Playa Notes

This week’s “zombie” post reminded me that writing this blog can be fun, and it occurred to me that, lately, this blog has had more emphasis on the “serious” and less on the “silly”. And the last thing I want this blog to be is something that makes people think, “Jeez, that guy’s gotten so preachy – what happened to the days when Terry was fun?”

I like to think that this blog is just a reflection of my real life, and I try to write as truthfully and transparently as possible. And the space I’m in on my journey does seem to place a lot of emphasis on the spiritual, on admitting my human frailty and flaws, on the awakening consciousness — and all that shit. But as evidenced by that last sentence, I like to laugh, I like to be offbeat, and I like to be weird. And I don’t want to lose sight of that just because I happen to be growing up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

So it is with this in mind that I give you — the random musings jotted down in my little pink journal that I carried with me everywhere at Burning Man this year. Similar to last year’s “P.S. Bullet Points” post, these notes are occasionally cryptic even to me, but most are linked to one-of-a-kind experiences that will never come my way again, thus making them priceless memories. Read On


Wannabe Zombie

Zombies are my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. I know there is utter silliness at the core of zombielore but I can’t help it. I just enjoy it so much. I love zombie movies, love zombie fiction – one of my favorite TV shows is “The Walking Dead”, which is set in the zombie apocalypse. And the zombie apocalypse itself is the perfect marriage of two of my favorite genres: tales of the undead, and tales about the end of the world.

The website transformed my facebook profile pic into a work of ghoulish art.

I grew up on monster movies. Back in the 70’s, Oregon had a local television station that would broadcast old 50’s horror films late on Saturday nights on a program called “Sinister Cinema”, and that is how I was introduced to Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman… all the classics. I would stay up (or try to stay up) and watch these movies, for they fascinated me in ways that I didn’t understand then, and don’t totally understand now.

By the time I was 13, I’d seen all sorts of scary movies, retro and modern, and thought there was nothing I hadn’t seen before. Vampires, aliens, creatures, slashers — they all entertained me. Then one Halloween, I caught an airing of “Night of the Living Dead” on TV, and was forever changed. Good lord, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The dead — coming back to life! Terrorizing the living! Eating their flesh! It was crazy, low budget, black-and-white, and totally, absurdly horrifying. Did they really make a movie that featured a child eating her mother?

Since then, I’ve seen all the sequels, all the tributes, all the knock-offs. I’ve enjoyed the resurgence of zombie stories in the last decade, and when newer stories featured zombies that didn’t stagger along slow and stupid, but could move swiftly and run fast, my interest only increased. I have come to accept that zombie stories satisfy some weird craving I have for macabre entertainment. So when I saw that a local theater group in Orange County was putting on a stage version of the George Romero classic story, I was all in. Read On

The Lunch Box Oracle

If a kid’s lunch box reveals something about their future personality development, then for me, the writing was on the wall pretty early: I was gonna be an odd guy.

Back when I was young, lunch boxes were metal, rectangular containers, like miniature suitcases, usually with an accompanying thermos for a beverage. The paint used to decorate them was probably lead based and fully toxic, but they were cool, they were fun, and they were much sturdier than the old brown paper sack option.

Go on eBay and you can find classic, retro lunch boxes going for hundreds of dollars to grownups yearning to possess them, either for the sentimental value or to add to a collection of related memorabilia. It’s not often that I see children with the metal rectangular suitcase lunch boxes anymore – nowadays it seems everyone is going for the miniature thermal coolers or flexible nylon bags to take their lunches to school, complete with frozen ice packs and plastic bottles to hold the beverage. No themes, no characters, no imagination – but the Gogurt stays cold.

I remember having lunch box envy. Some kids had superheroes like Batman or Superman or The Incredible Hulk on theirs. Some kids had their favorite baseball or football teams on them. Some kids had them with cartoon characters or favorite TV shows. They might change each year, the kids coming to school in September with a new box bearing a different theme; and some kids just kept the same one year after year. They were a reflection of the kids’ interests, their hobbies, their characters.

I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but the lunch box I ended up with was adorned with images of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Kids actually saw me carrying my lunch in this.

As the youngest of four kids, I was the recipient of a lot of hand-me-down stuff – clothes, toys, butt-kickings…  But I honestly don’t remember any of my siblings ever using this lunch box. Which means I must have gotten it new. I have no memory of picking it out; I have no memory of requesting it. I didn’t even know who the hell Jonathan Livingston Seagull was. If I had a hand in selecting this lunch box, I’ve clearly blocked out the memory.

I remember seeing the paperback book when I was little. The book had a different design than the one on the lunchbox, and someone in my family had brought a copy of it into the house at some point. I knew nothing about the story, but at the time assumed it was a tale about certain sea birds. I had no interest in reading it, and in fact, did not read it at all until I was in my twenties – and then only because I realized I had no idea what the hell the book was about, and wanted to satisfy my curiosity about why on earth someone bought me that lunch box in the first place.

After reading it, I still didn’t know why I had that lunch box. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just a straight story; it was more like a fable, in that it had a “message”. I thought the message was pretty lame at the time, but that is more a commentary on where I was, spiritually, than any slight against the book itself.

The book is about a seagull (named Jonathan, of course) that grows tired of conforming to the limitations of traditional seagull life – wanting to give up the daily food squabbles in favor of perfecting his flying skills. In return for his lack of conformity, he is booted out of his flock. He continues to pursue greater flight goals on his own, and is eventually introduced to a new society of gulls who take him to a higher plane of existence. He meets a wise seagull who becomes his teacher, and he learns the importance of being true to himself. His teacher’s last words to him are “keep working on love.” Jonathan finally comes to understand that the spirit cannot be free without the ability to forgive.

As I mentioned, when I first read the story I was appalled that I had been duped into reading what ended up being a story “with a message” – it felt like propaganda at the time. “Sentimental hogwash”, as old man Potter would have said. I was so defensive against anything remotely spiritual, likely because at the time I was spiritually bankrupt. But it was fairly easy to ridicule the novella – I mean, it was a story about birds seeking self-improvement, after all.

Of course, I now see that – however simplistic or banal the book might have been – the message it carried is universal. I get it today. It’s a message that could benefit anyone and everyone: forgiveness yields freedom.

But my inner child says “Come on, honestly – could a six year old be expected to get that? Who picked out this damn lunch box?” (Yes, my inner child casually swears a lot.)  “I want to know whose idea that was! Hey – I loved cartoons – where was my Scooby-Doo lunch box? How about a Bugs Bunny or Roadrunner lunch box? Flintstones? Jetsons? Was anyone paying attention to what I was actually interested in? I just wanna know who picked Jonathan Freakin’ Livingston Seagull!” (Apparently, my inner child is also a bit of a punk.)

Given the lessons I’ve received in the last few years, and how they resonated with me – hit me at my core – it would seem that the instruction to “keep working on love” is a message I was meant to receive at some point during this lifetime. It just seems strange that the message would technically be conveyed to me through something as ridiculous as a child’s lunch box. I suppose it’s better than a Magic Eight Ball. I am reminded of another message that I’ve received very recently: “We don’t get to choose the messenger”.

Maybe it’s one of those “it wasn’t the lunch box that I wanted, but it was the lunch box I needed” scenarios. Perhaps nobody picked it. Perhaps it picked me. It seems kinda cool when I look at it that way.

A Scooby-Doo lunch box would have been a lot cooler, though. I’m just sayin’.


My Weekend (As It Would Appear in Facebook Status Updates)

Terry Parker is going to the grocery store on a Friday night. Can’t say he doesn’t know how to party.

Terry Parker can’t find the soup aisle.

Terry Parker is disappointed they are out of his favorite sugar free tropical popsicles and has to content himself with a box of the regular cherry-grape-orange variety instead.

Terry Parker knows he will soon have a bunch of orange popsicles left untouched in his freezer.

Terry Parker isn’t very good at shopping and talking on the phone at the same time.

Terry Parker is renting videos from Redbox.

Terry Parker is wondering why the checkout girl and the bag girl are so surly, and wants to ask them to smile but is afraid of appearing to be the pervy old dude trying to hit on the young chicks.

Terry Parker notices that the young grocery chicks both smile at the younger man who was next in line behind him.

Terry Parker thinks those grocery bitches should get over themselves, they’re not so hot.

Terry Parker has a visitor, and is aware he can count on one hand the number of times he has had a non-family-member visitor at his home in the past year.

Terry Parker is up past his bedtime.

Terry Parker says goodbye to his friend and intends to go straight to bed.

Terry Parker doesn’t go straight to bed.

Terry Parker realizes he has to be up in four hours and goes to bed.

Terry Parker hits the snooze button four times.

Terry Parker thinks it is a crime against nature to have to get up this early on a Saturday.

Terry Parker cannot get enough coffee.

Terry Parker is driving to Pasadena.

Terry Parker witnesses remarkably beautiful acts of generosity and brotherly love.

Terry Parker is leaving Pasadena and wants a taco in the worst way.

Terry Parker begins the Couch Film Festival with “Zombieland”.

Terry Parker wishes Emma Stone was his neighbor. Also he wishes he was having sex with his neighbor.

Terry Parker thinks that the plausibility of the hero arriving just in time to save the girls from the voracious zombies was pretty thin.

Terry Parker recognizes that discussing “plausibility” in relation to a zombie film is pretty ridiculous.

Terry Parker is eating bratwurst with organic mustard and is unable to finish it while the zombie film is playing.

Terry Parker tries to write a blog entry, but is feeling uninspired and walks away from the computer without having written a word.

Terry Parker continues the film festival with “Iron Man 2”. He can’t remember how the first “Iron Man” ended. He soon realizes it doesn’t matter.

Terry Parker suddenly remembers his kids left a Snickers bar and some peanut M&Ms in the cupboard, and feels like dancing a jig.

Terry Parker naps briefly during IM2 but chooses not to rewind to see what he missed.

Terry Parker exchanges text messages with his son who has no interest in the movie his dad is watching.

Terry Parker realizes an unintended coincidence:  the next film for the afternoon – “Sherlock Holmes” – also features “Iron Man’s” Robert Downey Jr.

Terry Parker makes a big-ass plate of nachos and realizes he is being an enormous pig.

Terry Parker thinks Robert Downey Jr. has a very believable British accent in this movie.

Terry Parker wishes Robert Downey Jr. was his neighbor. Also he wishes – never mind.

Terry Parker has watched three movies on a Saturday – something he hasn’t done in at least a decade. He’s also gained three pounds in one day – something he hasn’t done since Thanksgiving.

Terry Parker needs to return the movies to Redbox and wishes he had chosen a location closer to home.

Terry Parker decides to go to Blockbuster to rent additional movies.

Terry Parker thinks the “franchise reboot” of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” could have been much, much better if Freddy didn’t talk so much. He was much scarier in the original version when he barely said a word.

Terry Parker remembers the night he saw the very first “Elm Street” as a teenager and how he didn’t sleep well at all that night because the original Freddy was so utterly creepy.

Terry Parker went to bed after the movie was over, and had no trouble sleeping.

Terry Parker is grateful to be able to sleep in on a Sunday.

Terry Parker had coffee and a breakfast burrito and more coffee.

Terry Parker tries again to write an entry for his blog, but is still having trouble finding enough interest in anything to write about.

Terry Parker watched “The Crazies” and was pleasantly surprised at what a well-made film it actually is.

Terry Parker decides he should do something productive with his time, and decides to clean his office.

Terry Parker gets sidetracked looking at photos of his kids, but eventually gets the office completed.

Terry Parker folds his laundry.

Terry Parker does yoga in his living room.

Terry Parker showers and dresses and hits the couch for another movie.

Terry Parker thinks “The Hurt Locker” is unbelievably tense and can not imagine being in Iraq.

Terry Parker says a silent prayer for the men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

Terry Parker exchanges more texts with his son, who informs him that they dissected owl vomit in school on Friday.

Terry Parker wonders how the school district was able to procure owl vomit in large enough quantities to allow for student dissection.

Terry Parker prepares his breakfast, lunch, and dinner for tomorrow in an effort to mitigate the pain and hassle of Monday.

Terry Parker checks his e-mail.

Terry Parker tries again to come up with something to write for his blog entry, but is drawing a complete blank.

Terry Parker kills time perusing Facebook, looking at how his friends have spent their weekend–

Terry Parker has an idea.


Tis the Season for Horror and Madness

The lunatic on the street corner should have been the strangest sight of the evening, but he wasn’t.

The show started at 11:00 pm, and we had half an hour to kill after we found parking right on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. I needed coffee because I was out past my bedtime, but in this part of town, there were not a lot of coffee establishments within walking distance. We spotted a pizza place about half a mile down and decided to try our luck there.

Nearing the intersection of Lankershim and Vineland, we passed a bus stop where a man was bent over a bike and talking to himself. I glanced at him so briefly that I didn’t even have time to register anything about his appearance, other than he seemed young, in his twenties. But in that split second that I glanced at him, he looked at me, and I saw the insanity brewing in those eyes. As we passed the spot where he stood, I heard him say, “Don’t fuckin’ look at me.”

The bus stop where this gentleman loitered was right at the corner of an awkward intersection of three streets instead of two, which meant  that the crossing signal would take a long time to change. In other words, we were stuck standing a mere ten feet away from the charming man with the crazy eyes and sunny demeanor.

We kept our backs to him and ignored him while we waited for the light to change and allow us to cross. As we stood there, he muttered and raved and spoke in tongues – or at least it sounded like he was speaking in tongues; my hearing was never stellar, and coupled with the roar of traffic going by, it was hard to catch everything he said. I believe I heard him say something about fucking me up, which was odd because shortly afterward I heard him say something about how nice my ass looked in the jeans I was wearing. While I was prepared to fight should it become necessary, I have to admit it is flattering to be complimented by young twenty-somethings – I mean, it doesn’t happen often at my age.

He went on with lots of swearing and lots of sexual braggadocio – soon he was commenting on the attractive woman shown on the billboard across the street and what forms of sweet love he would make with her – love that involved lots of hitting, apparently. My friend just chuckled and glanced back at the man, and made a comment about demons or something – I didn’t hear what he said, exactly, as I was busy calculating all the different ways this encounter could go wrong.

Fortunately, however, the light changed and we made our way across the busy street and reached the pizza place, where they made a fresh pot of coffee just for us. On our return journey, the madman was nowhere to be found, and I was both relieved and disappointed. It is rare that I encounter actual madness these days, and I admit the thrill-seeker in me was hoping for another glimpse into it.

Our destination was Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre for the night’s showing of “Urban Death”, a performance that, as it turned out, was unlike any live performance I have seen. Entering the building, the smell of incense and candles indicated this was not going to be a typical theater-going experience (as if the name of the show did not indicate this clearly). We were near the end of the line of about forty people who were led in to a very, very small theater – the stage and seating area combined were not much bigger than my living room. We ended up in the back row, but since there were only four rows, it wasn’t really a problem.

The room was entirely black. It was filled with eerie synthesized music from a sound system that had sufficient bass to vibrate my bones but was not overpowering at all – it set the mood perfectly. The only light was a bright lamp in the corner that was positioned behind a mannequin in a red dress, standing with her head slumped to her chest and arms dangling down, her frizzy blonde hair obscuring her features. She looked like a doll waiting to be wound up. The light was filtered through her red dress, casting a bloody glow into the room.

The audience got settled, some going to the far corner of the room where the only bathroom was located. As we waited, a woman went to the four walls of the theater and appeared to be carving something into them. When she finished the wall I was sitting by, I looked at what she did – she had made a little cross in white tape. For a moment, I honestly wondered if it was to ward off evil spirits.

Something caught my attention, and I glanced back at the mannequin in the corner. There was something not right about it. The light was so dim that my eyes were having trouble adjusting, and combined with the eerie music filling the room, the cognitive dissonance was increased. The mannequin seemed like it was changed somehow. Different from when we walked in.

The eerie music continued to set a discordant mood, and the only thing that kept the energy in the room light was the casual chatter of the audience members waiting for the show to begin. I realized that the theater workers were waiting for the remaining audience members in the restroom to finish their business and take their seats.

I glanced back at the mannequin, and she moved slightly but suddenly, as though jolted by an electric shock. The effect was enough to make some goosebumps break out on my arms as I realized that this was no mannequin but a real woman who had been standing in the corner the whole time as the audience filed in. Every half minute or so, she would move in a sudden, slight jerk that seemed like she was being operated by remote control. It was sufficiently creepy to both delight and unsettle me.

As show time neared, her movements got more pronounced and more frequent, until finally, when the last audience member left the restroom and the theater manager slid the giant door closed, sealing us in the black room, the blonde woman in the red dress was standing in a pose that somehow made me think of Lady Gaga on a meat hook.

Then the lights went out, and we were plunged into darkness. For a moment the only things visible were little glowing crosses on the walls, and I realized the woman who was warding off evil spirits was actually posting glow-in-the-dark tape on the walls for the performers to use as some sort of visual guide – for with the lights out, the room was utter blackness. I mean can’t-see-hand-in-front-of-face blackness.

The next hour was filled with vignettes and images that alternated between startlingly horrific, hilariously twisted, and genuinely creepy. If I tried to describe them here, it would likely put you off your lunch, but trust me when I say that the scenes covered the full spectrum of the human horror experience: ghosts and ghouls, axe-wielding psychopaths, witches and monsters, cannibalism, genital-mutilation, things that snatch you and drag you into the darkness, and baby showers.

I found myself jolted in my seat one minute, laughing out loud the next, and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up soon after that. I never knew what was coming next – whether it be a laugh or a scream – and the production kept the audience off balance that way. The sound preceding a vignette was often the only indicator of whether the scene would be of the humorous or the horrific variety – and even then, there were no guarantees.

The best moments were the ones that left the true horror to the imagination, and looking back, I realize that what we were actually shown was minimal – my mind provided the rest. In that way, the performance was brilliant. The over-the-top, shock-and-nauseate moments were fun for a Halloween-time vibe, but the moments where we were left to supply our own context were very effective in leaving fearsome images in my mind that stayed with me on the drive home. As a fan of horror movies, comedy, and all things bizarre, this show was right in my wheelhouse. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

As we stepped out the theater door back onto the sidewalk, red and blue police lights flashed in the night. Two cop cars and four officers gathered across the street, their spotlights flooding the streetcorner. A bicycle lay on the sidewalk, and a shirtless man was on his knees, hands cuffed behind his back, being questioned by two officers while the other two were inspecting the contents of a backpack.

It was the young man we encountered earlier, the lunatic with the crazy eyes. He didn’t look crazy now, he looked small, and somehow broken. He looked scared.

We walked the other way, to our car. I thought about that man, and our encounter with him, and how my friend mentioned “demons” at the time. The man was troubled, obviously. I thought about the demons he is fighting – demons of addiction, demons of mental illness, demons of a wounded heart. I’ve battled those same demons in my life; I recognize the fear he must be feeling. I have faced that same fear. Maybe that’s why horror stories, movies, and plays appeal to me so much: they are all, essentially, farce. Nothing in a book, stage or screen is as terrifying as the darkness inside a man.


P.S. Bullet Points

I know I said I had posted my final comments on Burning Man, but while unpacking my gear from the trip, I came across the little notebook I kept in my backpack during my time in Black Rock City. I carried it with me so that if I encountered something or someone that I wanted to remember, I could write it down in the book.

In reading through my notes, some of them are so cryptic I can’t recall what exactly they were referring to. Some, on the other hand, are quite clear (to me, anyway) and the memories associated with them are priceless.

But the collection of thoughts and words looks so intriguingly bizarre on paper that I thought I would share them here. So here you have it: my Burning Man experience described in bullet points: Read On


Rave Review

I know that hundreds of thousands of people have been to Burning Man before me. My attendance at the 25th Burn this year is certainly nothing new or noteworthy to anyone but me – I’ll stipulate this up front, so that my incessant commentary over the coming days is grounded in the awareness that yes, I know I keep talking about it and yes, I know you’re likely sick of hearing about it. So we’ve gotten that out of the way. We cool? Good.

So yeah, Burning Man – wow. There was just so much. Too much to write about in one sitting. My mind was blown about six hours after I arrived Tuesday morning. Then the sun went down, and my rational mind just checked out for about the next two days. I got my awareness back by Thursday and just had the most awesome time. Read On