If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t posted an entry to my site in over 6 weeks, wonder no more. Ever since I started up this blog, I’ve wanted to write about the Halloween where I dressed up as Darth Maul… and here it is. It’s out of control, off the hook, up in your grill. If the MS Word stats are to be believed, this entry contains slightly more than 12,000 words typed out over 1,000+ minutes. With two drafts I made well over 1,000 “revisions.” If you figure a “page” is anywhere from 200 to 250 words – this entry somewhere between 48 and 60 pages of text. As they say at Idlewords: Brevity is for the weak!
I wouldn’t expect anyone to sit in front of their monitor long enough to read this in one sitting; therefore, I’ve put in “chapter breaks” at convenient stopping points. Good luck!
I’ve never been much of a fan of Halloween. Oh, sure, as a kid I looked forward to amassing large piles of candy through the implementation of the normal traditions, but it was never really one of those holidays that I anticipated with fervor. Despite a general lack of enthusiasm on my part, I have nonetheless had many memorable experiences on All Saints’ Eve.
My earliest memory of Halloween wasn’t exactly a good one. I must have been about four years old, living in an apartment in Morehead City, North Carolina. My younger brother had not yet been born, though a quick mental calculation tells me that my parents must have already expected his imminent arrival. I bring this up only as a frame of reference – at four years of age, I was still too young to be trick or treating without adult supervision. Furthermore, I lacked the placebo security afforded by a sibling companion.
Our apartment complex, if I can trust some of my earliest memories, was laid out in a square. The front door to each of maybe 9 or 10 units faced inward to a small, shared courtyard. A sidewalk conveniently rimmed the courtyard, allowing easy access into each home while simultaneously providing a finite, circuitous pathway for young children who did not yet have the rampant Halloween candy ambition of older Americans.
I only remember one scene from that particular Halloween night; everything else I have reasoned out. Either my mother or father was escorting me door-to-door; of that, I am fairly certain. I probably had one of those hollow plastic orange pumpkins into which I could stash my treats, who knows? What I do know is that when we reached the fourth or fifth door and rang the doorbell, something bad happened.
My mother or father (or could it have been a babysitter?) had stopped a few steps from the door and urged me forward. Bolstered by the strange success I had in receiving candy from other apartments, I felt confident that this puzzling act of charity would repeat itself yet again. I rang the bell, momentarily looked back for parental encouragement, then turn my attention forward again in curious anticipation.
The door opened slowly… and there was no one there. I’m sure that, at this point in time, I wasn’t alarmed, merely confused. I was old enough to realize that the door would not have opened without someone’s help, and yet there was only an empty hallway leading into a darkened apartment. Before I could look to my guardian for guidance, a man in a werewolf mask screamed, jumped from behind the door, and lunged in my direction!
…And that’s pretty much the extent of the memory. I can remember being surprised and scared in that “my mouth is hanging open and I want to run but I’m rooted to the spot” kind of way. I have a vague notion that I fled back to the awaiting arms of my mom or dad and I have a vague recollection of our neighbor quickly taking off his mask, apologizing profusely, and trying to assure me that, “See? I’m not really a werewolf, I’m just wearing a costume!”
I’ll be the first to admit that I may be superimposing my adult knowledge of the world on memories 28 years past, but I’m almost certain that I never believed that the thing charging from the darkened apartment was actually a werewolf. Hell, I doubt I even knew what a werewolf was at the time! It was simply that I was shocked. There was nothing in my extremely brief introduction to this candy-gathering phenomenon that could have prepared me for such a scare. I think that I knew, quite well actually, that this was simply a man in a cheap mask, but that didn’t mean I had any idea what to do. G.I. Joe tells us that “knowing is half the battle.” I can vouch for that.
I may or may not have continued trick or treating after that apartment; I don’t know. In fact, other than the 30 seconds or so surrounding the faux-wolfman attack, I have no recollection of any other part of that night. For all I know, I could have wet my pants on the spot and slept with the light on until Thanksgiving. I should ask the ‘rents.
(Tangent: I asked first my dad, then my mom about that particular night. Surprisingly, I had the story pretty much dead on. My mom had been taking a few neighbor kids and I out, introducing us to trick or treating, and The Big Scare made an impact on her as much as it did on me. It was a guy in a werewolf costume. I did scream (but, hey, so did she!), but didn’t cry. And we did continue trick or treating afterwards. As we reminisced about my formative years, she told me that the reason she had been so startled was that, back then – 1976, this would have been – people just didn’t use those kinds of scare tactics on Halloween. I suppose the holiday has changed over the years…)
After that momentous first Halloween, I progressed through the years by way of entirely normal celebrations. There was the year I went trick or treating with the plastic C3P0 mask, secured tight to my face with a white elastic band. Another time I was just on the cusp of being too cool to go out begging for candy, but got talked into it anyway, and spent most of the night trying to avoid a hazing by the high school kids. And there was the time in college when, in the months leading up to October, I grew my hair and beard out so that I could create a greater disparity when, for the first time, I completely shaved my head.
Okay, perhaps shaving your head for Halloween may be a bit too extreme to be considered “normal celebrations,” but damn was it ever fun! That same year I had also purchased a pair of fake eyeglasses and shaved my woodsman’s beard down to thick goatee. The effect was better than I could have hoped. I walked into my own office at the student newspaper and had my supervisor discretely poke his head in to make sure some “stranger” wasn’t trying to steal something. I stopped by my Spanish professors office (when he wasn’t there) and revealed my “costume” to a mutual friend. When el profe, he asked our friend to introduce him to me. And when I traveled back to Ketchikan for Thanksgiving that year, I managed to walk right by – not to mention make eye contact with! – my own mother at the airport. Fun, fun stuff.
Thinking back, that was probably in 1999 that I shaved my head. Perhaps that rekindled my interest in Halloween, because it was in 2000 that I went all out.
I have no idea when it occurred to me to dress up as Darth Maul, but it was at least a couple months before Halloween. For that matter, I don’t even know why I chose such an ambitious costume; I mean, besides the fact that Darth Maul was the only good thing about the mega-hyped, but ultimately disappointing, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I’ll bet my decision had something to do with still being follicle-challenged. Having a shaved head goes a long way towards a good ‘Maul costume, you know.
Pulling off a stunt like this was no small task; I needed help. That summer I was chatting online with a friend, Heidi, quite a bit. I wanted to keep the costume a surprise for the people that were going to see it, but enlisting the help of someone 3,000 miles away seemed almost practical. We planned; she shopped; I paid. With the Halloween supplies on sale in Juneau, I had a better chance of finding all the stuff I needed under a rock. Fortunately Heidi was willing to spend my money in Washington D.C.
While I grew out my hair again, we made plans. Heidi found red and black makeup – both oil and water based – spirit gum, a head-covering rubber mask, and a plastic, double-ended lightsaber toy. I ordered a cheap Darth Maul costume from Amazon.com just for its vest and belt. A new pair of black sweats and military boots borrowed from an enlisted friend finished off the set. All I needed to do was put it all together the morning of.
October 31st began very early for me. I was scheduled to start work at 8am and I knew I’d need plenty of time to get ready. Heidi had a vested interest this project and I decided to set up a webcam in my bathroom so that she could witness the transformation. Bleary-eyed, I stumbled into my bathroom at 5am, pinned up two pages worth of Darth Maul pictures for reference, and initiated a NetMeeting videoconference with her. While she typed in constructive criticism and captured screenshots at key moments, I initiated my own extreme makeover.
I started by completely shaving my head. After most of a year, that was routine and, incidentally, the only easy part of the whole process. Once my scalp was smooth, I used a pair of scissors to cut the horns off the rubber mask. I spent maybe half an hour trying to get the horns to adhere to my head with spirit gum… without success. By the time I’d started in on the third or fourth horn, the first one would fall off. Frustrated, I wanted to move on to the next step, but the horns would never stick if I coated my head with oil paint. I tried using a tube of scar putty to create a better bond around the horns, but hardly helped. Finally, pissed off at myself for not experimenting with the horns sooner, I said, “fuck it,” and grabbed a tube of super glue. Heidi was the first of many people to question my dedication that day.
Obviously, it worked. I wouldn’t know until the end of the day if it was going to work too well, but after shelling out so much money for this costume, I wasn’t going to let the weakness of spirit gum stop me. With seven horns glued to my head (and a bit of scar putty used to smooth out the cut rubber edges on the ones up front), I moved on to the face paint.
The sheer amount of black paint needed precluded any delicacy in its application. Gathering large dollops of oily goo onto the fingers of my right hand, I dove in. Starting from the chest and shoulders, I worked my way up to the back of my head. I’ve never been much of a fan of lotions and creams, so it took me a few minutes to get past the horrors of clogging my open pores with black oil. The coating crept up my neck, all the way to the crown of my head. And that’s where I encountered my second problem.
No matter which angle I oriented my shaving mirror to the bathroom mirror, I could not find a combination of reflections that would allow me to see the exact spot on my head where the black paint needed to intersect the red. I was already behind schedule, so I simply drew a cutoff line by feel alone and left it at that – Hopefully I could get someone to touch it up later at the university. I moved on to my ears and, guess what, discovered the same problem. Wiggling a black-coated index finger deep into every cartilaginous crevice did the trick, but it was far from pleasant.
Way too soon, the makeup job required increased precision. I took up an oil-based crayon and drew in the major Darth Maul patterns on my face and head. With those lines in place, it was much easier to use a finger to fill in the areas around the horns, my eyes, and chin. Before long I discovered a newfound appreciation in the skill some women have in applying their own mascara and eyeliner. My eyes kept squinting shut, but with the help of an assortment of Q-tips and tiny brushes I somehow managed to coat my eyelids and everything close to my eyes with black. After I completed that tedious task, there were still large areas of skin on my head that needed to be filled in with red and I set about filling those holes in much the same manner.
Working with the red paint was tricky. Everywhere I looked on the Darth Maul reference prints, it managed to butt up against the black paint in intricate patterns. Because both colors were oil-based paints, I feared that they would mix into each other if I left them. The overall process slowed to a crawl as I painstakingly traced a red line near each and every black edge. I was sure that I smeared that unseen line up on the crown of my head, but since I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the mistake, there wasn’t much I could do about it.
At 7:30am, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to finish in time for work. I continued applying the makeup until shortly after 8am and then took a short break to call my boss. Even handling the phone was tricky. I didn’t want to get paint on it, and worse, I was worried that pressing it to my face would smear my makeup. With the receiver held an inch away from my head, I managed to let my boss know that I’d be late coming in to work. Luckily, she didn’t ask for a reason. I felt guilty for giving a reason, but I knew that she’d understand the minute I walked through the door.
I returned to the bathroom mirror and took a moment to assess my work. Every bit of skin from my shoulders on up was covered in either red or black paint – only my lips and eyes were exposed. Though I still had a lot of detail work to paint on, this was the first time I could see that the end result would be worth the effort. Unfortunately, I couldn’t share my enthusiasm with Heidi – it was already afternoon on the East Coast, and she had errands to run. I lamented that the documentation of the makeup process would be incomplete, but nonetheless appreciated what she had already captured.
At that point in time, it didn’t seem like there would be that much more work left to do, but it still took me almost two more hours to finish. The remaining black lines on my face had to be painted in over top the red. Not only did I worry about smearing them, but I also had to draw in the straight edges freehand. More difficult still, I had to mirror many of the lines symmetrically on the opposite side of my face. I was constantly fighting against the fact that my right hand couldn’t easily reach around to the left side of my face and that my left hand was not sufficiently dexterous (etymological pun!) All while struggling to keep remember that the mirror reversed my actions! Thinking back, it’s no wonder that it took until almost 10am, five hours all told, to finish.
I was already late for work; it wasn’t like I was in a huge rush to get out the door. I took my time putting on the black sweats, black socks, and black boots. The judo-like robe went over my head with the utmost of care – snagging a horn or smearing the face paint at that point would have been enough to make a grown man cry. Fortunately, the hole for the neck was quite large and I managed to keep the hood from flipping up over my head. I grabbed my cheesy plastic lightsaber, awed myself with my own refection, and then very carefully drove myself to work. Getting pulled over could be fun, but I was late enough as it was.
I’m sure there were many thought running through my head as I mingled among the students on my walk from the parking lot to Media Services, but what stands out in my mind is my arrival at work. I knew that my boss would understand my tardiness as soon as she saw me, so I didn’t say a word as I entered. She glanced up, affected a not-quite-double-take before recognizing me, and then laughed loud enough to draw the attention of everyone else in our small office. I strutted my stuff, turned this way and that, and answered all their questions. My friend, Jeff, happened to be there and he grilled me on the work. While discussing the problems I’d had, I remembered to ask him to touch up the back of my head. He couldn’t find a thing wrong with it; I was amazed.
Talk eventually turned to the rubber horns and Jeff wanted to know how I’d secured them to my head. I told him about the super glue. In a confident voice I assured him that I wouldn’t be coming back to work the next day with the rubber horns still attached. Of course, telling him was my way of reassuring myself of the same thing – I wouldn’t know for sure how hard they would be to remove until much later.
I was so (outwardly) sure that the super glue wouldn’t be a problem that I asked Jeff for help in using it to secure the front horns. They were still secured with spirit gum and scar putty and I didn’t want them falling off all day. Confirming my suspicions, when Jeff tugged on the first one, it popped off, leaving a tiny patch of pink skin. He asked one last time, “Are you sure you want me to do this?” and then glued it back on. My costume felt complete.
Just as Jeff was finishing up, my boss came back into the office and told me that I should go upstairs to the library break room to show off my costume. Unbeknownst to me, the Computer Center staffs had accepted a “best Halloween group” challenge from the Humanities department – winners to receive a catered, potluck lunch from the losers – and were currently in the library showing off their work. They had spent the weeks before in secret planning and preparation and presently they wore white Tyvek jumpsuits stenciled with computer company logos as they raced around campus as a pit crew for “Team Computing.” I was surprised that none of my friends had mentioned this to me, but then again, I didn’t tell them I was going to dress up as Darth Maul, either.
By the time I made it to the break room, though, they had already departed. Joe Sears, chomping bubble gum and sporting 70’s-era pilot sunglasses with his new, sharply shaved crewcut, was the only remaining member. We showed off our outfits to the lingering library staff and posed for a few pictures before deciding to head back across campus together.
We were talking to each other as we entered the Mourant Cafeteria. It was just before noon and the whole room was packed with students on their lunch break. The din of all those people was admirable and as Joe and I passed through the doorway near the Lake Room, I’m sure we subconsciously raised our voices as we continued our walking conversation.
Two steps into the room, I focused my attention on a nearby group of three students standing next to a billboard pillar who happened to be talking among themselves. As we drew near, one of them glanced at me and stopped in mid-speech. A moment later, his friends turned to see what had caused him to so abruptly lose his train of thought. Like ripples expanding outward from a splash, the whole room fell silent in less than five seconds. Self-consciously, Joe and I stopped speaking and simply glanced around as we passed through the room. I happened to make eye contact with one of my own students who somehow recognized me under all that makeup; we exchanged head nods. I felt the weight of everyone else’s stare as we rounded the corner, headed for the opposite doorway. Just before I was out of earshot, I heard someone say, “Who was that?!”
If I live to be 100, I don’t know that I’ll ever experience another moment that surreal. My first thought was that it was like the signature embarrassment scene from any of a dozen Teenage Angst films. I was the dork that had tripped and fell face-first into his cafeteria tray and, any second now, the silence would transform into universal laughter. As we exited the building, I waited for it, but the laughter never came. That’s what made it cool.
Joe said, “That was weird.”
We continued to the Computer Center and I showed off my costume again. Everyone was suitably impressed and encouraged me to go to the cafeteria with them presently as they were planning to perform for the judges in the Best Halloween Group contest. Realizing that I wasn’t going to get much work done that day, anyway, I agreed. They geared up, cranked up the S.W.A.T. theme on their boombox, and pushed their Team Computing cart ahead as they began their trek across campus.
When we arrived, the cafeteria was filled with all manner of costumed students, faculty, and staff. I no longer stood out quite so badly, and was able to move to the background as Team Computing vied for the championship against Humanities’ Alice in Wonderland theme. Impartial judges were selected from Student Government and everyone paraded in front of them.
When the group judging was complete (Computing won best group, Humanities won best department decorations), I was surprised to learn that, next up, was a Best Individual Costume contest. At the prodding of the Computer Center staff and my own co-workers, I cleared a circle among the crowd and let myself be judged. Before I could vacate the spot for the next competitor, a chorus of catcalls sprung up from the back of the room. Team Computing was shouting, “Do the walk! The walk! Do the walk!”
It was embarrassing. During the costume planning, I wanted to get a copy of the Star Wars VHS tape so that I could study Darth Maul’s moves. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that chance and, having only seen the latest Star Wars movie once in the theater – five months before, at that – I had to imitate his menace from memory.
I envisioned the scene where Darth Maul was separated from Qui’Gon Jin by a force field. I lowered my head and, with my eyes staring up from below my protruding brow, I made eye contact with some of the judges. With a quick twist of my wrist, the plastic lightsaber snapped open. With my neck locked to prevent my gaze from wandering, I began to pace back and forth within the small circle allotted to by the crowd. I spun the lightsaber between my hand and the crowd went wild. Or at least the Computer Center did.
Five years later, Joe Nell still tells me, “You won it with the walk.” My wife, who was working as a student assistant in the Computer Center at the time, told me much later that I’d moved like a cat. She remembers my performance well, despite it having occurred two years before we “met.”
It went well. Minutes later, I walked away with a $20 gift certificate to the university bookstore. With it I purchased a blue baseball cap with a “UAS-1917″ logo on the front. I remember that because it was one of those rare hats that fit my head perfectly and was a shade of blue that complimented my fashion sense. Also, coincidentally, because it happens to be the tattered hat that I’m wearing as I write this sentence.
After my unplanned costume contest victory, the rest of the day passed almost normally. I returned to Media Services and actually got some work done. Dan Monteith, the new anthropology professor at the university, came in for some help and, still in my devil-like makeup, I walked him through whatever it was he needed help with. He still talks about that awkward afternoon. First impressions and all, you know.
Towards the end of the day, I was dying to scratch my face. It could have been the makeup that was making me itch, but I suspect it was only that I was obsessed with not ruining my makeup. (You try thinking about your face all day. I’ll bet you’ll notice every itch, too.) After work, despite wanting nothing more than a hot shower, I decided to visit a couple friends. After the reactions at work all day, I felt justified in showing off my costume.
I stopped by a friend’s house and stayed long enough to dazzle and amaze him, his roommates, and other friends that stopped by. My favorite memories of the night remind me of the first time I shaved my head. People whom I had know for years didn’t recognize me and were universally shocked when my identity was revealed. I was told that, had I gone out to the costume contests in the bars the weekend before, I would have cleaned up on prize money.
I hung out for a couple hours and enlisted Bill’s help in taking a few pictures with a digital camera I had borrowed from work. I had brought along the two pages of Darth Maul pictures I used for reference and we did our best to duplicate each pose. Unfortunately, the camera was an early model Sony and the viewscreen didn’t represent the actual photos taken. Most of them turned out either dark, blurry, or both.
Had I been more adventurous, I would have continued to parade my costume around in public. But it was getting late and I really wanted to get out from under all that oil-based makeup. I said my good-byes and drove home. It was the time of the super-glue reckoning.
I started hot water running in the shower and slowly lifted the black robe and hood over my head. I looked in the mirror to see the makeup still covering every inch of my head. Where the robe had rubbed it away over my chest and shoulders, the dense black paint faded to splotchy gray, yet my face was as unmarred as when I left the bathroom 10 hours earlier. I debated trying to pull the horns off before climbing in the shower, but decided to attempt that under hot water.
I shouldn’t have worried. As soon as I pushed my head into the spray, three horns fell to the floor. The oil-based paint actually resisted the water better than the super glue! I pried the remaining horns from my head and left tiny circles of unpainted pink skin behind. Running my hand over the top of my head did nothing more than smear the paint; soap would be needed to remove the rest.
I lathered up my hands and worked from the top down. With my eyes squinted to ward off paint and soapsuds, I could see the bottom of the shower turn alternately black and red. I was worried about getting it off my eyes, eyebrows, and lips, but that turned out to be the easy part. Cleaning my nose and ears took far more effort. Eventually, after about 20 minutes of work and far too many digital intrusions, I pronounced myself clean. Halloween was officially over.
In the days that followed, I sent out pictures of me in my Darth Maul makeup to friends and family that didn’t get a chance to see it in person. One of the best ones was a split screen picture – the Star Wars actor, Ray Park, on the left, and me in my costume on the right. I emailed it out as proof of how close I got to the original – I was proud of the work I did. What surprised me, though, was that, despite my lack of yellow contacts and grungy teeth, more than a couple people thought that I had sent two pictures of myself. I guess I did an even better job than I thought!
The following year, Halloween took on a life of its own at UAS. I didn’t realize the impact my Darth Maul costume had made until I showed up in 2000 without any costume at all. All my coworkers, even people I’d never met before, asked my why I wasn’t dressed up. After setting the bar so high a year ago, they’d all been waiting to see how I’d follow it up. The Darth Maul costume had been a lark – I hadn’t really even thought about dressing up again this year – but I told them what I thought they wanted to hear: “I couldn’t think of anything that would top it.”
The Computer Center, though, did their best to one-up their own performance from the year before. Throughout September and October, they saved dozens of computer boxes and used them to create their very own versions of The Battle ‘Bots. All in secrecy, of course, and again, all without my knowledge. There had been a debate over which department had actually “won” the previous year because each had walked away victorious in a different category. With newly drafted and agreed upon rules, Humanities and Computing reissued the challenge campus-wide and Halloween set the scene for a campus battleground.
Of all of this, I was blissfully ignorant. On the day in question, I was working at my computer when I received a call from Joe asking me if I wouldn’t mind bringing a video camera over to Computing at around 10:30am. I set aside the time and told him I’d be happy to do a little video taping of their costumes. I didn’t realize that they were planning another campus tour.
From 11 to 11:30am, I followed the Computer Center’s full-time and student assistant staff around the campus as they paraded through each and every department in full Battle ‘Bots garb. Cardboard, duct tape, and spray paint had turned my coworkers into Kill-Saw, The Pulverizer, Spin-bot (with a Battle-kilt, not a skirt!), the Super Wedgie, Son of Wayachi, and a handful of geeky radio-controller operators. To the tunes on a “Rock Jocks” CD blasting from a boombox, they did their best to disrupt the work of everyone on campus.
At noon, they made their way into the cafeteria once again for judging. To the students trying to eat their lunch in piece, they must have appeared insane; they cordoned off an arena and matched off Kill Saw with Super Wedgie, Spin-Bot with Son of Wayachi. At the end of each round, Cody, dressed at the Ringmaster, elicited cheers from the audience to determine the winners. I witnessed the whole thing through my viewfinder, up to and including the judging at the end. Instead of a potluck lunch, the Computer Center won a handful of UAS logo-emblazoned Frisbees that I had helped to design for the Ultimate Club.
When I returned to Media Services, I had a MiniDV tape with almost 40 minutes of great footage on it. It was too good not to use, so I surreptitiously borrowed the audio CD they’d been using and quickly edited together a music video of their Halloween shenanigans. I finished a rough draft, compressed the resulting video into a more Internet-agreeable format before emailing a link to a couple friends in the Computer Center to get their opinion. Before I knew it, the link had been emailed all over campus and everyone was watching “The Human Battle ‘Bots.” My boss was none too pleased with the misuse of work time, but she couldn’t deny the video’s popularity and knew that the quick, media-oriented turnaround reflected well on our department. She had me slap a “Made in Digital Media Services” tag on the end and even endorsed me polishing it up and creating a DVD afterwards.
With the Battle ‘Bots video a success, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be in on the action the following year. But this time, in addition to my supporting role as a videographer, 2002 was the year I came into the Computer Center as an employee, as well. Through a University-wide reclassification project, my “Digital Media Specialist” position was moved from Media to Information Technology. If that hadn’t been enough to seal the deal, the whole of Media Services was enveloped by the IT department that summer. Suddenly, the secret planning phase of Halloween involved many more people.
By the time September rolled around, I didn’t yet feel enough a part of the IT department to weigh in on Halloween ideas. When everyone decided on a Men in Black theme, I was there with a video camera to record, not only the campus celebration, but the Computer Center’s planning efforts, as well. I was free to gather much more footage that year as everyone now expected me to be documenting the action.
Barely a week before Halloween, we all gathered at the house of our boss, Michael. He made food and provided papier-mâché for costume creation. While half the group laid strip after strip of papier-mâché over large balloons to create alien heads, the other half scoured the MIB DVD for ideas. Before long, everyone was in front of Michael’s projection screen, practicing the dance moves in Will Smith’s music video. After listening to the song umpteen million times, I knew that it would be the music I used for the eventual music video.
A few days before Halloween, there may have been a bit of panic within our department. It wasn’t that people were worried about being beaten, exactly, but rather that we were worried that the other departments might not be going to similar lengths. Michael asked me if I could whip up a one-page flier that could generate a little hype. We batted ideas around and settled on a National Enquirer parody. Michael took a digital camera to the Chancellor’s office and asked him to pose for a few pictures – it must have been comical because they wouldn’t tell him what they were for, yet they insisted that he pose as though he were a psychic experiencing a revelation. When the pictures came in, I selected one as our headline piece and thought up a few other inside jokes to throw in, as well. Later that day, we papered the campus bulletin boards with color copies.
Come Halloween day, I picked up a camcorder and went over to the computer center. While I grabbed some cutaway footage of the department decorations, I observed the rest of my coworkers gearing up. Half the department (with one Humanities traitor, Beth, coming over as an additional “man” in black) dressed in black suits and wielded toy guns that had been spray-painted silver. The other half wore their papier-mâché alien heads (emerging often, just to breath) over Hawaiian shirts.
As in the previous years, they started their tour at 11am. I followed them around campus, sometimes lagging behind, sometimes sprinting ahead, as they crashed the productivity of every department. It was the end of October and we were in the middle of some particularly foggy weather. The fog made a great backdrop for some scenes I knew would make it into the video, but it was cold walking from building to building.
As noon approached, the Men in Black made their way into the cafeteria to defend their title. When it was their turn to parade in front of the judges, they started playing their song on the same, trusty boombox. MIBs not already in the cafeteria entered from their hiding spot in the Lake Room and they all began pasting white, “MIB” stickers on anyone who wanted to become an honorary member. Someone had also sprung for a bulk order of extremely cheap sunglasses and they were handing out the decidedly uncool shades to anyone that would take them.
When the chorus hit, three Men in Black and three Aliens quickly converged in the center of the cafeteria. We had reached the point in the song that they had learned to dance to, and as they moved in sync through the not-terribly-complicated moves, the crowd cheered. At that moment, it was obvious to anyone watching that the Computer Center had won again. Later, when the announcement was actually made, the gathered crowd requested (and received) an encore performance. Later that day, they even danced the dance in front of a video conferencing unit for the downtown people who couldn’t come out to campus for the contest.
Late in the day, I had time to gather even more footage of people in their costumes. We staged a few “power walks” along the foggy campus deck and even took some digital photos of each individual character. All the aliens and even a few MIBs still in their suits indulged me by posing for the camera. When all was said and done, I had almost two hours of footage and a ton of pictures and editing it down to four minutes seemed like an impossible task.
Perhaps that’s why I put it off so long. The week after Halloween I barely had time to create a follow-up National Enquirer-type flier, let alone edit together a music video. As the days turned to weeks and then months, the importance of releasing a music video seemed less critical. It wasn’t until deadline pressure began to loom – eleven months later – that I forced myself to start on it by culling footage.
As the next Halloween approached and the Computer Center belatedly agreed on their next theme, I found using all my spare time to edit. Getting the Men in Black music video out before the end of October was my goal, and the earlier the better; the hype machine needed to get rolling again.
The MIB video premiered much the same way that the Battle ‘Bots video did. I passed a digital copy around online and, once again, it rapidly spread around campus. Even though my name wasn’t on it, people would come up to me and tell me how much they liked it. It made me feel pretty good, actually, and I convinced myself that the procrastination worked out in the end. Let’s just say that’s why I waited until the last minute on the next video, too. Aren’t rationalizations fun?
With the expansion of our department and the aggressive hiring of even more student assistants in 2003, it became much harder to come to a consensus on a Halloween theme. At birthday parties, work lunches, and all manner of meetings, we would throw out suggestions. All in secret, of course. Finally, in desperation to agree on something, the decision was made to dress up as Pirates. Specifically, we were banking on the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
I wasn’t sold on the idea, myself. Each year prior, the Computer Center had won on the merits of their presentation: the Battle ‘Bots’ competition and the MIB dance. Although many people were psyched about creating the costumes, no one was practicing a song or skit. With the other departments on campus getting into the act, I believed it to be a dubious choice.
In manners concerning the Computer Center staff, though, one should not underestimate their enthusiasm for frivolous projects. With time running out, they sprang into action. In the weeks leading up to the day when Halloween would now certainly destroy our campus’ productivity, I divided my free time between editing the previous year’s MIB video and shooting new footage for the one that would eventually be made about the pirates.
Our first meeting outside of work was at Mark’s boat storage unit. Once again we found ourselves planning around the resources available to us, namely a large stash of duct tape and cardboard. I set my camcorder off to the side, connected it up to my laptop, and time-lapsed a couple hours of our work. In that time we made good progress on the centerpieces of our decorations: Two, 3-man sailing vessels dubbed the Napster and the Kazaa.
I was absent for most of the costume-centric meetings, so seeing everyone’s getup on the big day was a something of a surprise. The “Scourge of UAS” wore what you might expect a stereotypical pirate to wear – eye patches, torn shirts, and curved swords at their belts. What I wasn’t prepared for were the gay colors. There were pink sashes, plaid pants, and pastel colors everywhere you looked. I expected the Caribbean, not Penzance.
I’d learned by then to schedule as little work as possible on Halloween, but in the Year of the Pirate, I found myself laboring frantically in the morning. All Saints’ Eve had become such an event on our campus over the years that my boss, Michael, asked if we shouldn’t have a little fun by airing the two previous music videos on UATV just before the UA Showcase at noon. From 8 to 10am, I was digging up DV copies of the Battle ‘Bots and MIB videos from my old CD-ROMs, changing their white levels and interlacing options, and getting a tape of them to the broadcast room. I was excited that they would be airing all over the state, but as time dragged on, it was apparent that I was going to miss at least the first part of the traditional campus tour.
Fortunately, there was a student assistant handy. Liz had been getting plenty of experience behind the camera and was enthusiastic about lending a hand. I handed her a camera, set it to auto-focus, and told her to concentrate on two things: keeping the camera steady and filling the frame. While she gathered footage of the pirate assembly and the first few departmental raids, I finished up at Media Services, grabbed a matching camcorder of my own, and departed for a recently vacated Computer Center.
I trusted Liz to cover the first few minutes of their tour, so I took advantage of the empty Computer Center and shot some background footage of the pirate decorations. On the counter, someone had set up a lighted red skull, a barrel of grog, a paper skeleton, plenty of gold (chocolate) coins, plastic jewels, and even a plastic rat. On the whiteboards were drawings of treasures maps and the epitaph, “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” I shot various angles of each before hustling out the door.
Not knowing where the group would be, I decided to trace the same route they’d taken each year before. As I entered the offices of the first building, I heard a chorus of yells outside the window. The secretary with the window view was temporarily out of her seat, so I had no qualms about rushing to the window. Without conscious thought, I popped the lens cap off and used my thumb to click on the camera into standby and then record. Two stories below me, a series of brightly clad pirates streamed by my window with their voices raised as high as their plastic swords. Before I had stopped recording the scene, I knew that I had my first piece of usable footage for the next Halloween video.
When I caught up with the pirates, I discovered that they had indeed come up with a hook (so to speak) with which they might possibly win the competition. Someone had downloaded the lyrics to the song used in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride and they were singing “A Pirate’s Life for Me” all over campus. It was a silly song, filled with a thousand synonyms for piratical verbs and, beyond the simple “Yo ho, yo ho” chorus, not a single one of them could remember their lines. Every pirate had his or her own lyrical cheat sheet. Verbs were scribbled on their hands, on the back of a bottle, on the blade of a sword. As they distanced themselves from the first stanza, the song invariably faltered as each pirate tried to inconspicuously sneak a peak.
After they had finished their final assault in the library, it was almost time for the departmental competition, this time to be held in Spike’s Café. The pirates decided to reconvene in the computer lab where our majestic cardboard ships were displayed. Captains were selected, crews were recruited, and Styrofoam cannonballs were divvied up. While each crew of three stepped into their bottomless boats and tightened the shoulder straps that would raise them off the floor, a battle plan was devised. Each ship (with their own external entourage of pirates) would depart the computer lab in different directions and would “sail” across campus. They would enter Spike’s from different directions and, upon sighting each other, commence with a Styrofoam bombardment. Each entourage would act as cannonball retrievers and would assist in reloading, at least until the ships closed for some close-quarters swordplay. One crew was pre-designated to become the winner and after the other was dispatched, everyone would join in on a loud chorus of “A Pirates Life for Me.”
Liz and I decided to split up to capture each voyage on tape. I trained my lens on Ivan the Insecure and the Kazaa; she followed Michael the Red in the Napster. I stepped outside and punched record as Ivan, Rob, and J.J. short-stepped their cardboard vessel through the doorway. Mark stayed behind the ship on dingy duty – the tiny replica rowboat behind the poop deck had a tendency to fall off and dangle by its mooring lines if the Kazaa rocked too heavily.
As they made their way across a mostly empty campus courtyard, I alternately sprinted ahead and lagged behind to get some shots of their travel. When I spotted that they were going to walk along the sidewalk towards the parking lot, I found the perfect angle. I framed the gap between two trees and steadied my camera as much as a handheld shot would allow. When the Kazaa entered the frame, I held the shot as they passed left to right. As I watched them through the viewfinder, I knew exactly how I was going to it – sped up a couple hundred percent to time-lapse their journey across campus. As the day went on, I came across more and more scenes like that. Without even knowing it, I was already shaping the story that the next music video would tell.
Eventually, Ivan steered his ship into the new classroom wing and walked it down the empty hallway towards Spike’s just as the Napster was climbing the stairs near the library. Liz and I had already staked out our positions when the two crews first spotted each other. Cries of pirate jargon in bad English accents split the air and Styrofoam cannonballs flew. The ships rocked with the fake impacts and the reloaders scrambled to retrieve the skittering ‘balls. After a handful of volleys, the ships closed and plastic swords were drawn. In no time at all, Ivan the Insecure’s crew engaged and defeated Michael the Red. With a none-too-realistic stab to the chest, J.J. delivered the killing blow and Michael sank to his knees, out of sight below the duct-taped gunwales of the S.S. Napster. It was a glorious moment for the pirates that pledged their loyalty to Ivan the Insecure, marred by only one tiny thing.
There was no one there to see it.
It seemed that the Pirates of Computing were chronologically challenged. In all the excitement, no one paid much attention to the clock and it wasn’t yet time for the competition. The group quickly conferred and decided that another small lap of the immediately vicinity wouldn’t hurt. Their last battle would become the template for the skirmish to be judged, and with any luck, their chances in the competition would be the better for it.
As the other departments trickled in and our ships departed, I decided to stay in place. Within ten minutes, the ships were back and an exceedingly similar conflict erupted. This time, to the cheers of a crowd. After Michael was once again duly dispatched, he sprang back up to lead his employees in a resounding rendition of “A Pirate’s Life for Me” that almost sounded rehearsed. For the first stanza, anyway.
The turnout that year was greater than any year previous. Many departments put on great shows, what with the Chancellor’s office dressed up as the characters in Charlotte’s Web, the library as traditional movie undead, and student services putting on rainbow wigs and pulling off a sort of Harlem Globetrotters sort of theme. It gave those of us in Computing a feeling of satisfaction to know that we’d help make Halloween such an event on campus. And our satisfaction exploded into a full-on, howling victory when Sahra announced our fourth consecutive win. A free movie pass for each participant was to be our booty.
Although our piracy was almost at an end for the day, the group had one more task to fulfill. After the dispersion of the departments, we gathered our forces and descended upon Media Services. We were planning to crash the Brown Bag lunch session that was currently being hosted by Jonathan Anderson, one of UAS’s professors of Public Administration. It was a satellite broadcast. A live satellite broadcast. Fortunately, he has a sense of humor that matches our own. My last shot of the day was of from within our darkened broadcast control room as more than a dozen pirates sang their song one last time for, not only Jonathan and his guest, but also for anyone in Alaska that may have been tuning in.
Talk for the next year began earlier than normal at birthday lunches and other social gatherings. Four years in a row now, and the Computer Center had yet to lose their Halloween crown. Although the campus fully supported the costumed disruption as a tradition, we worried that our constant demolition of the competition would have a demoralizing effect. The last thing we wanted was to be defeated, but we were also aware that without respectable competition, the contest would be no fun at all.
This year we had a large social meeting for all managers, staff, and student employees just before the fall semester kicked off. Our last topic of conversation was what to do for Halloween. Going around the room, everyone threw in their top three choices and we tallied up the votes. We had much to choose from: Cartoon Network, traditional sheets-with-holes-cut-out ghosts, Willy Wonka, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Veggie Tales, Robin Hood, zombies, and Lord of the Rings. An assault of Oompa Loompas would be good, winning with the Lord of the Rings even better (two other departments had already tried and failed). The choice was a difficult one, but after a week of email debate, I’m happy to say that the department committed itself to one of my own brainstormed suggestions… Spam! The bane of email, not the mystery meat.
It was perfect for our particular department because we were on the verge of rolling out some anti-spam software and this would be the way we could present it to the campus. Of course, we’d have to tiptoe around what kinds of spam we could represent – there’s a whole slew of it out there that a person without a sense of humor could misinterpret as sexual harassment. We would have to be creative – and careful – if we were to dress up as the emails that typify the contents of my inbox.
In the weeks before Halloween, we once again met in Mark’s boat condo to plan our attack. We brainstormed the most frequent types of spam: Phishing scams, Nigerian 402 offers, free diplomas, dating services, adware, spyware, and malware, not to mention the completely incomprehensible Cyrillic messages from Russia.
Once we had a good list, we decided on cardboard (of course) sandwich boards as our medium of delivery. The campus tour practically wrote itself: Our “spam” would enter an office and attempt to disrupt anyone misguided enough to be trying to get work done on Halloween. Once a particular office was full of people shouting to get their messages across, our Anti Spam Response Team, dressed in black and blaring Mission Impossible music from their boombox, would enter, Cops-style, to scatter the spam and send them off to molest the next department.
I missed a few of the subsequent planning meetings because I was busy editing the pirate video. I had been gearing myself up to start on it for weeks, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to edit it to music. The obviously choice, as in the previous two years, was to use the music that the Computer Center itself had used in their presentations. I certainly had plenty of footage of them singing “A Pirate’s Life for Me,” but with all their lyrical faltering I knew it would be a nightmare of audio/video syncing. Besides, the only copies of the song I could find were from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride and, well, let’s just say it was very “Disney.” If this turned out anything like the last two videos, I’d be spending dozens of hours listening to that music while editing just to hear it repeated a few hundred more times as it’s played back for years to come. Using that music would have driven me insane.
Once again, my goal was to finish the video and get it out there in time to generate interest for the next competition. As my hesitation in selecting the music stretched out to more than a week, I realized that I would miss my self-imposed deadline. While searching for an alternative, I decided to at least get some pre-editing work done. I digitized the two tapes that Liz and I had recorded, as well as the time-lapse of the boat-building meeting.
In one of many searches for musical inspiration, I came across a song on the Internet from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. In most of the other songs I had listened to, I could think of ways in which I could use parts of the music, but mentally I could never make it all “fit” with the story I wanted to tell. This track, “He’s a Pirate,” was a commanding orchestral score and its tempo and the way in which it built excitement was exactly what I had in mind; the only problem was that, at 1 minute, 30 seconds, it was far too short. Still, I thought it might go well with the time-lapse and I took the time to render them together just to satisfy my curiosity.
It fit perfectly. The pacing accentuated the chaotic feel of a rapidly-movie time-lapse and certain musical segments even seemed to match the changes of motion reflected in the video. It was great, but the orchestral fade out at the end gave me an even better idea.
I had left early on the night of the time-lapse, well before the first boat had been finished. The music I’d selected was building to something and I couldn’t end the video without a picture of the finished product. I decided to steal a nice panning shot of the Kazaa I’d shot on another tape. I dissolved the two images together, just to give a taste of the work we’d done, and then faded the whole video down to black. From the Internet, I grabbed a picture of the Jolly Roger, combined it with some titles in Photoshop, and put the completed sequence at the end of the timeline. Synched with the music, I now had an evil skull and crossbones taunting the viewers, “Halloween is Coming to UAS…How Ready Are You?” Instead of a clip of some people building a boat, I was reminding everyone that Computing had, in all likelihood, already begun working towards their next victory. It was the perfect hype machine.
While it circulated around campus, I bent my will towards editing the actual music video. Bolstered by the success of the previous song, I decided to download the entire Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. I transferred them to my mp3 player and listened to them the next day at work. I was able to eliminate half of them on first listen, but it seemed that many of them could work, if only I could wrap the footage into the music. After hours of listening, I narrowed my choices down to just two tracks: Crossed Swords and Bootstrap’s Bootstrap.
Each song went through a variety of tempo changes that gave me a lot of latitude. I especially like the way that Bootstrap’s Bootstrap progressed. Instantly, I could picture how I would work in what I had captured. I could use the ominous beginning for establishing shots of the Computer Center. I could use the abrupt change at :28 to introduce the people involved. The music that started at :38 seemed a perfect way to introduce our flagship decorations, the cardboard Napster and Kazaa. And, joy of joys, I knew that the section from :58 to 1:30 would be perfect for all those sped-up shots of the ships “sailing” across campus.
There were problems, though. I had no idea how to deal with the music change at 1:30; up until that point it was building, building, building… to 10 seconds of calm… before launching right back into intense, fighting music. Also, by the time Michael the Red was defeated, the “story” was basically told. What would I use to fill the remaining 45 seconds of music? Well, no matter. The beginning was simply too good to pass up. Hopefully I would be able to figure out the rest of it once I was up to my eyeballs in pirate video clips.
A score of hours later, I knew I was on the right track. I had already edited in all the pieces I had visualized in my mind, and I still had many wonderful shots to choose from. Before tackling that worrisome tempo-change at 1:30, I decided to work backwards from the end. Unfortunately, that presented problems of its own as the music ended rather abruptly and I just couldn’t find a way to make the most climatic moment, that of the pirates cheering after their fourth win, fit in at the very end. Instead, I went with what would normally be an opening shot, hoping I could make it work.
Backtracking from there was relatively easy. The long section I was trying to fill was thematically very similar to “He’s a Pirate,” the track I used in the hype-generating “teaser,” and was actually my favorite part of the whole soundtrack. It seemed a great way to review a very random assortment of imagery: Pirates singing, pirates cheering, pirates running, and pirates interrupting. These would be the clips that, in years to come, would jog people’s memories and remind them of everything that happened that day.
Many of the shots I thought were unusable because of shaky camera movement were saved by a great plug-in for Premiere called Steadymove. Once I spent some time processing the worst of the footage, I was left with quite passably smooth, if a little blurry, handheld shots. Eventually, after much processing time, I reviewed my little video and loved what I saw! There was only that tiny section at 1:30 that I couldn’t figure out what to do with!
Someday I’m going to have to rent Pirates of the Caribbean to see why that section of dramatic calm was composed. My music video used the section before as an epic buildup as the two captains sailed their ships towards Spike’s. When the music launched back into the high-impact score a few seconds later, I began a rapid-cut sequence of fight footage. But right there in between those two shots, I didn’t even have a clue. Cutaways just wouldn’t work – what could I cut away to for less than 10 seconds?
I finally resolved the issue by toying with the playback speed. I had already sped up the footage of the S.S. Napster climbing the library stairs. I noticed that Liz had an unbroken, if extremely shaky, shot of the ship topping the stairs and the crew turning and spotting their rivals, the crew of the Kazaa. I fiddled with the playback speed for quite awhile – there were so many variables. What if I sped up the beginning just a bit more? What if I slowed the second part down just a tad? Where is the exact point where the playback should change from fast to slow? And why couldn’t Ivan the Insecure have held onto his first cannonball a second or two longer?
Eventually I hit upon the right combination of settings and… the video was done. The problem section was okay, but perhaps because I had obsessed about it for so long, I didn’t think it necessarily that good. It was the best I could do with the footage (and music) I had, though, so I called it good and sent it to a friend outside the campus culture for some pre-release feedback. Imagine my surprise when one of his very first comments was, “The part just before the ships come together is great!”
That settled it; the video was done. I decided that this year I’d give it a proper premiere instead of simply releasing small copies of the file online. I sent out a message to the entire department and told them that there would be a screening of the new Pirate video in the Media Services classroom – on the big screen – late Friday afternoon. Well, rooms and times got mixed up, more than a couple people were out of the office, and getting the video out to tape was down to the wire. Instead of a big premiere for the entire department, about a dozen people came down to watch the video shown on a dark, muddy projector. Although most of those there enjoyed the show, I was annoyed that I hadn’t had the time to test out the old projector. I offered to play it again on a 35″ monitor that was in the room and when about half the people stayed to watch it again, I felt a little bit better.
Once again I distributed this latest Halloween video via the Internet. I’m sure that, come Monday morning, the Computer Center staff would be busy showing it off to anyone who cared see it. Unfortunately, I was scheduled to fly to Fairbanks that Sunday for some training, and wouldn’t be back for four days. I wish I’d been there to witness certain first impressions, but at least my video was out there and generating more interest for the year’s competition.
By the time the big day came – barley 24 hours after I got back – our department had been decorated. The spam theme was represented by an office decked out like a repair center complete with pill-shaped candies prescribed for “symptoms of computer stress;” gutted PCs with gummy worms sprinkled within; hundreds of tiny paper spam ads (created in Photoshop by Ali, one of our student assistants) with photos of our own employees; and more than a dozen sandwich boards etched with spam messages ready to be donned. Lodged firmly into my Halloween groove, I arrived promptly at 10am, camcorder rolling.
I grabbed the background shots and then helped out by printing, cutting, and shuffling the spam ads. In my spare moments, I shot some great footage of our spammers suiting up. Some of our biggest Halloween participants were missing from the lineup while others that normally stayed in the background stepped into the spotlight. Most wore the simple, painted cardboard messages front and back, but Emily and Zori’s were much taller in front – tall enough that they were able to cut out a window for their faces so that they could be advertised as American Singles and Online Dating banner ads. Barney, too, stood out in his psychotic malware costume. In addition to his sandwich board, he had a hard drive split open on the business end of a woodsman’s axe and a nylon stocking pulled down over his head. His urgings to “click him” were truly disturbing.
At 10:30, we departed the Computer Center intent on infecting the campus. Our spam would enter a room, en masse, and engage the staff or faculty working there. Cody was handing out forms to be filled out with all sorts of personal and financial information (“The personal information would be great, but what we’re really interested in is your bank number!”), Barney would slur his entreaties (“Click me! CLICK MEEEEE!”), and everyone would hand out business card-sized spam ads to anyone that would take them. Within seconds, everyone in the department would be backing away and laughing. Just then the Spam Cops would bust in and send the spam screaming and running, again en masse, out of the room. I witnessed it all through the viewfinder and it was completely and suitably chaotic.
This year, more than any other, most of the departments we entered had their own decorations and costumes and before long it was apparent that we were going to be up against some very stiff competition. We had a bit of a moral boost, though, as we exited the Chancellor’s office. While the camera was still rolling, I heard our public relations office, Kevin, proclaim, “Dammit! Those bastards are going to win again!”
Noon was once again the time of reckoning. This year, Spike’s was packed to the hilt and all the departments had not just their costumes to display, as in years past, but also their own routines. The library, dressed up as the characters of Sherwood Forest, had their king come out and give a speech. The Education department tore off their fake straight jackets to reveal Superman-like costumes hidden underneath, and Dale delivered a monologue of epic proportions as the head of the Financial Aid office’s transformation into a veterinary clinic. For our own part, our spam came marching down the hall chanting Monty Python’s spam “song” and did their best to hand out the rest of their ads before the A.S.R.T. arrived, lined them up against the wall, and “processed” them with cans of crazy string.
The judges had their work cut out for them this year. While they were discussing the fate of the only thing that mattered, the departments spread out and mixed it up around the tables that had been graciously covered with food by the library staff. In the moment before the winners were announced, the Chancellor himself decided to reveal a surprise of his own. Since the Halloween contest had become such a tradition at UAS, he had commissioned an official award. A glossy, hardwood rectangle, complete with an official seal and tiny gold plaques to be inscribed with each year’s winning department, was produced to the cheers of all. Now there was something to fight for!
The judges came out of seclusion, quieted the crowd, and made the same old disclaimers; namely, that everyone’s costumes were so good that judging the contest was harder than ever before. Yeah, whatever. The moment was upon us and, the opinion of our public relations officer not withstanding, I had my doubts that we could win in the face of such a turnout.
The announcements came. The winner of the best-decorated department was… Student Services! Yeah, okay; clap, clap. We’ve never tried to compete on that front. Tell us who won best presentation! With baited breath we waited and I positioned myself and the camera on the floor to better capture my coworkers’ excitement when they announced that the coveted Best Department Award goes to…
There was no hesitation in our cheering; moreover, I believe that the Computer Center’s applause was louder than anyone else’s! We’d thrown down the gauntlet five years in a row and finally someone had risen to the challenge and had beaten us at our own game. Kevin shouted to be heard over the crowd, “For the first time in 86 years the Red Sox have won the World Series and for the first time ever the Computer Center loses!”
It’s ironic that we lost our title on the first year that it would be recorded for all of history on the little bronze plaque, but we took comfort in the fact that, without us, there never would have been a plaque in the first place. No one will deny that winning will always be more fun than losing, but we knew ahead of time that losing the title could only make the competition better next year. Can you imagine what it will take to retake our thrown? That’s the real fun, and I, for one, can’t wait!
As the celebration wound down, I reflected on the footage I’d acquired throughout the day and began to think about how I’d eventually edit the story of spam. Creating an epic video about a losing effort would not be easy. Fortunately, the timeline I’d established for myself would allow me about 11 months to think about it. No hurry.
In a typical year, Halloween would be over for me by the end of the workday. No parties, no trick or treating, and by 5pm I was out of energy. But this year our campus celebrated Halloween at the end of the week and Oksana and I always have friends over on Friday.
Earlier in the month, I had asked Oksana if she would like to carve a Jack o’ Lantern for Halloween and discovered that, in all the years she’s lived in the States, she’s made one. We rushed out to buy a pumpkin and talked about how to create and cut a design, but unfortunately I had to leave town for work before we could tackle the project. Oksana carved a great pumpkin, but I wasn’t there to see it. Our friends agreed to have a night of pumpkin carving instead of our usual Deep Space Nine watching, and we were set.
So, Friday night, dead tired from all the running around at work, I went home dead set on carving a jack o’ lantern. Mike, Mike, Leah, and Amelia all brought their own pumpkins, and though Oksana decided not to carve another one of her own, Mike was nice enough to bring another one for me. For goo prevention, we spread out some butcher paper and a few big, plastic DHL bags on the floor to catch the stray goop.
I printed out a Strong Bad pumpkin stencil from Homestarrunner, and Mike and Leah followed suit with Trogdor and The Cheat. Mike and Amelia shared a pumpkin and collaborated on an original design. I began by freehand drawing with a Sharpee on mine while the Heimans laid their stencils directly atop their gourds and used a clever pumpkin-carving tool to punch strategic holes in its skin. Mike and Amelia, having no stencil to fall back on, also freehanded their design. While we cut, scooped, and carved our eventual masterpieces, Oksana took many pictures and fried us up some pumpkinseeds.
The sun had long since set when we impregnated our jack o’ lanterns with stubby candles and lined them up out on the porch railing. It was pleasantly dark out already and our five pumpkins (including Oksana’s original one) looked great sitting next to each other. We all whipped out our digital cameras and experimented with nighttime setting. We liked the resulting pictures so much that we even pulled out a tripod and braved the cold air for a few more, non-flash pictures. Everyone had so much fun that I can’t imagine that we won’t do it again next year.
Halloween has never been my holiday of choice – it’s usually not even on my radar – but I’m starting to think that it may become one of those holidays I’ll start looking forward to. As long as I’m working at UAS, I’m sure I can count on others to organize something big, but even at home this year I had a great time (Oksana was so cute when we got our first and only – ever! – trick or treater this year!)
Perhaps Halloween isn’t so bad after all.
The music videos I wrote about can all be downloaded here.