Categories
fascinating fun quote thoughts writing

The Best 419 Minutes of 1988

Going to the movies in the ’80s was an inexpensive pastime—one I loved more than any other activity. The sitting, the popcorn, the soda, the Milk Duds, the escape, the darkness, the stories, the acting, the special effects, the dialogue and the suspension of disbelief. Holy hell, I loved every part of that experience and I still do. Then discussing the movie with friends and family, comparing interpretation and re-laughing at the funniest parts.

Watching Movies in the 1980s

Thanks to cheap movie theaters that screened second-run movies many months after their release, even my infrequent $2 allowance afforded me the ticket price and a snack. Many films weren’t released on videotape for at least a year after the film came out in theaters. Plus, home rentals were expensive and risky; if you damaged or lost a rental, depending on the popularity of the tape, you were on the hook for $50 to $150 dollars. Most video rental stores were small businesses who were lending out their property to people with kids and pets and liquids and foods. A lot could happen in three days, if the tape came back at all. Signing up for a rental account at most places required a cash deposit, a credit card number and an agreement that you would pay full price for any lost or damaged videotapes. When we lost a tape in 1989, so my mother was charged $89.95.* She paid it, then we found it a few months later buried deep in the couch.

Every single week, my brother, my best bud Art and I would scour the movie listings in the San Jose Mercury News. The Serra Twin Theater in Milpitas, California was our go-to. They always had a tiny box advert with nearly fine print listing double-features for one dollar.

One afternoon in 1988, I noticed Serra Twin was offering an unheard of triple feature that weekend. I confirmed permission from my mother, then immediately called Art to urge him to get permission and square up a ride for us with his dad. It didn’t take much convincing to get permission and to get Art and my brother to go along:

  1. It would get us out of the house for the entire day—a plus for everyone;
  2. Cost was $1.50 for all three movies;
  3. We’d seen all three trailers on TV and were most interested in two of them;
  4. The one we were least interested in was a romantic comedy that looked boring, but luckily, it was the final film in the screening. We could leave if we weren’t into it;
  5. The grocery store across the street had plenty of cheap snacks for us to sneak into the theater.
Image of a small, old ticket stub, torn, worn and faded. Reads JOSE THEATRES.
The original ticket that admitted me into the best time I’ve ever spent at the movies. I assume that Serra Twin was owned by the same folks who owned the Jose Theatre (now home to San José Improv.)

The Triple Feature

Art’s dad picked us up and dropped us off at the grocery store. We stocked up and bought our tickets. The whole excursion cost less than $20.

The first film in the screening was Summer School (1987, 139 min.), a great lead-in to the triple-feature. Directed by Carl Reiner, and starring a rompy cast, including Kirstie Alley, Shawnee Smith and Mark Harmon, the latter of whom was so charming and fun. I really believed the dog in the film belonged to Harmon based on their chemistry. I mean, the dog is on the poster! Plus, Chainsaw’s and Dave’s horror movie sequence is legendary. I was not surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie as it had a perfect blend of immature and mature humor.

Repeat viewings since 1988: Caught it once or twice on basic cable, but not in this century.

The second film in the trifecta is the one I was most interested in seeing at the time. This directorial debut by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire), Adventures in Babysitting (1987, 142 min.) is not the best teen comedy of the ’80s by a long shot, but it is in my personal top 5 favorite films of the genre. The movie introduced me to what a dick Bradley Whitford could play, and in my opinion, the first true cinematic representation of Thor as played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and, of course, the incredible Elisabeth Shue in her first starring role. There are some very far-fetched sequences in this movie, such as the unlikely, but entertaining Babysitting Blues performance in a Chicago blues club, but the scene also features one of my favorite all-time quotes/truths, uttered by blues legend Albert Collins: “Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.” Put that on my tombstone.

Repeat viewings since 1988: Several dozen. At one point, I could recite the dialogue along with the movie.

Chicago blues maestro Albert Collins having just uttered one of my favorite lines in all of cinema. Screenshot: Adventures in Babysitting, 1987.

*Of all things, that very expensive videotape my mother paid for was Adventures In Babysitting. She was so frustrated by that expense. We urged my mother to rent it because we wanted to see it again. We ended up watching it a lot. I’m sure we got well over $89 worth of viewings.

Rounding out the trio of films is the one I was least interested in seeing. Based on the trailer alone, I was certain that this romantic comedy was going to be a mushy, medieval vomit-fest. No part of it looked good. However, in the first several minutes of Princess Bride (1987, 138 min.) Fred Savage’s character (my age!) complains to his grandfather (played by Peter Falk, one of my faves!) that he doesn’t like the romantic stuff in the book being read to him. I like this kid! I can relate to him. This allowed me to give the film a chance and I am forever grateful. Princess Bride may be the best romantic comedy I have ever seen. Who believed Westley truly loved Buttercup? I surely did. Who knew André the Giant could be so delightful and funny? Who savored in lovingly hating the film’s antagonists? Vizzini! Humperdink! The Six-Fingered Man! Also, I just put together the fact that this film was directed by Rob Reiner, while Summer School was directed by his father. Neato! ALSO, I often tell people to have fun storming the castle! when they leave my house.

Repeat viewings since 1988: At least a few dozen times.

Serra Twin Theater

Serra Twin Theater was responsible for cementing my love of cinema with good movies and bad movies alike. Now called simply Serra Theaters, they are a much-loved home for films in a number of Indian languages.

I must also credit Serra Twin for my inexplicable love of Kevin Costner movies: In 1992, I saw a double feature of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bodyguard for $1. It was a lot harder to convince Art and my brother to join me on for that combo, so I paid for them. I was 16 and had crushes on Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Whitney Houston.

Revisiting the Triple Feature

I have replicated The Greatest Triple Feature on DVD.

All three movies were released in 1987. To recreate this experience—and to properly celebrate their 35th anniversary—I will host a viewing party at my house this Spring.

Categories
poem/poetry writing

POEM | Two Chairs

I have two seats from a minivan
A housemate moved out last summer and into said vehicle
I had stopped them from chucking them into a dumpster
They looked so inviting
two perfectly plush porch chairs
built for butts on long drives
and lives stalled by plagues

During the warmest parts of the pandemic, they sat in my driveway
Always a housemate or two with
nowhere to be
chatting, eating, people watching
from a distance

When the rain finally came, I moved them to the covered patio in the backyard

My whole life, I have always put a second chair next to mine
Anticipating the unexpected arrival of a friend
or a brave stranger looking to chat
The clearest visual for hope I have ever produced

As the weather cools and darkens
Inside and out
I only need one chair
No one is coming
Time to put the second chair anywhere but here
A mere logical move when space is needed

© 2021 Mighty Mike McGee

Categories
thoughts writing

Q+A | Imposter!

“Wondering how you (Mike and/or others) have managed feeling like an imposter when sharing work? I’ve been out of the game for a while and never truly got IN the game and sometimes it feels like I’m sort of a wannabe. It doesn’t help that I did a deep dive into the all-consuming parenthood adventure and it’s so much harder to find even basic words some days. Not necessarily looking for validation, but definitely some advice on navigating the ebb and flow of creativity.” —J

J,

I have been thinking a lot about this subject lately. Over the last decade, I have spoken with very dear friends of mine who have accomplished a variety of successes in terms of their art and/or their careers, and all of them have confided in some way that they still struggle with bouts of imposter syndrome. Most of them find that no matter how “successful” they might be in one aspect of their field, from time to time, they still feel as though it’s unearned, ill-gotten, or fraudulent. I feel it as a “comedian in poet’s clothing,” especially as a spoken word artist/slam poet approaching the worlds of publishing and academia. I’ve never fully felt as though I was universally accepted as a good poet by everyone who has heard me, but that’s life. Not everyone ever will. It’s good to have some folks who are critical of your work, because it forces you to take a third look at what you are creating. To ask yourself why you created it in the first place. To ask yourself about its place in the world. But that imposter feeling is critique on our character and the artist in us. It probably stems from our own self-image and a large part of our identity. So much of it probably comes from guilt and a need to have a simplified self-representation; ‘I am [insert role/artistic identity here]. I am wholly THAT and I must eat, breathe and sleep THAT, because it is what people expect of me. It is what people need from me.’

Guilt may be one of the most destructive forces against even the inception of art. How many folks have given up being an artist because their parents wanted them to be a doctor? How much art never had a chance to exist in the world because being a lawyer pays so much better? I believe that our perception of being unworthy of utilizing the time necessary to create art is influenced by the guilt we may feel because that time must be borrowed from our responsibilities. On top of that, when we do finally borrow time from our commitments to others, we then judge our art to an unfair higher standard. ‘I used this time to make this, but was it a wise use? Will my commitments suffer because of this piece of art? If it is seen by others as poorly made art, then I have wasted my time, and I have now less time for my commitments.’ This is a fallacy. If the desire to create exists, it is imperative to your mental health—and the health of those you are committed to—to create. To be an artist. To identify with art and generate it at a rate that fits your desires. It is also imperative to study the difference between what is good art and what is bad art, and in my convoluted opinion, more importantly, what mediocre art looks like. The world can handle good and bad art. One we hang on the wall, the other ends up at thrift stores. Mediocre art gets saved in garages and attics because, you know, so-and-so made it and they put a lot of time into it and… I don’t know what to do with it.

It comes down to time management. I always have to ask myself: Do I have the time to do both things AND can I negotiate the values between responsibility and desire? How do I destroy the guilt I feel when my desire to create is as strong or stronger than my commitments to others? Can I make a commitment of my desires and create a balance between them and my responsibilities?

I am a funny person. I am a serious writer. I love to cook. But really, deep down inside, there is a huge part of me that wants to dance. If in ten years folks were to say, ‘yeah, you know Mighty Mike McGee, the funny, dancing poet,’ it’s because I managed my time and did what I NEEDED to do. In my 20s, no part of me was prepared to let that become part of my identity. There was no way anyone was ever going to see the dancer waiting to be born. Because I was stuck on this notion that I had established everything I was going to be. I was a stand-up poet. A funny performance poet who only did just THAT. I could dip into just stand-up comedy, or I could slide over into straightforward poetry, but I should not delve into anything else, because. Because? Because what? Because I might jar someone else’s perception of my identity? Because I might have to explain my newly restructured time management to folks?

So if you’re a mother, that becomes a major role for you and those around you. If you were writing before you became a mother, you may find yourself at a crossroads and find it difficult to maintain the practices of writing while also keeping up with the responsibilities of motherhood. If you are a firefighter and you decide to venture into theatre, it pits your identity as first responder, maybe even a selfless hero, against your desire to express yourself and to be seen doing it. Nothing of who we are now should be a hindrance to the fact that our identities are far more fluid than we tend to recognize and that our future selves should only be dictated by responsibility and time management.

It’s becoming more and more unusual and even uncomfortable to me that the things we DO must become the thing we ARE. I “am” a poet, but it really isn’t my identity. I am a primate called Mike who writes all sorts of things (including very long responses to FB posts.) I like words and I play a mean game of Scrabble. I can live without poetry, I don’t want to, but I could stop writing. Over time I do believe it would have a negative impact on my life. As a baby poet in my 20s, I wrote A LOT of poetry. I was hooked. From 1998 to 2003, I wrote about 300 “poems.” Now, I write maybe a tenth of what I did back then. I was confused by this. I recently took a long foraging look into those old poetry files to see what I was writing. I wanted to figure out how in the hell I wrote so much, but just couldn’t be bothered to spend that much time on it now. What I realized was that 90% of those poems were mediocre at best. I was still learning. I was exploring and experimenting. I was falling in love with words and letting them fall in love with me. I was having fun and letting it all out to see what would stick. I discovered that I have 20 more years of experience at not just writing, but at being a better judge of my own work. Twenty more years of being constructively critical of what I can make. In 2001, I would write something, share it with friends and read it at open mics and wonder if it was any good. I don’t wonder 90% of the time now. I am confident that I have developed the skills needed to be a good writer. There is and will always be room for improvement and change. Much like my identity, there will always be shifts in what I need to develop further as an artist. But what there isn’t room for any longer is guilt because I just don’t have time for it. There is writing to be done. Between laundry and gigs and bathing and Scrabble and feeding my cat and visiting loved ones, there is so much writing to be done. As long as I am honest with myself and my work, I cannot be a fraud, because no one else is me.

I highly recommend that you gift yourself whatever amount of time you can every day in doing something with words. You know what inspires you so immerse yourself in those things regularly. Make it inclusive! Bring your family with you if you can. “Fam, I love words and I want to fall in love with them again. Will you join me on this romantic journey?” Re-evaluate your desire to create and explore the idea that the time you spend on your expression is just as valuable as the time you spend with your commitments. You getting better at your craft is a boon to those around you as well. No one else is you, so how can you be a fraud?

Truly,

Mighty Mike McGee

Categories
blog fascinating fun

The Best Intro Ever

As a show host, I’ve introduced countless performers over the years. I often ask them to provide me with a couple of sentences that gives the audience a bare minimum of insight into who they’re about to experience. Most performers give too much to read from the stage and I am often forced to edit as I read, denoting the most interesting points from their autobiography.

Three years ago this month, I asked the incredible hip-hop performance poet Kojo Opong-Mensah to write down a line or two about himself before I introduced him as the headliner for my weekly literary open mic in San José. I handed him a napkin and a pen and he went to work. Add to mind he was already a favorite performer among the regular attendees, so I didn’t need much.

I returned to Kojo’s table a little while later and asked him for the napkin, which he returned to me, folded neatly. I put the note in my shirt pocket without reading it. When it was time to bring Kojo to the stage, I pulled the napkin from my pocket, opened it and laughed like a burst of backfire. I expected to read something biographical and self-promotional, but I read this instead:

Being the finest bio I have ever read on stage, it is now framed on my wall.

Categories
blog fascinating fun

Valentines Couple Challenge!

Noticed some friends posted this “challenge” on social media. Figured I would join in the fun. (Since I am single, I will have to compare myself to a 9″ by 12″ veggie lasagna with zucchini “noodles.”)

How’d you guys meet: I make the lasagnas.
First date: There have been SO many lasagnas!
How long have you been together: Never more than a week.
Married: Not yet legal.
Age difference: 45 years and counting.
Who was interested first: Me.
Who is taller: Me, for once.
Who said I love you first: ME… Every. Single. Time.
Most impatient: Me
Most sensitive: Me
Loudest: Me
Most stubborn: The lasagna. Very hard to convince it of anything.
Falls asleep first: Me, especially after eating the lasagna.
Better morning person: The lasagna.
Better driver: The lasagna.
Funniest: Me, but the lasagna seems to get my jokes.
Where do you eat out most as a couple: Wow. Okay!
Who is more social: ME!
Who is the neat freak: Me
Where was your first kiss: Just outside the oven. So hot!
How long did it take to get serious: About 1 hour at 375F (190C).
Who picks where you go to dinner: Me
Who is the first one to admit when they are wrong: The lasagna.
Who cries more: Me
Who has more tattoos: Me
Who sings better: The lasagna.
Hogs the remote: Tie!
Spends the most money: Me 😦
Did you go to the same school: Not yet legal.
Where is the furthest you two have traveled together: Where do I begin!?
Who drives when you are together: We use public transit and Tupperware.
Post a picture of you and your Valentine: Not yet legal.

Categories
fun music thoughts

(s)talking to a stranger

One of my favorite song discoveries of the forsaken-year-that-should -never-be-rementioned-by-number (last year) is this 2013 disco-punk rework by The Avalanches. They took Hunters & Collectors’ 1982 song “Talking To A Stranger” and avalanched it into “Stalking To A Stranger.” Both links will take to you their respective 7+ minute videos, of which the latter is also remixed to splendid effect. Both songs are dope and the remix introduced me to veteran Australian new-wavers Hunters & Collectors, and for this I am glad.

Categories
blog fascinating fun memoir

My Voice at 15 Years Old

In 2005, I appeared on an episode of Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam on HBO. It was an incredible experience. To hear Mos Def say “from San José, California, give it up for Mr. Mike McGee” at the beginning of the clip is still pretty cool. However, my first “appearance” on HBO actually came fifteen years earlier—and 30 years ago today.

January 5, 1991 was the dead center of my freshman year of high school and a week before my 15th birthday. I was in the midst of trying on my new high school uniform: class clown. There was nothing classy about it, pure and simple, as it required an obnoxiousness I had yet lowered myself into (much like Arnold did at the end of Terminator 2—obnoxiousness being a vat of molten metal that would kill some portion of my self-respect), but it was all I ever wanted. I was never going to be popular for sports, academics or good looks, which was fine since I had no patience for any of those traits, as it was. For many months, maybe even a couple of years, I had dreamed of being a well-liked funny person who gets paid to be well-liked, funny and a person.

On this particular Saturday evening, during a break from Desert Storm news coverage, my mom and I were watching Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold on a live HBO call-in special hosted by a very pre-Today Show Matt Lauer. They kept an 800 number on the screen and I had nothing better to do, so I set out to get stand-up comedy advice from 1.2 of the biggest names in comedy at the time. I sat at the phone, finger-dialing the push-button numbers over and over, a skill I developed through dialing radio stations for prizes. I was used to waiting for the busy-signal, hanging up and dialling again. After about 26 minutes and several hundred busy signals, it paid off  and the sound of the line ringing on the other end was exhilarating. My mom’s eyes were bugging out of her head. After a dozen or so rings, a staffer answered, took my name and told me I had time for one question, so what was my question? I want to know how to become a comedian! They put me on hold and my mom’s head volleyed the tennis match between me and the television. The audio on the line switched to a live, undelayed feed of the conversation with the trio on TV. After a moment, Matt Lauer answered and prompted my question, “Mike from San José, California, you’re on live with Tom and Roseanne. What’s your question?” I am proud of and love representing San José, California however I am capable.

I could have sworn the conversation lasted about nine minutes. It was actually only 59 seconds.

Everything is on YouTube now, right? It had never occurred to me until recently to search online for video of a show that surely has no business existing beyond 2001. Well, thank you to the person(?) who made sure I could relive an actual moment of my life that has had a strangely wonderful impact. The video here starts a few seconds before my call, but the entire episode is there for your viewing… pleasure?

It has replayed so differently in my head over the years. I forgot that this call-in show followed Roseanne’s HBO comedy special filmed at T**mp Castle in Atlantic City. I don’t remember repeating myself so nervously or stammering at all. I only remember most of what they said to me on the phone. I realize now that I also never saw their reactions during our conversation because I was frozen, staring at our apartment wall the whole time. My mom tried to keep up with my live conversation and the tape delay on TV. They answered my question and hung up. I spent 30 minutes or so dialing that onscreen number and I only remember it because I got lucky and someone answered. These days, it is funny to think that, of all the people in this video, Tom Arnold is now the most likeable personality of the three.

I give Roseanne and Tom a lot of credit for boosting my my teen spirit. But at 14, I was probably already on my way to being a well-liked funny person.

Categories
blog fascinating fun thoughts

Don’t Throw Away Your Calendars

For as long as I can remember, I have been deeply fascinated with calendars. I am sure it is based in part on my deeper fascination with time itself—as a concept, as a construct, and as a constant. I think it may be the false sense of predictability calendars offer—they give a glimpse into the future, but aside from holidays and plans, that glimpse is ultimately always a bit empty and never guaranteed.

Several years ago, I discovered the concept of re-using calendars thanks to their predictable repetition. So far, mine is a new, strange, tiny collection. As years come to an end, I take down the calendars off the wall over my desk and the one in my kitchen, then pack them away to be used again. On the back, I write the coming years in which they will sync up again, giving them the potential for future use for anyone who comes across them.

For example, in place of a 2011 calendar, you could have used any Gregorian calendar from 2005, 1994, 1983, 1977, 1966, 1955, 1949, 1938, 1927 and 1921. That is a great line of available calendars. I am trying to track down a copy of a 2011 Betty White calendar I used to have so that I can use it in 2022. I recycled mine before I fully understood I’d be able to re-cycle it in eleven years. To be clear, your holidays and time changes won’t always line up, but the days and dates will be just fine.

I can imagine my mom hanging this calendar the year I was born. This one can be used again in 2032 or 2060.

Due to 2020 being a leap year in which February 29 landed on a Friday, this year’s calendar is only reusable three times in the next 96 years, in 2048, 2076, and 2116, when leap day returns to Friday. And only four calendars from the 20th century could have been used in place of one from 2020—those from 1992, 1964, 1936 and 1908. This is the same story for every leap year, they’re spaced apart a minimum of 28 years.

It’s a simple fascination that I don’t spend too much time on. I do wonder, though, if it is possible to build a permanent collection so that I have all the calendars I will ever need. Then again, do I really want a complete collection? There is something so morbidly finite about that.

Here are my two resources on this subject. The best, no frills site for quickly looking up which calendars to reuse is whencanireusethiscalendar.com. And one of my favorite sites to waste time on all thing time and dates, and even repeating calendars is timeanddate.com

I do think it would be a nice trend to write the future years of re-cycle on the backs of our calendars from now on. Even if you don’t keep them, a like-minded collector will be glad you donated them to a thrift store. I now have a 1993 calendar I plan to use in 2021, 2027 and 2038.

To be honest, I am seriously considering burning my 2020 calendar at 11:59pm on December 31. No one should ever have to spend another calendar year with 2020.

Categories
fascinating fun thoughts

Picture This

I was cleaning my house a couple of years ago when I found a small travel bag I didn’t recognize. Smaller than a fanny pack, bigger than a wallet. Maybe a pencil bag? It had some random items in it, pennies, a gum wrapper, a lozenge, and a few empty film canisters, but one of them included a completed roll of film. It must have been left behind by an acquaintance who attended one of my Kitchen Sessions. This film roll now sits on my desk as a tiny mystery full of possibility. I am certain it is not mine, but I’ve staked a claim on it like finders keepers. Out of sheer curiosity, I want to develop the film inside, but I am worried about being disappointed. What if the images are boring? What if they depict a crime? Will the images tell me who took them?The mystery is likely more salacious than the actual negatives. Another part of me wants to throw it away and enjoy the mystery forever.

I just noticed that the film roll is Kodak Professional black and white…

While Shannon Harney performed at a Kitchen Session, circa 2017, said mystery film was probably being left behind in my couch cushion. (Taken with my crappy phone.)
Categories
fascinating fun memoir poem/poetry

A Truly Widespread Orchestra

Back in March of this year, about a week after I went into self-isolation from C19, like many, I was feeling pretty low, lost and lethargic, forcing myself into routines so that I didn’t lose my mind in a vast field of worry. But even though I was flying solo on this journey, I knew wasn’t actually alone. While doing mundane tasks like household chores and sorting of things that I’d put on The Wayside, I realized that so many of the people I love (along with those I hardly know, but who are very lovely) were probably doing the exact same things and quite possibly at the exact same time. I often imagine how many people might be laughing while I am laughing, crying while I am crying, eating toast at the precise moment I am eating toast. The great potential for this sort of banal synchronicity fascinates me. So I jotted down a quick poem and called it “Widespread Orchestra,” a phrase I’d had rolling around like a fat marble in my head for the better part of decade. The poem got a good response from folks, especially from my friend Noah Luna, composer and fellow San Joser, who took the poem and gave it a sound I am incapable of formulating or performing. Over the last several months, he’s built a beautiful song out of my words, which renders me speechless every time I see and hear it. Check it out for yourself.

Noah had asked me sometime in late spring if he could play with it. I love poetry over music, so I was emphatic in my affirmation. Noah asked world class cellist Joshua Roman to play the composition he had written for cello. Then they both recruited a number of vocalists from all over (I’d like to say the world, but I don’t actually know where they’re all located) to record themselves singing and to capture it on video. Through the awesome support of Town Hall Seattle, where Joshua is the current Artist in Residence, he and Noah were able to stitch together all of the vocal tracks and footage to make what you see and hear in the video.

We had a video debut of the song over Zoom the other day a good number of the vocalists joined us. Many of them commented on how it was the first time they had to listen to themselves sing solo for a chorus. Noah commented that is was the first time he’d ever heard every voice in a chorus individually as he put the track together. Very fascinating work.

They made a widespread “orchestra” and turned my little poem into a much, much bigger song. My mind is blown and I cannot thank them enough.

Many, many thanks and kudos to Noah Luna and Joshua Roman for their incredible, remarkable work. Huge thanks to the vocalists who participated in this strange and beautiful endeavor. Major thanks and gratitude to the folks at Town Hall Seattle for their part in making this happen.

Wow.

Noah and I are already talking about future projects. Stay tuned.