Throwback Thursday: Mary Washington College Spring Break 1994!

This is a shot of me and my alum Dave at the site of the “Lost Colony of Roanoke” during Spring Break 1994.  A bunch of the seniors at Mary Washington College’s New Hall trekked down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks that year; this is one of the places we stopped along the way.

Dear God, that was one of the most enjoyable trips of my life.

What the hell were Dave and I doing below?   Performing a skit?  I can’t remember.  I was a really, really weird kid, and Dave was also pretty out there.

 

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Pitt Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia, June 2017

Pitt Street in Fredricksburg is looking terrific — the area seems far more gentrified and better maintained than when I lived there during the summer of 1991, after my freshman year at Mary Washington College.

There were always a few college kids living on Pitt back in the day — either just during the summer or for the entire year, attracted by the dirt-cheap rents just north of downtown.  You sort of got what you paid for, though; back then, we thought of it as “Pits Street.”

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I had my first place (outside of my freshman dorm room) at 304 Pitt Street — that’s the little grey house on the left in the next two photos.  I sublet it from another drama student at MWC.  (He was an upperclassman who coached me a little on my acting, despite the fact that I wasn’t very good.)  Tim was a gigantic guy, and former military.  He’d been in some kind of special forces, and the other guys explained to me that he was too tough to care much about the size or quality of the accommodations.  “To Tim, a two-by-four is a bed,” one of them explained me.

So the “place” in question wasn’t fancy.  It hardly qualified as a room.  It was actually just a walk-in closet with a window; I slept on a futon because a mattress wouldn’t fit.  But the price was right — rent was just $150 a month, with utilities included.  My part-time job was right on Caroline Street.  (I played the role of “the tavern-keeper’s son” at The Rising Sun Tavern, a living-history museum.)  And right up Princess Anne Street was the comic shop I’ve written about here before — this was the place with the singularly horrid woman who visibly hated every customer who walked in.

I had sooooo little money that summer.  Meals occasionally consisted solely of those butter cookies that sold for 99-cents-a-package at the nearby Fas-Mart.  (This wasn’t an entirely unhappy circumstance — those things were so good, they were addictive.)  I spent a lot of time listening to Depeche Mode on cassette; any song from the “Some Great Reward” album will always take me back to Pitt Street.  When I started dating one of the “tavern wenches” at work, our dates always had to cost little or nothing.  And I spent a lot of time watching “Star Trek” on VHS tapes from the Fredericksburg Library.

My housemates were Mike and Paul, who were upperclassmen.  Mike was a tall, soft-spoken Fairfax native who appeared to endlessly ponder things.  Paul was a likable, irreverent metal-head who loved to make fun of me.  (Hey, I deserved it, after working hard for a year at Bushnell Hall seeking the Most Obnoxious Resident Award.)  My complete dependence on Fas-Mart was an endless source of amusement for him.  (I didn’t have a car, and the Giant Supermarket was along Route 1 on the other side of town.)  He laughed the hardest when I demonstrated my ignorance of metal.  He actually fell over once when I read his Queensryche poster and pronounced their name as “Queensearch.”

Mike and Paul had a friend named Stefan who occasionally stopped by the house.  Stefan was unique.  He always appeared confused by life, and he always arrived with news of some strange new misfortune that had befallen him.  He once showed up at our door, for example, looking like a victim of a nuclear reactor meltdown — his thick black hair had been brutally shorn away into a mottled “crew cut.”  (He’d tried to save money by giving himself a haircut, not realizing how difficult that was to do correctly.)  Later that summer he stopped by with news of a near-death experience.  (This time, he’d electrocuted himself trying to change a broken light-bulb while the lamp was still plugged in.)

There was no shortage of drug activity in that part of Fredericksburg in the early 1990’s.  Some girls up the street from where I lived grew a man-sized marijuana “tree” right in their living room.  Another guy who was well known in the neighborhood offered the dubious service of delivering acid to anyone’s door.

A Fredericksburg native on the other side of the street was known for howling at the sky from his front porch.  This was during the day; the moon had nothing to do with it.  I was told he was issuing some sort of recurring, primal challenge to some other local who had threatened him.  He was at least not acting out of paranoia … one morning his adversary indeed appeared at the edge of his yard, brandishing a baseball bat.  The Howling Man fortified his position on the porch by returning with a lengthy kitchen knife.

Nobody called the police.  The guys in my house at least had an excuse — we didn’t have a phone.  Cell phones just weren’t a thing in 1991, and we lacked either the money or the organizational skills to set up a landline (probably both).

I remember being concerned about the Howling Man after Mike told me about the extended stalemate.  (It had occurred when I was at work, pretending to be a colonist in charge of the tavern wenches.)  Our neighbor had always been nice to me.  I’d given him some milk after he asked for it one morning, and he’d given me an ostentatious bow, kneeling before me on one knee and bowing his head, like a knight would do before a king.  He had plenty of decorum, he just saved it for those who were deserving.

 

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Looking south down Princess Anne Street toward the downtown area.  The Irish Brigade used to be all the way down and at left.  (I’ve been told that various restaurants close and re-open at the address, and … that the site of Mother’s Pub was also rebranded as the “new” Irish Brigade for a while?  But by different owners?)  That’s just confusing.

Just a little farther down on Princess Anne is the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church. My girlfriend during the summer of 1991 sang in the Maranatha choir there.

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Looking north on Princess Anne Street, toward Hardee’s, and where Fas-Mart and the comic shop used to be.

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Does anyone else remember this grey house on Pitt Street, between Princess Anne and Caroline?  (That extension with the latticed porch hadn’t been built yet in the 1990’s.)  I think the house number is 209.  It became a big party house in 1993 and 1994 … I was at a party with a bunch of New Hall people during my senior year, I think, when the cops arrived.  I remember the house emptied out in an instant.

I myself slid down the outside of the house via the gutter from the second floor.  (Seriously, people, when I went through my Spider-Man phase, I was really into climbing things.)  I did something weird to the joint in my right thumb — it didn’t hurt much, but, to this day, my thumb still makes a clicking noise whenever I bend it.

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Nothing says “gentrification” like seeing an upscale “Red Dragon Brewery” where a creepy, vacant building used to be.  Way to go, Fredericksburg.

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Heading south toward Caroline Street.

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Caroline Street.

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Looking south on Caroline from Pitt.

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Looking back up Pitt from Caroline.

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Downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia, June 2017

My Fredricksbud declined my offer to bring him an Official City of Roanoke, Virginia, commemorative mug.  (You’d figure those things would be in higher demand.)  So I brought him a … fidget spinner!!!  There it is, below … fidgety-spinning, I guess.  All jokes aside?  The allure of these (surprisingly pricey) fad toys is entirely lost on me.  That thing entertained me for less than two minutes.  (And it is generally agreed upon that I have the mind of a child.)

 

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Falmouth Bridge heading west into downtown.

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George Street looking north to Caroline Street.

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Caroline Street.  I must say that the entire town looks far better than when I last spent a lot of time here in 1995.  There are more and better stores, and the downtown area even looks better maintained.  Of course, the mid-1990’s economy wasn’t doing so well.

Pictured below is Goolrick’s Drugs.

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The reopened Sammy T’s!

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Looking west up Hanover Street from Caroline Street.

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At Benny Vitali’s on Caroline Street.  The pizzas and individual slices there are twice the normal size.  It seems like a decent marketing device; how many Mary Washington College students wouldn’t want to order a giant pizza?  The pizza is cheap and damned good too.

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A mural on Sophia Street.

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The corner of William Street and Princess Anne Street, heading west.

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The Confederate Cemetery (and Fredericksburg City Cemetery) as seen from Washington Avenue.  My apologies for including this — for some reason, I’ve always really liked speeding car shots.

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A short review of “The Boondock Saints” (1999)

I can’t say I fully understand the zeal of “The Boondock Saints'” (1999) cult following, but I had fun with it — I’d give it an 8 out of 10 for being unusual and unexpectedly diverting.

I don’t really see it as a crime thriller — it’s more like an absurdly violent situation-comedy.  It borrows its tone and style from 1994’s “Pulp Fiction,” not to mention its own shock-comedy throwaway scene involving an accidentally discharged sidearm.

Like its superior inspiration, its formula is creating quirky, likable characters with some funny dialogue, and then raising the tension by placing them in the midst of graphic violence.  It mostly succeeds — Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus’ characters are endearing, cool and easy to root for.  I laughed out loud a few times, and I can see how their telegenic antiheroes would attract a devoted fandom.

The directing seemed choppy and even amateurish.  I noticed this right from the opening credits, which are awkwardly spliced with the onscreen introduction of the main characters.

The screenwriting is a little spotty, too — we’re never told, for example, how its two protagonists come to be such proficient assassins.  (Are they former military?  Is there a joke here I’m missing about them being “blessed,” consistent with the “saints” motif and all the references to Catholicism?)  Nor do we get much meaningful information about their motivations.  (Their bloody crusade begins only when they kill several gangsters in self-defense, then they seem to pursue a life of vigilantism as an afterthought.)  Finally, our antiheroes seem refreshingly real and identifiable, while other characters (Willem Dafoe’s detective and Billy Connolly’s mafia hitman) seem cartoonish enough to populate a farce like “The Naked Gun” series).

Again, though — this was fun.  I’d recommend it.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Star Trek,” the Original Series

I really missed the boat with last week’s Throwback Thursday — it was the 50th anniversary of the entire “Star Trek” franchise, with the first episode of the original series airing on September 8, 1966.  (And even the term “franchise” seems way too narrow to describe “Star Trek” in all of its incarnations — it’s really more like a permanent part of western popular culture.)  I’m not old enough to remember the show’s original run, which was a surprisingly scant three years.  But I remember it in syndication when I was not much more than a baby in the mid- to late 1970’s.

“Star Trek” was something that my older brother and maybe my father watched.  (I was fixated on programming that was more comprehensible for young kids, like “Land of the Lost” and reruns of “The Lone Ranger.”  Seriously, the original black-and-white serial western was still in reruns back then.)

But “Star Trek” was definitely something I was attracted to as a tot, doubtlessly resulting, in part, from the contagious ardor for it that I saw in my older brother.  (He might not admit it today, but he was a bit of a hard-core science fiction fan long before I was.)  The show was on at our tiny house in Woodhaven, Queens, quite a lot.  He also had toys and posters connected with it.  (And anything my older brother owned was something I endeavored to play with when he wasn’t looking.)

He had that Captain Kirk toy among the figures produced by Mego that you see in the bottom photo.  (Again, 1970’s “action figures” were often pretty much indistinguishable from dolls.)  In the early 1980’s, he had a totally sweet giant poster depicting diagrammed schematics for The Enterprise in surprising detail.  I’ve Google-searched for it, but found only similar pinups.  The one hanging in the room we shared was blue.

I remember him annoyedly correcting me because I called it “Star Track.”  (I did not yet know the word “trek.”  I myself was confused by my own mistake; I knew that there could be no “train tracks” in space, even if I studied the opening credits one time just to make sure.)

I was precisely the sort of pain-in-the-ass kid who fired off an incessant barrage of questions when I saw something on TV that I didn’t understand.  My father was patient to a fault when I punctuated his World War II movies with inane questions.  (I’m willing to bet I eventually acquired more knowledge of the war’s European theater than the average six-year-old.)  My brother was not always so forbearing.  I actually remember him changing the channel away from shows he was watching, like “Star Trek” or “MASH,” if I joined him at the little black-and-white television we had in our room.  (The poor guy needed me to lose interest and go away, so that he could at least hear the damn show.)

Certain “Star Trek” episodes remain memorable to this day, even if I understood maybe 15 percent of what transpired onscreen.  The was The One With The Domino-Face Men, which the Internet now tells me was actually titled “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”  Then there was The One Where Kids Ruled Themselves on a Deserted World, which made a really big impression on me.  (The Internet tells me this one was “Miri.”)

As I grew up, the show faded from prominence in my child’s psyche.  It was just never my fandom of choice.  Nor was it for many other kids I knew … by the 1980’s, it was already considered “an old TV show.”  The kids on my street were always excited about the feature films; even if we were underwhelmed by the “slow” first film in 1979.  Blockbuster movies were major events back then, and fewer, and they were enigmatic in a way that is impossible after the Internet’s arrival.  (I think that Millennials will never be able to understand that, in the same way that you and I can never appreciate the vintage “serials” that our parents watched before the main feature at a Saturday matinee.)

In the 1980’s, just about every boy I knew was preoccupied with the space-fantasy of “Star Wars.”  On television, we had cheesefests like the original “Battlestar Galactica” and “V.”  As we got older, we gravitated toward the “Alien” and “Predator” film franchises.  At home, I read Orson Scott Card and Harry Harrison, and as I approached college toward the end of the decade, I’d discovered Arthur C. Clarke.  If we’d known another kid who was really into “Star Trek,” I’m not sure we would have considered it “nerdy.”  It would just have been very weird, because it we viewed it as a campy tv show from maybe two decades prior, like “Bonanza” or something.  I don’t think I ever even thought of the franchise as really relevant or popular until I was at Mary Washington College in the 1990’s.  “Star Trek: the Next Generation” would regularly draw kids out of their dorm rooms into the lobby at New Hall.

Still, it’s hard not to develop an emotional attachment to something that stimulated your sense of wonder as a tot.  I … felt pretty damn sad when Captain Kirk died in 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations.”  I saw it in a theater in Manassas, Virginia, I think, with my girlfriend at the time.  She actually felt she had to console me after seeing how doleful I was on the drive home.

 

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