The other day I got some Chinese takeout. We got to the end of our meal and opened our fortune cookies.
The first fortune said, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." Which is not a fortune, it is a Ben Franklin quote.
The second fortune said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." What the hell? Did we get a bunch of Ben Franklin fortune cookies?
And the third said, "Taxes are a fine on success."
Okay, what the actual fuck? All of a sudden we've switched from Ben Franklin fortune cookies to Libertarian fortune cookies.
And look, dude, I don't know what writing cookie fortunes pays? But if your job is writing cookie fortunes, then I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that whatever taxes you're paying are not a punishment for your massive financial successes.
Poor Libertarians baffle me. Back when I worked in the PetSmart phone bank, there was a guy who sat across from me who was a young Libertarian. One time, somebody asked if he'd voted for Obama; he responded, "No; he wants to raise my taxes."
I thought, "Motherfucker, we have the same job; I know what you make and Obama has definitely not raised your taxes," but I did not say it, because I try not to talk politics at work, or to address my coworkers as "motherfucker."
I guess poor Libertarians are just an object example of Ronald Wright's quote, paraphrasing John Steinbeck: "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."
I knew a guy named Alex McDougall. But everyone just called him Kazz. Even when we met him in person.
If you knew Kazz too -- and, if you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you did -- then you know what this post is going to be about.
Kazz struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. And last weekend he took his own life.
I'm heartbroken. If you knew Kazz, I'm sure you are too.
So the first thing I'm going to do is talk about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you have suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 and get help. I don't know who you are out there reading this right now. I just know that Kazz was somebody special, that the world was a better place with him in it, and whoever you are, there are people who feel the same way about you. Hell, there are total strangers, people who have never even met you, who feel that way about you, and they're on the other end of that phone call.
Pass that along to anybody who you think needs to hear it.
And now I'm going to talk about Kazz.
I'd known Kazz since 2002, a time when people still used messageboards, and "Internet celebrity" meant guys like Scott Sharkey. Sharkey had a community built around him, in the #finalfight IRC channel; one of the admins there, who went by Terra in those days and goes by Maou in these ones, started a messageboard at boards.pyoko.org.
Kazz signed up in the early days. He posted a GIF called Man Gun. It was a bipedal horse, holding a gun that fired men instead of bullets. I believe the gun said "MAN GUN" on the side.
He started a thread called "Pretend It's a Restaurant" (subtitle: "Pretending is fun!").
We didn't know what to make of this guy at first. He wasn't always funny. But he was always weird. Off-kilter.
In time, he and I became friends. Though anyone who remembers those days will tell you that sometimes, we had a funny way of showing it.
Kazz and I fought, a lot, over trivial nonsense that I mostly don't even remember. We were a couple of opinionated, egotistical guys in our early twenties, and we pushed each other's buttons -- sometimes by accident, and sometimes on purpose. We weren't always friendly -- but we were always friends. When push came to shove, we had each other's backs. We gave each other plenty of shit, but if anyone else gave one of us shit, the other one would come to his defense.
We'd joke about it, too; about how we were always at loggerheads. Remember when The Colbert Report first started, and there was a recurring segment with the On-Notice Board? There was a fan site at the time that allowed you to make your own On-Notice Board. Here are a couple of iterations of mine:
Anyway, we outgrew all that nonsense by our mid-twenties.
In fact, I'm pretty sure I remember our last fight. Not the fight itself; I have no idea what it was about. But how it ended.
It was 2007. I don't remember the particular details; we were mad at each other about some damn thing or another again. Arc, who was the guy in charge of the Pyoko boards at the time, said he'd had enough, and laid down the law: we were no longer allowed to speak to each other, or even mention each other, or he would ban us.
To this day I don't know if that was administrative overreach or a deft bit of psychology. But it wasn't long before Kazz was IMing me with, essentially, "Can you believe this shit? Who does Arc think he is?"
Arc united us -- against him. We never fought again.
Anyway, that rule went by the wayside when Sharkey quit the Pyoko boards and started a new messageboard (then called the Worst Forums Ever, now called Brontoforumus). He kicked it off with this banner:
That's Sharkey on the left, me in the middle, and Kazz on the right.
I'd like to say that Sharkey chose the two of us because we were such valued leaders in the community, but the truth is, as best I recall, he chose us because we'd posted recent photos that made good reference for the whole Communist propaganda poster motif he was going for: Kazz with his head raised, looking at something off in the distance, and me with facial hair of the sort every Communist propaganda poster needs. (Kazz and I did end up being pretty much the two guys running WFE for awhile after that, though.)
We all met once, the three of us, Sharkey and Kazz and me. It was in the summer of 2004; a bunch of the Pyoko gang gathered in San Diego.
The most memorable moment of that trip -- to me, anyway -- is that Kazz kicked a beer can into the back of my head.
I told the story on the Pyoko boards at the time, and maybe someday I'll be able to find that post on archive.org. In the meantime, here's how I remember it fourteen years later:
We'd been looking for a karaoke bar -- Terra's idea -- and had utterly failed to find one. We were walking through the parking lot of a non-karaoke bar, and I heard my friend Jon (not a member of the Pyoko boards, but a San Diego native we'd invited along) call out "Thad, look out!"
I didn't have time to turn my head before a half-empty can of Keystone collided with it.
I turned around and tried to read the riot act to whoever had done that -- my exact words were "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" -- but you can only have so much success chewing somebody out when you're trying not to laugh. It was funny, God damn it, and I knew it.
Kazz later explained that he'd seen the half-empty beer can on the ground and had the bright idea that he would kick it up into the air and it would get beer on everyone. He had not, of course, meant to kick it into the back of my head; there's no way he could have done that on purpose.
I referenced that event in the fifteenth (and, it's probably fair to say fourteen years later, final) installment of The Mighty Trinity, which ends with Kazz showing up to kick a beer can into a monster's head.
Kazz himself did not contribute anything to that particular story, except the stick figure body that I affixed his head to. It was part of a cartoon he drew called "Meat Man", after he ate chili that was too spicy for him.
I'm pretty sure I've got the full Meat Man drawing saved somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it yet. I think I'm going to need to do some excavation in some old hard drives. I want to save whatever I can of my friend's work.
I think that's a topic for next time. I think I've rambled enough for one post -- but I've still got more to say about Kazz.
I had always hoped that he would come out of all this okay, and someday we would see each other again and I would buy him a Coke and we would laugh about the old days -- the good times, the bad times, the what-the-hell-were-we-thinking times.
Sometimes, life deals you a soul-crushing disappointment. Knowing that Kazz will never get the chance to sit down and laugh about the old days, not with me and not with anyone else -- it's a hard, hard thing to take.
There's a line from Watership Down that's been bouncing through my head: "My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today."
I don't know if Kazz was a Watership Down fan. I do, however, know that he was a Flight of the Conchords fan, and so if he were with us today, he'd probably respond with, "Women love that sensitive nautical shit."
Then it occurred to me that it's been awhile since I told the story of the text that appears right above it -- the story of why this site is called corporate-sellout.com.
The year was, as best I can recall, 2001. It was my first year in college. I was chatting online with an old friend from high school, who was attending a different school and was in her second year. She told me that, after spending her first year undeclared, she'd finally decided on a major: English.
I was taken aback by this: what kind of a job can you get with an English major? As far as I was concerned, the purpose of a degree was to get a good job and make good money. I told my friend, with the certainty of an 18-year-old college freshman, that she was making a mistake. That I love writing too, but I'd made a pragmatic choice instead and chosen a degree in computer science -- which would surely lead to a six-figure income someday.
She responded, "It sounds to me like I'm studying to be an artist and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."
I remembered that conversation a few years later, when it came time to finally give this website its own domain name.
And I remembered it in 2013, when I was working as a temp on the web design team at GoDaddy, and I ran into my old friend in the breakroom. She was a supervisor in another department.
English degree, compsci degree -- we'd both wound up working in the same office.
Aside from changing my photo at the top of the homepage, I've also changed the site's tagline.
The previous tagline, "Now works on phones!" was a double entendre (of the non-sexy kind): at the time I wrote it, I had not only just converted the site over to mobile-friendly design, but I was also (briefly) working a temp job where I was setting up a new phone system. Now works on phones, geddit?
The new tagline is Uncle Thad's Propaganda Bubble.
See, the other week, some guy in the Techdirt comments said this to me:
BTW: keep pushing your web-site because proves that you make your own propaganda bubble and only read what agree with
Now, I never would have seen the post at all, thanks to my Hide Techdirt Comments script. But another poster responded to that post and quoted it. So, quick side note: please don't quote the trolls; I've blocked them for a reason, and that reason is that I do not want to see what they are saying.
That aside, though, I kind of loved the "propaganda bubble" comment -- not least because, at the time the troll accused me of using my website as a propaganda bubble, I had written a total of four posts in all of 2018, and all four of them were lengthy, digressive posts about how much I like "Weird Al" Yankovic.
Now, the troll actually did accidentally stumble onto something resembling a point: I am posting to this blog more these days, and, as I noted last week, that's specifically because I want to spend less time dealing with assholes.
Assholes being the keyword, of course. Not people who disagree with me. I've got no problem engaging with people who disagree with me; I do it all the time. But, much as trolls like to bleat "You're only calling me a troll because I disagree with you!", there is, of course, a difference.
"Weird Al" Yankovic's Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour has come to a close. And now every show is available on Stitcher Premium. And they're DRM-free MP3s -- Stitcher doesn't provide a convenient "download this" button, but they're easy enough to download; view the page source and do a search for ".mp3". (There are probably browser extensions that will do this without having to muck around searching the source, but when I tried to find one I found a million extensions for downloading MP3s from YouTube videos and none for downloading just plain streamed MP3s.) It's not hard to sign up for a free month of Stitcher Premium, immediately cancel automatic renewal, and download the entire tour -- plus many other fine Stitcher programs, including Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, WTF, and Black on the Air.
But back to Weird Al and the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.
I caught the Mesa show, and I'm glad I did. If this was my only chance to catch a Weird Al show like this, then I'm glad I got it. But I hope it wasn't.
While Al promoted the tour with self-deprecation, as its name implies -- as something nobody really wanted to see -- it's quite clear that that's not true. I sat in a sold-out house. I could hear the people a couple of seats over singing along with songs like Your Horoscope for Today and Why Does This Always Happen to Me? No, you wouldn't want to play a setlist like that at the Arizona State Fair (where you've got random fairgoers seeing Al's name on the marquee and walking in expecting to hear Eat It). But clearly there was an audience for the Vanity Tour, because it sold out venues all over the country.
I think Al could spend the rest of his career performing shows like the one I saw. And I hope he does.
I've seen Al's big shows -- at least six times. (As noted in my Weird Al in Concert post, I lost count at some point.) I love them. I love the costumes and the videos and the showmanship and the sheer precision.
But the Vanity Tour felt like something special.
Every time I've seen Weird Al, I've gone with my dad. And usually, when we leave the venue at the end, we talk about what a great performer Al is.
This time, as we left the venue, we talked about what a great singer he is.
Strip away the glitz and the hits and the fat-suit, and it lets you really focus on just how damn good Al and his band -- Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz on drums, Steve Jay on bass, Jim "Kimo" West on lead guitar, and Rubén Valtierra on keyboards -- are. Hell, when they played Why Does This Always Happen to Me?, I wouldn't have been able to tell Valtierra's playing apart from Ben Folds's on the studio original.
They didn't play every song I would have liked to hear -- of course not. The way I see it, that just means I can hope there's a next time, that I get another chance to hear some deep cuts. (Though I'm realistic and don't expect I'll ever hear a live performance of Hardware Store or Genius in France.) But another one of the wonderful things about this show was the sense of constant pleasant surprise.
You know what song I really enjoyed hearing? She Never Told Me She was a Mime. As Al himself noted before playing it, it's not exactly a fan-favorite -- but something about that made it more impressive. It's a song I wouldn't have requested, and I had low expectations -- and I think those low expectations meant I was just that much more impressed by how good it was. No, it's not one of Al's more impressive songs lyrically -- but hearing the band kill it, and hearing Al hit those high notes, helped me appreciate a song I didn't appreciate much before.
So sure, I'd have loved to hear Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. And I hope some day I get a chance to. But I got to hear songs like Jackson Park Express and I Was Only Kidding and, yes, I was even blown away by lesser songs like She Never Told Me She was a Mime. (And because I avoided reading about his set list as best I could before the show, I didn't know he did one straight cover every night. At the Mesa show, it was Suffragette City; you can hear a few seconds of it in the YouTube video embedded at the top of this post.)
Weird Al is a great singer and a great songwriter, with a great band. The Vanity Tour underscored that, more than any other Weird Al show I've ever seen.
If this represents a new phase in his career, and this is what he does from now on, I will be a very happy Weird Al fan.
I'm not sure how many times I've seen Weird Al in concert, but it's at least six.
The first time would have been at the Arizona State Fair in 1997. I remember he played Dare to Be Stupid and Dog Eat Dog. But the most memorable thing about that concert is that it was the first time I ever asked a girl out.
I had just turned fifteen. She was the girl who I would spend most of high school hopelessly, madly in love with. Unrequited, mostly.
And she said yes.
I asked a girl out, for the very first time; a girl I was crushing on, badly. And she said yes. My knees were jelly but it was all worth it. It felt good. Good enough that when she called me a few days later to tell me she couldn't make it because she had church, okay, that was a disappointment, but it still felt pretty good that she'd said yes at first.
The next Weird Al show I remember for sure was at Celebrity Theater. I'm pretty sure that was the show where he did The Night Santa Went Crazy and the fake-snow machine got all gummed up and dumped a huge pile of white crap on some poor bastard in the front row. (My dad swears that was one of the State Fair shows, but my brother and I agree it was at Celebrity.)
And I saw him again at the State Fair sometime after Running with Scissors; my dad and brother were with me, as was my then-girlfriend. I remember this one because there was a bit he'd do for the encore; a Jedi-hooded figure would come out and work the audience a bit, then pull back the hood to reveal...that it wasn't Al, it was the keyboard player. My brother made fun of me because I fell for it, even though we'd already seen them do that bit at a previous show.
We saw him at the Dodge Theater some time after that. I remember it was a relatively small show for the Dodge; they partitioned off the ends of the hall. I also remember that the very next night, we saw Ringo Starr's' All-Starr Band at the same venue -- to a larger but far more lethargic audience. Weird Al put on a better show than a goddamn Beatle.
And I remember seeing him again at the State Fair, where, unlike every other time I'd seen him, he put the Star Wars material right before intermission, instead of using it as his encore. What, then, would be the encore? I wondered. I was quite excited when I found out the answer: when he came out and played the opening notes of Albuquerque, I actually cheered.
The last time I saw him was at the Celebrity again. Dad and I got front-row seats. And got his spit on us during the gargling part of Smells Like Nirvana.
Those are the six shows I definitely remember as six distinct shows. I'm pretty sure there were some other ones in there too. I wanna say there was at least one more show at the fair and one more at the Celebrity. But it's been twenty fucking years, and it's all started to get a little hazy.
I didn't make it to any of the shows on the Mandatory Fun tour. But I'm damned excited about the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, which kicks off tomorrow night and promises to be unlike any Weird Al show I've ever seen before, whether I've been to six of them, eight, ten, or whatever. No costumes, no videos, few parodies. A concert of Weird Al originals.
I've got my tickets for the Phoenix show. I wonder what he'll play?
In 1996, I moved back to my hometown and started high school. I met some new friends and started hanging out with them at lunchtime.
One day, one of them handed me his Walkman and his headphones and told me I had to listen to this song.
The tape was Bad Hair Day. I was something of a casual Weird Al fan by that point; I'd heard Amish Paradise and Gump. I may even have bought the Gump single by that point; I'm not sure. But I don't think I'd heard any of the other songs on the album, and I'd certainly never heard the one my friend played for me that day.
It was I Remember Larry and my friend was right: it was funny. It's one of Al's cheerful, upbeat songs that ends in murder (I don't think I'd heard Good Old Days yet at that point, but it's certainly reminiscent of that earlier song, albeit bouncier and featuring a much more relatable protagonist).
Some sixteen and a half years later, the kid who played I Remember Larry for me on his Walkman performed my wedding.
Now, I'm not saying there's a clear path from point A to point B here. I'm not saying that Brad and I became and remained close friends because of I Remember Larry. But I suspect our mutual appreciation for pitch-black humor wrapped in an ironically cheerful veneer is a big part of why we clicked.
He had me keep listening through Phony Calls and The Night Santa Went Crazy, too.
Papago Plaza -- the entire complex where the tap room was located -- is being demolished to put up condos. They've expressed hope for finding a new home, but no news yet.
My good friend Brad -- himself a brewery owner these days -- came in from Riverside to pay his respects, and so we got a Lyft van-full of the old gang together and headed up there for the last day.
There are pictures. I don't have them yet. Hopefully I'll get them later and be able to post them.
It was bittersweet. The fridge was mostly empty; most of the items on the menu, food or drink, were sold out. The life-size monk statue had already gone, as had one of the two dartboards.
The writing was literally on the wall; people had been saying their goodbyes in silver Sharpie for months (if one message, dated March, is anything to go on).
We had a few rounds, and then we walked a block south to McFate -- that's my regular watering hole these days. My friends hadn't been there yet, but they were interested in checking it out. There was a nice bit of symmetry: saying goodbye to the old spot, and hello to the new one.
The details of the day are a little hazy. I remember we told old stories, and I laughed some belly laughs.
I'm pretty sure I only drank five beers, and I paced myself, with a glass of water after each. But I do have a tendency to make a beeline for the highest-alcohol beer on the menu when I don't have to drive. (I can recommend the beers I drank at McFate, but can't remember their names. There was an IPA called Hazy something, and a Scotch-aged something or other.)
I'll miss Papago. I hope it reopens someplace. At any rate, it was good to get the band back together for a day, and talk about the good old days.
I was looking for something to post about, and then Jeremy Parish posted a mail call for HyperCard comments over on Retronauts.
And I've got a few things to say about HyperCard, because there's a straight line between HyperCard and what I do for a living (and for a hobby) today.
HyperCard was my first development environment. I was 7 or 8 years old and I wanted to make games. Today we've got Kodu and Super Mario Maker. In 1990, we had HyperCard.
HyperCard's interface bore a certain resemblance to PowerPoint, with drawing tools that looked a lot like MacPaint. You could show slides -- or "cards" -- in order, as in PowerPoint, but you could also use buttons to link to cards out of order. So it was a useful language for making Choose Your Own Adventure-style games. "If you want to examine the sound coming from the next room, turn to page 38. If you want to see what's going on outside, turn to page 44." That kind of thing, but with buttons to click.
My game, SEKR's Awesome Adventures, was mostly that sort of thing. (It's pronounced "Seeker", and it was my grandpa's dog's name.) There were a few roundabout ways to get to where you were going, some of which would result in your untimely death. The most complex sequence involved selecting two tools from a list that you'd be allowed to use later on -- and keeping track of your selection required just a bit of actual programming.
I mostly built SEKR through the simple point-and-click frontend, but HyperCard also came with its own programming language, HyperTalk. I used HyperTalk to track what weapons/tools the user selected, and the endgame would adjust accordingly: you're in a pit; did you bring the grappling hook? It's pitch-black; did you bring the night-vision goggles? Store a variable and test a conditional; this is absolutely as simple as programming gets. It was a pretty good place to start.
And that's more or less how the Web works: fundamentally, it's a set of pages, and users navigate between them using hyperlinks. For more complicated stuff than just moving between pages, your browser has built-in support for a scripting language.
HyperCard is where I started programming. And while I never did make a career of game development, I'm still programming, and there's a more-than-passing resemblance between developing for HyperCard and developing for the Web.
My grandmother's been cleaning old stuff out of her house, and a few weeks ago she gave me a bunch of old 3.5" floppies. SEKR's Awesome Adventures is probably in there somewhere -- the original graphical HyperCard version, the text-only remake I put together in QBasic a few years later, and maybe even the unfinished Turbo Pascal port with PC speaker music (which played fine on the 286 I wrote it on but way too fast on a 486; you had to turn off Turbo to slow it down. Remember Turbo buttons?).
I really should buy a USB floppy drive and see if I can get any data off those disks.
Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, formerly of MST3K, have been touring the country, riffing movies, under the name The Mads. I caught them at the Chandler Alamo Drafthouse two weeks ago, riffing the Vincent Price "classic" The Tingler. It was fun! If you get a chance to see them, I recommend checking them out.
The riffing...well, you know how MST3K keeps things PG and doesn't make timely political jokes? Well, it's not like that. They say "fuck" a lot and one of the more memorable riffs involved a corpse covered by a sheet and Frank saying, "That sheet makes you look like a Trump supporter." So keep that in mind if you're planning on taking any kids or Republicans.
At any rate, the Mads put on a good show. Keep an eye on that tour schedule on Facebook (because for some reason their website is down) and go see 'em if you get a chance.
They've also got a podcast, Movie Sign with the Mads, where they discuss movies -- including some that are actually good! So far I've listened to their episodes on The Shining and Young Frankenstein -- it was Halloween season, after all. I enjoyed the shows and look forward to hearing more. And I expect I'll have more to say about podcasts in a future post.