Have I Told You This One? Episode 3: Butthead

I once worked for a sound editing company in the Bay area that primarily worked on feature films. It was an amazing experience to see so many creative people making movies. There’s a saying that goes something like, “Acting/Directing/Editing can make a good script great, but nothing can make a bad script good.” I would argue that some mind-blowing sound design can make a bad script watchable. I had seen it done more than a few times while at this job. But this story goes back to my first day there. Literally the first day on the job.

I was a digital audio technician which, in 1999, meant I restarted computers for a living. But occasionally clients would have other tech problems and I would lend a hand. A movie called Office Space was in the final mix and the director and producers were there. Mike Judge, as you know, built his career around Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. Office Space was his first wide release feature film and people were pretty excited about it. Mike’s name was part of every conversation, and like I said I had only been working there a few hours. So when it came time to support the movie that first afternoon, I was pretty comfortable with the idea that Mike Judge was cool and pretty chill as far as directors go during the final mix.

The mixing stages are set up with a little lounge at the back so people can make calls while the mixers keep working. The only way to access the stage is to walk through the lounge. I walked in and there sat Mike with his Windows laptop. He was swearing at it and frustrated that the connection at the facility was so slow (this was pre-wifi, btw). Being new and being unaware of the rule that staff were not, under any circumstances, to speak to directors or producers except to answer a question, I told him I could fix it. Thing is, I had no idea if I could, but I was eager to make an impression. He looked at me. I pointed to his laptop. He held it out and said, “Sure man.”

I was lucky. It was pretty standard virus/spyware lag that plagued PC’s in the late 90′s, early 2000′s. I ran a couple tools and disabled some junk and the machine was good as new. Mike loaded up his email app (remember Outlook Express?) and it snapped onto the screen. He looked up with a huge grin, “Nice.” I said, “No problem” and headed toward the stage door. He said, “What can I do to keep that from happening again?” For an instant, I lost my first day jitters and said what I’d say to a friend, “Stay off the porn sites.”

Mike laughed. And when I tell you it was exactly Butthead’s laugh, I mean EXACTLY. It was freaky. I had been a fan of the B & B animated shorts from the Spike and Mike’s days before MTV. I know people always say that stuff, but I have the VHS collection to prove it. That laugh was so distinctive that I snapped a look at him like he was either making a concerted reference, or making fun of me. But from the look on his face it was neither. I think that’s his actual laugh.

Whenever you meet cool filmmakers, you want their movies to be good. And yes, when you meet asshole directors, you want their movies to suck. Office Space was a riot, and a couple days later, we watched the finished version with the director in the audience. Knowing he was a good guy made the movie that much better.

Review from a Stranger!

This popped into my blog comments in a weird spot so I’m re-posting it here. Was great to hear from someone who enjoyed the book.

Jim Dolan’s son is born and the book hurtles you through their lives! In this book there is never a dull moment. Plus, it even has proper spelling, punctuation and is very readable, which FREE books often are not. I give it 5 stars. I enjoyed it immensely! — Roberta


Check it out on Smashwords (free) or Amazon (99 cents) and let me know what you think!

Have I Told You This One? Episode 2: My First Billionaire.

I went to Carleton College. It was (and still is) a pricey liberal arts college in the Midwest. It was (and probably still is) a place where the extremely smart and the extremely rich go to undergrad before continuing on to medical, law, or business school. Or if you’re the hopelessly goofy Andy Cheng –  double major in math and physics Andy Cheng – you get head-hunted into a government think tank at 21 years old. And actually, I should say “the extremely smart OR the kinda smart with lots of money” because the super smart kids had no money and the super rich kids weren’t the smartest. I was neither extremely smart nor did I come from money, but the school wanted to keep its athletic programs going so I got in with help from the basketball coach.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where there were a few families I thought were rich. You know, pool in the back yard, all their kids drive new Grand Ams or Cameros, and the mom doesn’t work… that was my idea of “rich.” Cut to my first day at college. I met a guy who got $1000 every month from his parents. “Allowance.” We became friends and we had to invent ways to spend the money. He would ask, “What’s fun?” I would answer, “Ever shoot off model rockets?” And off we’d go to the hobby store and drop $400 on rockets and engines and igniters. Then we’d glue everything together, paint them, and go fire them off. Invariably, we lost them in the woods, but so what? He would get more money next month and we’d buy softball mitts or tennis rackets or comic books. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I stopped hanging out with that guy since he was also on the smarter end of the spectrum. (hint: it probably had to do with a girl.) Up to that point, I thought he was the richest person I had ever met. Then I became aware of the next level.

Sidebar 1: Right out of college, I was an IT guy at a small software company that was trying to revolutionize medical documentation. The owner/president was a distinguished surgeon who had major backing for the company. He told me a story where he was standing on a cliff in the French Riviera with his son while on a family vacation. They were looking at the ocean (Mediterranean, actually, but he said “ocean” when he told the story) and his son looked up at him and asked, “Daddy? Are we rich?” The doctor opened his mouth to answer when a helicopter zoomed overhead, descended, and landed on a yacht in the bay. “No,” he answered. “That’s rich.” Keep that in mind as we get back to the story.

Pick-up basketball allowed me to skip through several layers of the social strata and I met some people whose fathers worked in “investment banking.” I had no idea what that was. But these were kids who used laundry delivery services, had their hair stylist come to the dorm (boys, I’m talking), and who never wore the same shirt twice.

Sidebar 2: My roommate Tom dated this girl from Boston. One hot June night a bunch of us hopped the fence at the kiddie pool and cooled off. She looked perplexed and asked, “Where’s the sand?” She was used to her club where the kiddie pool had sand in the bottom. I had never even heard of a pool with sand. I also had never been to a club.

But the tops were the students who never carried any form of payment. Seriously, I knew more than one guy who would just walk out of a bar after running up a $300 tab and the staff knew to send the bill to a local accountant who relayed information to some international accounting firm. He even had an open account at Domino’s. “Just order whatever,” he’d say. The local Domino’s branch billed the accountant monthly. That was about as mind-blowing as the 19 year-old me could manage.

My first two years at Carleton, I was a terrible student. Then I changed majors from Computer Science to English and everything went much better. It was dicey for a while because the college had a strict four-year policy. If you didn’t have enough credits to graduate in four years, you got the boot. You could only qualify for a fifth year if you had traveled abroad or had a serious illness. I had neither excuse to use for my appeal so I took some Summer school to catch up on credits. Once I was cruising along in English, getting B’s instead of D’s, I had much more time for basketball and general screwing around. One guy I played hoops with was this Class A prick I’ll call Blamson. He was a year ahead of us and still remains as one of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met. I’ll qualify that a little later, but you need to understand that everyone hated him. The people who hung out with him only put up with him for the money. He was stinking rich. But man, what a dick. You couldn’t play hoops with Blamson in the game without him taking a swing at someone or getting in a shoving match. He was big, like 6’4″ and broad, so people didn’t like to mess with him. We couldn’t wait until he graduated.

So finally it’s our Senior year and who should come to our little six-plex dorm door but Blamson. We all thought he graduated the year before. Turns out he F’d a bunch of classes over the years. He should have flunked out, but there he stood. “Can I hang out with you guys?” My five roommates and I stared open-mouthed until one of us said, “Sure, man.” What followed was a year of fairly regular hanging-out, appearances at parties, and general social interaction with Blamson. Turned out he was smart, funny, and overall a pretty normal guy. He bought kegs for the parties and once he ripped a guy’s shirt by accident in a hoops game and bought him a couple new shirts. Not the Blamson we had known by a long shot.

One night we were all having beers and one of my roommates finally asked the question we all had in mind, “So Blamson. Fifth year?” Blamson nodded and kind of made a wince face. He looked up and said, “I’m legacy. Like four generations back.” So what? “So I kinda had to get a degree from here.” That doesn’t answer the question. “Yeah. So.” He took a deep breath and said, “You know that new math building?” Then he just nodded.

The new math building was a ten million dollar construction project that came out of nowhere. All new computers, classrooms, servers… everything you can imagine. Blamson Sr. paid for the whole thing. Either that’s how much it meant to him for Junior to get a degree from Carleton, or 10 million dollars didn’t mean that much.