Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

This is Me in ’83 – Never Say Never Again

Released October 7, 1983, Never Say Never Again was the first James Bond movie I remember seeing.

I suppose it’s possible I saw bits and pieces of the classics prior to that, and although I remember the theatrical releases of both Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only, I didn’t see them.

I do remember my parents being excited about this guy Sean Connery, and that because of their enthusiasm, I had decided that he was my favorite James Bond – despite having not seen a single 007 movie.

Mom dropped off me and friend – I seem to think it was my Dungeons &  Dragons partner, Mike S. – at the Gold Circle Cinemas for a Never Say Never Again matinee, and we were entertained as hell by the movie. (Of course, we were 12 years old: “James Bond – Urine Specimen! Hi-LARIOUS!” “That world domination video game was AWESOME!

Post-’83, it was another few years before I really developed a fandom for the character, sparked by a kid I had met at the North Canton Playhouse during my sophomore year of high school. He loaned me an old Signet copy of Thunderball, which launched me into a rabid pursuit of All Things Bond for a couple years.

My friend Aaron shared the interest, and one of our ongoing jokes was a “serious” debate over which yacht had the better name: The Disco Volante from Thunderball, (Aaron’s pick) or the Flying Saucer from Never Say Never Again. (You see it coming, don’t you?) This debate ended the day I encountered a paragraph in my Spanish class referring to someone spotting “discos volantes” in the sky. Oh. Well. There you go.

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October 21, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film | , , , | Leave a comment

Back in the game

OldDice

Earlier this year, a friend asked if I’d be interested in his 1980s Dungeons & Dragons stuff. He’d played a lot back when we were kids – I wish I’d known that at the time – but hadn’t touched the game in years, and thought I’d enjoy having the classic material on hand, since I now play regularly.

So we struck a deal, and I’ve spent a good amount of time revisiting the books and box sets and modules that I either never had or never fully appreciated as a kid. (Bonus: His collection included a Fiend Folio that even has the remnants of a Kay-Bee toy store price sticker, just like mine did!)

Inside the Basic Set was a sandwich bag containing seven dice. The brown 10- 12- and 20-siders look like they came from the same original set. The light blue d4 and d6 are identical to the ones I got in my own red box Basic Set. The two d8s are each a little different.

I was surprised to see how small those three older brown dice looked, sitting next to dice from my current collection –

OldDiceNewDice

– but they felt familiar between my fingertips. And the d4 is numbered the way I remember from middle school, with the digits on the edges rather than the corners.

Thing is, it was only last weekend that I had the realization that These Dice Should Be Rolling! I retrieved them from the Basic box and tumbled them into my dice bag.

Tuesday night’s D&D session was entirely role-playing, but toward the end of the night, we rolled for a bit o’ treasure.

Here’s the result of the d12’s first in-game cast in close to three decades:

BackInTheGame

This One Goes To Eleven. (And landed Culhwch Keepson a Ring of Climbing.)

October 10, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, Games, geek | , | 2 Comments

Footsteps to the past

Twice during my late-morning run, the smell of fall triggered wholly-unexpected, decades-old memories.

It was overcast when I set out, and even though it seemed warm for October, something the clouds and the bit of swirling breeze threw me back to freshman year at Bowling Green.

In particular, it felt – just for a second – like a late afternoon walk across campus, after the last class of the day. Golden hour, that: day’s big obligations tackled, dinner coming up, maybe I’ve got freshman play rehearsal that night, or maybe it’s just hanging out with friends, listening to music and goofing around. Maybe we’re going along with Jen to one of the performances she attends for her music appreciation courses. Maybe it’s Tuesday and The Wonder Years is on. Maybe we’ll go down to the fast-food place in the basement of our dorm for late-night Heath blizzards and onion rings.

A couple miles later, the wind was less present, and there was a kind of stillness along a stretch where some woods nudged right up to the road’s edge. The shaded, slightly damp air from the woods and the first fallen leaves put into my head the surprising image of the woods behind St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Canton, where I went to preschool and kindergarten.

Down behind the playground, there was a small woods where we were allowed to go during recess. A simple, dark green, triangular treehouse was in there, reached by a set of two-by-fours nailed to the tree. My best friend at the time lived just down the street from the church, and one day, he and his older brother and I walked over to play in the treehouse, but we were asked to leave by one of the teachers, since we weren’t actually attending school that day.

It was a hard run today, but worth it for those moments.

October 6, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, Ohio | , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – Saturday Morning D&D

I started to write up my memories of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which premiered on CBS Sept. 17, 1983, and then realized I’d really like to contribute this particular bit of recollection to GeekDad.

DDGeekDad

And I’m glad I did, because it’s been really cool seeing the responses on GeekDad, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and realizing that hey, I struck a nice nostalgic nerve with this one.

We even made the official Daily D&D!

Owly Images

I didn’t want to overload the GeekDad post with pictures, so here are a couple images from the cartoon’s closing credits that I mentioned. Still gorgeous and a little sad, somehow – but in that good sort of way. (And I think I figured out why I love them so much. It’s an amusement park at dusk. Weak spot.)

ddcartoonclosing

ddclosing2

September 20, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Television | , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – Seventh Grade

In the fall of 1983, I started seventh grade at Lake Middle School.

8384yearbook

Technically, this yearbook itself is from 1984, since we received them toward the end of the school year. However, since I did pretty much nothing in the way of extracurricular activities, I can guarantee that half the pictures of me in this book are from the beginning of the school year.

I can make this promise because I am only in two pictures. Here’s the first – my official seventh-grade portrait, as it appeared on page 50. Row 6, first column, surrounded by a group of fellow B-name kids that wouldn’t change much over my entire 12 years at Lake. (This guy’s picture is in row 5, column two.)

7thGradeFall

Why yes, those are plastic-rimmed prescription glasses that darkened in sunlight – and apparently, under certain bright indoor conditions as well – because after all, it was August, 1983. And according to my extensive television research, every girl was crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

Digression to the future: That seventh-grade me still regularly read his Fiend Folio – with its unforgettable image of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders –

LolthFiendFolio

– and other Dungeons & Dragons materials, even if he never actually learned to play. Those memories add another level of enjoyment to this picture, taken almost exactly 30 years later at Gen Con:

MeAtGenCon

Back to the past, then:

My only other appearance in the yearbook is in the photo below.

7thgradeband

I’m thinking I’m second row, third or fourth chair clarinet. My face is hidden, but I’m pretty sure that’s my unruly hair within the red circle:

ImWithTheBand

Seventh grade at Lake Middle School was also notable in that thanks to a shift in student distribution (the middle school had housed grades 6-8 the year before, but handled grades 7-9 in 1983-84) my classmates and I got to be the youngest class in the building for a second consecutive year. Yay.

August 31, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Me in ’83 – How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It’s been two full months since my last “This is Me in ’83” post, and yet the break seems somehow fitting, because man, was my summer of ’83 just packed.

For starters, it was my first full summer as a member of our church youth group, and while I’d attended the weekend winter retreat at Camp Wanake, the week-long summer retreats to Lakeside, Ohio were the stuff of older-kid legend.

Our youth group always rented the same big old three-story house: It was called Rockledge – still is, in fact (although only the second and third stories are available to rent now, and specifically not open to youth groups).

The week had a fair amount of structure: One day was spent on a trip to Put-in-Bay, for instance; another included a visit to the beach at East Harbor State Park. Evenings always included some kind of group after-dinner activity. But we also had what felt like a ton of free time to spend playing mini golf or shuffleboard or getting “suicides” (fountain drinks with a bit of each kind of pop mixed in) from the snack bar/video arcade down by the dock. I also liked walking around on the rocky part of the lakeshore, dodging the waves and the spray when the lake was choppy.

We could just wander around the town, checking out the limited book selection in one of the shops, getting ice cream and, in the mornings, fresh donuts. (There’s a place called The Patio – I’m pretty sure it’s the same place I remember – that served up the only cake donuts that I ever really liked. Raised donuts have always been my preference, but fresh baked cinnamon-sugared donuts still warm from The Patio? Dang.)

What I really remember was kind of neat feeling of independence.

The only photos I have from Lakeside ’83 are Polaroid instants of other people: a shot of a cross-dressed singing quartet from our “skit night,” and a picture of my friend Aaron – our junior high youth group years were really where our friendship started – performing a song-and-dance routine doled out each night as punishment to the last person to show up for dinner.

So: No Lakeside ’83 photos.

Later that summer, though, I spent a week in Roanoke, Virginia, staying with my friend Jacob. He and I had been best friends from (I think) third through fifth grades – the entire time he was in our school district. When his family left Hartville, it was the first time I’d had a real close friend move away.

I don’t remember how I got down to Roanoke – maybe our parents each drove halfway or something – but do remember a really fun week.

We spent a day at Lakeside Park (no connection to Lakeside, Oh.); we watched MTV in hopes of seeing the video for “Mr. Roboto” (We didn’t. We had to settle for “Don’t Let It End.” Which isn’t even close.); we saw Return of the Jedi – a repeat viewing for me, but I think it was Jacob’s first time; we drove up to the Mill Mountain Star.

Jake’s parents had a station wagon, and we loved riding in the way, way back, in the rear-facing bench seat. The A-Team had made a big splash earlier that year, and one day on a trip to a department store, Jacob and I had convinced his mom to buy us a couple plastic M-16 rifles with the built-in ratatatat-type noisemakers. We sat in the wayback with the window down and pretended to shoot stuff all the way home. (I know. And this was in the era well before toy guns had to be made in tiger stripes and fluorescent colors. These were solid matte black plastic.) We spent a lot of time that week running around Jacob’s yard, surviving as soldiers of fortune and helping people who had problems that no one else could solve. Jacob took this Polaroid shot of me crouching in wait – and though he warned me that you couldn’t even see my rifle against the dark green bush, I told him to take it anyway:

Cover me, Faceman.

So that was obviously a great week.

Finally, there was that summer’s annual family trip. We used to caravan to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky with our neighbors, the Millers. Our families would rent a houseboat together, and we’d spend a week on the lake inner tubing and waterskiing.

The summer of ’83, the trip was extended, if I recall correctly: They swung down to Roanoke to pick me up, and then we took a side trip through the Great Smoky Mountains on our way to Kentucky. We did some tourist-y type stuff, visited the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, and stayed at a campground that had a stream running through it, with some rocky rapids ideal for tubing: (Note: Same tennis shoes as in the previous picture, now available in Soaking Wet.)

…and here’s me ruining a perfectly good family photo: Yes. I’m hilarious. And yes, I’m wearing the same damn shirt as when Jacob & I were A-Teaming it up. I like to think maybe Jacob’s mom was kind enough to do a load of laundry the week I was visiting – otherwise, my overly dramatic “something stinks” look here exhibits a painful lack of self-awareness.

Onward, then, to Lake Cumberland. In addition to the waterskiing and inner tubing, the shore was loaded with steep, rocky ledges perfect for jumping from. You could also find crinoid fossils by the handful, and geodes on occasion as well.

Such style. And waving? Living. On. The. Edge.

All part of the summer of ’83, which, in retrospect, was pretty freaking cool.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Collect All 21! – Five Years Old Today

Five years ago today, I released the first edition of Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek into the wild.

The first batch of pre-orders and sales that summer and fall of 2008 were mostly to family, friends, and the supportive Star Wars fans of the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club and the vintage forums at Rebelscum.com. They really jump-started this whole thing with their responses to my 2007 online series of Star Wars recollections.

In early 2009, right around the time my last full-time newsroom job was eliminated and I found myself out of work, Rob Wainfur posted one of the earliest completely-neutral-party reviews of Collect All 21!  on his  Retro Finds site, which was a more-than-welcome bit of nice news, and especially neat because Rob’s from Wales.

Around the same time, Adam, my Collect All 21! editor, launched Deus Ex Comica, and suddenly I was like, “Hey: want a cool, professional cover and a foreword, too!” And that’s where Kirk Demarais and David Morgan-Mar came in, generously contributing their talents to the revised version of Collect All 21!, providing me with some amazing front cover art and a kick-ass introduction.

Working with a great digital publishing team, I expanded the book for a Kindle edition in July 2011, adding some new personal material as well as interviews and my magazine-length feature on Lorne Peterson.

Some of the other neat stuff that’s happened along the way:

  • In spring 2009, I got an incredibly kind and supportive email from George Krstic, another Northeast Ohio first-generation Star Wars fan who grew up to write neat stuff like MTV’s DowntownMegas XLR, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Motorcity. We’ve hung out a few times since, and recorded a few Star Wars nostalgia podcasts,  and it’s always a blast. (George also introduced me to Josh Ling, who’s also a first-generation Rust Belt kid that came of age addicted to Kenner toys, and, I think it’s also fair to say, deals with the same old-school v. new-era Star Wars internal conflicts that twist so many of us in geek knots.)
  • Jenny Williams and Curtis Silver both said really nice things about Collect All 21! on the GeekMom and GeekDad blogs, respectively.
  • At PAX East in 2010, thanks to the GeekDad crew, I met Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who bought a copy of the book on the spot while we were all hanging out, and later provided me with a superlative blurb.
  • CNN interviewed me for a 30th anniversary story about The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Sharing Star Wars memories became kind of a thing: My friend Jonathan Liu sent me an advance copy of Tony Pacitti‘s My Best Friend is a Wookiee (2010), and I wound up meeting Tony at Star Wars Celebration V to exchange books and stories. A couple years later, in 2012, Gib van Ert released A Long Time Ago: Growing Up With And Out Of Star Wars, which I read and enjoyed on the way to Star Wars Celebration VI. And, of course, earlier this year, Fanboys director Kyle Newman (who also encouraged me regarding Collect All 21! in 2010) put together The Return of Return of the Jedi.
  • Geek A Week artist Len Peralta and I recorded a Star Wars and 1980s conversation/podcast.
  • I got invited as a guest to a couple JediCon WV events, which were tons of fun, and got my name on a spectacular poster by Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons.
  • Hugo Award-winning author and good guy Jim C. Hines read Collect All 21! and blogged about it.
  • Then there was that time in 2012 when the fantastic Renita Jablonski called me and said, “So, we were thinking of doing a piece on the 35th anniversary of Star Wars, and I said ‘I know a guy,'” and we talked on the phone, and then BOOM! I’m driving to work a day or two later, and right there in the middle of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” is me. (And five years before that, when Renita was at WKSU, she produced a piece I wrote about not remembering the first time I saw Star Wars, which, again, is pretty much where all this started.)
  • Topless Robot put Collect All 21! on its list of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, which includes the line, “Celebrate the love, yub yub.” Yes!
  • Somehow my book caught the attention of filmmaker Brian Stillman, who visited our house a couple summers back and interviewed me for Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toyswhich should be coming out later this summer.

Crunching some numbers from Lulu and Amazon to figure out about how many copies of Collect All 21! are out there – counting print and electronic versions – I come up with a number somewhere close to 2,500. (I’m always looking to make that number bigger, of course, but hey – that’s not a bad run for a completely independent, word-of-mouth effort.)

I will never be able to say thanks enough for all the encouragement and support from my friends and family and everyone who’s ever bought, borrowed, read, or shared Collect All 21! among fellow Star Wars fans and 1980s-era nostalgia loons (which I can say since I’m one of them).

The Force Will Be With You. Always.

July 2, 2013 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, Books, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Echoes at the ballpark

How great were our seats at last night’s Indians/Nationals game? We sat next to this guy. I remember going to games at Old Municipal Stadium as a kid, seeing John Adams out in the bleachers – so far off that the sound of his drumbeats reaching our ears was out of sync with his rising and falling mallets.

So not only were our seats amazing, but we got a flat-out gorgeous Ohio summer night, one dollar hot dogs, and a bottom-of-the-ninth beat-the-throw-to-the-plate Indians win.

June 15, 2013 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, Sports | , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – WarGames

WarGames came out just a few weeks after Return of the Jedi, yet the films seem to embody two such different personal eras for me. One marked the close of the most influential storytelling in my childhood, the other feels very much tied to my early teenage years.

Not quite five years ago, Adam and I went to the WarGames 25th Anniversary theatrical showing. Here’s part of what I wrote the next day:

WarGames starts, and sonofabitch, I’m so far back in time I’m stunned. Not just drawn into the movie itself, but shocked at the deep nerves it’s hitting: God, I can actually remember what it was like lying awake late on summer nights like this, hearing the wind in the cornfield behind our house and wondering what the hell WOULD happen if there was a nuclear war. And it wasn’t sci-fi cool post-apocalypse stuff, it was scary and sad and lonely.

David Lightman’s onscreen obsession with video games – and how sad is it that I think I caught a flaw in his Galaga game during the movie? – and computers was echoed in my real-life addiction to our Atari and later the Timex Sinclair 1000 that I bought for ten bucks, and then the Commodore 64 I finally talked dad into. I wanted so much to program a BASIC “Joshua” that I could pretend to play WarGames with, and I still love the sound of computer keys that clack and aren’t velvet-wrapped tickings. And has there ever been a computer voice better than Joshua’s?

Plus, you know, David Lightman the DORK, hooked up with Jennifer the BABE, and being a guy right on the edge of teenagerdom and still wearing thick plastic glasses and sporting brown corduroys regularly, I took this as was a sign of hope, just like when Billy Joel married Christy Brinkley.

And the last 20 minutes or so were as tense as they ever were. I couldn’t blink when those white glowing dots and their cold static hum explosions started mushrooming over the world map one by one, then in clusters, then in hyperspeed fireworks followed by those amazingly perfect final few lines from Joshua echoing through a NORAD movie set in the 1980s and reaching to a theater two and a half decades later.

Now, I could be wrong on the timing, but it seems very likely that the summer of 1983 was also when my friend Mike and I took a kids’ introduction to computer programming class at the Stark County campus of Kent State University, working on Timex Sinclairs. While I can’t say for certain it was that year, I do have a vivid memory of our instructor challenging Mike and me with a problem one day, offering a pad of graph paper as a reward because he knew we loved using the stuff for Dungeons & Dragons.

I probably didn’t see WarGames more than once in the theater, but it was one of those movies we recorded onto VHS and watched over and over again. And as I wrote for GeekDad, it holds up.

June 4, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek | , , | Leave a comment

This is Me in ’83 – Return of the Jedi, Opening Night

Truly a high point of 1983.

GeekDad has published my two-part recollection of seeing the final chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy on opening night – 30 years ago this weekend.

What You Take With You: Return of the Jedi, Opening Night ’83 – Part One 

What You Take With You: Return of the Jedi, Opening Night ’83 – Part Two

Lapti Nek and Yub  Nub forever.

May 24, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio, science fiction | , , , | Leave a comment

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