpkin Carving:

A couple of years back I saw several photos of some pumpkins that had been whittled more than carved. Rather than cut straight through with sharp block shapes, they peeled away layers at varied depths, creating cool three-dimensional images. Since then I’ve been toying with the same idea, and this year I decided to carve a 360 degree pumpkin. After all, why only carve one side when you have all that great space to work with?

Here are the results:

The Chili Cook-Off:

On Monday night four local singles wards got together for a big Halloween bash, featuring music, costumes, and a chili cook-off. Predictably, most people stood around the whole time talking to their friends in their own wards. But yours truly made the most of the evening, by making off with the chili cook-off title, in spite of the fact that I made my chili extra-spicy (jalapenos, but no habaneros, unfortunately). Bad news for anyone who was sick of my constant references to my 2006 salsa title. One more highlight for the resume, baby…

The Movies:

I’ve already reported on this year’s Zombie Fest, but it bears repeating. You’ve gotta love Zombie movies. Aside from “Shaun of the Dead” and “Night of the Living Dead”, this year I’ve been able to catch a number of Halloween season gems, as well as a dud or two:

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

The newest version of this movie, with Nicole Kidman and the new James Bond dude, was pretty weak. The 1978 version was pretty dumb, too, in spite of having Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy in the cast. But the original, with Kevin McCarthy, is primo 1950’s schlock horror gold.

Watch for: the moment when McCarthy’s hair suddenly switches from Cary Grant slick coif to disheveled frantic crazy-man mess.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Some feel that “Farenheit 451” was the best film adaptation of a Ray Bradbury novel, but my vote falls with “Something Wicked This Way Comes” for the same reason I try to persuade my friends to read something OTHER than “Farenheit”: While “Farenheit 451” may be a great book, it is not classic Bradbury. Classic Bradbury is nostalgic, scary, poetic, and usually based around themes of youth, Halloween, Illinois, and science fiction. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is all of that. “Farenheit 451” is Bradbury’s “1984”. After meeting him this summer, I'm sure Ray would agree.

Watch for: 1970’s Blaxploitation veteran Pam Grier as the bride in the ice block.

The Legend of Hell House

Totally lame. This is the movie that was remade into “The Haunting” about eight years ago, and that one was totally lame, too. All I remember about “The Haunting” was Owen Wilson getting decapitated in a fireplace while Catherine Zeta-Jones and the girl who wrote all the songs about her ex-boyfriend in “Say Anything” watched. I don’t know what I’ll remember about “Hell House”. Oh yeah…I’ll remember that it was laaaaaaaaame.

Watch for: The opening credits…this is the signal to hit “stop”.

Nosferatu (1922)

I only caught the last few minutes of this one the other night, but it’s well worth including on the list. “Nosferatu” pre-dates all other vampire movies, Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” included. Unlike most of those movies, the vampire is hardly a tall, dark and handsome devil. He looks more like a cross between Gollum and one of the Lord of the Rings Orcs. Legend has it Max Schreck was cast in the lead role because he really was a vampire, and proceeded to wreak havoc on the set throughout the shoot. Who knows if it’s true, but it’s a cool story regardless.

Watch for: Nosferatu inexplicably walking by an open window with the morning sun pouring through, begging the viewer to ask why after hundreds of years as one of the undead, he never figured out how to do his biting at 1am.

Edward Scissorhands

Like “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, this one’s half Halloween, half Christmas, but it’s all Tim Burton. His story about a robot-android boy with scissors for hands is a powerful metaphor for alienation that works a lot more than you’d think it would. Everything about this movie is perfect, from Johnny Depp’s wide-eyed solemnity as Edward, to Alan Arkin’s detached obliviousness, to Danny Elfman’s haunting soundtrack, to the monotone suburbia that doesn’t quite know what to make of it’s newest resident.

Watch for: Edward’s reaction when Winona Ryder tells him she loves him.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

I watched this one with my roommate Erik last year at 1am, and even edited for TV, it packs a serious punch. This year I just had it playing in the next room while I was working on the 360-degree pumpkin. From time to time I’d pop in to catch the best bits.

Watch for: The early morning climax when Leatherface chases the lone survivor out onto the highway, gets hit with a rock and falls, nearly cuts his leg off with his own chainsaw, then rises to his feet and starts swinging said chainsaw around in some kind of weird inbred ballet dance as the credits roll.

My Birthday

Everybody returned LDS missionary says they were called to serve in the perfect mission, but there was something even more appropriate about me getting sent to Chicago after growing up watching a movie about two guys in black suits driving around The Windy City telling everyone they were on a "Mission from God".

Everybody also grows to love the season around their birthday, but I absolutely love having been born a week before Halloween. From Ray Bradbury to Tim Burton to fall leaves to cool weather for a guy that can't tan, it's totally perfect.

Happy Halloween, people.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ring Spotting

In order to properly accessorize this year’s Halloween costume, I ravaged my belongings for all the bling I had stored away over the years. I came up with a number of odd necklaces, and several old rings. Most of the necklaces still had functioning clips, but getting the rings to fit was a bit trickier. I tend to have big knuckles—even when they aren’t swollen from summer dislocations—and it's hard to find rings that actually fit my fingers. I can’t even wear my CTR pinky ring anymore, because my finger got too big.

One of the rings that did fit OK was a turquoise thing I inherited from my grandpa a few years back. I enjoyed wearing it enough at last Saturday’s Halloween party that I went ahead and left it on for church the next day. But when my sister caught sight of it, she warned me that I might be sending the wrong signal, since I happened to be wearing it on my wedding ring finger.

I disagreed with this assessment, since clearly my ring had no resemblance whatsoever to a wedding band. My ring was a thin silver band that bulged out at the top with two embedded stones. One was the aforementioned turquoise stone; the other was about half its size and red. Proportionally, this ring reflected my results from the “Color Code” personality test: Dominant Blue with a nasty Red streak.

I didn’t see how anyone would misinterpret my ring, but it did remind me of the “Seinfeld” episode where Costanza wears a wedding band to see if it will make him more attractive to women. In true Costanza fashion, it does, and one such beautiful single woman tells him, “That’s too bad [you’re married]; I really have a thing for bald guys with glasses.”

As that particular experiment has already been played out for me, I have no reason to repeat it. But it does call to attention one of the curious aspects of the single’s scene: ring spotting.

I can pretty much guarantee that within 3.5 seconds of encountering any woman, I will know if she’s wearing a wedding ring. It’s practically a reflex. It happens with waitresses, cashiers, or even people sitting three rows ahead of me in a movie theater. Whenever I see a cute girl, I instinctively zero in on the left hand. If there’s no ring, I start mulling ways to meet her (and usually subsequent excuses for chickening out of it). If there is, I go into “BLOCK OUT! BLOCK OUT! ADULTERY! ADULTERY!” mode.

Actually, at first this only happened with girls I was attracted to, but now it seems to happen when I meet any woman. Like I said, it’s almost a reflex. Girls my age, middle-aged women, department store mannequins, whatever.

“Oh, look at poor Dina. So lifelike. The mortician really did a wonderful job, eh?”

“Yes, and apparently she also had a successful love life.”

I don’t know if I speak for all single guys out there, let alone all single girls, but when you’re “on the scene” and have at least a hint of an interest in graduating from said scene, you tend to be curious about who is or isn’t eligible for upper-division coursework. In our culture, the ring is the signal (as opposed to the forehead dot in India or the forearm tattoo in Ogden), so that’s what we’re trained to spot. There are some “second-tier” signals—for example, the tendency for newlywed long-haired women to chop their hair into the “domestic cut”—but none is as reliable as that good old sparkly thing on the south paw.

One must be careful, however, for all rings are not the same. One woman’s wedding band is not always another’s. For example, years ago I had an introductory-level crush on my Red Lobster waitress until my mother pointed out that even if her ring didn’t have a big rock mounted on it, it was still a wedding band. I’ve since encountered a number of wedding rings that simply have little diamonds embedded in the band itself. Tricky little buggers.

Worse yet, many women work in fields where they take their rings off to do their jobs, like nurses or personal trainers. When I went to get the stitches pulled out of my finger up at University Hospital last summer, this pretty physician’s assistant did the job for me. She wasn’t wearing a ring, but she was way too pretty and sophisticated and mature not to be married. (“Mature” is code for “obviously into at least her late twenties if not older, but if I were to say ‘old’ it would sound insulting”). I just couldn’t come up with a creative way of asking about her marital status while she was pulling stitches out of my hand.

Then there are the girls that pull an Anti-Costanza and wear dummy rings to discourage male interest, and the guys in long-term successful marriages that just never wear wedding bands. And what about Mer-Man? He couldn’t wear a wedding ring if he wanted to. Such frustration. Such angst for the modern ring spotter!

Of course, the challenge for all ring spotters, male and female alike, is to actually meet the person who isn’t wearing a ring. To stop standing around at parties talking to the people they already know and start talking to the people they want to know.

(And incidentally, a guy standing around at a party talking to his female friends is no better off than if he were standing around talking to his dude friends…unless to the general female population there is something more appealing/less threatening about a guy that seems to have female friends, I guess. My point is he’s still being a weenie either way.)

But that is a topic unto itself. Unless you just want to take the advice of my old friend Brian, who once told me that the greatest pickup line in the world is, “Hi”.

He’s probably right. Jerk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Watch it your way...

Nine years ago I was visiting my cousin Danny in Cleveland when he showed me this cool new feature on his computer. He’d been able to rig a special card into his system that let him plug his cable connection directly into his CPU, therefore allowing him to watch TV on his monitor.

I was impressed, though that didn’t really mean much back then. I was still impressed by color monitors in those days. When the Longtin family played me a video of Jimi Hendrix playing a live cut of “Hey Joe” off a CD-ROM back in Kankakee, Illinois, I thought I was in Technology Heaven. (Actually, I was just relieved to hear a little Hendrix after three months off).

My cousin’s new toy was a perfect example of the trend of technology convergence. As naive as I was, even I could sense it happening. It felt like a no-brainer to think that eventually we’d be watching TV on the same systems we typed our school papers on. Wasn’t that what they did in “Back to the Future, Part II”?

A decade later, our media is becoming a technological Pangea. My computer right now is little more than a single flat-screen monitor, with the disc drive and the hard drive all built in. It doubles as my stereo, thanks to my sub-woofer enhanced speaker system, and thanks to streaming high-speed video (and the fact that we had to cancel our cable subscription), it is now my television, too.

I can’t remember the last time I watched one of my favorite shows live on TV. It was probably when I caught the Season 3 finale of “Lost” back in May. Heck, even then I think it was on TiVo delay by an hour so we could skip all the commercials.

Now that all the TV stations are making their shows available online, I am living in a virtual Utopia of Burger King-style “Have it Your Way” media on-demand. If I’ve got five shows I want to watch, I don’t have to be a couch potato every night to see them. I can just fire them up over lunch the next day, and not miss out on my chance to stand around talking to the same twelve people I know at the party that took place the night before.

Last season my friend Wes and I got into a great habit of going to play basketball on Wednesday nights at 9pm, then unwinding at his place watching a recorded episode of “Lost” when we finished up two hours later. It was perfect escapist fare for two guys whose bodies wanted to forget their diminishing athletic capacities.

A week ago I got a text message (more technology) from my old roommate Aaron, who informed me that “My Name is Earl” had jumped the shark. I hadn’t seen any of the new season’s episodes yet, but thanks to, I was able to jump on during an open mid-day stretch and fire off four quick twenty-minute episodes, then call him back and inform him that yes, the writers of “Earl” were in definite danger of shark-jumpage.

It helps that we’re going through a good stretch TV-wise, too; in spite of all the reality TV rubbish that still claims much of the market, there are a number of good shows out there right now: “Lost”, “Earl”, “Pushing Daisies”, “Heroes”, even “24”, as long as Kiefer Sutherland can avoid jumping any more trees. I’m just bummed that FOX cancelled “Arrested Development”, so I couldn’t stay up with that one, too.

There is a downside, of course. The online versions still have commercials. During the regular breaks, your monitor pops up a 30-second clip that is provided by a “sponsor du jour”. Often the same ad gets repeated four or five times through the same episode, which in my mind, makes the viewer less likely to patronize the sponsor, rather than more.

Granted, 30-seconds is a lot better than the usual epic breaks nowadays, though it is annoying when the system automatically bumps your resolution back down to “normal” when the show resumes and you have to jump up and change it back to “Full Screen Mode” every time. Plus the ads that try to play off the “online” component—like the Papa John’s Pizza chick that acts like she’s watching the show with you—are extremely annoying. But it’s a small tradeoff for free convenient media, I suppose.

I guess what I’m really getting at is that it’s a good time to be a consumer. Not only are the technologies completely bent on giving you more at your convenience, they are advancing at a startling pace. Who knows what will be next year’s equivalent to the iPhone. We need to be careful about overload, of course, but that’s just the point: this whole On Demand thing lets you dictate your own schedule. I’ve always argued that it would be great if instead of having to pay a large rate for two hundred stations that I don’t really watch, I could pay for two or three individually that I might actually view regularly.

Maybe this is how it’s going to happen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Near Misses

Last night as an introduction to the Cause/Effect chapter, I had my English 1010 students write about a past decision they wish they could change. I was hoping to droll up a lot of bitter resentment and deep regret; class goes a lot smoother that way.

Naturally, as they were composing away, I started wondering about the issue myself. I don’t have a lot of long-standing serious regrets in life, outside of blowing this totally obvious make-out opportunity in high school. I dare say that most of the mistakes I’ve made in life have worked out to my benefit, so who would I be to mess with destiny?

No, if I were to change anything, it would be little stuff, like skipping try-outs for "The Odd Couple” back in my junior year. When I saw my classmates performing the Neil Simon classic at the end of the school year, I realized how much fun I’d have had if I’d tried out myself. That’s why I tried out for “Arsenic and Old Lace” my senior year, and wound up having a transcendent experience portraying Teddy Brewster, a lunatic who’s convinced he’s former President Teddy Roosevelt. So that one kind of resolved itself.

One minor alteration I’ve wondered about took place during the Clearfield-Viewmont Sophomore Football game early in the 1991 season. After waiting for several years, my parents finally allowed me to play organized football once I hit high school, and Sophomore Football turned out to be my only official season. Thanks to my extensive playground workouts, I was a good enough receiver to practice with our B squad during the week (essentially making me the third-string guy), but team policy left me on the sidelines for the actual games until late in the fourth quarter of long-decided outcomes. (This, coincidentally, was the same policy that contributed to a spanking record of 1-30 for our varsity team between the years of 1990-1992).

The Clearfield game was a blowout, something like 28-7, so late in the fourth quarter, I was sent into the game…as a defensive end. Now, keep in mind, in spite of my obvious stature these days, back then I was only about a buck-forty soaking wet…and carrying dumbbells. I was merely coming in with a bunch of other benchwarmers to fill some time. Hence, as Clearfield was making a late drive, I suddenly found myself on the field during a goal line stand.

My assignment was simply to shoot straight ahead and hit anyone who happened to come in my direction, essentially to plug my hole (see diagram below). Should the tailback take a handoff into my lane, I was to stop him, thereby preserving our proud football heritage.

But that was too easy. Glancing to my right, I surmised with my keen Madden-like mind that were the tailback to take a handoff, he would probably drive straight ahead between our defensive tackle and nose tackle. So as the ball was snapped, I ignored my hole and doubled up on the one next to me.

This allowed the Clearfield tailback to dive into our end zone untouched, and in a complete state of ethereal shock. (See diagram below).

When our rag-tag defense gathered to discuss the previous play, I heard lots of the language I’d been hearing for the past three months. Fortunately, it wasn’t in my direction exclusively, since no one had seen who missed his assignment.

As our de-facto team captains screamed in a rage, demanding whose (expletive) hole that had been, I decided this was not the time to stand and deliver. First off, I was a receiver, and couldn’t really be blamed when I was so obviously out of my element. Second, these guys were benchwarmers, and I had no intention of dignifying their pathetic power play. Third, I knew these guys in real life too, and had absolutely no respect for them at all. The last thing I was about to do was stand there and take crap from morons like these.

So I just stood there and looked from guy to guy like everyone else, patiently waiting for the next play to start so everyone would shut up. Clearfield scored on their two-point conversion attempt, then managed to recover an onsides kick. As our starters looked on in horror, the coaches sent me and the rest of the backups right back into the game on defense, though this time I lined up at cornerback against Clearfield’s right wide receiver, a much more natural spot for me.

As I waited for the snap, I started to channel my inner Ronnie Lott, resolving to drop my opponent like a bad date if the ball even got near him. When the snap came, I stuck him off the line, followed him for a few yards, then turned and watched as the Clearfield quarterback completed a 50 yard touchdown pass to the receiver on the opposite side of the field.

Luckily the boys from north Davis County ran out of time, and we escaped with a curiously narrow victory. I did my job at the end, but from time to time have wondered what would have happened had I done it at the beginning. I might have been run over, but then again, I might have stuffed the tailback, or better yet, stripped the ball and run it back for a glorious Viking touchdown.

If I’d had an encouraging experience that day instead of a pathetic one, I might have found enough motivation to come back and play junior varsity ball the next year, where as it turned out, I would have picked up substantial playing time, since most of the best juniors were called up to play varsity anyway. I might have fulfilled my football dreams a little more completely, then returned to the playgrounds a more accomplished and confident player.

Then again, a second season might have distracted from all the AP classes I was taking, and steered me away from the academic pursuits that dominated the back half of my high school career. I might never have transferred back into drama, where I cultivated a creative outlet that has generated professional opportunities to this day (the drama coach, Mr. Anderson, was the man who got me involved in the KJZZ show this past summer).

So here again, I can’t really say I have any regrets, and that I’m still on my best path. It’s nice to be reassured of that now and then.

Though I still wish I would have made out with that blonde.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Extra Innings

Late into the evening of October 23rd, 1976, about halfway through Steve Martin’s debut as a Saturday Night Live guest host—the same night he did the famous King Tut routine—my mother went into labor. So she and my dad flipped off the black and white TV, left the warm confines of their red brick Centerville, Utah rambler and drove into Salt Lake, where I was born about twelve hours later. It pretty much went downhill for them from there. Steve Martin, on the other hand, went on to host SNL 14 times.

Thirty-one years later, their firstborn sits reflecting on the first year of his thirties, wondering how on earth he ever wound up there. Seriously, I used to dread this.

But as I look at it, in spite of some difficult setbacks, the first year post-30 hasn’t been so bad. In fact, it’s been very cool in a lot of ways.

When I first crossed the threshold a year ago, I was living in Woods Cross, and just in the process of getting involved in a long-distance relationship. Obviously it didn’t work out in the long run—didn’t make it to Christmas, to tell the truth—but you have to admit, it is pretty cool when someone of the opposite sex thinks enough of you to fly out of state to hang out with you for a weekend.

Still, the obligatory post-relationship funk, combined with work frustrations, moving frustrations (three times between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day), plus the death of my dog Otto made the first few months of being a “thirty-something” a bittersweet experience at best. By the time the higher-ups at USU opted out of a plan to make me a full-time instructor in the spring, I was beginning to think that 2007 was going to be a long series of jimmy-kicks.

But that’s about when things started turning around. After saying farewell to my full-time benefited USU office gig (I still teach adjunct courses for them), new opportunities started popping up, and the rest of the year offered plenty for the highlight-reel:

*Almost out of nowhere, I had half a dozen of my comedy sketches aired on a KJZZ variety show called “B All Over”.

*Another short film (“A Manly Guide to Hiking the Subway”) was warmly received at the 2007 Epic Summer Film Festival.

*I finally got to throw another Toga Party and redeem myself for the Debacle of 2001.

*My “consecutive daily journal entry” streak passed nine years in June.

*Thanks to dirt-cheap season tickets, I got to watch the Jazz make the conference finals.

*I met Ray Bradbury (and Marc Singer—“The Beastmaster”) at Comic-Con 2007 in San Diego.

*I fulfilled my eighth-grade dream of buying Nike Air Flight 89’s.

*I was a public address announcer for the Bountiful Days of ’47 Parade for the third year.

*Besides the San Diego road trip, I also got to take trips to Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Zion National Park and Vegas (where I saw Eric Clapton at the MGM Grand).

*I finally read a Harry Potter book, and subsequently wound up standing in line at Wal Mart at 1am waiting to pick up the last entry in the series.

*In July I dislocated and lacerated my right index finger while playing volleyball, but even that was cool because the girl that worked at the physical therapy clinic was really cute.

One of the coolest experiences of the last year was having my friend Cherina come out to visit from Chicago. I first knocked on her door back in the summer of 1997 with Elder Mike Heaps on Chicago’s South Side, and in all the time since, this was her first trip out to Salt Lake. Cherina, Heaps and I joined up with Spencer Affleck (who was Heaps’ companion at the time) and had a mini-reunion at the Joy Luck Restaurant in Sandy over Conference Weekend.

It was great to get the group together again, and surreal at the same time. Heaps and Affleck have five kids between them, and have been living the domesticated life for some time now. But that wasn’t the surreal part—I’ve grown well accustomed to seeing my longtime friends with kids in tow. What was strange was how they seemed to marvel at the life I led, as if I was some sort of a cult hero adventurer, taking trips, pulling outlandish stunts, living by the skin of my teeth.

I guess compared to the traditional nuclear family lifestyle, my enigmatic freelance existence would sound pretty far-out. But it’s hardly what I would call exciting. I may be an English teacher, but I’m no Indiana Jones. I guess what I can say is that even though some of my long-term goals remain unfulfilled as I cross the frontier into 31 (in Single’s Ward terms, I am now in “extra innings”), I have been very blessed in the meantime. And I certainly can’t complain about that.

So now I’m still in Bountiful with a law student and a guy that gets food additives in the mail on a regular basis, living the single life to its fullest. Aside from all the video stuff and the writing stuff, I’m even getting ready to play my first drum gig in over two years at the next Ward Talent Show. If I can get a Turkey Bowl set up for Thanksgiving, I’ll be in Fat City.

Yeah, life looks pretty good. 31 should be sweet for this wild and crazy guy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cannibal Season

Early last Saturday afternoon, while returning from yet another triumphant visit to the gym, I looked up at the mountains and noticed that winter looked like it was trying to eat autumn alive. So after a generous lunch and a quick “Lost” episode, I took up my camera and hoodie and decided to go parading.

My first stop was at Mueller Park Junior High, site of many football games and sunset pictures. From there I was able to take a few shots that demonstrated the aforementioned “eating” effect. Behold:

Far from satisfied, I continued on to the Bountiful Temple, where I thought I might try my hand at finding an angle of the Temple no photographer has already tried in the last thirteen years. Being such a dreary day, I wasn’t likely to get the kind of shot that turns up in the Distribution Center. I was more likely to get the kind of shot that Anti-Mormons send through PhotoShop to make one of those, “look at the evil imposing buildings the Mormons sacrifice virgins and juggle squirrels in” photos. To each his own, I suppose.

I climbed up the hill immediately behind the temple, carefully making my way past periodic piles of deer poops, and managed to get this photo, among others. I really liked the way the lake (or more accurately, the “southeastern marshy bits of the lake”) looked, so I tried to get them in the frame.

I soon became tired of this and made my way back down to the car, wondering if I could get another episode of “Lost” in before going off to my evening band rehearsal. But then I spied a cool tunnel that leads underneath Bountiful Boulevard at the opening of Holbrook Canyon, and I decided that I should Carpe my Diem.

On the way over to the tunnel I found this cool semi-defaced bench, which looks like a perfect romantic spot for EMO’s to compare the scars on their wrists:

Outside of the tunnel, there is a big sign that says “Extreme Danger: Do Not Enter”. Here is what the tunnel looks like from the inside:

At the end of the tunnel, on the other side of a convenient iron gate, there is a dramatic slope down into the valley, kind of a luge-run for morons, that has been caked with algae and moss. This, I am guessing, is the reason for the warning.

When you look back at the tunnel from the other direction, you can get a better look at the water drain you had to side-step on your way through, as well as the graffiti other sign-ignorers added to the tunnel décor previously.

Here is one such piece of graffiti, apparently a surrealist advertisement for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”:

Once again I was faced with the opportunity to go home to the warm confines of my basement, with my Velvet Elvi and my roommate’s bootleg “Lost” episodes. But then I looked down and saw a waterfall coming out of the mouth of the canyon, and decided my journey was far from over. I seem to have a weakness for waterfalls, probably brought on by that scene in “Last of the Mohicans”. Ah, such passion.

Once I made it down to the actual stream, I had no choice but to wander up the canyon trail a ways and see what else I could find. Strangely, I had never hiked this canyon before, in spite of the fact that I regularly drive an hour north to hike Adam’s Canyon in Fruit Heights or Waterfall Canyon in Ogden.

Most of the fall foliage had either been dispatched by the weather or was so limp and soggy to have lost its luster, so my photos weren’t terribly moving up this way. I did find a cool spot to do a scary movie picture, one of those, “the tree branches are skinny and web-like, therefore this forest is evil” shots.

Not far away, I found a curious sight that seemed to define the very “winter eating autumn” theme: a solitary moss-covered branch, lying broken in a bed of withered leaves. It kind of reminded me of those scenes in horror movies where they find the dead body in the forest, only in this case it’s just a branch.

After lingering a bit and pondering on the enigmatic existence I live these days, I made my way back to my car, back to civilization, and was still able to nail another episode of “Lost” before joining my new bandmates for a rehearsal in a Centerville basement. We rocked loud, and we rocked hard. I think we might call ourselves the Electric Prunes.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Retro Review: Zombie Fest 2007

A year ago a dozen of my fellow zombie fans gathered in an unfinished basement in Woods Cross, Utah to screen a pair of zombie gems: “28 Days Later” and “Night of the Living Dead”. Good times. This year the same group, with an addition and a subtraction here and there, gathered in my relatively new Bountiful digs to take in the next round. Zombie Fest 2007.

Round One of the double-header went to:

Shaun of the Dead
Three stars out of four

Thanks to the heads-up TiVo mastery of my buddy Jared, we were able to score an edited-for-TV copy of this one off Comedy Central. (Putting together a zombie fest for Mormons is kind of a tricky maneuver, you see.) “Shaun of the Dead”, even at a mere three years of age, has quickly become a cult classic, and was most appropriate to kick off our little get-together. It’s the satirical British comedy version of “Night of the Living Dead”.

The plot here is simple: Shaun, a disillusioned electronics salesman, must fight off a band of zombies as he tries to successfully escort his best friend, ex-girlfriend, her friends, and his mom to his favorite local pub. Along the way they manage to take every classic zombie movie cliché and turn it on its severed head.

There are too many details to praise in this one, but if I have to point out one specific element to endorse, it is the fact that for once, zombie fights are portrayed in a realistic manner. What I mean by that is Shaun can’t hit anything. Not with a gun, not with a rock, not with his extensive record collection. Most movies make the good guy into a gun-toting natural (while simultaneously turning the bad guys into cross-eyed mouth breathers), but not here.

Shaun of the Dead is the natural heir apparent to the legacy of “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun”, namely, satires that parody a genre in an original way. Shaun is not a “comic” re-hash of infamous zombie flick scenes; it takes a broad concept and skewers it with its own original story. It’s going to be popular for a long time to come.

Shaun of the Dead (the version we saw, anyway) is rated TV-14 for lots of zombie-related violence, blanked-out cussing that’s pretty easy to interpret, and a scene where three people brutalize this old guy with poker cues while listening to Queen.

Once the zombie comedy installment was out of the way, it was time for the real thing; a repeat viewing of the original bad boy itself:

Night of the Living Dead
Three and a half stars out of four

The best thing about the original “Night of the Living Dead” is that it starts off squarely in “peanut gallery” territory and gets scarier as it goes along. As corny and “old-fashioned” as it may seem early on, what with the heroine stumbling through the cemetery, losing her shoes, and seemingly unable to outrun a staggering ghoul even when she gets to her car (and promptly runs it into a tree), those elements almost serve to make the later elements of the film all the more shocking.

“Night of the Living Dead” was the first of director George Romero’s classic zombie films, shot in 1968 on a painfully low budget. (Wikipedia claims $114,000, while I swear I heard 20K back in the day). Low-budget or not, George Romero takes the hands-down title for “coolest old guy glasses on a director”.

It was one of the first of the pure shock-and-gore horror pictures, and even if the violence seems tame compared to today’s CGI-blood fests, “Night of the Living Dead” still gets my vote. Grainy black and white film with heavy shadows makes for better horror. Sometimes what you don’t see is a lot scarier than what you do.

Like “Shaun of the Dead”, its mentor has a simple plot: fugitives hole up in a rural farmhouse and try to fend off hordes of reanimated dead corpses that are determined to get inside and eat them some brains. At the risk of spoiling the film for the uninitiated, here are my personal favorite moments:

*Holed up in the farmhouse, near-catatonic heroine Barbara finally opens up and starts telling her harrowing story to fellow survivor Ben, who is trying to board all the windows up. Five minutes after trying to coax her into speaking, Ben is noticeably annoyed with Barbara’s rambling narrative, and drops a, “you need to CALM DOWN”, with a clear “this white chick needs to SHUT UP” look on his face. Classic.

*After Tom and Judy (token young dating couple) try to get away in the truck (which promptly explodes), the zombies go Donner Party in one of the first jaw-dropping moments of the film. Apparently intestines work kind of like Slinky’s.

*Once the mortally wounded kid in the basement finally kicks off, she comes back as a zombie, chews on daddy’s arm for a while, then takes a spade to momma. Think of the shower scene from “Psycho”, only four times as long. It keeps going, and going, and going…


*When the long night of terror is finally over, lone survivor Ben carefully makes his way out of the cellar when he hears the rescue party outside. He creeps into the living room, peers out the window…and gets popped by a local who thought he was a zombie. This is George Romero’s way of saying “Papa don’t take no mess.” Happy ending? Thpppt!

“Night of the Living Dead” never got a rating when it came out, but as you can imagine, it might be a bit much for folks that don’t dig movies about flesh-eating zombies. Mm, mm, good.

So, with Zombie Fest 2007 behind us, we sat back and reminisced on more of the great scary movies of years past…“Halloween”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. That lasted about five minutes, then naturally transitioned into Erik telling us some of his Rush concert stories and how he had a brief meaningful encounter with Geddy Lee. Fun night.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"I'm one mean, tough guy..."

I'm not sure whether to warn you about this or not. While browsing through an article on equipment innovations, I stumbled onto this link to an athletic supporter ad, complete with demonstration video:

The Nutty Buddy

Innocently, I clicked on the video link at the bottom left-hand corner of the page, which opened up a low-budget demo that was probably shot at some high school ball field somewhere. This former MLB chap is hawking some indestructable cup, and figures the best way to do it is to conduct a demonstration in his underwear. That's all I'll say about this clip, other than to tell you to make sure to watch the video through to the end, thus catching a sublime interview with former ballplayer Chris Sabo.

Enjoy...I think.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hey, I've heard that scream before...

Today I was browsing through The Movie Blog when I came across this article commemorating "The Wilhelm Scream". The Wilhelm Scream is a trademark sound effect (yes, a scream) that routinely pops up in major productions (like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Star Wars"), almost as an inside joke. I can guarantee that everyone has seen at least one movie that features it, and most of you will go "yeah, I recognize that" when you hear it here.

According to the article, the scream was originally used in a war film decades ago, then another director lifted it when he needed a scream sound effect for a later project. Eventually "Star Wars" sound guru Ben Burtt got a hold of it, and then the thing became a pop culture standard.

Here is a fantastic YouTube tribute to The Wilhelm Scream:

As a bonus, here is the .wav file of the scream, so you can be cool in your home movies, too.

Finally, here is a special video that doesn't use the Wilhelm Scream, but inspires it in every viewer:

This may explain why some of my friends suggest I shouldn't wear my fringe jacket too often.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Same planet, different worlds...?

Years ago my friends Dustin and Brian informed me that of all their acquaintances, I had the most distorted perception of reality. I’m not really sure what they meant by it, though I was spending a lot of time listening to acid rock and Pink Floyd at the time. Doesn’t every kid at eighteen?

I think that might explain part of the reason I enjoy the NBA so much. The standard NBA player’s perception of reality is so jacked up it makes my own delusions of grandeur appear modest. Even my 10-year-old delusion that I was going to grow up to be William Shatner.

From the fan’s perspective, the typical NBA player seems to espouse the following life priorities:

1. Be the man.
2. Make as much money as humanly possible.
3. Spend that money on cars, homes, and jewelry.
4. Record an album.
5. Win basketball games.

Like I said, this is from the fan’s perspective. I know for a fact that there are a number of players that don’t feel this way. For them, recording an album is #1.

Seriously, what I’m getting at is that one thing that hurts me more than anything about the league are the “could have been” scenarios that pop up on a regular basis. Last weekend a writer for the Deseret News speculated on the Jazz’s interest in trading for Kobe Bryant. Once the initial round of laughter subsided, the legit fan sighed sadly, knowing full well how absolutely dominant a team featuring Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer in the starting lineup would be.

Can you imagine Deron kicking out to Kobe on the wing just as he raises up to do one of those missile three-point hammers of his? While everyone else is crowded inside trying to keep Boozer away from the boards? Ay, yay yay…

But it will never happen, because titles are not as important as being “The Man”.

Or how about putting Ron Artest out there to apply lockdown defense on all those shooting guards that killed us last year, while logging 15-20 points a night of his own?

Nope. Can’t work. Unless there’s an underground Hip-Hop recording industry in Salt Lake that I don’t know about. Plus there’s that whole “Ron Artest is crazy” thing.

To be honest, the guy we really need most is the one that left for Phoenix three years ago.

There are people who make arguments to the contrary, that Kobe really does want to be a team player, that Ron-Ron can change. I’d love to think it was possible. But until some superstar willingly relinquishes his throne to win a few titles, I’m not buying it.

There are way too many players lined up to be the next Vince Carter, and not near enough who want to be Scottie Pippen.

"We might make a lot of money, but we also spend a lot of money." -Patrick Ewing, during the NBA strike of 1999.

"I've got a family to feed." –Latrell Sprewell, explaining why a $14 million dollar contract extension was a personal insult.

"I'm tired of hearing about money money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok."

That last quote came from Shaquille O’Neal. At least his was funny.

In some ways, it’s hard to put too much blame on the player’s shoulders. Honestly, if people had been pandering to me since the age of thirteen, surrounding me with overblown ideas and in-your-face media saturation, I probably wouldn't show the best long-term judgment once that first million landed in my bank account, either.

If nothing else, the NBA (and professional sports in general) serves as a great microcosm for our own self-evaluation. We can mock their emphasis on jewelry, but how about our emphasis on Dish Network? We can hate them for their abuse of money, but are we really as efficient with our meager funds as we’d like to think we are?

I remember sitting in a hospital waiting room three weeks into my stay at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, only a year after Brian and Dustin had crowned me their Distorted Reality King. My companion was getting a check-up of some sort, and I was killing time on the couch while a TV set played “The Price is Right” nearby.

In my relentless quest for obedience, I refused to watch the program, but couldn’t help overhearing the commercial spots that ran during the breaks. As I listened, I was shocked at how clearly I was able to discern the intent and tactics of the ads. Before I never would have noticed; after all, who gives a rat’s behind about a Mr. Clean ad? But after a mere three weeks of media moratorium, I could suddenly see through things as clearly as if the spokesmodel was saying, "we are going to manipulate your personal insecurities and show you that without our product you will never enjoy the worldly material fruits life has to offer".

Twelve years later, I can still see through a lot of what the media feeds me. I try to keep their reality at arm’s length. But sometimes it worries me to think that if we all were able to step back for a little while, and get a little perspective without our iPods on, we’d be startled at what was really going on. At the very least, we'd find that we have more in common with the Patrick Ewing’s and Ron Artest’s of the world than we think.

They probably dig a little Pink Floyd, too.