Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lucky Number 13

A while back I wrote about My Own Personal Superstitions (and I have a couple more that I forgot to mention in that one). I don't consider myself a particularly superstitious person, but when I started to think about some of the things that I did indeed feel superstitious about I could see how I might appear that way. That blog was written on a Friday the 13th. I do generally tend to like avoiding the number 13, but here's a case where I'm very glad to see that number.

Today I got my thirteenth follower on this blog! I know there are blogs out there with hundreds--and even thousands--of followers. I'm not a big-time blogger--merely a guy who decided to try this out and see if I could do a little writing and get some of the thoughts in my head down on paper (or in this case, online). Overall I feel that I have succeeded in doing this. How many people actually read what I've written may not seem like such a success, but it's all relative. I had been stuck in the single digits for over a year as far as followers go. A little while ago I finally broke into double digits. For whatever reason, 13 seems like a pretty big number to me. I realize that there might be a few people who are following me by e-mail, RSS feed (whatever the heck that is) or some other way, but the "Followers" are the only ones that I can actually see on the blog.

A few months ago I discovered the fact that you can see, follow and keep track of the stats on your blog. Not sure why I never noticed this before, but I hadn't. Anyway, since then I've found that I have a bit of an obsession with these stats and trying find ways to get more "hits" and "views". It's interesting to see how many page views I've gotten from random-seeming Google and Google Images searches. My numbers have no doubt been helped out by these searches that unexpectedly brought people to my blog. I'll take those numbers, even if I didn't really "earn" them.

Throughout this fascination with the statistics I've been trying my best to remain true to who I am and what this blog is supposed to be about. While I've written a lot about the past (specifically my past) I've found myself writing about more up-to-date events lately (the 2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama vs. Happy New Year 1976 for instance), but these things are still very important to me personally. It's still all Monster Dad territory. There will always be a confusing mess of posts from me ranging from old horror movies to some of the funny stuff my daughters say (and everything in between) on this page.

I'm going to do my best to keep with what got me to where I am with this blog. There might be stuff I could write about that would get me more page views and followers (political stuff, the latest news events...), but like I mentioned all the way back in my first post, Who is Monster Dad?, that's just not me. I'm also going to try to pay less attention to my stats and numbers. If this blog can possibly mean something to someone, then I hope that that someone can find it--even if it's only one person and not a thousand.

I guess that's all there is to say on this subject. Now it's time to get back to being Monster Dad. I'll do my best to ignore the numbers. ...But I do still think it's cool that I now have thirteen followers!

Thanks for reading!

...and feel free to become a Follower!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Visit To The Monroeville Mall (Dawn of the Dead)

With only a couple weeks left until the 2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama show (click on the link to read all about it), I thought I'd share a story from the trip to Pennsylvania for last year's show. I've already written about the 2010 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama (in three parts no less: Part One, Part Two and Part Three), but there was more to that weekend than just the Monster-Rama! The friends I hitched a ride with went down on Thursday and returned home on Sunday. In addition to the eight movies featured during the two nights of the Monster-Rama (and the attempt to get some sleep between the shows) we also managed to attend an antiques show and stroll around the town of Kittanning, PA. Kittanning was not only where our motel was located, but it was also one of the filming locations for the movies "The Mothman Prophesies" (2002) and "My Bloody Valentine" (2009). We also visited the great Knoebel's Amusement Park on the way home and ate a whole bunch of wonderful road food throughout the trip.

Another highlight was the trip to nearby Monroeville, PA to visit the mall there. What makes this mall so special and worth an hour's drive to get to when sleep is such a valuable commodity? Well, the Monroeville Mall just happens to be the main shooting location for George A. Romero's iconic zombie movie "Dawn of the Dead" (1978)! I'd read about the mall a few years ago online, but to actually be able to visit it was a great experience. I know it seems strange to consider visiting a mall a "great experience", but the history of this particular one is what made it so special.

I'd heard that the mall doesn't do much in the way of honoring or even noting its role in such a classic horror movie. This seemed to be true. I can only imagine the number of people who go into the mall on a daily basis having absolutely no idea about it's importance in the world of zombie movies--and horror movies in general. A lot has changed since 1978 of course. The mall appears to have expanded, with several new buildings containing chain restaurants and big box stores around the property. The original mall building itself seems pretty unchanged physically. They've updated things to try to keep with the times, but you can still see some structural elements that scream 1970s. The ice skating rink is gone, but it's still possible to see where it had been if you look close enough. I'm sure there were a lot of details that I wasn't savvy enough to pick up on. For any fan of the original "Dawn of the Dead", I'd highly recommend visiting the mall if you just happen to find yourself in that neck of the woods. There always seem to be a LOT of cool horror-related events going on around the greater Pittsburg area that would make a trip there (and a side trip to Monroeville) very worthwhile. In addition to the annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama there are a number of similar drive-in events. There's also the great Monster Bash convention (which I hope to make it to someday) and other horror conventions throughout the year.

Anyway, back to the Monroeville Mall. Here's some photos from our visit last year. I had mentioned that the mall doesn't go out of its way to commemorate its place in zombie movie history, but there was one store which REALLY took that history seriously and made the visit totally worthwhile. I'll mention that part of the visit after this group of photos.

On the way to the Monroeville Mall

The main part of the mall still looks very similar to how it appeared in 1978

I was Dead On Arrival in the mall's parking lot...

...And was re-animated just in time to enter the mall!

At the entrance we happened to choose to go in there was a large mural with all kinds of Pittsburg-area personalities and landmarks (including, yes, zombies and George A. Romero)

Here's the little fish pond and bridge feature that is seen in the film and is amazingly still there--as seen from the second floor

The bridge scenery up close

Another look at the bridge

J.C. Penney, formerly known simply as Penney--where the heroes of the movie spent a lot of time hiding from zombies and bikers

Posing with the Mannequins in J.C. Penney

The escalator in J.C. Penney. This is the one Roger slides down during the shopping spree

This nice little carousel has nothing to do with "Dawn of the Dead", but here it is anyway

And now for what was probably the best part of the visit. We saw what appeared to be a neat toy and collectibles store on the first floor from the second floor when we entered the mall. We went all the way down the length of the mall before heading down to the first floor. Because of this, we didn't get to the store until we saw pretty much everything else at the mall. Talk about saving the best for last! It was more than worth the wait. The store was called Time and Space. It had an awesome array of toys, collectibles, action figures, vintage toys, autographed material, T-shirts and everything else you'd want to see in a store called Time and Space. But that's not all... The store was also the home of the group Monroeville Zombies. This group is the only thing in the mall that truly embraces and honors the important place the mall holds in zombie movie history. Not only did they sell all kinds of zombie-related t-shirts, posters and movies, they also ran a museum in the back of the store called The Zombie Experience. It was a very cool-looking space and included all kinds of great zombie stuff. In fact, it contained more zombie-related material than you could shake a dismembered arm at!

The entrance to the Time and Space store

New postcard with vintage images of the mall for sale at the store!

Signage for Monroeville Zombies and The Zombie Experience

The awesome entrance to The Zombie Experience museum (note the zombie in the ticket booth!)

How appropriate it is to start off with the first zombie seen in George Romero's first zombie movie--the Cemetery Zombie from "Night of the Living Dead" (1968)
I should also mention that there was a coffin behind this particular gentleman which was actually a ride called "The Living Dead Experience Ride" (part of the sign for it can be seen next to the Cemetery Zombie above). It was a motion simulator ride and you actually "rode" inside the coffin! Unfortunately it was out-of-order when we visited. Oh well...

They had a wonderful array of zombie and zombie-related movie posters along the wall

Another view of the movie posters

Insurance Certificate from "Night of the Living dead"

Actual movie props from the making of "Dawn of the Dead"

This "Dawn of the Dead" display had a video about the making of the movie running in a loop

A model of what the skating rink area looked like during the filming of "Dawn of the Dead"

Another model showing the area where Penney's (J.C. Penney) was/is located

A closeup view of the Penney's diorama, which can be compared to...

...What the same area looks like today!

Inside the museum they had what they called the "Maul of Fame". It was a great take on the idea of a "hall of fame" or "walk of fame", where luminaries of zombie movies (mainly the George Romero ones) left their handprints in "blood" rather than in cement. A great idea! Unfortunately I didn't get photos of many of the big names (including George Romero himself), but here's a few...
The "Maul of Fame"

George Kosana, the Sheriff in "Night of the Living Dead", who uttered one of the greatest lines in a zombie movie ever: "They're dead. They're all messed up'"

Tom Savini, movie make-up and special effects legend, and actor in "Dawn of the Dead"

Russ Streiner, who played George in "NOTLD" and said another classic line:
"They're coming to get you Barbra"

And now onto some of the various famous zombie statues/mannequins that the museum featured...
Here's Roger from "Dawn of the Dead" in his cart. Of course he didn't ride in the cart after his transformation into a zombie, but it's a great display!

Stephen, aka Flyboy--one of the creepiest-looking zombies from "Dawn of the Dead", and one of the creepiest-looking statues in the museum!

"Dawn of the Dead" was certainly well represented in the museum, but well-known zombies from a lot of other movies were also featured. Here are a few of them...
Here I am meeting one of the nazi-zombies from "Shock Waves"--by far the greatest nazi-zombie movie ever made

Another shot of the "Shock Waves" nazi-zombie

The "star" of the 1979 movie "Zombie" (aka "Zombi 2")

Another shot of the "Zombie" zombie

One of the zombie-containing canisters from "Return of the Living Dead" (1985)--the "unofficial" sequel to "Night of the Living Dead"

The father from the "Father's Day" segment of "Creepshow", who just wanted his Fathers Day cake

Michael Jackson as a zombie in "Thriller"

And, can you really have a zombie museum without having Tor Johnson from "Plan 9 from Outer Space"?

Finally, I should also mention that it was interesting to just stand on the second floor and watch the mall's patrons shuffle and shamble around on the first floor...not all that different from the zombies in the movie! While "Dawn of the Dead" is simply a great horror movie on the surface, George Romero also packed in a lot of symbolism and commentary on the consumerism of the American populace of the day which still rings true to this very day. Here's some video that I took of our visit. It starts off with a shot from the second floor which illustrates this aspect just a bit. Note the John Lennon muzak playing in the background and the screaming children from the amusement area below (but out of camera view) which add so much to the scene. Also included in the video is the fish bridge, a ride on the J.C. Penney escalator and some footage from inside the Zombie Experience museum.

Postscript: I received word back in December via an e-mail that the Time And Space store and the Monroeville Zombies Zombie Experience Museum were closing "temporarily" at the end of 2010. After not hearing any news for many months I recently heard that the Zombie Experience museum was being renovated and was supposed to open in September 2011 (next month) in a new location at the opposite end of the mall. The new location is supposed to include video games, mini-golf and other attractions, but does not include the Time and Space store (unfortunately). They also indicate that a Monroeville Mall Location Tour is "coming soon"--that sounds very cool! I still haven't heard an exact opening date for the new Zombie Experience, but am hoping it might be there in time for our 2011 trip to Pennsylvania in two weeks... Check here for the latest details and keep your fingers crossed: Monroeville Zombies.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Things My Dad Taught Me: Sliver Removal

Today my family is having its annual reunion/get-together. I'm pretty sure this tradition started in 1985--making this the 26th annual edition. I come from a large family and we used to get together for most of the major holidays, as well as many, many birthdays. As my parents' nine children grew up and started families of their own we started to get together as a group less and less. By 1985 we were only seeing each other about once a year--on Christmas Eve. This made it a good idea to start these annual summer reunions. The tradition has kept on going ever since. One thing that will be different this year is that my Dad won't be there. It will be the first time my whole family has gotten together since his memorial service at the end of April. I'm sure that there will some amount of sadness mixed in with the conversations, swimming, good food and general catching up with everyone.

I've written about my Dad a few times since he passed away in blogs like Movies, Memories and My Dad, The Day My Father Saved a Bully's Life, Dreaming of a Better Life (or Should I Say Death?). I'm now going to write about something he passed onto me--whether he knew it or not. In my childhood home, if you got a sliver while playing outside you would go to my Dad to have the offending object removed. I remember that it was the only time I was allowed into Dad's private "office", a room filled with neat and mysterious-looking objects which was usually locked and off-limits. A visit to that room to have a sliver taken out was a lot like a visit to the doctor's to have a shot. You knew that there would probably be some pain, but that it was for the best.

My Dad was a "tool and die" guy. I've never really understood exactly what that meant, but I did know that Dad had a lot of tools and was very good at using them to repair and create/build all kinds of things around the house. As a kid I think I kind of thought Dad must have had some special training in sliver removal (perhaps even a degree of some sort?). I know that he seemed to be the only one in the house qualified for the job. Even though I had the utmost trust and confidence in his ability, it was still a scary moment when it came time for the sliver to be removed with the help of one or more sharp instruments. Like I said, it was a lot like going to the doctor's to have a shot. There was always a bit of discomfort, but it always passed quickly and didn't seem like such a big deal once it was over. No matter how deep or huge a sliver I had acquired, and no matter how painful it was, I don't recall there ever being a time when Dad couldn't remove it quickly and as painlessly as possible. It was just one of those concrete rules of childhood that if you had a sliver you would go to Dad to remedy the situation.

Now I'm a Dad, and without really noticing when it happened, I suddenly became our household's official sliver remover. Dad never specifically "taught" me how to do it (just as I'm sure he was never formally trained). Apparently you just assume a position of authority about the subject when you become a father. I've seen the same fear in my Little Monster's eyes as I'm about to dig out a sliver that I'm sure Dad saw in my eyes way back when. You just have to go in there, assure the patient that everything will be okay and that it will be over soon. Then you cross your fingers and hope that you can get it out with a pair of tweezers, a needle and a magnifying glass.

Speaking of magnifying glasses, Dad would use one of those jeweler's magnifying visors that you'd wear on your head like a welder's mask. I still need to pick up one of those to complete the look. It adds a certain "professional" look to the scene and makes it appear even more like you know what you're doing.

Ironically enough, The Little Monster got a sliver the night before Dad's memorial service back in April. With everything going on and the fact that it didn't seem to be causing much pain, we didn't deal with it right away. The next morning while I was getting dressed for the memorial service The Little Monster woke up complaining about the sliver. Half-dressed in my suit, I proceeded to assume the role of Sliver Remover. I can't help but think that Dad was watching over me and guiding my hand as I pulled the tiny piece of wood out of The Monster's little hand.

Here are a couple photos from another recent sliver-removing operation:
A happy Monster after a successful operation
And it was a pretty good-sized sliver too. Ouch!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Resurrecting The Past: Drive-In Theater Speaker

Another entry in the Resurrecting The Past series...

With only one month to go until the 2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, this seems like a good time to write about something drive-in-related. I have always loved going to the drive-in. Growing up in the 1970s I remember going to all the local drive-ins that were close to my hometown. Though the real heyday of drive-ins had already passed, there were still many of them left when I was a kid. It might not have seemed like a lot at the time, but compared to how many are left today it was a plethora. There were no less than no less than six drive-in theaters within a half hour drive of my town. In fact, my tiny hometown of Uxbridge, Massachusetts even had its very own Drive-In--The Quaker Drive-In Theatre.

In the 1980s there were a few less drive-ins than there had been in the 70s, but still plenty of choices to keep us busy. By this time my friends started to drive and my drive-in experience switched from being a kid who was taken to the drive-in with my parents or sisters (and occasionally stuffed in the trunk to avoid the admission charge!), to being a teenager going to the drive-in with my friends and hanging out. It wasn't until about ten years ago that my friends and I started going in different directions (getting married, having kids of our own, generally having more "grown-up" responsibilities...) and stopped going to the drive-ins regularly. At the same time, most of the drive-ins we used to go to were gone--either sold off, torn down and replaced with McMansions, or simply abandoned. Here is a little video I took this past spring of the old Sutton Motor-In on Rt. 146 in Sutton, Ma. This one has been closed for over a decade and is just sitting there, waiting either for a buyer who will most likely tear it down, or for someone to burn down what remains there...

Obviously I have a lot of nostalgia for the whole drive-in experience. Luckily there are still a few of them around, including the wonderful Mendon Twin Drive-In in Mendon, MA. This one was called the Milford Drive-In when I was a kid. It has managed to not only survive, but to thrive. The snack bar features all kinds of neat memorabilia and the menu is filled with great food--above and beyond the expected drive-in fare. Back in the 1990s they even expanded and added a second screen. It's a wonderful thing to experience in light of the fact that most drive-ins seem to be closed or getting ready to close. Here's a few shots from our last visit to the Mendon Twin three years ago (we really need to get back there):

The Mendon Twin's sign
Aah, the drive-in experience!
Car sticking out of the snack bar building
(the headlights even work on it too!)
My hometown Quaker Drive-In closed down many years ago. It became a self-storage area. This seemed like a shame, but at least they kept the look of the drive-in to some extent rather than plowing the whole place down. They kept the original sign and changed the name from the Quaker Drive-In to the Quaker Store-In. They even left the screen standing. I'm not sure if the place is still in business or not, but I kind of hope it is. It's certainly better than having the land turned into condos or a warehouse.

At some point back in the 1970s or early 80s one of the Quaker Drive-In's speakers (before they switched to a radio broadcast) ended up in my parents' attic. It must have been "liberated" by one of my older siblings. I found it as a teenager and still have it to this day. It's a treasured relic from a long-gone piece of my youth. I love drive-in speakers, and have frequently looked into buying some (at flea markets, on eBay...). This one is extra special though, because it actually says "Quaker Drive-In Theatre " on it! The only problem with it is that it doesn't have the back anymore (the part with the hook to put it on the pole). Maybe one of these days I can pick up another speaker of the same style from the same company (Projected Sound of Plainville, IND) for a cheap price and put the back of that one onto mine.

My Quaker Drive-In Speaker
The Quaker's name plate--
the factor that makes this speaker so valuable to me
A couple years ago we had a backyard drive-in party for my 40th birthday. I took the opportunity to hang the old Quaker Drive-In speaker from our clothes drying rack pole in the backyard for the evening. Check out The Oak Street Drive-In for more about that great night.

The Quaker speaker at our backyard drive-in party in 2009
As a kid I remember using wires to hook the little speaker inside up to a radio or my tape recorder. It wasn't a great system, but I was excited to hear that it still worked! Unfortunately, when I hung it up on the pole a couple years ago for that party I had to run a thick wire through the back and ended up puncturing the speaker's screen. I don't know if it would even still work now.

Backside of my Quaker Drive-In Speaker

Then, last summer I found another drive-in speaker at the Brimfield Flea Market. It was toward the end of the day and the dealers were packing up. The less they had to bring back with them the better. I believe the speaker had a reasonable price of around ten dollars on it. I asked them if they'd take a couple bucks less and they said yes. I was suddenly the proud owner of another drive-in speaker. This one (made by RCA) was complete. It not only had the back with the hook for hanging, it even had a few feet of the original cord that would have been attached to the pole (the part which would break if you happened to forget to hang the speaker back on the pole and drove off with it at the end of the night).

My "new" old drive-in speaker
As last years Drive-In Super Monster-Rama (which I was able to attend for the first time) was approaching I got the idea that maybe I could hook the old speaker up to a radio. I knew it had a speaker in it, and just didn't know if it needed some sort of pre-amp or something to make it work. I ended up attaching a new 1/8" plug (pretty much the standard size for all audio connections today) to the end of the speaker wire. I had tried using some plugs salvaged from cheap headphones and then decided to just go ahead and buy a couple new plugs at Radio Shack. I merely wound the wires to the connectors and covered the connection point with electrical tape. Maybe someday I'll do it a little more professionally and solder the connections, but that's a bit beyond me right now.

The re-wiring operation

A new plug for an old speaker
I plugged the speaker into my radio and... It worked! The little volume control on the speaker even worked. It also worked on my laptop computer and I'm sure would work with an iPod too. Here's a little video I made showing how it works. It's a fun combination of old-school and new-school technology:

I decided to bring the speaker along for the trip down to Pennsylvania for last September's Drive-In Super Monster-Rama. It seemed like it would be an uber-cool way to listen to some of the old drive-in horror movies being featured at the show. Unfortunately, my radio had a tough time picking up the broadcast channel for the Riverside Drive-In and the speaker didn't seem to want to work with my friend's radio for some reason. I did get to enjoy a couple minutes of that nostalgic experience of hearing a movie through a drive-in speaker before giving up on the experiment. Who knows, maybe I'll bring it back down for this year's Monster-Rama next month and give it another try...

Here's a horrible photo of me enjoying a glass bottle of Coke and my old
drive-in speaker at last year's Drive-In Super Monster-Rama!

The front and back sides of my modest drive-in speaker collection