The Few, The Proud

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a day of remembrance and appreciation for all who have served the United States of America with military service. It originated as Armistice Day, a commemoration of all who fought and died in The Great War, which we now call World War I. While the war was not officially over until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, it effectively ended during the armistice that began at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the previous year: November 11, 1918. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson dedicated the day to forever honor the memory of those who died, stating,

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

In 1954, after the Second World War and the Korean War saw new generations of military servicemen deployed to combat, President Dwight Eisenhower had the name of the day officially changed to Veterans Day. For a brief time it was observed on a Monday like many other federal holidays, but since it has such a vivid identity with November 11 it was replaced to that day where it continues to be observed in appreciation of all service men and women, living and dead. Many other countries, like England and its commonwealths, observe Remembrance Day on November 11th, also called Poppy Day because of their appearance in John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields.

Everybody knows somebody who has served in the military, whether it be a family member, friend, or curmudgeonly neighbor. Many of us have seen memorials erected to honor these heroes from certain conflicts or branches, or all of them. The picture I’ve included at the top is very near and dear to me. You may recognize it as the Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia not far from Washington D.C. Finished in 1954, it is an enormous bronze rendering of the eternally iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal in 1945 as he observed the second flag raising on the top of Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island Iwo Jima (the first flag was deemed too small, so they later put up the larger one in the picture). It immediately became the image most associated with the United States Marine Corps, and is perhaps the most reproduced picture of all time.

The man in the striped shirt being dwarfed by the memorial (and cut off from the chest down by the title) in the title picture is my father. He served as a Marine from 1968-1970, but as they say, “Once a Marine – Always a Marine” and growing up in my father’s household I could see this was very true. My father died in 2007 from malignant melanoma (put on sunscreen, kids), but before he did he wrote a memoir of his incredible life, and I’d like to share some excerpts from his years in the Marines with you now. They act as an account of the time, offering a front row seat to the Vietnam War and Marine Corps boot camp – a seat that my father fought very hard to get. After his pre-induction physical it was determined he had a hernia which disallowed him from military service. Yet my dad wanted to go to fight in Vietnam and had surgery to ensure he would be able to pass the USMC’s requirements. He was operated on at the hospital his mom (my grandma) worked at and became a surgical celebrity on the ward, partly because people knew his mother well, and partly because many thought he was insane to want to fight in Vietnam. Keep in mind that we live in a different era now, one where, for the most part, our military personnel are given the warm welcome they deserve when they return home. During the Vietnam War there were some different sentiments towards veterans that you will get a taste of through my father’s story. Thankfully, times have changed for the better. You will probably also observe, as I did as I reread his passages, that his writing style, like mine, is taken very much from how he spoke to people, and furthermore, that colloquialism was very much passed down from him to me. His words are in italics. Enjoy.

I arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego on the night of August 22, 1968. Recruits always arrive at night and they will be up all night and all day the next day and their lives will be a frenzy. For instance, I was up all night cleaning the head (bathroom) in the receiving barracks. This is accomplished on your hands and knees with a toothbrush. Hell had begun.

The very first thing you get in boot camp is a haircut. I had befriended a few guys while on the flight to California, but I had trouble recognizing anyone after that haircut. We all looked so different. After the haircut, we were issued our utility uniforms (the Army calls them fatigues). Everything is carried in a large duffel bag called a sea bag. We were assigned a training platoon and met our drill instructors (never call them DI’s).

We then were taken to our platoon area, where we would live for the next several weeks. Squad assignments were made by alphabetical order, so my friends and I were in separate Quonset huts. Quonset huts are those quaint little buildings made of corrugated steel with curved sides and roof. The floors were concrete. Inside were several sets of bunk beds and a heating stove. As it was August, we did not need to light the stove.

While marching to our new homes in the (very) early morning, I couldn’t help wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. After dropping off our sea bags, we were herded to the mess hall for breakfast. The rest of that first day was spent picking up our new equipment, which included a helmet, web belt, rifle and bayonet.


The purpose of Marine boot camp is to prepare recruits for the rigors of war. It is a time for getting into the physical condition that will allow you to carry out your mission and survive (“Good Marines don’t die for their country. Good Marines see to it the enemy dies for his”). Recruits are fed as much as they can eat and exercised until they drop. When I arrived at MCRD, I weighed 145 pounds. When I graduated, I weighed 170 pounds and none of it was fat.

Another purpose of boot camp is to foster teamwork. We had to learn to rely on each other and to be reliable. This is the purpose of close order drill training, but we also helped each other out during inspections. Everybody has something they are good at. Some guys were good at shining shoes, some guys were good at mopping floors. I was good at cleaning rifles and making beds (that last one surprised my mother). We performed a task we were good at to help each other get through inspections.


Recruits are called many things while in boot camp, such as turd, maggot, or scum, but never Marine. You only become a Marine upon successfully completing recruit training. That is when you receive your Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. It is an exclusive club and once you earn the title, you carry it forever: “Once a Marine – Always a Marine.” To this day, if I am identified as a Marine I am greeted with a “Semper Fi” or “Oorah”. We are all brothers.

After boot camp comes the Infantry Training Regiment (ITR), which for San Diego graduates (a.k.a. “Hollywood Marines”) is at Camp Pendleton. Camp Pendleton is one of the largest Marine bases in the U.S. and is located along the Pacific Coast between San Diego and Los Angeles. On the East Coast, MCRD is at Parris Island, South Carolina. Camp Lejuene is up the road in North Carolina.

New Marines are assigned their MOS (Military Occupational Status) upon graduation. This is the primary job you will be trained for. During boot camp, I had an opportunity to attend radio school. We were given a battery of tests after arriving at MCRD and I apparently scored well on the radio / communications section. I joined a half dozen other recruits from other platoons at a meeting with the colonel who ran the school. He informed us that this assignment could mean we would not leave the Continental United States. In other words, if we accepted this assignment, we might not have to serve in Vietnam. Even if we did go to ‘Nam, it was possible we would be in a rear area, away from any fighting. We would be given secret clearance because we would be handling confidential communications.

Now I had a problem. This really did not sound like anything I wanted to do, but how was I, a raw recruit, going to tell this to a Full Bird Colonel? When he asked if anyone had any questions, I raised my hand and stood up. I cleared my throat, then apologized and said I did not want to go to radio school. The colonel asked me why and I told him I joined the Marines to fight and I didn’t want to be a radio specialist. The other recruits looked at me like I must be insane. The colonel stood up with a smile on his face, shook my hand and told me to return to my platoon. When I graduated boot camp, I was assigned the MOS of 0300: Infantry. That was fine with me.

I am very proud of my dad’s tenacity to fight for his country, yet I am also very glad he made it home alive and was able to start a family in which I feature. He entered in boot camp after the Tet Offensive – one of the longest and most violent battles of the war – had started and wasn’t sent to Vietnam for combat until after it was over, so my dad dodged one big bullet before he actually was shot at. But he was still a Marine in Vietnam, and danger was ever-present. Now my belief in a higher power, as well as luck, has dwindled considerably over the years, but I can’t help but feel that something or someone was looking out for my dad on this occasion:

On the morning of May 20, 1969, we were told to saddle up and form into our squads and platoons and report to the flight deck. We were going to some place called the A Shau Valley to assist an Army unit with a little problem they had. The 101st Airborne was trying to take Hill 937. I was too young and stupid to know what was going on, but the older men had been to the “Valley of Death” before and they weren’t looking forward to going back anytime soon.

We were issued ammunition and grenades and boarded helicopters. I was on the first one (they must have chosen me by alphabetical order) and we flew in a circle waiting for the other choppers to load and lift off. All of a sudden, we headed back to the ship. The mission had been canceled. The Army had taken the objective and didn’t need assistance. After this battle, Hill 937 was nicknamed “Hamburger Hill”.

Hamburger Hill was a 10 day battle that resulted in the US abandoning its assault on the hill. It was marked by high casualties, including 72 killed in action, 372 wounded. A Life article that was later published with pictures of 241 Americans killed in one week of fighting had a few pictures from the battle, but most readers assumed that all of those deaths were from Hamburger Hill, causing it to become a very negative example of the war in the public eye. Even a movie was made about the battle, and I’m glad my dad wasn’t a real-life character in it because they didn’t call it Hamburger Hill because everybody made it out okay and in one piece.


There were plenty of battles my father did fight in and he had some close calls in and out of combat. He once stepped in a punji pit (a hole with sharpened bamboo sticks in it) but was okay thanks to his reinforced boots. He also had to evade the native wildlife occasionally, including large centipedes, snakes, and “spiders as big as your hand”. And then there was the time he and one of his friends decided to see if you can light C4 on fire (you can, and you shouldn’t; a little dab will do ya). After all that he made it out alive, and in March of 1970, my dad was sent home and provided early release which he took as he desired to begin the next phase of his life. He wanted to go back home, go to school, and become a police officer. But he still had to make that long journey from California to Ohio. As he prepared to return home, he geared up for an unwelcome reception.

I had spent the last year in Vietnam, but I wasn’t living in a vacuum. There had been antiwar demonstrations going on for years before I joined the Marines. A lot of people hated us for fighting in the war. We were called “racist war mongers” and “baby killers”. Soldiers returning home from Vietnam were spit upon and assaulted by those who claimed they stood for peace.

Before being released from active duty, we had been warned to expect hostility and to be careful. Well, I was ready for them. Anyone who wanted a piece of me was going to get more than he bargained for. I was a United States Marine and I would be damned if I was going to let any chicken shit, pot smoking, draft dodging bottom feeder make me cower. Bring ’em on!

As I walked through the airport concourse, my uniform and Vietnam decorations identified me as a veteran of the war. I scanned everyone I passed, looking for any hint of anger or resentment. I watched body language, looking for telltale signs of approaching trouble.

A nicely dressed woman in her early thirties and carrying a small travel bag approached from the opposite direction. When she was just a few feet away, she called to me, “Oh, Corporal.”

I turned to her and said, “Yes, Ma’am?”

“Thank you.”

It was all she said. “Thank you, Ma’am,” I replied.

With that simple exchange, it seemed as though my whole body relaxed. I might not have to kill anyone today after all. I got on the plane and no one seemed to pay any undue notice. No one made any remarks about “unjust wars” or “baby killers” and I had a nice flight home.

That is one of my favorite stories my dad ever told me (and he told a lot). It always hits me hard in the best way. I can see that scene playing out with my dad tensed up, almost looking for a fight because he knows it just has to be coming, when all of a sudden a woman says the perfect thing at the perfect time: “Thank you.” This is what we should say to our veterans tomorrow and everyday because it’s what they deserve to hear from us. And there are many ways that we can say it. Find at least one that you can do tomorrow and see what grows from it. I’m not asking you to dedicate your life to the Wounded Warrior Project (it’s great if you do though!), I’m merely requesting that you show your support for our active and past military members in any small way that you can and that you continue to give at least that little bit of support throughout your life no matter how small because it adds up. What may seem simple to the point of being negligible to you may mean the world to someone coming home for the first time in a while. Bless that woman who made a simple remark to my father at LAX so many years ago, and to you if you’ve done a similar service for a servicemen. And to any veterans who may come across this at any point in the year, thank you.

I’ll leave you with some fitting final words from my dad about his tour in Vietnam. I think they apply to all generations of soldiers:

I wish I had taken more pictures of the countryside and the men I served with. I wish I had kept a journal of my experiences. I am relating these thoughts now from memory. I am sorry that I cannot remember more of the names of the guys I knew then. I also regret not staying in touch with them. They were good, brave men and I hope their lives turned out well.

Have a good week everyone,

Alex

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State of the Season 1: Ebola to Halloween – Why the Latter is a Greater Health Concern in the US

Hello everybody! Can you believe that this blog has been alive and kicking for three months now? I can. It’s actually quite feasible considering the pace I put them out is once a week. That’s very manageable, even for my lazy ass. Still, it is significant to me to have successfully not run this project into the ground after such time. So to celebrate I am going to look back at all 12 of my previous posts with the purpose to update them with new information and in some cases to tell you, the loyal reader, about some things I left out or missed when I originally wrote them. Why is Chris Pratt dressed as Princess Leia the title picture? Because last week was Halloween and there are no questions about my sexuality, that’s why. This is a trend I intend to continue (not putting up pictures of Chris Pratt; writing a recap blog – doesn’t mean I won’t do both though) after every 12th new post (not including these posts) to allow for constant check-backs to build upon what I’ve already said with what is new and fresh about it. I call this return a State of the Season, as it is an assessment of what I have written about over the last three months, or season. I know that it doesn’t exactly line up with the actual start of each new season, but it is still a quarter of the year and if the Chinese New Year can start after January 1st then, damn it! I can have a season start whenever I write 3 months-worth of blogs. I realize this will continue to offset with each State of the Season as it will be the 13th blog of each “seasonal” set, but that will make things all the more interesting. And speaking of interesting… The biggest story over the course of my blog’s existence is the one that saw its beginning: the current Ebola outbreak. In my first blog post I explained a little bit about the dreaded filovirus and the nasty things it does to us. Since then a lot has happened. A lot. Most noticeably for us here in America a man with Ebola flew from Africa into the United States and ended up infecting two nurses at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. The man died; the first infected nurse went into quarantine and her dog went into a separate quarantine; and the second nurse flew back home by my first college roommate’s hometown to plan for her wedding, then returned to Texas before she started developing a fever and checked herself into the hospital. But of course, you knew this all already. And how could you not? It was all over the news in all facets at every minute of the day. I have managed to avoid any spoilers for Interstellar beyond the first preview that was shown in theaters months ago, but then that’s not that difficult to stay in the dark about (it helps that Christopher Nolan is really good at keeping things under wraps, even in his trailers – something he can do because people like I will go see any movie with his name in the director spot). However, even if you lived atop a lofty mountain peak, detached from society for the past few months you still undoubtedly heard all about Ebola in America. There were certainly many causes for concern: the CDC kinda fucked up a little; the Texas hospital with America’s patient zero kinda fucked up a lot; and good gravy gosh! that wittle puppy dawg is too kewt to get sick with a Group V negative-sense single-stranded RNA virus that turns your insides into outsides! For a quick recap on what I’ve just recapped and then some, click here. No offense to Bentley and his upcoming second birthday, but a lot of people in West Africa, both locals and visiting health workers are suffering and dying from Ebola and the biggest news story over here pertaining to the subject is about a fucking dog. Now it’s fine if we talk about Nina Pham and her thankful recovery, and even about her spoiled little furry friend and how lucky he and everyone else is that he did not contract the virus, but are we really going to stop there? If anything this should be the springboard to the bigger, more globally important story but unless it’s happening here in America, or if nothing else is happening in the world we don’t hear about those still very much affected by Ebola in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. I recall a brief mention of Nigeria being declared Ebola-free (Senegal is too, though I saw nothing on that without digging for it), but not much else is presented for us. Now if you really want to learn more about anything, be it a news story about a disease or about the disease itself, you have to do a little bit of searching for facts, or at the very least turn past the front page because the headlines rarely answer your questions on their own. But unless you’re reading my humble and supremely-entertaining words, reading is boring, so here’s more educational Ebola videos from the brothers Green, Hank and John. In the unlikely event that you are one of those people who still prefers reading then knock yourself out. There is so much more I could say about Ebola here, but I’m sure it will be a subject I’ll revisit in the near future, hopefully with happier news. In the meantime, read up on it and the current outbreak where you can get less scary news headlines. Ebola is a terrifying disease, but even with the recent situations in the United States bear in mind that there have only been threes cases of infection, of which only two (the nurses) were infected on US soil. One case is too high of a number for everybody’s liking, but with all the shit that’s gone on with these domestic incidents it is reassuring that there were only those cases and the two nurses have been cured and brought back to good health. So Ebola is not the greatest threat to our health here in the western world, but we should do what we can to help those that it is a tremendous threat to.


My second (and personal favorite) blog post was about the shortcomings of Shark Week in recent years. I was not the first nor the last to point out how, similar to much of the news coverage of Ebola, science has given way to sensationalism during Discovery’s once great week. Nevertheless, their viewership has increased to a higher level than ever. Unfortunately, the top shows were the ones with the most fabrications. Here’s hoping Discovery Communications fixes up its complete programming, but they probably will just keep catering to what gets big ratings because that’s what networks do. Sharks will definitely be the subject of some future blogs, so if that’s your thing you’ve come to the right place. Just be warned: I’m only going to tell the truth.


The third post I put up was a selection of many of my favorite music videos. By no means was it a complete list and there will be at least one other post like this one (I left out a few favorites and new music videos are being made every day!), and another post that will be based on music videos and songs from one specific artist. I do feel some great choices were omitted, partly because I didn’t want the whole text to be filled with blue links. Nonetheless, I think that using an image from a video I mentioned but didn’t include a link to was criminal, so lock me in the stocks while you watch my second favorite video; first favorite song from The Beastie Boys. I also meant to mention that Spike Jonze directed my favorite music video of theirs, “Sabotage” because I was going to link that video with Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” which I did state Jonze directed. Of course, I will continues to include links to music videos as they apply to what I write about in future non-music topics.


Rounding the third post and heading home to the fourth I bridged the natural gap between the three “B”s. It was a discussion of Lou Gehrig’s incredible baseball career; the eponymous disease that ended his life; the odd, yet popular and good-hearted charity to benefit researching treatments and ideally a cure for that disease; and naturally, a concluding thought on the most brilliant scientific mind of our age, whose body suffers from a like ailment. This summer the ALS Association received over $115 million in donations from the ice bucket challenge. Job well done to those who doused themselves and their friends and helped contribute to the study of a disease that gets 5600 new cases here in the States every year – obviously many more than American Ebola.


Post five brought out a lot of emotions within me. My least favorite roller coaster at the park with the best and my favorite roller coasters has been closed forever…kinda. In case you’re wondering, I did not get to Cedar Point again this year, which had its final day of the season yesterday, so I never will ride the Mantis again. I will however be one of the first in line to ride Rougarou, a re-purposing of the coaster formerly known as Mantis. So now instead of being a rickety-rackety blue, red, and yellow stand-up coaster named after a predatory insect it will be a hopefully smoother orange floorless coaster named after a French werewolf. Oui oui! The park will also have major renovations on its historic Hotel Breakers next season, so maybe there will be less mayflies that get inside.


Numero sixo posto was about the longest running show on American TV and it got some lovin from another blogger despite our different wishes for the future of The Simpsons. If you’re also a fan of Matt Groening’s Futurama then be sure to catch Sunday’s Simpsons for one last hurrah from that cast of crazy characters from the 31st century before they get justifiably picked up and inevitably unjustifiably kicked off by some other network again.


And on the seventh post, Alex looked on his creation and phoned it in. I assembled a list of famous Scots in the wake of their momentous vote to decide to be independent or not to be independent. I invite you to re-read it, or read it for the first time while you consider what you’ll vote for tomorrow.


I was in a bind the day of the release of my eighth post. I had no inspiration and no template for what to write about. It could have been a very dark day for my dedicated readers who I’m sure are aplenty yet shy as I’ve received no requests for blog topics (yet!). In desperation I texted a friend who had just had a birthday and asked what she wanted me to write about. She replied with three cards from Apples to Apples: “Chickens”, “Helen Keller”, and “Cuddliness” so naturally I came up with this. Enough said! Especially since I’ve told that story in at least three posts now.


Like the ninth post! Looking back this actually is an awesome title. Isn’t that right Pink Floyd? This post told the story of the trip I took with some friends for a destination wedding/bachelor party rolled up into one, much like the amalgamation of dinner theaters and carnival areas planted in the Smoky Mountains throughout Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This post covered the Pigeon Forge side of the trip where we partook in bachelor party events leading up to the wedding.


The tenth post covered the unique awkward situations, strange museums, and overly intense wildlife encounter we had on the eve of the wedding. Always check the windowsill and watch a lot of MacGyver. And read this post. I look to add in more of my real-life experiences in the future, as well as some more two-parters to keep you all drooling for the next post each week.


This blog sailed skyward in post eleven which was my creamfest for Chuck Yeager and his amazing aviation achievements, like breaking the sound barrier and what else, oh I don’t know, maybe that one time he was in freefall for 24 fucking kilometers. Yeah, it’s intense like a troop of Boy Scouts at summer camp. I will revisit the subject of aviation many more times in the future.


Most recently, besides now of course, was my baker’s dozen of movies that make for great Halloween watching. Hopefully you got to see some of them this past weekend. Some that just missed the cut were mentioned, but the one that was the hardest to kick off the list was An American Werewolf in London (1981), John Landis’ great take on horror. I mentioned how Landis, the director of hit comedies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers directed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video in which MJ transforms into a werewolf; this movie was a big reason why Landis got that job. Like the later released Evil Dead 2, American Werewolf is equal parts horror and comedy, with both hilarious moments and very scary scenes. It is the story of two Americans, David and Jack, who get attacked by a werewolf in the English moors. Jack dies and David awakens from his injuries nearly a month later. Uh-oh. It contains some great upbeat music to lull us into a false sense of happy security and turn a blind eye to the horrors that are prophesied by Jack’s ever-decaying ghost who visits with David to plead for him to commit suicide before he hurts somebody. The highlight of the movie is the transformation scene which is a marvel of make-up and editing done right. Rick Baker won a very deserved Oscar for that one.

There will be more movie lists in the future. And remember to take it easy on that leftover candy. Dish it off on your coworkers; they’ll love you for it and you won’t increase your chances of diabetes, a very common ailment that deals way more damage in America than Ebola (this is what I meant by the title). I hope you enjoyed my rehashings and will be enthused for the next “season’s” worth of material. I don’t want to just leave you all with updates on past subjects even if they do contain new information, so before you go here’s a list of fun facts I learned from Neil deGrasse Tyson today with some input from me mixed in:

-The element Mercury (Hg 80) freezes at about -40°. And after fact-checking this (that’s right, I fact-check Neil deGrasse Tyson; never assume anyone is just correct on something unless it’s me) I discovered that this is the temperature where the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales meet, so -40°F = -40°C. Most thermometers today use alcohol because it freezes at a much lower temperature and is much less toxic.

-There are 88 constellations in the sky, which, if you’re musically inclined, you can commit to memory because there are 88 keys on a piano. Or you can recall that there are 88 counties in the state of Ohio, which probably only matters to you if you’re from there like I am, and even then probably only if you work in government or are a history or geography teacher.

-There are orange, red, and blue stars, but no green stars in the entire known universe. I never knew Kermit was talking about the cosmos when he said, “It’s not easy being-” well, you know. In case you’re interested in hearing him speak these facts yourself you can watch this video where he makes a cocktail concoction.

Gravitate back here next week for another actual topic that will lead off the next State of the Season in 13 weeks!

Ad astra per aspera, as well as their themed drinks,

Alex

13 Frightening Film Favorites for Halloween

Happy Halloween Eve Eve Eve Eve, or Hallow’s Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve everyone! This Friday is Halloween, a day of sugar and scares from more than just early onset diabetes. Those of us who are young enough will enjoy trick-or-treating dressed as some character from Frozen. Those of us who are too old for trick-or-treating based on stupid societal conventions will go to haunted houses or parties and complain about not getting free candy, but still in costume as something inappropriately bloody or “sexy” to which I say, why not both? And those of us who are parents will take our kids trick-or-treating then eat their candy voraciously after they fall asleep. Hey, you don’t want them to be overweight.

In honor of the second most profitable holiday in America, I am presenting a list of 13 films that I think best evoke the Halloween spirit. Why 13? 666 seemed a bit steep, plus 13 is not too big or too small, and it will freak out triskaidekaphobics. And if you had the means and enough energy drinks (might I suggest Monster? Ahahahahahaha!) you could watch all of these movies in one day and still have an hour and a half to pass out candy. I do not recommend this though; I once watched all six Star Wars films in one day and it was a very tasking experience – mainly because I had to watch the prequel trilogy – but cinema fan that I am, it was a tall order to sit in one place and stare at a screen all day (something I do every Monday now). Use this list as more of a guide for any indecision you may experience when you’re trying to sort out what to watch this Friday night. So brace yourself, because this is no dream; this is really happening.

Initially this seemed like an easy self-assignment: find 13 movies that make the best Halloween viewing, But when I first started writing out titles I got to 13 a lot faster than I wanted to, so unfortunately, some good ones had to be cut. I was on the fence about a few, some of which made it in, some of which didn’t, but I do recommend some of these others in addition to the top 13. Bear in mind that this list is not a ranking, but rather an assemblage of films that I feel best fit the criteria I put in place. Basically each has to be a movie that I’ve seen, as well as one that represents Halloween well and/or is fun and fitting to watch on Halloween night. I feel that a good movie to watch on Halloween is one that contains elements of the supernatural or otherworldly, or maniacal serial killer(s) wreaking havoc and terror. Yet there are other good films that have considerably less bloodshed that also work well for a more family friendly viewing, or at least that are not all racked with building tension. Of course, this is all based on my opinions and what I like about Halloween, so you undoubtedly will be surprised or even perturbed that I left out or included something different from what you would have. So go ahead and make your own list! In the meantime though, enjoy mine. On this list you’ll find mostly horror films, with old and new classic comedies and a kooky, creepy musical being the exceptions from a simple branding of “Horror”. Most of these movies span across a few genres though. Within these films there are many scary favorites such as ghosts, zombies, werewolves, witches, aliens, demons, monsters, and murderers, and much, much more (especially in the most recent film on the list which contains all of these and then some). I don’t have many of the early Universal monster movies like Frankenstein (1931) or Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) listed, nor will you find any vampire movies. In all honesty, I haven’t seen that many made more recently than Nosferatu (1922). I considered adding The Silence of the Lambs (1991); it’s plenty horrifying, and possibly my favorite over all my 13 final picks, but it isn’t specifically Halloween-themed, is more of a thriller, and is a great watch any time of year. Even my own favorite movie, Jaws (1975) which is most often labeled as a horror movie does not appear here, primarily because it is more associated with summer, and is also worth watching whenever. Such films are transcendent of their genres and sub-genres, as are many of the 13, but each of those on my list are more relatable on Halloween, or I just like to watch them at October’s end. I will explain more. The films are listed in chronological order of when they were released, although the first on the list may very well be the best of the bunch.

Psycho (1960) – Alfred Hitchcock’s defining film was the famous director’s first step into the horror genre, one that he would only visit once more, two years later with The Birds. Unlike The Birds though, Psycho doesn’t show its age through its visual effects, thanks in part to its brilliant black-and-white style (you can’t tell the blood is chocolate syrup if everything’s gray!). And as is critical to all horror films, its musical score is fantastic. Whether you’ve seen it or not, you’re familiar with its violent violining courtesy of Bernard Herrman. Watch the openings credits; that music is so unsettling and sets the tone perfectly. Of course, the music isn’t all that’s violent in Psycho. Again, even if you haven’t seen it you are aware of the shower scene, one of the most well-directed scenes in the history of film that permanently scarred star Janet Leigh who henceforth took only baths. In true Hitchcock form, this movie broke conventions and played on his own filmography. Known for being a master of suspense, not scares (though many of his earlier works exhibit some horrifying moments), Hitchcock fooled audiences into thinking this was the next in a long line of tense thrillers. But everything is not as it seems. Halfway through the film shifts to straight-up horror and kills off the female lead played by the most famous name attached to the project next to Hitchcock’s. Tony Perkins is perfectly insane as Norman Bates, and the smile he gives the camera at the very end is truly chilling. If you have not seen Psycho, you must. Even if you already know all the twists and turns, which by now are pretty well spoiled because the film has had such an impact on film culture and culture in general, it is still an excellent movie that is essential viewing for everyone, Halloween or not. The sheer fame of Psycho helped it outshine another great unsettling horror film of 1960, Michael Powell’s too often underviewed Peeping Tom, the film that ruined his career after being banned by just about every theater. It’s another great 60s horror movie that is definitely worth a look.

The Exorcist (1973) – Considered by many to be the scariest movie ever made, this is another classic film that you’ve probably heard a lot about and recited lines from before seeing it for the first time. The film is also a great example of how horror movies are supposed to be made: people are enjoying a seemingly normal lifestyle when something sinister creeps into it; the evil presence is first casually, yet concernedly mysterious; the tone darkens as the evil grows more powerful and the nice lifestyle from the beginning becomes a memory of the way things used to be and probably will never be again; all attempts to figure out how to vanquish the evil fail, forcing the protagonist(s) to turn to the last and probably most hopeless resort which sets up the terrifying climax when all the fears that were hinted at throughout the gradual build-up of tension are fully realized in a thrilling battle between good and evil. The Exorcist features perhaps the grandest good and evil as soldiers of Christ in the form of two Jesuit priests – one younger and experiencing a crisis of faith in the wake of his mother’s death; the other an older, more experienced pill-popper who has seen the horrors of hell in past exorcisms – fighting for God’s goodness against a demon claiming to be Satan himself who has possessed a young girl. You don’t need to be a Christian or even a believer in God in order to be freaked out by this movie, especially since the scariest parts are the administrations of medical and psychological tests on the possessed child in the hopes of finding out what’s wrong with her and the desperation of her mother to save her while feeling helpless to do so. Some of the scary reputation of this movie comes from mysterious deaths and injuries suffered by crew members during filming, but again excellent performances, direction, and music make this another scary must-see. If you like the satanic stylings of The Exorcist you may also want to check out Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976) for more devilish fun.

Young Frankenstein (1974) – Mel Brooks’ genius was best realized from an actor’s perspective by the great Gene Wilder and the magnificent Madeline Kahn. Together they helped add laughs to Brooks’ brilliance in 1974, first in February with Blazing Saddles, then again in December with this hilarious hit. Occasionally marketed as “the funniest comedy of all time” it is one of the few films to claim the distinction that is definitely a contender for it. Taking inspiration from all of the previous Frankenstein films and mocking them for their very liberal interpretation of Mary Shelley’s original gothic novel with an even crazier take, this comedy is never really scary, but the humor is constant and excellent with everything from parodied moments, high society dance numbers, and lots and lots of sex jokes. This is certainly the most alive Frankenstein movie out there.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – One of the strangest and most entertaining musical films, this is a wonderfully wild big-screen adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s stage musical that wove together his love of early rock and roll and sci-fi B-movies. A cult hit when released, this is a favorite to show at many theaters throughout the world that identify as being a little more odd than most. And they have to be since these showings are each an event in themselves with audience participation, costumed attendants, and scene reenactments that are wilder than any drinking game you and your friends partake in (“Do a shot every time John Madden says ‘Boom!’”). Rocky Horror is an acquired taste that I and many others find pleasantly palatable, helped by the catchiness of such songs as “Science Fiction/Double Feature”, “Sweet Transvestite”, and of course “Time Warp”, not to mention the greatest performance of Tim Curry’s career. Often imitated, but never replicated, Curry’s sex-crazed Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a wild presence who drives the film along and even serves as a cautionary example of over-decadence. Rocky Horror may seem to be a little too wacky upon first viewing , but give it a chance and you just might find it growing on you – just not in the way Susan Sarandon sings about.

Halloween (1978) – The most easily identifiable Halloween-themed movie for obvious reasons, John Carpenter’s timeless horror masterpiece gets better with age (and every inferior sequel and remake). Telling the tale of the “pure evil” that is Michael Myers, an unfeeling, murderous man who appears to be indestructible, both physically in this film and (un)creatively in the aforementioned constant continuation of more movies. This original and best in the franchise is the epitome of the sub-genre of “slasher flick”, inspiring the likes of Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), among many others that weren’t as good as those. Halloween is especially fun for me because it actually takes place on Halloween in the Midwest, so we get to see an autumnal suburb like what I used to trick-or-treat in, even if the whole thing was filmed in southern California. The characters are great, from Dr. Loomis who is probably just barely hanging onto that license based upon his extreme opinion of Michael, and whose desperation to catch the “evil” he feels responsible for is the first role that doesn’t make Donald Pleasance look like just an over-the-top cue ball; to Laurie, the innocent yet strong adolescent who’s real reactions and screams keep us terrifyingly enthralled just as Jamie Lee Curtis’ real-life mother did (briefly) in Psycho; to Michael Myers himself, the automaton of a man whose mask is even scarier when you realize it’s a William Shatner mask painted white. Bonus points to Carpenter for directing, co-writing, and composing that iconic score.

Alien (1979) – What’s a science fiction movie doing in here? Scaring the living crap out you, that’s what. No other movie has terrified me the way Alien has. Maybe it was because I saw too much of it when I was much too young, or maybe it’s the unbearable tension that keeps building and building and building and building and Jesus Christ what the fuck was that!?! By the time we see the alien (called a xenomorph in following films but only referred to as “it”, “thing” and rarely “alien” in this original), in any of its life stages it is frightening, progressively more terrifying and deadly the farther along it grows. It is nothing short of the best movie monster ever brought to life thanks to its even creepier creator, Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who also designed the incredible set pieces. Factor in the strong rape allusions with Ridley Scott’s suspenseful direction that is worthy of Hitchcock, and great acting from the seven human cast members, especially Sigourney Weaver in the movie that made her a star, and you’ve got a minimalist masterpiece that is scary no matter what genre you place it in from the moment it starts spelling out its name. Just watch the original trailer to see how horrifying it is, as well as how to make a great movie trailer without spilling its secrets (or even saying a word). It helps that it ends with one the best taglines ever: In space no one can hear you scream. The trailer probably feels a little familiar because Scott tapped into its mojo again for the trailer for his Alien prequel Prometheus in 2012. Too bad he couldn’t make that mojo work beyond the trailer. Perhaps the scariest thing about this franchise is that the Alien has appeared in seven movies in some form or another (counting Prometheus, not Spaceballs) and only the first two of those were any good. If you like scary aliens then check out the other good movie in this franchise, Aliens (1986) for some more gut-busting good times, as well as John Carpenter’s awesome remake The Thing (1982) in which Kurt Russell has more facial hair than Wilford Brimley making it a must-see too.

The Shining (1980) – The lone Stephen King adaption on my list is the best known of them for good reason. It’s also the one that pissed off King the most, but that’s to be expected with Stanley Kubrick at the helm. Kubrick had a way of finding everyone’s worst side and making it angry at him, but goddamn it if his movies weren’t excellent most of the time. The Shining is another Kubrick classic and the scariest movie you’ll ever watch that is well lit. No dark, dingy haunted house vibes here, although there are plenty of ghosts who walk the halls of the Overlook Hotel causing caretaker Jack Torrance to go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and attempt to murder his family in similar fashion to one of the hotel’s former employees. Jack is of course played by the best man to represent such an eventual psycho, Jack Nicholson, and his darling wife was portrayed by Shelley Duvall (daughter of Robert the lawyer, not Robert the actor) who was repeatedly terrified by Kubrick until she actually had panic attacks and gave him the terror he was looking for. No wonder so many people hated working with him. Needless to say, she never did again. Terrible as it was achieved, her fear is reflected right back at the screen by us viewers watching from the edge of our seats. And let’s not forget about the Torrance’s psychic son Danny and that vision he keeps having of the elevators. Surprisingly, even with all of that blood there is a very low total death count by the end of this movie, making it all the more spooky. Won’t you come and play?

Evil Dead 2 (1987) – Essentially a remake of the preceding low-budget cult horror film The Evil Dead (1981), this sequel still stars the one and only Bruce Campbell as Ash, an unfortunate and unwitting hero who just wanted to bone his girlfriend at a secluded cabin, not battle her bones that reanimate after her possession and bloody death. Facing a barrage of “deadites” and a very woody tree, Ash uses his ingenuity to try to save himself and a few other frightened folks from the forces of evil unleashed by the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead. Evil Dead 2 plays out like an Arnold Palmer-style (drink, not golfer) horror-comedy infusion, with plenty of scares and laughs, both thanks very much to Campbell. The series continues on with Army of Darkness (1992), which evolves even more into a comedy than the others, before the original was remade as Evil Dead in 2013 and brought very much back to gory horror, though a bit too excessively and unnecessarily. But it’s all good when Evil Dead 2 is available, which it usually is on TV and online. So hail to the king and check it out. And even though I just typed out a paragraph, it’s a movie that can definitely be summed up in one word.

Scream (1996) – The best from Wes Craven (sorry A Nightmare on Elm Street fans), this funny, fresh take for the genre looks at (and breaks) the conventions of horror movies in an almost perfect little town that has one blemish in the form of an unsolved murder, the anniversary of which is coming up again. Soon there are two more murders, then more, then more, bringing the whole town to a boiling panic. Thankfully teenagers who know their horror films don’t stop partying, or dying for our cringing, yet often hilarious viewing pleasure. Upping the ante on even Psycho, the best known name in this film is killed in the opening sequence. Ballsy Craven, ballsy. Also ballsy are other alterations to the formula like having the female protagonist indulge in some bedroom bouncing, and having other characters openly defy the unbreakable rules they lay out. “I’ll be right back!” So will I, for another round of this great movie.

The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Where Alien is minimalist with theme and cast, this very low-budget mega-hit is minimalist with everything, except maybe marketing. Back in 1999, this was presented to many college campuses as a “real found-footage” film, and encouraged prospective fans to go on their website and investigate what they could about the three people who went missing and the legend they sought to unearth the meaning of. Popularizing found-footage movies to what is now past the point of exhaustion, this is still the best of them. The film quality is good, but not too good to take us out of the ever-developing terror of the characters. And make no mistake about it, this movie is fucking scary. I didn’t think I would be that affected by it when I first saw it (which somehow I managed to not do until last year), but this film struck a chord because of its familiarity. It feels real, or at least like it could happen somewhere in the thick woods near some old, small town. We’re not exposed to some grotesque monster all at once, but given scary snippets of freaky tension. Everything remains in the realm of possibility and we’re not sure if the three lost filmmakers are just being fucked with by weird residents of the town sneaking around at night to scare them, or if something more sinister is going on. I have only one complaint though, and it’s the sudden ending that makes for a more realistic conclusion, but frustrates me in that there is no resolution in the form of a wispy witch figure or anything. Maybe they ran out of money, but I think the reason is more artistic, yet it still frustrate me. It seems I’m not the only one who feels so though.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – I realized as I was making this list I had no zombie movies, which didn’t feel right given their extreme popularity over the past decade or so. I was going to put George Romero’s original socially-conscious zombie flick, Night of the Living Dead (1968), or Danny Boyle’s reworking of the zombie movie that kicked off the recent craze, 28 Days Later (2002), in the mix until I remembered my favorite, and the favorite of many others from the sub-genre of undead eaters of the living, Edgar Wright’s hilarious “romantic comedy with zombies”, or rom-zom-com. Shaun of the Dead started the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (followed by Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013)), and helped inspired other zombie-comedies like Zombieland (2009), but what really charmed us was the buddy-love between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Sure it started earlier on projects like Wright’s Spaced, but most of us first saw the love emerge through throwing unwanted vinyl records at zombies. By now you’ve probably seen Shaun of the Dead enough times to have worked out that Ed foretells the plot of the movie when discussing his plan to get drunk at the beginning, or to have noticed that they never say the word “zombie” after Ed starts to utter it at the start of the crisis, or any of the other countless bits of loveable trivia about this loveable, albeit often super-gross gem of a film.

The Descent (2005) – Easily my favorite horror film of the last 10 years, The Descent is unsettling from the start when its main character, Sarah, is the lone survivor of a car crash that claims the life of her husband and child. One year later, her fellow adventure-seeking friends aim to bring her back to some semblance of the older, happier days by going spelunking in a cave in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. Sarah still seems to be haunted by the death of her daughter as she starts hearing and seeing things down in the depths of the cave, but after a cave-in traps them the other women realize that there might be something to what Sarah has been saying. Like The Exorcist, the really scary part of this movie is its first half where the women find themselves lost in a cave just trying to orient themselves, especially when their caving leader reveals the cave is unexplored – a detail that becomes all the more unnerving when they start to find evidence that they are not the first people to have ventured down there. We feel their claustrophobia as we watch, and there are some brief glimpses at what ultimate terrors are yet to come too. Much like Alien and Blair Witch, the cast is kept small in a location far from civilization, so we get to know all six women well enough to care about them and feel for their plight, especially as their situation goes from bad to worse to what the fuck was that!?!

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) – The most recent film on my list is my second favorite horror film in the last decade, and definitely the most inventive one since Shaun of the Dead, no Scream, no Evil Dead 2, no wait, maybe ever. Many of the influences are obvious: the titular cabin is just like the one in the Evil Dead franchise; zombies, even redneck zombies are nothing new in anything; “the harbinger” is like every other character who poses a warning to the protagonists in any conventional horror movie; etc. However, it is the way each of these commonalities are handled with equal parts deconstructing humor and reverent horror that makes this movie uniquely great despite its appearance as just another cog in the financially-driven horror movie conglomerate. And of course anything written by Joss Whedon is worth a look. Nobody banters like Whedon, not even Tarantino. Besides, you can’t top the comical observations made by the characters (usually Marty) and the overall satire is fantastic. Even in the midst of the scariest moments we get treated to a joke that serves as the perfect diffusing of the spooky situation. And when that “Purge” button is pressed, uhn, yeah! That’s easily the best elevator scene since The Shining.

Thanks for reading everyone! Much like the plucky protagonists of some of these films I’ve managed to deliver in the waning moments of the eleventh hour, but I hope you enjoy this list no matter when you may read it as all of these films are good enough to watch whenever. I just like them best around Halloween when it’s fun to be scared. Let me know what movies you like best for Halloween in the comments below or at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Scare your way back next week for a recap of everything I’ve posted so far.

Happy Haunting,

Alex

P.S. Consider this the jump-scare moment of a hand reaching from the grave.

The Spinning Starfighter of Southern California

Nothing else in recent history more dramatically shows the advancement of the human race better than the field of aviation. Over the course of time, man has been looking up and desiring to join the birds, bats, and bugs that flew above him. Yet it wasn’t until December 17, 1903 that the first powered flight of an aircraft that was heavier than air was made when the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, flew their famous invention, the Wright Flyer, for 12 seconds over roughly 120 feet of sand in what is now Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (Kitty Hawk is the next door neighbor and was the closest developed area at that time which is why most history books have listed the flight as taking place in Kitty Hawk. Today it does not seem to be so much a matter of contention between Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills as it is one of confusion to vacationers in the Outer Banks.) This achievement marked the beginning of man’s ascent into the sky, as well as ensuring that two of the most famous individuals from my home state will forever be enshrined on the license plates and quarters of another. But as admirable as Orville and Wilbur are for having become the first airplane pilots in human history, many more would follow in their contrails (haha! I’m funny!) Today, I am going to tell you about the man who flew better than anyone no matter what plane he was in. A man who was a pioneer in the sky and a multiple record-breaker (and rule-breaker), and who is nothing short of the greatest pilot to ever live: Chuck Yeager.

Charles Elwood Yeager was born in Myra, West Virginia on February 13, 1923. He grew up as part of a farming family, and when he was 18 he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force (the precursor to the US Air Force). He wasn’t originally eligible to be trained as a pilot, but not long after he enlisted the United States became an active participant in World War II and standards kind of got thrown to the wind, thus also did Yeager. The young pilot was a natural and was soon in England flying a P-51 Mustang he named Glamorous Glennis (after his girlfriend) over Nazi-occupied territories. In 1941, Yeager was shot down over France and with the help of the French Resistance made his way back to England where he attempted to get back in the action. However, once more Yeager was blocked by military policy and was not permitted to rejoin the fighting because escaped pilots were not allowed to fly back over enemy territory. Along with Captain Fred Glover, a bomber pilot who had also returned to Allied forces after being shot down, Yeager met directly with General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yeah, that Eisenhower. Good old Ike cleared everything up and gave them a hall pass to continue flying against the Nazis. Good call on his part considering Yeager went on to become an ace in a day, meaning he accounted for the downing of five enemy aircraft. He was so good he didn’t even need to shoot at two of them; one of the German pilots pulled an “Oh shit it’s Han Solo!” TIE fighter in the polar trench and crashed into a fellow pilot when Yeager started to come at him.  Hey, anyway you do the job, as long as you do it right, right? I doubt Yeager’s situation played out exactly like that film though, for if it had I would have grown up aspiring to be him and not Luke Skywalker.

After the war, Yeager remained in the military and spent time at a number of air bases (including Wright Field, now known as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in the Wright Brothers hometown of Dayton, Ohio), but nowhere did he have a more significant career than at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. Known as Muroc Army Air Field when Yeager first arrived there, Edwards was and still is the chief testing site for the United States’ prototype aircraft. Yeager became a test pilot, one of the most dangerous occupations of all time, but he had the talent and calm coolness to not only handle but exceed the pressures of the job. Everyone who knew Yeager knew he was good, but the general consensus was that the best pilot at the time was Slick Goodwin, a private citizen who was justifiably good enough for the Bell Aircraft Corporation to request to fly their newest prototype in 1947. The post-war aviation boom was marked by the desire to fly a plane beyond Mach 1, meaning that the flight would be supersonic, meaning that the plane in that flight would be going faster than the speed of sound. Here’s how Mach works, and here is exceeding Mach 1 in action. Obviously now we know that traveling faster than sound is possible, but back in 1947 there were serious doubts. Some engineers felt it could never be done without the vehicle going that fast breaking apart. Nevertheless, Bell Aircraft constructed a plane called the Bell X-1 that they felt was up to the task. Now they needed to find a pilot up who was up to the task. They felt that pilot was Slick Goodwin, but he demanded $150,000 to fly beyond the speed of sound. Needless to say, they looked elsewhere. The next pilot they came to was the promising young Yeager, whose estimate was considerably lower than Goodwin’s; he was satisfied with his normal payment from the Army (which wasn’t much) and the chance to fly the plane. Where Goodwin was a might greedy, Yeager was eager. To him, the X-1 was another bucking bronco to tame. I say this not just as an analogy, but to highlight Yeager’s love of horse-riding (and all things fast and thrilling), a love that almost prevented him from making what would be the most remembered flight since the Wright Brothers set off in their Flyer. A mere two days before his scheduled flight in the X-1, Yeager fell off his horse and broke a couple of his ribs. Knowing he’d be pulled from the flight if his superiors knew about his accident, he confided in his friend and fellow test pilot, Jack Ridley. Ridley was also a flight engineer whose brilliance helped pave the way for aviation advancements over the course of his illustrious career. Ridley kept quiet and worked out a way for Yeager to close the hatch door of the X-1 by sawing off a piece of a broomstick to fit into the door handle. The device worked and Yeager was able to enclose himself in the cockpit for a few test flights that would go on to be historic.

The X-1 was basically a rocket with wings that was unable to take off on its own power, so it was strapped under a B-29 Superfortress and dropped once it was airborne. This is the part Yeager was needed to flip the rocket engines on and steer the plane straight ahead instead of into the ground. Approaching Mach 1 planes encounter significant buffeting (turbulence) as the aircraft strikes the pocket of air that can’t get out of the way of it. In order to reach supersonic speeds pilots have to push the envelope of air before them. And now you know where that phrase comes from. It was popularized in Tom Wolfe’s excellent book The Right Stuff, which might be my favorite nonfiction book (also up there is Richard Preston’s especially topical now more than ever The Hot Zone). As Yeager approached this point, he held the X-1 true, and on October 14, 1947 reached Mach 1.07 (about 1170km/h or 727mph) thereby breaking the sound barrier and making the first supersonic flight. This is why I mark every October 14 as “Mach 1 Day” in honor of Yeager’s flight, as well as the skydiving efforts of Felix Baumgartner (the guy from the Red Bull commercials) who on October 14, 2012 – exactly 60 years from the day Yeager broke the sound barrier – jumped from a balloon up in the stratosphere about 39 kilometers or 24 miles high (the happy old guy is Joe Kittinger, a badass in his own right who held the previous freefall record and a personal coach to Baumgartner for that skydive). On the way down he traveled Mach 1.25, faster than Yeager’s flight! becoming the first person to break the sound barrier with his body. Badass.

The Bell X-1 Yeager flew, like his wartime P-51, was named Glamorous Glennis after the woman who was by then his wife. It is now displayed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C, the museum that I’ve yet to go to but want to visit more than any other.

It’s quite an impressive resume already, but Yeager’s achievements and milestones were far from over. While he wasn’t the first pilot to reach Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), he was the main force in spoiling the glory for the man who was. In 1953, 50 years after the Wright Brothers signature first flight, the Navy planned to break past Mach 2 with their pilot, Scott Crossfield, the friendly rival of Chuck Yeager, flying in the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket (some of these planes have such cool names). They succeeded, as Crossfield became the first to fly Mach 2 (2076km/h or 1290mph) on November 20, 1953. The Navy looked to have a big ceremony on December 17 of that year to link Crossfield’s flight with the Wright Brothers and proudly declare Crossfield the fastest pilot ever. Chuck Yeager and Jack Ridley had other plans. They set out to steal the thunder and then some, and just over three weeks after Crossfield’s flight they made their own in the X-1A, a more souped-up version of the plane Yeager broke the sound barrier in. On December 12, Yeager took that plane to Mach 2.44. 2.44! That’s fucking 2989km/h or 1857mph! In other words, it’s fucking fast! But that’s not even the most incredible part of the story. The reason Yeager didn’t go faster (which he certainly wanted to) was because he experienced inertia coupling, a phenomenon where the weight of the airplane overcomes the wings at high speed. The mass of many jet planes is too much for the smaller wings and tails to keep stable when the plane travels faster causing it to rotate on all three axes.  Basically, this means that at a certain speed the plane can spin out of control and go into a deadly roll that will cause it to fall out of the sky. This is associated with powerful g-forces that can knock even the best pilots unconscious. This actually happened to Yeager on his Mach 2.44 fuck you Crossfield flight, but he woke up and was able to steady the ship and land without crashing but not before he dropped 16,000m or 51,000 feet towards Earth in less than a minute. One of the many reasons why he is the Jimi Hendrix of airplane pilots.

Chuck Yeager did all this and so much more. He helped friend Jackie Cochran become the first woman to make a supersonic flight, flew many more prototypes and even a Soviet MiG brought over by a defector, and totally burned one of the most well-regarded pilots in the history of ever. Let me tell you a little more about it.

There are a couple of accounts of how the story goes, but they all are funny for Yeager. What is consistent with all versions is that Yeager was tasked with taking another pilot in the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star and test out a dry lake bed on Edwards Air Force Base as an emergency landing site. The reason that Edwards was chosen as a testing grounds for prototypical aircraft is because it is essentially one massive dried up lake bed and in the event of an emergency pilots can ideally make a landing on the dry, flat ground instead of searching vainly for a stretch of tarmac amongst the mountains. According to Yeager, he declined the request as he knew that rainfall made the area in question too muddy for a landing, but the other pilot insisted on making the attempt. The other pilot was part of the next generation of hotshots, a new breed of Yeager who hailed from the same part of the country as the Wright Brothers, a promising aviator named Neil Armstrong. Yep, that Neil Armstrong. Before he made his “one small step” he made a trial landing with Chuck Yeager riding shotgun. Armstrong touched down onto the lake bed and the plane got stuck in the mud, just as Yeager claimed he had told their superiors it would. According to him something along the lines of the following dialogue was said: “Well Neil, in a few hours it’ll be dark, and the temperature’s going down to zero, and we’re two guys standing out here in the mud wearing windbreakers. Got any good ideas?” That line comes out of The Right Stuff and after I first read it I had to set it down and have a good laugh. It was Yeager’s way of saying “I told you so” and it was hilarious. As is to be expected, Armstrong tells a different story where Yeager doesn’t provide any prior warning but simply bursts into laughter when the wheels of the plane sink into the mud. No matter which is the truer account (because I’m sure the real story is different from either) both are amusing.

Everyone knows that Armstrong went on to become the first man to walk on the moon, but Yeager never applied to the developing space program that would become NASA, mainly because he didn’t have a college degree, a major qualification for any prospective astronaut. However, he did help NASA out by training astronauts as an instructor in Aerospace Research Pilots School (ARPS) to prepare astronaut candidates for the intense gravitational forces they’d encounter rocketing up from the Earth in a more realistic way than the simulator in Houston could provide. They way they’d do this was to load into a plane fitted with a special hydrogen peroxide rocket attachment on the back that when activated would throttle the aircraft up, up and away. Well, of course not out into outer space, but they could get pretty damn high up there. That extra bit of oomph propelled the plane known as the Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter (the plane in the title photo and the one with the coolest name yet) beyond the clouds to the dizzying theoretical height of 36,600 meters (120,000 feet). Yeager loved the plane and relished the opportunity to “wring it out” as Wolfe put it. In 1963, Yeager looked to kill two birds with one supersonic plane: he would test out its viability for the ARPS program, and he could break that damn altitude record the Ruskies held. Two years earlier, the Soviets set the then highest altitude record achieved by a plane that took off from the ground on its own power with the E-66A reaching the incredible height of 34,741 meters (113,980 feet). Yeager hopped into the Starfighter with aspirations to surpass this record, but he was wary of the atmosphere above 30,480 meters (100,000 feet) because the air is so thin aircraft are not able to maneuver as well as they can closer to Earth. Yeager was literally rocketing into unknown territory with the Starfighter. But who better to figure out how she handled so far up there?

Yeager gets the Starfighter up to around 108,000 feet, almost 33 kilometers (33,000 meters; 20.5 miles) above the Earth. Just a couple more kilometers and he’s got the record when… bam. The plane’s nose won’t go down and his thrusters give out. The ship begins to freefall. It goes into a spin and he tries vainly to break out of it. He falls like this for over 24 kilometers (24,000 meters; 14 miles). God damn. I cannot even begin to comprehend – even as I spin in my rotating office chair to attempt to replicate – how helplessly wild this must feel. Yet Yeager is the best goddamned pilot to ever grace the skies and he keeps his wits until he’s low enough to eject at around 2133 meters (7000 feet) above the ground. His seat hits him in the head and breaks off his helmet faceplate, exposing him to the burning pieces of his wrecked plane which melt part of his hand and face as he falls back to Earth. When he gets on the ground his right glove is fused to his skin and he needs to cut it out with a knife he got from a terrified adolescent who stopped and ran over from the nearby highway when he saw Yeager’s plane crash. Yeager knows his hand is a mess as he goes to work cutting it free from his glove, but he can’t see his face and doesn’t know how bad it all looks until the kid who gave him the knife starts puking beside him. When the rescue chopper picks him up, Yeager is standing, holding his rolled-up parachute and helmet, “right out of the manual, and staring at them quite levelly out of what is left of his face, as if they had an appointment and he was on time,” as Wolfe says in the book displaying that Yeager really has the right… something or other. Chuck Yeager retired as a brigadier general for the United States Air Force in 1975. He now lives in California at the age of 91.

Before you go, here’s one more taste of supersonic flight and the physics behind it. Thanks to Chuck Yeager. And thanks to you for reading! If you have an intelligent addition to this or any of my previous posts, go away! But if you have a dumb joke or just want to see your name on the interwebs for your own narcissistic purposes then leave a comment below! Want me to write about something in particular? Contact me at monotrememadness@gmail.com and I’ll get right on it! Really, I mean, I wrote a whole post based upon three random cards from Apples to Apples, so I’m pretty good about catering to whatever anyone wants me to talk about. If you’re interested in finding out more about Chuck Yeager you can read almost any number of books about the man, including his own autobiography. And I can highly recommend the book I quoted and paraphrased from a million times: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, as well as the 1983 movie based off it. There are ultimately different messages from each, with the movie glorifying Yeager above the pilots who go on to become the first astronauts, but the scenes that show Yeager’s achievements and survivals over the years are incredibly well done and definitely worth a look (really the whole movie is great and should get more attention than it does). Soar back next week to find out which movies you should watch on Halloween!

Boo!

Alex

Pigeon Forge 2: Forge Harder – The Gatlinburg Chronicles

Happy Columbus Day everyone.  Apologies all around to John Oliver and Co. for yet again stealing their thunder to open a post, as well as to Al Pacino who’s “overblown parody of” himself in that video is a clip taken out of context from Michael Mann’s  excellent cops and robbers thriller Heat. I will not apologize for returning to Tennessee for one more week though and I hope you’ll see why the rest is the best and worthy of another post. As fanatically devoted followers will remember, last week I began to detail some of my recent adventure in the land of Dolly Parton. Today you get to hear… the rest of the story! Uhh, I guess I should say “sorry” to the ghost of Paul Harvey too while I’m at it.

In case you’ve ignored last week’s post and the link to it I’ll catch you up with the short version: the weekend before last saw me and a small group of friends in Tennessee for the wedding festivities of one those friends. We spent a good chunk of the trip in Pigeon Forge, the weird and wonderful tourist town that is the capital city of Dolly’s Domain. The wedding was actually in Gatlinburg, which will be the subject of today’s talk. But before we actually get down to the nitty-gritty of our fun experiences in G-burg, let me introduce you to the gang. You already know my name is Alex, but out of respect for greater anonymity I won’t reveal the Christian names of my pals on the world wide webs. Instead I’ll give them each a pseudonym to perfectly describe them without further description. The main subject of the trip was the groom whom we’ll call Groom Man. This is not to be confused with the term “groomsman” which the other two relevant parties in this anthology were, but not-so-secretly I hope that everyone does confuse them anyway for the sake of my mild sadism. Mwahaha. Next up is the Best Man, Gondola Man. Yep, Gondola Man. And last but not least, Narcoleptic Loudsnorer, who spent most of the trip unconscious in the back seat of my car with his mouth open. I mean to say he slept a lot and often snored very audibly with mouth agape. Why, what did you think I meant?

Where Pigeon Forge seared our senses with its touristy excess, Gatlinburg was more of a smolder of campsites bridging the gap between ever-developing touristy excess and Smoky Mountain National Park. I enjoyed its natural setting, but wasn’t as crazy about its thin, steeply inclined switchback roads. However, once we were up in our mountainside dwellings it was well worth it simply for the view.

We indulged in a few of the traveler’s indulgences of the town like the vast expanse of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums and attractions, the highlight of which was Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and not just because we went into it intoxicated. There’s nothing quite like walking daydrunk through an aquarium, but I can tell you soberly that it was one of the best aquariums I’ve visited. Add it to the list of recommendations I made at the end of my Shark Week post. The giggly effects of the alcohol wore off before we left the aquarium, but it dealt it’s damage to our wallets when we all purchased our tickets and agreed to pay about $10 more for two extra tickets to use at any of the many Ripley’s facilities in the area. We put one of these tickets towards their haunted house and it was an experience. The outside of the haunted house/manor/mill/whatever the fuck it was supposed to be along the main street of downtown Gatlinburg looked respectable enough. We walked into the line and were greeted by a charming young woman with a mutilated face that was clearly makeup to all but the foursome of middle-agers who wobbled in and remarked at the rash they felt was genuine only to be met with her accurate remark, “Y’all smell like moonshine.” Us and the moonshiners were placed in an elevator and sent up to the upper level and greeted by her “brother”, i.e. the only other staff member working that night. He took us into a funeral parlor and instructed us to place our hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us for what I assumed was just an encouraged precaution for the first hallway, but I was sorely mistaken. As it happened I was the lead dog and was tasked with leading our convoy through unlit hallway after unlit hallway. There were a few sudden noises and items either hanging from the ceiling or jutting out from the walls that touched you in the complete darkness, but the only thing that frightened me was having to blindly press my hands on the walls beside (and occasionally before) me so that I didn’t inadvertently lead our stumbling bunch of lemmings down an emergency staircase. We did accidentally find our way into an off limit area simply by me choosing the wrong direction to take. This then necessitated that the moonshiners in the back turn around and lead us out the rest of the way which was the point I was truly most afraid. As it happened, we made it out alive and well enough to negatively criticize the experience yet still come to agreement that it was worth the $5 it cost us.

The eeriest moment of the night came before we even made our way over to the haunted house. We stopped to eat dinner at what we were under the impression was a family restaurant, but such preconceptions were left at the door when we were greeted not by one, but two bouncers. After unsuccessfully attempting to decipher the thick Cajun accent of the bouncer closest to us a waiter directed us to a table beside the bar where another waiter came to take our order and seemed displeased that we actually desired food. Narcoleptic Loudsnorer and I happened to order the same drink and entree which prompted me to remark that we must be evil twins. What are the odds that I’m not the only person on Earth who enjoys Guinness and shrimp po’boys? For as foolish as I was in that moment, our server topped me. Confused, and obviously concerned by the “twin” remark, he gave a very frightened look and asked the two of us identical order friends, “Are you two brothers?” “From another mother,” I responded with words I never had said seriously before and still didn’t mean in that instance. Now, Loudsnorer and I look nothing alike and are clearly not related by such a close connection – a fact that our server was aware of –  and it quickly became apparent that he was fearful that we had another kind of relationship that he was trying his damnedest to be accepting of. Maybe we should have brought dates, or at a least paid for a hooker, but as it happened our server jumped to a conclusion that made him uncomfortable and his attempts to appear undisturbed by it made him behave strange enough to make us also want us to leave the premises as quickly as possible. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amused by his quick, awkward handshake without a word spoken with each of us when he handed us our checks.

Once again I do not wish to generalize a population – in this case the residents of Gatlinburg, Tennessee – nor do I want to jump to a conclusion about a small sample size in the same manner that our server did, but there was an even more obvious moment of homophobia that occurred just before the wedding ceremony. The minister – let’s call him the server’s brother, teehee – was instructing Gondola Man and Narcoleptic Loudsnorer in the waiting room how to stand beside Groom Man during the ceremony. He asked them to stand shoulder to shoulder, so they lined up next to one another so that their shoulder’s actually made physical contact. The minister went, “Whoa!” and quickly separated them, adding, “Not that close. This isn’t Vermont after all.”

It was a bit of a shock to hear such words, and they make for a laughable moment to retell to my more progressive-minded friends, but sometimes I wonder what exactly people like that minister get from their faith that makes them feel that a loving interaction between two people is only allowed if they’re bringing different parts to the bedroom. But I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic in the future.

For now, let’s finalize this journey’s story with the fondant on the decorative tiered cake. The night before the wedding, the four of us celebrated in the typical fashion by consuming alcohol, playing Cards Against Humanity, eating candy, and going bonkers on the i-cade arcade table supplied in the cabin we were staying in. Narcoleptic Loudsnorer lived up to his given name for this segment and went to bed while the rest of us stayed up awhile to continuously comment in amazement that Groom Man was getting married. Once we headed for our beds some time later we were all pretty tired. I was sharing a room with Loudsnorer, and Gondola Man and Groom Man were in a bunk bed in the main room. I was about to fall asleep when Gondola Man started shouting. I ran into the main room to see what the commotion was about and saw Gondola Man shaking his hand as if he had touched something undesirable. As it happens, he had. He was just laying down and went to set his phone on the windowsill when he noticed a black wire. Assuming it was his phone charger cord he went to plug his phone into it. But when he touched the wire, his half-asleep mind registered that it was alive and scaly. Putting the two together he awoke to full awareness and jumped out of bed shouting, thereby causing the chain reaction of all but Loudsnorer waking up. Assessing the situation we realized that there was a black snake coiled up on the windowsill. After some moments of tension we all took a deep breath and sprung into action to go about removing it to the outside without getting bitten by it. While Groom Man and Gondola Man moved the bunk bed away from the windowsill, I checked around the cabin for any other very native Tennesseans that might be hiding in the warmer indoors. I got a real-life jump scare from a broken coat hanger on the closet floor that gave me more of a jolt than it should have. While checking the windowsill above Loudsnorer’s bed he woke up and silently looked at me with an inquisitive glance. I calmly said, “Don’t worry about it. Go back to sleep. If you hear screaming, just leave the door closed.” Instead of asking what the hell was going on like a normal person, he merely said, “Okay,” and rolled over to go back to sleep.

I made my way back to the main room where the window area had been made more accessible to get at the snake. The only problem was we didn’t know how best to get at the snake. I suspected it was a black rat snake (pictured above), a non-venomous species that is common in the eastern and mid-western United States, but still not something you want to get bit by, so we opted to not have any more direct contact with our new friend. Fortunately we all had some sparks of inspiration. Groom and Gondola realized it would be best to put an empty trash bag in the bin and set it under the windowsill to drop the snake into. I remembered my moment of terror moments before and wrapped the broken clothes hanger onto a pool cue to fashion a makeshift snakehook. I approached the probably-not-harmful-but-still-wild animal that we weren’t certain wasn’t venomous as we were in the woods of Tennessee, and I gently nudged him/her a couple of times in an attempt to get the coiled parts uncoiled so I could use my MacGyver hook. The snake initially reacted like a sleepy teenager being stirred by its parents on a Saturday morning, but after more of my probing poking it had an “Okay, fuck this” moment and unraveled all the way. I managed to hook it and pulled it into the bag which we twisted closed and took outside to release our new buddy who was unwelcome in our cabin while we were there. We later positively identified it as a black rat snake, and Gondola Man even worked the story I just told into his best man speech to cheerful laughter and applause that was only helped a little bit by moonshine consumption.

Thanks for reading folks! Feel free to leave a comment or request for a future topic in the comments below or in my inbox at montrememadness@gmail.com. Slither back next week for a biography of one of my favorite American heroes who is responsible for tomorrow being referred to as Mach 1 Day (by me and possibly only me).

<=((((((((((( Happy Mach 1 Day,

Alex

Shine On You Crazy Dollyverse

Yeah, last week’s title was way better, but that’s what happens when you ask a friend for words of inspiration to write your weekly blog and she actually gives you three words from Apples to Apples cards. In the case of last week, the words were “Chickens”, “Helen Keller”, and “Cuddliness”. Naturally the link between them was Tyrannosaurus rex. Yeah, not much happened in my life that week. But such was not the case this past week. Last week saw me embarking on an epic road trip with three of my friends, the reason for which was to attend the wedding of one of that bunch. Along the way we laughed, cried, blasphemed, and improvised comedic routines all while riffing on the places and people around us. You know, guy stuff. We didn’t experience anything reminiscent of The Hangover fortunately, yet there was plenty that we saw and heard that we could have never anticipated we would encounter, including a server questioning familial relations for his own comfort, an unscary haunted house that was terrifying in an atypical way, and a local getting cozy in our cabin unbeknownst to us. But there can be no denying that the true show-stealer of the entire excursion was not one particular crazy experience, but one particular crazy place – a place where “tourist trap” can be used as a description of not just every individual building but the town itself. However, King of Generalization that I am, I cannot merely call it such, for this place is more than dinner theaters and bright, brilliant flashing lights on even the drugstores; it is an incredible menagerie of capitalism at work, travelers’ desires coming to neon light, and food, food, food! and it’s all ruled over by Dolly Parton’s enormous boobs. I speak of the one and only Pigeon Forge.

I was originally planning on unoriginally romanticizing the American road trip, but how could I not talk about such a place when such a place exists!? Imagine a piece of Las Vegas’ damaged liver being transplanted in eastern Tennessee and you’ve got an idea of what it’s like to drive through Pigeon Forge. It’s a good thing it took all day driving to get down to our eventual destination and that we were driving along PF’s strip after 11pm because the overexposure of bright colors on signs and buildings blaring at us out of the darkness of the valley had me distractedly covering all three lanes of the thankfully empty road. We later realized that since Pigeon Forge caters exclusively to inhaling money from family activities it doesn’t really stay open too late past sundown. So once the last showing of Dixie Stampede ends it’s time for bed! I’ll explain just what that is, but first let me slap some more paint on the already dripping picture of excess that is Pigeon Forge. When you drive into the town heading toward Gatlinburg you pass by multiple knife and gun stores, two As Seen on TV Stores, two $9.98 or Less Stores, hundreds of pancake cabins (not pancake houses, cabins), and other restaurants, dinner theaters, and themed attractions. As my friends pointed out, it looks like an eternal county fair, a carnival that came to town and never left, or a beachside tourist shanty town dropped into the mountains.

Our ride down to Gatlinburg – our actual destination and a place also worth observing – was spent in construction zone after construction zone while listening to comedy podcasts (highly recommend Superego) and an iPhone’s shuffle function fall in love with Kanye West (we had to verify that “Shuffle” was actually turned on and that there was more than just Kanye on the playlist). So imagine how overwhelmed we were at the sight of this after a day on the road. Did you like the black bears over the sign that reads “Jesus Saves”? I sure did. It was the centerpiece of a dinner theater adorned with gold so that you might think it is the premiere place on the strip, but it sure isn’t. That honor belongs to Dolly’s Dixie Stampede, a deep-fried dining experience that features horse riding stunts, singing, horrendous family-appropriate humor, and oh yeah, and it’s all set up as a competition between North and South. Yep, when you buy your ticket you are asked which side you want to sit on. The place you’ll be eating in is a horseshoe arena with stadium seating that looks down into a long sand floor where horses, buffalo, chickens, pigs, and comedians less funny than I trample along to entertain the masses that have the cooked remains of almost all of those animals set before them in a king-sized feast that you are more than encouraged to eat with your hands as there is no silverware given to you at any point. The soup bowl even has a handle on it so you can drink it more easily. When you stop yourself from thinking things like, “I don’t think they realize that’s racist” and “God I hope those animals have ample room  to live in and are treated well here”, it’s actually quite fun. But don’t get too attached to the idea that the competition the performers play out is actually one, especially if you’re on the North side. I mean, the place is called Dixie Stampede, so you can kind of already guess how the whole North vs. South thing is going to play out, but in case you’re not sure, you will be when the ringleader/emcee/head cowboy guy addresses the crowd. It goes a little something like this:

Head Cowboy: “Alright everyone! Let’s hear you cheer on your teams! First, let me hear everyone on the North side.”

North Side: “Rah.”

South Side: “Boo!”

Crickets: “Chirp.”

Head Cowboy: “Okay, now let’s find out if the South will RIIIIIIIIISE AGAIN!”

South Side: “YEEEEAAAAAHHHH!”

Majority of North Side: “WOOOHOOO SOUTH!”

Actual Northerners on North Side: “What? You’re on the North Side? There hasn’t ever been any War of Northern Aggression; it was called the American Civil War and the North won it… a long goddamn time ago. We’re all part of the same country and have been sinc-”

Crickets: “Shut up Yankees! Woo go South!”

After the events are over and your dinner sits before you half uneaten because it’s just so much food (unless you’re an insatiably voracious food vacuum like me), the South is declared the winner and the place erupts in joyful applause from all but us stubborn, God-doubting, suburb-dwelling Northerners. But then the landscape curtains are drawn back and Dolly Parton comes out on a giant TV screen to thank us for coming and remind us that there is no North or South anymore, but one great America the Beautiful that we are all a part of. Words for all of us to live by. Unless you’re visiting from some other country, I suppose. In which case, China 1 next door to Dixie Stampede has a good buffet and a hell of a look itself.

Dolly Parton is greatly associated with the area because she first came to light in it and when she was old and rich enough to afford more than her own plastic surgeries she breathed new life into it with Dollywood, Dixie Stampede, and billboards the size of her breasts proudly showing her smiling face. For Sevier County, Tennessee, Dolly Parton is Jesus or maybe even God, and why not? She did shape the land there and even had the first cloned mammal from an adult cell, Dolly the Sheep, named after her. Sir Ian Wilmut, the lead scientist of the cloning team named the sheep Dolly because “Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s.” I couldn’t think of a better topic to write about than Dolly’s queendom. In a way, life was created by Dolly Parton. Dolly giveth, and your money she taketh away.

This past week I was introduced to a magical mountainous land where Dolly is divine and Corvette convoys roam the highways. Gun and golf equipment are not only sold in the same store but are the featured items of them, and strange as it was, I feel like I might someday have a desire to return to it. Not so much for pleasure or to partake in the many more activities I haven’t yet partook in, but more in a way like to battle the brother of the antagonist I vanquished on my first trip or to have another taste of something familiar because I’m bored more than hungry. Whatever draws me back to the realms of Pigeon Forge, it will certainly be an interesting trip that will be worth writing about.

Thanks for reading everybody! Feel free to contact me for anonymous sex future blog topics at monotrememadness@gmail.com or by leaving a comment. Zipadeedoodah your way back again next week for the continuation and conclusion of my song of the south and the full explanation of the stories I left open in the introduction. Rest assured I will tell those and more stories of interest pertaining to the Gatlinburg portion of my Tennessee tour – Believe it or Not!

Fuck Jan,

Alex

How Tyrannosaurus Rex Helped Pay Helen Keller’s Way Through School and Its Modern-Day Cuddly Cousin

My best title yet, right? You’re goddamned right Bob. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

I assume that everyone is familiar with the coelourosaurian theropod that lived in the Cretaceous period 67-66 million years ago. In case you’re not a human being and have never admired anything awesome in your life, observe this scientific reenactment of Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Where’s the goat?” Ahahahaha! Spielberg you crafty SOB, it’s like when you showed us what happened to Ben Gardner in Jaws. Okay, so obviously that was not exactly a scientific account of T. rex behavior, but it’s not altogether inaccurate. The filmmakers who worked on Jurassic Park did their research and made their CGI Rex move as much like how the common thinking of paleontologists and dino scientists in the early 90s believed T. rex moved. Now since that time we have realized a few new things about the dinosaur who packed one of the biggest bites of anything that ever lived, but we’ll talk about this later. Right now I want to talk about how even in death, T. rex helped to provide a better life for some humans.

Like a tiny-armed, carnivorous Jesus, T. rex has had an impact on all of us after it’s death. Now I’m not talking about the aforementioned love of badass ancient giant reptiles that T. rex provided any of us with hearts – no, I’m talking about the physical effect it and all of its dinosaur friends, associates, and meals have had on us. As well as the effect that every living thing in their environment has on us. Whether or not you’ve realized it, as a result of dinosaurs that died millions of years ago you have been presented with more accessible travel, fresher foods, and things to draw and print with like crayons and ink. However, there’s also been wars, higher temps, and incredible pollution that have come as a result of what I like to call dino-juice. Nerds like to call it hydrocarbon-rich liquid obtained by means of anaerobic decomp of long-deceased organisms; British people like to call it petrol; and most others refer to it as oil. Technically called petroleum, (crude) oil is what we make all sorts of things out of, but the biggest bunch of it gets refined into gasoline and similar fuels for cars, trucks, planes, and just about any other vehicle we have to get a license to operate. As those nerds I riffed on (people like myself) will tell you, oil is a fossil fuel, meaning it comes to us courtesy of things that lived a long time ago and don’t live anymore. In fact, they lived so long ago, the Earth has had some major work done since they last strolled around and covered their carcasses up like acne on the face of a seventh grader going to a junior high dance, but rather than swiping its mom’s concealer to lather over the unsightly blemishes (mine was a harsh and superficial childhood), the face of our planet saw many a new layer of dirt, rock, and water pile onto the bones, body, and all of dinosaurs, plants, and actually mostly plankton until it become supercompacted and after a long, long time made into the oil we give to our cars to slurp up to get us from point A to point B and everywhere in between a little quicker.

Oil continues to have both good and bad impacts on humanity and the planet it resides, but without wanting to veer too much off course I’ll save my rant for why oil executives are the most evil creatures to ever slink along the face of the Earth for another time and stick to the crazy point at hand. Since oil is so coveted globally, it’s no surprise that those who sell it are often filthy, stinkin’ rich. In fact, if they directly work around the oil they could be filthy and stinking in addition to being rich. Often the families of someone who gets into the oil business do quite well for generations, even making great contributions (be they good or bad) to the development of cities. Isn’t that right, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Rogers? What’s that? You don’t immediately recall the last guy from your high school history class? Well maybe that’s because you were sleeping when you should have been paying attention to the enthralling lectures of Mr. Simon! Or maybe you did what I did and counted how many times he touched just his head during one class (final count was 55; an average of 1 touch/min). That class reassured me both that I did not desire to become a history teacher at the high school level and that I had ADD. Anyway, Henry Huttleston Rogers was an industrialist who first got rich in the whaling business (yes, every large living thing mentioned in this post is now dead apparently) and got into the oil business with Charles Pratt who does not appear to be an ancestor of my latest man-crush, Chris Pratt. Eventually they had a big enough oil company to compete with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, but not big enough to beat them, and when you can’t beat them….

Rogers was working for Standard Oil when he was introduced to Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, the Notorious B.I.G. – wait, no, just Mark Twain; I trust you remember him, at least. Twain and Rogers (sounds like a folk duo) became BFFLs and hung out all the time. In 1896, the pair of pals met Helen Keller and were thoroughly impressed by her. Keller had grown up deaf and blind after a fever rendered her such when she was only a toddler. Taught how to communicate to others by Anne Sullivan, who was also blind, Keller had aspirations to attend Radcliffe University where she had successfully passed the entrance exam. Twain feared that she would not be able to afford school, and for good reason. One does not simply breeze through one of the Seven Sisters universities. So old Mark had a talk with his oil tycoon buddy Henry Rogers and Henry offered to pay for Keller’s entire education. And he did. And he gave her a little extra too. Maybe I should just say that all current oil execs are scumbags slithering their slimy trails across the earth.

With the continued help and friendship of Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller went on to inspire many more people around the world. In addition to obviously being a major force for women’s rights just by being a prominent example of a strong woman, she co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), encouraged the use of birth control, introduced the Akita breed of dog to the United States thanks to her favorable relations with Japan, and she even touched Charlie Chaplin’s mustache. Now that is something I’m jealous of.

Okay, maybe it’s a stretch of a title now and you’ve realized that this is how writers get people to notice and absorb their material. But hey, you’ve probably learned something, and since you’ve made it this far let me reward you with the coolest bit of fun-fact information yet. Remember earlier when I mentioned that there has been greater understanding regarding Tyrannosaurus rex since the release of Jurassic Park? Well, for one, T. rex probably didn’t look as much like this as it looked like this (he looks like Steve Oedekerk in Kung Pow: Enter the Fist). Scientists figured out that most, if not all, dinosaurs actually had feathers along most, if not all, of their body, T. rex included. And remember all that talk in the original Jurassic Park about dinosaurs being like modern birds? Well that’s because modern birds evolved from dinosaurs (specifically theropods like T. rex). This of course means that all birds are actually reptiles as that’s what dinosaurs are. If that’s too much to comprehend just remember that we’re all fish anyway.

So if all birds evolved from dinosaurs, who is the closest cousin of the fearsome T. rex, the undisputed (pop culture) king of dinosaurs? The answer my friend is… the chicken. Yep, you read correctly. The chicken is the modern-day T. rex. But before you “WTF!?” all over the place let me show you the coolest chicken of them all. Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your viewing pleasure, the Silkie Chicken. Silkie, or Silky, chickens are an Asian species that was selectively bred to be a show animal. It is called Silkie because its feathers are, well silky. It’s almost like fur. Silkies are the perfect juxtaposition of adorable little fluffball of cuddliness and hellhen whose cry calls forth demons from the gates of the Inferno. They can make great pets, or they can use their practically useless-in-flight feathers to get airborne up to a foot and a half and attempt to spur your legs with their fierce not quite taloned feet (that was a weird day at work). And they have black skin, black meat, and black bones. If you ask me, the T. rex’s lineage could have gone a lot worse. Silkie chickens may not be the most ferocious looking animals, but trust me, you do not want to get on their bad side. Especially if they’re named after Chinese chicken dishes.

Thanks for fording through that slough of words and pictures. You’re a real trooper. And since you got all the way through it, or wisely skipped to the end and by-passed my kookiness I shall reward you by allowing you to contact me for future writing topics either by leaving a comment or by emailing me at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Thanks again for reading! Roar back next week for possibly a discussion of the American road trip and all its pleasures, or something else completely different.

ROAR!

Alex

Making Mondays a little less Mondayish for all with words to educate, inspire, and try out my stand-up routine with.