Rob Hughes thought his kid was a genius–or, if not a genius, at least a very smart boy. Aaron was only five years old and already he could tie his shoes, count to 120, identify pictures of animals in books and recognize the constellation of Orion. Sure, he referred to it as `Oh-wyan,’ but he knew it when he saw it.
Aaron was possessed of a powerful imagination, one which was sometimes frustrating to Rob, particularly when it clashed with reality as he knew it. But imagination and belief can be a powerful thing. Civilizations have risen and fallen due to it. Rob Hughes is about to learn a few lessons about the power of belief, and of the thing that feeds on it, stalking the woods near his in-laws’ farm.
This recorded live reading was captured on August 21, 2015, during a signing event at the Book Mart & Cafe in downtown Starkville, MS.
LINKS TO HOW TOPICS AND BLOG ENTRIES
(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection.)
As I’ve written before, owning a TARDIS toy was something I had wanted since I was a wee lad in the 4th grade, but for many years the only TARDIS toys I ever saw were in my dreams. They existed, of course, but primarily in the UK, from where Doctor Who originated. And, in those pre-interweb days, were not on my radar at all. In the early 1990s, however, that changed.
In 1988, a Welsh model railroad company called Dapol began producing a line of Doctor Who action figures. While there had been action dolls and a TARDIS playset produced by Denys Fisher Toys in the late `70s, this was the first attempt to produce a line of action figures in a 3.75 inch G.I. Joe/Star Wars scale. This was during the sunset years of the show’s original run, just as the Sylvester McCoy era ended the show seemingly for good. So the initial run of Doctor Who toys from Dapol featured Sylvester McCoy and his companion Mel. Dapol released a number of individual Doctor Who figures as well as a variety of Daleks, which did well enough for the company. Unfortunately, the creators at Dapol in conjunction with the licensing people at the BBC, were not always so good at capturing the details of the show in the toys. For instance Dapol created and the BBC approved a figure of Davros, the power-chair-bound creator of the Daleks. The figure they made, though, possessed two whole arms instead of just the right arm with his presumably non-functional left arm tucked down into his chair housing, as per every single Davros appearance on the television show to that point. Their solution to this problem, according to an interview I read with Dapol’s president, David Boyle, from the Toys & Games special issue of Doctor Who Magazine, was to simply rip the left forearms from all produced figures in the second run and simply not make that piece in runs after. Dapol also made a green K-9 figure. Boyle says in his interview that the only reference photo the BBC sent him was of K-9 on grass, which reflected greenly in his silver finish. (The photo in question was used in Dapol’s publicity material and does indeed show a similarly green-tinted K-9, so this checks out for me. Still, the BBC licensing department saw the green sample figures and approved them readily). And, in the most glaring example of Dapol’s inattention to detail, their figure for Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor (you know, the one Doctor Who figure I had most desired to own since the age of 9) was missing a key costume element which the character on the show was renowned for possessing: his excessively long scarf. Even though the package art features it, it was missing from the figure. One might also argue they’d left off his hat, and one would be correct in this as well. But the scarf, even to this day, is the most remembered feature of the character among non-fans other than the TARDIS.
Oh, but then there was the Dapol TARDIS, which was actually part of the very first set they offered for sale, which was originally part of a limited edition 25th anniversary set, featuring the 7th Doctor, Mel, the green K-9, and a TARDIS complete with control room playset. Conceptually this was something of a dream as the TARDIS toy worked both as the TARDIS prop, with functioning doors and a blue LED that would light up and flash with the flip of a switch, but could also come apart to be reassembled into a TARDIS control room diorama complete with a central control console. The interiors of the TARDIS side panels were painted gray with sculpted white TARDIS roundels, allowing the walls to be linked together to form the interior control room walls. And the console, which both lit up and had a clear time rotor in the center that would rise and fall was a handy addition for play. Unlike the control console on TV, though, Dapol’s had five sides instead of six. Boyle says this was again down to the production stills from the show, which didn’t clearly show the number of sides. He even called the show’s producer, John Nathan Turner, to ask and, Boyle says, JNT asked him which number was easier for Dapol to produce, to which Boyle said “Five” so JNT told him to roll with that. Later, JNT was apparently angry about the inaccurate console and that Boyle hadn’t “pestered more to get the correct information.” It was then agreed that after the company had sold it’s first 10,000 units of the toy, they would have to revise it for six sides. Boyle says Dapol only ever sold 1200.
(It should be noted that Dapol was hardly the only company guilty of cheap design and construction when it came to Doctor Who toys. For instance, it took decades before ANY company was able to produce a Dalek toy that came close to matching the detail, or even the basic shape of the Daleks on the show. For every Character Options Dalek that gets the recipe right, there are dozens and dozens of processed cheese level Dalek toys that look like they were designed by someone who not only didn’t have actual photographs of the props but had been working entirely from a verbal description of a Dalek given by a person who had once seen one on TV, from across a smoky room, while on LSD. To their credit, Dapol’s Daleks, while not my favorite, got the look right.)
While initially offered in the 25th anniversary set, the Dapol TARDIS went on to be released in a number of different play sets, often with accompanying figures. However, in 1994, while the company was moving its production to a new facility, a fire at the original Dapol factory destroyed the original molds for the control console, along with much of their existing production line of Doctor Who toys. Because they’d allowed the insurance on the old building to lapse as they moved to a new building, the company was suddenly massively in debt. Rather than retool a new one, incurring more costs, Dapol just began producing TARDIS sets minus the console and downplayed the whole coming apart to form the control room feature.
My introduction to the Dapol line came from an issue of Previews in the early 1990s. (Previews is the magazine for Diamond Comic Distributiors, Inc. which was then and remains one of the major direct sales distributors for comic book shops. Comic nerds like myself would pick up Previews each month so we could see what sort of product would be on sale in our local shop in three months and be able to order accordingly.) Some of the Dapol figures, including the TARDIS, were offered for sale there and their grainy little black and white pictures were enticing to my Doctor Who starved brain. Unfortunately, they were not cheap. The 25th anniversary set retailed for 49.99 pounds, which at 1990 exchange rates was around $95. And it wasn’t like they were offered through Diamond every month. Anything beyond initial orders of new product would come with markup for import costs from the UK. So if you were able to find the toys in the US at all they were usually far pricier than your average college student can pay–especially considering the often slapdash nature of Dapol’s quality.
My local shop, the late and lamented Gun Dog Comics, did have a few of the individual figures, but I didn’t have a lot of scratch in the `90s. I think I did manage to cobble together enough to buy a K-9 from them (of the non-green variety) at some point, but a TARDIS was a few years off, when I finally found a reasonably-priced one on the previously mentioned WHONA.com. I ordered it at the same time as the resin model kit, making it my second first(ish) TARDIS.
My Dapol TARDIS is, of course, of the non-console-inclusive later day variety. As far as functionality goes, it’s pretty bare bones, with the whole opening doors and blinking silent roof lamp. However, as you can see from the pictures, Dapol didn’t go out of their way to actually sculpt a proper lamp housing from any of the various ones used on the show. Instead, it’s a bare blue LED bulb inside a clear plastic cylinder. And while the TARDIS does still come apart for assembly into the control room walls, the lack of console gave them the added incentive to stop painting the interior walls, save for the roundels. So instead of the soothing gray/white walls, they’re just TARDIS blue. As far as sculpts go, it’s one of the least impressive and minimalist of designs, probably owing to ease of production. The doors are only slightly recessed from the corner columns, the roof isn’t beveled, the windows are painted into their barely inset panes, and there is no real base to speak of other than a 1/16 inch thick plastic floor. And, much like the TARDIS props have occasionally appeared on the show, the whole thing is kind of rickety in construction. It’s four walls are held together by friction-based notch and tab hinges on the edge of each wall. The bases of the walls have fins that slide beneath other extremely thin plastic fins molded into the nearly as thin base (which I can’t imagine would hold up to actual play), and then the whole assembly is pinned by the roof, which has its own wide tabs that fit into slots in the upper edges of the doors. This means that in order to play with it as a representation of the TARDIS exterior you must hold it firmly around its walls so that the inward pressure keeps them in place, and you must never ever try to lift it by its roof light or turn it upside down, lest the roof fall off.
However, for all its many faults, it’s still a toy I would have loved to have owned in 1981 during the height of my infatuation with the PBS reruns of the show, and I would have played with it gladly as a prized possession. Unfortunately, its many faults and inattention to detail, especially when compared with other TARDISes in my collection (not to mention its lack of even an inaccurate console) lead me to give this one a solid two TARDi. It’s probably two and a half, really.
From September 29-October 14, I shall be appearing as Judge John Taylor in the Greenbrier Valley Theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Public shows run Friday and Saturday evenings during those dates, at 7:30p. We’ll also be doing daily matinees for area schools.
(An ongoing writing project in which I catalog and quantify my extensive TARDIS collection.)
With the success of Doctor Who line of toys, particularly its Electronic Flight Control TARDIS, Character Options decided to expand its figure line beyond the 9th and 10th Doctors and the other companions and characters from the 21st century incarnation of the show. Naturally, since Tom Baker is still my favorite Doctor, I had to have that one and ordered it as fast as my ebay ordering fingers could move. It’s a pretty brilliant figure, capturing the likeness and manic glee of Baker’s Doctor, along with a rubber recreation of Baker’s famous scarf (an accessory that had been infamously missing from the previous attempt at a Tom Baker action figure, the one issued by Dapol in the late 80s–though not the original Denys Fisher doll). They went on to release figures for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th Doctors as well as a 11 Doctors set timed with Matt Smith’s start as the 11th Doctor, and which included the previously unproduced Paul McGann 8th Doctor.
With a 4th Doctor in hand, I began taking photographs in the mossier sections of our yard, along with my recently purchased David Tennant TARDIS. While it did make my inner 4th grader leap for joy even he had to admit that it wasn’t as satisfying as if it was a genuine 4th Doctor TARDIS. But such a thing did not exist. A large part of me hoped that one day it would, but it seemed as distant a dream as the TARDIS toys I’d dreamed of as a kid. Even better, I dreamed on, wouldn’t it be cool if Character Options produced TARDIS toys for each of the Doctors? After all, there were several different TARDIS props over the course of the original series.
Then, in 2011, Character Options partnered with company Underground Toys to make my dream a reality–sorta. They announced that they were producing a handful of the classic TARDIS models to be packaged with the action figures for their corresponding Doctor. Except they were only going to do three of them. Included in their run would be the 1st Doctor’s TARDIS with accompanying William Hartnell figure (a new sculpt based on his first appearance as the character); a 4th Doctor’s TARDIS, complete with a Tom Baker figure (same one I already had); and the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS complete with a Sylvester McCoy 7th Doctor figure. Compared with the 21st
century TARDIS, the original series props were smaller, narrower, and very often ricketier. (Just watch Spearhead from Space to see the TARDIS practically shake apart as Jon Pertwee falls through its doors in his first appearance–watch from the 2:07 time code.) The toys matched that scale, being a bit smaller than the modern toys. The sculpts on these were basically the same barring a couple of details. The 1st Doctor TARDIS was differentiated by the St. John’s Ambulance badge on the right door–a detail that had been painted over and abandoned until Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor TARDIS would restore it in 2011. The 4th Doctor’s TARDIS was shorter due to having a flat roof instead of a tiered and pitched one. It was painted a dingier shade of blue. It’s door sign was also white letters on a black background instead of black on white. And Sylvester McCoy’s was basically the 4th Doctor’s TARDIS with the 1st Doctor’s roof, painted a lighter shade of blue. (In reality, a new and taller TARDIS prop was brought in during the later years of Baker’s run and was kept as the main prop for the next three–getting a repaint or two along the way.)
While I felt it was a lost opportunity to do a different TARDIS for each Doctor, these three were pretty representational of the classic run. Unfortunately, they were also pretty expensive. If they were available for sale in this country it was usually as imports or on ebay, where prices soared, rising up to the $80 range. I didn’t feel like I could justify buying even Baker’s, let alone all three. And the longer I sat on the decision the more expensive they became–especially Baker’s.
Finally, in 2012 or so, I stumbled on a GoHastings listing for the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS for an admirably reasonable price and grabbed it while I could. Sure, it wasn’t Baker’s flat roofed version, but truth be told I really hate the flat roof. I never noticed the roof was flat when I originally watched the series. It was only after becoming accustomed to the pitched roof of later years that caused me to be bumped by the toy’s flat roof. It’s jarring and un-TARDIS-like to me, yet ironically it is the TARDIS that I first fell in love with. In truth, the McCoy TARDIS was more in line with later day Baker, except for the lighter paint job. Out of the box and on my shelf, though, it doesn’t look nearly as bright as the image above.
The McCoy TARDIS is definitely a different creature compared to the Flight Control 10th Doctor TARDIS, mostly for the worse. I expect it’s not cheap to produce such a fine item as the Flight Control TARDIS with all its bells and whistles. The McCoy TARDIS basically just has a bell and no whistles. Now some of this is due in large part to the fact that the original TARDIS props did not have much in the way of lights. It basically had the lantern on the roof, if they were lucky. So the toy’s sole light is the lanter. Gone are the interior lights (not to mention the backdrop of the TARDIS interior). Gone is the lighting behind the Police Public Call Box signs. The toy still has TARDIS takeoff and landing sounds, but there is no spin function and no other flight sounds nor interior sounds. It’s pretty bare bones. The toy also loses some functionality in that while there is a telephone within the door cabinet beneath the left front window, the box in which it sits takes up so much space behind the door that you cannot open that door even half way. (I took mine apart and removed the phone, but then it looks odd when you open the cabinet, so I put it all back.) And I don’t know if this is universal to all copies of this toy or just mine, but while the Flight Control TARDIS features a right hand door that can be propped open and releases on a spring via a button on the interior floor, this one’s button doesn’t so much work and the right hand door is difficult to close flush with the housing. (I basically have to smack the face of it into my hand to let gravity and force to do the work of closing it.)
The McCoy figure that came with it is actually my favorite version of the character’s costume, with the dark jacket, the panama hat and question mark umbrella. I have traded it in place of the McCoy that came with the 11 Doctor’s set, who had a white jacket and no hat.
As a toy, the 7th Doctor’s TARDIS is not so functional for play, but that’s not what I have it for to begin with. As a piece of shelf art, it’s great. So despite its functional issues, I’m still giving it four TARDISes.
PS – A few weeks back, some amazingly huge mushrooms grew in my yard. I thought it was a good opportunity for some photography, so I took a couple of sizes of modern day TARDISes out there to put next to it. I posted the resulting image to Facebook. A bit later, my buddy Joe commented “Not legit until you take one in a rock quarry.” This comment was due, of course, to Baker-era Doctor Who’s frequent use of quarries as stand-ins for alien worlds. I replied “Gimme three hours.” Not only did I know where a ostensible rock quarry was, it was not far from my house and I had a period correct TARDIS model on hand for the photo shoot. I found plenty of locales for the photos, including the one at the top of this page and the second one here. (I had to edit out some power lines in the one above, but I left the giant dumptruck in the distance to the right side of the photo, figuring Daleks probably had them too.)
In the summer of 1980, I returned from an out-of-town weekend Saturday/Sunday summer camp to my home in Starkville, MS. I pulled the power knob of our 9 inch Zenith television to the on position, flipped between the three channels we could pick up with the rabbit ears, found myself on channel 2, and began staring at Mississippi ETV. What I found myself watching was episode 2 or 3 of the Doctor Who story Revenge of the Cybermen, originally broadcast a mere five years earlier in the UK. This moment was a pivotal one in my life, for it was my very first exposure to the BBC show Doctor Who. From that moment on I have been a fan and still count Tom Baker as my favorite actor to have played the Doctor to this day. I, of course, was back for the next installment the following day at 6 p.m. and as much as possible I tried not to ever miss an episode of my new favorite show. (By the way, I’m now astounded I was so taken with the show based on Revenge of the Cybermen of all stories, because it’s not especially great and contains maybe the laziest Cybermen designs ever. I honestly prefer the cloth-faced original Mondasian Cybermen designs to the ones from Revenge… with their lazy-assed plumbing flex-hose head-handles. The worst.)
As a child in 1980, going into the 4th grade, though, this show was magic, with dark tales of science fiction and horror given illumination by the contrastingly light performances of Baker and his onscreen traveling companion Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elizabeth Sladen. I loved their relationship, which was clearly one of great fondness for each other. I loved the Doctor’s long coats and immediately set about trying to find one of my own (it would be a few years before I managed it). And, of course, I loved his scarf, but it would be another 20 years before I was finally given a replica of the Doctor’s first one, as knitted by my mother-in-law; instead, I had to make do with wearing my dad’s girlfriend’s cream-colored muffler for the first few years instead, which only looked like Baker’s scarf after being filtered through my imagination). I loved the Doctor’s grinning manner, his gadgets and I loved his habit of offering everybody Jelly Babies (which, in lieu of, I had to make do with Gummy Bears). And I especially loved his mode of transportation, the TARDIS.
Standing for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space (though some sources vary), the TARDIS was a blue police public call box that was, though dimensional shifting, bigger on the inside. (Had to get my dad to explain that one to me.) The Doctor would step through the doors of this glorified, over-sized phone booth, into apparent darkness, and then the camera would cut to the TARDIS interior set and we’d see the Doctor entering through two giant blocky doors faced with pizza-sized circular roundels, into the bright white control room, the central feature of which was a five-sided control console with a bobbing clear cylinder filled with lights and gizmos. The Doctor would hit a switch, close the doors behind him, and with the manipulation of more dials and switches would cause the TARDIS exterior to fade from view, accompanied by its famous wheezing mechanical groan of a sound effect. Magic, I tell you! My wee mind was captivated by it all. I shortly began trying to craft my own Time Lord adventures by playing Doctor Who in the back yard, using the patio as my control room, a dog house as my control console and the chain-link side gate as my relatively smaller TARDIS door, leading me and my muffler to whatever monster was menacing the front yard.
Since there were no Doctor Who action figures available in the U.S. (and they were pretty thin on the ground in the U.K. at that time) I also tried to create my own action figure adventures. Having no Doctor replica on hand, I substituted the most curly-headed, side-burn-bearing action figure I owned, a green-suited diver from the Fisher Price Adventure People scuba diver playset. And for a companion, I used the armless and legless red-headed princess from Fisher Price’s medieval castle playset. (Cause I’d somehow misplaced the lady diver who came in the scuba diver set.) These might seem like poor substitutions, but they were all I had. My TARDIS was even sadder, though. I had nothing approximating one, so rather than get my dad to build one out of cardboard (which I’m sure he would have done) I just used a mason jar.
My Doctor Who toys were so low rent that I eventually gave up pretending they were even related to Doctor Who at all and just made up my own analog characters. I called my Doctor, Dr. Mum, named after the 1970s/80s cream deodorant, a small round container of which I used as my logo in imagined recreations of the theme song. (My theme was hauntingly similar to that of Doctor Who, I assure you.) I called the companion Princess Sally (since she a crown she had to be a princess), and I called their Mason jar spaceship the Blue Crystal (which was in no way blue, though the Mason jar itself lent something of a crystalline quality).
The idea of owning an honest to goodness TARDIS toy, however, was something beyond the realm of possibility for me. I didn’t even wonder at the time if such a thing existed. I did not yet know about the Denys Fisher TARDIS toy of the late 1970s, recycled out of the Star Trek Enterprise toy set Fisher also made (a set that I actually had owned since age 5 or so). I did not yet know about the corresponding Tom Baker Doctor Who doll Fisher made, with real removable scarf. And I didn’t know anything about the Leela companion doll and would have found her confusing since PBS weren’t showing any of those episodes yet. Instead, I had my dreams. (The first TARDIS toys I ever saw were ones I imagined in actual dreams. And they were awesome.) It would be years yet before I got wind of even a TARDIS model, or set actual eyes on the TARDIS tin bank with the grinning image of Tom Baker beaming from its open door, let alone a TARDIS toy and action figures. In fact, by the time I saw such things I was well out of the typical action figure purchasing age range–not that I’ve let that stop me much, hence why I’m typing this.
As my wife can tell you, I now own an excessive number of TARDISes. Most of them are in my office, taking up the space across the tops of two full book cases and, technically, spilling down the side of said case in the form of TARDIS string lights. Others live elsewhere, from my bathroom to my car, to my living room, to, occasionally, my bed. While it’s an impressive collection, by no means does it encompass the number of model/toy TARDISes that have been manufactured over the past 50 years. It’s actually pretty small comparatively (which is what I keep telling my wife). I have, as of this writing, around 49 of them (a nice number, though there is always the chance I’m forgetting one or two somewhere). We’re talking three dimensional TARDISes, too, not just pictures of them–of which I have more than a couple. I tracked down my first two back in 2002 or so. And since the show came back in 2005 and proved itself popular, new TARDIS products have hit the market each year.
Why do I have so many? Why do I love them? Wellllll, there are many factors to the answer, but, if you distill it down to a base, I collect TARDISes because I feel like I owe it to that 4th grade boy back in 1980 who didn’t have even one TARDIS and who had to make do with a Mason jar.
I really dig my TARDIS collection. As an ongiong exercise, and in an effort to produce more content for this blog, I’ve decided to write about each of them here, in no particular order, and with no real time table for doing them all.
And you can keep up with them all with this LINK.
You’d think after logging my 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours doing it I’d be better at drinking coffee. Yesterday I burned the ever loving shit out of my mouth, though.
Here’s where I think I went wrong. I had a warm cup of coffee that I wanted to reheat. I also wanted to put a dollop of coconut oil into it cause, y’know, health. This I did, setting the microwave for the standard 1:11. While it was rotating around inside, I decided to just go ahead and make a new pot of coffee, so I took a tumbler cup and began filling it from the filtered water of the fridge, conveniently beside the microwave. And because it’s a Samsung refrigerator this meant I was standing there filling that cup for the full 1:11.
(Hang on…. Open letter time:
How come your water and ice outputs have to be so damn slow? Other fridges just pump it on out, filling a cup with ice or water in seconds. Why yours gotta be such a slow pissy trickle?
Your friend, who paid an inconvenient amount of money for this fridge, which has had to be repaired twice since its purchase,
The microwave dinged, I opened the door, pulled out my cup, saw a delicious looking skim of coconut oil on top, and took a deep pull on that mug in manner that might suggest I expected it to be a cold brew iced coffee. And instantly I knew a horrible mistake had been made because my lips and mouth were on fire.
I made the split second decision to abandon my sipping plan and dumped my half mouthful of coffee right onto the kitchen floor. Fortunately, I still had possession of the tall cup of cold fridge water, and I put it to my mouth and let its cooling touch caress my charred lips, tongue and gums.
I spent the rest of the day sucking on ice cubes and nursing my lips with antibacterial ointment and Burt’s Bees. My sense of taste is still diminished, and it hurts to eat anything, but the inside of my mouth wasn’t burned too badly.
Beestung lips were a thing for a while. How bout scalded, blistery lips?
Just returned from my first trip to Cleveland and my first Midnight Oil concert.
As many Americans did, I became aware of Midnight Oil in the mid-80s with their hits Beds are Burning and The Dead Heart. My buddy Gordon bought the album those came from, Diesel & Dust, and played it in his car until the album was etched in my noggin. I soon bought it myself and got even more into it. What I didn’t realize was that these guys had been playing together in one form or another since the year of my birth some 13 years before. I soon purchased Red Sails in the Sunset and loved it as well and eventually found my way to the album I call Countdown, but which is more accurately titled 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. But it was their 1990 album Blue Sky Mining that cemented them as one of my all time favorite bands. Despite all the problems in the world that riddled me with angst, somehow it seemed like things would all turn out okay as long as Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil were calling out the injustices, the politicians, environmental catastrophe, and government corruption in their lyrics. Between them and The Church, I was really starting to dig Australian rock.
Whenever I would catch them in TV appearances, such as on Late Night with David Letterman, I would often make the joke that I’d love to see them on tour some day, but early on tour, because I was afraid Garrett’s voice, which is like gravel coated with velvet dust, would surely be shot by the end. But Midnight Oil never played anywhere close enough to me that I heard about it and I couldn’t afford tickets anyway. And then, in 2002, Midnight Oil sort of unofficially broke up so that Peter Garrett could go into politics, finally getting to try and make a difference beyond calling attention to the world’s problems through music. Every couple of years since, I’d look at their website to see if there was any word of a reunion, but none seemed in the offing. Most recently, I’d read that Garrett had retired from politics and had put out an album with his kids, but it just didn’t sound like Midnight Oil to me.
Then, back in late May, the wife and I were going down a YouTube music video rabbit hole, watching videos for bands she loves such as the Allman Brothers and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I pulled up my laptop, hoping to add some of my favorites to the mix and decided Midnight Oil would be the first. What should pop up at a search for them, though, but a new video of the band announcing that not only were they back together but they were embarking on a world tour starting in May. Of course, by the time I saw this announcement in LATE May most of their U.S. dates had passed, including a fairly close one in Pennsylvania, or were tragically sold out. Then I saw that after tour legs through Europe and Asia, they had added a few more U.S. dates in August, including one at the House of Blues in Cleveland. I’ve never been to either that venue nor that city, but at 5 and a half hours driving distance it was doable.
“You want to go?” I said hopefully to the wife.
“Sure. They’re not my thing, but I’ll go see them.”
I immediately bought us tickets for actual balcony seats, not standing room only floor space. They were maybe the most expensive tickets I’d ever purchased for a band, and it was certainly the furthest distance I would be driving to see one (even beating out that time we went to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo for our anniversary), but at long last we were headed to see Midnight Oil.
I had no real thoughts about Cleveland before going there, other than knowing it as the butt of many a geographical joke in the 80s and 90s, along the lines of “Well, things may be bad, but at least we’re not in Cleveland.” I suppose, like Detroit, things were pretty terrible there for a long time. The Cleveland of today likely still has its problems, but we saw lots of growth and renovation and the repurposing of spaces. There is vitality there and it’s a gorgeous city with some pretty astounding architecture, particularly in its many Gothic-revival churches. We stayed in Ohio City in an AirBnB located in what looks to have once been a pretty run down area that has revitalized in recent years. It was in walking distance of 25th street, which is where a bunch of awesome restaurants are located, as well as the West End Market. I might be in town for Midnight Oil, but the wife was there for the West End Market–which is deservedly legendary. Just stall after stall of vendors selling astounding meats and cheeses and veggies and breads and dumplings and fried things and cheese–did I mention the cheese? (Whiskey cheese is goooooood.) We were glad we’d thought to bring a cooler with us to take home all our perishable purchases.
Our first night there we dined finely at the Great Lakes Brewing Company, whose house-made tater tots were like five regular tots mashed together in one dense, savory, log. Despite the fact that they only gave me four of them, it was still too many. The GLBC’s Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale is a new favorite. The next day we breakfasted at the West End Market Cafe, where I had Hungarian hash to my wife’s chicken & waffles–both very nummy.
And, being in Cleveland, we had to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Took us two tries to actually get there because we attempted to drive their on our own the first time. We had hoped to find a parking garage central to both the museum and the House of Blues, but with an Indians game happening that wasn’t possible. Turned out to be way way cheaper and infinitely less enraging to return our car to the Air BnB and take an Uber back. (Always remember Uber, kids. They’re a terrible company, and Midnight Oil probably wouldn’t use them, but, dammit, they conveniently get you where you need to be.) The museum was definitely a good experience, though it is something of an assault on the senses. Almost anywhere you inside will leave you buffeted by hundreds of different directional audio sources for the music of the honored artists and commentary about them. It’s kind of overwhelming, but largely worth it.
We Ubered from the museum to the House of Blues. Our car even took us through the back alley, nearly the loading dock where a bunch of roadie-looking dudes were hanging around. After the drop off, we started looking for a place to eat and were walking along a blocked off street between the HOB building and a row of restaurants and shops. We were just passing an alley that led to the HOB loading dock area when Midnight Oil themselves exited that alley and walked right past us. I turned, wide-eyed, and beamed back at my wife who mouthed “Was that them?” I nodded like a madman. I wrote my friend Chris Hudspeth from college, who is an even bigger Midnight Oil fan than me, and told him what had just happened as he was one of the only people I knew who would appreciate it as much as me.
We wound up returning to dine at the House of Blues itself–which I had suggested earlier as a joke. I know, I know. Never dine at the venue, but dammit they were offering an early seating pass to anyone who dropped $40 there, and they had perfectly cooked fried chicken. And as a bonus, while waiting for our food a couple of non-Peter-Garrett members of Midnight Oil came out of the HOB and chatted and smoked on the sidewalk next to us while hungry autograph hounds lurked nearby. The band seemed quite gracious about it all.
I can report that the concert was amazing. I was especially impressed with their opening band, The Living End, who I was unfamiliar with but will become more familiar with after that show. They can play the shit out of a guitar, drums and standup bass–the later instrument being stood upon multiple times during the course of the show. They reminded me of a better Green Day. As for Midnight Oil itself, they were everything I wanted them to be and played almost all of my favorite songs and a couple of latter day hits I’d forgotten about. And it would have been a perfect show but for the efforts of the two people in front of us who tried their level best to ruin the show for the row behind them. I call them Mr. and Mrs. Dipschidt.
Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Dipschidt (of the Ohio Dipschidts), were two people we met before the concert began, as they sat down in the seats directly in front of us. And as far as people go, they were very nice, commenting to us on how awesome they thought the venue was. As we were to learn when the concert began, however, they were also the very sort of people who utterly cannot enjoy a moment for the moment, but must document that moment eight ways from Sunday throughout the entirety of that moment or it is somehow worthless to them to be there. These two would-be documentarians, therefore, kept holding their phones up in our sightline, blocking our view of the stage, to take photos and video throughout the concert. Now, they were not alone, as there were plenty of people snapping photos during the show, myself included. I got no problem with a photo or two. Even a photo or two per song I’d be okay with. But the Dipschidts needed such hard core photographic and video coverage that if interventions had not been made they would likely have continued blocking our view for the whole show. We weren’t alone. The Dipschidts moved their phones around so much that they also managed to block the view of the two people seated deeper in our row on the other side of me.
After it became clear that this behavior was something they intended to engage in for the duration, I leaned forward and tapped Mr. Dipschidt on the shoulder. I intended to keep things polite and let him know that the two of them were blocking the view of the four people behind them. I wasn’t even going to ask him to stop, but to just keep their phones lowered to their own face level, where we could still see over them. As I touched his shoulder, though, Mr. Dipschidt immediately lowered his phone from my view and wouldn’t turn around to see who was tapping him and why. Maybe he didn’t want my comments picked up on his audio, but I suspect he well knew what the issue would be and that it was probably not the first time a hand had tapped him at a concert. The lady of the couple seated next to me thanked me for my effort, but it only helped for a couple of songs. Meanwhile, Mrs. Dipschidt, seated in front of my wife, was not trying to video the whole concert, but till needed multiple pictures throughout every song. (I kept imagining her showing them to her friends later. “Okay, and this is what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Redneck Wonderland.’ And this is what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Feeding Frenzy.’ And this is what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Truganini.’ Oh, and this is another picture of what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Truganini.’ And here’s what he looked like after he took off his button up shirt, then wiped the sweat off his bald head with it before chucking it to the guitar tech off stage, then revealed that he was wearing a politically-minded t-shirt beneath it the whole time, and then sang ‘My Country.’ Oh, and here’s what he looked like during ‘Arctic World.'” ) She kept raising her camera into the wife’s sightline, holding it there as she focused and zoomed in and zoomed back out and got her composition right and made sure it had time to properly refocus, and then took a picture before doing it all again for the next one. So, again, I leaned forward and tapped her on the shoulder. And, just as before, as soon as my hand touched her shoulder the camera dropped from view and Mrs. Dipschidt remained face-forward. I believe I even detected a coldness to her shoulder. And, naturally, another song or two later, both phones went right back up in the way again.
Many things began to flow through my head, not the least of which is the knowledge that this scene would be playing out very differently had my friends Glen or Joe been present. More than anyone I know, Glen and Joe have no tolerance for cell phones in settings where cell phones are a detriment to the viewing pleasure of others. I’ve both witnessed and heard them call people out by loudly shouting “PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY!!” across movie theaters. And I’ve seen the people with their phones out quickly put them away as all eyes turn to them. I could continue to tap them on the shoulder every time their camera crossed my field of view, or maybe there was another avenue.
It occurred to me in that moment that it would be fun to lean over between the two Dipschidts and offer to demonstrate for them the new HD Rectal Filter feature of the Galaxy S8. I mean, as we all know, the S7 was known for taking pretty decent pictures of the interior of the sigmoid and descending colons (while the Galaxy Note 7 was known for burning them). But boy howdy can the S8 really get crystal clear 2960 x 1440 pixel images of the transverse colon, provided someone is really diligent in cramming it up there for you.
Before I could get myself in trouble, the couple beside us got up to go report the Dipschidts to the ushers. Presently an usher came down, stepped into our row and leaned over to speak sternly to Mr. Dipschidt. I couldn’t hear exactly what she said, but the wife later reported that the usher had told Mr. Dipschidt that he was allowed to take still photos but was not allowed to record video. He nodded emphatically, yet continued to roll video through the whole dressing down, his strobe of a flash beaming into the heads of the people in front of him. However, when the song concluded, he and Mrs. Dipschidt put away their phones for a blessed while. It was not to last.
Mrs. Dipschidt simply could not remain in the moment and enjoy the concert they were at while they were at it any longer. She again took her phone out. Seeing this as a signal, Mr. Dipschidt whipped his out too and they whiled away the latter half of the concert taking photos and video mostly from face-height. (The picture included is from that period when they were “behaving” themselves.) In fact, in order to try and get better shots from the new lower angle, Mr. Dipschidt was often forced to violate Mrs. Dipschidt’s sightline of the stage, causing her to crane her neck to see around the phone. That never got old for me. And for her part, Mrs. Dipschidt was unafraid of trying a few shots back in our sightline, but she kept them limited to only a handful of pictures per song. (“And this is what Peter Garrett looked like when he faked the whole audience out by saying it was their last song of the night, but then it turned out it was not their last song. And here’s what he looked like coming back on stage with a different politically-minded t-shirt.”)
As soon as the encores hit and the Dipschidts were within spitting distance of the end, they must have figured it wouldn’t matter if they got kicked out, so up went the phones again and Mr. Dipschidt resumed his videography. To retaliate, the couple beside us began loudly screaming the chorus to “Now or Never Land,” off key, at Mr. Dipschidt’s phone to screw up his audio. This he was unable to ignore, and glared back at them, but he kept his trap shut. I’m pretty sure even Peter Garrett himself got in on the protest. As he was singing the next song from the stage, he pointed up into the balcony directly at Dipschidt’s camera flood light and gave him the flat palm-out/eye-shielding universal sign language meaning “that’s super bright, please turn it off.” If he noticed, Mr. Dipschidt did no honoring of the request.
The concert ended and we left the House of Blues without acknowledging the Dipschidts.
Our final morning was spent breaking fast at Jack Flaps, who served me what are now pretty high on my top 10 list of favorite pancakes eaten and which are currently arm-wrestling for top spot with Austin’s The Original Pancake House. After that, we headed back to 25th street to check out a book store, the cheese stall at the West End Market once again, the Great Lakes Brewing Company for some more Nosferatu, and eventually wound up at Penzy’s Spice Store, located in part of the ground floor of what had once been a massive and ornate bank building, now subdivided into retail spaces.
After checking in with the wife at Penzy’s, I stepped outside to our car to get my Nosferatu out of the sunlight. On my way back, who should I see standing on the corner waiting for the light to change but Mr. and Mrs. Dipschidt. Mr. Dipschidt was even wearing his Midnight Oil t-shirt. It was a real moment of decision for me. I mean, do I say something to them? Do I run up behind them and tap them both on the shoulder to see if they notice? Do I let them know that the only reason the two of them hadn’t ruined the entire concert for us was because Midnight Oil rocks too hard to allow that? Do I just push them into traffic? As I watched them, though, the WALK signal illuminated and the Dipschidts crossed the road and were gone to enjoy their day.
Remember your concert etiquette kids: Take a few photos, try not to ruin the experience for your fellow audience members, and put your phone away. Don’t be a Dipschidt.
The end of the world is an event that has been predicted for millennia. It is always on the horizon, but so far has not come to pass. Mr. Daniels, however, has his own prediction and, unless he’s wrong, the danger of the end of the world is very real indeed.
And it just might begin at Starbucks.
This live-reading of “Nigh” was recorded at the 2015 Summer Conference of West Virginia Writers, Inc., on June 12, 2015.
This podcast adapts the short story “Nigh” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters.