Apr 30, 2021

Beware Purple Objects, Hats, Balloons and Exit Signs



The Simpsons: Bart vs The Space Mutants
Acclaim (1991)
It's not often that I get in on the ground floor of any pop culture phenomenon, but The Simpsons was the exception to the rule.  I was hooked from the very beginning and I didn't miss a single episode for the first few seasons of the show.  When it was announced that a Simpsons game would be coming out for the Nintendo, it instantly moved to the top of my wish list, and my grandparents bought the game for me as a present for my 11th birthday.



The game was called The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants, and it was released in North America 30 years ago.  It was designed by a team led by legendary programmer Garry Kitchen, who is responsible for some of my favorite games from the 80's, including Keystone Kapers, Pressure Cooker and Space Jockey for the Atari 2600 and A Boy And His Blob for the NES.

Unlike Kitchen's previous games, Bart vs. The Space Mutants is frustratingly hard.  While games like Keystone Kapers and Pressure Cooker were challenging, they were fair.  Those games started out slow and allowed the player to get a feel for the game mechanics before ramping up the difficulty.  In contrast, The Simpsons game was unforgiving from the very start.  The first level requires a lot of very precise jumps that will fail and cost you a life if you aren't standing on the exact pixel that your character needs to be standing on.  It took me at least fifty tries just to get to the second level.  The game didn't get great reviews even in the early 90's, and it's frequently cited as an example of NES games with poor controls.  Despite it's many flaws, I enjoyed playing this when I was a kid, in large part because of the wackiness of it's plot.


The story is centered around an alien spaceship that has landed in Springfield with the goal of enslaving the human race.  To achieve this, they have built a doomsday machine that is powered by purple objects.  Bart is on a mission to spraypaint or hide all of the purple objects in town to put a stop to the alien plot, but he has to also be on the lookout for aliens who have disguised themselves to look like ordinary human beings.  In what feels like a nod to the the 80's horror classic They Live, Bart can only tell the aliens from the citizens of Springfield by looking through special glasses.

After the first level, the aliens have reconfigured their weapon to be powered by hats, so it's off to the Springfield Mall where Bart has to collect every hat in town to once again foil the alien's evil plans.  With that mission complete, the aliens will again tinker with their machine to be fueled by balloons which they intend to collect from the Krustyland Amusement Park.  When that plan fails, they decide to switch things up again and head to the Springfield Natural History Museum to collect exit signs.  Finally, in the last level, they decide to use something that actually could be weaponized: plutonium rods from the nuclear power plant.



The aliens finally accept defeat after Bart prevents them from getting the plutonium rods.  However, they've come to respect their spiky haired foe, so they make a slight modification to a national landmark before flying back to their home planet.

Bart vs The Space Mutants may not have the greatest controls you'll find in the 8-bit era, but you have to admire the creativity that went into the story.

Apr 29, 2021

Check Ignition And May God's Love Be With You



Michael Collins
1930 - 2021
The world lost a true hero yesterday when retired NASA astronaut Michael Collins passed away.  He was 90 years old.


Mr. Collins was part of the three man Apollo 11 crew, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the mission that landed the first men on the moon.  When Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin took Lunar Module Eagle to the surface of the moon, Mr. Collins stayed onboard Columbia to maintain operations in lunar orbit.  During that time, he orbited the moon a total of 30 times, and for each of the periods in which he was on the dark side of the moon, Mr. Collins was out of radio contact with his crewmates and with mission control back on Earth.  As it was stated in the mission log: "Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins."

If you think of it, take a moment tonight to go outside and look up at the night sky and remember a man who had the courage to step into the unknown and to help mankind achieve a goal that was so remarkable that the mere possibility of it happening was thought to be a fantasy.  Remember a man who piloted a spacecraft in complete isolation so that his crew could return safely to the Earth, and who maintained a quiet sense of purpose, avoiding the spotlight without ever avoiding the challenge.  Remember Mr. Michael Collins.

Apr 28, 2021

A Tamaqua Icon




Leiby's Ice Cream House Restaurant
Tamaqua, PA
This place is about as close to a historical landmark as a restaurant can get in Northeast Pennsylvania.  It originally opened in 1965 and remained in business until 2007 when the original owners retired and closed the restaurant.  Ten years later, the family reopened the restaurant and even through the pandemic, they've been serving up great food ever since.



This is their Polish Pickle Soup, which was one of the specials this past Sunday.  It's a very hearty soup made from potatoes, carrots, parsley, onions and I think some shredded pickled cabbage, but I'm not sure.  It definitely has a pickle flavor, but it's pleasant and not overpowering.



And, of course, I had the Reuben.  If I ever hit Powerball, I swear that I'll spend the rest of my life traveling around the world vising national parks, baseball parks and eating Reubens across America at every diner and restaurant I can find.  Haven't had a bad one yet, and this was no exception.  Delicious!
 


Leiby's is known best for their ice cream.  Their half gallons are sold in many of the grocery stores in the area, and the restaurant has a full ice cream parlor and a counter to pick up ice cream to take home.  I'm really trying to lose some weight and eat nothing but breakfast, lunch and dinner with no snacking or desserts, but I can't lie - this was really very tempting.

Apr 27, 2021

Kwai Chang Caine Battles Rocky Balboa On The Highway



Edgewood Drive-In Theater
Baldwin Park, CA (1975)
Death Race 2000, starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stalone, is a trippy flick that debuted in American theaters 46 years ago today.  One of the screens that it appeared on was the Edgewood Drive-In Theater which opened on June 17, 1955 and remained in operation for thirty years (photo source: When We Were Home).

Apr 26, 2021

Defending Planet Earth



Vidiot Magazine: Issue #5
September 1983
Nick Rhodes playing a Gravitar machine at MTV Studios while Simon Le Bon sits with his back up against the cabinet may be the most early 80's image I have ever seen.  This was taken when the Duran Duran lead singer and keyboardist were guest VJs for the day.  The episode originally aired 28 year ago today, on April 26, 1983.  Their segments from this taping (with the music videos edited out) have been uploaded to YouTube.

Apr 25, 2021

One More Time Around


The Day I Tried To Live
Soundgarden (1994)
Sometimes, an artist speaks directly to your soul.  When you experience their creation, it feels like they created a work of beauty out of your deepest feelings that you don't understand and can't find the words to describe.  This song was released as a single on this day in 1994, and I connected with it in exactly that manner when I first heard it as a pissed off and confused thirteen year old.  I'd like to say that I've outgrown these feelings, but I would only be lying to myself.

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Chris Cornell explained the meaning of this song:



This is me in a nutshell.  As you can imagine, there aren't too many people who are willing to put up with this sort of pattern, so by the time I try again, there are a lot fewer people around.  The pandemic hasn't helped either.

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (2017) 

This song reminds me of another song, and a moment where I tried to live.  It happened on a flight to El Paso in November 2017.  I had been listening to The Struts in the weeks before my trip, and the lyrics to Could Have Been Me echoed in my head.  I decided that when I got off of the plane, I was going to become the person that I always wanted to be - an outgoing, social, fun person who didn't let anxiety stop him from having an adventure.

It wasn't until later that I realized that I was having manic episode that I had mistaken for divine inspiration from a British glam rock song.  It may have felt at the time like I was "dodging bullets with my broken past", but the truth ended up being a lot closer to Soundgarden.

The Day I Tried To Live
Soundgarden (1994)
Lyrics:
I woke the same as any other day
Except a voice was in my head
It said, "Seize the day
Pull the trigger, drop the blade and watch the rolling heads"

The day I tried to live
I stole a thousand beggar's change
And gave it to the rich

The day I tried to win
I dangled from the power lines
And let the martyrs stretch

Singing one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
The day I tried to live

Words you say
Never seem to live up to the ones inside your head
The lives we make
Never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead

The day I tried to live
I wallowed in the blood and mud
With all the other pigs, hey

Singing one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
The day I tried to live

I tried
I woke the same as any other day
You know I should have stayed in bed

The day I tried to win
I wallowed in the blood and mud
With all the other pigs

And I learned that I was a liar
I learned that I was a liar

Singing one more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
One more time around might do it
One more time around might make it
The day I tried to live

Just like you

Apr 24, 2021

Hit Me With Your Best Shot



One down, one to go...

Apr 23, 2021

Calling All Mutants



Joe Bob's Drive-In Jamboree
Mahoning Drive-In - Lehighton, PA
Joe Bob Briggs has gotten me through some tough times in my life.  When I was a mixed up teenager, bouncing back and forth between homes and not sure that I'd live long enough to get my drivers licence, he was there with MonsterVision.  He opened the door to a deeper level of appreciation for not only horror movies, but movies in general.  He made me laugh when I didn't have much to laugh about.  He gave me a much needed escape hatch from this world for a few hours a week at a time when I desperately needed something to look forward to.



Seventeen years after MonsterVision was cancelled, Joe Bob once again got me through a tough time in my life.  I had recently lost a job that I loved and that made me feel good about myself, and once again, there was an escape hatch.  This time it was called The Last Drive-In, which began as a dawn-to-dusk-to-dawn marathon, and branched out to become a regular series on Shudder.  It also spawned the #MutantFam community.



I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Briggs at a horror convention in New Jersey a few years ago, and he could not possibly have been a kinder and more gracious man.  I sometimes have a hard time relaxing and finding the words I want to say when I talk to folks, but it seemed like he picked up on it and effortlessly eased my anxiety as he chatted for us for about an hour about movies, life and the world.  He's is truly a kind, and decent, and genuinely good human being, and I was honored just to be able to shake the man's hand and thank him for years of happiness in dark times.
 


Season Three of The Last Drive-In continues tonight at 9:00 pm, but there's something I'm looking forward to even more.  At noon, tickets go on sale for Joe Bob's Drive-In Jamboree.  It's a three day event that's happening this July just a stones throw from my home.  It will include the first annual Mutant Film Festival, a live version of The Last Drive-In, a haunted drive-in event, live music, sideshow acts, celebrity guests, autograph tables, food, drinks and horror movies hosted by Joe Bob and Darcy.  Since the pandemic began, it's been a long time since I had an event to look forward to, and I can think of no better way to break out of quarantine than to do so at a drive-in with the world's greatest host and the Mutant Fam.

Apr 22, 2021

Toys R' Us During The Atari Age



Toys R Us (1983)
This awesome photo was recently shared by Atari programmer Michael Mika.  The foreground shows the display cases of what I believe to be an Atari 800 XL with Milton Bradley's Dark Tower game on the shelves below.

Behind the man and woman in this photo, you can see the display of Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Atari 5200 and IBM PC games.  It's a little blurry, but I could make out the box art for Towering Inferno, Sky Jinks, and Pac-Man.  The awesome game posters above the display are much easier to see.  From left to right, they are Enduro, Keystone Kapers, Kangaroo, Q-Bert, Mash, Gorf, River Raid and Super Cobra



The video game aisles in Toys R' Us stores didn't have the games themselves on the shelves.  Instead, there were plastic Vidpro display cards for the games that were available for purchase hanging on the peg hooks like the ones you can see in this photo on the back wall.  Shoppers would take these cards to the register to purchase a game.

It's funny to think that the store put these on the shelves to prevent people from shoplifting the game cartridges, and today the display cards are sold to gamers for as much or more than the games themselves cost.

Apr 21, 2021

The Hope And Light That Will Never Die


Chris Cornell (2017)
It is very difficult to pick a favorite song from my favorite singer.  Chris Cornell wrote and performed so many beautiful songs - raw emotion in it's most perfect musical expression.  This one is definitely in the top ten.  It was originally released on March 10th, 2017.  It was used as the song that played over the end credits for a film of the same name that debuted in theaters on April 21st, 2017, which is four years ago today.  Less than a month later, Mr. Cornell was found dead in his hotel room.  It was the last single he released before his death.

Lyrics:
If I had nothing to my name
But photographs of you
Rescued from the flames

That is all I would ever need
As long as I can read
What's written on your face

The strength that shines
Behind your eyes
The hope and light
That will never die

One promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As we've always done

And you said
The poison in a kiss
Is the lie upon the lips
Truer words were never shared

When I feel
Like lies are all I hear
I pull my memories near
The one thing they can't take

One promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As we've always done

The books still open
On the table
The bells still ringing
In the air
The dreams still clinging
To the pillow
The songs still singing
In a prayer

Now my soul
Is stretching through the roots
To memories of you
Back through time and space

To carry home
The faces and the names
And photographs of you
Rescued from the flames

One promise you made
One promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive

And dare to rise once more
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And fill the world with life
As we've always done 

Apr 20, 2021

Boomarita



Boomarita
Outback Steakhouse - Wilkes-Barre, PA
Maybe I'm late to know about this, but Outback now serves a freaking boomerang of margaritas.  They're made with Sauza Gold Tequila and you get a mango, blackberry, watermelon and house blend margarita.  Bottoms up, mate.



Apr 19, 2021

In The Not Too Distant Past



Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
Gramercy Pictures (1996)
The theatrical version of the classic MST3K series, in which Mike and his robot friends are forced to watch the 1955 film This Island Earth, debuted in theaters 25 years ago today.

It's been a quarter century since I first saw it, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  I don't mean to say that it's bad or anything; it just doesn't feel like it's anything special in comparison to the rest of the series.  While This Island Earth is a great cheesy sci-fi film, it's not really any bigger of an attraction than the movies they've riffed on in the tv series.  I wish they could have gotten the rights to do Plan 9 From Outer Space.  However, what was even more noticeable to me at the time was that, at 73 minutes long, MST3K: The Movie is significantly shorter than the episodes of the tv series, which clocked in at 90 minutes each (not including commercials).  That might have been easy to overlook if not for the fact that this movie came out while new episodes of the show were still being made for Comedy Central.

It's a good movie with a lot of laughs, but if I were going to recommend MST3K to someone who has never seen it before, there are at least two dozen episodes of the television series (from both the Joel and Mike years) that I would recommend over the movie.

Apr 18, 2021

Grandpa


William F. Schweitzer
1937 - 2011
It's been ten years since my grandfather passed away.  I swear to god, it feels like that decade went by in the blink of an eye.  There have been so many times when I wished I could just go to my grandparents house and find him sitting in his spot at the kitchen table; so many times when I wanted to show him something, or tell him something that I learned, or ask for his advice about something, or listen to his thoughts about something going on in the world.

Every so often on Harvey's walks, we take a detour through the cemetery and visit his grave.  It's not as often as it used to be.  They used to leave the gates to the cemetery unlocked all night, but from what I've been told, there are people illegally dumping garbage in the woods behind the cemetery, so they started locking the gates at around 3:00 in the afternoon on most days for about the past year.  I don't believe in an afterlife or ghosts or anything like that, but I still talk to him when I'm there and tell him that I love him.

Any good that anyone sees in me is a direct result of having my grandfather in my life.  I don't even want to think about who I would have been if not for him - not that I think I'm all that great anyway, but I would have been dead or in jail decades ago if it wasn't for his positive influence.

Here are some photos of my grandpa over the years.  I miss you, big guy.



From left to right: Grandpa's senior photo from high school (1954), in the Navy (1955) and on his wedding day (1958).



This photo was taken sometime in the 60's while the family was on vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey.  My grandfather is on the far left.  That's my dad standing in front of him.
 


This was taken in my grandparent's backyard in the winter of 1977.


Grandpa and I in the early 80's when I was a little tyke.



This photo of my grandparents was taken at Wildwood, NJ in 1984.
 


Dad, Grandpa and I in my grandparents kitchen - February 6th, 1986.



Grandpa coming home from work - July 1986.



Grandma, Grandpa and I in my grandparents kitchen - December 1991.



Grandpa, Dad and I at our house in Boynton Beach, Florida - July 1992.
 


Grandpa and I on the sidewalk outside of his house - December 1996.


Grandpa at the Schuylkill Mall after winning the Mrs. T's Pierogie Eating Contest - January 27, 2001.


Grandma and Grandpa at the Wegman's Market Cafe in Wilkes-Barre - February 4th, 2007.
 

Grandma, Dad and Grandpa - this was taken on my Dad's birthday, April 2, 2007, in my grandparents back yard.


This was taken outside of Big Lots in Wilkes-Barre in June 2007.


This was taken in December 2009 as a part of a project that I did for a photography class that I took at Wilkes.
 

This video was taken on September 20th, 2010.  It was only a few weeks before we learned that he had pancreatic cancer.  Grandpa was a weatherman in the Navy and he was always interested in astronomy.  He was showing me that the planet Jupiter was closer to the Earth than it had been at any point since 1963.



Grandpa came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day 2010.  Before the end of the year, we were told that there wasn't much that chemotherapy could do.  It was a matter of months.

The last time I saw my Grandpa was on April 15th, 2011.  It was a Friday morning, and the last words he said to me was that he was proud of me.  He died in his home in West Hazleton on Monday, April 18th, 2011 - in the same room where we spent countless hours together, where we celebrated Christmas together, and where he gave me a safe place to call my home.

Life has never been the same since.  I miss him every day.

Apr 17, 2021

Paying Tribute To The Piper



"Rowdy" Roddy Piper
1954 - 2015
Today is the birthday of my favorite wrestler when I was a kid; the one and only "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.  He would have been 67 years old.

These photos were taken in Philadelphia in 2014 an event for a documentary of one of his greatest films: the 1988 John Carpenter classic They LiveMr. Piper was presented a cake of the faces that his character could only see with a special pair of sunglasses.

Apr 16, 2021

Seek Out Another Road Cause This One Has Ended Abrupt



Temple Of The Dog
Temple Of The Dog (1991)
The album that opened the door to grunge rock for me was released thirty years ago today.  Temple Of The Dog came together when Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell approached Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Mother Love Bone with music that he had written in tribute to Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose on March 19th, 1990.



By the time Temple Of The Dog began recording what would be their only album in November 1990, the group included Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron.  It also included two guys who were working on a project with Gossard and Ament at the time: Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready.  The four would go on to form Pearl Jam before the year had ended.

My stepsister introduced me to a lot of music in the early 90's, but this was the first album that she played for me that I really connected with.  I remember that she used to make mixtapes for me of the songs that I liked, and those tapes almost always included Say Hello 2 Heaven and Hunger Strike.  In the years that followed, those tapes also included music from Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and other artists from the Seattle music scene of the early 90's and the bands they inspired.  Those bands became the music of my high school years, and it all began with Temple Of The Dog.

As a teenager, my favorite song on the album was Hunger Strike.  Over the years, the death of loved ones and the loss of others have had me instead coming back to Chris Cornell's hauntingly beautiful tribute to his late friend and the opening track on the album:

Please mother mercy
Take me from this place
And the long-winded curses
I hear in my head

The words never listen
And teachers, they never learn
My warmth from the candle
Though I feel too cold to burn

He came from an island
Then he died from the street
And he hurt so bad like a soul breakin'
But he never said nothin' to me

Say hello to heaven...

New like a baby
Lost like a prayer
The sky was your playground
But the cold ground was your bed

Poor Stargazer
She's got no tears in her eyes
But fool like a whisper
She knows that love heals all wounds with time

Now it seem like too much love
Is never enough
You better seek out another road
'Cause this one has ended abrupt

Say hello to heaven...

I never wanted
To write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases
Of all the things we'll never do

So I blow out the candle and I put you to bed
Since you can't say to me now
How the dog broke your bone
There's just one thing left to be said

Say hello to heaven...

 

Apr 15, 2021

Number 42




Jackie Robinson
Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-1956)
The great Jackie Robinson made his major league debut 84 years ago today.  His remarkable courage and talent forever changed the game, and it was a huge step in the right direction for the country.

These photos were taken at a game between the Dodgers and Phillies at Ebbets Field.  I'm not sure what year it's from, but I think the Phillies infielder applying the tag is Granny Hamner.