Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, VHS by Bill Chance

“More pathetic than the digital age is the people who love it. They buy right into the “newer is always better” ideology and they can’t seem to grasp that the fun of VHS tapes, super 8 film, darkroom photography and vinyl records is far more worthwhile and human than the cold, high-tech atmosphere of everything being digitized. As the 21st century progresses, yeah, we’ll have our Netflix and our cellular phones and our artificial intelligence and our implanted microchips – and future generations will have lost something valuable. Sadly, they won’t even know what they’ve lost because we’re taking it all away from them.”

― Rebecca McNutt

Recycled Books, Denton, Texas

VHS

Gerard was not a neat person. Far from it. He sort of wanted to be but couldn’t get his head around how to pull it off. His apartment was always a terrible mess – clothes thrown in the corner, sink full of dirty dishes, and he could never remember which was trash day.

He did have a decent TV – a 19 inch Zenith. He had a VCR. A coworker had tried to talk him into buying a Betamax but he had settled, for no real reason, on VHS. The thing had cost him a week’s salary – but it gave him his money’s worth.

Gerard loved movies. He watched one at home almost every night. He worked in a downtown skyscraper and every day, at lunch, he would take the elevator down to the street, cross at a pedestrian light in the middle of the block, and enter the lobby of an ancient limestone building. It had an old-fashioned hallway going front to back lined with little stores – a newsstand, a candy store, a high-end luggage store, a coffee shop – the sort of things that catered to downtown office workers. It also had one of the early video rental places – a small private shop – common until Blockbuster came along and drove them all out of business. It had a meager selection, the boxes displayed on shelves behind the glass counter. To get an actual movie, you had to ask and the clerk would rummage around in drawers, click the cassette into its holder, and then deliver your plastic box by hand.

Purchasing tapes was expensive and they could only afford one copy of any title – so they were usually out of the movies Gerard wanted to rent. Looking through the loose-leaf notebook on the counter, he would have to ask over and over until he stumbled on a title that they had in stock. It was a bit of a pain, but he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind at all.

The clerk was beautiful. To Gerard, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Pale, quiet, with a thick mane of fire-red hair – Gerard would stare as she rummaged around looking for a tape. This was the high point of his day. He was actually disappointed when she had one for him on the first try.

He was a very busy man and sometimes he had to take work home. On those days he knew he would be too busy to watch a movie but he’d rent one anyway – simply to spend a few minutes with the clerk. He also had to travel, often on short notice.

There were two women living in the apartment across the hall from him. He had helped the two out when they were in trouble with a couple of angry, violent boyfriends and they owed him a huge pile of favors. They were attracted to that kind of men and weren’t interested, romantically, in Gerard, but would help him out when they could. One, a beautiful, tall brunette, also worked downtown, only two buildings away from him. When he had to leave town, he would give her his videotape to return for him.

He wondered what the beautiful clerk in the video rental store thought of this woman coming by every now and then and returning his videos. She told him she never said anything to the clerk – just left the tape on the counter and walked out.

Gerard wanted to talk to the redhead so bad but he could not think of any way to do it without looking like an idiot. He was only a customer, one of hundreds. He was sure a lot of them hit on her. He didn’t want to be that guy. He thought, and thought, and thought, then had an idea. He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled away for a while. Then he grabbed a pen, an envelope, a spare key, and another piece of paper. He went next door to see the girl that sometimes returned his tapes.

“Hey,” he said, “I need you to do me a favor, no big deal.”

“Sure, you have a tape.”

“Yes, I do, but I need another favor and I want you to drop something else off there for me too. First, I want you to copy this – in your own handwriting.”

He handed her the pen and two pieces of paper. She read the note.

“This note says I’m breaking up with you. And returning your key.”

“Yup.”

“It says I’m leaving and you are not to look for me.”

“Of course.”

“It is vicious, it makes me look awful.”

“Sorry.”

“Why the hell?”

“Don’t worry, I have my reasons.”

The woman thought for a minute, then broke out in a smile. She had noticed the clerk, of course.

“OK, sure, I’ll do it.”

She copied the note and Gerard sealed the envelope up with the key.

“Ok, tomorrow take this by the video rental shop and give it to the clerk. Be sure and tell her it’s for me. Oh, and here’s a tape, too.”

“Sure. But only one thing.”

“What?”

“I guess you’ll have to find someone else to take your tapes back when you’re out of town.”

“A price I’ll gladly pay.”

Gerard waited two days before he went down to rent another tape. He was so excited, he could barely breathe on the walk over. He planned to open the envelope, read the note right there, and maybe even cry a little bit. No way the clerk wouldn’t be moved by this. He could talk to her as a person, not a clerk and customer. He would ask her to go for coffee or a drink after work, to “help take his mind off his troubles.” No way could she refuse.

But nothing happened, she rented him the tape, same as always. He wanted so say something, “What about my note?” but realized that he couldn’t.

The days went by and he kept renting and returning and she never said anything. It was getting to be humiliating. He began to think he would have to find another video rental shop. He was even worried about the key. Why did he use a real spare key? The store had his address from the extensive form he had to fill out as a member and customer of the shop. Did somebody else have the note? Would they rob him? He wasn’t really worried though – other than his TV and VCR he didn’t own anything worth stealing and was thinking about new models of each anyway.

Gerard was relieved when a job came up that would take him out of state for a whole week. He dropped his last tape off.

“I won’t be renting for a week, I’m going out of town on business,” he said to the clerk. He hoped she might have some reaction, but only nodded. He decided that when he came back he’d move to another video shop a couple blocks over.

The week out of town was exhausting drudgery. His failure with the video store clerk weighed on him more than it should have. If she would have turned him down, that he could have dealt with, but this, her completely ignoring him, was so much worse. He imagined her throwing his letter in the trash with a sneer.

Gerard returned on a late flight and took a cab home. He was so tired and glad to be home, but he almost dreaded opening his front door. He pulled his suitcase through and turned on the light.

It was a shock. Everything was clean and neat as a pin. His dishes were washed and put up, his garbage was gone, and his dirty clothes had been done and neatly folded. His ratty old shower curtain had even been replaced with a new, fashionable one.

Once the shock had begun to fade, he saw that there was a note taped to the front of his TV. It said:

“If you want me to come over here and watch a movie with you, I will, but I wanted it to be a bit cleaner first.”

At the bottom of the note was stapled a “Free Movie Rental” coupon from the place downtown.

If You Pee Here…You May Appear On Youtube

A while back I was at a writing event at a coffee shop in Plano. There were about ten of us sitting at a long table doing some writing but mostly talking. The woman next to me told an interesting story. She and her husband owned an internet services company in Deep Ellum. The thing is that the location is just down the street from The Bomb Factory – a very popular Dallas concert venue – and the space in back of their building is a popular place to park. Unfortunately, it was not a public lot and anyone parking there will get towed. I assume you have had your car towed from some obscure spot during a late evening of nightlife revelry and know how nasty, upsetting, and expensive that can be.

The space in back of their building is heavily labeled and there is no excuse for anyone to park there. Still, they do and they get towed. A lot. So the woman’s husband put up a gaggle of high-quality video cameras facing the no-parking area and captures all the sadness and glory of the nightly dramatics. He edits them with music and funny comments and posts them on a YouTube channel. She said their channel has gone viral and they made a bit of cash from the millions of views they get.

What an amazing story.

So I had to check it out. The channel is GTOger and it’s pretty hilarious. There are hundreds of videos… here’s a typical one:

It’s a real time suck. There are cars getting towed and pissed-off owners coming back. I never knew how fast and efficient the towing companies are (my car-towed days were decades ago – when they actually had to hook a chain to your car) using that automated thing. If you look through the videos there are people peeing, fooling around, and even some photo shoots… all caught on camera and posted for all the world to see.

At any rate, the other weekend I was in Deep Ellum for a Dallas Photowalk. We all met up in front of The Bomb Factory and wandered off in search of photographic scenery. Before long, we were moving down Clover street – a narrow grungy road that was barely more than an alley. Suddenly it looked familiar to me and I realized we were in the GTOger alley right where all those cars were towed. There were the warning signs and the clusters of cameras.

The signage is very clear… I can’t imagine anybody ignoring it and parking there…

let alone taking a leak.

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

 

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Expanded Cinema

October is a good month in Dallas. The killer summer heat is ending and there are a lot of events scheduled in the, if not always pleasant, at least not toxic weather.

Only about a day or so ahead of time, I heard about something going on in downtown Dallas that looked interesting.

There is a relatively new hotel attached to the convention center – the Omni – that is skinned with four miles of light bars and more than a million LED lights. It’s an enormous computer controlled light show that’s only limited by the quality of the images. They say it’s like a low quality printer.

So, for the opening of the Dallas Videofest a dozen video artists were given the Omni hotel to use as a canvas, for a series of works under the moniker Expanded Cinema – MultipliCity.

Looking at a map of downtown I realized I could take the DART train downtown and then ride my bike onto the Jefferson Street Viaduct Bike Lane – there was a good view of the Omni Hotel from there.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown, Dallas.

When work ended I almost didn’t go. It was a tough week and I was exhausted. At home I stretched out on the bed and felt my motivation draining out. I wanted to stay home and watch television. It took all my motivation to get up, change, load up my bicycle, and ride out to the train station.

I knew I had to have my tripod with me if I wanted to take any photographs. For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out how to carry it on my bike. The legs collapse, of course, but it’s still pretty long. After thinking about it, imagining all sorts of different scenarios and improvised equipment – I simply took a single bungee cord and tied it to the rack. It stuck out the back… but it worked. Sometimes, simple is the best.

I rode the train to the Union Station and it was a short jump to get on the Jefferson Viaduct. As I rode up and over I noticed the old, abandoned parking garage that served Reunion Arena back in the day. I turned in and rode up to the top level, where there was a great view of the downtown and the Omni.

I was a little early and there was only one guy there – and I set up my camera and tripod.

My bike on the old parking garage with the Omni in the background.

My commuter bike on the old parking garage with the Omni in the background.

The only problem was that the audio portion of the program was broadcast on 97.1FM – and as I was packing up I realized that I don’t even own a portable radio. I would have to watch the show without sound.

As the appointed hour arrived a good number of cars started to arrive and try to jockey for position. Watching this comedy of of errors on the parking garage ramps below my perch was as amusing as the video show itself. A few more bicyclists came riding up and some police cars showed to work on reports and see what was up.

Watching the show from the roof of an SUV.

Watching the show from the roof of an SUV.

I have no idea who owns that old parking garage or if there are any plans for it in the future. It does have a spectacular view of downtown but there isn’t anything going on there now except a home (and bathroom) for homeless folks. I wish the city would do something cool – the top level of the garage could get the Klyde Warren treatment. A layer of dirt, some grass, and you would have another really amazing urban park. The levels of parking below could be used for visitors or for the Convention Center nearby. As a matter of fact, the Convention Center would benefit from a nearby open, grassy, park area with a killer view. It would be a great spot for outdoor events.

That’s my idea, at any rate.

My vantage point was a little too close and that emphasized the low quality of the image – and I missed not having the sound – but it was still a lot of fun to watch. I was glad that I made the effort to get out of bed and get down there.

A figure swimming across the hotel. (click to enlarge)

A figure swimming across the hotel.
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

When the Expanded Cinema ended everybody switched positions – there was supposed to be a fireworks show in honor of the new observation deck on Reunion Tower. Nobody knew exactly where or when that was going to happen – but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Omni Hotel, Downtown Dallas

Omni Hotel, Downtown Dallas

New Book of Mountains and Seas

One of the hidden gems down in the Dallas Arts district is the Crow Collection of Asian Art.

I was working in the Cotton Exchange building in downtown Dallas (the Cotton Exchange is gone now – they blew it up a couple years after I left) while they were building the skyscraper tower of the Trammell Crow Building. The construction site was visible from the windows of our office suite. I watched the steel skeleton climbing up and up – watched the workers scrambling over the latticework of girders. I watched the granite and reflective glass being raised and affixed to the building’s outer skin.

There is always a connection with a building that I watched go up. Since I saw it stretched out in time from the inside out – I feel I know all of its secrets. I know the shortcuts the architect made to get the outer shape. I saw the ventilation, plumbing, and elevator shafts carved out of the interior.

At one time the walkway around the base of the building contained an amazing collection of European sculpture and was one of my favorite places. The sculptures have been removed – and there is the promise to replace them with Asian pieces.

Behind the office building, on a floor level below, facing Flora street across from the Nasher Museum is the Crow Collection of Asian Art. Trammell and Margaret Crow have been collecting Asian art since the 1960’s and built the museum under a pavilion in back of the office tower. It is a small but effective museum, and a welcome addition to the other museums and performance venues in the Dallas Arts District – helping the area move towards the tipping point of becoming a well-known destination. In addition to exhibiting pieces from the permanent collection – the Crow Museum has developed a reputation for hosting impressive visiting temporary exhibitions.

Oh, one more thing. Admission to the museum is free.

A free museum is viewed in a different way than one that you have to pay to get in the door. Instead of making a big deal out of it – preparation and anticipation – you tend to simply wander in and take a relaxed view of the wonders within. I like it.

I have a confession to make – this time that I walked in to the museum it wasn’t because I had heard of some revelatory amazing exhibition or even that I felt the need for peaceful contemplation of a thousand years of artistic production.

I had to pee.

There are not a lot of public restrooms in a big city downtown. The homeless tend to take over and destroy any facilities that are open to anyone. So I decided to duck into the Crow Museum to use their restroom. Since I am a person that likes to meet their obligations – even though I should be able to use the bathroom and leave, there have been many times I’ve been to the Crow to see their art and not used the bathroom – I felt obligated to at least take a quick walk through the galleries.

I walked into the big room past the gift shop and found that it had been emptied. There was a bench in the center of the room and three digital projectors were shining on a long wall. The effect was that of a widescreen film being shown in a bare wooden room – very clean and beautiful. One guy was sitting at one end of the bench – I walked over and sat down on the other.

At first the film was showing some credits and bits of poetry while the soundtrack played some electronic music. It was very peaceful, but not much too it and after a few minutes I wondered, “Is this it?” It was an interesting thought – all this space and technology used to simply throw a few words on the wall along some jangling sounds. I began to wonder if it was an elaborate joke.

It wasn’t. I had come in right at the credits at the end. Soon the presentation looped back to the beginning and the real show began.

This was a film by Qiu AnXiong, an artist from Shanghai. The exhibition was called Animated Narratives and consisted of a two-part video installation called New Book of the Mountains and Seas, along with paintings associated with it.

The video started with a hand drawn animation of waves on the sea, then moved to a pastoral landscape. Soon, a farm appeared to grow on the land like an organic thing. The farm quickly grew to a village and then a walled town. Civilization continued to grow in an organic way – with fantastic animals taking the place of oil rigs, pumps, transportation, and warcraft. Everything grew and grew, with many scenes reminiscent of recent events, but warped into a strange surreal organic landscape. The Middle East (or something resembling it) is ravaged by oil production, the terrorists strike in a version of 911 even more surreal than reality, and then the inevitable disaster and destruction obliterated everything.

The film was in black-and-white and appeared to be animated ink drawings. After walking around and looking at some of the paintings, it was clear that it is actually paint on canvas. The artist overpaints as he photographs his work and generates the animation that way.

I really enjoyed the film and its presentation. You really have to see in it in its carefully constructed widescreen format to appreciate the work, but if you can’t make it to the Crow:

Here’s an online version (wait through the ads). I’m not sure how long this will be online.

Here’s another link to a version of the piece.

If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s about three minutes of the film. This section is near the end, and it does not do justice to seeing it live.

I enjoyed it enough to come back a couple days later and take a look at part two. This is another widescreen video set up in the mezzanine two floors higher up in the museum. It’s another animated work, this time concerning mad cow disease, genetic programing, biowaste disposal, environmental catastrophe and man’s eventual fate among the stars.

I couldn’t find the whole thing, but here is a bit of part two.

Don’t be afraid to wander into a museum, more or less unplanned. I should do this more often. I should not be so cheap to be afraid to do this even when I have to pay for it.

Lana Del Rey

I have a new favorite song, Video Games by Lana Del Rey.

Good Stuff. Really good stuff. The song has a lilting laconic hook to it which, coupled with the heartfelt, provocative lyrics make it irresistable. The lush orchestral arrangement adds a bit of nostalgic contrast that is very welcome.

Love the video too. I wonder what game the exploding Eiffel Tower at the begining is from?

Another one of her songs, Kinda Outta Luck, is different, more of a pop gangster bit of fluff with fun edgy lyrics – Is it wrong wrong that I think it’s kinda fun when I hit you in the back of the head with a gun?

Love the Film Noir stuff in the video.

The only problem is I can’t figure out how to buy any of her music (either under Lana Del Rey or Lizzy Grant). She had an album out at one time, but I can’t find it. All I have so far are the youtube videos.

For now, that’ll do. I’ve been working on a time management thing called the Pomodoro Technique. I’ll write more about it some time later, but the basic premise is you use a kitchen timer to work for twenty five minutes, then take a five minute break. I keep a list of favorite youtube music videos to watch in my little mini breaks – and Video Games has moved to the top of the list.

That’s a nice break offsite when I’m writing (that’s where the Pomodoro thing is working best for me) but it doesn’t cut it at work work. The whole break thing is not something that’s easy to pull off. There’s an old Dilbert Cartoon where he is told, “Job satisfaction is the same as stealing time from the company.” You have to at least appear to be slaving away at all times or else you are not earning your wage, and in this best of all possible worlds, that is not acceptable. There are starving kids in Africa that would love to have your job.

In one of her interviews, Lizzy Grant refers to herself as a “Gangster Nancy Sinatra.” In honor of that, here’s a real Nancy Sinatra video – another one I watch sometimes during my Pomodoro breaks.

This is her first television appearance, on Jools Holland.

And another new version of Video Games

From the same venue, Blue Jeans