Sunday, January 29, 2012

Update on a post from a couple of years ago

A couple of years ago, in this post, I suggested that the baristas at Scooter's should change the tip jar that reads, "College Fund" to something like "Kolledge Phunde". Last week, I told them they should do it. This week, they had done it. I still didn't tip.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Seen

Starting when I was about 12 years old and up until about the age of 15 or so, I used to love to go roller skating at Skateland. They had pinball, girls, and slurpees. Oh yeah, and some roller-skating. Real skating. Not like you kids today in your fancy-pants inline getups. These skates had the traditional, stable 2 dimensional platform and the big rubber stopper/goer on the bottom/front of each skate. It served the purpose of both braking and rapid acceleration. If you stood “on your toes”, you could run on the stopper for a few strides until you got up to speed. It was important to slow down in transition from the rink to the carpet or you'd continue on at the same speed while your skates lagged behind.

The skates were off-white suede with pink wheels. If you were cool, you had your own skates. Black leather with whatever color wheels defined you as a person. Then you could tie the shoestrings together and drape them over your shoulder as you casually walked into the rink, winking and pointing to your make-believe friends. I was not cool. I tried to tie the shoestrings of my rental skates together, but they (the shoestrings) were too short so the skates didn't lay nicely on my shirt, but propped up from my shoulder to the front and rear as I found a locker.

There were a few Skatelands around town and a place called “Cheap Skate” up on 90th and Maple, but Skateland near Irvington was our home rink.

The evening of skating was typically 2-3 hours. In that time, there was the default “Free skate” where all were allowed to skate, provided they skate slowly and carefully all the way around that black traffic circle. This was a black piece of tape that circumnavigated the inner part of the rink. If you were a rebel, you’d skate dangerously close to the tape, flirting with cutting the corner. I won’t lie. Sometimes we cut across the tape at either end. Usually the end opposite the DJ/Skate Patrol station. Sometimes we got flagged for cutting, but usually we got away with it. The Skateland peace officers ran a pretty tight ship. Once after a rather egregious black traffic circle infraction (My friend was completely on the other side, so I cut through the middle), I was sent to cool off with the stern admonition, “That shit might fly at Cheap Skate, but it’s not happening here. Not on my watch, kid. I mean, look at you in your stupid rental skates.”

To keep everybody honest, Skateland would stage various specialty skate sessions throughout the evening. They were two songs long and I was excluded from most of these for one reason or another. That was OK with me. Mostly, I just liked to see how fast I could skate. I used to think I was like some sort of Eric Heiden on wheels. I’d even put my left arm behind my back as I sped through the crowd for a few “laps”, only to bring it (my arm) down for the final burst …

Whistle!! “Slow down, kid”

“Oh yeah, I know, Cheap Skate, yada yada yada. Sorry.”

The first specialty skating session was the “Ladies Only” Skate. The songs were, Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” and “Brick House” by the Commodores. This was the time when the girls got to show off their disco/skate moves. Well, except for the cool girls. They just skated at a walking pace, complaining to one another about all the losers at Skateland.

During the Ladies Skate, The gentlemen lined up along the rail to watch. Everyone in their new velour shirt. Except me, of course. I couldn’t afford velour, so I had to watch from the confines my cheap terrycloth wanna-be-velour shirt. At least my watch was the cool red L.E.D. kind that required the push of a button to see the time. Not one of those stupid grey and black L.C.D. ones.

Next was the Backward skate. Backward skaters only, please. I don’t remember what songs they played for the backward skate. Nonetheless this was a very important skate. We "forward only" skaters needed to find out which girls could skate backwards. This way, I knew exactly who I was going to be too afraid to ask to accompany me to the “Couples Skate”.

The songs for the couples skate were “Beth” by KISS and the heartwarming domestic abuse number, “Don’t give up on us” by David Soul a.k.a “Hutch”. There were 3 couple skates during the evening. I usually spent those times looking out at all the happy couples skating. I’d reflect on what it would be like to be brave enough to ask a girl to skate with me. Ahh, those would have been the days! Occasionally, a girl would ask me to skate, so I got to go. But then, if she liked me, she might try to kiss me or something. Panic! Ahh. I don’t know how to do this! Fear of looking like a fool has hindered me in some way for most of my life. Unfortunately, my grasp on what looks foolish is all topsy-turvy.

There was also the “Hokey Pokey”. I was never sure how to shake my “left side” about without affecting the rest of my body, so I gave up and just let my right side go too. The neat thing about the Hokey-Pokey (besides its apt name) was that it was held at the center of the rink and you were actually allowed to skate on the black traffic circle when you turned yourself about. I’d emphatically tap the tape with the front wheels of my right skate, glancing innocently at the official. He’d glare back at me powerless, barely concealing his rage. “Kid, if this wasn’t the Hokey-Pokey, I’d open the double doors of this place with your smarmy little skull.”

Judges? Ok yes, we’ll accept “smarmy” - but we're not happy about it.

Then came the “Gentlemen’s Skate”. The 2 songs for the Gentlemen’s Skate were always Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and “Ballroom Blitz”, but I don’t know who performed it and we didn’t have the internet available back then so I can’t check. But it was these guys.

Who years later became these guys:

Anyway, this post is about the stupidest thing I ever saw (Remember, I couldn’t actually see myself trying to skate like a speed skater). But first, I have to talk about the coolest thing I ever saw, because they’re related. It was during the Dude’s skate, and some dude (with his own skates, of course) was leaning back on one skate, one foot forward, rolling along, pretending to be playing a guitar to the song “Slow Ride”. He had nothing in his hands at all. But by position alone, it was obviously some sort of pantomime of a guitar player. Brilliant. Also, it may not have been called a "mullet" yet, but he was sporting a damn cool one.

If only I had my own skates, a shiny red shirt, unbuttoned to reveal my fashionable Italian horn necklace, the ability to lean back like that, and permission to grow my hair, I’d be as cool as that guy. I don’t know if this type of pantomime was called “Air Guitar” yet (I'm from the time before things had names). It was the first time I ever saw anybody do it. What a great idea. Like lip syncing, only not as realistic looking. All the cool guys wore black pants and a red shirt because it approximated the Skateland Traffic cop uniform and most of these guys yearned to hold that position one day. A friend once rhetorically asked me, “You know how much tail those guys get?”

I think it was rhetorical. Maybe he wanted to know because he did actually get the job a few years later. I don't know if he got any tail though. We went our separate ways after I stopped going to Skateland and he didn't.

The day after witnessing the fabulous air guitar demonstration, I was standing at the jewelry counter at Target, browsing the Italian horn necklace section (they had one of those in the 70’s), When I decided to see if I could knock out a few licks on the “no guitar in my hands at all.” I couldn’t do it. It just didn’t feel right. Mostly because I had taken guitar lessons. On acoustic guitar. Sitting down. When I tried to “Air Guitar” I looked more like Leon Redbone, hunched over, looking down at my fingers, etc. Nobody “Air guitars” to Leon Redbone. So when I tried to air guitar to some rockin’ Van Halen or something, I’d always miss the chord, stop, look at my hand, back up and start again. By that time, the guitar solo would be pretty much over. Turns out I can’t air guitar any song I can’t actually play on real guitar. And it’s not like I could request “Tom Dooley” at Skateland, is it? That air guitar performance remained the coolest thing I had ever seen until 1999. That’s when “The Matrix” came out.

Oh yeah, the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen was in a Documentary called “Air Guitar Nation”. The documentary is excellent. It is about a very serious worldwide Air Guitar competition. Some of these guys actually hate the other competitors. There are accusations of cheating, song stealing, etc. It is unbelievable the amount of time, practice and preparation that goes into pretending to play an instrument. Granted, the end result is well worth it. Whatever. It’s the stupidest effing thing I've ever seen.

Hang on I think I know who’s at the door, but I’m going to go check and make sure it’s not a you-know-what. Holy crap! Snap crunch slurp die.

Note: It wasn't until many years later that I realized the cool air guitar guy at Skateland was Shim.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The scariest day of my life

I never liked Karl. His name may have been Carl. But because I thought he looked like a member of the National Socialist German Workers Party, I’m calling him Karl. He was a few years older than me. He was awkward looking. Too tall. Too thin. IcabodCranian Adam’s apple rivaled in protrudiness only by his raptorlike beak of a nose, Sittin’ way up high. Sittin’ way up firm and high. Also, he had a serious case of the bitch hips. In fairness, all of this was my perspective of him at the time. Looking back on it, he was nerd-cool. But we didn’t have that back then.

He wore his stringy dark hair combed to one side in the classic style of say, Der F├╝hrer. He usually complimented his dark trousers with a turtleneck that mostly failed to mask the prominence of his laryngeal, um prominence. Rounding out the textbook nerd look, Karl sported a nice cardigan from the Mr. Rogers line and some spiffy penny loafers. Understandable dress considering he attended private school. But for the love of God man, change into some jeans and stuff when you get home. Especially if you’re going to go play tag.

At the time of the scariest day of my life, I was about 10 or 11 years old. My best friend was Steve, oh sorry – Stephen, man I still do that. Anyway Stephen was the smartest funniest bestest buddy I ever had. He was also a nerd, but I didn’t know that yet. I thought Stephen and I were both pretty much like The Fonz. Stephen a little less than me because he refused to attempt to catch any ball thrown to him. He always took evasive maneuvers. Also, he wanted to be called "Stephen".

Karl was Stephen’s next door neighbor. He went to Brownell Talbot. The only thing I knew about the school at that time was that it was where Karl went, and it sounded like the kind of a school that jerks like Karl would go to. Remember – this was a child’s impression. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that it was precisely the kind of school that jerks like Karl go to. He commuted by Vespa. His Vespa had a basket for his books, but I always imagined he used it to steal little dogs from Kansas farm girls during twister season.

Until I was about 45 years old, I believed I would someday be a great movie actor. Renowned and loved the world over. I still maintain a glimmer of hope. Back in the day, I believed someone would just somehow discover me without me having to go through the trouble of auditioning for anything or learning how to act or sing or dance, etc. I believed I was so great that my greatness could not be hidden for too long. It was only a matter of time before my extreme talent was realized and - “Sorry parents, but I have to go to Hollywood now”. It could even happen during a game of tag.

One thing I could do was run fast. Not like the fastest ever or anything. I knew there were kids faster than me. When I was in 4th grade there were 2 kids (siblings) at the school faster than me. One was in the fifth grade and his sister was in sixth grade. But they weren’t playing any tag with us, so …

That reminds me; I annually won the long jump competition at our school too. So at the time I had my sight set on Beamon’s record. “What are you doing?” Dad asked me one time upon discovering me in the back yard running and jumping into the clothes line.

“I’m practicing because when I grow up, I’m going to beat Bob Beamon’s long jump record.”

“No you won’t,” encouraged my dad, turning and going back into the house.

“We’ll see about that,” I muttered under my breath. Ok yeah, now I’m ready to admit he was right since Mike Powell has since beaten it. I should have said more generally, “I’m going to beat the long jump record.” I’m not sure how dad knew that Beamon’s record would fall to someone other than me. But he did. Eerie.

The thing about running is that footwear and terrain both play a role. For instance, a cheap pair of tennis shoes on slick grass may not be the best, but you know what it's better than? A pair of penny loafers, that's what.

So one day, a bunch of us were playing a friendly little game of tag. I loved tag. I was typically ‘it’ when I decided to be. I was rarely ‘tagged’. But today was different. We had some older kids in the mix today. Well, it was my aunt Debbie, aged 16, and Karl, 14 or maybe 15. Debbie was there because she hung out with us sometimes. Karl was there because he was in love love love with Debbie. Karl had never played anything with us, except I think he sometimes played chess with Stephen. Oh there it is. Just drudged up the whole reason for my dislike of Karl. Jealousy. Stephen was my chess playing buddy, not Karl's! We don’t like Karl, Stephen. How can you play chess with him?

Not that Debbie would have had anything to with Karl. But it didn’t stop him trying. Debbie was cooler than all of us. She drove a cool black Mustang II with the gold racing stripes. Obviously, way out of Vespa boy’s league.

So we’re playing tag and I’m “it”. Karl is near me showboating for Debbie. I’m thinking the strategy must have been something like, “Hey Debbie watch me torment your little kid nephew, thus proving the fates have determined you and I should go steady or something.”

Everyone else was farther away, so I went after a backpedaling Karl. I must have surprised him because he had to jump out of the way to evade getting tagged. He was just a little late. Perhaps it was the penny loafers. By the fingertips, I was able to tag the inside of his right arm. I was very proud of this accomplishment. I had caught and vanquished a “big kid.” As ambassador for all of the children who actually belonged in the game, I was a bit of a hero. There was much shoulder patting and celebration. You know how when David slew goliath, the Jews were all happy and stuff? I imagine it was pretty much like that.

What happened next was really not much of anything. Karl with his head hung low, walked over to the railing by the front porch, grabbed his cardigan and went home. Wow, we collectively thought. What a sore loser. No wonder he never plays with us. Or talks to us. Or looks at us. Oh well who wants to be ‘it’ now that Schicklgruber left?

“Engine, Engine number nine …”

“Excuse me? Which one of you is Fred Hinsley?” The voice belonged to an elderly lady. Well dressed, smelling of some fine fragrance like ‘Charlie’ or ‘Shower to Shower’. She had been given my name, but didn’t know which of us was me. My heart leapt. This is it! Finally the bozos in Hollywood got their shit together. This woman is obviously from the Talent Agency of Movies and Everything.

With a sly smile, a little click of the tongue and a wink, I pointed to myself, “Right chere, ma’am. So long suckers. Don’t be too jealous when you get the postcards.”

As this nice lady roughly grabbed my arm and started pulling me across the yard, I realized that if I’m going to be in the movies, I’m going to have to learn that their ideas about courteous behavior differ from ours. When she started saying things like, “They oughta keep people like you in a kennel.” I began to get a little bit terrified. When she dragged me against my will into Karl’s house It became clear that She was Karl’s mother and she was mad at me for something and she was going to take me into her house and kill me. I began to cry.

Three minutes later, I had been pushed down into a kitchen chair by the nice smelling evil fucking witch. Karl’s dad was pacing back and forth seething. “Have you had your rabies vaccination, you little animal?” he inquired. I was all out bawling at this point not knowing what to do. I was sure they were going to murder me to death and I had absolutely no idea why.

Karl’s mom is shouting something at me. I’m too distracted to understand what she is saying. Then I remember English. She is asking me what my phone number is. I’m still terrified, but relieved. For one thing, my parents had never abused me in this way. For another, if my dad answers the phone and finds out what is happening he will be killing Karl’s dad in roughly 9 seconds.

I give my phone number in a voice that would have won an academy award saying “A dingo ate my baby.”

Mom answers. Damn. Karl’s dad completely oblivious to the fact that a flip of the coin gave his mortal coil a stay of execution.

Witch: Um yes, Hello. Is this Fred Hinsley’s mother?

Mom: wahwahwahwah

Witch (in a very dramatic voice): Your son has bitten my boy!

Mom: wahwah

Me (protesting in 'dingo dines on baby' voice): I DIDN’T BITE HIM!

Witch: Doh! What’s this?

Karl’s Dad: Karl. Come down here.

Witch to mom: Hold please.

Karl’s dad: He says he didn’t bite you.

Karl: Actually no he didn’t.

Witch to mom: Sorry, hee hee, wrong number. Click.

Karl’s dad: Then what the hell happened to your arm?

Karl(suddenly adopting a british accent): Funny story that. He scratched me purely on accident during a little game of tag. Nothing too serious, I’m sure.

Witch to me: you’re free to …

She probably said “go” but I don’t know because I bolted out of that house faster than either of the siblings at my school have ever run. Karl’s dad was removing his belt. Hopefully to just whip Karl but I didn’t stay to find out.

Then the scariest thing in my life happened. I imagined what it would be like to grow up where Karl was growing up. My attitude of him changed instantly. I saw that he wasn't just some supreme asshole for no reason. I saw that he was a human being with fears and emotions just like the rest of us. And also, he was a supreme asshole.

Later when I got home and dad had been briefed, he went over to Karl’s house. Karl and his parents disappeared in the night a few days after that.