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Star Wednesday: Dianoga

2016-04-28 09.05.19

During the late 70s, there was no such thing as “rarity” when it came to Kenner action figures on the shelves. By 1978, Kenner was manufacturing 3 3/4″ action figures just as quickly as they could. If Walmart didn’t have the figure you were looking for, chances were Service Merchandise, TG&Y, or some other local retailer did.

Despite that, there were rarities, or at least figures that not everybody had. Most of these were figures that came bundled with playsets. The Blue Snaggletooth (included in the early Cantina playset) is the most well-known early rarity, but another one that few people think about is the Dianoga.

The Dianoga, sometimes referred to as the “garbage monster” or “tick monster,” apparently lived (or at least had access to) the garbage disposal system on board the Death Star. The monster appears in the original Star Wars film when our heroes (Han, Chewbacca, Luke and Leia) find themselves trapped inside one of the battle station’s many trash compactors. Taking a cue from Jaws, we only get a couple of brief looks at the monster’s tentacles before a single red eyeball stalk shoots up for only a moment from the murky water. The monster wraps his tentacles around Luke and pulls him under the water. Luke struggles, and just when we think he might be gone forever, the creature lets him go. The creature knows what our heroes are about to find out — that the walls are about to crush them.

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The Dianoga “figure” was not sold separately. It was included with the Death Star playset, which retailed for $20 in 1978 (adjusted for inflation, that’s about $75). The Death Star had multiple platforms and floors that allowed kids to recreate different scenes from the movie. In the basement was the orange trash compactor. On one end was a big plastic corkscrew that allowed kids to “crush” action figures. It came with bits of foam (“garbage”) and a green Dianoga.

As far as figures go, the Dianoga isn’t very exciting. His rounded belly prevents him from sitting level on a flat surface, and his tentacles don’t seem to be nearly as long as they were in the film. Where his neck meets his belly he has an open mouth full of teeth. He also has fins that look like wings, something that must have been underwater during the film.

Other than stick him inside the trash compactor, there’s not a lot the Dianoga can do. He can’t stand up or fit inside any ships, so you can forget about him flying away in an X-Wing Fighter. Still, he was cool to own. If you had the Dianoga, you didn’t need to drag your entire Death Star playset (which was large) to school to prove ownership to the other kids. All you had to do was slide the Dianoga in your pocket and watch the other nerds drool.

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Dianoga doesn’t get a lot of love. As far as I know there aren’t any fan-fiction novels dedicated to his garbage-eating and hero-drowning adventures. His closest claim to fame that I’m aware of is his cameo in the 1995 video game Dark Forces, in which Dianoga pops his head up as you wander through the sewers of the Death Star.

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Truth be told, I have two Dianogas. The one above is my original one from when I was a kid, but I picked up a complete Death Star several years ago which I have out on display in the hallway.

2016-04-28 09.30.06

The Finish Line!

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On Sunday, thousands of people gathered in the streets of Oklahoma City to run in the annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, marking the twenty-first anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. The marathon has multiple categories including a 5k, half-marathon, and full marathon.

The marathon is televised locally, and on Sunday I sat at my writing desk in my living room eating some scrambled eggs and a cinnamon roll as thousands of people pushed their bodies to the limit. Some might say I am pushing my body to the limit in the wrong direction, but that’s another story.

The point is, as those people were running the marathon, I was running one, too — or at least typing one. Roughly fourteen weeks ago I began working on my novel, and right around the time runners began crossing the finish line of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, I crossed my own finish line and reached my goal of 50,000 words. I’m done!

And by “done” I mean “I’m just starting!” Saying “I’m done” now is a lot like a boxer celebrating the end of the first round.

I have this week and next week to put some shine on it and get any editing done before I turn it in next Thursday, but the first goal of writing the rough draft of a novel is done.

Along the way I made some pretty significant changes. For example, when I started the book I decided that the protagonist’s wife and child had died in a fire. As time went on, it became more and more kludgy to keep mentioning both of their names every time he lamented his past. I really wanted the baby to die because I thought that symbolized the death of his hopes and future, but a couple of days ago I decided that if his wife died and she was pregnant it would accomplish the same thing — plus I could quit mentioning both of their names. So, baby got deleted (sorry, baby) and the protagonist’s wife is now pregnant. That was easy to adopt toward the end of the book, but now I need to go back and change all the references of “they” to “her,” and so on.

There were also at least half a dozen places in the manuscript where I wrote myself notes like “more detail here” or “explain this better.” I have really come to appreciate the “notes” feature of Google Docs. Think of them as little virtual sticky notes that you can leave wherever you want. If you have a friend help you edit online, they can leave notes, too. As I go back through my work I am tightening things up, clarifying things, adding emotion and, occasionally, deleting babies.

So while there was no paper banner for me to run through, my brain and my fingers have been running their own marathon for the past three and a half months. It felt good to cross the finish line, even though I am already running the next race.

Bathing in the Purple Rain

When I was a kid, battles between celebrities didn’t take place on Twitter — they happened on the charts. And so it was, between the Gloved One and the Purple One. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, released in November of 1983, was literally everywhere, commandeering radio and television waves and boombox speakers across the country. It was the biggest album in the world. And then, six months later, Prince released Purple Rain in the summer of 1984.

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Similar musicians are frequently compared and contrasted, and “suddenly” in the mid-80s we had two megastars. Both sang, both danced, and both tore up the charts with multiple singles from a single album. Seven of the nine tracks on “Thriller” were released as singles and reached the Billboard Top 10; Prince had five singles chart from “Purple Rain.” Both albums vie for the top spot on lists of best albums from the 1980s. Tempo magazine named “Purple Rain” the greatest album of the 1980s and Vanity Fair named it the best soundtrack of all time. On Slant Magazine’s list of best albums of the 1980s, “Purple Rain” ranked number two. “Thriller” was number one.

The difference to me though was their sexuality. Despite being photographed with Brooke Shields and eventually marrying Lisa Marie Presley, Michael Jackson was almost asexual. Nobody took his hip-thrusting seriously, and his idea of romance in 1983’s “PYT” (Pretty Young Thing) was to offer girls TLC (Tender Lovin’ Care). Prince, on the other hand, had sex oozing from every pore. In songs like “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” and “Darling Nikki,” Prince offered more than tender loving care. The thought of Michael Jackson dating a woman was akin to your little nephew picking a fight with you, whereas nobody thought letting their niece hang around backstage at a Prince concert was a good idea. While Prince was constantly being photographed with sensuous women like Vanity, Apollonia and Sheila E., Michael Jackson frequently appeared with Emmanuel Lewis, Macaulay Culkin, Corey Feldman, and Bubbles the Chimp.

Both artists continued to record and churn out hits, of course. Michael Jackson released “Bad” and “Dangerous” in the late 80s/early 90s and continued to record, while Prince released “Around the World in a Day” in 1985, “Parade” in 1986, “Sign ‘O’ the Times” in 1987, “Lovesexy” in 1988, “Batdance” in 1989, “Graffiti Bridge” in 1990, and “Diamonds and Pearls” in 1991. It was a different time.

Both men were weird, eccentric, and in later years, reclusive — most likely the result of being both extremely artistic and extremely shy. Michael Jackson withdrew to Neverland Ranch, a childhood circus that never ended, while Prince retreated to Paisley Park, a fortress reportedly filled with hidden rooms and concealed audio bugs.

The biggest difference between the two artists however may be their legacy for future generations. My kids saw “Captain EO” at Disneyland and love the DVD we own of Michael Jackson’s music videos, but they never got that from Prince. While my kids were playing Michael Jackson Dance Party on the Wii and singing along with songs I sang along with at their age, Prince and his team of lawyers were busy scrubbing every clip containing Prince’s likeness or music from YouTube and removing his music from streaming services. It’s his prerogative, but my children do not know what it sounds like when doves cry, or how to party like it’s 1999.

At 42 I don’t know that I would call myself a “Prince Fan” any more than I would refer to myself as a “Michael Jackson Fan,” but no one who grew up in the 80s can deny the impact they had on our radios and our lives. Whether it was learning to moonwalk like Michael Jackson or rock a club like Prince at the end of “Purple Rain,” those were the images that inspired us and defined, at least then, what cool was.

When Characters Take Off On Their Own

Many fiction writers comment that one or more of their characters “have a mind of their own.” Some go as far as to say that they don’t know what their characters will do or how their books will end until they get there. I never truly understood this phenomenon… until it happened to me. Continue reading When Characters Take Off On Their Own

Dinosaur Bones

“We’re meeting for dinner after class tomorrow at Tarahumara’s. Do you know where that is?”

The look on my face informed them I did not.

“It’s down by Benvenuti’s,” one of them offered.

Again, they are met by my glassy-eyed stare. “Is that over by the Mazzio’s with the Spy Hunter machine?”

They return a confused look. “What’s a spy hunter?”

They act as if I’ve never been to Norman, Oklahoma, but the truth is I’ve been there many, many times. One of my best friends, Justin, grew up in Norman. The two of us met in the mid-80s, and even though Norman was 40 miles south of where I grew up in Yukon, I hung out in Norman with Justin quite a bit. Both my and Justin’s parents spent a lot of time and gasoline shuffling us back and forth, up and down I-35. More times than I can count, my parents would drop me off in Norman on a Friday and Justin’s parents would bring me home Sunday afternoon.

Justin owned a Honda scooter, which the two of us used to cover every inch of Norman. With Justin at the handlebars and me hanging on behind, the two of us frequently zoomed across town to shop at Shadowplay Records and stick our heads inside the skate shop on Campus Corner.

None of the kids in my class have heard of Shadowplay Records.

“Seriously? It where Tyson Meade formed the Chainsaw Kittens.”

Again, no response.

I skip over my tales of trading Commodore 64 software on 5 1/4 floppy disks (their heads would explode) and playing arcade games at the Gold Mine inside Sooner Fashion Mall and jump ahead a few years. I tell my story about the time my friends and I drove to Norman to see the Big Skin Hearts open for Ancient Chinese Penis play at a house party and, like a movie, literally watched people destroy the house. I talk about driving to Liberty D’s to see Klipspringer. In the early 2000s I drove to Norman to see Wesley Willis perform.

I might as well be speaking Martian to a bunch of Venetians.

So yeah, technically, I do know Norman, Oklahoma. It’s just that I know my Norman, not theirs.

And unfortunately for me, my Norman is gone.

Owen Field, late 1980s

Star Wednesday: Space Food

It was easy to get excited about the Star Wars prequels when they were released because by then I had already spent at least half of my life excited about Star Wars. I was born in 1973. 1977-1985 were the prime collecting years when it came to the original trilogy. True, there were some lean times in the late 80s and early 90s, but by the time Power of the Force action figures appeared in stores in 1995, it was like the excitement had never left.

Something psychological was going on at that time. I had spent so many years playing with, buying, and searching for Star Wars toys that when the brand reappeared in stores (with a vengeance) in the mid-1990s, I bought it all. Not just the stuff I wanted, but everything I could find and afford, because on some weird primal level, that’s what it felt like we were supposed to do. I (and a lot of other people) bought the action figures, and then we bought the playsets and spaceships, and the video games, and the masks and the costumes, and the Pez dispensers… literally anything they put the Star Wars logo on, I bought it.

Even food.

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These Pop-Tarts are one of a few different boxes of food I purchased in the late-90s/early-00s. (I never thought about it before, but the concept of “lava berry explosion” flavored food sponsored by Darth Vader is kind of like Lizzie Borden’s parents endorsing a particular brand of ax, but I digress.) As much as I enjoy Pop-Tarts, I never thought to collect them before. All you had to do was slap the words “limited edition” on the box, and I was all in.

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Here’s another box of food, obviously from Episode I — Galactic Berry candy. I don’t know what the shelf life of any of these items are, nor would I be interested in finding out at this point. I once ate some gum from inside a 30-year-old pack of Ghostbusters II collector cards and wished I hadn’t for a couple of days.

I have no excuse for purchasing these things, nor do I have an excuse for not getting rid of them. They just sit on a shelf, taking up space.

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Way up on the top shelf is this box of Star Wars Episode II cereal. Again, why someone buys a box of cereal and then refuses to open and/or eat the contents is beyond me, and I’m the guy that did it. As long as it said “Collector’s Edition” like this box does, I bought it.

When the latest Star Wars film hit theaters, I walked into Target and saw two large shelves filled with Star Wars-themed food. From soup to cereal to candy and chips, if you could put a label on it, someone (Disney) had stuck the Star Wars logo on it. I’m over the phase now. I might eat a box of Star Wars cereal or drink a bottle of water with Yoda on the label, but my days of buying perishable items with the Star Wars logo on the packaging are over.

Handheld Radio Scanner vs. the iPhone

I was recently discussing old technology with a classmate when the subject of radio scanners came up. I purchased my first scanner from Best Buy in the mid-90s, and my second one, from Canada, in the early 00s. My classmate asked me if it was worth purchasing one today, so I decided to dust mine off before giving him an answer. The results were pretty depressing.

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Radio scanners, like the ones I own, allow people to listen to radio transmissions. All sorts of things are being transmitted all the time. Unfortunately, advances in technology have all but made my old scanners all but obsolete.

For roughly a decade, I couldn’t turn on my scanner without picking up someone’s cordless phone conversation. Older cordless phones in the 45-50MHz and 900MHz range used to be everywhere — today, they’re all but gone. Modern cordless phones that operate in the 2.4 and 5.8GHz range are outside the range of most scanners. Additionally, many modern cordless phones are digital and use Digital Spread Spectrum (DSS), which makes hearing them with a low-end scanner like mine impossible.

Listening to cell phone conversations has never been simple, and today it’s mostly impossible. The only thing I was ever able to pick up were old analog cell phone conversations. Today, everything is digital. Strike two.

Three slightly less creepy broadcasts most handheld scanners can pick up are police, emergency, and airport transmissions. It took me a while to find them, but I was able to pick up a few broadcasts of these types with my scanner. But, there’s a much simpler way to do this today. 5-0 Radio Police Scanner for iOS allows you to listen to police and emergency broadcasts from all over the country, while LiveATC allows you to listen to Air Traffic communications from airports all over the world. There are ad-sponsored free versions available, or you can purchase the full, ad-free versions for a few bucks each. Much simpler and more practical than using a handheld scanner.

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The only other thing I used to listen to with my scanner was drive-thru speakers at fast food restaurants. (I get bored in long lines.) Like cordless phones, I believe most restaurants have upgraded their systems to 2.4 and 5.8GHz wireless headsets, making them impossible to listen to. No longer can I listen to the people in front of me order Big Macs.

There are newer digital scanners that I believe may be able to pick up some of these transmissions and broadcasts, but spending hundreds of dollars on a new scanner versus a couple of bucks on an iOS application seems tough to justify. If you want to listen to police or emergency vehicle chatter or airport tower communications, just download the app.

My Only Smash Mouth Story

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I saw the band Smash Mouth was trending early this morning. I’m not sure why that was. I only have one Smash Mouth story, and here it is.

In the fall 2001, when Susan was six months pregnant with Mason, I decided what I really needed to own was a Geo Tracker. My goal was to install a hard top, lower it, and add a crazy stereo system. I eventually did all of those things. It wasn’t the best timing, but it was fun.

When I drove the Tracker home I discovered a rattle coming from the glove box. I opened and closed the glove box multiple times, but couldn’t figure out where the rattle was coming from. After a few days of putting up with the rattle, I decided to figure out where it was coming from.

The glove box inside a Geo Tracker is designed like a US Postal Mailbox. When open, the rear of the glove box completely covers the rear opening that leads back into the dash area, but when closed, there’s a huge gap. In a big blue mailbox, this is intentional. When open it prevents people from sticking their hands down inside the box and grabbing other people’s mail. When closed, the rear opens up and your mail falls down into the mailbox. I don’t know why Geo decided to design a glove box in the same fashion, but they did. If the glove box was more than half full, when you closed it, everything over the halfway line fell out the back and down into the dash.

I can’t remember if I went in through the top or through the bottom, but eventually I was able to dig out everything that the previous owner had lost behind the dash: one mitten, a bottle of fingernail polish, and Smash Mouth’s debut CD, Fush Yu Mang. Apparently the previous owner thought so little of Smash Mouth that he or she never went looking for it.

It should be noted that the Tracker did not have a CD player when I purchased it — only a cassette deck. Because of that, after digging out the CD, I placed it in the glove box … and it eventually ended up back behind the dash again. I left it there, and when I sold the Tracker several years later, the CD was still there. I didn’t think enough about Smash Mouth to go looking for it again, either.

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

Those of you who know me outside this blog may know that I’ve had a long-standing battle with “stuff.” I’m not a hoarder, or at least not the bad kind that collects garbage and jars of pee pee. No, I’m just a guy who likes collecting things (to the extreme at times). My wife once dubbed me “The Collector of Collections,” which unsurprisingly is the title of a book I’m also working on. But I digress.

Because of my collecting tendencies, I’ve read lots of books on organizing and decluttering. One repeating piece of advice you see in those books is that everything that doesn’t have a place is clutter. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” As I continue to work on my novel, I realize this advice applies to books as well. Continue reading A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

Attack of the Killer Bees

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While driving down the turnpike the other day, I heard a sound — 20 simultaneous “whaps.” It sounded like someone had thrown a cup full of ice at my windshield while I was driving 70 miles per hour, except there was nobody around — no bridges overhead, no people on the side of the road, and no cars directly in front of me.

It didn’t take long to notice the two dozen tiny piles of bug guts displayed in front of me. I wasn’t sure what I had hit, but I had hit a bunch of them, and whatever they were, they were big enough to make a distinct “whap” sound when they hit the glass. (And yes, I know what the last thing to go through their mind was.) My windshield was clean right before this took place — everything you see is from that single event.

It was Morgan this morning who solved the mystery — bees. She found the first one stuck in the door jamb, right behind my antenna. I found a second one today, sticking out from the gap below my hood. That appears to be the remains of two dozen more of them on my windshield.

If there’s a little less honey on store shelves in the near future, now you know why.