Rock & Roll Battlegrounds – Adventures at the Guitar Store

Any guitar player will occasionally venture into a guitar shop or musical supply store that specializes in guitars. They can be wonderlands to anyone that likes to play guitar and wants to see firsthand what kind of gear is available to them. Like a comic book store is a playground for comic fans, a guitar shop is a similar experience for guitar players.

But these paradises of gear lust are also weird environments with their own rules of conduct and  social orders. There are also quite a few characters you’re likely to encounter if you spend much time in guitar shops. Some of those characters are fun people to be around, and others will make you wonder if they have a secret doll-themed torture room in their homes. Proceed carefully.

In my neck of the woods, there are really only a couple of different basic types of guitar shops, but they’re different enough to make note of those differences.

First, there are the small, independently run shops. In most places they were the common type of music store until the big places like Guitar Center became more common in larger cities. You can still find some version of these mom-and-pop stores in a lot of places, many being the “all around music shop” that sells a little of everything from school band instruments to guitar gear, and they usually don’t specialize in the really expensive stuff.

Then there are the expensive vintage and boutique style stores. Those places generally have pricey vintage gear and high-end newer stuff. Some of them feel like museums, and a person might experience sticker shock the first time they walk around one. It’s disconcerting to realize that the guitars you’re brushing past are all more expensive than a new car.

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Typical managers at a guitar shop.

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Paradise, or the Ninth Level of Hell, depending on your perspective.

Fact: All American guitars made before 1968 are magical, and were blessed by wizards, paying $25,000 for one makes total sense when viewed in that light.

Most of the people working at either of these places are similar to the types of people you’ll find at the big stores (more on them shortly), but you’re much more likely to encounter one type of individual at the mom and pop stores:

The Moody Owner Person

It seems like a lot of independent guitar shops are owned by moody older guys. That’s just been my experience, I’m sure it’s not universal. But with places like Guitar Center breathing down their throats, I’m sure keeping a small music business afloat is a cutthroat and stressful endeavor. I’ve been in several guitar stores where some gruff owner person started yelling at his employees or just was an unfriendly ass to customers for whatever reason. Again, I’m sure that’s not universal, and these folks are probably having to make blood sacrifices to Dark Gods just to stay in business, so maybe the twitchy eye, and mean temperament just goes with the territory.

The other main type of guitar shop are the Guitar Centers of the world, giant “big box” style stores that seem to have a little bit of everything available. Some people love those places, and others hate them. I’ve personally found that Guitar Centers vary in quality depending on location. Some are like navigating the nine levels of Hell just to get in and out with a new set of strings, and others are fairly nice to shop at.

I have one tip for shopping at any big guitar chain, and really it can be used at the small shops too – shop during off hours. There’s no reason I’ll ever go to a Guitar Center on a weekend for instance. Or anytime around a holiday, for that matter. You’re setting yourself up for an unpleasant experience, as it’s almost certain that the store will be stuffed to the gills with soccer moms and kids. The cacophony of twenty 13-year olds simultaneously trying out high gain amps playing badly and out of tune is not something easily forgotten. But go in to the same store at 10 AM on a Monday, and you’re probably going to be the only geezer walking around the place.

These stores also vary in the quality of their employees for some reason, and you’re likely to encounter a few basic character types. People like:

1. The Sales Pro

These guys are pretty common in the big stores, it seems like at least a couple of them work at each big guitar retailer I’ve ever been to. I guess they get paid on commission or earn bonuses or something, because they’re the music store equivalent of the used car salesman. Once you’re in their clutches, good luck, because there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to give you the hard sell on something. You walked in knowing you just wanted an entry level student guitar for a niece of yours, but the Sales Pro knows that what you really need is that $2,400 Les Paul hanging on the wall. Then there’s…

2. The Know Nothing

This is a common employee of the big music stores. Since it’s probably an entry level retail job with high turnover, a lot of the people working at these places just don’t know much about the gear they’re selling. You ask a few specific questions, or have a certain amount of knowledge already, and it will become obvious that these guys don’t know anything about the stuff they’re trying to sell. It’s understandable in a store with thousands of different items, but you aren’t likely to get much good info from some guy that only knows electric guitars are stringed instruments that are plugged into squarish speaker box things, and they make sound. The Know Nothing is still better to deal with than…

3. The Sales Liar

The Sales Liar is often just a more ambitious version of the Know Nothing. Sometimes these guys actually think they know what they’re talking about, and in other cases they’ll just spin any old line of bullshit in order to make a sale. Ask one of these people anything specific about a guitar or manufacturer, and you will hear all sorts of bogus information when dealing with the Sales Liar.

That Fender Squier that is marked as being made in Indonesia is really “better” than the American Strats being made these days, at least according to the Sales Liar. You’ll discover that there are still great guitars being built today, but only if you’re willing to spend at least $1,000, says the Sales Liar. Inconsistencies and obvious misinformation will be passed off as fact by these folks, so beware.

These days it’s relatively easy to research gear before ever setting foot in a store. That’s the best way to counter the dishonest tendencies of The Sales Liar.

You’re also likely to meet…

4. The Bitter Band Guy

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the employees at large guitar shops tend to be people struggling to make it in bands. It makes sense. Even though the pay is probably not great, there’s likely to be an employee discount on gear, you can look like a rock star, and it’s a good place to network for your band.

It almost assuredly beats working at some loathsome fast food restaurant or other retail job where you won’t get hired for having a bitchin neck tattoo. The problem with dealing with the Bitter Band Guy is that if they’ve been struggling too long, and their band isn’t getting the success they think it’s due, then these folks can be surly fuckers to deal with.

Look, I’m sorry your band Death Hippie isn’t doing so well, but can I just buy this overdrive pedal please?

If those years of struggling become decades, you might end up facing..

5. The Rock and Roll Throwback

These guys have likely been working for years and years in music stores. They’ve seen music fads come and go, and they’re still hanging in there. When I was younger, most of these dudes were guys that played in bands in the 60’s and 70’s. They’d sometimes have attitudes about the newer music trends that had come along since then.

They’ve largely been replaced by now middle aged rockers that still love 80’s hard rock or hair metal, and think rock has sucked since then. For the most part the Rock and Roll Throwbacks can either be cool cats or bitter assholes depending on how angry they still are by their music of choice slipping from popularity. They’d probably still like to be spending their nights playing in L.A. Twyster and doing cocaine out of the butt cleavage of strippers, but those days are long behind them now.

The Rock and Roll Throwback is often related to…

This guitar store employee can take several forms, although they are commonly either Metal guys or Bluesmen of some type. Whatever the form, they tend to think their music of choice is the only good stuff out there. At their most irritating, these dudes are just not helpful if your gear preferences or look mark you as someone from another musical team.

I once worked with a Metal Purist that we nicknamed “Dr. Dio.”  The good Dr. was openly hostile to customers that weren’t metal musicians. I once saw Dr. Dio argue with a teenager, easily less than half his age, that Faster Pussycat was a better band than Nirvana. Whatever one’s opinion on that, it was weird to watch a 40-year old with hair like Nikki Sixx losing his shit in an argument with a 17-year old. What would the Metal Gods think of that lapse of decorum Dr. Dio? What would Michael Angelo Batio think?

It’s not just the Metal Purists that can be dicks though. I once had a Blues Purist give me attitude when I was trying to buy a guitar he deemed suited for hard rock. I don’t know how to counter these people. Like any closed-minded clowns, it’s probably just better to avoid them unless you happen to play the kind of music they love. If you happen to play their chosen music, you’ve probably made an invaluable music store ally. If not, just walk quickly away.

Of course, there are also lots of friendly helpful people that work at guitar shops, and once you find a place that meets your needs, and has employees you like, you are indeed a lucky person.

Just never turn your back on Dr. Dio. You never know what that guy is capable of.

In The Claws of the Lobster Boy

In the late 80’s, I was still living in a small town outside of Houston, and was trying to figure out what to do next. I was recently out of high school, and trying to make that awkward transition into adulthood.

I was casually dating a lady I’d known in high school, someone I’d had a crush on and really liked, but the whole situation was confusing to me. Most things in my life were at that point.

I still enjoyed silly things like going to the County Fair (to be honest, I still enjoy stuff like that) and so the girl I was dating (I’ll call her “Alma”) and I went on a double date to the Fort Bend County Fair with my friend George, and his girlfriend “Donna” (also not her real name).

The night went well, a fun but typical outing to the Fair, when we stumbled across a seedy collection of freak show attractions in the back corner of the midway. I always loved freak shows, and while they were not common by the late 80’s, they were still a lot more common than they are now.

One had huge elaborate banners advertising “The Lobster Boy.” The garish paintings showed a little boy with red lobster claws instead of hands, engaged in a variety of activities befitting a mutant kid.

I knew I had to see whatever lay behind the door of the trailer framed by those banners. I assumed that it was probably some sort of gaff – a fake of some kind, probably a guy wearing fake claws. That was fine with me, I loved the fake stuff too, and had already seen a “Spider Woman” several years before that was nothing more than a big fake spider body with a woman poking her head through a hole in the floor. I counted that stuff as worth the price of admission.

So after a brief discussion, we all headed towards the line to get in, paid the admission, and were allowed entry.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for what lay behind that trailer door. The inside looked like some old guy’s home. It might as well have been anyone’s trailer house. There was no stage, no glassed off display area displaying a fake stuffed Lobster Boy or anything.

Instead the place was occupied by a slightly rotund older man with badly malformed hands. he happily berated us, and offered me his hand to shake. Instead of the normal five fingers, he had two large ones that really did resemble lobster claws. I shook hands, but we were all shocked by this meeting. I don’t think it really had anything to do with the man’s deformity as much as we all suddenly felt like low-lives exploiting some old guy with a genetic disorder.

I shouldn’t speak for anyone else that was there, but that’s how I felt. The Lobster Boy himself wasn’t particularly strange, nor did he seem uncomfortable. Decades of plying his trade in this manner probably made the experience completely normal to him.

After leaving the trailer, it seemed like a slight pall had fallen over our outing, and we left soon after that.

Years later, I found out that Lobster Boy was a famous sideshow performer named Grady Stiles that had been in the business since his boyhood in the 1930’s. He lived for years in Gibsonton, a town in Florida famous for being home to many circus and fair performers when not on the road. Stiles was an abusive alcoholic, and tormented his family members for years. He even shot and killed a man his daughter was going to marry. Despite showing no remorse for the crime, Stiles was only given 15 years of probation due to sympathy for his medical condition. Apparently this light treatment by the law gave him a sense of invulnerability, and his abusive tendencies became even more severe.

Eventually, certain family members had enough, and Stiles was himself murdered in 1993 by a hit man hired by his wife Maria.

Lobster Boy_Snap Wyatt

Looks Innocent Enough. Almost Sweet. That’s what the Lobster Boy looked like.

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This is what Grady Stiles, “The Lobster Boy” looked like. Just add about 40 years to him.

lobster666

The true crime novel about his odd life and murder.

I own the true crime novel about his life and murder, and every time I see it, I’m taken back to that moment at the Fort Bend County Fair all those years ago. Alma and I didn’t last together much longer,and that date sort of tanked, but we’ll always have our moment with the Lobster Boy.

Mike, the Rock n Roll Roommate Clown From Hell.

  Around 1991, I was living in a small cottage behind a bigger house in central Austin. It was a great place, and about as conveniently located as one could ask for. I had only been in town a few months, and was enjoying living on my own for the first time. Then I got a phone call from Mike.

  I knew Mike from Houston. He was one of the guitar players in a band I was friends with, but we didn’t know each other very well. He was the first person that ever asked me if I knew where we could get some heroin, so that was notable (and a little worrisome) but other than that, he just seemed like a regular band guy, although he was sort of the whipping boy in his Houston band – They’d nicknamed him “The Green Clown” for some reason. I never found out why… It was something he didn’t like talking about.

  I was not expecting to hear from him, and most people in Houston didn’t have my number, but it was nice to hear from somebody from home. He asked if he could stay with me of course – the only thing I got asked more than “Can you get some heroin?” in Austin at that time, was “Can I stay with you?” – but it sounded like he was planning on visiting, so I figured why not?

  He arrived a few days later, and I was alarmed to see that he had a lot of stuff with him. It didn’t look like he was just visiting for the weekend. He told me that he was planning on moving to Austin because the music scene was better than Houston’s, and was wondering if I might need a roommate.

  I had originally planned on having a roommate – a woman that I had dated on and off for a year, had originally planned on moving in with me, but she changed her plans at the last moment. While that development hadn’t bothered me, it did leave me with more bills than I originally planned on, so I agreed to let Mike move in. Besides, he was a decent guitar player, so I figured he could show me a few tips.

  Mike was odd. I wasn’t really judgmental, as I was pretty odd too, but we were different kinds of guys. He was  a few years older than me, and seemed to have crafted his image after guys in bands like “Thin Lizzy”. He had long dark hair, but had bleached in a blonde streak. He was also prone to wearing things like leather vests without shirts, or when he wore a shirt, it was usually a blousy thing that was unbuttoned to his navel.

  He wore snakeskin cowboy boots, and concho belts. Mike was originally from New Jersey, and was of Italian descent. He was tan, and just a little too paunchy to really pull off his look well. He always talked about wanting heroin, but must have been the only person that couldn’t find the stuff in Austin in the early 90s, because it seemed like everyone else I knew was able to. He did drink a lot of beer though.

  We got along well enough. For the most part, Mike was an amiable guy, very friendly and outgoing, but a little sleazy and definitely lazy. He always talked about how he liked to “fuck women in their asses” (imagine that said with a New Jersey accent for full effect), and he didn’t seem in a hurry to get a job of any kind.

  He also was fascinated with American Indians and their spiritual practices. He went to “Pow Wows” once or twice a week, which sounded like a cross between an Indian themed Ren Fair and a swap meet. He also talked cryptically of “The Chief,” some Indian leader that he knew back in Houston. He told me that I’d meet The Chief someday. I wasn’t sure I wanted that to happen.

  Mike would always talk about getting a job, but only worked for a couple of weeks during the time he lived at my place. He got a telemarketing job somewhere, because they would hire freaky looking people. It didn’t pay much, but I was looking forward to a contribution to our rent. Unfortunately, the day he got paid, Mike disappeared to Houston, and when I saw him again a couple of days later, he was dragging a bear skin around with him. He had bought the “sacred object” at a Pow Wow, and was again broke. I was not pleased, but he was too comical too be really angry at.

  A couple of weeks later, Mike went to another Pow Wow, and showed up with two strippers in tow. Now my place was small – about the size of a tiny one bedroom apartment, so I was wondering where Mike was going to store his new titty dancer pals. He told me one was his new girlfriend, and that he’d brought the other one for me to fuck. Nice of him, I guess, and she was attractive, but I had options at the time, and if I wanted to sleep with a dancer, I knew where to look.

  That was an awkward weekend. I woke up with the extra dancer naked in my bed, grappling my man parts, and considered just going with the flow, until I snapped to my senses, and figured that was probably more trouble than it was worth. I told her thanks but no thanks, and then left to go stay with a girlfriend of mine that lived up the block.

  The next day I came home, to find a dark mood had rolled in. Mike was kind of angry that I’d spurned the advances of the girl he’d brought me. I guess she was angry, and his girlfriend was angry too. “You fuck lots of girls, can’t you just fuck her too? ” he opined. He seemed genuinely surprised and offended that I didn’t want to sleep with this stranger.

  He could be very creepy at times. I had a bed in the living room, and left the bedroom for Mike. This arrangement was fine for the most part, as I would often stay up late watching movies with friends, and the bedroom was too small for that. It could be awkward if one of us had a date over, but usually wasn’t a big deal. Usually.

  I was watching movies with a female friend of mine one evening when Mike was around. He was in his bedroom playing guitar, and bellowing this song he’d written called the “Queen of Tattertown” or something. He sang that song a lot. It was horrible. But we were watching a movie, and although we weren’t making out or anything, we didn’t want to be interrupted either. So it was a surprise, but no surprise when Mike appeared from his room wearing nothing but a towel, walked over to our little dark corner, and loomed over the bed we were relaxing in. “You guys want some…company?” he slurred. I figured the guy had at least a couple of 12 packs in him.

  “No, we’re good!” my date and I replied in unison. Fortunately, Mike slithered back to his lair in the bedroom, but I always had to be careful around him.

  Several times he would come home with a woman, and disappear into the back bedroom with her. I’d be up front watching a movie or something, and about thirty minutes later, the woman would suddenly emerge, and then abruptly leave without saying anything. After witnessing that a few times, I realized that Mike was doing something that scared them off. Since they were probably there for sexual trysts, I shiver to think what it was that spooked them so consistently. I always assumed that the ones that ran didn’t enjoy “anal” as much as Mike.

  On the plus side, I occasionally met cool and interesting people that Mike would meet and bring back to our place. I met my friend Doug that way, and we shared many an adventure later on.

  But, meeting cool people didn’t exactly balance out having a mooch for a roomie, or make up for the frequent creepiness that Mike brought to my place.

  I had to listen to him constantly talking about his mystical Indian experiences. Seeing sentient glowing lights in a sweat lodge, summoning protective spirits, that kind of thing. I was used to being around people with goofy spiritual views, but there was something off-putting about Mike’s involvement with that stuff. First, it sounded pretty hokey, secondly, he was an Irish/Italian mutt from New Jersey, something just seemed “not right” about his interest in that stuff.

  One night, I returned to our place after having stayed away at a friend’s for a couple of days. When I got home, I could tell before I entered that Mike had a visitor. When I opened the door, I came face to face with a person I knew instantly had to be “The Chief” I’d heard so much about. This guy had great “powers” (according to Mike), and lived off in a camper somewhere in the “woods” of North Houston.

  He DID look like he could be a Native American, but he was dressed like a cross between the Indian guy in “The Village People”, and a roadie for Van Halen.  Maybe he was a part-time carnie, I don’t know.

  He was wearing leather lace-up pants, moccasin boots, an enormous turquoise belt, had no shirt on, and had a bunch of dangling bones and teeth from a necklace he wore. He also had the practiced observation skills and banter of an ex-con or person that’s spent a lot of time on the street. He and Mike had been busy burning sage in the house (I hate the smell of burning sage) to “purify” the place, because the Chief sensed that I had a lot of demonic entities following me.

  Mike explained all of this in a matter of fact manner, but I was not happy, and told him “So what if there ARE demons here? They’re my demons, maybe I want them to stick around?” That shut him up, but the con man Chief guy was definitely trying to size me up. I figured he’d be hitting me up for something soon. I was surprised when he didn’t.

  More unwanted news came when the Chief tried to impress me by saying “Did you see my wolf?”

  “Wolf?” I asked, worrying about what might be coming next.

“Yeah, he’s staked out in your back yard. It’s awesome!” came the reply.

  I walked outside, and sure enough, there was a wolf staked in my backyard.

I told Mike that he needed to get the wolf out of there, before someone called the cops.

  When I mentioned the cops, Mike and the Chief looked at each other quickly, and then made plans to go somewhere else. Before he left, the Chief gave me an ancient Indian spell for harnessing a demon, and making it do my bidding. I thought that was nice of him, but puzzling since he’d spent so much effort chasing any of my demons away from the house already.

  Soon after that, Mike moved out. He’d met some topless dancer that was going to support him while he got his band stuff worked out. I figured that was probably the best way for a guy like Mike to get by. I didn’t see him for a few years, and then ran into him at a Cheap Trick concert. He was tearing tickets at the door. He’d cut his hair shorter, but was still the same basic Mike.

I haven’t seen him since.

Diary of a Dark Lord

  In the early 90s, I was a dreadlocked guy living in Austin Texas after a recent move from Houston. I had picked up and relocated after feeling  I had burned through most of my good options back home, and had recently gotten out of a long term relationship. I was on the market, and hanging out with a woman that I liked a lot. She was kind of odd though.

  I never figured out if she had romantic intentions, or just liked having a guy around a lot… She had a ton of male friends, but liked me to be around a LOT – To the point of taking baths in front of me… Requiring me to avert my eyes until she was in the tub, and more frustratingly, asking me to spend the night with her almost every evening. It is a weird thing to be a 22 year old male, and to have a confusing but beautiful 22 year old female ask you to sleep over at her place  without any seduction taking place. I had other options, and being shoved into a weird corner of the friend zone was not part of my plan.

  This went on for a month or two, and just got too frustrating for me. I wouldn’t share the same bed and bath time with a male friend, and it was not something I was going to start doing with platonic female pals.

  I got enough attention from other women at that time, but was still interested in my confusing friend, and it was driving me crazy. I began to suspect that she either was stringing me along indefinitely until a better option for her came along… Or was a head case with weird intimacy issues. I’m still not sure which was closer to the truth, but I was not the type of guy that was going to wait around forever to find out.

  Eventually, Shannon (That was her name), introduced me to a few of her friends… She was one of those people that seemed to know everyone, but liked to hang out with me alone most of the time. I ended up meeting “Carol”, a very attractive natural blonde, that seemed very cool, and somewhat responsible. She had a real job, and didn’t work at a bar or record store like most of the other people I certainly wasn’t a model of career development myself, but it seemed  impressive to meet a woman my age with a degree and some ambition.

   I offered her a ride home, and we ended up getting along well. Unsurprisingly, Shannon was not pleased with this turn of events, but I figured that nothing was happening between us, so I might as well move on.

So I set up a date with Carol.

  The next weekend, I picked her up and drove the two of us to a restaurant on the North Side of town. We hit it off pretty well – She was smart, and that was something I always liked in a woman, she seemed to have a career planned, which was interesting – Most of the women I knew at that time were only interested in who was playing at Emos the next weekend… It was new to me, I guess.

  She talked about that and the other thing that were important to her… Art… Music… History… Her Spiritual Guide….. Wait… Hold on a minute – “Spiritual Guide”?

That’s when things got weird… And I was used to weird… This stuff was a little weirder than I liked.

  Carol apparently had a trusted Spiritual guide… Some sort of guru as far as I could tell, and the woman seemed to have a LOT of influence over Carol’s life. She never named any specific religion, but the spiel reminded me of the “Ascended Master” junk that new age hucksters like Elizabeth Claire Prophet tried to sell.

  Her world view was quite exciting – Of course there was a very real battle between the agents of Good and Evil, and the world was secretly ruled by spirits both low and high. Her “Advisor” – ( I’ll call her “Val”), consulted with Carol on just about every topic that affected her life, and on a daily basis.

  While she explained the situation, I tried to politely take it all in, without betraying the fact that I was hearing cuckoo noises in my head as she talked and talked about this Val person, and her enormous mystical powers.

  I’m a patient guy. I’ll overlook some pretty massive flaws in a person, and I was used to ignoring some craziness in the dating pool back then. It was the early 90s and Austin Texas after all… You didn’t have to keep things weird, they were already weird. And I was weird too, so I decided to try to get through the date without telling Carol that the stuff she believed was absolute bullshit. Besides, she was very attractive, and I was only 22. These things happened.

  Actually two things happened after dinner that night – Carol spent the night. A real “sleep over” between two people of the opposite sex, not the weird naked, non sexual buddy system that Shannon seemed to prefer, and Carol continued to talk about Val, and what Val thought about…. Everything.

  Carol just droned on and on about this cosmic battle that her guide was helping wage against unseen demons. Val was so tied into Carol’s life… Approving what housewares she bought, the types of clothes she could buy… Everything… It came to light that Val had even given  Carol permission for us to eat at the restaurant I suggested –  It was clear that Val was the invisible chaperone on our date the whole night.

  I had no doubt that she would hear every detail about what happened over our evening together, and would probably get a very clinical and detailed review of our bedroom activities the next day.

  In the morning, Carol called Val from my house, and talked rapidly in a hushed whisper. Her eyes kept darting my way, and it was not a comfortable way to greet the day. After a minute, she hung up and hurriedly excused herself, leaving me and the breakfast I’d been cooking for us behind.

  It was a weird first date, but at that point in my life, I didn’t let that sort of thing bother me. I figured that was the last I’d see or hear from Carol though, so I was surprised the next day when She called me and wanted to go on a second date.

  That outing was as weird as the first – Perhaps even more awkward. While Carol had been content to talk endlessly about herself, Val, Val’s great metaphysical gifts and wisdom, and how Val guided Carol through a life full of dangers both seen and unseen… Well, this time she wanted to know everything she could about ME.

  We went to dinner again, at a different restaurant, but the whole evening Carol peppered me with questions… Some very specific. She wanted to know all sorts of things – Whether I came from money, or had career plans, what my concepts of spirituality were, whether I thought I might be missing anything in life… Lots of creepy questions throughout the meal.

  I had mentally decided that I had endured enough, and while I kept my composure, I was ready to just take Carol back to her place and drop her off. The questions were annoying and her company was exhausting.

  I guess she picked up on my chilly demeanor as we left, because she started to quickly tell me how cool I was, how much she liked me, and how sexy she thought I was. The flattery wasn’t entirely convincing, but I was still trying to figure out what was happening with this strange woman, and I agreed when she asked me to come in to her place.

  We spent another night together, and it was good enough… It even seemed normal. She quit the uncomfortable interrogation, and switched gears into something resembling  seduction. She even managed to not mention Val during that second half of our evening together.

But Crazy is resourceful, and Crazy doesn’t like to hide for long, so the next morning Crazy made another unwanted appearance.

  “You have to leave now.” Carol grimly told me as I woke up. She was standing naked above me, and looked like she had been watching me sleeping. Maybe watching for a long time. She had a blank look on her face, and her eyes were cold. She may as  well have been looking at a strange lizard lying in her bed instead of me. I was relieved and somewhat surprised that she didn’t have a large knife or a hatchet in her hand.

I took her advice – Got dressed in record time, and drove home. Neither of us said anything.

  Maybe a week later, I was moving on… I had found someone else to go out with, and the unpleasant creepiness of my dates with Carol were quickly fading from memory. I was lounging around my place when I noticed that I had a message flashing on my answering machine. I went to check it, and sure enough it was Carol.

  She had called to let me know that Val had consulted other “Masters” and they had come to two conclusions – I was a “Dark Lord”…. Some sort of fallen angel in human form, and that Madonna… The singer Madonna… Was also a fallen angel.

She simply couldn’t see me anymore, as darkness would continue to grow around me, and I would soon harness evil forces without even meaning to.

I thought about calling her just to laugh in her face, but thought better of it.

This Dark Lord had better things to do. At least I kept good company, what with Madonna and all.

Slimey Worm Rape on a Dark Planet

Galaxy of Terror – 1981

  Galaxy of Terror seems to be one of the more famous Roger Corman produced films from the early 80s. It was one of those movies that my friends with cable always raved about, and I remember liking it when I finally saw it one late night at one of their houses.

 The story begins on a stormy and dark planet called Morganthus. The last survivor from a crashed spaceship is violently killed by some unseen beastie, and somewhere on a distant planet, two people are playing a weird board game. One of these individuals is a kind of cosmic fortune teller, and the other is identified as the “Planet Master”, an all powerful being with a red glowing light obscuring his features. They talk vaguely about events being put into motion, and then Mr. Glowing Light Orb For a Head commands his military to send a ship to Morganthus immediately.

  So off speeds the “Quest” piloted by Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, – Many viewers will recognize her from lots of other films) who is mentally disturbed and reckless due to a traumatic space disaster she’d survived in the distant past. The rest of the crew is a colorful bunch, and includes such improbable members as an “Empath” (Played by Erin Moran from “Happy Days”) and a “Crystal Master”… Whatever that is… Played by Sid Haig. Other familiar faces are the ship’s cook, played by “My Favorite Martian” star Ray Walston, and the crew’s “Ranger” played by Robert Englund.

  Once the ship nears Morganthus, it goes out of control and crash lands. The crew slowly makes it’s way across the surface of the planet to the other ship, where they discover the aftermath of a terrible massacre. They also find that something on the planet caused the crash, and upon further investigation, they stumble across a huge pyramid structure, and decide to explore it.

  It is at this point that the real purpose of the movie unfolds – Specifically, the crew members are murdered one by one by horrible monsters within the pyramid. These are all set pieces, and what the film is generally remembered for – There is a nasty scene where the generic blonde crew member is stripped naked and raped by a really slimy giant worm… That’s the scene that seems to stick in people’s minds the most, followed in notoriety by the scene where the Empath is torn to pieces by tentacles…. Joanie from “Happy Days” meeting that horrible end sticks with you.

  Almost everyone is dispatched in gruesome ways within the pyramid, until only the main protagonist “Cabren”  is left. At that point, he encounters “The Cook”, who reveals that he’s really the “Planet Master”, and that the pyramid was essentially a game created by a long extinct race to allow them to manifest their worst fears, and to gain mastery over them.  Cabren kills the Master, and replaces him – Becoming the new “Planet Master” himself. The End.

  So, “Galaxy of Terror” has a few things going on. It’s deeply corny in a lot of ways – there is extensive  use of very dated looking “laser affects”, and the characters are also silly -The Empath and “Master of Crystals” in particular. I dig Sid Haig in most things, but his character is pretty hard to like in this film. He basically throws around a couple of cheesy looking crystal throwing stars, and looks angry, up until he’s killed by those same throwing stars.

  Ray Walston as the Cook was also hard to take seriously –  There was no way I could shake the feeling that I was looking at “My Favorite Martian” anytime he appeared on screen. That goes double for Erin Moran – I kept thinking of “Happy Days” anytime she showed up. Robert Englund was problematic for the same reason, but I’ll give him a  pass, since “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was still a couple of years in his future.

  The movie is also completely derivative of both “Alien” and “Forbidden Planet”, borrowing plot devices and production design from both. About the only original ideas in the film are it’s worst ones – The cornball “Planet Master” being the main one.

  A lot of low budget movies came out during this time period that ripped off Alien. It was one of those landmark films that changed the way people thought a movie in space could look. And honestly, I’ve seen the atmosphere from Alien ripped off and done worse in lots of other bad movies. Sure, it’s not done REALLY well – The distant shot of the Pyramid looks like a painting on canvass, and some of the sets look as cheap as they undoubtably were. Others manage to look convincing and atmospheric enough though – So no originality at all on that front, but it’s effective enough for an exploitation film like “Galaxy of Terror”.

  As to the plot… Well, the plot is really just there to get the silly characters into that Pyramid so they can be raped and slaughtered. The killings are really the reason this film is remembered – I can’t imagine that anyone would still care about this film if the violent set pieces had been toned down. I’ve met people that still remember Galaxy of Terror because of the infamous, and still  horrible to watch worm rape scene… Lots of slime in that one.  And there are several other graphic scenes in the film, so it’s not surprising that Galaxy of Terror has garnered a cult following over the years. The special effects range from very dated and laughable, to moderately well done. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse in Corman movies over the years.

  It’s all distasteful and pretty goofy, and a person that over thinks things will be wondering why they combined so many stupid plot elements with the things that work for this film. Did they really need that silly “Planet Master” character at all? Was Ray Walston a wise choice to use? Was Mr. Walston forced into this film because he owed someone money? Did they think that a guy throwing crystal throwing stars was  really a good idea? So many questions.

  But if you go in with low enough expectations, and like blatant Alien rip offs, Galaxy of Terror is not the absolute worst way you can spend an hour and a half.

80s Teen Sex Comedy Graveyard – Screws Are Loose in Canada…

“Screwballs 2: Loose Screws”

  Netflix streaming service has really filled the niche that 80s cable movie channels used to. Specifically, it’s made films available that I never would have gone to see at the movies, and always passed up on the video rental shelves because they looked too crappy to pay the rental fee. There were movies that I’d continuously see on those shelves… Lots of dumb looking horror or teen sex films, that just didn’t look quite interesting enough to take a chance on.

  Now, I’m making up for those lost “opportunities”, because Netflix and YouTube seem to have an enormous collection of those rarities for me to indulge in. Unlike the rental roulette I used to play, if a flick turns out to be ridiculously dumb or not entertaining, then I can watch something else that I know will be good without having to drive back to the video store. It’s pretty awesome.

  I remember having friends with cable back in the early 80s, that would regale me with tales of what I was missing in some of the films that haunted those channels late at night. Me? Unfortunately I missed the 80s cable revolution. My parents just didn’t want cable, so the only time I ever watched any of it was when I was staying with friends. But I’m a lifelong fan of weird/bad cinema, so I’ve eagerly embraced the chance to watch some of those crap recently.

  Which brings me to “Screwballs 2 : Loose Screws”, the sequel to well, “Loose Screws” obviously… A puerile teen sex comedy I also recently saw on Netflix. When I say “teen sex comedy” let’s face it – These films were almost all created for, and marketed to teenage males (Or perhaps really immature adult males), so maybe “Male targeted teen sex comedy” is more appropriate.

  Having been an immature male teen at one point in my life, I feel qualified to review this flaccid turd of a film – I suppose you can count “flaccid turd” as a review if you want the shorthand, but here is the more complete breakdown:

  Like the first film, four male friends attend the wackily named “Beaver High”. They’re supreme fuckups and the improbably group covers several stereotyped character types popular thirty years ago – You have the fat guy, the nerd, the jock, and a ladies man/80s preppy guy.

  They have ridiculous names… “Hugh G. Rection” being typical. Basically, everyone in tho film has a hammy dick joke or double entendre name. It’s like reading an old Mad magazine  spoof for hairy palmed adolescents. Anyway, I couldn’t keep up with who was named who – Seemed like investing too much thought into these characters.

  I’m not even sure if they are supposed to be the same guys from “Loose Screws”. The guy playing the nerd is the same actor, but the others are different. Doesn’t matter in any case. If they’re not the same guys, they’re the same basic characters from the first film.

  The group of friends has spent four years as seniors due to the madcap antics and sexual harassment that seems to occupy all of their time. The Principle of Beaver High (Mr. Asshoale or something to that effect) calls them to the office, and tells the merry troupe that he’s sending them to “Coxswell Academy”, a special school for screw ups like them, since they’ve spent four years in the 12th grade… Which explains why they all look like they’re in their mid 20s. This may be the only realistic plot device in the movie – I don’t recall ever seeing another that explained why the “kids” in the movie look 27 and not 15.

  In any case, the rest of the film takes place at Coxswell Academy, and is essentially a remake of the first film. This time the group spends the movie spinning elaborate schemes to fuck as many of the girls at Coxswell as possible – They even create a point system for their conquests. Whether that system ever really affects the plot, I don’t know, the sexually retarded hijinks just seem to “happen” without any real purpose or plot purpose – Par for the course for a film like this. The main target for their lust is the French teacher, “Mona Lott” (of course), who is not so secretly sleeping with an Eugene Levy lookalike, Principle of Coxswell “Mr. Arsenault”.

  The first day they are at Coxswell, the team of male pals stage a fake breast exam for the female students. I’m not sure where it would be considered legit for a high school breast exam to take place where the “doctors” are all guys too young to be through medical school, commanding the young women to strip down to their underwear, so they can feel them up, but apparently that kind of thing flies at Coxswell Academy.

  The next scheme has one of the guys dressing in bad drag so he can infiltrate the all girls dormitory, something he improbably pulls off, even managing to take a bath with one of the girls.

  And so it goes. The problem with a movie like this, is it manages to somehow achieve the unthinkable, and makes nudity boring. The tedious and unbelievably stupid plot devices are only there to set up another impossible set piece so that the viewer can see some boobs and butts (Though not much full frontal nudity for some reason), and those plot pieces drag the film to a tedious halt most of the time.

  There’s a quick attempt to tie up the loose ends of the plot near the end, and it involves an airborne aphrodisiac or some crap like that, and of course we all finally get to see Ms. Mona Lott topless, but there’s not really a story here. Perhaps in a movie like Screwballs story is not the primary concern. I get that.

Random thoughts:

1. Lots of hideous 80s fashion on display. That might be the real appeal of this film.

2. The “boys” in this film must be in their early to mid 20s according to the “spent four years in 12 grade” plot device. Since the females in the film are supposed to be teenagers, that kind of makes a lot of the wacky hi jinks kind of rapey – So a group of 23 year old men have a points system game where they win by having sex with as many teenaged high school girls as possible? I’m pretty sure that kind of activity gets you put on a sexual predator list these days.

3. Having every character in a movie named after a dick joke or sexual function isn’t funny unless you’re a 13 year old boy.

4. Nudity CAN be boring. I have stared into the abyss, and this is the horrific revelation that stared back!

5. Canada was responsible for this film. Like a lot of early slasher films, there are telltale signs that this film was shot north of the US border. Actors saying “Aboot” abound, and the license plates and street signs are not American. At one point, the gang goes to a Town “Centre”… So yeah. I’m actually glad this wasn’t made in the US.

6. Unlike most 80’s stock “Nerd” characters, the nerd in this film comes across more like a creepy molester type than the normal stereotype. All of the male leads do, but he comes across the worst.

  So my final judgment? If you want to see a lot of 80s looking women in their underwear, and occasionally naked, and don’t mind wading through at least an hour and twenty minutes of barely watchable “story”, then this might be a good movie to watch. I think I’d probably have enjoyed it if I were drunk and sitting around with friends making fun of it. So it’s not totally without merit I guess. But if you want some 80s vintage titillation that’s not nearly as stupid, then watch “My Tutor” instead. It’s also on Netflix right now.

The Bubble Bursts. Mountains of Porn and Underwear Follow.

  In the late 90s, I had moved back to Houston after living in Austin for several years. I felt like I needed to settle down and find some sort of direction in life, after nearly a decade of chasing fun, but irresponsible pursuits. Unfortunately, those misspent years had left me with few marketable skills, and my job options in Houston looked pretty bleak.

  After looking fruitlessly for a month or so, and only being offered crappy low paying pizza delivery and janitorial jobs, my Father entered the picture. He owned a small business doing “Resurfacing” services. Basically, he had technicians that would go into apartments and homes where cabinets, countertops, or old sinks and bathtubs were screwed up – Either horribly outdated looking or having serious cosmetic problems. His technicians would patch the problems up, and then use a durable paint to change colors or make the affected area look better. There were still thousands of apartments with hideous avocado or “harvest gold” color schemes in their kitchens or bathrooms, so business was good.

  Like many things, when done well, it could make ugly or damaged areas look new, and when done badly, it just drew more attention to the original problems.

  I realized that the job would be physical, and that there would be some unpleasant aspects to doing it, but the pay was appealing, and since my dad was the boss, I had hopes that I might end up running the office at some point.

  I was prepared to hustle, but what I wasn’t prepared for were the…. “Unexpected” and unsavory aspects of the job.

  We mostly serviced either occupied apartments, or ones where the tenant had very recently moved or been evicted. Our main clients were almost exclusively with giant complexes occupied by working class or working poor people. The apartment supervisors were usually cheapskates that would rather hire companies like us to gloss over cosmetic problems than they would like to pay to have new cabinets or appliances installed. In some cases, they had been using companies like ours so long that I would have to resurface stuff that had already been done two or three times in the past.

  The occupied units were the worst – The processes we used created highly toxic fumes – I had to wear a respirator the whole time I worked – The residents knew well in advance that we would be working in their home, and it was creepy to see the crap they would leave laying out in the open for us to see.

  Sex toys were common. I’d often have to journey through a bedroom to get to a bathroom, and there would be an astonishing array of huge dildos and lube laying out on nightstands. Sometimes there were drugs or paraphernalia out in the open too. Huge bongs were common, and I spied at least 20 crack pipes in the year I worked for my dad.

  I had to wonder what went through those tenants minds… The sex stuff was pretty yucky, but who leaves their drugs out in the open for some stranger to see?

  The apartments where recent evictions had taken place were often weird too. The same drug stuff and sex toys were common in those, but they were usually empty of furniture, so the things left behind stood out in high contrast. One place I worked at had nothing left in it besides a sink of very dirty dishes, and a mountainous heap of porno magazines in the living room. Another had the biggest pile of underwear I’ve ever seen accumulated in one location, and occasionally someone would leave behind Polaroids of themselves naked or having sex. I don’t know why these were the kinds of things left behind so often, but they were. It was as if some tenants fled hurriedly in the middle of the night, leaving behind their most embarrassing or illegal items as some sort of dark window into their lives. Sometimes I wondered if they just had so much of that kind of stuff that they were forced to leave behind their beloved collection of anal lubes and porn because their car was already stuffed full of other sexual junk.

 There were also catastrophic looking messes sometimes. I’d enter an up until recently occupied apartment, to discover that nothing was left but some awful looking stain on the carpet. Blood? Sewage? Dye? I had no idea. Other times there would be garbage everywhere, as if the tenant had said “Fuck it”, and dumped the contents of ten huge garbage bags all over the floor. Once, the only thing left in the whole place had been a creepy looking homemade doll… A big one… Sitting up against a wall. It felt like the vile thing was watching me the whole time I was working, and gave me a serious case. of the willies.

  I also discovered a disturbing fact for any apartment tenant – It is apparently common for maintenance guys to find and steal drugs when working on a unit – I once had a maintenance guy brag about all of the weed he found and taken from apartments… Because what were they going to do? Call the police?

 More troubling was the discovery that some of those guys also go through women’s underwear drawers when they aren’t around.

  I had to work in the bathroom of a fairly upscale apartment once – The woman that lived there… The tenant was obviously a woman… Had a huge and impressive collection of antique furniture and Asian art, something I noted as I made my way to the back bathroom.

  I did my job, and then a couple of days later we were told that they suspected me of going through her underwear drawer… Not something I ever wanted to be suspected of.

  There were fingerprints and a hand print left in the fast drying white paint that I’d used all over her dresser and other furniture. I knew it wasn’t me, but had to go in to show the apartment supervisor – My hand was several inches bigger than the print left on that poor woman’s dresser, which exonerated me, but proved that someone else – Most likely the maintenance man- Had been in her place immediately after I’d finished, and had been stealing her underwear.

  In some of the slummier apartment complexes, just walking around was scary. I once entered an apartment, to discover that not only was the occupant still there, but she was busy conducting plans for a drug deal over the phone, with a bunch of hand guns sitting out on her table. I left that one without doing the job.
 
  After awhile, I realized that I wasn’t really making much money, wasn’t going o be moving up anytime soon, was tired of inhaling dangerous toxic fumes, and encountering so much filth and creepy weirdness. So I quit. No regrets either. Every person’s home is a sort of bubble… A private place. Seeing the aftermath of that bubble being burst, or getting a glimpse of the darker corners of a person’s private life was more than I wanted to deal with for a meager paycheck.