iPad 3: The Light is Fading…

My wife once told me we shouldn’t have a television in our bedroom because Oprah said so.

That’s not the real reason. The real reason is because Susan can’t sleep with the television on, and it doesn’t bother me at all. If it were up to me, I’d start a movie every night before bed and fall asleep during the murky middle. If it was a good movie, I’d watch the end the next night. If it wasn’t, I’d start another one.

But Oprah didn’t say anything about iPads, so I put one on my nightstand. Except for road trips, that’s where it lives 100% of the time. Sometimes I watch movies on it, sometimes I check email and social media sites from it, but most of all, I just read the news on it. Every night as I’m falling asleep, I turn on the iPad and click through each one of my installed news apps: CNN, Fox News, TMZ, the local news, and lastly, the AP News. The AP News one is my favorite because it has three or four categories I enjoy (top news, entertainment, technology, and oddities).

Last night as I was in bed scrolling through news headlines, a notification popped up my AP News app. A small window informed me that the application would require an update after Apple’s newest operating system (iOS 11) was released. I wasn’t sure when that was, so I looked it up. It’s coming next week, and it won’t run on my iPad.

I bought my third-generation iPad (let’s call it the iPad 3) the week they were first released in 2012. It has a quad-core processor, 64GB of storage, and cost $699. Next month’s iOS 11 will render it unusable.

Not overnight, of course. But over the next a few months, a growing number of apps will begin to require the newer OS, and older hardware is shown the door sooner rather than later.

If your plan is to stick your head in the sand and ignore the update, that won’t work. It’s easy to forget that very few apps store all of their data on your device. My AP News app, for example, connects to a server somewhere to pull down its headlines. While the developer cannot remove the app from my iPad, what they can do it deny connections from older versions, which is what they will eventually do. Once the old version of the app no longer receives updates it’s essentially dead, and if the new version requires an iOS update that my iPad won’t run, then it’s game over. Before long it won’t just be the AP News app. It’ll be all of them.

Imagine if the people who built cars also controlled gasoline, and every few years they changed their gasoline so that it no longer ran your car. Nobody’s forcing you to upgrade to a new car, but eventually the gas in your tank would run out and then it would become quite worthless. If you still want to drive, you’ll have to buy a new car that works with the new gasoline. Maybe you’ll even park it next to the old car, which still looks great, but no longer runs.

The reason I know how this story ends is because in another room, mounted to the wall above our treadmill, is my old iPad 1. I paid $500 for that one back in 2010. Its multiple pages of icons serve as a sort of digital graveyard — a catalog of things that used to work. There are still icons for Netflix and Spotify and all my old news applications on it, but none of them work anymore. When you try to open one, a little wheel appears and spins and spins until the app times out and informs my that today’s gasoline won’t work on my antiquated seven-year-old iPad.

I really hate forced obsolescence.

It frustrates me that a magical screen with a quadcore processor requires any sort of update at all to receive news stories (text) from a remote server. This is, without a doubt, the absolutely lowest task any internet-enabled device could possibly perform. A $35 Raspberry Pi machine possesses 1,000x the amount of processing required to do this. Can you believe my 35-year-old Commodore 64, with its 1MHz processor and 64k of RAM, can (thanks to a bit of modern hardware magic) connect to the internet and pull down news updates? My Commodore 64 was built almost fifteen years before the first time I even heard of the internet! The general idea that an iPad 3 is outdated or requires any sort of update to perform the same task is preposterous. It could run forever and never need an update to keep doing what it’s doing.

Which of course is the point; that business model doesn’t sell new iPads.

Ray Harryhausen’s Mythical Menagerie

When Ray Harryhausen passed away in 2013 at the age of 92, I wrote a tribute to the man, his work, and what it meant to me. Ray Harryhausen was a pioneer in the world of stop-motion animation, and I discovered his work at an early age through books and television shows about special effects. If you grew up watching films with stop-motion dinosaurs, giant gorillas, or mythological beasts, chances are you’re already familiar with Harryhausen’s work. If not, here’s a short YouTube clip containing many of the monsters Ray Harryhausen brought to life.

For my birthday, my mom and her husband took my family to visit Mythical Menagerie, a new exhibit of Harryhausen’s work currently on display at Science Museum Oklahoma.

One of the first exhibits that grabbed my attention was the Hydra, the seven-headed serpent from 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts. You can see the Hydra in action in the video clip above, starting around the 1:40 mark. It’s a wickedly complex model, and perhaps a good way to explain the complexity and detail of Harryhausen’s work. The illusion of motion is created by photographing these models, moving them a fraction of an inch, photographing them again, and repeating the process until the sequence is complete. Because film is (or traditionally was) projected at 24 frames per second, it took 24 individual photographs to complete one second of motion. With a creature like the Hydra, that meant moving each of the seven heads a fraction of an inch between each picture. According to Harryhausen, keeping track of which direction each neck was going and whether each mouth was opening or closing was a nightmare. For every eight hours of work, Harryhausen completed roughly 1/2 second of screen footage.

Accompanying the Hydra and many of the artifacts on display were Harryhausen’s original drawings that he used to pitch scenes and demonstrate his ideas to film directors. I once read that Harryhausen said he learned early in his career not to draw things he wasn’t willing or able to animate.

Ray Harryhausen’s signature was his fighting skeletons, which culminated in the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts. If animating the Hydra seemed like a nightmare, remember that each of these skeletons had multiple points of articulation — arms, legs, heads — each of which had to be moved a fraction of an inch between each photograph. All of them, 24 times a second. This may have been one of those things Harryhausen regretted drawing.

The museum had lots of models and pictures on display from not just Jason and the Argonauts but also The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. It wasn’t until I entered the back of the exhibit that I came face to face with a woman who terrified me as a child.

1981’s Clash of the Titans was a hallmark film in many ways. For fans of stop-motion animation, the film was a goldmine as Harryhausen brought to life not only Medusa, but Pegasus, Bubo the Owl, the evil Calibos, and the mighty Kraken.

Keep in mind that these models were not only animated, but had to be blended to match the live action footage. That meant matching lighting conditions, making sure the creatures’ movements were choreographed to match the actors’, and ensuring that everything scaled properly. The actors on screen were often reacting to things that wouldn’t be completed for several months. There’s a reason they used to call it “movie magic.”

I spent several minutes in the exhibit going over the details of Harryhausen’s models. There were aliens and bees, minotaurs and mini-monsters. Despite the fact that most of them were less than a foot tall, when projected up onto a a movie screen, with a little help from Ray, they became literally larger than life.

While I remember watching one of the Sinbad films at the dollar show as a kid, it was Clash of the Titans that made the biggest impression on me. Never in a million years would I have imagined someday I would be looking at the original models that scared an eight-year-old me and made me wonder about special effects. If you were a kid who wondered whose hand was inside Yoda, how they made Superman fly, or how five guys in tunics could do battle with a bunch of evil skeletons, you owe it to yourself to visit Mythical Menagerie, on display through December at Science Museum Oklahoma.

My Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return

David Lynch and Mark Frost spent the past five months taking viewers back to Twin Peaks, a place that cannot be returned to. After sitting through all 18 episodes of 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return, I feel like I know so much more, and so much less, about Twin Peaks. Everything was the same, and everything was different. A dozen questions were answered, and a hundred new ones were posed. Twenty five years ago when Twin Peaks first aired, the question on everybody’s lips was, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” By the end of Twin Peaks: The Return, I was asking not only where was Laura Palmer, but when was Laura Palmer, and maybe even why was Laura Palmer.

A quarter of a century ago, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrived in the sleepy town of Twin Peaks to solve Laura Palmer’s murder. Cooper’s investigation was the backbone on which the bizarre, confusing, supernatural, sometimes entertaining and sometimes maddening world of Twin Peaks was introduced to viewers. It was through Coop’s eyes that we met the employees of the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department, Laura Palmer’s friends and family, and other citizens of Twin Peaks. By the time Twin Peaks went off the air in 1991, we knew who had killed Laura — an evil spirit named Bob, who had possessed the body of Laura’s father, Leland. At the end of the second season, Bob had possessed the body of Dale Cooper and was loose in Twin Peaks, while the real Dale Cooper was stuck in the Red Room, the lobby that leads to the Black and White Lodges which are located in another dimension.

In Twin Peaks: The Return we find Dale Cooper still lost in limbo while his doppelganger, Mr. C., continues to roam the earth, doing evil. All we want is for the real Agent Cooper to escape the Red Room, return to earth (or at least a plane of existence we recognize), and defeat the evil Mr. C. Of course for David Lynch to deliver that story gift-wrapped in a linear fashion would be downright Un-Lynchian. Instead we get murders, unidentified bodies, time portals, a talking tree, members of the mob, a little person with a propensity for stabbing people with ice picks, and a big person who makes Yoda sound like Shakespeare. Caught up in the middle of all of this is Agent Cooper who, through some weird inter-dimensional travel, is zapped into the body of “Dougie,” where he spends more than a dozen of the season’s eighteen episodes shuffling around in a near-comatose state.

Twin Peaks: The Return feels like swimming through a waking dream, and sometimes a nightmare. New faces are presented as old friends, and old friends don’t act the way we remember. Characters and plot lines appear and disappear at will. Information is presented out of context, making it impossible to process. Each episode is like a movie presented slightly out of order, with the beginning and the ending cut off. The more episode I watched, the more curiosity turned to frustration. Scenes that should (or at least could) have lasted a few seconds dragged on for minutes. As the weeks passed it became impossible to separate the valid signals from the static.

Twenty five years ago, David Lynch fought with network executives over the fact that he never wanted to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer; ABC executives balked and Lynch compromised, a decision he feels ultimately ruined the show. Originally considered to be a confusing and ridiculous show, today, the original Twin Peaks frequently listed as one of the greatest television dramas of all time. Twin Peaks: The Return suffered from no such network interference. It seems Showtime handed Lynch and co-conspirator Frost a huge budget and absolute control, the result being undeniably Lynchian. Viewers hoping to have much of anything explained to or for them are as innocent as the eternally dazed Dougie, shuffling around and waiting for someone to show them the way.

Like the original, I expect Twin Peaks: The Return to be torn apart, analyzed, discussed, and critiqued for years to come. Almost every character this season has complained about not understanding what’s going on. Every viewer this season has complained about the same thing. In the end, the show landed somewhere between the slice of cherry pie we wanted and the gold-painted shovel we deserved. Everything came together for a brief second before it all imploded, worse than ever before.

I can’t wait for another season. If they make one, I won’t watch it. I loved it. I hated it. It was Twin Peaks.

Saying Hello and Goodbye to The Amazing Johnathan

A man in the front row who has never seen The Amazing Johnathan perform just climbed on stage and handed the magician a twenty dollar bill. I assume the man has never seen The Amazing Johnathan perform before because (a) he was sitting in the front row, and (b) he just handed The Amazing Johnathan a twenty dollar bill.

Those of us familiar with The Amazing Johnathan’s act know what’s coming. Over the next 30-45 minutes, our friend from the audience will get run through the wringer by Johnathan’s quick wit and steady stream of one-liners. If he’s lucky, he’ll leave the stage with most of his twenty wrapped in Johnathan’s patented “easy carrying case” (a wad of masking tape); if he’s smart, he won’t hand the magician another bill when he invariably asks for it on stage.

I discovered The Amazing Johnathan in the mid-1980s, when stand-up comedy was making a resurgence both in clubs and on cable television. Johnathan’s frantic mixture of magical props, dark humor and fake blood struck a nerve with me and my friends, and earned him the nickname “the Freddy Kruger of Comedy.” The nickname fit — the Amazing Johnathan’s jokes and delivery were as fast, sharp, and lethal as the blades attached the Freddy’s glove.

With his volunteer from the audience still on stage, Johnathan removes a deck of cards from his pocket and fans them out. “Would you agree this is a normal deck of cards?” the magician asks. When the volunteer agrees, Johnathan asks him, “then how do you explain this?” With that, he swings the deck around and around overhead, showing that all the cards are connected with a single string. “You can’t do that with a normal deck of cards,” he says. It’s going to be a long night for the volunteer, and a laugh riot for the rest of us.

In 1998, Susan, my friend Andy, and I drove to Tunica, Mississippi to see The Amazing Johnathan perform live. He did not disappoint. After the show, I purchased a paperback copy of Johnathon’s Every Trick in the Book and met him after the show to have it signed. I told Johnathan we had come all the way from Oklahoma to see him perform and he told me he was going to be there the following week. When I asked him if he was serious, he said no, and laughed.

Three years ago, The Amazing Johnathan announced he was dying.

I didn’t believe it at first; after all, this is the same guy who sticks a drill bit into his eye, drinks Drain-o, and pulls his eyeball out on stage every night. Sadly, the news was true. The Amazing Johnathan was diagnosed both with cardiomyopathy (a weakening of the heart muscle) and type 2 diabetes, neither of which were helped by years of abusing cocaine and speed. News reports and interviews painted a grim picture. His doctor gave him a year to live. Johnathan did a few final interviews and podcast appearances before giving away most of his possessions, climbing into bed, and preparing to die.

Except, he didn’t.

It’s been three years since The Amazing Johnathan was told he had a year to live. Tired of waiting around to die and after regaining some of his strength (and feeling in his extremities) back, the amazing one booked a few comedy clubs across the country and decided to give it one last hurrah. When I heard the news and learned that he would be performing in Dallas, I asked Susan for a pair of tickets for my birthday. The VIP tickets Susan purchased put us at a table ten feet away from the stage — close enough for eye contact, far enough not to get dragged on stage. (I brought a twenty dollar bill, just in case.)

The Amazing Johnathan moves more slowly than he used to, and the crowds aren’t as big as they were when he was selling out shows in Las Vegas. “Must be because of the hurricane,” said Johnathan, addressing the lack of elephants in the room. “That’s what they told me last week in Columbus, too.” The magician was also quick to address his health issues. When the grim reaper attempted to climb on stage, Johnathan picked up a baby doll with a straw stuck in its head and begin slurping loudly. “Stem cells, man!” he said.

While Johnathan’s physical pace has slowed down (he performs much of the show while sitting or leaning against a stool), the jokes, comedy, laughter, and magic — both his tricks and in the air — were all still present. The first half of the show consisted of classic Amazing Johnathan schtick, while the second half of the show was mostly new material. His new paintings (like the Inception-esque “Picture of a pitcher holding a picture of a pitcher”) along with the introduction of a new art form known as “foam magic” (“I don’t think that’s a cat at all…”) had the audience roaring with laughter. And we were all surprised to learn that Johnathan now has an artificial arm. (“The hand is real; just the arm is artificial.”) If you don’t think The Amazing Johnathan leaves everything he has in him on stage, the sight of his wife helping him down the steps as the guy literally collapses will convince you.

After the show, I purchased a DVD of Johnathan’s and asked him sign it. He asked me if I wanted to take a picture and I quickly handed Susan my phone as Johnathan’s wife leaned in. I put my arm around Johnathan and wanted to tell him a million things, but I began to tear up and my throat swelled. I wanted to tell him how much joy my friends and I have got from watching him perform over the past thirty years, and how many times we’ve quoted things from his act. Instead, all I squeaked out was, “Thank you for everything. I’m glad you’re still with us.”

Then he touched my hand, looked up at me, and said, “barely.”

That’s where he’s wrong. The Amazing Johnathan is going to be with us forever. He was one of the best.

He is one of the best.

Satisfied at 44

The week before I began my 44th trip around the sun I was in a bit of a funk. In July my doctor told me it’s time to lose weight “or else.” I didn’t read nearly as much as I hoped to over the summer, nor did I finish writing either of the books I started. It seems like all of my projects gained more cobwebs than traction. In regards to my personal goals, I was feeling pretty unsatisfied.

Last weekend Susan signed up to volunteer at the TED conference in Kansas City, Missouri, and talked me into riding along. We stayed at a nice, new hotel and ate dinner at a local casino. Even though we were gone less than 24 hours, it was a nice way to end the summer.

After we returned home, Susan gave me my first (of what turned out to be several) birthday gifts: a new leather chair for my office. I must have forgot how many times I’ve complained about my thirty-year-old computer chair (which was a hand-me-down when I got it). The chair hasn’t had any padding in at least a decade, and I dread sitting it for any length of time. “I hope you write a great book in your new chair,” she said.

Over the past few days, Susan and the kids have presented me with a steady stream of small gifts. A few months ago I mentioned to Susan that while I loved our new coffee mug tree, it was a shame we never saw (or used) the mugs stored on the back side. Monday, she bought me a lazy Susan to put underneath the tree. Now, it spins freely! My doctor told me I need to be drinking more water; Morgan bought me a new water bottle that’s the perfect size. Mason came home after school on my birthday with a gift bag filled with my favorite drinks and snacks from the convenient store.

On Sunday, I visited Science Museum Oklahoma with my mom and her husband and saw the Ray Harryhausen exhibit (I’ll be writing more about that shortly). On Tuesday (my birthday), I had breakfast with two of my great friends (Scott and Andy), ate steak for lunch with Susan and my dad, and sushi for dinner with Susan and the kids.

I went to bed very satisfied.

Enabling the Aux HDMI Ports on an LG Hotel Television

I’m away from home this week, working in Texas and staying at a large hotel chain. I’ve been messing around with my Raspberry Pi a bunch lately, so I decided to bring one with me, assuming that the television in my room would have one or two unused HDMI ports that I could connect to. It did — it’s a 40″ LG television, with two HDMI ports available on the side.

When you press the “Aux” button on the remote…

…this is the menu that pops up.

And when you select the second HDMI port, this is what you get:

Nothing.

I rebooted the Raspberry Pi, but still could not get any video. To make sure everything was working, I disconnected the HDMI connection from the wall and plugged the Raspberry Pi into that port and it worked just fine. For some reason, the hotel chain had disabled the HDMI ports on the side of the television.

There’s another connection on the back of the television, an RJ-11 connection that looks like a phone cord. It connects to what looks like a small IR port on the front of the television. Once I disconnected the RJ-11 (phone jack) from the back of the television and hit the “Aux” bottom on the remote again, I got a different menu on the television.

From this menu, I was able to select and use the television’s other inputs.

Success!

The bad news is, with the cable disconnected, you can no longer change cable channels. The good news is, you can easily restore the television back to its prior state by reconnecting the RJ-11 cable. After doing it once I found I was able to easily reach up and disconnect the cable without moving the television or messing with any of the other cables.

Before leaving the room, be sure to reconnect the cable so the next person who stays there has a functional (but crippled) television. I’m not entirely sure what the rationale is in regards to locking customers out of the television’s additional HDMI ports, but if you need to enable them, now you know the trick.

Curtain Quickly Closing on the Elio

It’s been three years since I first discovered the Elio. “The Elio is a three-wheeled car that runs on gas, gets 84 mpg, and when it comes out, will cost $6,800,” I wrote in April of 2014, glossing over the fact that the car will also have a 5-star crash rating. “The Elio is set to hit roads in 2015,” I noted, and based off what I knew at the time, I put down a $100, non-refundable deposit to reserve my car.

In that same post I dreamed about how much money driving an Elio would save me. My Subaru WRX STi gets approximately 20 miles per gallon and uses premium, non-ethanol gas (the expensive stuff). The Elio’s light body and small build make it four times as efficient, claiming 84 miles per gallon. Using 2014 gas prices and assuming I would drive to work every single day, I estimated yearly gasoline savings of more than $1,700 a year — and this was before I re-enrolled in college. A round trip to OU from my house is 90 miles. In 2016 I drove to school and back twice a week for 32 weeks — that’s an additional 5,760 miles! I’m no math major, but it seemed to me this car was going to pay itself in savings alone very quickly.

Three years later, and the Elio hasn’t saved me a dime. In fact, I’m still $100 in the hole.

The future of Elio depends on where you get your information. ElioMotors.com claims that the Elio is “U.S. made by American workers at the former GM plant in Shreveport, Louisiana”… but the reality is, Elio hasn’t made any cars at the Shreveport plant, or anywhere else. In fact, the company is struggling to pay rent. According to Jalopnik.com, “since last October, Elio hasn’t paid their monthly tab to RACER Trust — which provided a $23 million loan to facilitate its move to a shuttered General Motors plant in town. As a result, Elio currently owes more than $1.7 million in back payments to RACER Trust. While the default interest rate of 18% will continue to add up until payments resume, the company now has another year to pay back the principal on the loan.”

It gets worse. From the same article:

“The SEC document says if Elio receives $25 million in funding by the end of July, then Elio must pay back RACER its overdue bill — now totaled at $1.75 million — and on top of that, the default interest rate of 18 percent will begin to accrue starting in August. But now, Elio has an extra year to pay back the full loan. So here’s the question: Who’s going to immediately float Elio $25 million?”

Despite taking thousands of non-refundable down payments ranging from $100 to $1,000 from customers, Digital Trends claims Elio “had just $101,317 in cash on September 30, 2016,” and appears to have less than that now. “The same document,” according to the article, “declares recurring net losses caused an accumulated deficit of over $123 million.”

In the rental contract Elio signed for using the GM plant, the company promised the bring 1,500 new jobs to Caddo Parish, Louisiana. According to TheHayride.com, so far, they haven’t hired anyone. The agreement states that Elio must either “produce 1,500 jobs in Caddo Parish by July 1, 2017, or cough up a $7.5 million fine.” Elio missed the deadline.

If and when Paul Elio gets out of the car business, his ability to keep a straight face would make him one hell of a poker player. “I feel very confident with what I know today that we’re going to get this off the ground,” said Elio this past May. Publicly, the company never breaks character. The last email I received from Elio covered how affordable these vehicles will be to insure. Not once has Elio ever hinted publicly on their website, blog, or mailing list that there’s any behind-the-scenes turmoil going on. In fact, the company’s website will still gladly take a down payment from you for a new Elio.

Let me save you $100.

I love the idea of an Elio. I can’t imagine anything cooler than driving to work, school, or cross-country in a three-wheeled vehicle that feels like a car — a car that gets twice the miles per gallon my last motorcycle got and that I can drive year round. The backseat has enough room to take a kid to the bus stop or a suitcase full of clothes for a road trip. The dual front-wheel-drive tires are designed to pull the Elio through snow and ice like a futuristic sled. With hybrid and electronic cars still in their infancy, I feel like the Elio is a way to lower my carbon footprint, just a little bit.

The only problem with the Elio, as far as I can tell, is that they’re never going to build them.

When Buying a Fake Bird, Save the Receipt

The first time I saw a plastic bird being used to shoo away real ones was on top of our local grocery store. It took three visits for me to realize that the very still bird that was always perched in the exact same spot wasn’t real.

For some reason, the front porch of our home attracts barn swallows. Each spring, the swallows return to build a nest in the exact same spot. I let it go for a couple of years — live and let live, I say — but then the jerks began taking advantage of my generous nature. I didn’t mind hearing “cheep cheep cheep” every time I left the house, but after a while the little buggers started dive-bombing me every time I walked up the sidewalk. In addition to the attacks and the noise, the birds coated everything on the front porch with poop. Our chair, our statue, and even the porch lantern are covered in an avian fecal winter wonderland.

Last fall after the birds moved out I sprayed down the abandoned nest using the garden hose. Beginning this spring, I monitored the porch more closely. Any time I saw the slightest hint that the birds were rebuilding, I’d re-spray the corner clean. Surely, I thought, after knocking down the beginnings of a nest ten times, the swallows would get the hint and move along.

We went out of town for four days and returned to a completely built nest, filled with eggs.

Not wanting to knock down a nest full of eggs, I went with Plan B and ordered the Bird B Gone Hawk Decoy from Amazon for around $13. According to Amazon, the Bird B Gone Hawk is designed to strike fear into the hearts of all lesser birds. Before it arrived, I stumbled across an animated owl at a garage sale for only a dollar. I went from owning zero fake birds to two in 48 hours.

Side by side, the fake owl is the more impressive of the two. It’s motion sensitive, which means each time I enter or exit my house, the owl goes “hoo, hoo” and its head spins around like Regan’s in The Exorcist. The plastic hawk is not animated, although its “mock predator eye and shiny reflective surface” (read: plastic) is supposed to be enough to deter birds from approaching.

One morning before work I placed the owl in the corner under the nest and the hawk in the bushes in front of the house.

I came home to discover the owl’s head covered in a layer of white poop, looking like a snow-capped mountain. “Hoo, hoo!” it said as I approached the front door. The owl tried to rotate its mechanical head, but with so much bird poop both on and in the gears, the movement was less than smooth. The hawk fared better; he was leaning at a 45 degree angle, but still inside the bushes. I’m not sure if it was knocked over by the wind or by another animal, but I have my suspicions.

The only effect my two fake birds seem to have had is that now the real birds are more aggressive. They don’t attack the fake birds so much as they now continually attack me. Instead of hanging out in their nest, they now perch on the edge of gutter, dive-bombing me every time I walk up or down the sidewalk.

So there you have it. This was a few weeks ago. I went outside to take a picture of the nest for this post and was attacked by a swallow. If anyone wants a poop-covered owl, a plastic statue of a hawk, or a used sparrow’s nest, shoot me an offer.

The Popcorn Kid

My friend Guy recently sent me a link to an obscure sitcom that only ran for six episodes back in 1987: The Popcorn Kid.

The Popcorn Kid starred Bruce Norris as Scott Creasman, a high school junior who works at the Majestic, an old-style, single screen movie theater located in Kansas City, Missouri. Scott works in the theater’s concession stand along with three of his classmates. There’s Willie Dawson, the African-American star football player; Gwen Stottlemeyer, the sensible, intelligent, and down-to-earth girl; and Lynn Holly Brickhouse, the ditsy and beautiful blonde cheerleader. Also working at the Majestic are Marlin Bond, the projectionist who perhaps has spent too much time cooped up in his booth; and Leonard Brown, manager of the theater and pseudo father figure to the kids.

The characters’ roles are established in the pilot episode. Scott works at the Majestic, and wants to work in the movie business somehow, someday. He’s got a crush on the airheaded Lynn Holly, even though it’s obvious to the audience (and everyone else) that he is destined to end up with Gwen (who shows affection toward Scott). Willie is always late to work because of football practice. Marlin the projectionist plays an aloof Kramer-esque character, constantly quoting scenes from movies that must have gone over 90% of the viewing audience’s head, and manager Leonard is a stereotypical cranky-but-means-well manager who reminded me of Red, the father from That ’70s Show.

Of the six episodes that exist, none are particularly deep, even by sitcom standards. In the pilot episode, off-camera owners threaten to convert the Majestic into a modern multiplex, until Scott earns the theater a stay of execution by convincing the owners the landmark Majestic is worth more as a tax write off. Two of the six episodes revolve around Lynn Holly: in “There She Is, Vic Damone,” Scott tries to find Lynn Holly’s talent to help her win a beauty pageant, and in “The Break Up,” Lynn Holly breaks up an boyfriend who has graduated high school and joined the marines, and Scott ends up as the convenient scapegoat. In “Career Day,” the students decide what they want to do after their stints at the Majestic, which leads to conflict between Scott and his father.

The final two episodes are also the strangest. In “A Day in the Life of Ed Asner,” the theater puts on a film festival in honor of Ed Asner. After Asner arrives at the theater, a tornado appears out of nowhere, which cancels the festival and forces all the employees (along with Asner) down into the basement. Marlin convinces Asner to reenact a scene from one of his old films, and then the episode ends. Some of the jokes in this episode are weird, while others never pay off.

In “A Car, a House, a Mouse and a Louse,” the sixth and final episode, the Majestic is robbed by the world’s most polite and innocent crook. First, the crook has Leonard open the theater’s safe. When that nets next to nothing, he then has Scott retrieve the cash register till from the concession stand. When even that gets him next to nothing, he has all the employees (along with one customer) empty their pockets, which nets the criminal $22. In a final act of desperation, he takes the hubcaps and stereo from Willie’s newly acquired ’53 Chevy. By the end of the episode, I began to wonder how the Majestic was able to keep the lights on while supporting six full time employees. Perhaps the fact that there wasn’t a seventh episode was my answer.

For a show that almost entirely took place in a movie theater, The Popcorn Kid never mentioned any modern movies. It would have been great to see posters from 80s films and maybe even episodes that references those films, but instead we get Milton showing The Day the Earth Stood Still and a tribute to Ed Asner. I get that the Majestic wasn’t your average, mainstream multiplex, but for a show filmed in 1987, save for the neon pink lights and Lynn Holly’s hair, The Popcorn Kid doesn’t feel very 80s at all.

Compared to more successful sitcoms, episodes of The Popcorn Kid lack the punch we’re used to. The conflicts aren’t resolved in any grand way. When saves the Majestic from a modern face lift, it is done off screen and over the phone. When he shares the good news with his co-workers, they barely offer a half-hearted “hooray.”

It’s obvious that the show was just ramping up, and it’s easy to imagine where things might have gone in future episodes. The love triangle between Scott, Lynn Holly and Gwen obviously would have developed over time. Maybe Scott would have become a supervisor at the Majestic, and Willie might have developed into more than just a high school athlete. As it is none of that happened, and the employees of the Majestic remain trapped in the spring of 1987, trying to make it through another day at the concession stand forever.

If you want to check out the show for yourself, here is a YouTube playlist that contains all six episodes. Enjoy!

Link: The Popcorn Kid (YouTube)

That Time I Threw a Nice Lady Across Jack in the Box

I met Von Brown in person for the first time on August 25, 1997, although we had spoken over the phone dozens of times prior to that. Von worked as a Computer Specialist for the FAA in Denver, Colorado, while I worked for the help desk in Oklahoma City. I worked there from the spring of 1995 until the summer of 1996, at which point I myself was hired as a Computer Specialist for the FAA and moved to Spokane, Washington. Both Washington state and Colorado were a part of the Northwest Mountain Region, and so even after I moved, Von and I spoke over the phone and collaborated on projects frequently.

In the summer of 1997, our agency was in the throws of upgrading tens of thousands of workstations from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Both Von and I had volunteered to travel to Seattle and assist with upgrading the machines there. After speaking to one another over the phone for more than two years, I finally got to meet Von in person. She was roughly the same age as my parents, petite, and as sweet as they come.

After meeting Von in the lobby of our hotel, the next order of business was to find somewhere to eat dinner. We hopped in the rental car, and began driving. Back before I had a GPS, I was always afraid to wander too far from my hotel. The first restaurant we passed was Jack in the Box, and so that’s where we decided to eat. (I’m sure the decision was more mine than Von’s.)

After ordering our dinner, the two of us walked through the mostly empty restaurant and picked a place to sit. We ended up sitting in an atrium with one entire wall made of glass. Von sat with her back to the wall of windows; I sat across from her, looking out the window.

What happened next happened very quickly, and I will never forget it.

Out of the corner of my eye, through the windows behind Von, I saw what I thought was a large black bird flaying through the parking lot toward us. It took a second for my brain to realize that it wasn’t a bird, but a black Honda Civic, flying through the air in our direction.

The car landed maybe fifty feet away from us in the parking lot and began to “barrel roll” toward the restaurant. As I leaped to my feet, Von must have heard the crash and instinctively ducked her head down. In the trunk of the car, a toolbox opened and metal wrenches and sockets began smashing into the restaurant’s windows. My natural reaction was to get Von away from the windows, so I grabbed her by her shirt and, much like a bowling ball, sent her sliding across the restaurant’s floor.

Suddenly, all the noise stopped.

I yelled at the kid behind the counter to call 911, helped Von up off the floor, and then headed for the exit.

Through the glass door I could see the car. It was resting twenty feet away from the restaurant, and upside down. Gas was pouring out of it, and I was afraid the car was going to explode. Roughly twenty feet to the left of the car laying in the parking lot was a guy. He was on his back with his knees bent and appeared dazed, but alive.

I pushed the door open and when I did, it hit a woman. She had been thrown from the car, and had landed head-first on the curbed sidewalk around the restaurant. The impact had split her head open, and I could see her brains. You don’t forget a thing like that. I knelt down beside her and tried to talk to her. She made some sounds, but she couldn’t understand me, and vice versa.

I vaguely remember Von coming up behind me, and me telling her she didn’t want to go out there. I stepped back inside, and she gave me a hug.

In my mind, emergency vehicles arrived almost immediately. Unfortunately for us, one of the first things they did was surround the entire parking lot in yellow accident scene tape, which prevented our car from leaving.

One thing I vividly remember is watching one of the firemen reach inside the upside-down car, unbuckle a child’s car seat, and remove a young child from the car. The id looked to be three or four years old, and had been hanging upside down inside the car the entire time. The kid was completely unharmed.

I spoke with one of the officers on the scene and told him everything I had seen. One of the officers told me that the tint on the restaurant’s windows had kept the tools from sailing through them and sending metal and glass everywhere. A few weeks later when I was back in Spokane, I received a phone call from a different officer, asking me to make a statement over the phone. They told me the woman had died at the scene, the driver was in the hospital, and the kid was fine. He also told me neither of the adults were wearing a seat belt, which is why they were ejected. The driver had come around the corner too quickly, lost control of his car, and slid through the ditch, which is what sent the car into the air.

After almost an hour inside the restaurant, the officers removed the crime scene tape surrounding the parking lot and allowed us to leave. Von and I left Jack in the Box and headed back to the hotel with one heck of a story.