Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stephen King is an Old Friend I've Never Met Until Today

Growing up in the 80s, I avoided reading a Stephen King novel until around Thanksgiving Break of 1987. For some reason I had no interest. This was only compounded by the release of King’s first directorial debut called Maximum Overdrive. I just couldn’t get behind a movie about machines taking out their murderous impulses on humans even if the antagonist was a semi w/ a giant Green Goblin head on the front.  
Sometimes thing just work out better in book form....

Thanksgiving Break gave me a lot of time to kill and I spent most of my time wishing I was anywhere else but up in the mountains. The upcoming 7 hour drive from Young Harris to Savannah was also not thrilling me. Over the years I’d learned to stock up on reading materials to pass the time. I selected Christine.

To say I tore through that book would be an understatement. I didn’t make it to I-16 before I found myself without a book. I think what got me was how King could take this ridiculous premise of a car coming to life and somehow weave it into an allegory for the average American’s love affair with their first car. Each chapter would open with a lyric from an appropriate rock song, I was hooked. I still remember that Chapter 2 had Glen Frey’s Party Town with, “packed up my car and I got some gas, Told everyone they could kiss my ass.”

King was the second author that I read to have a serious influence on me and that I had to read everything he had written. Pat Conroy would be the first. Odd bedfellows at first glance. Over the years, I have come to realize why I dig this guy so much. The fact King can scare me and is the Master of Horror is just a bonus. What I enjoy is how he creates real characters. Trashcan Man (“Ciabola, my life for you.”) was as terrifying to me as Jack Torrence when he loses it and stalks his family through the Overlook hotel in The Shining. While both characters are scary because they are so twisted, I can still find ounces of humanity in them which makes their path to madness all the more terrifying.  
Happy Father's Day? We're good, right, Jack? Jack?

The Gunslinger, The Stand, and The Talisman becoming favorites that I had to purchase my own copies. Trips to Savannah, working at summer camps, hiking in the mountains, a copy of a King novel would be my constant companion. I even got to the point where I began to read his books in order to watch how King’s writing style would evolve.

1989 brought me back surgery and six weeks of bed rest. I would finally catch up with King’s massive backlog of novels. Though, I’ll never recommend reading Misery and Gerald’s Game while on restricted bed rest. Gerald’s Game got me worked up that I still shudder when I imagine Jessie Burlingham hearing the Spaceman yell, “You’re not real, you’re made of moonlight.” Ugggh.
Scary but an a whole other level....

I was joking with Kim this morning about how my reading relationship with King is almost like that with a girlfriend. It has been a bit rocky at times. For a bit, we “broke up. In 1997, I was so let down by the release of Wizard and Glass. He made me wait six years to hear what happens to Roland the Gunslinger only to get a flashback story. Are you kidding me? Bag of Bones followed shortly thereafter I decided that King and I needed “some time apart.”

Somehow, we were destined to be together and I came around after reading Cell in 2006. I even finished the whole Dark Tower Series but this time on tape because of my long commute to work. Wow! I was wrong. King had crafted the American version of the Lord of the Rings. I did not disappoint and especially enjoyed how all of his books would be linked together. (if you dug the Dark Tower series, go back and listen to it audio. The two guys who read it are astounding! I believe they are George Guidall and Frank Muller. You’ll love them.)
Best series I've read since I was a kid discovering books....

So I am sitting here in my favorite stolen chair, doing a dialysis treatment, and chomping at the bit. In a few hours, I get to hear Stephen King doing the closing ceremony at the Savannah Book Festival. It’s rainy, a long line awaits, and I’ll have to deal with those old ladies from the Savannah Gardening club as ushers. But it’s Stephen King!
The best present from the best g/f --fiance' ever.

A new check can be made in my Bucket List today because I got to hear my favorite storyteller do what he does best. Talk about writing. Even better is that my talented and gorgeous fiancé is actually meeting King in a secret location with some fellow SCAD writing students to discuss the art of their craft. So proud and so jealous.

Kim keeps asking me what I am going to ask King if I get the chance to. I have no idea. Gonna wing it. I’m just thrilled that I have the chance to get my copy of The Gunslinger signed that Mom & Dad purchased  out at the old Sam’s Club on the Chatham Highway back in 1988.

I doubt this will come as shock but I have my own dreams about writing my own great American novel. I plan on taking notes on my little moleskin pad Mary gave me and I’ll even twitter a bit if you want to check me out @ lamoais. I have no idea what to expect and even trying to keep my expectations down a little bit but I know me. If I can barely contain myself now, I am going to be stoked the minute I step into line on Broughton Street.

Of course I may not make it in. always posts nerdy pictures with their mascot, Timmy. I have already warned Kim that I plan on doing my best to get Timmy to be part of the book festival. Not sure how this will go over but I am sucker for well placed product placement.

On to the show…..

Friday, February 17, 2012

You Win This Round, George Lucas

I never got to see Star Wars when it was first released. I’ve shared how it was introduced to me via my Cousin Maria during a visit to my Uncle George’s in Claxton. But I wasn’t out of luck. In the days long before DVD/video releases, movies often popped back up in theatres if they were warranted profitable enough. For the most part, they were the same movie and not that director’s cut crap that has become so prevalent.

It was September of 1978 and Star Wars had come back to Milledgeville, GA but this time not at the new Hatcher Square Twin Cinemas where we always went to see flicks. Star Wars was playing only at the old rundown Campus Theatre. I was so disappointed because my mother had a long standing “no movies at the Campus Theatre” rule. She felt the place was dirty and attracted the wrong type of people that a 10 year old should not be introduced to.
In writing this article, I discovered the Campus Theatre has been restored. Very Cool!

I had always wanted to go because the Campus Theatre looked just like those old cinemas from the 1930s-40s. I spent a lot of hours watching the Turner Superstation’s B&W Afternoon Movie. Even though I was only 10, I had visions of driving up in an old Packard to take in a screening of Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. I’d strut in wearing my best Bogie suit with the dark felt, brimmed hat. My escort would be a hot little number draped in a mink stole and she’d feed me popcorn while wearing her shoulder length gloves during the Sing-a-Long and Looney Tunes cartoon. I didn’t even really care about girls; it just seemed the classy way to watch a movie.

Obviously, it did not go down in this manner. Frankly, I still have no clue how I was able to convince my parents to take me out on a school night to their least favorite movie house in Milledgeville, GA. Mom was well into her third trimester. I guess they wanted to have one last night out before Mary’s arrival though at this point, Mary was always referred to as Marmaduke Marathon Boo Paycheck Richardson. But that is a whole other story.

We arrived around 7ish and I was immediately impressed because the place had a balcony just like in the Little Rascals and Three Stooges. How cool is that? Unfortunately, the balcony was closed for repairs and I suspected those repairs might be a long time coming. We finally found three seats almost in good condition with very little rips on the red vinyl.

The previews started and I still remember them to this day. I was so excited because Mom also had a strict nothing above “G.” Last Christmas I had seen my first PG movie with Uncle Billy so this was kind of a big deal. The first was this horrible ode to disco known as Thank God It’s Friday. I think it’s only remembered because it was the launching point for Debra Winger and a young Jeff Goldblume. Next up was Jaws 2 which prompted me to freak out. Are you kidding me? Any chance to spend an afternoon viewing sharks feasting on slow tourists was time well spent in my book. I didn’t even get part of the request out before the Big Guy said without even turning towards me, “No.”

That would be the end of that. On to the movie.

Now I knew Star Wars backwards and forward thanks to the good people at Marvel Comics and the wonderful adaptation they had done. What failed to escape me were the subtle nuances that only film can deliver. A comic book can tell a story but they can’t convey a funny glance between Obi-Wan and Han Solo or a deadpan line delivery between Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. That movie changed my life in how I enjoy films.
Sitting on my bookshelf as I type

Thirty-four years later, and I am now in the unique position to do the same for my kids. The Phantom Menace is out in 3-D. I hate this movie out of all the trilogies. It’s poorly directed and acted. The pacing is horrible and it has Jar Jar Binks. I am also not thrilled about the idea of dropping a ridiculous amount of cash for something that I don’t really want to see in the first place.

So why I am I ponying up to bankroll George Lucas’s desire to drop a Hot Karl on my memories? Probably for the same reason my parents took me to a crappy theatre back in 1978 on a school night. I love those kids and I get to share in their excitement and wonder of Star Wars. Roni and Jude don’t worry about bad acting, implausible plot lines, or horrible CGI characters. The world still has real magic to them and this movie may help us all too collectively share in that for 131 minutes. For them, I’ll take one on the chin and tone down my snobbery for a bit.
But George Lucas, heed my words. I’ll pay the crazy ticket prices and do the same for the next six years as you release each one of the SW in the trilogy. We’ll buy the wacked out merchandise like the SW can of Pringles and the breakfast cereal with the light saber spoons. I’ll even laugh along with Roni and Jude at the annoying antics of the ewoks and Jar Jar Binks. Just please, for God’s sake, leave Raiders of the Lost Ark alone.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why I'm Coming Around to Feb 7th

 February 7, is the second most dreaded day in my year. I despise it for all it’s worth and often wish I could just sleep it away. It’s the anniversary of when we buried my father over at Hillcrest cemetery. The passing of this day has gotten much easier but it still always reminds me that the Big Guy is missing from my life.

            Writing a blog is a funny thing and very addictive. I guess because I am a story teller at heart, I enjoy making connections with all the remembrances, crazy adventures, magical moments, and figuring out how they relate to my life. In my down times, I’ll actually begin to piece together what I want to say or share and create how I’ll frame it. My favorite part is how sometimes what I start out to write never materializes but I end up somewhere quite different.

            Like today’s blog. I promise that I am not trying to pat myself on the shoulder but I had this amazing blog written out and ready to type up. There was some pretty good stuff to be found. I had some heartfelt moments, a few tears, and even some actual dialogue which I am trying to incorporate more. I was going to share a tale that only people in my secret inner circle know about. I don’t think it was the best blog I’d written but I did feel it would have been the right one to remember Dad by.
The Big Guy circa 1986

            Then yesterday happened and blew that sucker out of the water. I always refer to those special moments and how fleeting they are. If I did not share, I’d be stupid and missing out on writing about a real relationship changing moment. The original blog will be back at some point but I think you’ll see why I had to go with this one. Please indulge me.

            Yesterday had not been that hard to get through. I kept busy with teaching classes, a teacher-parent meeting, and other assorted mundane tasks. Somehow Kim and I decided to meet up for dinner after Roni’s Horseback riding. For space and time, we picked the Cracker Barrel by I-95.

            I arrived before Kim, Jude, and Roni so I busied myself by looking at all the junk for sale and figuring out how to distract the kids from a potential buying spree. They pulled up so I decided to greet them at the door. I began waving frantically as if I could wave down someone on the interstate. Jude began laughing. Roni was not as amused.
I know this is somewhere in my future.

            Now, I have written on several occasions and expressed how Roni’s and I have had a rocky start to our relationship. Basically, we had to figure it out on our own and at times, it was downright frustrating. To add Coleman Fuel to the fire, we both enjoy yanking the other’s chain. Roni’s not amused? I’ll wave louder. It was about that time Kim pointed out how Roni was about to cry because she has had a rough day.

            I prepared to kick into super-apology mode as Roni walked up to me. She looked up at me with those gorgeous brown eyes that I know will make me have to chase off boys one day. I could see she barely had it together.

            “Robby, I’ll tell you inside but for right now, please give me a hug.” Roni almost whispered.

            I wrapped my arms around that little girl and just held her for I don’t know how long.

            Now, I am a hugging type of guy and know that my lumberjack/wookie type frame (notice I didn’t say teddy bear) is rather therapeutic. Over the years, I have given countless hugs to baby sisters, upset campers, close friends, crying girlfriends, dumped fraternity brothers. I could go on.  Somehow that hug felt different from any other hug I have ever shared before. It has haunted me. As I type, I am still trying to put it into words and can’t. The closest thing that describes yet still pales is how I’d feel when Mary was little and needed her big brother.

            This little girl wanted me to be the one to comfort her. Personally, I would have thought Roni’s want Kim but for the first time, she picked me. We have been doing very well since the summer and fallen into a rhythm of getting along. I know Roni accepts as part of the family to where she even enjoys having me around. But that moment when she was in my arms and I was holding her, I think we both hit a new connection. She trusted me enough to provide a few moments of comfort while I allowed her to let me feel like a Dad. Not a step father but a Dad.

            Veronica and I have always been very clear with our boundaries. She’s going to be my step-daughter and I am the step-father. Kim and the kids have even dubbed me “Big Daddy,” Being a step-father is weird because I have my feet on both planes. I’m not the real dad but I’m also something of some merit too. Our moment yesterday opened up something. I have always dreamed of experiencing. The Dad bear hug.

            There is just something about watching the Dad give his daughter a big bear hug. I saw it on numerous occasions between Mary and Dad. Dad even shared plenty of those hugs with me but somehow, I’ve always known it was different between the Dad and daughter. It’s a whole other range within the relationship that has somehow eluded me until last night.     

The kicker is how I got to experience it for the first time on a day when I remember my Dad. February 7th doesn’t seem to have that same sting now. Having Roni and Jude in my life has enriched me on so many levels. Being around them makes me remember what it was like to be a kid around Mom and Dad. I used to hate Dad being gone because he’d be an astounding grandfather. Somehow a little bit of the mystery of parenting makes a little sense to me and it took an eleven year-old girl upset about her favorite horse possibly dying to teach me.

            It may not have been the greatest dinner I ever had but the conversation was top-notch. Roni explained how the horse she’d been riding for five years had tumors and it might not go well. I was able to share stories about my late dog, Belle and how sometimes letting go is a mercy but it still is pretty shitty. There was much laughter and even some corn bread which seems to fix everything. My Dad even popped up in conversation but it didn’t hurt to remember or share.  By the time the Richardson-Wade-Yanceys departed, life seemed a bit lighter even thought I still refused to purchase the vintage style $3 Hershey Bar at the register. (Thanks, Cracker Barrel, nicely played) It’s nice to know that a day with a bad memory can sometimes grow into a good one that I may even use for a wedding toast one day.
One day...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Today a twenty-six year quest comes to a very happy ending. As I type this blog, I am listening to the melodic tones of the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack. This soundtrack has been my elusive one-armed man my whole adult life. The only way this moment could be more complete would be if it was on an actual cassette complete with cool plastic casing and that little paper insert. But, I’m not complaining. Thanks internet!

Truthfully, the real thanks should go to my old High School pal. Peter Lee. Pete and I grew up together in the North Georgia Mountains in a sleepy little time I like to refer to as the Awesome 80s. Being the children of transplanted parents who were academics at Young Harris College, this did not win us as many cool points as you’d guess. Most of the adults we knew through High School seemed more concerned with how far you could throw a football or how much sorghum one could cut. It goes without saying that between Peter being Drum Major and myself President of the Art Club, we were not recognized the cool guys we knew we were.

The only skill we got any cool points, and it wasn’t too much, was our little group used to run the sound system for all the high school dances. Peter, Marty Gibby, Brian Patterson, and myself would get together after the Towns County big seasonal game every Friday night and the occasional Saturday and spin some old 45s. I went to Union County so it wasn’t always as easier for my schedule to coincide with them but I go pretty good at synching up. Being a DJ became the high point in a pretty dismal social life.
Easy, Ladies, I believe they are single....

Tracking down the newest/latest musical releases became an art form. Keep in mind this is around 1984-86 and the internet was unheard of.  We lived in a series of quant mountain villages with the nearest mall about an hour off. Some of the local guitar shops carried music but it was mostly gospel and country which we despised at this point in our budding musical tastes. Occasionally the Sky City which was the North GA rip off of K-mart, might have something. I did score a copy of U2’s  Boy and War there by accident. (I got serious bragging rights in our group of music snobs).

Soundtracks were my specialty and something that I was a bit obsessive about and I had a huge collection already at 17. I was trying to explain to Kim this morning that there was something about a John Hughes soundtrack. He had his finger on something that I’ve never seen anyone duplicate on screen. His words and stories were always great but he also understand how the MTV generation also needed an excellent pairing of music to go with his silver screen vision, A John Hughes soundtrack was always a mish mash of classic tunes we all knew combined some choice sound bites of dialogue, and topped with some great current jams featuring that awesome 80s sound. The only other person who comes close is Adam Sandler with his soundtracks.

My collection boasted them all: Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, and even Sixteen Candles(which actually got lifted at one of those dances so I need to track that one down as well). Peter and I saw Ferris shortly after graduating. I began my search but to no avail.

None of our local stores had even heard of this movie much less special order. I expanded my search to the Turtle Tapes and Records in Oglethorpe Mall during a visit to grandparents in Savannah. I even went into the shadier McCrory’s Record section. No luck! My search led me to begin canvassing the Atlanta market, My poor results continued.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve gone on to West Georgia where I roomed with true music collectors. We’d drive up to Atlanta and hit all the record shows. I got some cool stuff like an LP of Top Secret but no opportunities to yell, “Save Ferris.”

Finally, I discovered there never was an US released soundtrack due to licensing issues but there was a foreign import. Foreign imports are the dreaded word to most collectors because it usually means the dealer is going to jack up the price. He did. As much as I wanted my own copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the 80 bucks.  

Over the next decade or so, I’d occasionally poke around but I never really tried as hard as I did as that summer back in 1986. All that changed this morning. Peter was creative enough to put together an excellent group of MP3s that follows the movie perfectly. As a recovered hoarder, I got to tip my hat to Mr. Lee. It’s not always about the collection so much as the completion which draws to a close for me today.

I write the majority of these blogs while sitting here in my chair doing a dialysis treatment. It’s not horrible but it is draining to find ways to kill about three plus hours. Today has been a delight as I’ve listened to this awesome soundtrack. The music just takes me back to a time when my biggest worry in the world was trying to not look silly in front of the pretty girls. (and failing miserably) I spend a lot of time during the day being reminded of teen age Robby through the magic that is High School. Today’s little jaunt down memory lane has been nice in that I actually got to focus on the good things that happened during my formative years instead of the bad moments I should be sharing on a therapist’s couch.

I’ve also had that revelational moment where I see how it applies to my life. One of my favorite songs is the Dream Academy’s, “The Edge of Forever.” The song played at the end right before Matthew Broderick has to beat everyone home and he’s leaving Sloane’s house. In the world of a 17 year old with little or no romantic experience, it set the bar for what I thought I’d need to feel to be in love.

For the first time in way too long, I listened to the words and understood it was the exact way I feel about Kim when we are together and apart. I practically said even quoted the damn thing without even recognizing how the lyrics were relevant. This makes me smile and tear a bit at the same time.

Thanks, John Hughes. I’m not just thanking you because no one makes movies the way you do anymore. I’m not just thanking you because I am totally digging on this soundtrack that I’ve searched for about half my life. I’m thanking you because you were able to create a movie that enthralled a 17 year old version of myself yet still I find it relevant as a man in his 40s.

Danke Schoen.