Thursday, December 6, 2007

I call the big one "bitey"

I recounted the following story at Thanksgiving dinner, and my Dad encouraged me to blog it. This is an early memory I have of using logic to solve a problem.

So, one time I was at Chuck E. Cheese at Southdale Square for my brother's birthday. I think I was about seven, but as we've established, I'm an unreliable narrator. Anyway, under the stage with all the creepy animatronic animals, there was a kid-sized mouse hole. Through the hole there was a little room, almost a crawl-space, with a strobe light. Essentially it was a little kid rave, so you could go in there with your E and glowstick to "Smack My Bitch Up." Except this was 1986 instead of the mid-90s, The Prodigy didn't exist yet, and the robot band was playing a crappy cover of "Surfin' USA" with the lyrics changed to something about "If everybody had a birthday..."

I was in there with a couple of kids I didn't know, thinking it was really cool that everything looked all slow-motion (this was definitely before Pokémon ruined strobes for everyone), when an entire birthday party's worth of kids (not my brother's party, incidentally) piled into the Rave Hole (TM) like frat boys in a phone booth. Now, I'm not usually claustrophobic, but this freaked me out. I was pressed against the back wall by a mass of writhing kid, and started to fear that I wasn't going to get out I have to get out how am I going to get out?

I formulated a plan. I executed the plan. I bit the nearest limb.

Not enough to leave a mark. Just enough to get the appropriate attention.

My unknown victim yelled "there's a biter in here!", and like "Fire!" in a crowded theater, the words did the trick. The other children fled for the safety of their extremities, and I joined them, worrying aloud to anyone who'd listen, "somebody bit one of the other kids in there!" My innocent bystanding established, I nonchalantly disappeared into the sea of pizza and skee-ball.

That's the closest I've ever been to being James Bond.

In hindsight, I could've achieved the same result without biting the other kid if I'd just yelled "there's a biter in here!" Damn, now I've ruined it for myself. Let's pretend I didn't write that last part, ok? Thanks.

I leave you with a bonus, a creepier Chuck E. Cheese picture. I can still feel his hugs:

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Neutrino Video Project

Another self-plug here, this time for the Neutrino Video Project, Twin Cities.

The Neutrino Project is an improvised movie. Three teams of improvisors, each consisting of a camera-wielding director, two or three actors, and a runner with a stopwatch, each get a suggestion from the theater audience, and sprint out of the building to immediately start filming their first scene. By the time the three teams have gotten their suggestions, and some pre-edited trailers and credits have rolled, the first tape from the first team is delivered by the runner. Subsequent tapes (three total from each team) are brought in on a tightly-monitored schedule. The tapes are played for the audience and mixed and given a live musical score. Thus is a 40-minute movie created instantly in front of its audience.

Anyway, the Twin Cities group, of which I am a member, is about to have its third and final "preview" show next Thursday, December 6th, at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. This is our press show, meant to generate interest for more regular shows starting in January, so we want this show to sell out. You should come see it. Yes, you.

To whet your appetite, here are the various trailers the team's put together for the show so far (this is also an exercise in video embedding for this greenhorn blogger). Some "rough language" ahoy, especially in the first trailer so, uh, NSFW:

Trailer #1
Based on footage from our rehearsals

Trailer #2
More rehearsal stuff. Watch Dan Hetzel fight with a Wendy's cup!

Trailer #3
From our October show. Moody and introspective.

For those who want more information and background:
1. The blog by the "core group" producing our show.
2. The website of Neutrino, the NYC-based improv group who invented the Video Project and dispatched their own Matt Donnelly to teach us over one cold & rainy weekend in August.
3. Wikipedia on neutrinos (the elementary particle)
4. The other Minnesota-based neutrino project, in the Soudan Mine near Tower, MN.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

How the hell has this blog existed so long without a post about video games? Granted, Joe covers most of the necessary territory, and does so daily. But still, if there's one topic that I spend more time nerdily jabbering about more than video games, I am unaware of it.

So, I invite you to listen to the most recent Brave New Workshop "For Those Who Don't Know" video game podcast. That's right: nearly 40 minutes of me and Joe Bozic talking about the annoying $10 premium for Xbox 360 games, the packaging for Guitar Hero III (at least three thrilling minutes on that topic), and the wonderful world of crappy Nintendo DS games.

Anyway, while you're at it, you should also check out Mike Fotis and John Haynes' Brave New Workshop Sports podcasts and the original, general-interest (Genus IV?) Brave New Workshop podcasts. All of them can be found for free download at Libsyn or the iTunes music store. Those are probably less alienating.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One of those names

My last name is Beukema. I very much enjoy having a unique last name, and indeed, a very uncommon (for people my age) first name. It means my Google footprint is pretty much restricted to me and not people who happen to share my name: convenient. It meant that my college email address before the at sign was just my last name: easy. Unfortunately, it also means my wife, having taken my last name, is now doomed to spelling it and pronouncing it for other people, as I have all my life. The name is of Dutch origin, incidentally.

When I was in college, I realized the easiest way to teach people how to pronounce the name is "Rhymes with PUKE - a - muh." Uh, sorry, Beukemas, but that's what seems to stick. Otherwise, you keep getting BUCK-e-ma or BOO-ke-mah or Bue-KEE-ma or some combination thereof. I take these in stride; comes with the territory.

Then there are the misspellings and misreadings that really mangle things. Some of this is my own fault for my "n"s and "u"s looking too similar when I write. For a while, I had a whole branch of junk mail stemming from a single magazine subscription, all addressed to a Fred Benkema. Someone once read my name as Berkman. Huh?

The best by far, though, was when I was directing the Southwest High School pep band at a hockey game my junior year in 1996. Our band director, Keith Liuzzi, and I had both given our names on a slip of paper to the announcer at Parade Ice Garden. This led to the following:
Please rise for our national anthem, played by the Southwest High School band under the direction of Fred Balookema and Keith Luicheck.

Anyway, what got me thinking about all of this was a phone call I made yesterday to American Airlines to alter our travel plans for visiting Melissa's family in California this Christmas. The automated phone tree system asked me for the last name of the reservation. I fully expected to be immediately put on hold to wait for someone I could spell the name to, but sure enough, the system recognized what I said. Granted, it used a stock mispronunciation (BOO-ke-ma) in repeating my name back to me, but still: kudos, American Airlines' phone software provider, kudos.

(Hat tip for the coat of arms)

Monday, November 12, 2007

As in, "This magazine will give your wife or girlfriend a _____"

An open letter to whoever signed me up for a one-year subscription to "Complex":

Hi. Thanks, anyway. Listen, it's not that I don't like hip-hop. I do. It's not that I don't like general interest magazines with reviews of music, video games, movies, and the like. I'm cool with that. It's not that I have anything against the magazine's publisher, Mark Ecko. Hell, I think what he did with Barry Bonds' record home run ball is brilliant, and I even voted on the ball's fate (to send the thing into space). I don't know much about your November cover boy T.I., but that doesn't necessarily mean I don't want to know more. That I cannot say.

But here's the thing. Your magazine is double-covered. And while your main cover may simply give the impression of "I'm a style-conscious urban dude," the other cover sends a vastly different signal, especially when the magazine shows up unannounced and your wife is the one who gets the mail:

No, the other cover gives the impression of "I'm a sneaky horndog who is scared of actual nudity and for whom an annual Swimsuit Issue is too little."

So, uh, thanks, but save your postage.

Kiss kiss,

PS: Any chance I could switch to an annual subscription to, I dunno, The New Republic? Or Omni? Does Omni still exist? No, wait -- Wired. Wired is what I want you to give me for free without my asking for it.
PPS: Why is the model on the left wearing a big purple glove? Is she a silver-age DC Comics supervillain?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Messing With the Timeline: Star Wars on HBO

My wife and I have become addicted to the TV show Weeds. It's excellent. Smart and funny, that's what we like. Anyway, as is so often the case, I ended up on a Wikipedia tangent-a-thon this evening. It went like this: Weeds > Showtime > HBO and then I jumped over to Youtube to watch this, the old HBO feature presentation logo thing from the early-mid 80s.*

My family didn't have cable until I was in high school, just in time for Mike Nelson's run on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But growing up, my VHS copy of Star Wars was one that my uncle had taped off of HBO. I still have that tape somewhere. I hope. Anyway, as kids do when they watch the same thing thousands of times, I had the rhythm of the whole tape down: first, there's the tail end of an HBO documentary special on women in prison or something, meh. Then a promo for an upcoming Neil Young concert broadcast, with Neil singing After the Gold Rush ("Look at mother nature on the run in the 1980s"), oh boy here we go. Then a bit about how the following feature presentation has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America, and parental guidance is suggested, because this movie is the best one ever, and you should guide your children to it. Then the spinning HBO thing, discussed above, SUPER-exciting. Then the 20th Century Fox drumroll and the Lucasfilm logo and holy crap the STAR WARS and the music and the words flying off into oblivion and the giant spaceships and then your 3-year-old heart explodes because STAR WARS!**

Now, here's the thing. I saw Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on VHS, and Return of the Jedi in the theater. But! Tonight I discovered this other video on Youtube. Puzzle pieces contained therein: ads for the premiere of both Star Wars and Fraggle Rock, both coming to HBO "next month." But according to Wikipedia, Fraggle Rock (alright, I'm sick of italics) premiered on HBO in January 1983. Return of the Jedi came to theaters in May, 1983. Was my discovery and enthusiastic embrace of all things Star Wars really within the span of just a few months? The whole timeline of my youth has just been contracted. Baked in an oven and shrinky-dinked (or is shrunky-dunk the past participle of shrinky-dink?).

I am well aware of the accelerating nature of time. When you're a child, a year is an eternity. The first four years of elementary school seems like a geologic age, to say nothing of K-12 education as a whole. And I've been out of college for six years now, gone in a blink. This is not a new idea to me. Pink Floyd wrote songs about it. But to go back now and see how short a span of time it must have been between the first time I saw Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope, nerds***) and Return of the Jedi, I'm awestruck. In my memory, those events were years apart. I guess little kids' internal clocks just run fast, like hummingbirds or mayflies. They can fill their days and take in information and digest it and move on and do it again so much faster than adults.

So remember, the next time a Sunday afternoon slips away from you and you spend it reading the archives of Bill Simmons' articles on instead of cleaning the gutters like you planned, that somewhere, in the same amount of time, little kids are experiencing their equivalent of the rise and fall of the Roman empire.

Or maybe video games and MTV ruined all that. Get off my lawn.

* I also found this hilariously self-important "making of the HBO opening logo" film from around the same time. Two things stuck out in this thing: 1) they spent a lot of time and money on that project and 2) whoever wrote the song featured throughout this insider look must have been told "Pretend you're Billy Joel, only less talented. Now write a song for a Reading Rainbow segment about the incomplete nature of human perception. Now make it more condescending."
** Given the Pavlovian connection of the promo and Star Wars in my mind, I've gone so far (full confession) as to put an mp3 of the HBO music on my iPod, so it plays at the beginning of my copy of the Star Wars score album. This kicks lots of nerdy ass.
*** Remember when the number IV in front of that movie felt full of promise instead of disappointment?

Friday, November 2, 2007

DC Storytapes Teach Classical Music

When I was a kid, I had a number of book-and-tape sets, featuring short storybooks and cassettes that read the story for you. In addition to the typical Star Wars, Disney and Peanuts sets, I also had three sets made by Fisher-Price featuring DC Comics characters. These were a cut above the average storytape set: each featured a snazzy hardback book with a little plastic envelope on the back for the tape and all-original art by major DC artists like Jim Aparo and Joe Orlando, and a nicely-written (to my spotty memory) version of each superhero's mythology.

I had three. There was the Batman one, entitled "Batman and Robin the Teen Wonder in the Case of the Laughing Sphinx," which featured the Dynamic Duo against the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman, and also told Robin's origin. There was a Superman one called "From Krypton to Metropolis," which included Superman's origin, his time as Superboy and the version of Lex Luthor's origin in which he lost his hair during an experiment in Smallville and turned against Superboy/man in the process. The Wonder Woman one was called "Cheetah on the Prowl," and had her origin and a story where she saves her boyfriend's army base from supervillainess the Cheetah. There was also a Justice League of America one I didn't have.

The reason I bring this up is that each of them used a single piece of classical music as the background theme music. The Batman music I know real well: it was Modest Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain," famous pop-culturally for its segment in the original Fantasia, which worked really well. The stuttering opening notes of the piece still say Batman to me. Wonder Woman used a heroic fanfare bit from Franz Liszt's "Les Preludes," (the motif in question is declared triumphantly at 6:49 in the video) which was also the theme to the old (1930s & 40s) Buck Rogers serials. I hadn't known what piece it was for about a decade and a half, until my college music history prof played a bit of it in class, and it hit me like a ton of bricks in a moment of AHA. I don't remember what the Superman music was, but have long wondered what bit of music has been bouncing around my subconscious, secretly associated with the Man of Steel. Doug Diamond's Music 262 course at Grinnell solved the Wonder Woman problem. If I stumble upon the Superman book or especially the tape at a thrift or collectible store some day, I might just have to pony up a buck or two to find out.

(Hat tip for the images to some person on Fortunecity.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hiya hiya hiya

The time has come for the obligatory, masturbatory, self-indulgent first post of this blog. I suppose all blogging is self-indulgent, and all references to the self-indulgence of blogs are obligatory. Even gratuitous. Pandering.

The title of this post should be read like Fozzie Bear. As he himself once typed for Kermit's script: "Ladies and genklefins, welcun again ty the Muppel Shoks. My name is Kermit the Forg."

Why a blog? Because there's weird, esoteric stuff that sticks in my brain in odd combinations sometime, and hopefully this blog will give me the opportunity to scrape out the inside of my head like a pumpkin. Gross. Anyway, I've got posts percolating on DC comics, classical music, and my disdain for Residence Inn advertisements. Rest assured, whatever you read here will be nerdy.

Nerdy and probably not timely. My employers would certainly frown on using work time for this sort of thing, so I'll generally be writing piecemeal, at lunchtime, after work, at home, and then posting a finished bit once I randomly remember it's there. I'm writing this at lunch on a Thursday, and it'll likely be posted sometime on Friday if I think of it (UPDATE: I did). I don't know why I'm telling you this, except probably to cover my own ass. Ass: covered.

Ladies and genklefins, I'll have some real content sooner or later. Hope you'll stop by for that.