Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Weird Times en la Weirdioteca



It's very rare that you're able to experience something so fascinatingly bizarre but I believe it's also inevitable for each and every one of us. You can't force this experience. Rather, it will happen when you least expect it. Tonight, it happened for me. Tonight was my lucky night...

Monday night. 8:55pm. Local library. Second floor.

I've been quietly working on my laptop for the past hour or so. The announcement that the library's closing came on the loudspeaker just a few minutes ago. "The library will be closing in ten minutes. Please bring any checkout items to the front desk."

I'm packing up my laptop now. Wrapping the cord around my mouse. Removing my computer glasses and replacing them with my regular glasses.

I see the librarian making the rounds. She checks the tables. Pushes in chairs. Picks up any scraps of paper or other litter. It's obvious I'm packing up so she doesn't feel there's any need to tell me they're closing soon.

However, there is a man about four or five tables down from me. Also working on his laptop. Little bit on the older side, maybe in his 60s or so. Looks normal as far as I can tell. In fact, I had determined about 30 minutes ago that he looked so normal that it was safe for me to leave my laptop alone at my table while I ran to the bathroom to do a pee. So that's pretty normal. That's I-feel-it's-safe-to-leave-my-laptop-alone-with-this-guy-nearby normal.

The man, however, is not "packing up shop", so to speak. He continues to work on his laptop while the librarian is pushing in chairs left and right, dropping hint after hint that it's closing time. But this guy's not budging.

By this time, the librarian has determined that this man needs a friendly reminder that the library is closing in less than five minutes.

"Sir, just so you know, we're closing in five minutes..."

But the man does not respond. Nor does he acknowledge her. All he does is stare into his laptop and (seemingly) continue to do his work.

"Sir," she says louder. "We're closing soon."

The man still doesn't budge and doesn't look at her or even acknowledge he heard her in the least.

"Excuse me...Sir! We're closing."

Still, no response or acknowledgment of any kind.

I hear what's going on and grow concerned. What the fuck is happening down there?

"Excuse me! Hello! Sir! We're closing!"

Still, not even a flinch on his part. Not even a raise of the eyebrow or any other subtle gesture. Utterly nothing.

I take a more careful look and see that this man is not wearing headphones. And he does not appear to be a foreigner who may speak another language. But even if he does speak a different language, he would still acknowledge the librarian who's now standing smack-dab in front of him with her hands on her hips, practically shouting into his face.

"Hello! Sir! We're closing! Hello!"

And this bizarre exchange proceeds for the next minute or even two.

"Sir! Closing time! Hello!"

I stand at my table for a moment. Dumbfounded. This is happening, I tell myself. This is really happening right now. I look around to see if anybody else is witnessing this. But, no, it's only the three of us alone on the second floor.

I determine that this man must either be insane or he must be the most gigantic asshole who ever lived on the planet. My instincts tell me it's the latter that's true.

I swing my laptop bag over my shoulder, pretend like I'm leaving but then sneak down an aisle of books that allows me to get closer to the alleged asshole without being seen. I'm not sure if this librarian will need my help. My heart starts racing. Is the shit about to go down right now? Maybe every day of my life has been leading to this very moment. Maybe this guy IS a psycho and I'm supposed to save the librarian from him. Maybe this is why I'm living. Maybe this is why I exist.

I'm about to take my glasses off so I can fight without them being on my mind. They cost 300 bucks, after all. I don't want them damaged.

"Sir! Hello! Sir! Hello!!!"

I post myself behind a shelf of books. About as close as I can get without being seen. I'm ready to pounce if needed.

"Closing time!!! Hello!!!"

And, then, there is nothing but silence.

I creep around the bookshelf and see that the man is finally starting to pack up shop. He's putting his laptop away. And his mouse. There's also a half-drunken bottle of Pepsi Zero, which I hadn't seen from my previous vantage point. As for the librarian, I don't see where she went.

I figure it's safe to leave now.

As I'm about to descend the stairs, down to the first floor, I see the librarian circling back towards me. We lock eyes and I say...

"What was that all about?"

She shakes her head and says: "I don't know."

And that is that. No further discussion. No further questions.

I exit the library, emerge into the dark parking lot and realize I had just witnessed something very bizarre, perhaps one of the most bizarre things I had ever witnessed. 

What was that man's deal? Was he so narcissistic that he thought the library should only close when he's ready to leave? What did he think he could accomplish by ignoring the librarian? Maybe he got off on being the biggest asshole on the planet, to women, or just in general. Maybe that was his only motive: being an asshole and enjoying it.

I want to wait for this man to come out of the library and study his habits. Maybe follow him home. To see if he lives alone somewhere or with a family. I want to know what makes this gigantic asshole tick. I want to observe him for a week. I figure an asshole so gigantic must live in a miserable world of hell. I want to see this hell. I'm curious. 

More importantly, I want to know how often he drinks Pepsi Zero. Perhaps the sugar substitutes could be causing toxicity of the brain, which would account for him being the most gigantic of assholes.

I end up driving off, however, without waiting. Because I'm still not sure if what I had witnessed even happened. I'm still shaking a bit from the adrenaline as I pull out of the parking lot. I realize that I may never witness something so bizarre ever again. And that makes me kind of sad, that the weirdness of this human experience has peaked.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

LIKE BROTHERS Review

Like Brothers on my bookshelf.
The year was 2005. I had been auditing Professor Ray Carney's classes at Boston University, reading every book he wrote (Cassavetes on Cassavetes among others), corresponding with him frequently over email, habitually checking in on his website Cassavetes.com and even sometimes riding bikes with him since he only lived five minutes away from me.

One day, Carney posted on his website that he just saw a few short films by the Duplass Brothers and he was blown away by how good they were. The quality of the shorts convinced him that it was worth investing the time to see the Duplass' first feature film The Puffy Chair, which he was equally blown away by. Now, if Ray Carney said he was blown away by something he saw, you didn't take that lightly! As a very anti-Hollywood film scholar, he was perhaps the toughest cookie to please when it came to films.


What I'm getting at is, if Ray Carney said he was blown away by Duplass Brothers movies, I knew I had to see these movies!


Fortunately, I was able to find most of the shorts online -- not on YouTube -- but maybe it was some other video-sharing website or maybe the Duplass Brothers personal website...sorry, this isn't a very important detail. If my memory serves me correctly, I saw This is John first and was surprised by how fun and funny it was. I think I expected a more "difficult" and "complex" work because that's the kind of film I expected Ray Carney to be attracted to. But, no, this was a simple "three dollar film" and it was absolutely hilarious. In fact, I don't think I had ever laughed out loud so hard, the exception being the first time I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's first movie Hercules in New York (I highly recommend you see this movie if you haven't).





But, yes, This is John was hilarious and "simple" but this isn't to say that the film lacked depth. I found the seven-minute short to be a fascinating character study of an insecure man who obsesses over how he wants the outside world to perceive him. I actually went so far as to write a mini-essay on This is John that talked about what-I-referred-to-as "media personas" in this digital age, how we have technology that enables us to carefully craft how others see us. In the case of This is John, it's an answering machine greeting but, today, we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text messaging and all sorts of other ways we manufacture the way in which we want others to see us and also how we would like to see ourselves.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that This Is John and my media persona "essay" became the spark that set fire to my first (good) screenplay, which later became my first (good) novel called JOHNNY CRUISE (available HERE on Amazon -- sorry for the self-promotion), which is all about media personas among other things. I'm not sure if JOHNNY CRUISE ever would have been born if I hadn't seen This is John so I guess I have the Duplass Brothers to thank for my novel, which I consider to be my favorite and best to date.

I should also say that This is John convinced me that there was no reason why I shouldn't be making good short films on my own with what little money I had and what little equipment I owned. Money and equipment mattered little. Story, writing and acting was what mattered the most. 


I ended up making some great shorts with literally no budget and for one of them I didn't even have a crew. Everybody's heard of a one-man-band but I literally made a one-man-movie where I did all the writing, acting, cinematography and editing myself. Who knows: maybe I would have ended up making these movies anyway but This is John made me realize I could start making good movies, like right now...today!


I would eventually go on to see other Duplass shorts like Scrapple and another one I don't remember the name of but it consists of an intervention for a friend who is suspected to be gay but won't come out of the closet. Both shorts were fantastic because they both started as very simple situations but you would go deeper and deeper into characters and the dynamics of a relationship as the film proceeded. They were very interesting character and relationship studies.


Then, I heard The Puffy Chair was coming to the Boston Independent Film Festival. So I went to the screening. Waiting in line to get into the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, Katie Aselton's parents were behind me chatting. I don't know how I knew this but they had a little group of extended family members or family friends with them and it was obvious who they were. I was about to turn around and tell them how much I loved Jay and Mark's movies but I wussed out big-time.


As far as the film went, I loved Puffy Chair, especially the ending that was very anti-Hollywood, lacking proper closure and the message was that the complications in relationships never stop and, in some cases, relationships don't end up working out at all. Where in Hollywood movies, conflicts between characters always come to a happy resolution, the Duplass' movie realistically reminded us that relationships between people are always in a state of flux.


A few years passed, the Duplass' careers took off and I would go on to see Baghead, Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives at Home and even a short documentary by brothers-Duplass called Kevin, which was about an amazing guitarist/songwriter named...you got it: Kevin. All great movies.


Anyway, all of the above is a long-winded preface to my review of the Duplass' Brothers new book Like Brothers. This book is not just an inspiring "behind the scenes" look at the Duplass careers and the making of many of their movies, but it's also a great behind-the-scenes look at the soulmate-like relationship between the two brothers. 


Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about the concepts of souls and soulmates and "twin flames" and "past lives" and reincarnation and all that New Age kind of stuff. Why? It's just an interest of mine. I've done extensive research on the subjects, I've visited multiple mediums and psychics, attended spiritualist meetings, etc. If souls actually exist, I can't help but wonder what the "history" is behind Mark and Jay's soul relationship. Are they twins on a soul level? Were they creative partners in a past life and both agreed to incarnate on earth at the same time, become filmmakers and tear sh** up in the independent film world? Have they always been together, whether on earth or in the spirit world? The reason I ponder all this is because, if you read their book, it's immediately apparent that their relationship seemed so close so early on in their lives. It's like they already knew each other before they were even born. Mark and Jay should really see a psychic or regression therapist to investigate into this possibility, and I'm not talking about the ones who have blinking neon signs on their windows that say "ten-dollar palm readings".


But enough of the New Age talk. Putting all that business aside, all I can say is that it's a breath of fresh air to see a relationship where there is so much mutual respect for each other, especially between brothers, for crying out loud! What's especially amazing is how much Jay respected Mark at such a young age. Usually, the big brother teases his little brother, doesn't want to hang with him, denies him three times in front of friends etc. But not Jay. This is another reason why I feel they have a soul history that extends beyond their time on earth, but damn, more New Age talk! Sorry.


Ok, putting all New Age talk aside for real this time (I swear), Like Brothers is a great read for aspiring filmmakers. Halfway through the book, Mark and Jay provide a very pragmatic step-by-step guide explaining how one can "make it" in this "brutal fu**ing [film] business". I won't share that information here but, trust me, it's good, practical advice for people who have no friggin' idea where to start. It's a great game plan that I personally wish I had heard about ten years ago but, hey, better late than never!


Sprinkled throughout the book are also fun, hilarious and rather insightful essays/stories. These stories gave me great ideas on how to improve my storytelling craft. For example, to pass time waiting for their flights, Mark and Jay brew up movie ideas that revolve around random people they see in the airport. Also, in another chapter, Mark tells a story where, during the writing of Puffy Chair, he was literally unable to write because of stress fractures and overall physical pain. He consequently got a tape recorder and "wrote" the movie through speaking it out onto a tape. Talking out your movie is a great way to make the dialogue sound more natural and give you a better idea of pacing and how long scenes should be etc.


By the end of reading Like Brothers, I found myself holding back tears and I don't remember a book ever doing that to me before. I started reading the book thinking I would be more interested in the filmmaking tips, career advice and interesting behind-the-scenes "making of" stories. However, by the end, I realized I was perhaps more interested in the story of Mark and Jay as brothers and the journey of their relationship, from struggling "nobody's" to success stories and everything in between. At times, I could see their story as a movie, like I could literally see the footage in my mind and the soundtrack, the tone etc. For example: Jay destroying what remained of the wooden box (you'll know what I'm talking about when you read the book). That image would say so much and no dialogue would even be necessary. I think brothers Duplass should consider making an autobiographical movie someday...


So, yes, I highly recommend Like Brothers. Mark and Jay basically have the ideal filmmaking careers (i.e. one foot in the indie world and one foot, or maybe just a few toes, in the Hollywood studio world). This book tells us how they got there, as a one-of-a-kind brotherly team.



MATT BURNS is not a New York Times bestselling author but he predicts he will be in the future; thus, he’s confident in saying that he is, indeed, a New York Times bestselling author (it just hasn’t happened quite yet). Both his debut novel "Johnny Cruise" and his filmmaking memoir "Garage Movie" are now available on Amazon. Also available are his numerous Kindle singles, including his best-sellers "Jungle F’ng Fever: My 30-Year Love Affair With Guns N’ Roses", "My Raging Case of Beastie Fever", "Three Days in Hollywood", "I Used to be a Gamer" and "Bostonwood". More notably, he has been published in the Los Angeles-based literary magazine "Poetic Diversity". Burns currently lives outside of Boston and makes films/videos in his spare time. Visit mattburnsproductions.com to learn more about him.

Friday, July 13, 2018

GARAGE MOVIE: NEW EXCERPT!

Here is a new free chapter from my best-selling book GARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS, now available on Amazon! Learn more about the book HERE and watch the trailer below.



BRITISH DINGO FROM IRELAND (2001)

Gutter was finished by January 2001 and, due to a busy school schedule, I didn’t get to make another movie until after the spring semester and when I say “after the spring semester” I literally started working on it the day after I was done with my finals. I was so happy that all the school bulls*** was behind me and I could get down to doing what was really important: making movies! Also, I didn’t have a job lined up for the summer so I wanted to work hard and squeeze out a movie before my mom got on my case about filling out applications.

The movie was another ten-minute short called British Dingo from Ireland. Where Gutter was a horror movie, British Dingo from Ireland was my attempt at making an action movie, even though the “action” was limited. The strange title of the movie was basically born out of my inability to speak in an Irish accent without it sounding either British or Australian, so I figured, well, why not create an ambiguous character who may be all three?!

And I did just that. I played a character named Mr. Dingo and he was a shady dude who wore a Scally Cap and a black trench coat (I was kind of ripping off the movie Boondock Saints, which was popular at the time). All Mr. Dingo cared about was money and he recently got himself involved in a big drug deal with some shadowy characters named Kado and Pristine. The scheming Kado and Pristine try to double-cross Dingo and screw him over. The drug deal goes sour and Mr. Dingo finds himself in a firefight.

The "firefight" involved toy guns and many gun sound effects that I believe I downloaded off Napster. The film also featured some pyrotechnics and when I say 'pyrotechnics' all we did was light a firecracker in a Miller Lite beer can to simulate the can being hit by a whizzing bullet.


Pristine (Mark Willis) and Kado (Jeremy Mitchell) scheming on how to screw over Mr. Dingo.

For British Dingo from Ireland, I again chose to shoot in Black and White for aesthetic reasons but I also determined that the digital video looked better in Black and White. It looked more like film whereas the colored video still looked too home-video-ish for my liking.

With Dingo, I also attempted using a car as a “dolly” so I could try and get some cool-looking tracking shots. I recruited one of my friends to film Mr. Dingo (me) out the car window and had another friend drive slowly. Surprisingly, the shots came out nice and smooth, especially with the help of my camera’s (aforementioned) image stabilizer.

I even found some cool shooting locations, the coolest of which was a creepy-looking warehouse in the middle of wonderful Walpole, MA. This warehouse was where the drug deal was to go down but, since I couldn’t shoot inside the actual building, I got all tricksy with the editing and cut from an exterior shot of Mr. Dingo (me) walking up to the warehouse…to an interior shot of me opening my garage door…then, I shot the rest of the scene inside my garage. In other words, I created the illusion that the inside of my garage was really the inside of the warehouse. It worked well. I mean, most people probably could tell what I did, but it still worked well enough and the illusion was all done through editing. Amazing!

And that wasn’t the only illusion I created through editing. Don’t tell anybody but I shot most of my scenes as Dingo on a completely different day and time from the shots of Pristine and Kado. In the film, it seems like we’re all together in one warehouse scene but all I did was edit the shots together and create the illusion that we were all acting together in one scene. Of course, I did have to throw in a wide shot or two showing all three of us together; otherwise, a keen eye would grow suspicious of my trickery. The film theorist AndrĂ© Bazin would’ve appreciated the wide shots. In the 1940s, Bazin wrote that Eisensteinian montage (i.e. piecing separate shots together to create an illusion) was a fascist-like manipulation of reality. He preferred a cinema with minimal editing. He wanted those wide shots! He wanted realism! So, I heeded the words of Bazin and gave him the wide shots, but—for the most part—montage was my very best friend in the whole wide world during the making of Dingo.

Indeed, the power of editing never ceased to amaze me and I really pushed iMovie's parameters with British Dingo from Ireland. I remember that the first version of iMovie only provided two soundtracks for you to work with. This meant that you could put music on one track and then sound effects or dialogue on the other track. The problem was when you wanted to use background music, dialogue AND multiple sound FX at the same time. In editing programs today, you basically have unlimited tracks to work with so, say, if you have a car accident sequence and you want multiple sound effects (the crash, the horn sounding, glass shattering, hubcaps rolling, not to mention musical score and maybe even some dialogue, e.g. "holy s*** we're crashing!") you have plenty of tracks to layer all the sound on top of each other. But when you only have two sound tracks? Well...your options are limited.

What I ended up doing is putting sound effects on the same track as music, literally piling them atop each other, which iMovie allowed me to do and the sounds would end up playing simultaneously. But you weren't supposed to do this, so it significantly slowed down the computer. In fact, in many cases, it slowed down the computer to such an extent that my poor PowerBook laptop froze on me several times. I began to realize that iMovie was only useful for extremely simple editing. My movies were already becoming too complex what with their multiple sound FX, music and dialogue tracks etc.

Surprisingly, I didn't quite see all this as writing on the wall telling me I should make the switch to Final Cut Pro. Well, maybe I did see the writing on the wall but I ignored it, mainly because I liked and knew how to use iMovie. So, short story long, I kept using iMovie. But it was with my next movie that I pushed it too far. I’ll get to that next movie in a few moments.

I had a final cut of British Dingo from Ireland in my hands about a week after I finished shooting. I was addicted to editing it and often worked late into the night. I had this strange OCD-like thing going on where I would edit up to a certain point and then watch what I had so far and I would watch it over and over and over again. I still do that with every project I work on up to this day. It’s like I’m so impressed with what I created that I need to watch it repeatedly. Maybe it’s like being God where He creates the world and on the 7th day He sits back and enjoys what He created, only my “7th day” is repeated over and over again. Yes, it’s something like that, more or less, probably less.


A rare photo of me editing British Dingo from Ireland. You can see my camera bag nearby, as well as my trusty FireWire cable. Photo by Brian Burns.

Like with Gutter, I exported the final cut out to a MiniDV tape and then to a VHS tape. My friends watched this movie repeatedly but, this time, I was proud of what I created and, well, the movie kind of made sense, at least a tad more sense than Gutter. So I wanted to do something more with the movie than just show it to my friends. But what could I do with it?

Well, it was around this time that I had stumbled upon a website called iFilm.com. This was a website that featured videos and films made by amateur filmmakers. You could pay around 50 bucks, send your movie to iFilm, and they would upload it onto their website for the entire world to see. Again, these were the days before YouTube, Vimeo or anything like that. The idea of my short film being available on the worldwide web for the world to see…well, I thought it would be awesome! I wanted the entire world to see British Dingo from Ireland. So why not send it to iFilm?

Well, send it to iFilm I did, in the form of a MiniDV for optimal quality. I waited a few weeks and then they sent me an email about a release date. The big premiere would be July something-or-other so I got really excited. I thought this would be my big break. British Dingo from Ireland would take the world by storm.

I made a poor-man’s version of a movie poster and Xeroxed dozens of copies. Then, I went door-to-door to local businesses in the small suburb of Walpole and asked if I could hang them up on their windows or somewhere inside. I was surprised that several of these people were cool with it. They had no idea what the movie was about but I had them convinced I was going to be the next Ben Affleck and Matt Damon…combined! These days were all pre-social media, of course, so this was my only option for marketing. I literally had to print out real, physical movie posters, walk into the real, three-dimensional world and ask real, small-business owners if I could hang these posters on their windows. Today, you would start a Facebook page and Twitter handle and Instagram and all that s***. Not in 2001, though. Nope, you had to get your boots on the ground and hang fliers up in well-traveled areas.


 My poor man’s version of a movie poster for British Dingo from Ireland.

Well, the day of the big premiere came and I thought British Dingo from Ireland would become an overnight phenomenon. Not quite the case. The movie ran for two months, I believe, and I only garnered a total of 50 views. Granted, I was rather impressed by 50 views but, of course, today, getting 50 YouTube views is easy, even if you’re videotaping yourself picking your nose. Actually, bad example—that video would probably go viral in this day and age.

So, no, I didn’t quite blow up to the bigtime, but I was still impressed that I had attracted an audience of 50 people to a film I made with my own bare hands. The fact that I created a movie from scratch and that an audience of 50 people saw that movie was an incredible feeling.


Actual screenshot from the iFilm website.

Watch the British Dingo from Ireland trailer on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7-dBy2QC60g


Watch the full British Dingo from Ireland film here (note: this is a link to one of my blogs where the film is posted, not YouTube, so don’t be alarmed): http://mattburnsproductions.blogspot.com/2017/05/british-dingo-from-ireland.html

Sunday, July 8, 2018

GARAGE MOVIE: READ FIRST CHAPTER FREE!

Here is the first chapter from my best-selling book GARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS, now available on Amazon! Learn more about the book HERE and watch the trailer below!

FADE IN

I didn't always want to be a filmmaker. At least, I don't think I did. No, I don’t think I did. All right, let’s just play it safe here and say there’s a small possibility that I did but it was more than likely that I didn’t. Maybe like a two-percent chance. Okay, maybe more like a 2.74444444444 percent chance.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I had three career aspirations in mind and none of them had to do with filmmaking. I figured it was good to have the magic-number-three because it was always possible that, if one didn't work out, then I'd have two others to fall back on, and then if one of those two didn’t work out, I’d have one more to rely on. And, if all three fell through, then, well…life over, bucko. You were doomed.


Career Aspiration #1 -- Basketball Player
I was dead serious about this, too. I played in the “CYO” (Catholic Youth Organization) basketball league every winter, spent most of my free time practicing foul shots in my driveway and even attended basketball camp during my summers. I’m talking hardcore basketball camp, too; none of that summer day-camp shit kids went to so they wouldn’t get bored during the summer. It was called “Husky Basketball Camp” and it took place at Northeastern University in Boston. I got bussed into the city Monday through Friday for a week and we played basketball all day except for the very end of the day where we had the option of swimming in the indoor pool, but that was only if we were comfortable enough changing in the men’s locker room. I thought I was comfortable enough changing in the men’s locker room but I quickly changed my mind after seeing my first grown man naked and was significantly traumatized. This is all extraneous information, though. Sorry, that’s not what this book is about. 
The truth of the matter is that, overall, I didn’t really like “Husky Basketball Camp” and it wasn’t just because of my traumatizing experience in the locker room. I loved basketball, don’t get me wrong, but Husky camp was just not very fun. I never returned to that camp but my basketball dreams stayed alive well through middle school, probably up until I was about 14 years old. I tell you the truth when I say I played a lotta fregging hoops, though, as the years went by, I became less and less…well, ‘good’ is probably the proper word…at least relative to other boys my age. Becoming a pro-basketball player became less and less of a reality and, consequently, became less and less appealing to me. However, I kept playing and I even found another (more local) basketball camp called “Fast Break”, which was later renamed “Rebel Hoops Camp”. 
I had much more fun at “Fast Break” and I became somewhat famous among campers, though this fame had nothing to do with my basketball skills. See, the coaches had learned at some point during the week that I had another talent—playing the drums—and, one day, they had me play on some buckets in front of the entire camp. I’m not sure how they got away with this because it had nothing to do with basketball, but, yes, they rounded up some buckets and had me play them with two dowels that they found in the janitor’s closet. From what I remember, my “performance” was rather poor but I tried to make it sound like Blue Man Group and the campers went wild. I was cool for a hot minute. I felt like a rock star, which brings me to…

Career Aspiration #2 -- Rock Star Drummer
Indeed, becoming a rock star drummer was my second career aspiration of the aforementioned three. I bought my very first drum set (the cool kids call it ‘drum kit’ but I’m sticking with ‘drum set’) in the third grade and, yes, I bought it myself with the help of some First Communion gift money. I basically taught myself how to play and, over the years, I got better and better and f***ing better. 
By the time middle school came around, I was in a cover band with a couple of friends. Our most notable performance was the 7th grade talent show where we performed the song “When I Come Around” by Green Day. Our performance was legendary because we were the first actual “band” to ever perform in the Johnson Middle School (aka JMS) talent show. This sounds insane because the year was 1995 and you’d think another band would’ve preceded us, especially during the late-80s when glam-bands and MTV were all the rage. Guess not, though. Up until our Green Day performance, the JMS talent show mostly consisted of girls doing tumbling routines to the tune of C&C Music Factory.
After blowing up big with the talent show, my band landed a gig at a hormone-fueled “Teen Center Dance” held in the local “Blackburn Hall”. This was a dance where teens asked their friends to ask girls to dance with them. Supposedly some French kissing—the kids at my school called it ‘scooping’ for reasons unknown—went on at these dances, too, but I was never cool enough to scoop anybody at the Teen Center. I mean, I had a hard enough time asking a friend to ask a girl to dance with me, let alone scoop anyone! Of course, my luck with girls changed when my band played the dance—then, shit, man…the girls came to ME, man. I was Mr. Cool Rockstar drummer dude, though I still slow-danced like an awkward Frankenstein and usually left way too much room for the holy ghost.
Riding high on our fame, my band also started playing (chaperoned) house parties. Our set-list included songs like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins and “Glycerine” by Bush, the latter of which melted the hearts of all the 14-year-old girls. I must say that being a drummer in a cool band was a godsend for a shy boy like I was. At one party, I ended up scooping a smoking hot Costa Rican exchange student whom unfortunately got deported a few days later after getting caught stealing scrunchies from Filenes (true story). There were other girls I got to kiss as well, usually during spin-the-bottle games that would take place after my band’s performance. I don’t mean to brag but I was getting tons of tongue, all thanks to the fact that I was a nasty drummer. In fact, I don’t think I ever would have had my first kiss if I didn’t play the drums. Double-in-fact, I may have still been waiting for my first kiss ‘til this day. I could have been like Drew Barrymore in that movie, what is it called? Never Been Kissed. Yes, that’s the one. I’d like to scoop Drew Barrymore, by the way.
I played drums throughout high school, hopped around from band to band, but, for whatever reason, the drumming wasn’t rewarding me with any more scoops. My senior year came along and my new cover band at the time was slated to play the post-prom party that my school hosted in its gymnasium. I thought this would be my big comeback. I would win over the hearts of all the high school girls and secure me a lifetime’s-worth of sloppy scooping. 
Well, the big night came and my band played such hits as “Blind” by Korn, “Give it Away Now” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Do What They Told Ya” by Rage Against the Machine, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica and even a couple songs by Pink Floyd. The performance was stellar, though I was shocked when I didn’t have dozens of girls lining up to scoop me afterwards. My dream of a drummer rock star died right then and there at my senior year post-prom party.
Okay, it wasn’t completely dead, I suppose. I would go on to play in a Misfits cover band during my freshman year of college. We played a few gigs at a local school called “Wheaton College” and even recorded a demo album in a semi-professional studio. But the band dissipated after a few months or so. 
Then, my sophomore year, I joined a female-fronted punk band called “Death in Arms”. We played a handful of gigs at dive bars in Providence and Boston, but the band only lasted a year, recorded a couple demo albums and then we also broke apart. By late college, I was actually sick of playing the drums. Imagine that! To this day, I don’t enjoy playing them that much. As I write this, I hardly play them. Every once in a while, I give them a try but then I get bored really fast. It’s kind of sad but I think one day they will interest me again. That day is not now, though.
So the rock star drummer dream was dead, or at least hibernating a bit. The basketball player dream was long dead, too. What was left then?

Career Aspiration #3 -- Acting
I was drawn to acting from early on in my life, basically ever since the third grade and, now that I think of it, third grade seemed to be a very significant year of my life career-wise. This was when I first joined a basketball team, first bought a drum set, and also...first starred in a school play.
The play had something to do with Mother Goose and I played a character named Tom. I don’t remember the play at all but I do remember a line where I had to describe how “big” (i.e. fat) a man was. Or maybe it was Humpty Dumpty I was describing? All I know is I got the audience to laugh very hard at my body-shaming insults and I then realized I had some acting chops. I also liked how—after the play—I went out into the audience to find my parents and I could feel a bunch of eyes on me, like I was a star. It felt good for my ego. This was my first taste of fame and I’m not going to lie: I liked it.
From that point forward, I dreamed of becoming an actor one day. I did several plays and, although plays were nice, I mostly set my sights on movies and television in Hollywood. For a while, there was one main reason for this: I had my eyes on an actress from one of my favorite TV shows. Yes, you probably guessed it: that show was Full House and that actress was Jodie Sweetin who played Stephanie Tanner. I had a MAJOR crush on Stephanie and I kept dreaming that one day I would go to Hollywood, become a big child actor and become Stephanie’s boyfriend. 
In fact, my plan was to become the next Eddie Furlong; you know, the child actor who played John Connor in the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I told my mom that I’d need to grow my bangs out like Furlong because this was the only way I would get parts and become an actor. My mom was anti-bangs, though, and my hair wouldn’t cooperate anyway. See, by nature, my hair was too thick and Brillo-like. In other words, it had no movement to it so, if I grew out bangs, I would essentially have a static doormat hanging from my face. It would be the furthest thing from Eddie Furlong and I surely wouldn’t get acting parts, nor would I win the love of Stephanie Tanner.
One day when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, my dad saw in the newspaper that there was going to be an open casting call at the Braintree Mall, just outside Boston. Warner Brothers producers were out to find a Robin that would star in the next Batman movie: Batman Forever. I was thinking this was it! My big break! But, for whatever reason, I never attended that casting call. Maybe my parents refused to take me or maybe I got cold feet. Surely hundreds or maybe even thousands of people would have showed up. It was probably more of a promotional event than an actual serious search for the perfect boy/man to play Batman’s sidekick. At least that’s what I told myself and that’s what I’ve been telling myself ever since that day.
Warner Brothers ultimately cast an already-established actor by the name of Chris O’Donnell who was way older than me. I guess I felt good that nobody else had been “discovered” but I couldn’t help but wonder: maybe…just maybe…if that assistant to the assistant to the casting director had seen me, maybe Matt Burns would have been Robin and a brilliant acting career would have been born. Oh, what could have been…
So, for the most part (or actually for the all-part), my dreams of becoming a famous child actor in Hollywood remained dreams and nothing more. However, I guess I was still considered a child actor since I was acting, just not in Hollywood. For a period of about ten years, I performed in play after play after play…after play. I did nothing but plays. Some of these plays were at school, like in the drama club. But others were part of a local theater troupe called the Walpole Children’s Theatre.
The Walpole Children’s Theatre (WCT) was a fantastic theater troupe, probably one of the best children’s theaters in existence, although, last time I checked, that wasn’t scientific fact. Our motto was that we don’t just put on plays that are good for kids plays; we put on good plays, period. In other words, we didn’t lower our standards because we were kids and, oh, we’re so cute, so it’s ok if we sucked. Nope. We saw ourselves as professionals and we held our theatrical productions to the highest of standards. None of that go-out-on-stage-and-give-your-mother-in-the-audience-a-quick-wave shit. No way. That would be unacceptable!
I joined WCT when I was 12 years old. I was scared shitless at my first audition because everybody seemed so much older and cooler than me, but I landed a part as a hobbit “Grocery Boy” in a production of The Hobbit. No, there isn’t a grocery boy in the actual Hobbit novel as far as I remember, but there was one in the play and that’s who I was. I chose to speak in a ridiculously heavy British accent and I delivered groceries to Bilbo Baggins whilst he hosted the dwarves to a dinner near the beginning of the play. Hobbits didn’t care much for dwarves so my big moment was when I scrunched my nose with disgust and shouted the line, “Dwarves…like locusts!” and then Bilbo pushed me out of his home. Yes, the part was small, but I also played an elf later in the play and then even later I got to play an evil goblin as well.
The next summer, I was cast as one of two “Gong Boys” in a production of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It was another small role with a small amount of lines but it was fun because I had this cool comedic bit where my fellow gong boy partner hit the gong I was holding really hard and then my legs would shudder from the reverberation. Sounds a tad homoerotic, I know (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) but it got laughs from the audience and God knows I loved getting laughs.
Eventually, I started landing larger roles in WCT productions. One year, I was Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and then the next year I was The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. I was also the head dwarf in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Oh, and I played a court jester in Aladdin, which was a different version from Disney’s Aladdin, by the way—you know, just in case you’re saying, “Wait, I don’t remember a court jester! He’s lying!” The Jester turned into an evil magician halfway through the play (this magician was basically the equivalent of Jafar in the Disney version) and what I loved about the role was that I could really explore my versatility. As the jester, I was a goofy clown, juggling and trying to make people laugh. As the magician, I was evil and sinister, the complete opposite of the jester. My job in the former role was to make the audience love me. My job in the latter role was to make the audience loathe me. I loved subverting the audience’s expectations. Just when they thought they loved me, I turned on them. Muahaha.
Overall, I loved being in the children’s theater. The atmosphere was very family-like and you grew very close to your castmates, directors, producers, stagehands etc. You grew especially close to each other during “hell week”, which was the naughty slang term referring to the “tech week” leading up to the opening performance. Sometimes we would have three performances in one single day so we would arrive at the theater around seven o’clock in the morning and literally be around each other until nine o’clock that night, or even later if we went out for ice cream after the show. In between performances we would play card games (‘Spit’ was usually the game of choice), listen to music (Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots come to mind), eat food (usually pizza or McDonald’s) and, well, sometimes it was more fun hanging out backstage than being onstage acting.
For the last show of each production, the backstage crew would always play pranks on the cast members and I would sometimes be the target of those pranks. The one I remember the most above all others happened during the last Robin Hood performance. During one of the scenes, I had to page through a ledger for reasons I don’t recall and, when I went to open the ledger, I saw numerous pictures of morbidly obese women wearing nothing but string bikinis. These pictures were like something you would find in the “adult” section of the Spencer Gifts card aisle—you know, husky women with, like, quadruple-D breasts drooping down like a pair of soggy watermelons. It was extremely difficult not to laugh but I managed to maintain my composure even though I could see in my periphery that numerous stagehands were snickering offstage. After I said my lines, I slammed the ledger shut, harder than usual, almost like I wanted the crew to know that they didn’t break me. Of course, later into the performance, I started flubbing lines left and right, but I don’t think it was the prank that rattled me; I think I was just overtired, it being the last performance and all.

 

This is me backstage before Robin Hood (not wearing my Sheriff of Nottingham wig).



Me in my elf costume taken after a performance of The Hobbit.


 

There I am as the court jester after a performance of Aladdin.




This is me as the head dwarf in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (non-Disney version). I was named Blick or Glick, something like that. Not Doc.

Between the years 1994-99, I was in about eight plays with WCT and all these were performed alongside school drama club musicals, such as Godspell, Guys and Dolls and City of Angels. I enjoyed all the roles I played in both the WCT plays and the drama club musicals but I think my most favorite role came from the most unlikeliest of places. Not from WCT…not from drama club, either…but from…Holy Moses…Church!

A little bio blurb from the Guys and Dolls program.

During my sophomore year of high school, I was attending CCD classes for my upcoming Confirmation and I started getting heavy into church activities so I could make the best out of what was otherwise a pretty boring process (sorry, God, not your fault). I was a lector at masses, doing readings from the Gospel and such. I also played drums in the youth band. And, somehow, I got recruited to play Pontius Pilate in The Passion play… 
Pontius Pilate surprisingly became my favorite acting role of all my various acting roles, and maybe this was because, at the time, I was tired of doing fairy-tale-type plays and flamboyant musicals. I had the burning desire to try something more ‘serious’. I didn’t know much about the Bible or especially the Gospels, but my instincts must have kicked in and I decided to play Pilate as a very sympathetic character. He is, of course, the guy who sentences Jesus to death but I depicted him as—not an evil villain—but as a politician at the mercy of public pressure.
We performed the play twice, once on Palm Sunday and then again on Good Friday. My performance was well-received and I had several parishioners (mostly elderly women) approach me afterwards to thank me for my performance. They said that I made them see Pilate in a whole new light: not as a one-dimensional villain but as a more complex human being. I felt proud about that. I mean, I had the power to change a person’s perspective, make them see people differently, even people from the most famous book of all time: The Holy Bible! This was also the first time I felt a responsibility as an actor, the responsibility of portraying a character in a manner that was true to that character and his or her human condition.
Despite my Pilate performance being a success, I started to get sick of acting as my high school years progressed. Maybe one of the reasons was that I was doing too much of it. I mean, there was WCT, there were the high school drama club musicals and then an occasional church play—okay, only one of those…but still. My senior year in high school I played a Hungarian Broadway director named Bela in a musical called Crazy for You. It was the last play I did for several years. Like with the drums, acting stopped being interesting to me. Besides, by this time, I had been bitten by another bug and an entirely new career aspiration was on the rise…

Friday, April 20, 2018

NEVER FORGET the Fun-o-rama

Ah, it's that time of year again. In fact, it may be my favorite time of the year (aside from XMAS, of course, and also International Coffee Day Eve). Mid-April. The temperature outside has just gotten a liiiiiittle warmer. The grass is still moist outside from the snowmelt. There's the dank smell of muddiness in the air.

Last night, while driving, I had the car windows rolled down and I could hear the best sound there is in the world. It's the sound of those spring peepers, chirping away in swampy wetland, not too far off the main road. Oh, the sound of those peepers is the best sound in the world. The best.

Aside from being relaxing as anything, the peeper sounds also trigger a Pavlovian-like excitement deep inside my bodily cells. This excitement is undoubtedly rooted in my associating such sounds with April vacation.

Christmas vacation was always great and February vacation was okay, too, but April vacation trumped all of the three main school vacations. After all, it was the warmest of all vacations, you could sometimes even wear shorts, and you could watch the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day, go for hikes in the woods, maybe grab a cone at the local Bubbling Brook ice cream parlor (which had just recently opened its doors for the season), daylight savings time had come and gone, and the sun didn't fully set until almost eight-frigging-o'clock at night!


But warm weather, outdoor activities and ice cream cones were only a SMALL part of what made April vacation the bestest of vacations. When it came down to brass tacks, April vacation was the most anticipated of all school vacations because it meant one thing and one thing only:


The carnival was coming to town!

The "Billy Burr's Funorama" carnival, to be exact. For residents of Walpole, Massachusetts, this was the carnival of all carnivals, with games, food and plenty of rides...even upside down rides. When a carnival had upside down rides, you KNEW it was the real deal.


Indeed, Billy Burr's Funorama (no relation to the comedian Bill Burr in case you were wondering) would roll into town every year for April vacation and set up their "show" on Stone Field located behind Walpole's Town Hall. Stone Field was a Little League/Pop Warner field and Billy Burr's gang of vagabond carnies would arrive at the field on Saturday, assemble their respective amusement rides -- rusty bolt by rusty bolt -- and by Monday, Patriots Day, the carnival would be all ready to "amuse" the public with their rides.

I wish I knew exactly how many years the Billy Burr carnival came to Walpole, because I don't remember a time in my childhood when it didn't come, so I'm guessing at least the late-1980s to about 2007 or so? I would say it had a good 20-year run, though it may have even been longer than that. Not sure.

My earliest memories of the Funorama consisted of me begging my parents to take me to the carnival all April vacation long. By about Thursday or Friday, my mom or dad would finally cave and bring me there for a couple hours or so. No offense to my parents but my carnival experience with them was a tad on the dull side. No, not dull, that's too harsh. Let's instead say that it was a snooze-fest.

First of all, they would bring me to the carnival smack-dab in the middle of the day, around mid-to-late afternoon, and this was such a bad move because the carnival looked aesthetically terrible in the daylight. Not only were there no pretty lights but the rides looked faded in color, like they had been sitting in the sun far too long, weathered in parts and, in some cases, grimy.

Second of all, I had to go on all the kiddie rides. You know the ones; there was that "giant" (aka not-so-giant) super-slide you slid down on a potato sack. Then, there was the disorientating "mirror maze" that freaked the hell out of me. This was like a funhouse but it was all mirrors and you had to navigate yourself through what-seemed-like a labyrinth. This sounds like it would be easy but it wasn't always. And it made me feel very claustrophobic. Anxiety attacks were commonplace.

Then, of course, there were the bumper cars, a ride where you spent about 90% of your time either wedged in a corner or trapped between two other drivers who didn't know how to get their car to go in reverse. Also, the whole concept of the ride was awkward. You were trying to crash your car into complete strangers. As a child, I was conditioned to be a well-mannered boy and crashing into strangers made me uncomfortable.



As I got older, however, I grew tall enough to go on some of the more exciting rides...the most memorable of which was that Pirate Ship ride that swung back and forth like a pendulum. You know the one: if you sat in the way back of it, the ship would swing back and forth, get higher and higher, and then eventually it would go high enough so that you were vertical with the ground. The ride also gave you a funny tingling feeling in the 'down-there' area, not unlike climbing the rope in gym class.


Another ride that was equally amusing was the Rock and Roll. I suppose you would place this ride in the category of roller coaster (maybe?) but all it did was go in a circle, kind of like a spinning record player, go up and down a subtle incline, move in and out of a tunnel and it would go faster and faster as the ride progressed and then stop and go backwards halfway through. During the ride, rock and roll music blasted out of PA speakers and this music was DJ'd by a bandana-wearing, Keith Richards-looking carny stationed in a glass DJ booth. I believe this DJ even spoke into a microphone throughout the ride. He would say things like, "We're cranking up the speed, now! Let me see your hands in the air! Don't puke!"

As I grew even older, I graduated to the more adult rides and I also no longer needed to attend the carnival under adult supervision. I was a bit of a skater punk by this point in my life and my friends and I would spend much of April vacation skateboarding up at the Walpole High School's skate park with all its quarter pipes, launch ramps, fun boxes and what-have-you. After we got a good skate session in, we hopped on our skateboards, glided down Common Street to the center of town, hid our boards in a nearby bush and then hit up the carnival, skater-punk-style. 'Skater-punk-style' meant going on all the badass rides, the most adult of all the adult rides, the first of which was...


The Gravitron.




The Gravitron basically looked like a giant, UFO-like spaceship and, as a kid, it always looked so friggin' ominous from the outside. Upon entering, you would stand up against a matted wall and then you got "locked" inside. When the ride began, the ship would start spinning faster and faster and faster. The centrifugal force would make you start sticking to the wall, thus making it feel like you were literally losing gravity. You could crawl really high up onto the wall, flip yourself upside down and just hang out like that for the rest of the ride.

What I remember about the Gravitron the most was how it smelled inside, like a combination of stale puke and carny body odor. The latter aroma came from the sad-looking carny whose job was to sit in the non-spinning center of the Gravitron, running the ride and making sure the kids behaved themselves. He spent a small portion of the time messing with the Gravitron control panel, but throughout most of the ride he stared into space and looked despondent. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of thoughts went through his mind, or if he ever experienced motion sickness from watching kids spin around him all day. For the most part, I tried to pretend he wasn't there because he was a depressing presence and killed my carnival joy.


After the Gravitron, it was time for Super Loops, which was essentially a legit rollercoaster but it went upside down in one giant loop. Well, what would happen is the ride would start and the train-like cage you rode in would begin going back and forth along its track, kind of the like the aforementioned pirate ship ride. The train would get higher and higher each time it went back and forth and, eventually, you would stop at the top of the loop, completely upside down and, after that, you would go 'round the loop over and over again.



Looking at the pictures of Super Loops now, I'm amazed that I was so young and dumb enough to ever go on that thing. The ride was literally a giant, flimsy-looking loop of scrap metal supported by cables that ran from one side to the other. In other words, it didn't exactly look like a product of well-thought-out engineering. Also, consider the kind of people (i.e. carnies) who put these rides together; they weren't exactly the most trustworthy individuals on the planet, not that I'm carny-prejudiced or anything but, c'mon, don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. I remember the man operating Super Loops looking like he had just gotten released from the State Pen! I'm honestly surprised nobody ever died on the thing...well, at least nobody ever died while it was in Walpole. As for anywhere else? Who knows. It's likely to have claimed the lives of several hundreds.

Now, Super Loops was badass and all, but it was NOTHING compared to the mother of all Billy Burr's Funorama carnival rides. This ride was for only the bravest of carnival-goers. You had to be fearless and you had to have a stomach made of iron. Of course, the ride I'm referring to is...


THE ZIPPER.


The Zipper basically looked like a giant caterpillar or maybe centipede. It went up high in the air, it spun on an axis, it went vertical, it went horizontal, it went upside down, and the 2-3 person cage you rode the ride in itself flipped upside down multiple times. It was a relentless ride. Just when you thought to yourself, "I can't take any more of this," you dropped into another intense free fall.

Oh, yes: the free fall. Those who have rode the Zipper must know what I'm talking about. There was one phase in the ride where your cage reached the highest point it could go and you dropped down into what-felt-like a true free fall from perhaps 70 feet up. This free fall would, indeed, give you the tingly 'down there' feeling and would then be followed by one or two or sometimes even three upside down flips in a row, depending on how you and your Zipper partner(s) shifted your bodyweight.


As a skater punk, I knew I needed to go on the Zipper and I knew I needed to go on it with the bravest of faces. It wasn't long into the ride, however, before the skater punk persona moved aside and allowed the screaming little girl inside me to reveal herself. That's right: the Zipper rocked my world...in a very scary way, yes, but, in the long run, it was the most exhilarating experience I'd ever had. At the time, I thought there was no bigger rush that you could get from anything in life. Of course, a couple years later, I went to Busch Gardens, rode Apollo's Chariot -- the rollercoaster Fabio notoriously got a bird-to-the-face on -- and quickly learned that there were larger rushes out there. And, then, a couple years after Busch Gardens, heroin came into my life and gave me a rush that made the Zipper and Apollo's Chariot seem like friggin' schoolyard merry-go-rounds.


Just kidding about the heroin.


But, yes, the Zipper gave me a rush like I had never experienced up until that point in my life. It was literally the king of all Billy Burr's carnival rides. I mean, this thing was so badass that it took a special, highly-trained carny to operate such a machine. I'm not sure he had to go to engineering school but he must've at least needed an 8th grade education. Unlike the other carnies who stared off into space and looked all zombie-like, the Zipper carny took pride in running his ride. He expressed this pride by wearing a faded-denim jacket with the Zipper logo patched on the back. In other words, the Zipper was his baby and he genuinely cared about giving carnival-goers the ride of their lives. He fed off of everyone's fear of his machine. He relished the sounds of all their screams!


In fact, it was probably the Zipper carny who possessed the most personality out of all the carnies. Well, this may not be true; that is, if you count the "barkers" as carnies.


The barkers? Yep, the barkers. I'm talking about the carnies who ran the rows upon rows of fun-filled carnival games. These barkers HAD to have personalities; otherwise they wouldn't seduce anyone into playing their (rigged) games and what carnival experience would be complete if nobody played those (rigged) carnival games? You know the ones; there was that shooting gallery game where you shot some sort of pebble gun at a piece of paper with a target. Then, there was a fishing game where you were given a magnetic rod and you tried to catch plastic frogs on lily pads that floated in a water tank. There was also a ring-toss-type-game but maybe I'm making that one up. Oh, and you had a game that tested how fast you could throw a baseball at a tarp with a catcher's mitt painted on it. And then, of course, you had that ubiquitous mallet game where you tested your strength and showed off to your girlfriend...


But my favorite game of all the games was always the basketball game where you would shoot a basketball into a net with a rim that was waaaaay below regulation in terms of its width. The rim was so narrow it would practically cough your friggin' ball right back out unless you got a perfect swish. This meant you had to be REALLY precise with your shooting. We're talking perfect shooter's wrinkle in the wrist. Flawless goose-neck-follow-through in your shot.


I spent a ridiculous amount of money at this basketball game and the biggest thing I ever won was a giant, furry, stuffed crayon. I probably spent $20 or $30 just to get this purple furry crayon that was probably made for about 30 cents with the blood and sweat of borderline-suicidal Chinese people. In retrospect, that's ridiculous. The fur wasn't even soft; it was kind of oily-feeling, like a carny had used it as a rag to wipe his hands on after setting up the oily parts of Super Loops. Or maybe the barker had used it as a napkin after eating a lunch of fried dough...

Oh man. Fried dough. So good. And the cotton candy. And the candy apples...the hotdogs, and the cheeseburgers. Carnival food was delish, even though it lacked nutrish. Get it? Lol.

I can bet what you're wondering right now: since Billy Burr's Funorama brought so much fun and joy to the hearts of so many carnival-goers, how is it that such a fun-filled carnival ever STOPPED coming to the town of Walpole?


Well, there are a couple theories behind this.


The town of Walpole's official excuse was that the carnival inflicted too much damage to the Stone Field that lied beneath it. In 2008, the field had supposedly just been re-seeded and town officials didn't want the carnival coming in and destroying the grass that they had just spent so much money on. Pretty lame, if you ask me. I mean, I had to miss out on my favorite carnival just so Little League and Pop Warner players had pretty green grass to play their sports on? Paleeeeeze. That's lame sauce, brother.


However, there are many Walpolians who claim that the "new seed" excuse was only the "official" reason for the carnival's disappearance, while the REAL reason was that the carnival, though fun and amusing for most, brought with it a lot of trouble.


Okay, it's true. Billy Burr's Funorama undeniably emitted a somewhat menacing vibe when it came to town and this energy did somehow manifest into trouble, pretty much every year that the carnival came around.


Part of this trouble came from the carnies themselves. Again, no offense to any carnival workers out there, but let's face it: most carnies are a unique breed. In fact, Billy Burr's carnies looked like they were from a different dimension altogether. They all had a burnt-out look to them. Sun-baked-potato-brown skin. Rotting teeth if they even had any chompers to begin with. Greasy hair. And a rotting soul. Okay, maybe 'rotting soul' is going too far or maybe I'm holding myself back in fear of being politically incorrect. No...no...NO! I'm going with rotting soul; I can't hold back the truth! I mean, I don't even remember those carnies ever uttering a single word, except for the Zipper carny, though that was more like a cackle as he got off on people's screams. For the most part, all the other carnies were silent. Eerie. Ghostly.


Not to go off on a tangent or anything (i.e. buckle up for a brief tangent), but the more I attended the carnival every year, the more I developed a fascination with the mysterious carnies. I wanted to know, where did these people come from? Did they travel with the carnival year-round? More importantly, where did they live while the carnival was in town?


I've heard two differing answers to the latter question, the first of which was that they lived in trailer homes. For a while, I thought this was true because there were several trailer homes parked in the municipal parking lot adjacent to where the carnival was. I was fascinated with this kind of lifestyle -- the vagabond lifestyle -- and it actually seemed very appealing to me. You could travel around America. Work at a carnival. Sleep in a trailer at night. It seemed adventurous. In fact, I figured that each carny must have hitched their respective ride to their trailer home and traveled from destination to destination. For example, the Gravitron carny would hitch around the Gravitron; the Super Loops carny would hitch around Super Loops; the Zipper carny would hitch around the Zipper. What I'm saying is that their respective ride was literally like their baby that they took from state to state, from sea to shining sea. Maybe they actually owned the ride themselves and Billy Burr rented them out. Yes, maybe they were all independent contractors and their ride was literally their bread maker. Or maybe some of the carnies leased the rides and the goal was to someday own them. Not that I've thought too much about this or anything...


However, in my later years, I heard that, contrary to my belief, the carnies did NOT sleep in the trailer homes but, instead, stayed in a nearby Walpole motel called The Boston View Motel. The Boston View Motel sounds like a luxury hotel but "Boston View" was a bit of an exaggeration because all you could see was the very tip of the Prudential building from about 26 miles away. Instead of five-star hospitality with wake-up calls and free continental breakfasts, The Boston View was more known as a place good for heroin deals, bed bugs and other $40-per-night shenanigans and, when I say "shenanigans", I'm not talking about pillow fights, people.


Anyway, I always preferred to believe that the carnies lived in the trailer homes as opposed to The Boston View motel. Trailer homes sounded more exciting to me. It was the more adventurous answer.


But where was I anyway? Oh, yes. The trouble. The carnies caused some trouble.


I guess what happened one year is that one of the carnies got in a fight with his girlfriend or wife. Some sort of domestic dispute. There was drinking involved. He hit or maybe even stabbed her. Okay, that's definitely NOT cool, brother...hitting and/or stabbing a woman is not cool, like, at all. But did that one isolated incident justify ending the carnival altogether? I mean, shit can happen. Right?


Well, okay, there was more trouble, unrelated to the carnies. See, the carnival attracted all sorts of undesirable characters from Walpole to Boston, back to Walpole and to Providence, and...um...back to Walpole again. Some of these people were not always nice people. There was drug use, some theft, and most hideously, there was loitering. Lots and lots of loitering. Loitering! Everywhere!


Let's just say the Walpole Police Department found themselves VERY busy during carnival week.

That's right: we're talking big trouble in little Walpole. I remember one year that Walpole planned on fighting Norwood in the dark field behind the carnival. From what I understood, this meant that members of Walpole High School (the Rebels) were due to fight members of Norwood High School (the Mustangs). And when I say "members", I mean as many members of each respective school as possible. It was due to be a big brawl.


Did the fight ever happen?


No idea.


Do fights like this still happen? Or perhaps the better question is, does this kind of venomous animosity still exist between rival towns, enough animosity to make both towns want to beat the crap out of each other in a huge brawl?


No idea about that either. I just thought I would mention it.


But, yes, TROUBLE, like the Cat Steven song says. The Billy Burr Funorama undoubtedly brought trouble to the town of Walpole. And, personally, I think it was this trouble that led Walpole Town Selectmen to make their final decision regarding the carnival's future:


"Know what?! Enough is enough! All this trouble is driving me bananas! The Billy Burr's Funorama is done! Finished! Adios!"


"But the citizens of Walpole will be upset! They love this carnival! You'll never win your re-election if you ruin their fun!"


"Then we must come up with a cover story. We must say that we've re-seeded Stone Field and we can't have it ruined."


"Brilliant! I'll personally write up the press release as soon as I run to the bathroom real quick. Too much coffee this morning. Haha."


"Haha. You're always good for a laugh, Thomas. I appreciate you."


Yes, I think that's exactly how it went down, folks. That's why the Billy Burr's Funorama doesn't come to town anymore. Fact.


Nevertheless, it was fun(orama) while it lasted. As a wise sage once said, you can take away the carnival, but you can't take away the memories.


I will personally NEVER forget Billy Burr's Funorama -- the excitement of the amusements, the fun of the games, the smells of the food, the noise of all the machinery, the sounds of screams heard from up close and far away -- nope, I will NEVER forget Billy Burr's Funorama. And I ask that you don't forget it, either. Say it with me now...

NEVER FORGET...the Fun-O-Rama.