Wednesday, August 24, 2011

As Subtle as a Love Gun

"Paul Stanley is sick of KISS." - Paul Rudd, Role Models

I was in fifth grade when the the rock supergroup KISS exploded upon the American music scene in 1975, amid smashing guitars and blistering pyrotechnics. KISS actually formed in '73, but it wasn't until the release of the album Alive! that they became the pop culture/glam rock Gods that they Gene Simmons believes they are to this very day.

Because of the timing, I went directly from being a fan of the Brady Bunch to a Love Gun-wielding soldier in the KISS Army. One would think that I could've transitioned through some sort of pop culture halfway house, say, the Partridge Family or the Bay City Rollers, but no. It was "Sunshine day, everybody's smilin'" one day, "It's cold gin time again" the next. It's probably a good thing the Bradys and KISS never overlapped in the public consciousness, because the Brady Bunch episode featuring Davy Jones would've had a whole different dynamic if the ex-Monkee had been replaced by circa 1975 Gene Simmons. I doubt Mrs. Brady would've been so enthusiastic about her daughter's "prom date."

After much begging and cajoling, my parents bought me the Alive! album for Christmas. I don't think my father had ever heard KISS's music at this point, he was more the Roger Miller "King of the Road" type, but KISS's Kabuki-makeup and blood-spitting, fire-breathing antics caused him to make some grossly unfair assumptions about the band's potential negative influence on his 10 year-old son.
The first sign of trouble came when he walked into my room with "Nothin' to Lose" blaring through the speakers.
Before I had a baby, didn't care anyway
Thought about the back door, didn't know what to say . . .
He entered my room, hands covering his ears. "What's that crap you're listening to?"
"Uh, the KISS album. Why?"
"Thought about the back door?" he quoted. "What do you think that means?"
"He's trying to get her attention and she's not answering the front door?"
Believe it or not, I was serious. I was a pretty naive kid, and it's not like I was analyzing the lyrical underpinnings of the Simmons-Stanley songbook anyway. That would come later, and boy, was I surprised when I found out what "Plaster Caster" was all about. But that one was still three albums away.
"Yes, exactly right, he's ringing her front doorbell. Enjoy the music," Dad muttered as he walked out, shutting the door behind him.
This was also about the time my dad heard the ridiculous rumor that the name KISS was actually an acronym for "Knights in Satan's Service", and that the band members were devil-worshipers. Come on, how could anyone believe such nonsense?
I patiently explained to Dad that, according to the February 1976 edition of the KISS Army Newsletter, Paul Stanley came up with the name "KISS" because it was a simple, one word moniker that everyone could identify with. Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter were definitely not Satanists.
But damn, Gene, you're really tough to defend sometimes.
By the time Alive II came out three years later, I was a full-fledged KISSmaniac. I dressed as Peter Criss for Halloween, owned the entire KISS-cography, and faithfully scooped up any issue of Circus, Rolling Stone, or People (yep, People) magazine that the boys appeared in. I dreamed of the day that my Dad would let me attend my first KISS concert. It was a tough sell. Love Gun tour, 1978? Not a chance. Dynasty tour, 1980? No way.
Eventually, however, I wore him down and he gave me the go-ahead.
In 1996. The Reunion Tour. I was 31.
By today's standards, KISS music is pretty tame. Double entendres abound, and no one's going to call Paul Stanley subtle ("You make me rock hard, baby all night. My love's a glove and you fit just right" is but one example), but compared to say, Eminem, even the most raunchy of KISS lyrics come off as fairly tepid.
And I'm still a fan, the entire KISS catalogue downloaded on my iPod (even Music from the Elder, which sold about eight copies when it came out in '81). When my son was about ten, I recruited him into the KISS Army as well. Took him to a concert and everything.
The boys are still touring, too. Sure, Peter and Ace have been given the boot (again), but Gene, Paul, and a couple other guys are still rockin' and rollin' all night and partyin' every day.
Dad's still convinced they're the minions of Satan.


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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quelfian Quips

My family and I love to play board games.  Monopoly is a favorite among some of us, even though most of the time the game ends with everybody hating each other.  We also enjoy Apples to Apples, Wits and Wagers, and Scrabble.  But recently, we discovered a game that surpasses all others in terms of hilarity, humiliation, and outright lunacy.

It's called Quelf.

The object of the game is simple.  You roll the die, move your piece, draw a card from the deck that matches the color of the space you landed on, and do what the card says.  The fun comes from the fact that the cards tell you to do ridiculous things, such as:

Every time an opponent laughs, you must slap your knee and say "Waka, waka, waka."

Go fill a bowl with water.  Now, soak your left hand in the bowl until your next turn.

Every sentence you speak for the rest of the game must end with, " . . . hear me, for I have spoken!"

The last time my family played, Theresa's son Doug finished the game wearing a sweat sock as a necktie.  And also lipstick.

It's not really a game for people who are shy or self-conscious.

When we first brought Quelf home, we noticed the list of contents on the back of the box: 

440 cards in five different categories
1 awesome Quelf game board
1 pad of paper and player guide
1 die and 1 thirty-second timer
8 character game pieces
1 giant invisible harpoon - it's invisible for a reason, use it wisely.

That's right, a giant invisible harpoon.  My family being what it is, my dad immediately said, "You know Chris, you should write the company and tell them that our invisible harpoon was broken during shipping."

So of course, I did.  I looked up the company on-line (Wiggity Bang Games) and fired off an e-mail to company president Matt Rivaldi. 

Dear Mr. Rivaldi:

I recently purchased Quelf, and let me start by saying my family and I absolutely love it.  I can honestly say that prior to our Quelf experience, no one I know has ever worn a paper towel as a mask, simultaneously worn a sock for a necktie and pink lipstick (though my dear Uncle Charlie has been known to wear them separately), or pretended to be a singing prison guard.  So thanks for that.

Here's my problem.

On the box, it says that the game includes one invisible harpoon.  Now, we were able to locate the harpoon easily enough by lightly dusting baby powder over the game pieces.  It was at that point, however, that we noticed our harpoon was broken at one end.  This must've happened at some point during the shipping process.

If we could get a replacement harpoon, that would be wonderful.


We all had a good laugh, and didn't give our invisible harpoon situation another thought until a few weeks later when I received a response. 

Hi Chris,

Don't think we are ignoring your message.  Our CIHE's (Certified Invisible Harpoon Engineers) are looking into the problem.  These things are supposed to be indestructible . . . obviously they are not.  As soon as we get our report back, we'll let you know what we can do for you, but rest assured we'll make it right. 

Maybe it would help if you could take a picture of it to show our engineers.

Sincerely Wiggity,
Matthew Rivaldi
President, Wiggity Bang Games, LLC

"Take a picture of it," he says.  I want to work for this guy.

So I carefully placed the invisible harpoon (the shaft and the broken tip) on our dining room table and snapped a picture.

I attached the photo file to another email that read:

Dear Mr. Rivaldi,

Thank you for your prompt reply.  As you requested, I'm sending a photograph of our broken harpoon.  As you can clearly see, the business end is snapped right off.  I hope this will help your engineers devise a way to keep the invisible harpoons from breaking, as no one wants to play Quelf without them.

Looking forward to your response.

This whole invisible harpoon fiasco came to an end just the other day when I received a package via the United States Postal Service.  It was a tube about four feet long with a warning label: INVISIBLE HARPOON ENCLOSED.  BE CAREFUL WHEN OPENING MAILING TUBE.

I have to hand it to the Wiggity Bang people.  They are true to their word.

You can buy your own Quelf set at most department stores, and also through the Wiggity Bang website. 

Trust me, you'll have a blast.

But please.  Be careful with the invisible harpoon.


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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Designated Driver

I'm not much of a drinker.  Sure, I'll have an occasional beer during the ball game, or a couple frou-frou beverages at a restaurant (the Wallaby Darned at Outback Steakhouse is a personal favorite) but, generally speaking, I can buy a twelve-pack of Coronas for the Super Bowl in February and polish off the last two or three at our Fourth of July barbecue.

This was not always the case.

My first few years of college, at least my fuzzy recollection of them, were spruced with regular weekends (and by "regular" I of course mean "every friggin' weekend without fail") of partying.  Actually, "party" in this case is a euphemism for "sitting around someone's living room (or dorm) getting totally sh'faced."

sh'faced /shah-FAYST/, (adj.); 1. From the American Slang term "shit-faced," meaning inebriated beyond what is normally possible in human beings.  This is caused by excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually in a group environment.  Symptoms include the inability to walk straight or speak coherently, a tendency to make embarrassing comments about one's self or others (looking at YOU, Tim Sterling), developing an unexpected sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex whom you would not normally even look twice at, and of course temporary loss of consciousness.  (ex. "You hear about Sterling?  Last night at DeNunzio's party he took off his pants, sang Who Let the Dogs Out, and then hit on DeNunzio's golden retriever.  I hope I never get THAT sh'faced.")

One night at DeNunzio's, we were playing a heated game of Quarters.  For those of you unfamiliar with this exciting pastime, here's how it works.  The players sit around the dining room table (or coffee table, or -- this is usually in college dorms -- an overturned milk crate with a large slab of plywood on top), and take turns bouncing a quarter into a highball glass of beer.  If you successfully land the quarter in the glass, you get to choose an opponent to chug the beer.  The object, of course, is to get everyone as completely sh'faced as possible.  Strategy is minimal, competition is somewhat casual, and there's not really a "winner" in any practical sense of the word.

It's not exactly chess, is what I'm saying. 

The best part of the game is when a player makes three shots in a row.  At that point, he or she gets to make up a new rule, limited only by one's creativity.  These might include:

Any player to touch his face must take a drink, even if it's not his turn.
Players must say the phrase "And awaaaaaay we go!" before taking a drink.
If you don't chug the beer all in one gulp, you have to make an obscene phone call.

I spent a lot of time engaging in this sort of activity, and I learned a lot about myself.  For example, I learned that the first part of my particular brain to be affected by alcohol is the part that figures out when you've had too much to drink.  I would chug beer after beer, and at no time did any of my synapses shoot off a message like, Whoa there, seems like we're losing control of our large motor function and relying much too heavily on words like "dude" and "bro" when conversing with others.  Maybe it's time to slow down a little.  No, I would drink myself into oblivion, a quality that earned me the nickname "The Pass-Out Kid," also known as POK, also known as "Paco."

All of which brings us to our public service message, which is as follows:  If you're going to be incredibly stupid and irresponsible with your alcohol intake, for God's sake do not get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

Not long after I got my driver's license, my father invited me out to the garage for a heart-to-heart.  The gist of it was, "I know you're going to college soon and you'll probably have a few drinks from time to time.  When that happens, do NOT try to drive home or get in a car with someone else who's been drinking.  Give me a call, no matter how late, and I'll come get you.  No lecture, no questions asked."

It sounded like a trap, but as I got older I realized why he offered that type of "immunity."  My dad knew that if I was worried about getting in trouble for drinking, I might try to hide it from him.  This could lead to driving under the influence and putting my life at risk.  It just wasn't worth it.

Despite what you may think, especially after what I've already told you, my friends and I were pretty responsible and knew there were precautions we needed to take to protect ourselves from, well, ourselves.  Therefore, we always appointed a designated driver or two.  Most times, our system involved a sort of "shuttle service."  We attended a very small local college, and all of us still lived at home with our parents.  At the end of the night, the designated drivers would load up their cars with "fallen soldiers," take them home, and in most cases help them get to their bedrooms undetected.

Not everyone's father has a "no questions asked" policy.

Anyway, on one particular evening at DeNunzio's, our activities wrapped up around one in the morning.  The designated drivers made their rounds, and before long everyone was home safe and sound.

Except of course for Paco who, since he was passed out in a hammock in the back yard, had gone undetected until DeNunzio literally stumbled into him while picking up the empty Budweiser bottles strewn all over the lawn.

"Dude, what are you still doing here?" he asked.


"Everyone left an hour ago, how are you gonna get home now?"

"Dunno.  I prob'ly shouldn't drive, though, huh?"  I said.

"Uh, no.  And I can't take you home either, 'cause I'm still buzzed.  Better call someone, dude."

Time to take Dad up on his offer.  At two o'clock in the morning.  After three attempts and three extremely pissed off wrong-number recipients, I successfully dialed my home phone number.  Dad answered on the third ring.


"Hi Pop.  'Member how you said if I was ever drunk and needed a ride you'd come an' ge' me?  Well, uh, I think I need that now."

"Sure, where are you?"


"What's the address?"

"I dunno."


Dad chuckled softly, and said, "Well, I'm going to need you to get it.  It'll make it easier for me to find you."

"Oh, right.  Hang on."  I got the address from DeNunzio and gave it to my father.  He arrived twenty minutes later, poured me into the passenger seat of his car, and took me home.  As promised, there was no lecture about the dangers of drinking, no threats of confiscating my car keys, nothing but comfortable silence until we had a brief emergency about a mile from our house.

"Dad, I think I need you to pull over."

Knowing what was coming, he skidded to a stop on the side of the road.  I opened the door and leaned out.


I wiped my mouth on the sleeve of my Police t-shirt (Synchronicity tour, 1982), sat up, and fastened my seat belt.  We got home a minute or two later, and that was the end of it.

Well, almost.

At 6:30 the next morning, I was awakened by a loud knock on my door.  In fact, "loud" doesn't really capture it.  Given my extremely hungover condition, it sounded like a SWAT team was taking down my bedroom wall with a battering ram.

"Chris, come on!  Time to get up!  Let's go get your car!"  My dad said no lectures, no grounding.  This was neither.

A loophole, apparently.

"Go 'way!" I growled from my bed.

"Let's go, don't have all day!"  BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG, the knocking continued.  I swear I heard giggling.

"Okay, okay!" I said, gathering my faculties to the limited extent possible.  "Gimme a minute!"

We drove back to DeNunzio's and got my car.

Dad has always had the knack for handling things in just the right way, and because he gave me a certain amount of freedom as a teenager -- with a safety net -- I was able to learn from my mistakes without getting in any real trouble or putting myself in danger.

Thanks, Pop, I appreciate it.

But watch your back.  One of these days, I might come pounding on your door at six in the morning.

On a Sunday.

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