Jan 20, 2022

Eating Before Concert Not Recommended

Ozzy Osbourne: Diary Of A Madman Tour Flyer
Veterans Memorial Coliseum - Des Moines, IA
The 15th show in the North American leg of the Diary Of A Madman tour took place 40 years ago tonight.  It's a concert that has gone down in infamy as the night when Ozzy bit the head off of a bat.

Des Moines Register - January 22, 1982

The story has been retold so many times that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.  In the booklet that came with the 2002 CD re-release of Diary Of A Madman, it is claimed that the bat was not only alive, but that it had bitten Ozzy.  However, that was not the case according to the person who claimed to have thrown the bat on stage.  Mark Neal was 17 years old when he attended the concert, and he claimed that the bat had been dead for at about two weeks and had been decaying when he sealed it in a plastic bag and snuck it into the show.

Regardless of the state the bat was in at the start of the show, it was missing its head by the end, and Ozzy paid a visit to a local medical facility to receive rabies and tetanus shots.  The incident has been talked about ever since, and will probably continue to be discussed for many years after we have all followed that bat into the next world.

Jan 19, 2022

The Art Of The Requel

Last Saturday, we went to see the new Scream movie.  Every time I refer to it, I feel compelled to add something to clarify which movie I'm talking about.  They couldn't just call this new one Scream 5 or something that distinguishes it from the original movie.  Instead, they just called it Scream.  At a glance, someone might think the new Scream is a remake of the original, but it's not.  It's a sequel... or as it was discussed in the movie itself, it's a requel.

Hybrid words are a pet peeve of mine.  It drives me crazy when I hear words like "ginormous" or "guestimate" because there's no reason to say it other than to try to sound cute.  They're not words; they're combinations of two words that mean exactly the same thing.  I accept that it's irrational to allow something this silly to get on my nerves, but it does.

That's not what's going on requel.  This is a hybrid that we needed because it describes a type of movie that didn't neatly fit into any other classification.  These are movies that acknowledge the story told in the franchise that came before it, and sometimes continue those stories to a degree, but their true purpose is to introduce a spinoff that exists in the same universe as the source material.  Sometimes its a warm transfer with existing characters passing the torch to the next generation, and sometimes its a hard reset that has only passing references to the source material, but in either case, they're meant to repackage an old universe for a new generation without alienating the audience whose interest made that universe worth keeping alive.  It can be a bit of a balancing act.  When they're poorly done, they can come across as a desperate cash grab, but when they're done well, they can really be something special.

The first instance I could find of the word "requel" is from a 2007 entry in the Urban Dictionary, but its usage has only recently picked up steam, and its beginning to spawn debate over what films from the past could classified as a requel, and to identify what might be the very first requel to hit theaters.  With that in mind, here is my take.

Although many requels have come out many years after the source material, I don't think that time should be too much of a factor.  For example, the second Trainspotting movie was released 21 years after the first, but nothing is being rebooted.  It is a pure sequel in that it continues the story that was told in the original.  I would argue that the same is true for the 2006 film Rocky Balboa.  While it's true that was released 16 years after Rocky V and it doesn't continue numbering itself like the previous movies in the series, the movie is just the next chapter in the life of Rocky as an older man.  There is no paradigm shift or foundation from which to build a new story.  It's the final chapter in the book of the original Rocky series.  However, I would argue that the next movie in the Rocky franchise, the 2015 blockbuster hit Creed, is a requel.  It is built on the foundation of all of the Rocky movies that came before it, and its story acknowledges everything that happened in the previous films as having happened in the past in the Creed universe, but it is the first chapter in a new book.

Another good example of this is Star Trek: Generations, which almost literally serves as the theatrical equivalent of Captain Kirk passing the torch to Captain Picard.  I would go a step further and say that the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation television series is a requel of the original Star Trek television series that ran from 1966 - 1969.  It was built in a world that has a past which contains everything that has happened in the previous Star Trek series and films, but it's primary function isn't a continuation of those stories - it's the start of something new.

Other examples of requels include Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Jurassic WorldMad Max: Fury Road, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Spiral, and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  However, in my opinion, this term is being misapplied to movies that don't fit the definition.  For example, the recent Halloween movies that make up the Blumhouse Timeline don't feel like a requel to me.  While it disregards all of the movies in the Halloween series that came after the first one, it is a direct sequel to that original 1978 film.  There is no fundamental changes or passing of the torch that takes place.  Michael Myers and Laurie Strode aren't background characters who are passing the football to another villain or hero to take the franchise into the future.  They're the main characters, and many of the other heavily featured characters, like Tommy, are just older versions of the characters that appeared in the original film.  Their presence in this new trilogy is an extension of their story from the original.  If anything, I think that it might be more accurate to call the 2018 Halloween a rewrite of Halloween II, and Halloween Kills a rewrite of Halloween III.  Maybe I'm splitting hairs with this one, but that's how I see it today.  I'm open to changing my opinion.

The movies I'm less likely to change my opinion on are the long gap sequels - movies in a franchise that have come out many years, or in some cases decades after the original.  For example, I don't think that The Matrix Resurrection is a requel because it's not the foundation of a new story arc in an existing universe.  It's just a poor and lazy sequel.  I wouldn't call Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull a requel for the same reason.  It teases a passing of the torch to Mutt, but it doesn't follow through.  By the time the credits roll, it's clear that this is just another chapter out of Indy's story, and Mutt isn't much more than this film's equivalent of Short Round.  My last example of a long gap sequel that doesn't fit into the mold of a requel is Return To Oz.  It may have been released almost 50 years after the original and feature different performers in the starring roles, but the story is another chapter of Dorothy Gale's adventures in the Land of Oz.

I'm sure that there will be plenty of films to come out over the next few years that will inspire moviegoers to debate over whether it's a sequel, a prequel, a requel, a reboot, a remake, or some other classification that hasn't been invented yet.  With any luck, some new and original concepts will sneak into theaters too, and they will become the source material to new franchises that will give future generations an excuse to carry on the debate as requels are made out of them.

Jan 18, 2022

Do You Like Scary Movies

Paramount Pictures (2022)
I really wanted to go see this on opening night, but I've been feeling pretty lousy this week.  Not sure if it it's because of the change in the weather, or the Omnicron variant, or just a plain old ordinary cold, but it wasn't worth the risk of being around a large group of people.  Thankfully, that isn't a problem on Saturday mornings at the Regal Cinema in Hazleton.  I'm not sure if this works in every town in America, but if you want to see a hit movie on the big screen without waiting too long, and you also want to avoid the crowd, a noon screening the way to go.  The theater was completely empty except for one other couple that was sitting five rows away.

The first Scream hit theaters a few days before Christmas when I was 16 years old, but I can't remember if I saw it on the big screen.  I didn't have a car at the time, but there was a second run theater called the Key that was just a few blocks away from where I lived, so it's possible that this was one of the movies I walked down to see before it came out on VHS.  Either way, three of my major teenage crushes were Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell and Rose McGowan, so to say that this tape had a lot of time in my VCR would be an understatement.

Scream was more than just an iconic horror flick; it stands apart for the way that it holds up a mirror to both the horror movies and to the fans.  It also almost single-handedly rebirthed the slasher genre in the mid to late 90's which resulted in a countless string of horror movies over the next ten years, including several Scream sequels.

Scream 2 is the only film in the original series that I can say for sure that I saw on the big screen during its theatrical one.  It was released almost exactly one year later, and I was looking forward to it for two reasons.  The main reason is because I loved the original film, but I was also psyched because Jerry O'Connell was cast in the film.  I was a huge fan of Sliders, and I made it a point to see just about all of his movies - even Joe's Apartment.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with horror movies, the sequel pales in comparison to the original.  It's not a bad movie, and the plot twist for one of the killers is pretty good, but it tries to be a bit too clever with it's life-imitating-art narrative and a ham-fisted social commentary on the media and the spectacle of the OJ Simpson trial.  It's definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it, but if you're looking for a good horror movie set on a college campus, there are a few dozen other flicks that I'd recommend ahead of this one.

Scream 3 came out in February 2000, and I can say for sure that I didn't see this one in theaters, but I did rent it not too long after it came out on DVD.  It has a pretty funny cameo appearance from Carrie Fisher and Jay and Silent Bob, and I got a kick out of seeing David Puddy from Seinfeld playing an overzealous Hollywood security guard.  Dewey getting clunked in the head with the handle of a knife that was thrown at him by the Ghostface was pretty classic too, but the story was a bit convoluted.  Like the second movie, it's not bad, but it doesn't live up to the original.  Few sequels ever do.

There was a Scream 4 that came out in April 2011, but I still haven't gotten around to seeing it.  To say that 2011 was an emotional roller coaster would be a massive understatement, so I didn't see a whole lot of new movies that year.  I know that it has the distinction of being the final film to be directed by Wes Craven before his death in 2015.  There was also a Scream television series that I didn't even know existed until about a week ago.  I haven't heard anything about them one way or the other, so all I can tell you for certain is that you'll be able to enjoy the fifth Scream movie without seeing any of these.

My movie watching habits have changed a lot since the last Scream movie was released.  We signed up for Regal Unlimited six months before the start of the pandemic (give or take a few weeks), and the closest theater is less than three miles away.  These days, I go to see just about everything, even if I don't know anything about them.  Going in completely blind can be a really great way to see a movie, because there's no expectations.  You just walk in, settle into a seat that will be your home for the next couple of hours, wait for the lights to go dim and just let the filmmaker tell you a story.

This obviously wasn't that kind of situation, but the Regal Unlimited subscription has been kind of liberating.  There no need to be concerned about whether a movie is worth seeing, because you can go as many times as you want - it's all covered by the subscription fee.  I certainly haven't loved everything I've seen at Regal over the past year and a half, but there's nothing that I wouldn't consider at least giving a shot.  With that in mind, I set aside my skepticism of sequels and reboots and looked forward to seeing this new Scream movie, and I'm glad that I did.

The 2022 Scream is the best movie I've seen in the franchise since the original.  Like the first movie, it does a brilliant job of holding a mirror up to the world that created it.  It has smart commentary on the Hollywood trend of sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, and "requels", as well as to the culture of people who take entertainment to an obsessive and damaging level.  I won't risk spoiling it by saying anything else, but it's a lot of fun and definitely worth seeing, whether you've got the unlimited deal or not.

Jan 17, 2022

Take The Betty White Challenge

This was shared by Rex Chapman on Twitter earlier this month, and I think it's a wonderful idea.  Happy 100th birthday, Ms. White.

Jan 16, 2022

Forty Years Of Reviews From The World's Greatest Host

Congratulations to Mr. Joe Bob Briggs on four decades of making movies more fun.  I've had the honor and privilege of meeting Mr. Briggs twice, and he is one of the kindest and most genuine human beings I've ever spoken with.  The dude is incredibly funny and has an insight on movies and the world that is second to none.

It all started on January 15th, 1982 with a review of the 1980 Italian gorefest Antropophagus, directed by Joe D'Amato.  It was released in the United States a couple of years later under the title of The Grim Reaper, and it premiered at cinemas and drive-in theaters across the Dallas - Fort Worth area 40 years ago this week.

I wasn't able to find a larger or higher resolution scan of the original review that was published in the Dallas Times Herald.  Thankfully, it was published in Joe Bob Goes To The Drive-In - a collection of Joe Bob's reviews from 1982 to 1985.

Jan 15, 2022

Trying To Stay One Step Ahead Of Whatever Tormented You

Nightmare Alley
Searchlight Pictures (2021)
This is the first movie that I saw in 2022, and it's the kind of remake that I can completely get behind.  The original Nightmare Alley premiered in 1947 and was based on the William Lindsay Gresham novel of the same name that came out the year before.  I've never watched the original film or read the book, nor have I met anyone who has, and that's precisely what makes it such a perfect film to remake.  Instead of making a film to cash in on a well-known intellectual property, director Guillermo del Toro has breathed new life into a story from 75 years ago.

Unfortunately, the box office returns show why this is a rarity.  Despite receiving positive reviews, breathtaking visuals, and incredible performances from Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, it has only earned an estimated $9 million at the box office for a film that cost $60 million to produce.

It's a damn shame that more people didn't go to see this.  I won't go as far as Stephen Colbert who called it "the greatest modern noir film", but it's an excellent movie that is worth your time and attention.  The last ten minutes were a bit rushed, in my opinion, and I think they could have done more to explain the Dr. Ritter character, but neither of those things take away from what was a great story that pulls you into the world of carnivals, con men and the United States during World War II.

Jan 14, 2022

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Human Be-In
Golden Gate Park - San Francisco, CA (1967)
One of the most important and influential gatherings in American history took place in San Francisco 55 years ago today.  

The press release for the The Human Be-In described the event as "a Gathering of the Tribes" and "a union of love and activism previously separated by categorical dogma and label mongering" which would bring together "Berkeley political activists and hip community, San Francisco's spiritual generation, and contingents from the emerging revolutionary generation all over California."

This was a free event that attracted a crowd of over 20,000 people.  It included live performances by The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Blue Cheer.  There were also group chants and speeches given by some of the most influential voices of the counter-culture, including Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, Alan Watts, Lenore Kandel, Dick Gregory, Gary Snyder, Richard Alpert, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Timothy Leary, who told the gathering masses to "turn on, tune in, drop out".

Photo Source: Evie Johnson (FoundSF.org)

This took place over a decade before I was born, so I couldn't experience it even from a distance.  However, when I listen to the stories from the people who were there, one thing becomes clear to me.  The movement of The Sixties tends to be over-simplified by those who weren't there.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else.  The story is often told as if a bunch of teenagers woke up one day, dropped acid, tie-dyed their shirt and joined the first protest march against the war in Vietnam that they could find.

The Sixties was born from a countless number of individuals of every race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and age.  They include people from cities, suburbs and rural areas.  They include the rich, the poor and the middle class. They include people of all levels of education, from college professors to high school dropouts.  The common thread was that they were people who, for a wide variety of reasons, didn't fit in with or conform to the world around them.  They saw inequality and injustice at nearly every turn from the establishment, and they wanted to make a difference.

The bravest of them hit the open road and discovered each other over a period of many years where they shared ideas and opened their minds to art, poetry, music, philosophical beliefs and ways to stand up against injustice.  This snowball kept rolling downhill until it grew to include over a hundred thousand people who found their way to San Francisco, with Scott McKenzie's voice echoing in their minds, to share what would become known as The Summer of Love.  It was the time and place that Hunter S. Thompson referred to in a 1971 piece for Rolling Stone (which was turned into a movie) when he wrote "...less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back".

Jan 13, 2022

She's More Than Pac-Man With A Bow

Ms. Pac Man Promotion
Roy Rogers (1982)
It's difficult to pin down an exact release date for video games in the 80's.  This is especially true for arcade machines.  Case in point, the Bally Midway coin-op classic, Ms Pac-Man.  The US Copyright Office has the official publication of the game listed as January 13th, 1982 - forty years ago today.  However, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times that was published a few weeks later, Ms. Pac Man debuted on February 3rd at a press conference in Sherman Oaks and the game was still a few weeks away from being available to play in arcades.  Complicating the issue further is the fact that more than a few respected sources, including Game Informer and the Official Pac-Man Website (run by Namco, who have owned the licensing rights to Ms. Pac Man since 1984) list the game as having debuted toward the end of 1981.

Even with a time machine, it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact date that a paying customer first put a quarter into a Ms. Pac-Man machine, but for the lack of a more accurate date, I'm going to go ahead and wish the First Lady of Video Games a happy 40th birthday today.

One thing I can give the exact dates on (thanks to the contest's official rules) is this Ms. Pac Man promotion from Roy Rogers, which ran from June 14th to September 30th, 1982.  Customers of the restaurant chain were given a game ticket.  It worked a bit like the McDonald's Monopoly promotion in that customers had to collect multiple tickets in a single category for a prize.  For example, a complete set of three Salad Bar tickets could be exchanged for a Ms. Pac-Man t-shirt.  A set of Crispy Fried Chicken game pieces could be redeemed for a cash prize.  There were also instant win game pieces that awarded prizes, including free food items, a coupon booklet, and up to $2,500 in cash.

The grand prize was a bit more difficult to win.  If you collected all four Large Roast Beef Sandwich tickets, you could mail them in for an entry in a sweepstakes to win an authentic Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine.  The restaurant gave out 25 of them, and I could only imagine how awesome Christmas 1982 would have been for those families that had won their very own cabinet of the hottest video game of the year straight from the arcade.

This contest was a little before my time.  I was only two years old for most of its run, but even if I was older, we didn't have a Roy Rogers in town.  To this day, the closest one that I'm aware of is at the Allentown Rest Stop off of the turnpike, so their sandwiches have become my go-to snack for the drive home from Philadelphia.  Despite this, my childhood memories of Ms. Pac Man are closely tied to a restaurant.

Blue Comet Diner (2007) - Photo by Christian Montone

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of weekends at my grandparents house.  On Saturday, Grandma, Nana and I went to services at Our Lady Of Mount Carmel in Hazleton.  It was the first and only Tyrolean Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and is probably the reason why my Nana's side of the family settled in Hazleton when they emigrated from Tyrol to the New World.  My grandfather was Lutheran, so he didn't go to church with us.  He would go visit his mother and then come back to pick us up when services were over, and then the four of us stopped at the Blue Comet for dinner.

You can't see it in this photo, but there were stairs on the right side of the building that led to the front door of the restaurant.  There was a small vestibule when you walked into the building, and once you were inside, there was a second set of doors on the right that led to the dining room.  That vestibule had a small coat rack, a pay phone, a couple of video poker machines, and a Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine.  The game was in the center of the back wall facing out, so that it was the first thing I saw when we walked in and the last thing I saw before we left.  After I was finished eating, my grandfather gave me a couple of quarters and I'd go out and play Ms. Pac-Man.  When they finished their coffee after dinner, they'd usually join me and play poker for a little while.  Like most of the video poker machines in town, the ones at the Blue Comet "paid out" the same as they would at a casino (very illegal, but it's a Hazleton thing).

This is how I spent literally hundreds of Saturdays through the 80's and early 90's until I moved to South Florida.  I know it probably seems a bit silly or even stupid to reminisce about something as ordinary as playing a video game at a diner that's been sitting abandoned for over ten years, but these are memories that I treasure.  The closest I can get to experiencing them today is a game of Ms. Pac-Man.  When I play it on an arcade unit, I can almost smell the mixture of cigarette smoke, coffee and diner food that permeated this place and I usually don't get very far on my first quarter.  Seems like something always gets stuck in my eyes.

The other spot in Hazleton where I played Ms. Pac-Man was the Laurel Drive-In.  Coincidentally, this was also on Route 309, but a few miles down the road from the church in the opposite direction of the Blue Comet.  It closed a few years ago when studios went all digital and stopped producing movies on 35mm.  This is the theater where I saw my first movie on the big screen, and I became a frequent customer from my late teens straight through until they closed.

Before it closed, the snack bar had a row of arcade games on the wall opposite to the counter.  Most of them were crane machines with candy or stuffed animals, but they did have a Ms. Pac-Man machine.  My family used to sneak in their own snacks so I don't ever remember going into the snack bar when I was a child, but I became very familiar with it as a teenager.  Cheap pizza, movies and Ms. Pac-Man... it was heaven for a 17 year old nerd!

There are still retro themed arcades across the country, and I'll bet that each of them have a Ms. Pac-Man.  Additionally, Arcade 1Up has made the dream of winning the 1982 Roy Rogers grand prize a reality for a fraction of the cost of the original.  However, the world has changed a lot in the 40 years since Ms. Pac-Man debuted.

In the 80's and early 90's, arcade machines were everywhere.  Grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars, malls, airports, laundromats, bus stops... pretty much every public space you can think of had at least one video game coin-op, and Ms. Pac-Man was among the most successful of them.  There were 125,000 machines sold in the first six years since it was released and they grossed a total of $1.2 billion dollars by 1987... one quarter at a time.  These days, you're not as likely to stumble across an arcade machine out in the wild, but if you do, there's a very good chance that the one you find will be a Ms. Pac-Man.  If that happens, give it a spin.  The true classics never get old.

Jan 12, 2022

Crazy Drunk And Almost Dead

Meadville Daily Republican
Monday, October 1st, 1888
Since the new year began, I've been spending a little time doing research on Ancestry.com to build a family tree.  I came across this little nugget of information from the 19th Century that I found to be pretty interesting.  According to a newspaper report out of Meadville, Pennsylvania, a man named Billy Schweitzer was discovered "crazy drunk and almost dead" after laying out in a field outside of the city all night.  He was brought to jail where I'm assuming he sobered up and was once again let loose among the townsfolk.

Now, I can't say for sure if this person is my ancestor.  My family settled in Pennsylvania, and the name William Schweitzer goes back four generations to my great-grandfather, but he was born in 1904 and, to the best of my knowledge, no one in my family has ever lived in Meadville.  However, I suppose that it's possible that a great, great, great uncle of mine may have gone on a bender and passed out drunk in a Pennsylvania field.  There's also an outside chance that my future self will fall into a time portal and land back in 1888 where I proceed to get blitzed on a Friday night before passing out in a field.

Jan 11, 2022

Sign Of The Times

According to Chinglish Museum, the correct translation of the top of this Novatel sign is "the foreign work permit system is currently malfunctioning, please wait patiently", but I prefer the one that's printed on the bottom.  Seems appropriate for late-stage capitalism as well.

Jan 10, 2022

The Drive-In Car Umbrella

Drizzle Guard
Dri-View Manufacturing Company
During the last episode of the Mahoning Drive-In Radio podcast, they played a commercial for an umbrella-like device that you set up over the windshield so that you don't have to use your wipers at the drive-in.  They used to sell them at drive-in theaters in the 50's and 60's.  It sounded like a decent idea, so I did a little research.  Ten eBay Bucks later... I became the proud owner of a new old stock Drizzle Guard.

It may work, and it may not, but I'm looking forward to finding out.  It's not meant for heavy rainfall, so if we have anything like the storms that we got during VHS Fest and the second day of Joe Bob's Jamboree, this thing would turn into a kite and fly away in seconds.  However, for a light rainfall, it might work well enough that I won't have to keep the engine running and the wipers on.  My main concern is that it'll block out part of the screen, but what the hell, it's worth a shot.

Jan 9, 2022

King Kong Has It His Way

Times Square
New York, NY (1977)
Yesterday, I spent a little time reading a movie review blog called Apollo Twin.  The photo on the main page of that blog was taken at 46th and Broadway in New York City in 1978.  The shot looked familiar to me, and as it turned out, it was taken in the same year, at almost the same spot, and at the same angle as a photo that I posted here a few years ago.  I updated that post from December 2018 so that they could be compared side-by-side.  If not for the differences in the movie marquees and the fact that one photo has snow on the ground while the other doesn't, you could mistake them as having been taken on the same day.

While I was researching these photos, I came across this snapshot of the same section of 46th and Broadway that was taken a year earlier, if the Godspell billboard is to be believed.  You can see the edge of Howard Johnson's in the bottom left corner, and the Forum marquee showing A Star Is Born directly across from it on the right hand side of the photo.  The part that caught my eye though is the Burger King billboard showing what looks to be King Kong getting ready to eat a giant Whopper.

Jan 8, 2022

He Came To Meet Us, And He Blew Our Minds

Happy 75th birthday to the one true king.  The world hasn't been the same since you've been gone.

Jan 7, 2022

Carrying The Physical And Psychological Weight

I feel kind of stupid writing about myself on here,  After all, who the hell am I?  I'm not a celebrity, or an artist, or even a content creator.  I'm just a dude who hasn't really done anything remarkable in this world who happens to have a lot of interests without really being an expert in any of them.  However, writing sometimes helps me to come to terms with things, so what the hell.  Today, I'm going to talk about myself and my struggle with my weight.

This came to the surface of my mind from the strangest of places.  A few weeks ago, I wrote a review about The Matrix Resurrections.  It's a movie that I didn't particularly enjoy and I don't recommend.  In the process of writing it, I went searching for a photo that shows the Matrix poster that was hanging on my closet door back in the days when the first Matrix movie was the only one that existed.  In the process of searching for it, I saw a lot of pictures of myself and the way that my weight has fluctuated in my life, and it's been on my mind ever since.

When I was a little kid, my grandfather used to call me "the raging toothpick" because I was always very skinny.  It didn't matter how much I ate, it didn't seem to matter.  That continued into my teenage years and my early 20's.  This all started to change when I was around 22 years old.  I was continuously overeating to cope with depression, but I was now getting less exercise and I had been prescribed a medication that had weight gain as one of its most common side-effects.  As a result, I had blown up to over 300 pounds by my mid 20's.

When you're a 300 plus pound dude, there aren't a whole lot of styles that are available to you.  I had a lot of aloha shirts in those years, partially due to the fact that I was raised to believe that I was part Hawaiian (which is a whole separate personal crisis), and a lot of dark clothes to hide the weight as best as I could.  It got to a point where I was seriously concerned about my health.  I have a family history of diabetes on both sides, and I started to really hate what I saw when I looked in the mirror, so I started a diet after the 2005 holiday season.  As of January 1st, 2006, I cut out all snacking and recreational eating.  I still allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner (within reason), but no dessert, no snacks, and nothing to drink except for water and coffee.

The diet worked out pretty well.  I lost over 50 pounds in the first year, and the weight loss got easier the longer that I continued to eat healthy.  I felt better about myself, both physically and mentally, so there weren't nearly as many moments of depression when I felt compelled to overeat.  This helped give me the confidence to go back to college and earn my degree.  It was around the summer of 2009 that I reached the lowest weight that I ever remember being as an adult - 159 pounds.  At this point, I decided that it was alright to have snacks and to ease up a bit on the diet.  I eventually settled in to around 180 pounds and found that this was my resting weight.  If I didn't allow myself to binge eat, but I also didn't count calories or skip out on the occasional dessert or snack, I tended to hover between 175 and 185 pounds.

I majored in psychology, and one of the earliest things I learned was the effects that major life stressors have on your physical and mental health.  In 2011, I experienced six major life stressors at virtually the same time: the death of a close family member, graduating from college, getting married, moving to a new home, starting a new career, and taking care of a sick/elderly family member.  Experiencing a single major life stressors lead to changes in your life that are crucial and, in many cases, permanent.  They're not always negative events that lead to bad changes, but good or bad, they are a source of stress, and human beings find ways to adapt to that stress.  The most major of these events was the first, and I'm still finding ways to cope with it ten years later.

My grandfather was the closest and most influential person in my life, even more so than my father.  He passed away a month before graduation and it hit me very hard.  I could continue writing about my grandfather forever if I don't rein myself in and focus on the subject at hand, so that's what I'm going to try to do.  When someone passes away in my family, we tend to either send or receive trays of food, which is mostly made up of either meat and cheeses or pastry.  My father and my grandmother were both diabetic and couldn't eat sugar, and I binge eat when I'm depressed, so I'll give you three guesses who ate almost all of the danishes and cookies and other baked goods that we received.  I didn't even enjoy it; I just mindlessly ate until there was nothing left, and then I went to find something else.

That became a pattern as I swallowed my stress, both metaphorically and literally, and I gained back a lot of weight in the process.  Looking back on that time in my life with a decade's worth of hindsight, it is clear to me that I had become addicted to food.  I didn't eat because I was hungry, or even because I thought it tasted good.  I ate to cope with stress and depression.  The challenge of a food addiction, compared to an addiction to something like drugs and alcohol, is that food is not optional - you need it to survive.  You can pour every last drop of alcohol in your house down the drain and vow to never pick up a bottle again.  It's an extremely large and difficult step to take, but it can be done.  You cannot throw out all of your food and vow to never pick up a fork.  Also, unlike other addictions, you will be offered food constantly.  This is especially true when the new career that I referred to earlier was to work for the confections / baking / ice cream division of one of the world's largest producers of consumer packaged foods.

My weight fluctuated a lot over the past ten years.   It went up in the years following my grandfather's death, topping out at around 280 pounds, after which I would commit myself to eating healthy and lose the weight.  That wasn't easy, especially during the years of my career when I had access to as much chocolate and ice cream as I could ever want.  Sometimes, I would fall back into my old habits of binge eating to cope with stress, and sometimes I would get back on the wagon and take off a few pounds.  I'm pretty sure the lowest weight I got to after graduation was 215, but I eventually settled in at around 230 by my 37th birthday.

As my weight stabilized, so did my mental health, though I can't say for sure whether the chicken or the egg came first.  Additionally, I was doing pretty well in my career.  I earned three promotions in my time with the company, first to social media specialist, then to consumer engagement specialist (which was, essentially, the quality coach for my team), and finally to project trainer.  The pay wasn't fantastic, but as cheesy as this may sound, it was rewarding and I felt driven in much the same way that I did in college.

My motivation as a trainer came from a desire to make a positive difference in people's lives.  I spent a lifetime dealing with autism, social anxiety disorder, and as I've come to terms with today, an eating disorder.  I have had a lot of jobs over the years, most of which were in some form of customer service, and while I was a hard worker with no attendance issues, I often ran into social roadblocks.  To put it simply, I just don't know how to talk to people sometimes.  My intentions are good, but it often comes out wrong and I screw everything up.  Most of the people that I trained didn't have the same challenges that I have, but they did have their own personal struggles, and I was committed to making their transition to a new job as smooth and stress-free as possible.  Training people to talk with consumers about food certainly wasn't the career path that I had in mind when I decided to be a psych major, but I made it work for me.  That's when I went to El Paso, and everything changed.

There's a lot going on in this chapter in my life, but I'm going to do my best to stay on topic.  I was around 230 pounds (give or take) when I touched down in El Paso in 2017 on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but that didn't last.  Long story short, I had gone Charlie Sheen for a few months, and I ate and drank more in a three month span than I ever have before or since.  I couldn't tell you how much of this was an attempt to use food to cope with stress, or part of an overall manic episode.  The results were the same regardless.  I ate breakfast at the hotel, lunch at the office, and then had two or sometimes three separate dinners at night during the week, and weekends were even worse.  I went to as many bars, fast food, food trucks, diners, and restaurants as I could find, and I ate like a mad king.

When I got rid of Facebook, I downloaded all of the photos that I had posted on there.  I went through them and found a photo that I took at an airport bookstore.  I saw this book cover and posted a photo of it with what I thought was a funny caption.  Looking back on it now, I wonder how much of this was a joke and how much of it was an unconscious cry for help.

It wasn't long after my three months bopping back and forth between NEPA and El Paso that I was the one who was making the transition to a new job.  Again, I don't want to get off topic, so I'll over-simplify the hell out of this time in my life by saying that it was very stressful, and the stress that I caused to myself and to others was entirely my own fault.  I knew it then and I know it now, but I want to stay on the topic, so I'll close the subject by saying that I was continuing to binge on food as a coping mechanism.

In the first two years after El Paso, I hovered at around 260 pounds, give or take a few, on any given month.  Frankly, considering how much I ate and drank in 2018 and 2019, I'm kind of surprised that my weight stayed as low as it did.  On New Years Day 2020, I decided that I was going to go back to the same diet that worked for me fourteen years earlier.  I was doing pretty well in sticking to healthy foods until a few months later when Covid-19 closed the door on the world as we all knew it.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been fewer opportunities to stop for fast food and donuts.  On the other hand, with so many things closed (especially in 2020), there weren't many things to do besides sit around, read books, listen to music, watch movies and eat.

I know a lot of folks have stories about how they had time to reflect during the initial lockdown and make improvements in their life, like exercising and eating healthy.  I wish I could say that I had one of those stories to tell, but my response to this was far less inspirational.  I am by no means a hypochondriac, but in the early days of the virus before the vaccine, I was fully prepared for the possibility that I was going to catch Covid-19 and that it would be where my story ends.  I was even making a list of things that I owned that I knew could probably get a good price on eBay so that my wife would be able to stay afloat financially until the life insurance check came in.  However, from a food perspective, I pretty much just said screw it - I'm not dying with a belly full of carrots and lettuce.

While I do enjoy donuts and ice cream, my binge eating usually doesn't center around snacks or desserts.  If I had to go the rest of my life without chocolate, cake or candy, I don't think I'd even miss it all that much.  Most of foods that I tend to overeat are things like hamburgers, sandwiches, burritos, pasta... things that could conceivably be parts of a healthy meal if eaten in moderation.  So, since I've been working from home and could have any of those things at a moment's notice, I've been doing a lot of mindless eating and have gone weeks and months where I lost track of how much I had to eat.

And now, we're at the start of another new year.  Overall, I think that my mental health is in a good place.  I may not receive the same amount of personal satisfaction from my current line of work, but the pay is better and I get to stay at home and avoid the anxiety of an office environment (not to mention the virus).  From a social perspective, I discovered my home away from home at the Mahoning Drive-In and an online community of movie fans that I at least sort of fit in with a little bit.  I'm not much better at social interaction than I've ever been, but I've reached an uneasy peace with who I am.  Not everybody is going to like or understand me, but that's alright.  It doesn't have to be a cause for conflict if I don't allow it to be.  I'm not sure what my goals are in life these days as I've just been on auto-pilot since the start of the pandemic, but at 41 years old, that might not be such a bad thing.  In the words of Ozzy, I don't want to change the world, and I don't want the world to change me.  I'm content to just be here and to live a peaceful life.

Despite all of this, I know I need to get in shape.  I look at myself in the mirror and I'm seeing the same guy with the puffy face I wasn't happy with back in 2005.  Now, that face staring back at me has 17 years of additional mileage on the odometer.  If I plan on living a few more decades and having a quality of life that makes it worth sticking around, I've got to do something.  With that in mind, I'm starting yet another diet to try to get back to a weight that's healthy for me, but I'm doing things a little differently this time.

The last time I weighed myself was about three weeks ago, and I was 279 lbs.  That's not good, but it's not the highest that I've ever been.  I've decided to go back to the 2006 diet of meals only with no snacks, but with the following modifications:
  • I'm going to finish the Pop Tarts that I already have in the house.  There's no point in letting good Pop Tarts go to waste.  But after these are gone, that's it.  I'm not buying any more until 2023 at the earliest.
  • I'm giving myself an exception for popcorn, but only when I'm out to see a movie at Regal or the Mahoning.  I don't get it with butter even when I'm not trying to lose weight, so that shouldn't be too big of a deal.
  • I'm limiting my alcohol strictly to times when I'm hanging out with my dad.  I don't have a problem with drinking aside from the additional calories, so that won't be a big deal either.
  • I'll allow myself an occasional diet soda or a glass of V-8 with a dash of hot sauce, but for the most part, I'm sticking to water and coffee.
  • Here comes the hard part: I'm going to avoid eating anything for the sake of it being a new, seasonal or limited edition product.  That's a trap that I've fallen into many times before, where I pick up a new flavor of peanut butter cups or stop at McDonald's for a new sandwich on their menu.  I tell myself that I should make an exception because if I don't try it now, it probably won't be around by the time I reach my target weight, so it's now or never.  The problem with that line of thinking is that there are so many new, seasonal, or limited edition products that I'm in a constant state of making exceptions.  I'm sure I can live a happy life without knowing what the next Reese's Peanut Butter Cup variation tastes like.  Most of them aren't as good as the original anyway.
  • Finally, I'm not going to weigh myself until New Years Day 2023.  When I went on the diet in my mid 20's, I weighed myself on a digital scale every morning and kept track of my weight in a notebook.  Back then, it served as motivation, but I was a younger man who lost weight much faster than I expect I will in my early 40's.  I've tried diets over the past ten years where I weigh myself once a week, but all it ever does is discourage me.  I would see that I lost one pound or less and think "man, I gave up all of that good food for a lousy 0.7 pounds" and then it became that much easier to say "to hell with it" and just eat whatever.  It's a trap.  I know it's a trap, so I'm going to avoid it - no weighing myself until 2023.
Well, that's enough self-absorbed yammering for now.  I'll do a status update on my weight loss at around this time next year.  Until then, back to your regularly scheduled rotation of pop culture randomness.  If you've made it this far, thank you for caring, and have a happy new year.