General Ramblings


Apropos of the previous entry, here’s a fun little video that explores the origin and evolving usage of the word “dude”:

Just as an aside, the word has a rather personal connotation for me: Back in the theater days, my fellow ushers and I took to calling ourselves “The Dudes,” a self-aggrandizing nickname we still use when we refer to each other, and when we send out the invitations to our annual “Dudes reunion dinner” around Christmas time.

And of course the video leaves out the most famous modern-day incarnation of dudeness, The Dude himself:

the-dudeBut there might have been some licensing issues there. I still thought it was a pretty interesting little tidbit.

Via Boing Boing, naturally.


What Did You Do with Your Saturday?

You know, the whole thing actually started as a joke.

Several years back, a good friend of mine was badly stressed while making arrangements for his upcoming wedding. Knowing of his affection for the film The Big Lebowski, and remembering something I’d run across in my wanderings across the endless InterWebs, I went to the Church of the Latter-Day Dude and got myself ordained as a Dudeist priest. I then sent him a message that said, essentially, “You can relax, all your planning troubles are over… I can marry you!” We both got a laugh out of it, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Some time later, I told this story to some other friends of mine, Geoff and Anastasia, and the next time Anne and I got together with them, they had a question for me. They wanted to know if that Dudeist thing was for real… if I could — if  I would  — perform their upcoming wedding? I was honored, flattered, and more than a little freaked out by their request. But I went ahead and made a couple phone calls, just to confirm that the State of Utah would recognize an online ordination from a tongue-in-cheek “religion” inspired by an oddball movie. And then just to be sure, I took out a more-legitimate sounding second ordination with something called the American Marriage Ministries. And then this happened:

Wedding-79_editAnd that, I thought, was that.

Except it wasn’t.

Two days before this past New Year’s Eve, Anne’s sister-in-law contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to do another wedding. Her sister wanted to tie the knot before the end of the year, and they didn’t know who else they could get on such short notice. I never did find out what the hurry was; something to do with taxes maybe. But hey, they offered to pay me for my trouble, and I was off work anyhow, so, in the middle of the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, I drove to a stranger’s house with my ordination certificates and a printed-out script and I married a second couple. Made some decent money doing it, too.

This past Saturday, I performed my third wedding, a favor for my good friend Mike Gillilan, a guy I met 26 years(!) ago, back in those infamous movie-theater days. We held it in a public park at the base of the magnificent Wasatch Mountains, with just a few family members and friends about. The sun was high and intense, but a bit of a breeze rolling up the side of the mountain carried away the worst of the heat, and I didn’t even stumble over the script this time. I just joined Mike and his bride Caroline in matrimony as easy as driving to the 7-Eleven for a Slurpee.

And then I went to a Willie Nelson concert.

Life takes you to some unexpected places sometimes, doesn’t it?


Shatner’s First Exotic Ride

You know, that fancy Rivet tricycle isn’t the first exotic vehicle that’s been associated with William Shatner. There’s also the little beauty that appears in this photo:

star-trek_shatner-space-carAn Internet evergreen, that photo seems to cross my radar every six months or so. (Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post it myself.) I have no idea what the story behind it is, whether it was a publicity still for Star Trek, or for the car itself, or if maybe it was just an amusing snapshot somebody grabbed one day that later escaped into the wild. Any of those options seem reasonable, since Shatner is in costume as Captain Kirk, and the car — a one-of-a-kind show vehicle that was originally titled the Autorama Special, and later renamed the Reactor — appeared in a 1967 Trek episode called “Bread and Circuses.”

The Reactor actually has a pretty interesting history, if you’re into this sort of thing. Built in 1965 by a Southern California hot-rodder named Gene Winfield, the two-seater boasts a lightweight aluminum body; a front-wheel drive train powered by a Chevy Corvair engine; electronically operated doors, hood, and roof bubble; and height-adjustable suspension… all features that were well ahead of their time. In addition to Star Trek, the Reactor was also featured in an episode of Bewitched and twice showed up on Adam West’s Batman series as Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman car.

Winfield enjoyed a long association with Hollywood, thanks in large part to the notoriety he gained from the Reactor. He would go on to build or play a hand in the design of many film and television vehicles, including the full-size mock-up of the Galileo shuttlecraft, again for Star Trek; the modified Sunbeam Tiger driven by Don Adams as the title character in Get Smart; and a plastic-bodied vehicle called the Piranha, which was prominently featured in The Man from UNCLE. Winfield’s creations in the ’80s included the 6000 SUX from Robocop; the flying version of the time-traveling Back to the Future DeLorean; the sleek “starcar” seen in both CGI and physical form in The Last Starfighter; and some 25 vehicles for Blade Runner, most notably the police “Spinner” that whisks Harrison Ford around the dystopian Los Angeles of the year 2019.

As for the Reactor, the commission job that put Winfield on the map, it still exists. Gene reacquired it in 1999 — I haven’t been able to learn where it was in the decades between its TV heyday and then — and restored it. It now resides at his shop, Winfield Rod & Custom, in Mojave, California. Yes, Gene is still building cars at the age of 87… another fine example of not fading away with age!


The Shat’s New Ride

Say what you will about William Shatner, the guy’s setting an incredible example of how not to go gentle into that good night.

Last week, he announced his plans to ride a custom-built three-wheel motorcycle across the United States at an age — 84 — when many people aren’t astride anything more adventurous than a rocking chair. His path will more-or-less follow the 2,400 miles of old Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, with planned stops in St. Louis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, and Vegas. There will be a film crew along for the trip (naturally), and an eventual TV show chronicling the adventure, and the whole thing is being done to raise awareness for the work done by the American Legion nationwide on behalf of veterans.

As for Shatner’s new trike… man, it’s something else, a wicked-looking, V8-powered, one-of-a-kind (for now!) machine called The Rivet. The press materials claim the design was inspired by the B-17 bomber, but it looks more like something from the Mad Max movies to me:

william shatner rivet motorcycle

The Rivet was built by a Chicago-area custom shop called American Wrench; they’ve set up a dedicated website for the trike here, if you’d like to know more about it… or look into getting one for yourself! (I’d kinda like to have one, but I have a hunch I couldn’t afford it. The “Reserve Your Own” page is suspiciously lacking any price indicators!)

Shatner’s cross-country trek (sorry!) is scheduled to begin June 23 at the American Wrench shop, and wrap up in LA on the 30th. I haven’t seen anything about when the television series might air, or on what network, but I imagine it’ll probably be on cable by the end of summer or early fall.

I hope I’m still dreaming of doing things like this when I’m 84, if not actually doing them… and yes, I’m perfectly aware that Shatner probably won’t really be in the saddle of The Rivet all that way at his age, that there will be some Hollywood illusion-making for the sake of the TV show. But I do believe he’ll be making the journey, one way or the other, and doing something pretty damn interesting and valuable as well (the American Legion angle), and that’s the thing that counts. He just doesn’t seem interested in slowing down, no matter what the calendar says. Captain Kirk was an inspiration to me when I was young; Bill Shatner is inspiring me as I face getting older…


Conspiracy Theories

Conversation between the lovely Anne and myself, just now…

ME: You take a risk every time you leave the house. You could get hit by a bus. You could be electrocuted by a random static discharge from a computer mouse.

ANNE: I’ve never heard of that happening.

ME: The government covers it up.

ANNE: You were pretty fast with that comeback.

ME: It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to.

And so it goes, here at the Bennion Compound…


I’ve Had Better Weekends

Fast-moving thunderstorms that dump a lot of rain in a very short time aren’t unusual during the warmer months in Utah, but the storm that hit Saturday night was exceptional even for a “summer monsoon,” as my mother has always called them. Have a look at this:


My house is just down the street from the spot where much of that footage was captured. As it happens, I wasn’t home during the storm, but my lovely Anne was, and she tells me that the lawn, sidewalk, and street all vanished within minutes beneath a small lake. She also tells me water was actually rolling up the driveway from the street. But these were only interesting natural phenomena, passing curiosities gone almost as soon as they were observed. The real problem was a blocked downspout on the edge of our roof, which caused water to overtop the brim of the rain gutters and cascade down in a four-foot wide sheet… straight into the window well of our basement bedroom.

The debris line left behind the next morning suggests the water rose to about six inches deep in the window well. I like to imagine it probably looked something like this:


Fortunately, our experience wasn’t as catastrophic as Captain Smith’s final moments in Titanic — the window did not implode in a spectacular manner — but the water got in anyhow, and, to finally get to the damn point, we’ve got to replace the carpet in our master bedroom. Our cozy, wall-to-wall, luxurious shag carpet, which my late Hannibal-cat loved to sharpen his claws in, which felt so warm and soft and cushy beneath my bare toes, just installed about two and a half years ago. Anne and I and my dad spent much of yesterday slicing it and the water-logged pad beneath into strips and hauling them upstairs in dripping, heavy bundles bound for the trash bins. To add insult to injury, I’d already spent much of Saturday hunched over in our shower, scouring away hard-water scales, so by the time I dropped into bed last night, I was so tired and sore I could barely move.

It’ll take probably a week for the concrete to dry out, and then we’ll have to source new carpet and installers… and Anne no longer works in the floor-covering industry, which was such a big help to us when we first finished that room…

Yeah, like I said… I’ve had better weekends.

It could’ve been worse, of course. I know other people in the general area who had several inches of standing water in their basements. We don’t even have any damage to the walls. But still… I find the whole situation deeply disheartening. What is it about being an adult that just about the time you feel like you’re getting ahead, paying off some bills, and finally seeing some goals coming within your reach, some bullshit thing like this knocks you back a rung or two?


Thinking of My Boys

I spotted this on Wil Wheaton’s Tumblr a while back and decided to save it, because it reminds me of my own kitty boys Evinrude and poor departed Hannibal, who was killed nearly a year ago on the road in front of our house. ‘Rude is immensely lovable and I wouldn’t trade him for anything, but Hannibal was my little pal, and, as much as I feel like a dick for saying so, my favorite of the two. I miss his cocky tough-guy swagger and insatiable curiosity (the two qualities that I suspect led him to be out on that road in the first place). I know his brother misses him too…



Making Some Changes

I had just turned twenty-four years old, and I walked into the DMV to renew my driver’s license. I walked out a half-hour later with a mandate that changed my life. I’d flunked the eye exam and would now be required by The Man to start wearing eyeglasses. At least if I wanted to keep driving under legal sanction.

I don’t think I’d been so close to throwing an all-out tantrum since I was ten. I remember stomping out of the drab institutional government building that afternoon pissed off at everything I could think of: the DMV, the State of Utah, the uncaring bureaucratic functionaries who’d delivered the news, the soul-crushing reality that, even at 24, I was getting older… I was mad at the entire fracking universe, really. I hated the idea of having to wear glasses, just hated it. Glasses didn’t fit my self-image or my idea of “cool.” Sure, Indiana Jones occasionally donned a set of readers when he wanted to study a Grail tablet or something close up, but that was different. Not like wearing the damn things all the time. None of the action heroes and matinee idols I, in my naive insecurity, wanted to be more like wore glasses. (This was the early ’90s, before they became a near-ubiquitous fashion accessory.) They still carried the taint of bookish nerdism to them (the fact that I was a bookish nerd was irrelevant; I didn’t want to look like one), and in my mind I could hear every playground taunt of “Four Eyes!” I’d ever overheard.

In addition, they were an added expense I didn’t want to pay (I didn’t have a lot of money in those days and was very conscious of where it went). Yearly exams, frames, lenses… I didn’t know how much exactly those things cost, but I figured they were pretty pricey. (That’s the one thought I had that day that turned out to be correct.) But I think the thing that most troubled me was that I hadn’t realized I needed them at all, and I was embarrassed about it. What kind of a schmuck can’t tell his own vision is going? Hell, in my job as a movie-theater projectionist, I’d been getting a lot of calls recently from ushers down on the floor that the movies were out of focus, but I’d dismissed them. The movies looked fine to me. But it was true. Apparently, my vision had deteriorated so slowly that I just didn’t notice. And now I had egg on my face. A lot of it, in my mind.

In short, being told I needed glasses had bruised my ego. And I’ll be honest… I never really got over it.

I’ve been wearing glasses for nearly 22 years now, damn near half my life, and even though I long ago got used to the idea, I still don’t like it. Oh, sure, it was like some kind of miracle the first time I put them on and saw that there were, in fact, trees on the mountain ranges that encircle my valley home — I’d long believed they were just bare rock — but somewhere, deep in the back of my mind, some little part of me still thinks “this isn’t really you…”

It’s not that I think I look bad in glasses. Quite the contrary, once I figured out that spending a little extra money on better quality and more fashionable styles was worth it, I’ve been relatively content with my appearance. But it’s not how I want to look, if that makes sense. And the glasses themselves are a pain in the butt. I’m always conscious of their presence, always. I worry about losing them, breaking them, scratching them. When it rains or snows, they get spotted. When I kiss my girl, they get smudged. I risk the frames getting bent if I hug somebody at the wrong angle, or fall asleep on the couch with my face down on the armrest. I can’t easily back up a car the way I was taught, by looking back over my shoulder, because I end up looking half through the lenses and half over the top of them, meaning my depth perception is all screwed up. I hate how they fog up when I come inside after being outdoors on a cold day. I hate how they hang off my face when I bend over, and sometimes will jiggle a bit and make me dizzy. I hate how, when I’m doing yardwork on a hot day, they’ll slide down my nose or catch droplets of sweat in the lenses. I hate that I have to spare a second (and a hand) to pop them off when I’m putting on or taking off a t-shirt. When Anne and I went on a snowmobiling expedition through Yellowstone a few winters ago, trying to wear the glasses and a helmet was uncomfortable as hell. And I haven’t enjoyed amusement park rides in years, partly because I’m getting old and everything makes me woozy now, but a big issue is worrying about my glasses flying off.

I realize these are all petty complaints, especially in return for being able to clearly see, a gift that many people in the developing world — or even poor people in our own first world — don’t have the luxury of complaining about. But I won’t apologize for complaining about this. And assuming everything goes well today, I won’t have to anymore.

I’ve been thinking about getting LASIK corrective surgery for years, but I kept putting it off for various reason. It was too expensive, or too inconvenient to take a couple days off work for the recovery, or it was just plain too scary to think of some quack firing an energy beam into my one and only pair of baby browns. On some level, I think I felt that I didn’t really deserve to do it because my motivation was vanity. I’ve always thought cosmetic surgery was largely unjustified, and what is this if not another form of cosmetic surgery?

Then a couple weeks ago, I opened the dishwasher right after it completed its cycle and got a faceful of steam. Naturally, my glasses fogged over, leaving me completely blind for 30 seconds or so… and that was the final straw. I didn’t get angry or anything, but I just decided right then and there that I was sick of wearing these damn things. My optometrist had mentioned on my last visit that I was a good candidate for LASIK if I wanted to consider it, but I hadn’t followed through on his referral. Now I was ready. So I scheduled an evaluation with Hoopes Vision, the most-often namechecked LASIK provider in Utah, and — to cut at long last to the chase — I’m going in today at 1:30 to have the procedure.

I’ll be honest, I’m nervous as hell. The first image that jumped into my mind once my appointment was confirmed was this:

Goldfinger laser

Followed closely by this:

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve had LASIK — it’s funny how once you start talking about something like this, fellow travelers seem to come out of the woodwork — and with only one or two exceptions, nobody has reported any problems at all, and even the ones who had a setback told me they didn’t regret doing the surgery in the end. But still… lasers… in the eyes… I don’t really think I’ll end up with smoking craters where my eye sockets used to be, but…

Sometimes a vivid imagination is a real curse.

Funny thing, though: the day of my evaluation appointment, a few hours after I got home from the clinic, I was leaving the bathroom and reached out to turn off the lights when I heard something clunk into the waste basket and suddenly my vision went blurry. It turned out the frame of my glasses had spontaneously snapped and one of the lens had tumbled into the trash. Now, if that wasn’t some kind of a sign, I don’t know what is…


This Was Unexpected

So I’m at work right now, proofreading a monstrous technical report about online security, and I was just caught completely off-guard by this passage in the report’s introduction:

One final note before we dive into the breaches: The [XYZ] team wished to mark the passing of Leonard Nimoy, as that event came during the creation of this report. We will all miss his humor, talent, and inspiration.

I guess it’s not such a surprising thing to include, considering the milieu from which this report originated (the IT field), but still… he really did make quite an impact, didn’t he?


Mojo Needs Our Help!

Remember that video clip I posted a while back showing how the 1978 Battlestar Galactica might look with modern digital effects? If you’ll recall, that demo was created by a dude named Adam “Mojo” Lebowitz, a very talented visual-effects artist whose work has enlivened many well-loved sci-fi properties in recent years: the TV series Babylon 5, Star Trek: Voyager and Deep Space Nine, the theatrical film Serenity, and the director’s cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that was released to DVD. He also notoriously accepted an Emmy for his work on Ron Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica while wearing a Colonial Warrior outfit from the original Galactica.

Well, I saw this morning on The Digital Bits, a DVD/BluRay news blog I follow, that Mojo is in a bad place right now and could really use some of the geek community’s legendary compassion and generosity:

For the last couple of years, Mojo has been suffering from chronic, debilitating pain that’s made it hard for him to work regularly. This led him into an unfortunate pain-killer addiction after a doctor prescribed opiates as a treatment without really investigating the cause. Needless to say, Mojo’s been in a downward spiral. The good news is that he’s finally checked himself into the Glendale Adventist Medical Center for treatment. The bad news is that he’s been diagnosed with Peripheral Neuropathy – essentially it’s severe nerve damage that results in chronic phantom pain, numbness, tingling and burning sensations in his limbs, tremors and lack of coordination. It’s not curable, but it is treatable with the proper medical supervision. But while Mojo has been recommended to a secondary treatment center by the specialists, it turns out that his crappy health insurance isn’t going to cover it. And because he hasn’t been able to work much in the last year, he’s broke and he’s in danger of being kicked out of his apartment. So Mojo desperately needs financial help. His friends (myself included) are doing what they can, but I wanted to throw out the word to all of you in the online film geek community.


If you’ve enjoyed Mojo’s work over the years, if you appreciated his efforts to try and get Battlestar Galactica Remastered going, if you simply enjoyed the clip he produced above – if that’s worth something to you – please consider sending him $10, $20, whatever you can (and feel like) chipping in via PayPal (to: It may literally be the difference between Mojo getting back on his feet or being homeless. By the way, you can visit him here on Facebook, where he often posts CG renderings and other interesting things.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not personally know Mojo, although I’ve had a couple of brief exchanges with him on Facebook, and he seems like a pretty cool guy. But I do enjoy his work, even though I’m on record as preferring the old-fashioned miniature and matte-painting FX techniques I grew up with to modern CGI. Mojo’s stuff seems far less, well, “digital” than a lot of the effects you see these days, especially on television. To my eye, his starships look almost as solid and massive as those created with physical models, and I know he spent a lot of time on that Battlestar demo trying to get the vapor trails from the Vipers’ turbo engines to look like the practical effects that were done in 1978. You have to admire that level of craftsmanship and passion for the project.

Also, I really despise the way American society positions so many people one illness away from living in a cardboard box. It’s not right, and it’s not fair that people who have bigger things to worry about have to live with that kind of fear. So, for all those reasons, I’m going to throw a sawbuck Mojo’s way. It’s the least I can do for a fellow human being who also happens to have contributed to so many of my obsessions. And I’d like to ask that everyone reading this do the same, even if you can only spare a couple bucks. Skip your Starbucks run today and help out a brother. And if you have a blog or some social media presence, spread the word…