Friday, May 29, 2009

Tank Top Currency

For the first part of the summer of 2003 I interned with a movie promotions agency in Boston. We sent out passes and occasionally put on promotional events where we got rid of our mountains upon mountains of movie swag. During that summer, one of the hotly anticipated movies was Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde. The office was littered with cases of tank tops, miniature nail files, fans and other relatively useless bright pink items.

The good news was that the movie came out July 2nd, just two weeks after the Boston Gay Pride Parade. In a genius move, myself and some of the other interns were dispatched to the Boston Gay Pride Parade to promote the movie. We would set up a small booth on the Commons and people stopped by to browse and grab things they wanted.

It was very hot, so many people weren't wearing even wearing shirts, nonetheless our shirts were going over very well. Everyone needed to have one. The good news was we had several dozen large boxes of them at our table. There was no way we would ever run out, I mean, how many people at a gay pride parade would want a Legally Blonde shirt?

As more and more people reached the Boston Common where we were stationed, the shirt stash began to dwindle and the demand for them became greater. It was like the end of It's a Wonderful Life, when the townspeople crowd the bank asking for their money. A few of us grabbed what we could and went out amongst the people, handing them out to anyone who wanted them. In short order, we were running down to the last of our supply.

A short overly tanned man without a shirt on asked for the shirt that I was wearing and the crowd cheered. Immediately I turned red, but still gave him the shirt. I think the fact that I was wearing a t-shirt that said "Hulk" underneath didn't do me any favors with that crowd.

Thankfully I had put one away for myself before the event, or I wouldn't have been able to take this lovely picture yesterday after coming across the shirt amongst my regular undershirts.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Two Yutes

This weekend I'm headed to Alabama for my cousin's wedding. The last time I was in Alabama was during my drive out to California in January 2004.

I had left Connecticut and picked up my friend Justin in Maryland two days before. We had a stopover in Atlanta and were now coasting down I-65 somewhere between Mobile, Alabama and the Mississippi state line. We had just completed an unplanned stopover at the Tuskegee University Book Store to get souvenirs. We were now in a very rural area with a lot of trees, bushes and obvious speed traps. It turned into a game, seeing who could find them first without trying not to stare for too long.

Until we did. Both of us turned to look at a gap in the foliage the exact same time, making long eye contact with the two state troopers attempting to hide out in their cruiser. The stare lingered, then we both turned back towards the road. The troopers pulled out right behind us.

In my mind I thought they had received a distress call, that they had somewhere to be. I thought it best to clear the path for them, so at my earliest convenience, I merged to the next lane over to the right. As soon as we merged, the lights came on and we were pulled over.

We weren't speeding. We possessed nothing illegal. I suppose our only crime was driving a car with Connecticut plates through Alabama. The first trooper came to the window and asked for both of our licenses. He was very short and asked if we knew why he pulled us over. We told him that we honestly did not.

"You were following too close," he explained, "You have to be ten feet back for every ten miles per hour." It seemed unfair since we only moved out of the way to let him by, but there was no way I was going to argue about it with an Alabama State Trooper.

The first cop took our info and went to run the license information, at which point a second cop suddenly appeared at Justin's window and spit a mouthful of chewing tobacco on the ground, some of it tailing down the side of the car. "Where ya headed?" he asked us for the second time.

"L.A.," I replied, then clarifying "Los Angeles" as not to be confused with Louisiana's postal abbreviation. I told him the story of us driving there for my last semester of school. I don't remember the exact wording but there were a lot of "yes, sir" and "no, sir" involved. He asked why we weren't in school right now (semester break). It was the first week of January, and he couldn't understand that we would be on vacation. Why was someone going with me if he wasn't going to school (to split driving and have company). How was he getting home if I was keeping the car (catching a flight back). There was a debate for several minutes over who the car belonged to. Most of these seemed to be standard, if not unnecessary questions to try and stumble upon some trouble that didn't exist.

He asked where we both went to school. Justin said Maryland and I said Emerson. He lit up and asked "Then why is there a Brandeis sticker on the car?" He looked smug, thinking he finally caught us in the lie he was hoping for. I explained that it had once belonged to my sister.

"If you're not staying out in California, how are you getting back?" Justin explained that he was flying back to the east coast afterwards. To make sure our story checked out, he asked to see Justin's flight information. I guess his alternate goal was to divide us up and question us alone. The flight info was in his suitcase in the driver's side back seat. To retrieve it, Justin had to pull his whole suitcase out into the road towards oncoming traffic.

The first cop came back to the car and talked to me while Justin was stuck with the tough guy. Both asked us the same questions. It started with "How well do you know this boy?" We both gave the same answer, "pretty well."

"How long have you known him?" It turns out we both said "about eight years." The whole situation was turning in to a bizarre version of the Newlywed Game. We were very excited to find out we gave the same answer because we didn't actually know the exact time table or have any time to rehearse.

"Ever seen him do any drugs," my cop asked me. "No."

"Got any drugs on you," Justin's cop asked him. "No," he said, "We're both 21 and we don't even have any beer."

"How 'bout marijuana?" No. Then he continued to ask about a long laundry list of various narcotics, to all of which Justin said no. The cop was not convinced.

"If I brought our dog over here, would he tell me anything different," Trooper #2 said sternly. Later Justin told me he was thinking how amazing it was that these cops had a talking dog, but it wasn't exactly the right time or place to unleash that comment.

"Carrying any weapons?" Justin said no. At this point I saw Justin through the rear view mirror appearing to get patted down by his officer. The officer saw what he thought was a weapon. When Justin tried to reach for his pocket, the officer yelled "Stay where ya are," and the officer reached in to find out that this weapon was just his keys.

When they finally finished asking everything they could think of, we were let off with a warning. They wrote a pretty pink warning ticket for following too close. That's right, when I pulled over to let them by, during that five second increment, I was too close to the truck in front of me. The whole incident took about 45 minutes and Justin and I did not leave until the cops pulled away first. We didn't stop driving until we reached Mississippi, where we got out at the Visitor's Welcome Center and hugged.

(As a side note, during the interrogation, I received a call from the Los Angeles office I applied for an internship with. I frantically called back afterwards and explained why I couldn't answer the first time. We went back and forth with some quotes from My Cousin Vinny, because of the easy parallels. When I arrived for the interview, we reminisced about the story and I ended up getting the job.)

After a few days in Los Angeles I cleaned out the car and came across the actual written warning. The ticket actually said "following to close." He was probably so angry because he was never taught proper grammar.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Beacon of Hope

My Accidental Rise up the College Newspaper Ladder

With zero journalism experience, halfway through my junior year I applied to be assistant Arts and Entertainment editor of Emerson's school paper, The Berkeley Beacon. Okay, I lied – I had some experience with the paper – I wrote a single semesters worth of terrible comic strips for the purpose of including secret coded notes to a girl I liked. It's hard to believe something equally intricate and nerdy didn’t work out. My newspaper career was over as quick as it had started. The attempt to reboot my journalistic self was due to the paper constantly getting free movie passes and the pretentiousness (and expense) of the film department. I figured as a film major it would be okay to lend my opinion to some movie reviews.

As I spent winter break staffing a USY convention in Orlando, major things were brewing at the newspaper office. It seems that the current Arts & Entertainment editor decided to transfer to a school closer to home, vacating her position. Nothing could have caught me more off guard than receiving a call I thought was about the assistant position and being offered section editor.

I accepted the position, ruffling a few feathers among the current staff, what with me not being a journalism student. Others were upset because they didn’t even know the position was open (neither did I). I switched one of my electives to be an introductory journalism course to learn the basics. Twenty-four eager freshmen and one out of place junior.

Once I got comfortable, I awarded myself a weekly column entitled "My Cleverly Titled Column," where I wrote about such important issues as television, what I wanted for my birthday and the state of professional wrestling. I went to a lot of press screenings, even those I had no intention of reviewing. There were meetings with celebrities in town promoting movies. I went to for personal reasons. Jack Black wished my sister happy birthday on the phone. Ridley Scott autographed a copy of Black Hawk Down for a friend. I was in a good place.

The semester flew by. Every Wednesday night we worked late hours in the office for the Thursday morning publication. The school paid for ten of us to attend a week long collegiate journalism convention in Seattle for spring break. I attended equal number of information sessions and press screenings. Most of the week focused on real news. The trip turned out to be more fun than learning, but when we came back to Boston it was back to work. By the time summer arrived, it was a much needed break from the weekly deadlines.

Three weeks before the summer ended I got a call from the new editor-in-chief. Both of the previous managing editors had graduated and the rest of the staff was all going to be sophomores or juniors. She offered me the position because I was going to be one of the only other seniors and I had come highly recommended from the previous editor. Now I was perfectly content to stay on and have another easy going semester watching movies and writing about anything I wanted. In the end, I took the position on the condition that I could still write for A&E when I wanted.

It was a lot more work, having to edit every article before it went for the final review with the chief. I wrote articles for news, editorial, sports, comics and lifestyle - basically every section that needed a fill in that week. When I moved to L.A. for my last semester, I wrote a few columns giving the west coast Emerson perspective, but eventually my involvement faded. A lot of my writing, including this blog is strongly influenced by the inexplicable year of my life where I accidentally became a journalist.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Art Wars

Each year at ECA, the visual arts department students were required to complete one two dimensional class, one three dimensional class and one media class. For one of the quarters, you could do any of those a second time.

The problem here was that if you took two media classes and a two dimensional class then only one three dimensional class was offered, then you were stuck. My senior year that's precisely what happened in the third quarter.

Almost all of the seniors had taken the nude art class. Many of my friends and I took a video class after that. Since we couldn't do video twice, a lot of us got stuck with a mixed media design class in which we all work with the dance department for their upcoming recital. For some reason, the visual artists and dancers did not get along. It was just two different kinds of kids. Smiling, outgoing dancers and moody, cynical artists were not meant to befriend each other.

One time I was carrying a bucket of paint down the hall and a dancer, who happened to be flamboyantly swinging his arms, knocked into my bucket. He saw the tiny amount of paint that had gotten on his hand and began snapping at me that I better watch where I'm going and continued skipping down the hall. I just stared and waited for him to leave so I could laugh.

The goal of the class was for the dancers to create the choreography while we, the visual artists made costumes, set pieces and props. There were no real rules - the dancers would work with what we gave them. The paint bucket guy was in the class and I could not wait to make him look stupid.

The first costume idea was to have them look like flying squirrels. Full arm to leg leotards were equipped with excess spandex that was attached at the wrists and ankles. When the performer lifted their arms or kicked out their legs, the fabric would created a winged appearance.

One set piece involved giant plastic rectangles. Large wood frames were made with clear plastic wrap surrounding them. A performer would enter through a slit in the narrow side and push around the giant box from one end of the stage to the other.

For set design, I took large sheets of cardboard and cut them out free hand to create random animal shapes. Once they were done, I outlined them and painted them in a color that was not exactly spot on. There was a maroon monkey and a teal armadillo with a silver head. These were tied on strings and hung from the catwalks above the stage.

On the subject of the catwalks, the biggest and most outrageous piece dealt with that as well. My friend Trevor sketched an 10 foot robot that was hung from the grid above the stage. I'd say that 75% of it was the robot torso. The dancer would put on these wire framed pants and climb into the bottom of the robot, making the legs tiny in comparison. The robot had two 6 foot long arms that swung on pulleys which were also controlled by us from above.

I'm sure there was more to the class than that, but I remember this as the culmination of the departmental rivalry. The recital actually got canceled because of a blizzard and when it was rescheduled for a Sunday afternoon and I didn't even go. From what I heard, almost nobody did.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Minnie's Case of the Madness

My former roommate Alicia was friends with a girl named Heather who in turn was roommates with another girl named Becca. Our two apartments were basically extentions of each other as we shared many similar interests and fun times together. No time was more fun than when the four of us teamed up to take on Minnie's Moonlit Madness.

Minnie's Moonlit Madness (or MMM for short, in order to preserve my dexterity) was a Disney company based competition that takes place every May on the hollowed ground of Disneyland. Only one of the team members needed to be a mouse house employee - Heather was our in, working in their DVD department. MMM combined a team's knowledge of trivia with the experience of a scavenger hunt inside the gates of the happiest place on earth.

Did I mention that all four team members were tethered together at all times using a rope? This added the unique challenge of being forced to stick close together. The only time people could unclip was for one of the designated restrooms or if a task required it. The bathrooms were monitored by a Disney employee. Any team caught unattached would be disqualified. The whole event was timed, which caused people to move at speeds that shouldn't be attempted while dragging three people with you. It was serious.

Anyone who knows me knows how much of a Disneyland maniac I am. I have read countless books on the park, I have the whole park soundtrack on my I-pod and went there at least a dozen times during my last full year living in southern California. Needless to say our team was excited for the competition - enough so to make matching team shirts with one of the "Lands" on the front. Heather was Frontier, Alicia was Adventure, Becca was Fantasy and I was Tomorrow.

In the pre-game application each team would choose the difficulty of their ten clues, ranging from hard to easy. Being novices, we opted for two or three hard and the rest were easy. The hard ones brought in more points, but well, they were also harder and we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

The Disney company closed the entire park at 6:00 for the event. We might have been at a disadvantage being from the Burbank offices, since many of the competitors were employees from the park. They would have the clear advantage of knowing more. Team captains signed in at the designated ticket booths and received their team packets. The envelopes contained team numbers, pens and pencils, a lanyard, a blank standardized testing bubble sheet, maps of every Disney park in the world and a flag of a foreign country. Our bib number was 216, which I thought was lucky, because at the time I had just started dating Lindy, and this was her Cleveland based area code.

Opening session took place in the Snow White theater. Minnie and a cast member explained the rules, followed by 50 rapid-fire multiple choice trivia questions ranging from theme parks to ESPN, basically anything that resided under the Disney company. Each question was only on the screen for a few seconds, so we tried writing down ones that we didn't know right away. A sample question: "Disneyland opened to the public on July 17, 1955. What day of the week was it?"

Disney voluntEARS (their pun, not mine) collected the answer sheets and all of the teams were instructed to head outside to Small World plaza. Each team was instructed to rope up as we were greeted by a video projection on to the front of It's a Small World. There was a long introduction which featured random clips of hundreds of Disney movies. The facade went dark and random International flags appeared on projected in various bubbles. We were given no instruction aside from "your first clue is at this location," just the flags. In front of each flag was a clue written in that country's native language. We had an Italian flag, so when I found that on the screen, I noticed two key words in our clue - "rosa" and "pizza". I didn't know what the other words meant, but I my context clues told me we should go to Red Rocket's Pizza Port, located in the center of Tomorrowland.

At this point it's important to mention there were nearly 300 groups, totalling 1200 people all jammed into one big Disney cul-de-sac. We attempted to navigate towards Tomorrowland, but there were at least 25 flags, so people were headed in every direction possible. Clusters of four were running into each other and getting tangled together. If another group was headed towards us I'd yell out which direction we'd take, in order to avoid a collision. When we made it, taped to the front of the restaurant door was a box with clues in it. We grabbed it and it had the answer, which we had to return to clue central, at the central hub of Main Street USA.

Each answer was only one word. These were figured out by completing a task or solving a complex puzzle. You wrote this word on an envelope and turned it in to clue headquarters to get the next clue. Some required you to venture into the park, others were mind puzzles you could sit down and do right there.

From there the night took off and everything was a blur. We darted all over the park, mostly in the Main Street/Fantasyland/Tomorrowland vacinity, never too far from the Matterhorn or Castle. Some of the more insanely detail oriented clues included:
  • A musical clue where teams were given sheet music and access to a keyboard. Thankfully Becca retained enough of her childhood piano prowess. She played the notes and we had to identify the movie which the song belonged in and take one indicated letter of the movie title. After doing this ten times, we had to unscramble all of the letters. The whole thing felt like when Andie had to play the giant bone organ in Goonies.

  • Walking up and down Main Street and looking at every single window display. Each display had a characters from a Disney movie with a book opened next to them. We had to read the paragraph on each book, answer a comprehension question and unscramble the clue from the fourth letter of each answer.

  • One clue said go to "Where 13 is lucky." We went with our first hunch and high tailed it to the Haunted Mansion and there was nobody there but a very confused janitor. It turned out we needed to find the place on the map numbered 13, which was the Coca Cola pavillion.

  • All of the International maps were used, including having to trace lines between landmarks located around EPCOT's lagoon. These lines would form certain letters which spelled our an answer. The clue only said "Italy, France, Mexico, Canada," which meant put your pen down at Italy, trace to France and so on. This one took us so long to figure out, the woman at the station practically gave us the correct method after we kept asking for hints.

  • Another clue took us to the Mad Tea Party, better known as the Teacups. We had to dash from cup to cup (not easy to do while tied together) and read a trivia question about Alice in Wonderland. The questions were written in a spiral, so we had to keep rotating in order to read them.

In the end, only the top 3 teams got prizes, which ranged from a cruise to hotel stays to dinners. If you weren't one of the winning teams, your results wouldnt be released until a few weeks down the road. We were all very shocked to learn that our team had come in 23rd place, the highest finish ever from someone in Heather's department. To this day her co-workers still talk to her about it.

We returned to the Madness in 2007 and came in 34th (or something close to that). I blame the drop in rank on the fact that it took place across the way at Disneyland's less popular cousin, California Adventure, and the theme was High School Musical.