Secret Origins II: How I Got the Holy Grail

Chaos in Print

It all began when I was 10 years old. Transformers: The Movie had just come out on video, and I had finally seen it. I thought I had just witnessed the greatest movie ever made. I was horrified at Megatron’s slaughter of the Autobots. I wept for the death of Optimus Prime. I laughed at Grimlock’s antics. For a 10 year old in the late 80s, this was Gone With the Wind. As the end credits rolled, I actually watched them, and what caught my eye were the song titles. “Dare.” “The Touch.” “Dare to be Stupid.” My birthday had just been a few weeks earlier, and I was given my first personal stereo. Nothing more than an AM/FM radio with a tape player, but to a 10 year old, a complete home entertainment system. I started thinking, “What better way to begin my album collection than with the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack?” On every excursion into Edmonton from that day forth, I would scour the record stores and music sections of department stores, searching in vain for this album. It soon became greater than just a kid wanting an album. It was an obsession. In the soundtrack section, I would always head straight to the “T” section, hoping to glimpse Transformers. But, it was never to be. As my fifteenth birthday rolled around, I began to acknowledge the inevitable. The movie was now 5 years old. Perhaps it was now too old for stores to stock it. I felt it was time to let the dream die. But, just maybe, dreams don’t die. They just lie dormant until they can come true.

It was late 1996. November was dragging on, and my second year at Augustana was going quite nicely. My radio show, Chaos In A Box, was reaching new heights of popularity, and I was still managing to maintain a somewhat admirable 8.4 average. I didn’t know where my life was headed, but it was good enough for now. The first snowfalls were starting, and that’s when an idea I had over the summer began to once again come to the forefront. I tracked down the radio station manager, and I ran my idea by him. I wanted to do a 2-hour Chaos In A Box Christmas Special. I would scour the back room, find as many Christmas CDs as I could, and play nothing but Christmas songs until the campus got sick of them. I’d have special guests, like the students union president and the editor of the school paper, and have them share their special Christmas memories and tell us what was being planned for the new semester. The station manager was receptive to the idea, and gave me the go-ahead.

A few days later, the station manager e-mailed me. He had been thinking about my Christmas Special idea, but thought that I could be doing it better. He still embraced the idea, but wanted to expand it to include the whole station. It would be an all-night event, with the DJs doing shifts. There could be all kinds of events on campus, getting people “plugged in” and turned on to the station. At first, I was a little resentful at how the manager stole my idea, but accepted. My major task was to round up some special guests. The manager said I didn’t have to worry about the editor of the paper, as he knew him and would ask him personally. So, I placed a few calls to the students union president and some favorite professors, but sadly, they all turned me down.

Soon, the big night came. Despite all kinds of glowing acceptances from my fellow DJs, turn out was quite small. I did my best to soldier on, though. The few DJ s that did show up were ones I knew, so there was a festive mood in the air. Ribbons and garland were hung, and we began waiting for listeners. The manager had a TV set up, so during songs, my attention was grabbed by Monty Python and the Holy Grail, truly one of the finest Christmas movies ever made. Soon, the first (and only) special guest showed up. He was a tall, skinny fellow, with a grin on his face. He had dark curly hair, and a deep, suited-for-radio voice. The manager introduced me to him as Chuck, the editor of the school paper. I shook his hand, and the pleasantries were exchanged. It wasn’t like I was trying to be rude or anything, it’s just that I was in the middle of a show.

The evening progressed. The nachos soon began to dwindle and the bottles of Coke were running dry. Since things were starting to wind down, I once again took position behind the microphone and played some of the music that I liked to play. I reached for one of my most treasured CDs, Danny Elfman’s Music For A Darkened Theater, and began to play one of my most favorite pieces, Breakfast Machine from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Chuck’s eyes lit up. “What is this song?” he asked. I showed him the CD, a compilation album of some of Danny Elfman’s best film scores. Chuck began to geek out over it. It turned out that he was a big fan of Danny Elfman, too, but had never heard of this album. That’s when he asked a question that I dreaded him asking: “Can I borrow it?”

Now, I know as materialistic and shallow as this is, I’m very defensive of my possessions. Even my closest friends have to beg and plead with me for hours before I relent and allow them to borrow a CD or video. So, my instant answer to Chuck was an unqualified “No.” If I wasn’t going to lend it to my best friend, I wasn’t going to lend it to this complete stranger. But, Chuck was persistent. He kept asking and asking and asking. Finally, either because of the twinkle in his eye or just to get him to shut up, I said yes. But, there were a few conditions. He could only borrow it for the weekend, and if it came back to me damaged or scratched in any way, I’d take it out of his hide. Chuck promised that, on Monday morning, it would be slid under my door. But, since he lived off-campus, I had to give him step-by-step instructions on how to find my door. I kissed my baby good-bye, and turned her over to this complete stranger.

It was an agonizing weekend. I knew nothing of this person. For all I knew, he was out playing frisbee with my CD. He was probably getting his fingerprints all over it, and using it as a coaster. I tried to relax. I tried to just settle in and watch some TV, but I couldn’t. I had left Danny Elfman in the hands of a madman. Monday soon came, and I tried to lose myself in my classes. It was difficult, but somehow, I survived. As I came back to my dorm room after my final class of the day, I opened my door slowly, so I wouldn’t step on anything. I looked down to see that my CD had been returned! But I was not relieved. The CD case was open, and the CD was laying there in the direct sunlight! I snatched up my baby, gently closed the case, and placed it back in it’s small, temperature controlled environment. I turned to close my door, and on the ground, I noticed a note. It was from Chuck. He said that he apologized for having opened the CD case, but it was the only way he could get it thin enough to slide under my door. He thanked me for letting him borrow my CD, and wished me well. Now, I was relieved.

Months passed. March was soon upon us, and I was thrilled with the fact that warmer weather was causing women to wear less. Chuck and I had become passing acquaintances; we’d say hello to each other when we passed each other in the hallways and stuff like that. It wasn’t long before the latest issue of the paper came out. It was always a magic time on campus when the latest issue came out. You’d see it magically appear in stacks at the places where people were most likely to pick it up. For at least the next week, you’d see people walking with it under their arms, and it would dominate most conversations for at least the next day or two. On this March evening, when it came out, I was heading off to the computer lab to do some leisure net-surfing, and had grabbed it to read while slow websites were loading.

As I was waiting for my favorite Gargoyles website to load, I reached the last page of the paper. Chuck, finding editor of the paper to be a stressful job, had begun doing a column on the back page called Things That Got Me Through This Month, in which he’d list…the things that got him through that month. He was rambling on about having finally seen Harriet the Spy, when he got to a list of albums that helped relieve his stress. There was one in there that he just casually threw out: “my Transformers: The Movie soundtrack.” My jaw dropped. I did a double take. I gasped in exasperation. It does exist! It is out there! CHUCK HAS IT! Now was not the time for thought. Now was the time for action!

I closed Netscape and opened up my e-mail program. I found the official e-mail address for the school paper and fired off a quick e-mail to Chuck. First, I rambled on about how it was a great issue, like always, and, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed his work. Then, to the meat and potatoes. I mentioned that getting the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack had been an obsession of mine since I was 10 years old, and here he just casually revealed that he had it. So, I needed to know, “WHERE THE HELL DID [he] GET IT?” I clicked on “send,” and began waiting for a reply.

It was about a day or two when I heard back from him. I opened the message with great anticipation. First, he rambled on about all the kind things I had said about his work. He had been going through a lot of grief. He just switched publishers so he could start doing the paper in color, and now all sorts of legal action was being threatened and people were just plain mad at him that it took so long for this edition to come out. So, I had said the first nice thing about the paper that he had heard in a long time. Then, he moved on to what I wanted to know. He had gotten it at the little record store on main street called Tune Town. I had to special order it, meaning I put in my request with the clerk, lay down a $5 deposit, and wait 3-4 weeks for it to arrive. Chuck also threw in the little tag, “But, since you loaned me one of your most treasured CDs once, I just might loan this one to you.” That afternoon, I hopped on my bike (I was more athletic in those days), rode down to Tune Town, and placed my special order. The agonizing 3-4 weeks had begun.

Sadly, though, as this was the end of March, a genuine fear set in that I would not get it in time for my final show in the second week of April. It looked like, if I wanted it for my season finale, I’d have to take Chuck up on his offer. I e-mailed him again, begging to borrow it. Chuck, like when I first asked him, replied with an unqualified “no.” But I persisted. I e-mailed him. I began dropping by the newspaper’s office to ask him in person. I just kept asking and asking and asking. Finally, one day, I got an e-mail, asking that I come by the office that afternoon.

I showed up, not knowing what to expect. Chuck was there, as was the editor of the yearbook. (They had to share the office in those days.) Chuck said that he had a present for me. Here, he told me the complete tale, of how he had Transformers: The Movie soundtrack on both CD and cassette. He gave me a cassette tape. Had he given me his cassette version of the soundtrack? Hell, no. He wasn’t going to part with that if his life depended on it. What he was giving me was a copy of the CD that he had made just for me. But that wasn’t all. The paper had just gotten a new scanner and a new color printer, and he wanted to test it. He did so by making for me an exact copy of the cassette’s liner notes to slip in the cassette case. With a little bit of a dramatic flare, he took the cassette back from me, slipped in the liner notes, and gave it back to me. I now had the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack. I thanked Chuck like how a child thanks his parents on Christmas morning, and that night, I cranked up “Dare” on my final radio show of the year.

The next day, I got a phone call from Tune Town. My CD had come in. I was busy with my last few classes, so I couldn’t get away until that evening. I hopped on my bike and rode downtown as fast as my legs could pedal. I ran up to Tune Town’s doors and gave them a tug. They were locked. I looked at their hours. They closed at 6pm on this day. I looked at my watch. It was 6:15. Hy heart sank. I turned around and went back to the campus. Luckily, the day after, my first class didn’t start until that afternoon, so I was there at Tune Town as soon as they opened at 10am. I paid my money, the clerk reached below the counter, and presented me with it. I still had some time before my first class, so I first listened to it the best way I knew how. I crept up to the radio station, and blared that thing across the campus’ airwaves. I sat back, slowly going deaf to the strains of “The Touch.”

Summer soon came, and as the time in the gravel pits began to crush my hopes, I began thinking that I should do something for Chuck; to repay him for finally allowing me to finish my quest. He liked Transformers. I liked Transformers. I had cable. He did not. In the discussions about the CD, I let slip my love of the new, computer animated Transformers show, Beast Wars. Chuck had no way to see this show, so he would drool as I gave him descriptions of the characters and plots. I decided that I would tape Beast Wars for Chuck, and give it to him in September. Around July, I stumbled upon his address, and wrote him a letter telling him I was doing this. He never responded, but, that September, he said that when he got my letter, he was all excited at what I was doing for him.

That September, my relationship with Chuck began to grow. Sure, I presented him with the tape, but he always had some new download or new thing that he discovered online, and he always wanted to show me. As my third year continued, I’d often set out to 7-11 for some snacks, only to see that the light in the newspaper office was on. So, I’d drop in to see him, and I’d always greet him with “Saw your light was on, and I thought I’d stop in.” As the semester drew on, it was around Christmas time that I came to a startling realization: Chuck was my best friend. I had stuff in common with him, and for the first time I felt like I wasn’t alone in the universe. Our conversations about cartoons of the 1980s would always grow to more philosophical things, and soon I had opened up to him in ways that I hadn’t in a long time. It had been a long time since I had a best friend, and it felt…good.

Here we are now, five years after that holiday special and he’s still my best friend. I continue to tell him all my deep-rooted emotional problems, and he continues to listen with a tolerance I have yet to find in others. We still have a love for cartoons of the 1980s, even if we’ve run out of things to discuss about them. I like him. I like being with him. And, when my insecurities aren’t plaguing me, I’m pretty sure he likes me. Why else would he continue to put up with me for all these years? In the end, he didn’t just give me an album. He gave me something I had been wanting for just as many years: simple friendship. If I never said it before, let me say it now. Thank you, Chuck, for everything.

A brief prologue. As I reflect, I don’t think that holiday special was the first time I met him. It was a few months earlier, September of 1996. I was doing some leisure net-surfing in the computer lab, and I was running off an episode guide for Batman: The Animated Series. I was walking over to the printer to pick it up. There was this tall, skinny, bearded fellow sitting on a computer by the printer. As I was collecting my pages, I glanced over his shoulder to see what he was looking at. It was a G.I. Joe website. I was intrigued. I broke through my normal shyness, and spoke. “G.I. Joe, eh?” I said.

He looked up at me. “Yeah,” he simply said. “There’s a lot of G.I. Joe stuff online.”

“You know what else there’s a lot of?” I said. “Transformers. That was the first thing I ever typed into a search engine and I got a million websites.”

“I’ll have to try that,” he said. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” I said. I stapled my episode guide together, and returned to my workstation. I don’t know for sure if that really was Chuck, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was?

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