Monday, February 6, 2012

Item #50 - Shakespeare in the Park

"or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
and by opposing end them.
to die . . .
to sleep . . .
no more"
-Billy Madison

As part of my pad-the-college-resume spree, I was a member of the Wig and Mask Society for 4 years in high school. While that sounds like something Tom Cruise got to see in Eyes Wide Shut, it really just meant being affiliated with the play. I was an usher 1 year.  I worked on the set crew for all 4 years, which gave me skills I would use later on in life. And while those skills include basic knowledge of hand tools, the real experience I gained was from the vast amount of euchre everyone played. Being a quality euchre player is ingrained in a Michigander's DNA, like bowling and the ability to grow mustaches.

Euchre is played to 10 points, with typical rounds going for 1 and 2 points, and the rare round going for 4 points. My friend Jim and I once beat our buddy Drew and his lady friend in 3 rounds, which is the fastest win possible. Granted, vast amounts of deck stacking occurred as the happy couple got schmoopie with each other and we continued to steal the deal, but a wins a win. In the words of Jesse The Body Ventura, "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." 

The head of the set crew was a teacher who we'll just called Mr L. I never had him for an actual class, and thus, only interacted with him via the set crew. He was one of the "cool" teachers at school that you could joke around with, but at the end of the day you respected him and did what he said. He encouraged the euchre play when there was down time, and always made sure the stereo was on (and usually made sure it was playing Rush. Several years later I would finally learn that Rush's lead singer Getty Lee was actually a guy). 

Seriously. Without the soul patch, you might expect this person to be headlining Lilith Fair.

Anyways, the "cool" teacher story can only end in 1 of 2 ways. Either he teaches everyone life lessons that they will use for the next 50 years and reference in college applications and valedictorian speeches . . . or he fucks up and gets fired.  Luckily, in the year of the Penn State scandal, I don't have to talk about Mr L getting shit-canned at an all-boy school for the stuff that makes you target 1A for rape in prison. He ended up getting caught buying beer for students, and at a Catholic school, that's easy grounds for dismissal.

Despite being an all-guys school, we had our fair share of gossip (yeah, I'm stereotyping ladies), as word traveled fast in our rather limited hallways. But no news traveled faster than when school play time rolled around and a girl showed up in the main office to sign up for tryouts. Before she finished the 90 second application, all 800 guys had done walk-by's to check her out. We certainly got enough female interaction at the sporting events and monthly club-like dances, but to actually have one in the building during normal school hours, that wasn't a nun? That was gold. 

We really did get a ton of girls to go to our football and basketball games, and those monthly club-like dances in the gym where it was $5 to get in  and only guys from our school could go? It was a nice 3-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio. An all guys school, but we did just fine for ourselves, thank you very much. End of rationalization paragraph.

My senior year I finally decided to suck it up, be a man, and actually perform in a dance in the play along with doing sets. At the very least, it would be a chance to hang out with some new people, AKA, meet some new girls. And while I did meet some new people during dance practice, no dates came of it. So come play time, we mostly hung out backstage with our crew of friends. But on the night of dress rehearsal, this girl Lara I knew, who went to the closest thing to our all-girl sister school, came over and said "Hey, there's a girl I want to introduce you to." FINALLY. So I followed her over to her group of girls and came face to face with a very cute dark haired girl with a great smile. I liked where this was going. I was a hip young 17 year old who could be in the market for a prom date. "Alan" Lara said, "this is Nikki, though I think you've actually met before." And we had met before, about 10 or so years ago . . . at our relative's birthday party. We were second cousins, and the brief romantic thoughts ended milliseconds after they started, as we spent the rest of the weekend igniting nothing more than a friendship (when I tell this story in the South, they consider this ending a tragedy instead).

Along with re-meeting my second cousin, I also got to meet one other interesting person during my time as an actual participant in the play.  You know how I said 800 guys would walk by the main office when a girl would come in? Well, that number should actually be 799. While the laws of probability say there should be more than 1 out of 800, there was only one out-of-the-closet guy at our school - Doug (a sophomore) AKA, "Dance or Die" (everyone at the play called him that because he wore a shirt that said "Dance or Die" to every single dance practice).

Being an all-boys, 98% white, 95% middle-to-upper class Catholic school doesn't exactly breed awareness in diversity (meeting the Jewish girl next door to our dorm room freshmen year of college was like meeting a martian). So I can't imagine what it was like for the one gay kid in a testosterone-filled sausage fest. What I do know is that some of the brief stories he told us backstage at the play aren't fit to rewrite here.  But our little group of friends treated him well, and I'd like to think that we made him feel good about being himself, as he got to hang out with seniors and wow us with stories about hanging out with lesbians (telling lesbian stories to guys at an all-boys high school is like telling a sumo wrestler about visiting Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory). And after being a close-minded conservative Catholic my whole life, hanging out with Doug may have been the first time I said "Ummmm, I think me and the pope might be on the wrong side of this gay-is-a-sin thing" (Update - relative to this issue, I am definitely not on the pope's side anymore). 

Sadly, as this falls under the Tragedy headline, you already know where this goes. The 3-night play was a success, everyone had a great time at the wrap party, and a few days later, Doug committed suicide. I can only assume he waited until he had that last great moment in the sun, and he got to go out doing what he loved. 
Hmmmm, well that's a tough story to come back to the present from. But, if I'm going to talk about my experience with our HS play, I might as well tell it all. The blog occasionally needs some serious  meat to go with the fluffy potatoes I suppose.

Anyways, I told high school play stories because I ended up going with friends Jessica, Ryan and Buddy to Shakespeare on the Common in downtown Boston (yes, its now winter. That tells you how much I've lagged on these last couple post-list-completion posts). 

The stage was the high tech thing on the left. Not the cool circular thing on the right.

Since college, I think the extent of my play-going was seeing the Slutcracker (both last year and this year) and seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show in NYC (starring Skid Row's own Sebastian Bach!). So Shakespeare was definitely a change of pace. That evening's show? All's Well That Ends Well. Yeah, never heard of it. But I figured it was better to see something NEW, right? At first, that was a poor decision, as trying to decipher ye olde timey English from 50 yards away in a park proved to be rather difficult (a special thanks goes out to my smart phone and its ability to let me follow the plot via Wikipedia as necessary).

Shakespeare Enjoyment vs Time

But as the plot slowly began to unfold (3 hours of old English = SLOW), and I slowly began to understand what the hell was happening, I eventually did come to enjoy it, as that Shakespeare fellow kind of knew what he was doing. Your 10 second synopsis (Shakespeare Spoiler Alert!) - Helena wants to marry Bertam. Bertram says "ummm, no thanks" and ditches. Helena eventually hunts him down and tricks him into marrying her. Fin.(insert 80's comic joke about all girls being crazy. I mean, women be shoppiiiiiinnnnng! Am I right?!?)

The way the whole thing played out was fairly dramatic, and while Helena got what she wanted in the end, it was actually kind of sad for Bertram, who seemed to accept his destiny in a "well I'm screwed" kind of way (and I'm not just saying that as someone who used to enjoy the motto "marriage is for suckers"). It sure seemed like a tragedy . . . until I talked to the resident renaissance man at work about it the next day and he informed me that its actually intended to be a comedy, at which point the plot seemed to make a lot more sense to me. Despite the lack of laughter derived from that particular performance, Bertram wasn't the guy you feel sorry for, he was the 90's sitcom character who gets his comeuppance and learns a oh-so-hilarious lesson at the end just as the camera goes to a freeze frame.

So while you're not supposed judge a book by its cover, in this case, you couldn't even judge the book by all the words inside. Next time I see Shakespeare, I'll request the version with the director's commentary.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

#49 - Go to Funspot

"Funspot . . . The Spot for Fun!" -The no-false-advertisement Funspot website
Ali & Frazier . . . Bird & Magi . . .Michigan & That School Down South . . . . Steve Wiebe & Billy Mitchell.  All classic rivalries. What? You haven't heard of Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. Well, you poor child. Billy and Steve are only the 2 greatest Donkey Kong players that ever lived. Not interested? Then please watch this informative 2 minute video and be wowed.

STILL not impressed? When then you obviously hate America, you pinko Commie bastard. A million different people could have gotten high and invented the iPod. Only a select handful can actually finish Donkey Kong and do so in such glorious point-scoring fashion. You've got to respect greatness, and these 2 men represent the modern day greatness of the American dream, pulling up their bootstraps and building their Kong skills up from nothing but a quarter and a sparkle in their eye.

I think King of Kong is available on Netflix streaming. It's how I watched it, but I don't have a streaming account anymore because like much of America, an extra $4 a month was just too much to bear when prices went up. Seriously though. Go watch it. You may not give a shit about video games, but by the end, I assure you that will have chosen a side and have rooting interest in this ongoing battle (the world record is currently held by someone else, as these 2 greats attempt to reclaim the throne). What is NOT surprising is that you'll most likely be rooting against the guy who speaks in the third person, wears a tie way too often, and looks like a villain from an 80's buddy cop movie.
So if you watch the epic documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, you'll learn all about the still-living rivalry between Billy and Steve. you'll learn that there is an actual organization that acts as the keeper of video game world records (no, not Guinness). They're called Twin Galaxies, and every year they hold a get together for the world's most elite classic arcade game players. And if you haven't figured it out, it's held at Funspot in Laconia New Hampshire, the world's largest arcade. So being an average male, and thus a video game geek, I decided to pay respects to the gods of the sport and make a detour to Funspot one Sunday while coming back from camping in the White Mountains. And since your average girl also loves to pick up guys who know how to work a joystick, Angela come along for the ride. 
When I walked into Funspot, I immediately went into overload mode. Hundreds upon hundreds of video games, the vast majority of the classic cost-a-quarter variety. It was like walking into a Vegas buffet. I want some prime rib . . . and some garlic mashed potatoes . . . and even though I don't like it, I'll take some lobster to get my money's worth.

My last trip to Las Vegas was about  2 years ago (about 18 months too long). We got drunk. I lost money. Buddy stayed up for about 30 hours straight. I marveled at the bidet in Mike's fancy-boy room at Ceaser's. Traditional Vegas. For brunch on Sunday, we decided to hit up the Luxor. The buffet was $30. Overpriced, but you're in Vegas, so who cares? But then we sat down and the waitress informed us that if we'd like, we could get unlimited mimosas for just $5 more . . . . so we made our money back. 

The Hallowed Grounds of Funspot

At a mere quarter per play, my metaphorical stomach in this case was pretty limitless. But like Vegas, I only really wanted a taste or 2 of everything they had to offer. Play for 5 minutes, and even if it wasn't Game Over, move onto the the next one . . . and the next one . . . and the next one . . . until even a nerd like me couldn't stands no more. 20 or so classic games later (too many to even remember, besides Donkey Kong of course), we moved onto the skeeball & pinball portion of the day. And after spending $5.00 worth of tokens to earn a plastic Funspot cup, we called it a day.

However, if you have the time, you can truly make a day of Funspot. They've got 3 giant rooms of video games and ticket-type games (500+ in all), but they've also got bowling, mini golf, bingo, more mini golf, a bar and a ropes/zip-line course. Oh the wonder of it all! However, I suggest you go as a group, because while I was on my own playing games, I definitely felt like I had driven a window-less van full of candy to Funspot. Chris Hanson could make a year's of episodes at that place.

A good time was had, but most importantly, I got to play on the Donkey Kong machine that the legends like Steve and Billy play on. I touched their joystick! I pushed their buttons! And I spanked that monkey! (Donkey King is a monkey you sick bastard). Anyway, it wasn't exactly like getting batting practice at Fenway Park, but my name is neither Matt Damon nor Ben Affleck, so I have to work with what I got, which on that day, was a fistful of quarters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#47 & #48 - Learn to Drive Stick, & Get a Mani/Pedi

I love to go running. I've been doing it for the last 5 or so years. I typically run between 3 and 5 miles on an average run, though I have done 13.1 in the one half-marathon I've run. I've run a 4.5 mile leg through the hills of New Hampshire at 3:30am while doing Reach the Beach. I 've run 3 miles at a 6:52 per mile pace, which is faster than the 2 mile timed run we had to for high school soccer when I ran it at a 7:05 per mile pace.When I run 5K races, I typically finish in the top 10%. I . . . am a MAN.
5 years ago I started running because I looked in the mirror and was disgusted with myself. I was 30 pounds heavier than I was when I graduated high school. Now, I'm 20 pounds lighter and 1 jean size smaller than I was in high school, and 50 pounds lighter than I was when I started running. It's been a HUGE self esteem boost, but to make sure I don't slip back, I keep track of my weight. In fact, before I shower every morning, I look at myself in the mirror, and then weigh myself. If it's just a few pounds heavier than I like, I'm once again disgusted. I calorie count almost every day.  I  . . . am NOT a man.
 More after the JUMP