Monday, March 30, 2015

The Zombaby

The raw materials for making a Zombaby

So, my secretary asked me, "WHY?"  to which I responded, "Why wouldn't I?"

Around Halloween of last year, I was making potion bottles for The Hot Chick's witches kitchen.  I found some blue goo in a brain shaped package.  The top of the package was hard plastic and just the right size...  I started thinking it was time to revisit my zombie nursery.  Yes, I have a zombie nursery.

Halloween came and went, Once Halloween is over (I consider Halloween to last between September 19th, International Talk Like a Pirate Day and November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day) I have been forbidden to make any Halloween props until after Christmas.  I cheat a little, but essentially I give the Hot Chick the whole month of December.

After New Years, I got busy with work, very busy with work, so it took me awhile to get started making props.  I took the plastic brain case to a thrift store and compared it to all the discarded baby dolls and found one that looked just right.

I bought a new thing of brain putty at the dollar store, though so I could take a picture of it to post here.  It was only a buck and I may want to do this again (again, again, again...)

I paid a buck for the brain putty, then I threw away the brain putty and saved the package.  That's the kind of Halloween nerd I am.

Brain goo package, notice the absence of the brain goo

A perfect fit.  I'll be you can guess where this is going.

Step #1:  Exposing the Brain
Once the brain goo package was fitted to the doll's head, I made a jaggedy line, just smaller than the plastic brain, with a sharpie pen.  Then I used a utility knife to cut a hole in the top of the doll's cranium.

I fitted the brain to the inside of the hole and found it fit perfectly.  To hold it in place, I tacked it with hot glue.  I like hot glue on lots of things, but I don't trust it on this kind of plastic.  So once I had the brain where I wanted it to be and had it tacked down, I cut a small hole in the back of the doll's head and filled the skull with Great Stuff.  I figured the expanding foam would keep the brain in place.  I was right.

The mark

Brain surgery

Nothing there

The brain in place

The skull filled with Great Stuff

Step #2:  The Paint Job
This is really a simple project.  Two steps.  Step one, brain surgery, step two paint job.  Done.

I first covered the plastic with mastic.  I use mastic alot when I'm doing props.  It gives a great surface to paint on.  Plastic is notorious for not holding paint, so I use mastic.  No problem then.

I used some acrylic paint to give the skull it's grey matter look, then I took some red and green acrylic paint to make lines and veins in it.  Everything was mottled in the paint job.  Two or three different greys for the base coat etc... Messy

The basic paint job on the brain

Once that was dry, it was time to work on the complexion.  This doll was way to perky.  It needed to be a little deader.  So I took it to the fume hood and found some grey primer spray paint and gave it a little dusting.  First, though I covered it's eyes with masking tape because I wanted to deal with them later.

Covering the eyes with masking tape

Zombie color

At this point I decided the clothes were way too clean and needed to be dirtied up a bit.  I found a few different colors of spray paint and mussed them up a bit.

Mussed up
Then it was time to deal with the eyes.  I removed the masking tape and then found some UV paint that goes on kind of pasty white but glows blue under blacklight.  Zombabies ought to have glowing blue eyes I think.

Finally, it was time to bloody it up a bit.  I used a bright red acrylic paint for the first coat, then I used alizarin crimson for the darker blood color.  The final piece of the puzzle was the blood splatter.  I used a toothbrush in the alizarin crimson and ran my thumb across the bristles.  Zombaby done.

Removing the masking tape

Masking tape gone

Pasty blue UV paint on eyes

Painting the spatters

Zombaby done
This is the latest addition to my zombie nursery.  I think she'll fit in just fine!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mrs. Thompson


I attended Lincoln Elementary School in Rexburg, Idaho.  I have a lot of memories of Lincoln Elementary, but most of them weren't life changing or influential.  My memories of the third grade and Mrs. Thompson were though.

Rexburg, Idaho in the 1960's and 1970's was not an ethnically diverse town.  The only African Americans I had ever seen in Rexburg was when the Harlem Globetrotters came to town.  There was a junior college there at that time named Ricks College and there was an occasional person of color attending as an athlete. Most of the time they were from Africa or Jamaica or Brazil, though.  Very few actual African Americans attended the school in those days.

We had a Native American boy in my grade who was being fostered by a white family.  When I got to junior high and high school there were a few Native Americans and a few Mexicans.  I was friends with the three Native American kids but the Mexicans kept to themselves.  By the time I got to High School I had had exactly one conversation with a black guy.  He was a worker in West Yellowstone, where I spent my summers.  I remember he was fun to talk to.  In other words I didn't have much to go on where ethnicity was concerned.  I wasn't prejudiced though, just inexperienced.

In a town as ethnically static as Rexburg was at that time, it would have been easy to develop mistrust or suspicion, especially when television was our only source of information.  Most of the black people we saw on the tube were criminals, drug addicts, athletes etc...  No true reality there.  Pretty unfair really.  It could have been bad here except for an elementary school teacher named Mrs. Thompson.

She was my third grade teacher.  I was in the third grade in 1970.  Vietnam was raging.  The Civil Rights Movement was in full force.  Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated just two years before.  Mrs. Thompson showed us images of the freedom marchers being mowed down with fire hoses.  We had nothing to compare to it here in Idaho and I remember asking myself, "What country is that happening in?  How could people do that to other people?"  I literally thought she was showing images from other countries.

She told us how black people in the south were not allowed to use the same bathroom as white people.  She told it in such a way that us impressionable third graders found it horrific.  I didn't know much about black or white or yellow or red in those days, but because of Mrs. Thompson I knew what was right and what was wrong.

Because of television and the way blacks were portrayed in the late sixties, early seventies, and the fact that I had never been around African Americans, I could have grown up prejudiced.  Because of Mrs. Thompson I did not.  I have thought of her often and the influence she had on my life.

Today, the junior college has transformed into a fairly sizable university called BYU-Idaho.  There are a great many students of color here now, and many of them are American blacks.  Several childless couples adopted black babies and reared them here.  My kids all had black friends in school.  The senior class president, when we moved back to Rexburg in 2000 was an African American kid who had been adopted by white parents.  And the black kids here are just kids.  The other kids don't think anything of it because to them they are just friends.  This is a different town today than the one I left in 1984.  A more diverse town.  It's a better town now.

Thank you Mrs. Thompson for setting the stage.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bill Sweeney


This will be the first of many posts based on people who have influenced my life.  These people are the reason I became me.

After graduate school, I went to Buffalo, New York to work in a LORT-B theatre named the Studio Arena Theatre.  In addition to that theatre, I also worked as a freelance artist in all of the other small community theatres in Buffalo.  Things were going really well and I was always working.  Then the carpet was yanked from under my feet.

It was about this time that Senator Jesse Helms went after the National Endowment for the Arts based on a few shows whose merit he questioned.  He was a powerful senator and successfully pulled the plug on the NEA.  The Endowment cut arts funding by 75%.  NYSCA (New York State Commission on the Arts) also cut funding, as did Erie County and the City of Buffalo.

I was doing a show for the Buffalo Ensemble Theatre and the Artistic Director came to me and said, "Gary, I'm sorry but all of our funding has been cut.  You will have to take a percentage of the gate for your salary."  I was working as a scene designer and a technical director for them and I worked on the show for about two weeks.  They didn't have a lot of money anyway, so when the budget was spent the show had to be completed with sweat equity.  My sweat equity.  Since they had been so reliant on the government grants for their entire existence, they had never bothered to develop an audience.  As the son of a theatre owner, I can tell you that the biggest asset a theatre has is it's audience.  When the show closed, the Artistic Director paid me $37.54.  It factored out to about thirty cents an hour.  It was time to do something else.

By this time, and for personal reasons I had resigned from the Studio Arena Theatre.  I have to say that the Studio Arena Theatre was the most dysfunctional theatre I have ever been a part of.  From the management to the staff.  They were so dysfunctional that they closed their doors forever a few short years after I resigned.  There was no more money for me in the local theatre scene due to funding cuts so I found work wherever I could.  I put tubes of toothpaste into boxes for one of my jobs.  One time I found myself out of work and decided to apply for unemployment.  The red tape I was going to have to wade through to get my benefits seemed like a full time job.  It was going to take so much time to get the benefits and so much effort that I just went out and got another job.  I have never drawn a cent of unemployment insurance.

I ended up as a salesman for Ed Taylor Lincoln Mercury.  I had never sold cars before, in fact I had sold very little in my life so it was a very new experience for me.  The dealer would see sales decline after December every year and would order his sales manager to "Hire more salesmen!"  He would hire a bunch of salesmen in January, train them, work with them and by April when the sales still hadn't picked up he would fire them.  Then the dealer would say, "Hire more salesmen!" but before the sales manager could do that, sales started to pick up and it was forgotten.  The dealer never seemed to figure out that car sales are down from January to April.  He thought hiring more salesmen would fix it.  It never did.

One of the salesmen he hired during this phase was a jolly Irishman named Bill Sweeney.  Bill wasn't from Ireland but his grandparents were.  Bill had made his whole living in car sales, even being a dealer out in the country.  Mainly, Bill sold trucks but I suspected he sold himself more.  Bill and I were assigned to share a cubicle on the sales floor.  I learned more about automobile sales from Bill Sweeney than I did from the sales manager.  I also learned from him that it is possible to be an honorable man and an automobile salesman.

Ed Taylor Lincoln Mercury was a track store, meaning there was a particular way sales were managed.  At the first sign of trouble, the sales manager would come out on the floor and take over the sale, which usually meant he would cut the price down to dealer invoice and keep the rebate for himself or the dealer.  That meant that everyone in the dealership made money except the salesman.  Every time he took over one of my sales, my gross went down to nearly nothing and I had to settle for what we called a skinny.  The bare minimum commission.  It was hard to make money that way.

The sales manager never interfered with Bill's sales.  Bill would fish his customers.  Take them on a test drive, negotiate the price, let them go home and think about it and eventually reel them in and make the sale.  Bill always grossed high on his sales.  That drove the sales manager absolutely crazy.  Bill had stacks of notebooks with the names, addresses, phone numbers and details of the sale on every person he had ever sold.  When he came to work at Ed Taylor Lincoln Mercury he sent a personal letter to all of his customers telling them where he was and what he was selling.

I was amazed at the number of people who came there to buy whatever it was that Bill Sweeney was selling.  Bill kept logs on every sale.  He also worked out a deal with the shop to get lube jobs done at a cheaper price.  Three months after he sold a car, Bill would call his customer and trade his car for theirs and take it to the shop to have a lube job on him.  He always paid for the first one.  They were on their own after that.  It really cost him very little but the loyalty he received in return made his customers come back for more.  I always got the sense that his customers were not Ed Taylor's.  They were there for Bill Sweeney.

I learned many things from Bill Sweeney.  Things I have used in other places in other contexts but they always work.  I ended up delivering pizza for awhile a few years after working with Bill.  Every time I walked out of the store with a delivery, I told myself that these were not Dominos Pizza's customers, they were my customers.  I got that from Bill.

The best thing I got from Bill Sweeney, though was this saying, "Perfect will be good enough."  Thank you Bill Sweeney.