"Never easy, never clean, to be a beast among human sheep." -Danzig, "Tired of Being Alive"

Sickness and Updates

I started feeling under the weather right after New Year’s. By Friday of that week — the fifth, right? — I felt so awful I ended up staying home from work. I felt a little better that weekend before it really hit me. I broke down and saw a doctor last Friday. The nurse I saw was sure I had the flu, but the doctor said my results were negative. Regardless, I ended up with three prescriptions (two pills and a nose spray) and have gone through three bottles of cough syrup over the past two weeks. The doctor told me to discontinue the nose spray after four days and one of my prescriptions has run out, so it’s down to the remaining one and a few remaining cough drops. I got out a couple of times this past weekend and the cold air felt like a knife to my chest. I’m definitely on the mend, but still not 100%. I’d say I’m at 70% right now.

A couple of days ago, WordPress notified me that the email subscription plugin I use was so out of date that it wouldn’t work with the latest round of security updates. I tested it, and they were right. I’ve replaced the old one with a new one. If you haven’t signed up and would like to be notified whenever new blogs are posted, you can sign up here. Each email contains a link to unsubscribe as well, in case you ever get sick of receiving them.

While installing that plugin I added another feature back to the site that’s been missing for years. At the bottom of the lower left hand menu column, you’ll now see a random quote each time the page reloads. Actually, you probably won’t. It’s tucked out of the way and very few people will ever notice it.

Back when I first started playing around with HTML, all the pages I created were static — that is to say, the code on my side represented what visitors saw. It wasn’t until the late 90s/early 00s that I began to discover scripting; asp first, followed by php. I became fascinated by the fact that the code on my side no longer resembled what was being served up to visiting clients. One of the first things I experimented with was a script that would pluck a random quote out of a text file and display it to visitors. I always enjoyed the idea that even if I hadn’t updated my website in a while, visitors would at least see a different quote each time they visited. The randomizing code I used back in 2000 is the same line of code I used today when re-adding that feature. The list of quotes its pulling from is pretty outdated, but it works. Maybe I’ll update them once I start to feeling better.

Star Wednesday: Chewbacca Bandolier Strap

Kenner was truly a marketing genius, realizing early on that kids buying action figures would also need things to hold, store, and transport action figures. In the late 70s and early 80s, Kenner made several different types and styles of carrying cases for kids. The earliest cases were essentially little vinyl briefcases that held two dozen action figures. Then there were those large plastic sculpted busts of Darth Vader and C-3P0 that opened up and held even more figures. Kenner made lots of different storage cases, some more successful than others. One of the oddest ones they produced was this one, based on the bandolier strap Chewbacca wore in Star Wars.

Some of the issues with this toy are immediately obvious. The biggest one is, it only held ten action figures. I suppose that’s enough if you only used the strap to carry a few figures over to a friend’s house for an afternoon of Star Wars-ing, but even then some hard decisions would have to be made as to which figures would make the trip. Keep in mind that every other Kenner carrying case held between 20 and 40 figures.

Another problem with the Chewbacca Bandolier Strap is that the figures are held in place by foam. It looks like it worked in the pictures well enough, but no kid worth his weight in Bantha poo doo would have trusted his most valuable figures to stay put in that strap. Imagine riding your bike with this bandolier strap fully populated, only to discover half the figures had fallen out by the time you reached your pal’s house!

And, about that foam — over time, it has disintegrated. Kenner used foam on several of their playsets (bits of foam were used to simulate trash in their Death Star toy and quicksand in the Dagobah playset) and it just didn’t last. In their defense, I doubt very much Kenner expected people to still have these toys 40 years later and never intended for the foam to last this long. On almost every one of these Chewbacca Bandolier Straps, the foam has either completely disappeared, or become so brittle that it turns into a black, gritty dust upon touch.

I didn’t own one of these in the 1980s. By the time the Chewbacca Bandolier Strap was released I already had one of the vinyl carrying cases (which held 24 figures), a Darth Vader case (which held 31 figures), and a Rebel Troop Transport (which held 24 figures). And while the kid on the box looks really happy standing around wearing that thing, in my world it would have screamed “here’s a nerd’s ass that could use some kicking.” No thanks.

Kenner marketed the Chewbacca Bandolier Strap as both a carrying case and a play toy for kids, and at only $4.91 it was probably a good deal, but it never really resonated with me. It held fewer figures than any other carrying case released and didn’t protect your figures at all. And as far as play toys go… no offense to Wookies, but I can’t imagine a lot of kids clamoring to be Chewbacca.

The Ghosts of Pizza Inn

There was a time not so many years ago when my work friends and I used to go lunch together almost every single day. Increased job duties, the introduction of teleworking, and conflicting meeting schedules have mostly put an end to those frequent outings. These days, getting three or four of us together for lunch involves blocking out time on calendars, coordinating schedules, and a lot of finger-crossing. I really miss those days when we could all just hop in a car and go somewhere for lunch.

One of our frequent lunch destinations was the Pizza Inn on the corner of SW 59th and May, about five miles away from our office. The food on the buffet was fresh and the price was right, but there was another reason I liked going to that particular Pizza Inn — because I used to work there. Although everyone I knew who had worked there was long gone, there were still plenty of memories to be had in that place. For example, inside the restaurant, a green stripe had been painted on the walls that went around the entire restaurant. I had helped paint that stripe, fifteen years prior.

Whenever I tell people I worked at Pizza Inn I always add “at four different locations.” I first started at the one off of SW 59th and May and was moved to three different stores before finally returning there. In the 2000s many of the old Pizza Inn restaurants closed their doors, and I was sad to see the one on SW 59th and May finally close in 2015. Yesterday, with help from Google Maps, I decided to look up all the Pizza Inn locations I worked at and see what they looked like today.

Location 1: Pizza Inn
SW 59th and May, Oklahoma City

The manager of this location (Glenn) had previously been my manager at Grandy’s; when he left the world of fried chicken for pizza, he offered me $5/hour to move with him. The years have started to run together, but I believe this was in the spring or summer of 1991. My mind tells me I worked there for years, In my memories it feels like I worked there for years, but I quit Grandy’s in the spring of 1991, and had worked for both Pizza Inn and Pizza Hut by the time I starting working for Oklahoma Graphics in the summer of 1993. It doesn’t seem possible that I made so many memories in such a short time frame.

Shortly after I started at this store I moved into a nearby apartment. I spent a lot of my time hanging out, playing pinball, talking on the telephone, and eating at Pizza Inn. Truth be told, if I hadn’t been working at a restaurant during that time, I probably would have starved.

See those parking spots on the right hand side of the building? That’s where my Ford Festiva was parked when someone broke in and stole all my stereo equipment and sixty cassette tapes. After losing all of my favorite cassettes, I began buying CDs. Here’s a copy of the police report from March, 1992. It’s cute that I thought I would get any of those things back.

In the evenings I had to prepare the “pizzerts,” or dessert pizzas for the next day. These consisted of pizza crusts covered in cake batter and one of three toppings: apples or cherries from a bucket of pie filling, or chocolate chips. I used to keep a spoon in the walk-in freezer at all times so that every time I walked past it I could swing in and eat a scoop of cake batter straight out of the five-gallon bucket. Apparently I was the only person shocked about how much weight I put on while working there.

This particular Pizza Inn was a family business. The manager, his wife, and both of their daughters (one of whom I was dating at the time) all worked there. And if there was a life lesson to be learned in all of this, it would be that breaking up with your manager’s daughter can make for a terribly awkward experience for everyone involved. You would be amazed how quiet a busy restaurant kitchen can get. That aside, Glenn certainly gave me an opportunity that no one else had at that point. Sometimes I wish I had handled things differently back then, and it’s easy for me to forget that I was only 18 years old.

By using the Google Maps timeline, I was able to go back to 2015 and find a picture of this Pizza Inn restaurant while it was still open.

Location 2: Pizza Inn
NW 23rd and Council, Oklahoma City

As part of my “shift manager” training, my boss suggested I spend time at some of the other local stores to get a feel for how they operated. Some did more delivery business and some had busier buffets, so seeing how each of them worked was a good way to get some well-rounded training. Or maybe he was just shuffling me around after I broke up with his daughter.

Of the four locations I worked at, I spent the least amount of time at this one. My biggest memory from this particular location was of an employee named Ash. By 1991/1992 I had pretty much boxed up my Commodore 64 and moved on to IBM computers. Ash was a few years older than I was and had moved to the US from another country (sadly, I don’t remember where). Wherever he had come from, 8-bit computers were still prevalent, and he was still programming on his C64. I wish I could reconnect with him today and find out if he still has his Commodore computer!

The only other thing I remember about this location was driving there. My apartment off of SW 59th and Agnew was only half a file from the Pizza Inn I started working at, and was about 8 miles away from this one. The shortest distance between the two locations was eight miles through city streets that took me though some questionable neighborhoods late at night.

After this location closed it turned into a Mexican restaurant named Mi Pueblo for a couple of years before finally becoming a liquor store. Again using Google Maps, I was able to scroll back to 2007 and find a picture of the building when it was still a Pizza Inn.

Location 3: Pizza Inn
NW 23rd and Villa, Oklahoma City

The Pizza Inn located at NW 23rd and Villa was the scariest location I worked at. In 1989, two years before I worked there, three guys robbed the store and all the customers inside. That same year, someone pried open the side door and stole $175 in change. The whole time I worked at this location there was a large bullet hole in the front window, a reminder of the surrounding neighborhood. Also, gangs routinely wrote graffiti and tagged the bathroom stalls. As annoying as it was, I always secretly found it humorous that the bathroom of a local pizza chain would be territory worth claiming.

Shift managers do a little bit of everything, and late one evening while short-staffed I found myself delivering a pizza. When I arrived at the house I was met at the front porch by a couple of shirtless guys who took the pizza from me and then insisted I come inside to get paid. With the hair on the back of my neck at full attention, I left without the pizza or the money. Occasionally I drive past that location and wonder what could have happened had I gone inside that house.

I can’t remember any of my co-workers from this location. Because most of these restaurants looked similar inside, sometimes the memories run together. I may not have worked at this location for very long. I just can’t remember.

I couldn’t find the exact date, but sometime in the 2000’s (long after I had moved on) the restaurant burned to the ground. As you can see, they built a car wash in its place.

Location 4: Pizza Inn
NW 48th and MacArthur, Warr Acres

The majority of my time at Pizza Inn was split between SW 59th and May and this location. The manager’s name was Dada (“daw-daw”), and I believe he was from the Congo. Two people I remember fondly from this location were Geoff, a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Amy, a free-spirited girl who was the coolest person I had ever met. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers played Saturday Night Live (February 22, 1992), the three of us went out in the dining room and watched the entire performance on the television out there.

One story I remember from that location was that a few months before I started working there, someone had left a bomb inside the restaurant. For some reason there were always weirdos visiting that location. One evening a guy came in and told us all that he regularly talked to the devil. Things got really weird when he began confessing to burning down several local apartment buildings. We eventually called 911 and the police came and took him away.

Other customers were more interesting. On the first Friday of every month, a local chess club would take over the entire dining room. I even got to play a couple of quick games of chess from time to time and always got beat quickly. On the third Friday of every month, a local group of magicians met at the restaurant. They constantly performed small tricks, keeping themselves, other customers, and the rest of us entertained.

One of my favorite stories from this location involves my friend Jeff. I wasn’t supposed to have friends in the store after hours, but I would always let Jeff come in and hang out while I was closing up. Late one night, I was just about to leave when Dada pulled up. I told Jeff to hide in the kitchen, and he did. When Dada entered the kitchen, Jeff moved back into the storage room. When Dada entered the storage room, Jeff moved back into the office, and there was nowhere to go from there. I tried to distract Dada, but it didn’t work. When he finally entered the office and turned on the light, Jeff jumped out and goes, “Hi!” Dada almost had a heart attack, and the next day I got a lecture about not having people inside the store after hours.

I don’t know when this location closed. Today it’s a Luigi’s Pizza. I’ve tried Luigi’s Pizza twice and neither time was great.

Although all the Pizza Inn locations I worked at have closed, the franchise is still around. In 2015, around the time the one on SW 59th and May closed, a new one opened right around I-40 and Rockwell, not too far from our home. We’ve gone there a couple of times. Every time we go it seems more expensive than it should be, and while nothing inside is particularly memorable, sometimes it’s nice just to go back and visit an old friend, even when both of you have changed.

Swimming in Unsolved Mysteries

Unsolved Mysteries Logo

In my 2017 media review I mentioned that I’ve been watching a lot of Unsolved Mysteries. I didn’t expect someone to ask me, “what’s that?”

Unsolved Mysteries was a television show that debuted in 1987 on NBC and ran there for ten years before moving to CBS for another two. Lifetime picked the show up from 2001-2002, and it was relaunched on Spike from 2008-2010. According to Wikipedia there were 580 episodes in all, although many of the Spike TV episodes simply recycled segments from earlier seasons.

While later seasons tweaked the formula slightly, the bulk of the show’s episodes were hosted by Robert Stack. Each episode consisted of four segments from different categories such as “Murder, Missing Persons, Wanted Fugitives, UFOs, Ghosts, The Unexplained (Paranormal), Missing Heirs, Amnesia, and Fraud.” Each episode pulled segments from different categories, ensuring that each show had something to offer everyone.

Believe it or not, Unsolved Mysteries had a fairly high success rate in solving mysteries. According to the producers, viewer tips were responsible for solving almost 25% of the mysteries presented. That number seems particularly high when you consider how many of the segments featured ghosts, UFOs, and old legends. Unsolved Mysteries was never resolved whether or not Bigfoot was real and was unable to locate Amelia Earhart, but thanks to calls from viewers, they managed to locate lots of people on the run from law enforcement.

Unsolved Mysteries was surprisingly popular, particularly with people my age and younger. Many of the episodes were legitimately scary, at least to younger viewers. Fellow blogger Dinosaur Dracula has conveniently compiled his top 15 spookiest Unsolved Mysteries episodes (part one, two, and three).

For a show that spanned three decades and put out more than 500 episodes, you would think finding and watching old episodes would be easy. Unfortunately, up until 2017, it wasn’t.

Instead of releasing the show one season at a time, First Look Studios decided to combine segments from different shows and seasons and release a series of themed DVDs. Six DVDs were released in all: UFOs, Ghosts, Miracles, Bizarre Murders, Psychics, and Strange Legends. This was followed by a Best Of DVD (with segments culled from the previously released six DVDs) and eventually one large Ultimate Collection. Some of the themed DVD collections sell for hundreds of dollars apiece today, and the 25-DVD Ultimate Collection is currently available on Amazon for $750.

The good news is, in 2017, Amazon Prime began airing original episodes of Unsolved Mysteries featuring Robert Stack. Amazon lists twelve seasons of the show and, if I counted correctly, 233 episodes. That’s nowhere near all 580 episodes, and based on the episode guides on Wikipedia I don’t think it’s every episode from the first twelve seasons, but it’s a lot, and it’s what we got.

Around the same time Amazon began airing the classic Robert Stack episodes, those same episodes disappeared from YouTube. They were replaced, however, by every episode from the Spike TV release. These are the episodes hosted by Law and Order’s Dennis Farina, who took over after Robert Stack passed away in 2003. If you don’t have access to Amazon Prime these versions are better than nothing, although Farina lacks Stack’s cool, deadpan, and occasionally creepy delivery.

In the Amazon releases, updates have been added to many of the mysteries. It takes away from some of the mystery, but it’s nice to learn about solved cases.

It’s tough to justify watching too many episodes of the show. While they’re not good for researching plotting or pacing, they’re good for putting on before bed and falling asleep to. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to a creepy ghost segment!

No Disassemble

Mason O'Hara

It’s 6:30 p.m., Saturday night. The sun set about an hour ago. It’s dark, 45 degrees outside, and Mason is lying in the driveway, installing the new car radio antenna his grandpa bought him for Christmas.

I can’t help but remember all the hours Andy, Jeff and I spent wiring things into my cars. My Mustang didn’t have any rear speakers until I bought a set of Jensen 6x9s from Walmart. For the backseat of my Firebird we built a lopsided speaker box using the wrong type of wood to hold two used speakers I bought from the flea market.

Jeff was the electronics wizard and Andy, a master of power tools. By the time I had a real job and was driving my Ford Festiva, we had installed a stereo so loud that, with the volume turned halfway up, the roof of the car vibrated violently and the three of us watched a crack in the windshield grow in real time. We thought it was hilarious and awesome. To make room for even more speakers, we got rid of the backseat.

Mason doesn’t have those friends, not yet. Instead, he has YouTube. He types “how to remove the stereo from a 2001 Toyota Celica” and some guy shows him how to do it in 90 seconds. I walk outside a couple of times to check on the progress. The most help I’m able to provide is dragging a lamp out and pointing it in his direction.

As I’m sure my parents worried about me, I worry he won’t be able to get the car put back together, or at least not exactly how it was. But I always did, and so did Mason. Half an hour later he comes in, wanting to show everyone his new car antenna that goes up and down.

My Year in Review: A Look Back at 2017

2017 was another great year for the O’Haras. Morgan turned 12, Mason turned 16, and Susan and I both turned 44. The country experienced an eclipse, Susan officiated her first wedding, we discovered not one but two snakes in our house, I found a ton of vintage VHS tapes containing tons of treasure, I bought a six-foot dragon skeleton to go with Mick Rib, I met Guy Hutchinson in person for the first time, we discovered an interesting Asian food market full of super hot Ramen noodles and live turtles, and Mason walked a 5K.

(A bunch of crazy stuff also happened in politics. I’m not here to discuss that.)

In the spring of 2017 I completed ten credit hours toward my Master of Professional Writing degree at the University of Oklahoma. In the fall, I completed another six, which leaves me with only two hours left. I’ll be graduating from OU in the spring of 2018.

It was an interesting year for cars. I still have my Chevy Avalanche and Susan still her her Honda Crosstour. In October, I sold my Subaru WRX STI. Mason turned sixteen this year and got his first car, a 2001 Toyota Celica. Last week, I used the money from selling my Subaru and bought a 2017 Ford Flex. We are heading into 2018 with four cars, one motorcycle, and no car payments. That feels pretty good. Both my truck and Susan’s car hit 150,000 miles this year, so I expect to see some maintenance costs next year. Also in 2017, the Avalanche was involved in a minor fender bender.

We took a few trips this year, although not as many as we normally do. In March of 2017 we revisisted Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of the most interesting places on earth. On that same trip we also visited Las Vegas, and attended a live television taping of Penn and Teller’s Fool Us. Over the summer, we went to Chicago for a funeral, and Denver for my friend Robb Sherwin’s wedding. In August for my birthday, Susan and I went to Dallas to see The Amazing Johnathan perform. That same month I got to visit Ray Harryhausen’s Mythical Menagerie on display at the Science Museum Oklahoma. At the beginning of the year I got to hear Harry Belafonte speak, and in November we went with our friends the Novosads to see Guns N’ Roses perform in Tulsa. Somewhere in the middle of all that, Susan and Morgan went with the Girl Scouts to Savannah, and Morgan went on a couple of solo overnight camping, hiking, and canoeing trips, including one to the border between Wisconsin and Canada. Susan took Mason and a friend to visit the MIT campus, and later took a trip to New York City to see Paul McCartney live in concert.

I didn’t have much time for video games this year. A friend of mine repaired my Apple IIe computer, and I got a new case for my Raspberry Pi, but that was about it. I was too busy this year! I did purchase a Commodore 1581 disk drive this year. I have only used it once, but I really wanted one as a kid, and this was the first one in 20 years I had run across that was less than $100.

In 2017 (and every other year, I suppose) lots of famous people died. I could cut and paste a list of every celebrity death from 2017, but other people have already done that. The ones that affected me the most were the passing of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Tom Petty, Malcolm Young (AC/DC), and Christopher “Big Black” Boykin.

More than any celebrity, this year we lost my Uncle Buddy Johnson and my good friend Howard Carey. My uncle Buddy loved Christmas and I have been thinking about him a lot over the past few weeks. I think about Howard every single time I go into the office. Every single time.

After searching for Geni Ice Cream Cone Cups (and only recently discovering the company who made them), I hit the motherload in this eBay auction. I paid $60 for 5 plastic ice cream cone cups that reminded me of the ones we had as a kid. If you think that’s crazy, now’s a bad time to tell you that my top bid was

It was a good year for Star Wars fans. 2017 was the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. I wrote a piece about what May the Fourth (be with you) meant to me. I wrote lots of Star Wednesday discussing Star Wars collectibles I own, and we got another new Star Wars movie.

In November I got a 3D printer and jumped into that hobby with both feet. Things got off to a rocky start — the first printer I got melted itself and it took me a while to get the hang of printing things — but I finally got the hang of it.

We ended the year with a good Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Oh, and Mason and I met this guy. Variety is the spice of life!

New Ride: 2017 Ford Flex

“I’m bored. You wanna go buy a car today?”

“Okay.”

Okay, so it didn’t happen exactly like that, but it was pretty close.

The Ford Flex has been on my radar ever since I sold my Scion XB a few years ago. After I got the Subaru WRX STi, owning a Flex went on the back burner. When I sold the Subaru a couple of months ago, I put the money in the bank and it’s been sitting there ever since, waiting for the right car to pop up.

The Flex comes in a variety of colors and trim levels, and the combination I wanted (black on black w/black interior and the Limited trim level) doesn’t come up for sale too often, and the ones that have end up being out of my price range. This past week, two nearly identical Ford Flexes came up for sale. Both were the color I wanted and had all the features I was looking for. One was a new 2017 model, priced at $43,000. The other was a used 2017 model, priced at $27,000.

After weighing the pros and cons, I ended up purchasing the used one. While I love a brand new car as much as the next guy, I couldn’t pass up saving $16,000. In fact, we were able to use the money from selling the Subaru and paid cash for the Flex. While buying a new car makes me feel great, so does going into 2018 having four cars and no car payment.

I’ve got an appointment next week for darker tint and I’ll probably end up replacing the rims, but other than that I’m not planning on doing much to it. I had originally planned on upgrading the sound system, but the Limited model has a twelve speaker system and a built-in touchscreen system that already sounds great.

My Flex has more buttons than I know what to do with. I look forward to driving around town and figuring them all out!

What I Watched and Read in 2017

For the second year in a row, I maintained a list of everything I watched and read throughout the entire year. While you are welcome to read the entire list, I thought I would go back through the list and make some observations.

MOVIES

According to my list, I watched 125 movies in 2017. Of those, 20 were movies I had seen before (those are the titles that appear in italics on the list). I didn’t list any movies I didn’t watch from start to finish, and surely forgot to enter some, so the actual number is likely higher. Still, 125 movies is approximately one movie every three days. Of those 125 movies, I only saw three (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, It, and The Last Jedi) in a movie theater. The first movie I watched in 2017 was the 1992 drama Glengarry Glen Ross. The last movie I watched was 2017’s Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine. The oldest movie I watched this year was the Spencer Tracy/Mickey Rooney classic Boys Town, from 1938. The most recently released film I watched was The Last Jedi, which was released in December.

Skimming through the list, a few titles jump out. The Lobster, a movie about a couple’s resort where people have 45 days to find a mate or else they are magically turned into an animal and released into the woods, was definitely one of the strangest. Some classic films I watched for the first time this year were The Thing (1982); Die Hard (1988); Postcards from the Edge (1990); Easy Rider (1969); El Dorado (1969); American Beauty (1999); Victor/Victoria (1982); Lord of the Flies (1963); The Deer Hunter (1979); and Paper Moon (1973). I made a point this year of seeking out older films I had missed and watching them. I’d like to do more of that next year.

I intentionally watch a lot of bad movies. Some of the worst were Bigfoot Wars (2014); Mom, Can I Keep Her? (1998); Palmer’s Pick-up (1999); CaveGirl (1985); and The Beach Girls (1982). I also saw The Room (2003) this year, which has been lauded as one of the worst movies ever made. It’s spectacularly terrible.

Although I didn’t keep close details, it seems I watched more documentaries than anything else. Next year I plan on keeping more detailed notes.

TELEVISION

It would be impossible for me to track every television program I watched throughout an entire year, so I only tracked full seasons of television shows I watched. Because there were so few, it is easy for me to list them all: Black Mirror (seasons one and two), Hunted (season one), The Last Man on Earth (season one), Workaholics (season seven), Twin Peaks (season three), The Popcorn Kid (season one), Napoleon Dynamite: The Animated Series (season one), The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer (season one), and Stranger Things (season two).

I lost interest in Workaholics last season, and if this hadn’t been the final season I probably wouldn’t have watched it. My dad recommended Black Mirror to me; I barreled through the first two seasons, and am looking forward to watching the third. The Popcorn Kid and Napoleon Dynamite both only contained six episodes each and were quick to plow through. The most rewarding shows I watched this year were Stranger Things and Twin Peaks. Stranger Things may have been one of the most enjoyable television programs I’ve watched in a long time. Twin Peaks was as challenging as it was entertaining.

Although I didn’t watch an entire season’s worth, I watched an awful lot of Unsolved Mysteries this year after it finally appeared on Amazon video. I also re-watched over a dozen episodes of Lost after Mason discovered the show and watched to watch the entire series. I watched lots and lots of random episodes of other shows, but the ones listed above are the ones I actually focused on.

One thing I found myself doing frequently this year was vegetating in front of the television watching sports, mostly football and basketball games. Each game lasts over three hours, which is a lot of time that could be put toward other things. In 2018 I plan to cut way back on watching sports.

BOOKS

According to my list I read sixteen books last year, although I’m convinced I must have left a few off my list. Many of the books I read were “young adult” fiction novels for a class I took. Some older books I read this past year were Alas, Babylon; Caves of Steel; The Association; and The Amityville Horror. I only read two autobiographies this year, which is not very many for me: I’m the Man by Anthrax’s Scott Ian, and Extreme by Sharon Osbourne. For comparison, in 2016 I read six (auto)biographies.

I know that to be a successful writer I have to read more fiction. In 2017 I doubled the amount of books I read in 2016, but it’s still not enough. I’d like to double that number yet again next year.

SUMMARY

I’m pretty pleased with the number of movies I watched in 2017, and would like to shoot for at least 100 in 2018. Next year I plan to watch less sports, and would like to read at least 30 books.

If you want to skim through the entire list (complete with one-line reviews of each movie), you can find it here.

Star Wednesday: Christmas Figurines

Most of my Star Wars figure are on display year round. I rarely shuffle them around; where they sit is where they sit. The one exception to this are my Star Wars holiday figurines.

I can’t recall many examples of Star Wars characters being used out of context (save for M&M’s line of Star Wars figures), so it’s a little odd to see Yoda and R2-D2 wearing Santa hats — especially since, as we all know, they don’t even celebrate Christmas. They celebrate Life Day.

The Yoda figure in this picture is based on a 1981 painting by Ralph McQuarrie, which was appeared on a Lucasfilm company Christmas card that same year. “Santa Yoda,” the Kurt Adler Fabriche Holiday figure based on the painting, was released in 2003.

Other figures in the same line included the gift-carrying R2-D2 you see above. There’s also one of Darth Vader making a Death Star out of snow (which I also have), and two I am missing: a wreath-carrying C-3P0, and Boba Fett posing with his greatest gift, Han Solo in carbonite. These figures are long out of print, and bring prices of $50 (or more) on the used market. (The Darth Vader figure frequently brings $100-$150 by itself.)

The festive C-3P0 that appears above is much more common and inexpensive. He’s part of the Funko Christmas bobble head line of figures. There’s also a Yoda and a Darth Vader (which I’m missing). Each of them sells for $10-$15.

For several years, the highlight of my Star Wars holiday decorations was this life-sized Santa Yoda.

I’m holding Mason in that picture, which means I purchased Santa Yoda (and his regularly dressed twin) about fifteen years ago. These weren’t licensed products, but rather fan-made figures. The head, hands, and feet were made out of latex and filled with spray foam for strength, and the structure underneath their clothes was made of wood. Despite the deal on shipping I got for buying two Yodas, they were still quite expensive, and I had hoped they would last longer than they did. By the time we moved to our current home, most of the latex had either peeled or flaked off. With these two, the Force was not strong.

And so while most of my collection sits on the same shelves in the same place year after year, these holiday-themed figures get shuffled toward the front of the shelves around the holidays and shuffled to the back by the first of January, waiting another eleven months for their time in the spotlight.

The Protector of Christmas

I suppose when you do anything 44 times, the magic starts to wear off.

When you’re a kid, everything about Christmas is exciting. The lights, the songs, the cookies and candy canes, the presents, the television specials, the rituals… everything is so new and exhilarating. I was the kid who laid in bed every year the night before Christmas with his stomach in knots, staring at the clock for hours at a time and watching the minutes tick by, one by one, until it was time to wake up and see what Santa had brought. Nothing was more exciting to me as a kid than Christmas.

Then I became a teen. Then I moved out. Then I got married. Then Susan and I began debating whether or not we should wrap our gifts for each other. Right around the time Christmas began to feel like we were just going through the motions Mason was born, and everything started all over again.

Mason, our oldest, turned sixteen this month. His visions of sugarplums have been replaced by teenage girls and fast cars. Susan has been maxed out on a work project for several weeks, and I’ve been busy myself between work and school and writing.

And then there’s Morgan.

Had she got her way this year, the Christmas tree would have gone up the day after Halloween. After multiple rounds of negotiations we agreed on the day after Thanksgiving, and before the turkey had even made it to the fridge, Morgan was already hanging tinsel on the tree in the corner.

On the last day of school before Christmas break, Morgan went to school wearing a holiday sweater, red and white striped tights, and jingle bells. Lots and lots of jingle bells. Oh, and reindeer antlers.

Every year we have a traditional cooking making party. This year nobody came, but that didn’t stop Morgan. Susan made sugar cookie dough and Morgan sat at the kitchen table, mostly by herself with occasional visits from me and Susan, making Christmas cookies.

And where she drew the line, I think, was when Susan tried to throw away our old animatronic Santa. Santa used to shake his booty and sang Jingle Bells, but over the years he fell apart and his head got separated from his body. This year when nobody could find his head, the body went into the trash. The following week, someone found the head. Susan tried to throw it away too, but it’s tough to sneak things past Morgan. The next time we saw Santa’s head Morgan had mounted it on the end of a pole and announced to us all, “I am the Protector of Christmas.”

And so, last night, I, Susan, Mason, and the Protector of Christmas drove around Oklahoma City looking at Christmas lights. Susan drove, I took pictures, Mason played on his phone, and Morgan looked out the window with each Christmas decoration she saw sparkling in her eyes. We drove through three neighborhoods before she’d had her fill, and then it was back to the house where she could re-sort the packages under the tree, ask if anybody needed anything else wrapped, and try to hold it together for a couple more days.

One tradition we’ve continued from my childhood is that the kids can’t open their gifts until six a.m., Christmas morning. When I gently suggested to Morgan this year that everyone might want to sleep in a little bit, the Protector of Christmas was having none of that. With Santa’s head mounted to a pole, we were informed that Christmas would begin at six a.m., the same time it always begins, or else.

When a kid with Santa’s head mounted to a pole tells you to do something, you listen.