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July 1st, 2018:

Unanswered Questions

So many questions remain unanswered about ROX #49, but chief among them is this: What's up with this guy?

We'd seen a flyer he'd posted somewhere around town, we called the number listed, and the next thing we knew, there he was.

I guess his name is Roger Berlin, but even that seems suspect. After all, he claims a number of aliases. He says he's also known as Father Donovan Von Jennings, the last exorcist ordained by the Vatican, for example.

Most relevant for us as residents of Bloomington, Indiana, he claims the name Rudinterra Yogananda. Indeed, he says he's the transmigratory vessel for Swami Rudrananda, aka Rudi, the renowned spiritual teacher. Back in the 1970s, Rudi established more than a dozen ashrams around the country; the one in Bloomington was especially prominent. Rudi died in a plane crash in 1973, and Roger claims to now play host to his spirit.

He also claims to have founded the DEA and invented the slogan, “Just Say No.” He says he's a time traveler. He says all this and more in a single interview, conducted in our living room at 344 S Dunn one December afternoon.

All these claims seem so outrageous when I type them, but Roger asserted them boldly, confidently, repeatedly. The effect was disarming and somewhat mesmerizing.

Even today I can't figure if he was delusional, or running some sort of scam, or doing some kind of bizarre and rather clever performance art. I'd like to think it was the latter.

Roger said he was born in 1951. According to the Social Security Death Index, a man named Roger Berlin died in Nashville, Indiana, in 2008; the record also says he was born in 1951. Could it be the same person? I don't know. But wherever you are, Roger, I imagine you're still baffling.

June 30th, 2018:

Vexing and Perplexing

This remains to me one of the most perplexing and downright vexing episodes in the series. As I watch it now, I have to wonder, “What were we thinking?” It's tempting to ascribe this to the passage of years, but in fact my ambivalence goes back much further. I remember that we showed this to an industry guy in the summer of '94, in an effort to impress him with what we considered an example of our “best work.” J and I were both similarly appalled and embarrassed, as we confided to each other after the screening.

It's not all bad. The montage segments are cool. That uncredited soundtrack was an improv jam session using pots and pans from our kitchen, I believe. The rainy scenes of Bloomington are nicely done. I'm not sure what the outdoor living room scenes were supposed to represent, exactly — that was Worm's idea — but they show all four of us roommates interacting for once, and they function as an artsy interstitial element that ties the whole show together.

Then there are a couple extended outtakes from Waco, the Big Lie. This was a short documentary by Linda Thompson of Indianapolis which came out earlier that year (1993). I'm not sure if we saw it first on public access or if a friend came by with a tape, but we felt it deserved wider exposure. Personally I was (and remain) critical of that whole debacle, but in retrospect I'm equally skeptical of Linda Thompson's politics and motives. And it just feels kind of lame to pad out our show with someone else's work.

We were feeling a need to get serious, at least in small doses. As we were abundantly aware, more and more people were watching our show. Random strangers were asking us all kinds of crazy questions, and it seemed people were having trouble distinguishing between reality and television. Certainly, we had encouraged this confusion with our reality-based approach. Now we felt some internal pressure to use our platform (dare I say it?) more responsibly. We felt compelled to let our viewers know that, no, we were not getting drunk constantly, despite our “glorification of alcohol” routine on camera.

Yet it's hard to characterize “The Buttcrack Song” as serious by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, it's one of the silliest sequences we ever committed to video — and one of the most embarrassing. Please, let's just all forget this ever happened.

Technical note: the egregious overexposure throughout this episode is not intentional. It's an artifact of our own technical incompetence in the original production, amplified by the transfer process when this episode was digitized from the master in the CATS archive.

June 29th, 2018:

Striaght to Tape

If this episode looks even grainier and grungier than the others, there's a reason for that. The master was lost somewhere along the way, and no one even seemed to have a dub. At last superfan W. Owen found an old VHS tape with a recording straight from cable — only the tape had significant mold damage.

After viewing ROX #45, one may well conclude that it should have stayed lost.

The premise is perhaps interesting: the mechanical edit controller at the public access station broke, and so I couldn't do any editing that week. Rather than miss our weekly time slot, we decided to record an entire episode “in camera” — that is, the show was assembled on the fly by judicious application of that little red button which starts and stops the recording. Any graphics or soundtrack would have to be supplied live.

We aimed to build the show in 29 one-minute segments, even though we knew the ever-loquacious J would have trouble restraining himself to such paltry portions. But we actually succeeded on the technical front, more or less. The quality of the content is another question entirely.

I did make a couple edits to get the show ready for cablecast: a thirty-second warning was added at the beginning, and credits at the end, with music by Groverpumper. But other than that, the program was straight from the camera tape.

Here are the 29 segments, roughly:

1. Cold open: Fade up on me in the bathroom mirror wielding the camera. I walk through our Dunn Street house while counting off the first thirty seconds of the show. Note the sheela na gig photocopy on the wall! You can see Xy, J, Worm, Moonboy, and others as I make my way to the TV in the living room. I must have rehearsed this because my timing is impeccable, if I do say so myself. I press play on our VCR at precisely thirty seconds, the cued tape rolls, and we see the series title and hear Carl Orff's familiar chords, a segment which we knew to last exactly thirty seconds. Thus the first minute is completed. When I dubbed the tape off, I displayed the camera info, “burning in” the counter for the first 30 seconds, emphasizing the handheld camcorder aspect of the show, and revealing our acquisition format to be (what else?) Hi8. As if you didn't know.

2. Episode title (hand assembled from old block letters used for home movies) and introduction.

3. Drink: One Minnit Mix→Up, one of J's famous snow-based concoctions.

4. A visit to the public access station to see the broken edit controller. I'm obviously flustered by the time constraint.

5. We explain the concept of 29 one-minute segments.

6. J&B in the snow. Improvised jams.

7. Lunch at the Bloomington Waffle House (RIP 2013). We introduce The Conk, J's hometown buddy from Lexington, Kentucky. Were we using his camera to shoot this episode? There's a silly visual pun on the fact that it's “chili outside.”

8. Moonboy blows his nose and someone uses the urinal. The censors didn't balk at this one.

9. Drink: Whiskey Fastball (mixed in the Waffle House restroom).

10. Fun with elevators; a snowball fight on the roof of a parking garage.

11. Back on the ground floor.

12. The lighter makes its appearance. We actually see J smoking a joint. This is our most explicit depiction of cannabis use yet. There's another improvised jam.

13. A contemplative moment. Someone urinates in the stairwell.

14. A message from God in the Interzone. I'm not entirely sure who this Phil guy is. A friend of The Conk's, I think.

15. Grown men on a kiddie slide.

16. J tries to gauge our temporal progress. He's more than half a minute behind, but we can blame that on the 30 second warning which was appended after the fact. We also get to see Moonboy spinning a rifle. Hey, he's wearing my sweater!

17. Car montage with Public Enemy playing on the stereo.

18. J gets cash at the ATM. We stop by the McDonald's on Kirkwood. It takes about ten seconds before a manager tells The Conk to stop recording.

19. We stop by our post office box. There's a mysterious message waiting for us: “Fuck everything you stand for. Fuck you!” Hmm, that looks like my own handwriting.

20. An actual piece of viewer mail: Llama responds to our call for new gods, issued in ROX #40.

21. Drink: 3 the Fast Way, basically a shot of Laphroiag Scotch chased by a shot of Hot Damn Cinnamon schnapps chased by a shot of Malibu Coconut Rum. Urgh.

22. J downs the three shots in rapid succession, with placards standing in for our usual on-screen title graphics.

23. Another explicit depiction of cannabis use, this time in a hookah. A brief clip from ROX #44 appears for no conceivable reason. Were we taping over our source tapes already? This is followed by a hand-drawn number 29 with narration by the artist.

24. More art narration.

25. More art narration.

26. “Super Woman of Social Graces,” a skit conceived (and starring) Xy. Sorry, babe, I love you, but this is just cringe-worthy. At least it's brief.

27. Presentation of a License from The Conk.

28. We say goodbye at last.

29. Credits roll.

The timecode tells me it was indeed 29 minutes but it feels more like 29 hours. It was, at best, a curious experiment.

June 24th, 2018:

The house and Ted Bowie

This was the house of Ted Bowie and Marilyn Bowie. I was Ted's caretaker before my bicycle accident. Marilyn Bowie lived and worked in New York, but would come home to Bloomington every week. It was a lovely place to live. Eagle-eyed viewers can catch a glimpse of Ted on the back porch. Or maybe that's just my imagination...

https://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/07/obituaries/theodore-r-bowie-art-historian-90.html

At the center

One thing I have found continually delightful in so many of the ROX episodes is the experimentation with storytelling. One approach is to wrap a story around some starting point, big or small. A word. A theme. A task. In this case, how to get Mr. G up the side of a hill to a train trestle. No question about why, or is it worth the effort. A suspension of practicality and judgement which is where all the magic and hilarity begins!

Wait! That's not a production note is it? Who cares!

Fine. You want a production note, I'll give you a production note. In this episode I was driving a Purple 1968 Plymouth Valiant. It had a 225 Slant Six. I bought it in New Jersey for $500 from an insurance salesman who FAILED to tell me the car would pop INTO gear if you left it idling in PARK!

No one was ever harmed by this particular defect, but I had to chase my car through the yard on several occasions!

June 14th, 2018:

Hot Damiana

J never gave this drink an official title. Note that Damiana is an herbal liqueur from Mexico.

Ingredients

1 cup coffee
1 oz Damiana Liqueur

Directions

Float the liqueur on top of the coffee.

Mmm-wow-gosh

3 the Fast Way

A fabulous combination of flavors

Ingredients

one shot of Laphroaig single malt Scotch whiskey 
one shot of Hot Damn! cinnamon schnaps  
one shot of Malibu coconut-flavored rum

Directions

Down all three in rapid succession.

Do not try this at home.

Whisky Fastball

Communism is good

Mix this in the bathroom of your favorite restaurant when you're in a hurry.

Ingredients

mini bottle of scotch
pre-filled glass of Sprite, 7Up, or other clear sugary soda water type stuff (with ice)

Directions

Pour it all in and stir it around.

Distinctly fast-paced.

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