Day 420: The 420-Characters Project

originally published February 23, 2013

A funny thing happened on my way to this article. I had a topic picked out months ago – one I’m as positive as a rum-soaked, middle-age mind can be that I’d found on the shelf of my muse, Ms. Wikipedia. Alas, this volume appears to be no more. I made the commitment that I wouldn’t write about drug culture for #420, as I’d hate to sag flaccidly into the realm of the cliché. So instead, I’m going to have to wing it.

As I remember it, the character limit on a Facebook status used to be 420. In 2011 it got increased to 5000 and then to over 63,000, but back in those sepia-tone days of having to limit one’s “going to the mall” status to less than 75 or so words, a writer by the name of Lou Beach came up with an idea. He began to compose complete stories, all within the 420 character limit. His stuff is on amazon now, but you can still read several of these tales on his website. I won’t mince words; this man can spin a scene with a mastery more impressive than a high-wire unicycled clown making balloon animals in a wind storm. His friends and fans who followed his fanciful status updates were treated to some gnarly narratives.

I wonder – could I have done justice to my kilographic exploits had I constrained myself to such a limit? I’m going to venture back through some of my previous topics and re-imagine them within the 420-character confines of a February, 2011 Facebook status.

Day 406: Theme restaurants: Fancy a dance-off in Anaheim? How about a West Virginian hot dog that will convert into poo before you finish the last bite? Get slapped and tickled by a maid in Japan! Eat under swastika banners in Mumbai! Or have a yummy, oft-fatal Quadruple Bypass Burger at the Heart Attack Grill in fab Las Vegas. Your loved ones didn’t really love you that much, did they? The moral: theme restaurants are fun, but often dumb.

Day 156: Lightsabers: Did John Stears design the saber hilt from Star Wars? Not so – set director Roger Christian worked his magic and brought Lucas’s vision to life. They used highway-sign glow-stuff on a stick, then Nelson Shin used an optical printer to create the beams of my childhood reveries. Blue for good guys; red for bad. Except in Jedi: the green looked better against the blue Tattooine sky. Sam Jackson gets purple just cuz.

Day 397: Worst Films, part IV: Plan 9 From Outer Space may be the most perfectly terrible film ever made. Aliens try to warn us to be peaceful; we don’t listen, they animate the dead, but only 3 of them. Wretched acting, a narration about “future events” from the past, two boom mic shots, and Bela Lugosi starring after his death. Not as a zombie, but via a chiropractor stand-in. Ed Wood was the king of the shit-film, and this is his crapsterpiece.

Day 243: What Is Cola?: Coca leaves and kola nut, but what exactly is ‘cola’ flavor? John Pemberton wanted a cure for morphine addiction, came up with a soft drink. No cocaine in it anymore, also no kola nut. No sugar either; they use sugar’s bastard half-cousin, corn syrup, unless you buy it in Mexico or for Passover. I unearthed what might be the right blend of ingredients for Coke’s secret recipe, but I’ll be damned if I can brew it.

Day 287: Northern Soul: Hipsters in northern England started grooving to obscure American soul music in the mid-60’s, and the trend continued for decades. The Twisted Wheel, the Golden Torch, the Wigan Casino… all havens of mad dancing, speed pills and great tuneage. This fad influenced modern DJs, break-dancing, and rave culture. No one ever got famous from it – they just had a blast. I’d try it, but I’ve pulled my groin doing the robot.

Day 138: Batman & Lesbians: Batman is the name of a city in Turkey. Despite adopting this name almost 20 years after the Dark Knight character was created, the mayor wanted to sue Christopher Nolan for making a Batman movie which led to local suicides. I know… idiotic. Then there’s Dimitris Lambrou, the weirdo in Lesbos, Greece who wants to make it illegal for lesbians to call themselves lesbians. Somehow the courts threw the case out. Crazy.

Day 335: Happy 50th Birthday, Stuff: Lots of stuff turned 50 in 2012. Like video games (Spacewar! from MIT, of course – where else?), orange crackers shaped like disposable pet fish, the velvety slice of choco-mint heaven known as the After Eight, whatever the hell an Odd Ogg is, and Strongbow cider. Spider-Man turned 50, so did the Hulk. ’62 was the year of Cuckoo’s Nest (the book), The Jetsons, Carson on The Tonight Show, and The Beverly Hillbillies.

Day 7: WCBS-FM, New York: Did I seriously write an entire article on a radio station I’ve never listened to? Apparently. WCBS in New York started out with talk shows, then played the ‘Young Sound’, meaning elevator music versions of actual quality music in the 60’s. In 1972 they were one of the first Oldies stations in the world. They let a little disco drek seep in, then turned into JACK radio, playing MOR pablum. Now they’re Oldies again.

Day 280: Big Rock – Alberta’s Beer: In the mid-80’s, Canadian beer options were crap. Big Rock emerged from Calgary with earth-tone nectars of bud-tickling flavor. Trad Ale is bottled liquid luffa; Grasshopper Wheat Ale is golden summer bliss; Warthog Brown Ale can cause and cure amnesia, all within a single sip; Lime Lager will cure your palette of whatever ails it, and McNally’s Extra sings in harmony with itself – soothing, frothy and delicious.

That was harder than I’d expected, and not even in the minor league below the actual league in which Mr. Beach’s narratives take the spotlight. That said, this was a master-class in editing for pure content, cutting out the mediocre jokes, photo gags, and even any references to bacon (which was difficult). With Facebook’s character limit now up through the roof, this is an experiment from a bygone era, but Mr. Beach has done a fine job of distilling narrative to its purest essence.

I’m just happy I can go back to being wordy and rambling again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s