While I’m sure everyone remembers “RoboFenter,” one of many comics I drew in honor of our illustrious vice principal, this first cartoon – which actually pre-dated “RoboFenter” – may require some explanation for those who have forgotten. (Hell, I had to think real hard to remember the circumstances.) Sometime in the ’88-’89 school year, an enterprising art student who shall remain nameless (it wasn’t me, I was never even in the art department!) distributed photocopies of an enlightening message to everyone’s locker: “Question authority.” It’s just possible that this enlightened message was overshadowed by the picture of the naked woman which was photocopied behind it. Mr. Fenter, bless his paranoid little soul, decided that since journalism had the only photocopier in the school outside of his office, our newspaper editor, then-senior Joel Baker, must have been responsible for the flyers. (After all, we junior plebes didn’t have no sense anyhow, so we didn’t know how to operate no fancy-shmancy photocopier thing.) He proceeded to march into the journalism room and yelled “Joel Baker, my office, now!” I seem to recall Joel being in his office for the better part of that day. What a trip. (The malotov cocktail joke is another vintage Northside reference. Do you remember who it was about?)
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m sure the next cartoon will need no introduction…
A tiny fraction of you visiting this site may have done so because we used to go to school together. With the Northside High School class of ’90 reunion just a month away, I’m sure one or two classmates will wander this way, trying to figure out what the hell I’ve been up to for the past decade. Hey, admit it, you’ve tried it too – surely I’m not the only one who was geeky enough to go look at some of the web addresses on the mailing list which weren’t obviously ISPs or AOL-ish services.
So what have I been doing? I’ve been writing a lot (I do that for a living now, amazingly), working in television, raising cats, making music, falling in love, and chilling out a great deal compared to the basket case I was in my late teens. It wasn’t for about three or four years that I finally began to look back and realize how disturbed – and disturbing – I must have seemed way back when.
Things weren’t great during that very dark time of my life called senior year. Things weren’t good at home, and as a result, I was almost physically incapable of giving even the tiniest fraction of a crap about school, socializing, and so forth. And yet I managed to conjure up this darkness without the usual means – I wasn’t drinking, doing drugs, or anything like that. The good old 1989-90 school year was, for me, one long cry for help. I’m just sorry that, looking back, I dragged so many people through that with me.
If I could, as I am now, go back in time and talk to myself, I’d tell that guy with the long hair to chill the hell out, enjoy life, and stop letting his own miseries spill over into the laps of others – they had plenty. I’m stunned at how much invented angst we all created for ourselves back then. It’s nothing compared to trying to make it in the real world. When you’ve been tapped on the shoulder by a tornado, built a career in a fractious and back-stabbing industry, had your life forever changed by one screwed-up surgical procedure, struggled mightily to come up with the money to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, and met the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with…it becomes incredibly irrelevant who was going steady with whom, or who thought what of whom, in those three years of high school.
I’m forever grateful for those who actually had the stomach to stick by me the whole time. Of all of them, I think I’ve only stayed in touch with Robert Heyman and Chris Bray. It’ll be nice to see some of the others. I really wish some of the teachers were invited. It don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to say that some of them, like Mattie McCray and Pat Werner, probably literally saved my life. With all of the hell I was going through at home, it helped to know that both my peers and my teachers actually cared, regardless of how much of an ass I was trying to be to push them away. All I can offer in return is that I have tried to live the life, and find the potential, that they knew I had waiting for me from the start.
And I’m sure some of you will be noting, with either amusement or alarm, that the vast majority of my home-brewed web site is the same kind of Star Trek stuff I was so “into” way back when. Well, yeah, you’ve got a point. But I offer you this: (A) it’s still just a hobby, (B) I actually make decent money off of this thing, believe it or not. Not a living by any means, but a more-than-welcome boost to my usual income. (You may have a hard time believing this, but writing and producing local television does not pay well. When she’s scheduled to work a single six-day week, my fianceÃ¨ brings home nearly twice what I do in two weeks.)
Other than that, I spend a lot of time at home with the love of my life (we’re getting married exactly one week after the reunion – do I know how to fill my schedule or what?), play with my cats and my horse, read a lot, write a lot, listen to a lot of music, make a slightly smaller amount of music, and generally try to kick back, relax, and enjoy each day as it comes to me. Life is too fleeting and precious to do anything else. Some people I work with think I’m just not taking life seriously. Au contraire – I simply insist on having a blast.
What do I have now that I didn’t have then? Love, compassion, and humor.
What did I have then that I don’t have now? Hair on top of my head. Good God, the long-haired guy has gone bald. Isn’t it ironic (don’tcha think)?
See you in just a couple of weeks!
This is just a little note to apologize for the apparent sudden slowing-down of the site lately. A new, news-oriented TV job tends to suck one’s time dry during those all-important sweeps months of November, February, May and July (in that order), and this one is no exception. I’ve been seriously lacking in time to sit down and generate new material for the site. Hopefully the episode guide updates and other new items you’re seeing this week make up for that.
A few random thoughts have occurred to me lately that really don’t have any bearing on anything…so naturally, it further occurred to me that these thoughts needed to be foisted upon you, the public. You may exhibit the appropriate reaction – be it glee, annoyance, or indifference – now.
- Rest in peace, Charles M. Schultz.
The cruel irony of the timing of this man’s death is breathtaking. Goodbye, Charles Schultz…the world now seems just a little less kid-friendly without you. I don’t know if the children of the 90’s and the early 21st century will notice the difference, but those of us who grew up reading Peanuts will miss you.
- Vote for me! Not for him! ME!!!
Is anyone else getting really annoyed by the 2000 presidential race’s early descent into mudslinging? I’m thinking particularly here of the Bush/McCain thing. Early on in the political proceedings, I was actually leaning toward McCain…but this does change things. It’s clear that virtually all of our candidates are vying not for the power to do right by their constituents, but for the power to exercise on their own behalf. I know – nothing new there, oldest story in the world. But it’s still disappointing when I can’t even be vaguely, remotely idealistic.
- Hack Attacks.
eBay, Amazon.com, Yahoo!, CNN.com…who’s next? And what’s the point? Part of me sides with the FBI in thinking that there’s a serious problem on the horizon with such incidents. Another part of me thinks this may be the work of a handful of geeks who are just trying to show off – a la the movie WarGames. Just leave Amazon alone, guys…I like people to be able to support my web site!
- When Pro Football Players Attack.
It sounds like a Fox sweeps special…or actual headlines. Some researchers think that there’s a link between the ultra-macho world of full-contact sports and a tendency toward violence…and they may not be far from the mark. I just hope that the NFL will begin to act responsibly and start treating violent offenders within its ranks with more decisive action. Actually, that goes for all major sports leagues…hell, even minor ones. Kids look up to these self-appointed gladiators as role models and heroes. Let’s make sure they have role models and heroes worthy of that admiration. It’s sweet of the NFL to provide counseling for its players, and perhaps that is a giant leap toward pre-empting such incidents as the one in which Ray Lewis is involved …but there also needs to be a swift reckoning when someone crosses the line that Lewis did. What kind of message do kids receive – and, for that matter, impressionable minds everywhere – when the governing officials of pro sports waffle uneasily when a player commits a criminal offense?
As I’m sure nearly everyone reading this knows, two disturbed teenagers went on a killing spree yesterday (April 20th) at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing over two dozen classmates and/or faculty members and injuring roughly the same number before turning their guns on themselves. While the problem of school killings has been an increasing concern in the United States, this incident easily goes down as the most horrifying to have occurred yet.
As always, in the wake of these incidents, fingers are pointed – does media coverage of these events inspire mentally/emotionally unstable teens to perpetrate copycat crimes in other parts of the country? (Quite probably.) Are our popular media to blame? (Possibly.) Are the parents to blame? (More than I think anyone is willing or prepared to admit.) How do we stop this sort of thing from ever happening again?
That answer, even though it obviously doesn’t apply to the suicidal killers in Littleton, is simple to my mind – raise the stakes so this crime won’t seem to be such a cool or glorious thing for potential future killer kids to do.
I used this occasion to remind my lovely fianceÃ¨ of just one of the reasons why I’m scared to death to have children. Sure, we could do the best job in the world of raising them…but all it takes is one or two deeply disturbed specimens to undo umpteen years of everyone’s hard work, worry and love. And that’s what happened yesterday, in at least 25 cases.
We had one gun scare during my time in high school, just one, and all it consisted of was one kid noticing that there was a rifle in the locker next to his. The office looked up the locker number, called the cops, and the police confiscated the weapon and its owner. That was about it. So even the very thought of something like this is totally new to me. I’m really hoping the two suspects’ autopsies will reveal them to have been high on something. That would package the problem so neatly, wouldn’t it? But I guess that hasn’t been the case in any of the other incidents like this…of which this is easily the worst. As was noted on CNBC last night, fewer parties sympathetic to the U.S. died in the Kosovo conflict yesterday than children died in Littleton, Colorado.
I guess, even with my emotionally harrowing high school experiences, that I just find it hard to swallow that the innate ability of teenagers to hold grudges, segregate into groups (even, in this case, groups of misfits), and hate and hurt each other…could go this far. And time of grieving or no, the authorities investigating these crimes really need to find out what the hell the children’s parents thought was going on with their kids. I mean, the two alleged perps apparently had a neo-Nazi-sympathizers’ web site, according to at least two of the networks’ news reports, pointing out April 20th as Hitler’s birthday. Were the kids’ parents so oblivious to this? Did they not care, did they have better things to do with their lives? Or were they, perhaps more disturbingly, made of the same dark stuff – not implying a family of skinheads or anything, but hateful and violent? Mind you, these are easy questions to ask in my position of not being a parent, and I know from my own childhood and adolescence how devious kids can be in hiding things from their families, but this is very troubling.
Scary as it may be, as much controversy as it would raise…I think it’s time that at least one state put a death penalty for this offense on the books. Many times while watching the live reports, I heard co-workers say “Hey, why don’t the SWAT teams go in blasting?” For obvious reasons, including the fact that other victims were still hiding in the school, they couldn’t. But less obvious was the eventuality that, even if they took out one of the killers, someone somewhere would have raised an ultra-liberal hand (and I have about as much time for ultra-liberal as I do ultra-conservative) to say “Oh, you killed our sweet babies!” – when, in fact, their sweet babies were killing their peers or their teachers.
Perhaps if that actually did happen just once, if a juvenile convicted of murdering his classmates did receive the death penalty, instead of the courts giving him federally-sponsored room and board for life, the next potential copycats might not be so enthusiastic about doing this sort of thing.
Some sort of clear message about school violence needs to be sent. If we don’t apply society’s rules and lessons during high school, what kind of message are we sending to our kids then?
The only people who truly deserve to die…are the ones who act on a belief that they deserve the power to take the life of another.
So, I’m stuck at home with a nasty case of the flu, and a vast spectrum of aches and pains that don’t seem to want to go away anytime soon. All bets are off on sleep tonight. Out of sheer desperation, I turn to the one proven insomnia-buster left in my arsenal: infomercials.
Well, not really, they just happen to be on. Seldom, if ever, do I put up with an entire half-hour of paid programming. Back in my days of running the control board at TV stations, the beginning of a paid program was my signal to double-check my tracking and skew, set the audio levels, find an open satellite dish (or even resort to watching the Sunday morning gang feed of Roseanne episodes for the following week), and for God’s sake, find something else to watch. Anything else.
But tonight, in the midst of my misery, I flipped past something that sent chills up my spine. Granted, I’m experiencing chills and fits of fever as it is, but this was another kind of chill. My instinct toward righteous indignation was asserting itself.
The infomercial – running on my own station, no less – featured Home Improvement’s Richard Karn hawking a fifty-buck package called The Internet Business Toolbox. Containing numerous CD-ROMs and booklets and videotapes (of which more in a moment), this package – so we’re told by our paid celebrity spokesperson – will allow you to get your very own web site up and running, and the catchphrase “You can start making money on the Internet NOW!” was repeated ad nauseum. (Why a videotape? I thought that video instruction manuals presumed a literacy-challenged end user – not a likely target audience for this product.)
The package contains access to an Earthlink user account (probably a low usage account with only a few hours a week), Netscape Communicator (ostensibly to help you program your web site), and other goodies, including a number of turnkey programs supplied by the manufacturer to allow you to accept credit cards, or to allow you to make commission from selling a preselected variety of products. Another option suggested: starting a business selling search engine placement for other people’s web sites.
“You can start making money on the Internet NOW!” Thousands upon thousands of dollars per month, we’re told by a handful of satisfied onscreen customers. The general insinuation here is that you can blow fifty dollars (plus shipping, natch) on this package, quit your day job, and you’ll become, as Mr. Karn puts it, a “cyber-preneur.”
It ain’t necessarily so, boys and girls.
Long before Mr. Karn was hawking this latest in dozens of shady “instant profit” schemes in overnight paid programming blocks, I already established commission-based marketing relationships with an online video/music store, an online book store, and an online toy merchant for my web site. In some cases, the commissions are generous. I’ve gotten a check or two. But these commission checks would never, in a million years, allow me to quit working and bask in the “cyber-preneurial” glow. It’s just as well. If I stay this sick, I may not be around for that million years.
Now, I can’t vouch for whether or not the materials contained within the Internet Business Toolbox package include any caveats advocating common sense and realistic expectations. But I do feel that it is extraordinarily irresponsible and dangerous for the producers of the Toolbox’s infomercial to even so much as suggest that a quickly-cobbled-together construction kit web site, which revolves around a pre-existing set of profit options, could become a primary source of income.
I also found it conspicuous that no mention was made of thing such as the costs incurred by keeping an internet account open, registering a domain name, and other inevitable maintenance costs. What about the service allowing one to accept credit card orders? In order for such a service to exist, the providers of that service must be making money, and it’s reasonable to assume that they make it by charging businesses that use it.
I also foresee a problem with the potential bumper crop of home business web sites that this product portends. This product is not aimed as people who know the ways of cyberspace. It’s aimed at people who hoping to get rich quick – a demographic that doesn’t give a flip about netiquette. This is the kind of online business that will generate unwanted commercial e-mail that will annoy and inconvenience thousands, a practice referred to as spamming.
I know that people are trying to make a buck, but when someone spams me, I don’t care what product or service they’re selling. I report them to their ISP with every intention of having their account revoked. Most ISPs prohibit spamming – at worst, it could result in a groundswell of complaints that could potentially get that ISP removed from the internet backbone. To avoid doing this, ISPs regularly eliminate user accounts and web sites that have proven to be a problematic source of spam.
So let’s say that some budding Internet Business Toolbox “cyber-preneur” spams me, offering to put my web site on every search engine in the known universe for only a few hundred bucks. Hypothetically, their account might get canceled, their site removed by the ISP, and this person has blown God only knows how much money only to lose it. Is this because I’m mean? Well, in all likelihood, yes, it does, but that’s not the primary reason. I do my best to uphold netiquette. I don’t mass-mail advertising for my site. I expect others to behave similarly. I’ve turned in almost 200 spammers as of this writing, probably half of them advertising adult web sites. If I had children who had their own e-mail address or had access to mine, I wouldn’t want them seeing that sort of thing. I’m no innocent, but truth be told, I hate adult oriented spam. Ergo, I routinely report spam.
Mark my word, this venture will generate more spam. People trying to hawk their wares will carelessly – not even knowing that it’s a nuisance – send out mass e-mail. And someone will report them, and boom! One less “cyber-preneur.” Fifty dollars, down the drain. I won’t even go into the financial repercussions of some hypothetical situation where someone thinks they’re going to get rich overnight, and wind up pulling in a single $20 check every month. Most of us who are already on the web know that the chances of making a real profit from a grassroots business web site are slim. It disturbs me deeply that this product is aimed at people who don’t know this.
The Internet Business Toolbox is not, at its heart, a bad idea. It is, in fact, rather a good one. But the emphasis needs to be changed, and a sense of responsibility needs to be conveyed to those considering purchasing it so they can “start making money on the Internet NOW!”
Why do I get the distinct sensation that this valuable primer in the responsibilities involved in running an online business has been omitted from the Internet Business Toolbox?
Sorry, Al. This thing doesn’t need more power. It needs to go back to the drawing board.
Background: At work, we use an old graphics generator called the Vidifont which relies on ancient 8-inch floppies. We even have a floppy file to hold all of these – but every time I go into that edit room, someone has left approximately a quarter of a million pens, pencils, magic markers and permanent markers in the floppy file. So today I posted this wonderful safety notice on the floppy file. I think you’ll find it amusing.
Do not fill me with writing utensils,
Be they pens or be they pencils.
I hate to be rude or to be contrary,
But this box isn’t meant for stationery.
It’s meant to hold all these disks,
And if we lose data, tsk, tsk tsk.
It’s hard enough to find eight-inch floppies
And even harder to find new copies.
So when storing your pens, please use your head
Lest I tell you where you can put them instead.
Here begins a little tract that has been lying dormant in the back of my mind for a long time, and lately has been screaming to get out. I think this could be an important thing for you to read if you’ve ever considered getting into the media or into any creative endeavor as a profession. It’ll take me a while to reach my point, because I am largely making this up as I go along. And it’s probably not anything new – I’m sure everything I say here has probably been said by someone else already. But hey, I’m not charging you to look at it, so what the hell?
I’ve been there, you see. I have been writing and producing commercials for television and radio now, and have been exposed to both the good and the bad in this business. This doesn’t make me a hard-bitten, stoic veteran of showbiz by any stretch of the imagination. It just means I’ve stuck with the job through all the crap because…I like the end result. I like watching something I’ve done and getting a laugh out of it because, maybe about half the time, this means someone else will get a laugh out of it too. I like occasionally telling a total stranger about some spot I produced just to see if they’ll say they liked it, they hated it, or they don’t even watch that station. (I’ve heard all three in roughly equal measure!) All three are important to hear.
I got into broadcasting in 1989, influenced – as many newcomers to the business at that time were – by Good Morning, Vietnam, and Robin Williams’ mind-blowing disc jockey routine. And like many radio newbies at this time also found out, we’re not Robin Williams. Nobody is (well, with the possible exception of Robin Williams, perhaps). But after fooling around in the production room, I did figure out that anyone can make themselves sound good on tape, so after a couple of years spent reading the weather on an oldies radio station, I moved to a marginally hipper station with the primary goal of getting into commercial production.
Not wanting to brag too much, but I was good at it. I still like the stuff I came up with, from the stuff that was really, really, should’ve-been-submitted- for-an-Addy good, all the way down to the crap that was so lamentably stupid that it was funny in a pathetic sort of way. I’m not terribly fond of my “radio voice,” and even my character voices are shaky at times, but I was happy with the very odd concepts that I conjured up. Some of them were truly bizarre. In one case, I had to do a spot for a company that did commercial land surveying. I was given the following brief: give the name of the company, their address, and their phone number…and mention the Alma Spinach Festival. (Alma, Arkansas is the self-proclaimed spinach capitol of the universe, and once a year they gather round the bonfire to consume mass quantities of the leafy stuff and sacrifice a chosen one to the demigod Popeye.)
I came up with thirty seconds of unabashedly pure crap, total nonsense of the lowest possible denominator, and something I sure as hell wouldn’t have signed off on if it had been my business that was being advertised. But they went for it for some strange reason. It featured two characters in outrageously stereotypical redneck accents fighting over their borders in typical Smith vs. Jones fashion, agreeing to call this surveying company to settle the matter and secure their newfound pact by going to the Alma Spinach Festival together.
As I said, crap.
On the other hand, a scarcity of information can do wonderful things. Another spot from the same period advertised a distributor of ceramic tile for bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere else you might want to use ceramic tile. Same brief – minus, thankfully, any mention of the Alma Spinach Festival – giving me virtually no information.
The result? A very odd Twilight Zone spoof, complete with me doing my best Rod Serling impersonation, detailing the trials and tribulations of “Bob,” an ordinary man who was so overwhelmed with this store’s enormously low prices that he bought enough ceramic tile to redecorate his entire home, inadvertently tiling the fridge shut and sealing Mrs. Bob into a room with a fresh wall of ceramic tile (presumably, he lured her there with the promise of a cask of amontillado). It was a very bizarre spot, but something I was much more proud of – it was humorous for the content of its script, not the pathetic lows to which its producer sank in the process of making it.
Occasionally, the sales rep will write something for you, which is good if they have a flair for writing, and nothing short of maddening if their finest creative moment was that sixth grade book report on Charlotte’s Web. Remind me to tell you sometime about the radio spot in which the sales rep thought the best way to advertise a new seafood restaurant would be to have me introduce the various items on the menu as if they were guest performers in a variety show…
All of this wallowing in the still-soft, slow-drying concrete of Memory Lane is meant to illustrate a point – if you’re going to create anything for a living, there are going to be less than stellar moments in your future. This doesn’t mean you suck. It means that you’re playing by ear, so join the club. And the universe being the perverse place that it is, there will even be people who absolutely love those creations that you thought were dead on arrival.
And while we’re talking about the natural sense of irony that goes with being alive, let’s analyze one very common – if not universal – aspect of the creative mind, whether professional or otherwise.
Whether you paint, write music, write stories, sculpt, act, sing, carve out rubber stamps of cartoony animals, or program web sites, there is one basic and essential through-line that runs through all of these things.
No matter what you’re doing to express yourself, at the core of it, you’re really doing it for other people.
If you draw a comic strip and no one else ever sees it, you’re like that tree that falls in the uninhabited forest, or Schroedinger’s Cat. Without showing that talent – or, perhaps, lack thereof – to someone, it is a potential that does not exist as far as anyone else is concerned. When you create something, really going through the entire effort of the concept and execution, it’s really there to be experienced by others, not necessarily by you. After all, you know what it’s supposed to be. You know what you were thinking when the thought first occurred to you. You cannot even gauge your own success without some kind of judgment on your work from an outside party.
Ever heard the term “performance art?” It’s an unnecessary redundancy, like George Carlin’s joke about hearing a weatherman warn of a “rain event,” or the thought of “pre-heating” the oven (heating it before you heat it? What?!). Any creative endeavor is going to be a spectator sport. Even if your performance only took place when you wrote, sculpted or sketched your work, the end result of that performance is what will be judged.
So, the universe having its cruel sense of irony, what is the worst thing that can happen here?
Creative people have a common cardiovascular anomaly. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are easily upset if their intention isn’t made clear by their work. Criticism is taken as a damnation of their very talent, and hence their very existence. And accusations of being derivative are even worse.
In time, you can learn to grow a somewhat thicker skin and take the criticism for what it is (and learn to discern between honest criticism and the naysayers who won’t let anyone get anything done).
And I’m going to talk about all of these things in much more detail.
About a year and a few months after moving out of my parents’ house and into my first apartment, I decided to find my own place, something that was a little more my style. There were good reasons and bad reasons at the time, which I won’t go into here, but where I wound up moving into was Apartment #2 above Old Town Grain & Feed, a nightclub just on the other end of the block from Pharis Broadcasting, which is where I was working at the time. I was now only a minute or so away from work on foot, which was both a big help considering that my car was in terrible shape and I could ill afford to get it fixed, let alone replace it, but that proximity to work was also one of the dumbest things I ever did to myself. Above is the exterior of the building. My apartment started at the third window from the left, and ended at the sixth. At below, you can see basically the view you would see when you walked in the door of my apartment. Prepare for a voyage into a very geeky early-twenty-something mind. Read More