Friday, February 4, 2011


  • My dad moves out in January of 1980.  It's a surprise to everyone.  I'm devastated.  Turns out he's been miserable for years and doesn't have the tools to express or cope with his frustration.  Later he'll delve into the Bay Area self-help movement and transform himself into a much better person, but at this point, all we know is that he's gone.  My mom does what she can to keep us afloat - quite literally.  That winter sees the worst rain in Santa Cruz in years, and the liquefied hill comes down on our house and in through my sister's bedroom window.  I bring hot tea to my mom, who is hip-deep in mud, trying to divert the water away from the house with a shovel, with only our realtor Mary for support.  It will be some time before I can forgive my father for, as I saw it, deserting us.
  • Saturday morning cartoons now include Thundarr the Barbarian, Space Ghost, the new Superfriends and Godzilla.  We're growing up.
  • I begin hanging out with the Beach brothers a lot, creating improv comedy "radio" broadcasts that we record on cassette and sell to our friends at school.  We spend a lot of time together, between school and our church community, and with Adam a year older and David a year younger (and their adopted sister Lyn the same age as my sister), I pretty much become the middle Beach brother.  Adam introduces me to the wonders of Dr. Demento, National Lampoon, jazz and KISS.  My mom is none too fond of my exposure to the latter, believing the urban legend that KISS stands for "Knights In Satan's Service".  She'd overcome that programming (and the sensationalized press regarding D&D) later.
  • During 4th, 5th and 6th grades, I begin my freelance art career, drawing rad pictures of dragons and superheroes for classmates... for a price.  I spend some of this filthy lucre plugging quarters into the arcade machines.  Defender, Asteroids, Pac Man, Space Invaders, Battlezone get most of my attention.  I also start designing my own take on Wacky Packs
  • Due to financial necessity, my mom moves us to a rental house in Aptos.  My dad resurfaces and tries to make up for months of lost time by doing fun things with us kids.  He and I get our NAUI skin diving certification, going on dives off of Monterey.  We go for weekend visits at the sailboat he's living on in Santa Cruz harbor.  He takes me to see The Empire Strikes Back.  We sit with his brother, Russell, who is stoned out of his mind and really enjoying the movie.  I've now been collecting Star Wars action figures for a couple years, and send in cereal box tops for the special edition Boba Fett and Bossk figures.  I get the Millennium Falcon for my 12th birthday.  My crush on Carrie Fisher becomes the standard by which all of my other crushes are measured.  She's probably the only (and I mean only) reason I see Under the Rainbow multiple times.
  • The aforementioned uncle Russell gives me a boxed Dungeons & Dragons basic set for Christmas 1980.  I crack it open but am not able to grasp the arcane rules.  It will sit on my bookself until a junior high buddy re-introduces me to D&D in 1981.
  • I start making 8mm films with my friend Mike Day.  They start with miniature effects like blowing up Hot Wheels cars with fire crackers, and eventually increase in scope to all out slasher and action fare.  I begin formulating a story based on my Blue Shark comic, set in space.
  • For Easter 1980, I am given ELO - A New World Record.  It changes my life.  I become an Electric Light Orchestra junkie.  It's my gateway band.  From here on out I will become extremely passionate about music.  A lot of that will have to do with a chance meeting while camping at Nisene Marks over Labor Day weekend with my dad and his girlfriend, Katherine.
  • So, yeah, Labor Day weekend, 1980.  We're camping in Nisene Marks, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, when we meet a fellow hiker.  He's 21, a local photographer, with long hippie hair.  Randy would become my big brother, my mentor, and best man both times I married.  Meanwhile my mom is dating a widower with two kids around my age, and we spend a lot of time together on camping trips and the like.  I continue developing my scifi movie concept.
  • In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark comes out.  David Beach and I are there.  We move from the rental house to a fourplex.  I go to visit my dad and Katherine one weekend and dad takes me to see both Outland and Excalibur.  My mom is furious.  Randy introduces me to Pink Floyd, Van Halen, David Bowie, The Police and Peter Gabriel.  I completely geek out in DragonslayerClash of the Titans allows me to relive the classic Ray Harryhausen fantasies of my earlier childhood.
  • A junior high friend asks me if I've ever played Dungeons & Dragons.  I show him the boxed set sitting on my shelf.  He shows me how to play and runs a short adventure for me.  I'm hooked.  David Beach and I set up elaborate Halloween theatrics at his house.  This year, we set up a fantasy tavern in their carport, dressed as medieval fantasy heroes, and offer to guide trick-or-treaters down the many steps and across the "drawbridge" to the front door, battling monsters (our friends in rubber masks) all the way.  I am bitten by the theater bug.  My buddy Brent talks his mom into getting us into Conan.  At 13, we're absolutely okay with the swordplay, gushing blood and plentiful boobs. 
  • 1982: Here comes Tron.  I'm floored, not necessarily by the execution, but by the promise of digital effects.  E.T. comes out.  I see it several times, identifying not only with Elliott's discovery but with Michael's responsibility as the older brother and protector in a single-mom household.  Poltergeist scares the crap out of me, and I go back to the theater several times as well.  Since he's over 17, Randy acts as my guardian and takes me to see The Road Warrior.  I'm smitten by the setting, the production design and the stunt work.  And it doesn't hurt that Virginia Hey is also featured in Playboy about the same time (warning: link may contain breastesses).  Having a big brother who has a subscription to Playboy and can supply the beer is a great setup.  I think at this point my mother has given up trying to protect me from the horrors of rated R movies, as evidenced by her taking me to Blade Runner.  I see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at least five times in the theater with my buddies.  We also take in The Beastmaster, and revel in the gore and the boobs.  I have a huge crush on Tanya RobertsThe Dark Crystal ignites a whole new part of my storytelling brain.  I also manage to see Heavy Metal and Escape From New York on cable.
  • I begin reading Ray Bradbury.  I devour his books, reading them repeatedly.  I begin to study special effects techniques in film.  Randy introduces me to Missing Persons and Berlin.  I begin to listen to Frank Zappa and the Surf Punks
  • Throughout 8th grade, I'm involved in a group playing RPGs at lunch.  D&D is soon replaced by Traveller, Boot Hill, Gamma World and Top Secret.  I also begin to write short fiction, inspired by the ever-increasing amount of science fiction and fantasy material available.  And I continue to act onstage.   I'm given the first Actor of the Year award at Aptos Jr. High School upon graduation.
  • During the summer of '82, David Beach and I enroll in an intensive theater workshop through San Jose State University.  We stay at my grandparents' home in San Jose, and there we discover MTV.  Of course at this time, it's pretty much Men At Work and Quarterflash in heavy rotation.  But it does introduce me to Kate Bush and U2.  Randy takes me to my first rock concert, Humans at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz.  Some friends and I start a combat sport where we make "armor" out of cardboard and athletic padding and garbage can lids, and try to hit each other with Whiffle bats.  An early form of LARPing?  A subconscious extension of SCA combat?  Both entities being unknown to us, we have fun with it for a summer.
  • In late 1982, Randy, David Beach and I publish Zingo Magazine, a comedy comic 'zine.  Randy pays out of pocket for the print run and we sell individual copies to our friends and classmates upon its release in early 1983.  I start developing my own fantasy roleplaying game, based on my short fiction.
  • My dad marries Katherine on New Year's Eve, '82.  My mom marries her boyfriend Robert in June of '83.
  • 1983: We move from the fourplex in Aptos to a rental house in Santa Cruz, on the golf course at Pasatiempo.  Randy takes me to a midnight double feature of The Man Who Fell to Earth and The Hunger. In the latter film, I'm introduced to Bauhaus and lesbian sex (with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, no less).  Later that year, I breach curfew staying out all night at a cast party for the school musical, get completely wasted and crash out at Randy's apartment.  I am grounded for the last 8 weeks of school.  I end up with pneumonia, which makes socializing a moot point anyway. But I am allowed a furlough for opening day of Return of the Jedi.  Although not the story quality of the first two Star Wars movies, I am satisfied with this ending.  I finally see Alien in my scifi lit class.  
  • I read a lot of Stephen King, but quit after finishing Cujo - pissed that he killed the kid.  I start listening to Euro techno bands like Kraftwerk and Yello, while drawing - and collecting - more comics.  Frank Miller's run on Daredevil and the Claremont/Smith era of the Uncanny X-Men are tops on my list.
  • By 1983, I am pretty good at the Star Wars arcade game, and have the number 2 high score on the Tempest machine at the Chuck E. Cheese's in Capitola.  Wire frame 3D for the win!
  • During the annual summer visit with my dad, I volunteer at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre, helping with some set building and other duties.  I'm enlisted to help raise a big parachute as an awning over the outdoor theater, where they are staging Romeo & Juliet.  A cute brunette girl holds the ladder I'm on.  This will be important later...
  • 1984: Randy and David and I see Berlin in concert.  Talk Talk opens.  Later that summer, Missing Persons.  Seeing Terry Bozzio drum live in person inspires me and I write a novella set in a dark future with clones and corporate warfare and rock music.  It might be influenced a bit by Streets of Fire, and it would probably be called "cyberpunk" if the term existed yet in our lexicon.  But William Gibson's Neuromancer wouldn't be published until July, and wouldn't reach me until college.  I also begin writing a supernatural thriller with characters based on my theater friends at Aptos High School.  Ghostbusters is released.  I buy in.
  • I form my first garage band with David Beach, Ed Havens and Randy Rhodes (not my mentor Randy).  Flying Pigs, named after Pink Floyd imagery from Animals.  We crank out a few songs and plan a horror movie tie-in with the band.  That core lineup will fragment into many other garage lo-fi projects, many with a porcine motif.
  • Late that summer, there is a change of custody.  Gavin, Sara and I go to live with dad and Katherine in Palo Alto.  I look forward to the change of scenery and the opportunity to make new friends (read: new girls).  I enroll in Palo Alto High School as an incoming junior.  In theater class, I meet a cute brunette, who I later discover was the same cute brunette who had been holding my ladder at the Children's Theatre.  Things start off tentatively, but by November we're a couple.

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