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Happy Birthday, RENT!

Friday, April 29, 2016
On April 29, 1996 RENT premiered on Broadway. Fast forwarded 20 years and the musical still inspires.

I grew up a bit of a theater geek. My sister did drama in middle school and high school, I followed in her foot steps as well. In my adult years I've drifted further and further away from caring about the theater. However, the one constant through all this time is my love and passion for the musical RENT.

The story, a loose adaption of Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème, revolves around a rag tag group of bohemian artists living in New York City's East Village in the 1990s under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. The rock opera started with a humble beginning, its creator Jonathan Larson slaving over the musical for seven years from inception to Broadway while waiting tables at Moondance Diner in Manhattan. He did so while living in a fifth floor walk up loft with no heat, writing on a casio and recording songs into a tape recorder. He had aspirations of changing the history of the theater. Larson's life has left a lasting impression on me. His friends described that he'd anything for his art, his friends, and his family. That is all anyone can truly aspire to be. After learning that his best friend was HIV-positive he volunteered with Friends In Deed, a support group dealing with the AIDS crisis. Every year he'd throw a "Peasant Feast" which was a holiday potluck that brought together all of his friends.

While the contents of the musical is tragic all on its own, the story of its creator is the most tragic aspect of it all. Larson had been complaining of chest pains and dizziness in the days leading up to the shows opening, even going to the hospital and being diagnosed with food poisoning. After the final dress rehearsal he went home late that night and boiled a pot of water for tea, in the early hours of the morning his roommate found him on the floor in the kitchen. He was pronounced dead at the scene, an autopsy later revealing he died of an aortic aneurysm. When treated in time there is a 80 to 90 percent chance of recovery.

He'd never see the legacy he left behind, indeed achieving his goal of changing the history of Broadway musicals. The show was a resounding hit, gaining critical acclaim, winning the Tony for Best Musical, Larson receiving a posthumous Pulitzer, along with other awards, a movie adaption, and staying open on Broadway for twelve years.

RENT, while entertaining and full of catchy music, was groundbreaking in its (at the time) counter culture subject matter. It tackles topics such as homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, and much more that were not usually paraded in the kind of media that becomes a hit. The musical was largely autobiographical for Larson, touching on his struggles in poverty while trying to make art, and coping with the friends surrounding him being inflicted with HIV/AIDS. In 2016 the character of Mark may not speak to some as much as in the 90s as anyone can record and edit right there on your phone and computer. But in the landscape of the time period, these characters were composites of Larson and his artist friends.

While RENT (and musicals) may not be for everyone, I believe the stories told through this one speak to everyone at least a little. What I do know is that I would not be the person I am today without it. It has helped me through the hardest times of my life and made me laugh in the good times too. Words don't do it justice, the way it feels in my heart. I know every word as if they were my own. It taught me to not marinate in regret and to take each day as it comes. There are no guarantees in life, as Larson's work and life serves as a lesson. We may all have our flaws but we deserve to give love and be loved. We measure our lives in love. I have nothing new or groundbreaking to say about it but I felt like it deserved some love on its birthday.

Thank you, Jonathan Larson. You are an endless inspiration to me and always will be. I wish you were here to see how far it all has gone!

No Day but Today.

Watch this documentary about him and the musical, I adore it. Lots of friends and family talking about what an incredible man he was.

Recent Awakenings 4/28/2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016
Recent Awakenings is a collection of thoughts, cool items, videos, pictures, etc I've seen recently! I hope you enjoy! Read the last one here.

Yesterday was Wednesday! Wednesdays are always grand because it is comic book day! For those of you who don't read comic books, every Wednesday the new releases hit the shelves. This week was a particularly excellent one! I picked up eight new comics. I normally rest somewhere between two to four on any given week so this one was obviously stacked. What made this week so unique was the sheer amount of #1 issues. Four out of the eight issues I snagged are first issues: Aliens Defiance, Micronauts, Darkwing Duck, and the X-Files. I'm really excited to dig into those. My favorite series in the lot has to be Spidey. Spidey has been a total blast in these early issues. "Before he was amazing" is the tag line. Set in high school era Spider-man, Peter Parker is just beginning to learn how to be the web slinging hero. He's sarcastic and quippy. Each issue has a cameo from a famous Spider-man villain. While some old school fans may turn their noses up at it, reading these have honestly been the most fun I think I've ever had reading a comic! Star Wars #18 will be a fun one too, as they're deep in a Leia story arc. Also, who doesn't want a little Darkwing Duck in their life?

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center posted a tremendous 4K video of a solar flare on their YouTube channel. Goddard is a space research laboratory that was NASA's first space flight center, founded back in 1959. Goddard is the operational home of the venerable Hubble Space Telescope. You can learn more about the center and the cool shit they're working on at their website.

On April 17, 2016, an active region on the sun’s right side released a mid-level solar flare, captured here by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This solar flare caused moderate radio blackouts, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Scientists study active regions – which are areas of intense magnetism – to better understand why they sometimes erupt with such flares. This video was captured in several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light, a type of light that is typically invisible to our eyes, but is color-coded in SDO images for easy viewing.

Picked up a few new items this week that I'm particularly pumped about.

Razer is one of the best gaming brands out there. I've been wanting to pick up a Razer keyboard for my PC for awhile now but haven't been able to bring myself to spend the money. When the Deathstalker went on sale for nearly 40% off, Wife told me to suck it up and order it. She's the best. So I did and it comes in today and I can't wait to stop using this generic ass keyboard.

This isn't a Black Series or any type of Elite FX lightsaber but I was damn excited when this guy came. Star Wars Episode I era Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber!!! The one that fell into the Naboo reactor shaft during the battle in Episode I, lost forever. This guy fought in my second favorite lightsaber battle in all of the Star Wars Saga films, Obi-Wan (& Qui-Gon) vs Darth Maul. [My first favorite being the tragic battle between Obi-Wan vs Anakin in Revenge of the Sith.] In the original trilogy you hear about Obi-Wan, the wise old warrior and cunning Jedi. I believe this is the first step in understanding who Obi-Wan is as a Jedi and as a person. He elevates his skills after the death of his master and shows why he lasted in hiding as long as he did. He is my favorite Jedi, without a doubt. 

The guys over at Nerd Out With Me have kept me entertained as of late. Check out the blog for pic dumps and articles or watch their show on YouTube, Hours in the Attic. They're funny and provide a nice trip down memory lane. Watch this episode about some classic Sci-Fi B-Movies they pulled out in the attic!

Something that I'm insanely hyped for is the video game No Man's Sky that comes out on my birthday! If you don't know about the game, here is a summary from wiki:
No Man's Sky's gameplay is built on four pillars—exploration, survival, combat and trading—in which players are free to perform within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open universe, which includes over 18 quintillion (1.8×1019) planets,many with their own set of flora and fauna. By exploring, players gain information about the planets that they can submit to The Atlas, a universal database that can be shared with other players of the game. Players get compensated in currency every time new information is uploaded to The Atlas. Players also gain materials and blueprints to upgrade their character's equipment and purchase a variety of starships, allowing them to travel deeper into the center of the galaxy, survive on planets with hostile environments, interact in friendly or hostile manners to computer-controlled space-faring factions, or trade with other ships.
Inspired by sci-fi heroes Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein, and the classic game Elite, this vast expanse of beautiful game play has created a serious amount of hype. From the majority of reviews I've seen, it is worthy. I cannot wait to get my hands on it. I am low key afraid that it will take over my life, however.

Watch this video of the lore surrounding the game's universe:

April is always an exciting month for me because it signals the beginning of baseball season! Though the short history of this season so far has had its fair share of ups and downs, my Red Sox have got me believing. Going into last night's game Red Sox pitchers have 210 strikeouts (they'd add 10 more last night), the most for any major league team through 20 games of a season since 1900. That is some kind of awesome. The offense is rolling. If we can stay healthy, I don't see why we don't have as good of a chance as any team!

Watch Pedey hit a grand slam last night:

And that does it for this edition of Recent Awakenings. Catch up on some of the recent posts here at Top 5 Star Wars Episode I Commericals, The Night I Met Buzz Aldrin!, Happy Hunting Saturday, Star Wars & Pepsi, The Smithsonian of Loneliness v2.0, and my thoughts on the Rogue One teaser!

As always comments, questions, thoughts, and shenanigans are always welcomed in the comment section or tweet me @kaityballgame

Until next time... May the Force be with you!

Top 5 Star Wars Episode I Era Commercials

Sunday, April 24, 2016
Star Wars commercials have a long history. Today I'll be continuing my low key obsession with the media blitz that revolved around Star Wars Episode I the Phantom Menace. The well chronicled hype is something that has been my main focus for a bit now. I've been reading Anticipation by Jonathan Bowen, a great study in the crazy lead up to the movie's release. Today, we'll check out some of the commercials. Sweet jesus there were some strange commercials from this time period.

5. Weirdest Date Pepsi

The first commercial I mentioned in a prior post, Star Wars & Pepsi, which revolved around the promotional campaign Pepsi did for Episode I. This Pepsi commercial featured a strange little alien acting out different characters from the movie while holding the can that featured each character's face on it. The commercial ends with a weirdest twist, the four armed alien is on a date while doing this. Is this how my wife feels on dates with me? (The answer is yes.)

This isn't the last time we'd see our little alien friend. He went on to star in two more commercials, only one more featured in this post.

4. Down In Front

We meet our alien friend this time in his parent's house. He launches out of their basement, which is an instant dork fan cliche by the person who came up with this commercial, and flies to the Episode I premiere. He lands in the front row next to Anakin himself, Jake Lloyd dressed in a tux. My favorite part of this commercial is Marfalon's basement bedroom. He's got a pretty sweet set up. Everyone always made fun of the geek basement trope but I always thought it was a cool idea. Maybe that has more to do with me growing up in Florida and the lack of basements here.

3. Game Boy Podracing!

Honestly, this commercial sells itself. Doesn't get much more radical than Podracing Game Boys. The game itself was a blast too. As a kid, I was obsessed with it. We went to Illinois for a week that summer to visit family and I think just about all my cousin and I did in the basement was play this game on N64. You can grab the game for 5-10 bucks on eBay. That might be a worthy nostalgic investment. Still have my N64, of course.

2. Pizza Hut/KFC/Taco Bell Battle

This campaign for Episode I was excellent. It stretched across three different fast food chains: Pizza Hutt, KFC, and Taco Bell. The toys were pretty great quality and the boxes, when all collected, created a neat mural.

I have fond memories of begging to go to Taco Bell just to see the display pieces and drink out of cups that included my favorite heroes. As an eight year old at the time, my excitement for Episode I could not have been higher. Nothing brings me a sense of nostalgia quite like eating in at a fast food restaurant. It has never been something I do regularly as an adult, but growing up as a kid in the 90s we went often. Play places were the shit.

The commercial is pretty silly. Colonel Sanders wielding a lightsaber, while a Pizza Hut delivery woman shoots down battle droids, all leading up to the grand finale: the Taco Bell Chihuahua (RIP) rolling up in a battle droid Armored Assault Tank. It is absurdity at its best. If you don't get a chuckle out of it then, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you.

1. Big Kmart Kid

This one isn't absurd or funny or cool. This one is simply adorable. Hearing this kid say "that is why you learn about the Force" is something else. I'll admit that it also speaks to me on an emotional level. As a child I was very much a homebody. I didn't often go to slumber parties or off to summer camp. School wasn't my favorite thing, though I didn't mind elementary school too bad. So when this kid says he wants to stay home with his mom, that really hits me. "If Anakin can do it, then I can do it!" It also shows what Star Wars can be for people, a beckon of hope and inspiration. This kid was an adorable nugget and a half. So it tops our list!

Did I miss any? Let me know! Or share your favorite Star Wars commercials, it doesn't have to be from Episode I. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet me @kaityballgame

The Night I Met Buzz Aldrin

Tuesday, April 19, 2016
At 03:15:16 on July 21, 1969 Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. At 7:26 on April 18, 2016 I met Buzz Aldrin. I could probably leave this post at that. Everyone who reads it should understand because it is a pretty monumental moment. Veteran of the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 missions. Aviator and Engineer. He was the Lunar Module Pilot for the first Moon landing and was the second man to set foot on the moon, behind Neil Armstrong.

 Upon landing on the Moon he shared this exchange with Neil Armstrong: "Aldrin: Beautiful view! Armstrong: Isn't that something? Magnificent sight out here. Aldrin: Magnificent desolation." If that doesn't give you chills then I don't know what will. Probably my favorite thing about this man actually has very little to do with the fact that he's walked on the moon. It is the fact that he is 86 and still out there fighting for the space program. His passion is never ending. He wants us to push forward, to continue to explore and discover. His Generation Mars space vision is vast and inspiring. To have passion like that is something I'll continue to strive for always.

The wife and I decided to head down to Kissimmee on a whim yesterday to go to the event. We had been considering it for a few days but wasn't sure if it would fit in our schedules. Luckily it did. We were 135th and 136th in line, which was a bummer when we got there. Little did we know that some assholes in front of us had bought 12 and 24 each. What was an initial annoyance actually turned beneficial for us because it gave us more time to snag pictures of him and listen to him talk. When it got to be our turn I was shaking like a leaf. So much anticipation leading up to this moment. He is a soft spoken man in the one on one environment. I asked him if I could shake his hand and he asked me to "be gentle" and laughed after signing the 36 books from the ass holes in front of us. He liked my wife's baseball earrings. He was very sweet. I commend him for sticking around to sign that many books, not sure I'd do the same and I'm only 24. It was a moment I'll never forget though.

NASA has always been a subject of obsession in my life. As a child I dreamed of space camp. Kennedy Space Center was my favorite place to go with my parents. As a child being raised in Florida, I watched many Shuttles launch to the heavens from my back yard. My dad and I watched Apollo 13 so frequently that I can recite the movie by heart. On my honeymoon we went to KSC. It is something I'll always have immense interest in. To say meeting him was a "bucket list" item would be an understatement.

P.s. - He is also the subject of my all time favorite joke.:

Happy Hunting Saturday!

Saturday, April 16, 2016
Happy Hunting Saturday!

A lazy weekend at home, the first in awhile, meant happy hunting! We were excited to get back to the action and enjoy the search. As our favorite people, Paul and Kat, over at Comic Trips embark on their season 5 RV adventure, we decided to venture out as well in honor of them. While less exciting than a long road trip, it was fun too! Our first stop was at the Comic Book Connection show. CBC is run by good people and the crowd is always excellent, filled with hardcore collectors mostly. They travel Central Florida setting up shop in hotel conference rooms for the weekend. We picked up a few shrink wrapped sets, which were 25% and 50% off, Young Indiana Jones Chronciles and Dark Horse's Jedi the Dark Side. I found some single Star Wars issues I was excited to pick up: three different varient Episode I covers, Clone Wars, Droids, and Qui-Gon & Obi-Wan. I also snatched up the Amazing Spider-man #248 the Kid Who Collects Spider-Man. The popular issue had been on my list for some time so I was enthused to snag
it. Wife found Batman Adventures #24, ticking those off the list quickly. Only about 15 out of the 41 needed. I'll probably never get the complete set because I can't bring myself (nor would my wife let me) to spend that kind of money on #12, which CBC had for $450 (a decent price compared to what is going for elsewhere.) With the admission you get to pick out 10 comics from 50 cent long boxes. There are so many! Found some Star Wars, Transformers, & X-Men. Our fingers were busy busy flipping through.

After a quick bite to eat at McD's we headed to another one of our favorite spots, Joker Street Comics. We visited this joint back in March, you can read that Saturday adventure here! The toy prices are a little high there but they have really great 50 cent long boxes. We picked out some Fantastic Four, X-men, Swamp Thing, Secret Wars II, and more. The guy working was nice, watching the Walking Dead, and it is always nice to have a little chat was searching.

Our final stop was my favorite of the day! Vintage Toy King is by far one of the best spots in the Central Florida area. I was dealing with some serious sensory overload when we first walked in. Not only is there a great selection but the guy behind the counter is super nice! We were shooting the shit about Star Wars black series and the quest to find Ahsoka Tano, the gigantic GI Joe Aircraft Carrier they had set up on the table (I've never seen one in person), and TMNT. He gave us a ton of good deals like knocking nearly 35% of market price for the Funko Ecto-1,
20% off the Anakin Skywalker Pod Racer, and 50 cent off all loose figures. Wife got to add a loose Admiral Ackbar to her Ackbar collection (which is quickly growing to our delight), we picked up a sweet stained glass TMNT Mikey (picture doesn't do it justice), and a Comic Con 2005 exclusive Holographic Princess Leia figure! Another fun piece we picked up was the $5 mystery bag. While nothing in it was super rare or significant, it was still a blast. Some smurfs, Batman, Angry Birds Star Wars, Captain Hook, a mini Dino, and an awesome transforming McDonald's french fries that I'm obsessed with. The store is floor to ceiling toys, it is a dream! We will certainly be going back to this rad store!

The day was an absolute success and so much fun. The Wife and I both thoroughly enjoy the hunt and it's a fun adventure we get to spend together after a long work week. If you have a haul, send it my way in the comments or on twitter @kaityballgame! I'm definitely interested in seeing what you got!

Side note: When the mail came today, so did my Don Post Pod Racing helmet! What a fucking sweet ass piece to have. I have a Captain Rex helmet and am hoping to add an X-Wing helmet one day too. I look like a total dork but it is because I'm way happy. My Saturday night has been spent watching the Red Sox game in the Smithsonian of Loneliness. Price is dealing, Red Sox are winning. Life is good.

Star Wars & Pepsi

Thursday, April 14, 2016
This is a small part of a longer article I'm working on about the Star Wars Episode I hype machine but I just have to get this out there... I'm obsessed with the promotional blitz that surrounded the Phantom Menace. Say what you want about Episode I or the prequels but the hype was insane and the promotional stuff was never ending.

a list of all 24 characters featured
For this post I'll concentrate on the Pepsi collectible can campaign, it was unbelievable. In 1996 PepsiCo signed a two billion dollar deal with Lucasfilm for the rights to advertise the special edition re-release of the original trilogy and the first movie of the (at the time) new prequels. TPM campaign revolved around a 24 collectible can selection with various characters on the side of each can. The break down was eight Pepsi cans, eight Mountain Dew cans, four Diet Pepsi cans, and four Pepsi One cans.  Cans were released every 2-3 weeks. Every pack contained only one character.

Beyond the standard 24, there were some other collectible cans not in that count. Most notably the Gold Yoda Can which was mixed in the various cases. After the Gold Yoda Can search Pepsi released the Destiny Can. The Destiny Can was also sold by the Fan Club in a glass display case. See, I'm not the only one who takes Star Wars Pepsi serious. I hardly am, as a matter of fact. A complete collection in the display case (pictured at the top of the post) still goes for around $50 on eBay (including shipping and such.)

Each can also had a hidden word embedded in the picture. When pairing the words together they came to read: “Anakin breaks free but may face new enslavement,” “The Jedi triumph but their future is clouded,” and “One menace is destroyed but another lurks nearby.” A pretty neat twist beyond just the images and bios printed on the cans. Other items were featured such as battle droid and R2D2 can holders. Along with a C3PO can holder out of Japan. Japan had a great collection of cans as well.

At the first Star Wars Celebration in Denver Pepsi also handed out cans of Pepsi Storm, a sister soda to the future release of Sierra Mist that was pulled after not testing well. These can be found on eBay at a little bit higher of a price than the standard cans. While they don't fit in the display case, they're a must for any collector.

Episode I, whether you like it or not, was a great time to be a Star Wars fan. So much hope and hype. The amount of food premium items was endless. I'll get to the fast food chain items at a later time, I have fond memories of going to Taco Bell just to see all of the displays and such. But Pepsi's involvement provided a hunt and a pretty thing you could hold in your hand. My wife may kill me if I buy these one day, but I just might have to. For whatever reason, I can't stop thinking about it.

Watch this excellently weird commercial. I remember it from then and still am tickled by it:

*I own none of these pictures, they're all taken from google. Also thanks to a blog post that shed some light on the history of the can campaign.

The Smithsonian of Loneliness v2.0

Monday, April 11, 2016
A couple weeks back I wrote a small piece about work spaces and my own study, which we call the Smithsonian of Loneliness. While it got the job done, it was a little cramped for space. I guess I have a lot of junk and my continuous collecting doesn't help. While the cramped feeling did provide a vibe of comfort, I had outgrown the conditions. So my best friend Josh decided to be the kindest soul and trade offices with me. He doesn't get to spend a lot of time in his, not by his own doing but because of adult life, so he was willing. We spent parts of the last week, in between work and other life commitments, setting up the new digs before finish it all up on Saturday. Let me say, I am extremely pleased.

With help from my dad, Josh, Ryan, and the wife, we moved all my stuff over on Saturday, which was mostly bookshelves and my desk. We added the couch and some hanging shelves. Boba is clearly enjoying the digs as you can see him snoozing there. Things are still a tad cluttered while I work to get everything sorted out but needless to say, I am pleased with my set up. It is nice to get my larger items up on a shelf. Batman the Animated Series bat mobile is a treasure and deserves to be displayed as such! The Turtles guard the room in case Shredder and the foot clan try some funny shit. Rex helmet, need I say more? This couch will mostly be used as a napping place for my dog and wife, let's be real. They're bums.

Four book shelves line the wall with the window. I'm a lover of the written word and am constantly devouring books. You can find some of my fiction further back in the blog or click here and go to my fiction tag! A wall of books is a step closer to my dream of a home library!  

My desk! Where all the magic, gaming, and procrastination happens! Two monitors are a necessity. If you do not currently have two monitors on your desk, you're missing out. It makes things so much easier and really raises productivity. I try to keep my desk uncluttered, but it isn't always easy. I already have a stack of comics to read on the side. I love my Funko shelf above the desk: Star Wars, TMNT, Iron Giant, Star-Lord, Scott Summers, and Egon peer out. One of my favorite items hanging is my Ford F-250 Hot Wheels car from Close Encounters. This is a little bit of a mini Spielberg shrine with the CE3K Hot Wheels truck, ET, Hooper from Jaws, and the A.I. Super Toy Teddy keychain! The mounted TV is there so I can curse the heavens during Red Sox games & still see the screen. Other key items hanging around my desk are the George Lucas Stormtrooper, a beautiful write up of the Jedi Code from my best friend Elanor, and "I like you & I love you" stitched by my wife.

I Want to Believe

Yes, I take my toys out of the box. I know. Take a second to mourn their value and lets move on. I love this low, desk level shelf. It is a little unorthodox I suppose but I'm obsessed. High enough up to keep them safe but low enough to play with a little like the adult I am! Equipped with Yoda party lights, the majority of the toys are Star Wars (shocker) but the shelf includes some other favorites: Ryu, Mulder, Scully, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Godzilla, Pokedex, and more! Under it sits my long boxes, not sure what I'll do when I get a third!

That's about it for the miniature tour. Tell me about your work space! Leave it in the comments area or tweet me @kaityballgame! So whenever you read posts here at you know where it is coming from... Okay, sometimes it is on my laptop too but shhhh.

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