Boobs in Frame
or How I Got Kicked out of the AV Club

I end up writing these little stories because I find myself telling them over and over again. This story I have told probably 3 times in the last few weeks, so I am decided to give one, long, concise version of my AV Nerd days as I could, and then I'll just tell people, "I used to be in the AV Club. Got kicked out for being a pervert. No, really, the whole story is on my site..."

"Hey, we're really desperate for some help..."

That's how I was approached in 4th grade at the age of 10. I was in a GT class, which was a program that they sent "overly smart" kids. I am not sure why. They took us out of class twice a week for a few hours at a time, and made us do logic puzzles, puppet shows, advanced math theory, designing weapons for foreign governments, and sewing those NIKE symbols on... oh, wait, those last two were classif-- no, didn't happen. DIDN'T HAPPEN, I SAY, DIDN'T HAPPEN!!!!. No, seriously, I loved GT because I got out of dull and boring class, and spent time doing goofy stuff. Well, we were some sort of "talent pool" of weird stuff from time to time, and one day, the librarian came to where we were (our classroom was the cafeteria), and said, "Hey, we're really desperate for some help. We are losing our AV volunteer staff this year to graduations to junior high, and we need some of those more technically inclined to run projectors, film strips, fix some basic audio things, set up presentations, and keep an inventory of supply." AV, for those who grew up after such terms, stood for "Audio Visual," and meant you ran the record players, film projectors, and other stuff teachers rented out to show films and play tapes and stuff for their class.

Oh yeah. Nerd heaven. I think I dislocated my shoulder thrusting my hand to heaven in a vain attempt to beat the other volunteers by nanoseconds. I found much to my shock that most of me GT peers were silent. Uh, oh. What did they know I didn't? But my teacher said, "Grig has taken a *computer class*..." with emphasis on "computer class" like he was selling drugs to a dumb child. Oh, well. Here goes nothing.

I'd be such big fat liar if I said I didn't enjoy it. Oh, man, I loved being an AV Nerd. The job entailed some pretty sophisticated stuff. First, they trained me on how to run everything, which was ridiculously simple. After all, at this age, I was already repairing basic electronics and reselling them. I was told how to deal with "troublesome equipment" and equally troublesome teachers. Back in the late 1970s, Lewinsville Elementary school had a mix of new teachers with ancient bitties. The ancient bitties were often terrified of film projectors and their ilk. Whereas most of the younger teachers would just sign one out of supply and deal with them on their own, the older teachers practically had to be forced to show films in class. Many didn't care for them, and made up all kinds of reasons why films were bad. But the principal cruelly forced them to show certain films. This usually ended up with me getting the projector, signing it out, signing out the film, setting it up in their classroom, playing the film, breaking it down, and taking it all back and signing it back in. I was pulled out of CLASS to do this. Oh, man, how sweet! Often, the teachers, possibly nervous at the mere presence of a film projector, would leave while the film would show, and I would have the reigns of the classroom for the 20-30 minutes of the film. I was allowed to take names and tell on troublesome kids. I never really had to, though. Most of these teachers ruled with such an iron fist that the kids feared not only for their lives, but probably their immortal souls. Being in such classrooms made me mutter thanks that I did not have this particular teacher for any class in my life.

If any of you kids had these teachers in Lewinsville Elementary in the 1970s, I will repeat a phrase a friend of mine told me. "Those mean old teachers are probably DEAD now." This may or may not make you feel better.

Another great benefit was movie nights, where I would chug myself a mile to school in the dark (really, I did live a mile from school, but no 10-foot snow drifts that I recall), and show films at night. Most of them were really bad, 20 year old Disney films. They were almost always live action comedies or Westerns, and we played them in the cafeteria. People brought their kids, but looking back on it, I think a lot of adults were from the first TV generation, and were really going for themselves. Kids didn't have a place to sit, and usually sat on the floor. It was usually pretty noisy, and I think only half the kids were actually watching the movies, most were socializing, and that went for parents as well. One memory that stands out was near the end of a film, an adult approached me with a small reel, and asked me to play this film for him. I was 10, naive, and did what adults told me. I ended up showing a minute-long film or "Bambi Meets Godzilla," which if no one has seen this cult piece, was a short animation that involves 20 seconds of Bambi eating grass, a sudden giant lizard foot crushing him, and then about 40 seconds of joke credits. The teacher on duty was not amused, and the person who gave me the film vanished. The film was confiscated. I felt really bad about the whole thing (the kids, however, thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen), but the teacher never held it against me. One REALLY bad film I saw was a 1950s adaptation of one of my favorite stories, "The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking," which was so horrible, all I can recall was a sickening 20-second gag about how she picked her nose, and how throughout the film I recall saying, "Man, I don't remember this part in the book at ALL..."

Anyway, in 5th grade, I had my first real mean, "out-to-get-me" teacher. Ms. Cordell. I could go on and on about what a bitch she was, and how she nearly ruined school for me, but this tale does not concern her except she almost NEVER let me get out of class. She wouldn't have let me go to GT if the principal hadn't made her. She often told me that she didn't like me, to my face, in front of the class, and said, kids like me "deserved no special treatment," and I wasn't "nearly as smart as I fooled others into thinking I was." She used the AV club as an example, and would show me just how easy it was to operate AV equipment. My revenge came when she was fired a few years later. Ms. Cordell, I hope you choke on something.

Then came sixth grade, which was awesome. Our school, having no idea it was about to close in 2 years, bought new AV equipment. And it was also my turn to train new 4th graders. This was a pinnacle of my sorry little life back then, but even as I type this, I grin at the memory of being a "senior" AV guy. To add to this excitement, we got a video camera and VCR that year. In 1981, a VCR was the size of a small car engine, and almost as noisy. They took VHS, which loaded from a tray in the top. You had to pull a small lever on the side, the tray would pop out with a thick plastic crunch, you slid the tape in, and pushed it all back in. Then pressed "play." Even the clocks on the front were analog. The video camera was a huge beast on a tripod that had an external battery pack that you hung from a large strap. Compared to today's video cameras, it looked like a long-range anti-aircraft weapon. It was portable, in the same essence a desktop computer today is portable: you can move it, but I wouldn't advice doing it all by yourself. But little did I know the doom that this camera would play on me.

Junior High: Ground Zero

Well, that year came and went, and I went to junior high, which was run by the insane. Longfellow Intermediate was a circus of neurotic staff in various states of decline trying to rule an unruly mob of hormone-crazed pre-teens. Again, that will be a whole 'nother story. But I signed up for the AV club right away, and was with a small group of kids with similar interests, many I had never seen before. Some were... well, they threw the curve of the nerd scale. One of them had a mother who was a teacher in the school, and he was a mamma's boy. Not really in an evil way, he never used this "power" over us, but he had a kind of confidence replete with arrogance and vigilance that made him a well-rejected student. In this school most teachers knew how to run projection systems, so the purpose to our club was never made apparent. We met after school and did more inventory work than anything else, and we usually lost half our club to disinterest in the first few months.

1982 LHS AV Club photo
Here we are, all posing on picture day in 8th grade. I am the fat one in the back (highlighted). Mr. Miller is the short, mustached man on the left
The head of the AV Club (yes, it was now a club, with a group photo in the yearbook) was a librarian named Mr. Miller. Now, in his defense, 99% of the time he was a meek little man with little sense of humor. Then the 1% would erupt at times, where I was told this little redhead would explode with rage. Having seen him for a year and a half, it was hard to imagine him doing so. Sometimes I heard about him going ballistic on kids horsing around in the library, but I had never actually witnessed it.

Until eighth grade. For years I replayed this situation in my head over and over. I think I didn't really get over it until a year later when I was projectionist at my high school. The day Mr. Miller went nuts.

Halfway through the eighth grade, Mr. Miller called me in and said our junior high was going to get a video camera and some VCRs. I was the only one with video camera experience, and he was going to demonstrate the new setup to the office staff after school one day. So I was proud to say I'd do it.

The day came, and I arrive to the library to see the equipment. A few of the school staff and some other dignitaries were milling about, talking about how much things cost and so on. The video camera was not one I was familiar with, in fact it had an auto-focus and auto-zoom, which I thought was really high-tech. Now, this unit had two major parts. A camera part, which was on a tripod that had been badly set up. The other part was a VCR/Battery pack part, which held the tape, battery, and in this case, the power cord that let to the AC power in the wall. The VCR/Battery part was very, very heavy, and it had been slung over the lighter camera. The tripod was brand-new, and very stiff. I spent most of the first few minutes trying to angle the camera, get the tripod straight and a the proper type. The VCR/Battery pack was slung over the camera, and for some reason, it never occurred to me to remove it. This made the camera awkward and unwieldy. There was a TV set set up where you could see live footage of me swinging the focus around wildly to set it up. Mr. Miller helped me get the tripod set level, and then I spend a few minutes trying to get the camera to stop pointing at the floor.

When I got it unstuck, I needed something to focus on because it was now pointing to a beige wall. By the door were some girls in sweaters, all watching us. I turned to film them, since they were something I could focus on. They saw themselves on TV, and started giggling, pointing, and so on. Back then, being on TV was still a real novelty for anybody. I got them in focus, in frame, and then I did something that I regret even now.

They were on wide zoom, and I wanted to zoom in on their faces. What I didn't know was that the auto-zoom did what it was designed to do, zoom to the center of the shot. That happened to be the girl's chest area. Now, when I saw that, my first thought was an innocent, "Oh, crudbuckets, they are out of frame," and was going to zoom back, re-tilt, and then zoom in on their faces. But I never got the chance.

Suddenly, without warning, my right ear rang with pain, and I was yanked downwards, by my ear, into a storage room in the library. I was rather intricately tangled among the wires, VCR/Battery strap, and the tripod, so I resisted because I was afraid that I would topple all of this expensive equipment down. But Mr. Miller yanked them off of me, dragged me *by my ear* into a small storage room, and slammed the door behind us with such force it never got a chance to latch, and sprung open again. But he didn't try and reshut it because he was too busy yelling at me.

Such words! Mr. Miller's face was red and he had taken off his glasses, and was waving them about like he was going to strike me with them. The first few moments of his tirade were shot at me with such force, I couldn't understand what he was so upset about. I literally thought he thought I had broken something, but my mind raced to try and figure out what I could have possible broken (my mind was saying, "The auto-zoom? Did I break the auto-zoom?" Well, quickly, he let me KNOW what he was mad about. He thought I was trying to film these girl's boobs in some sick, twisted, perverted joke. I was stunned, and since I was being yelled at, I immediately started crying. I tried to defend myself, by saying, "No, I wasn't! It was the auto-zoom!" But Mr. Miller was on a roll, and nothing would stop him. He struck books around us, spilling them on the floor, and having been in similar situations with my own father, I was afraid for my life. What was really upsetting was he was using words, a lot of them curse words, accusing me of really nasty things. I recall phrases using words like, "horny sailor," and "pedophile," and "BS," which up to that point, I thought was a degree (Bachelor of Science). He also used the word, "Dirty" a lot, like, "You dirty, dirty, dirty little boy who thinks he can use modern technology so appease his dirty horny dirty desires," and so on. His verbal abuse was so... guttural... that one of the people who came to watch the video presentation came in behind him, and asked him to calm down. The girls I was filming became upset and left. The principal, who was there, told me that my parents would be contacted over this incident. I feared that a lot, because my mother was really drunk that week, and who knows what might happen.

In the end, the consequences of my technical mistake got me thrown out of the AV club, my parents were called in for counseling (which my mother set up while drunk and promptly forgot to tell my dad so they never attended), my mother thought I was being "silly" and gave me a tipsy lecture on appropriate sexual behavior, it got put on my permanent school record (which I later saw was "attempted to play pornographic material on school equipment," and then later commented, "parents were counseled and it was agreed this was a misunderstanding."), and for the rest of the year, the students thought I was a pervert. Luckily, this was quickly forgotten in high school in the following year.

I never want to see "Creepshow" again.

Or Blue Thunder. Or National Lampoon's Vacation, Blade Runner, Wargames, or a half a dozen other early 1980s films I was forced to see over and over and over and over and over again.

It started when I took Drama 101 in high school. My teacher, a Benny Hill-esque looking teacher who was the head of the drama department named Mr. Duncan, had an idea that our high school theater could be used as a source of revenue. They would show "Dollar movie" films, which were films that were over six months old that were commonly re-released to "dollar theaters." These were usually proven hits that had been forgotten half a year to a year after release. They were cheap, and we could charge $2.50 a film. I wish I had the guts to point out that the amount was $1.50 over what was showing at the dollar theaters, but said nothing. The revenue would go to the theater department, which had seen better days by the time I was in drama. I was still stinging from being accused of a pervert a year earlier, but I volunteered under the "what they hey" act of 1984.

We got some older Kodak projectors that could show the 35mm films, and sold tickets to show these movies in our main theater/auditorium, which was set up like a movie theater, and the choir room, which was not set up like a movie theater, but did have, oddly enough, a projectionist booth which doubled as a makeshift recording studio and storage space. In that room, people had to sit on carpet-covered concrete steps facing a screen. I find it odd no one complained, but I never heard about it if anyone did.

We started with a staff of seven, which was reduced quickly to a staff of four after three of the future projectionists said, "Oh, wait, you show movies on the weekends? Oh, I have stuff to do." Then one guy just sort of dropped out. That left me, a girl named Ky, and a guy named Henry. At first, we just stayed in our own booths and traded shifts. Film times were 1pm, 4pm, and 8pm (1 and 4 only on Sunday). It was supposed to be two people in each booth, one would do the 1 and 4, the other would do the 4 and 8. But there were only three of us, and we didn't want to lose ALL our weekends, so it was one of us in each booth while the other took the weekend off. Ky got sick a lot. Ky was a pale, quiet girl who read books, was always cold, and didn't speak much. When she did, it was usually kind, but it seemed that the projection booths made her ill after a few hours. I was called to finish her shift twice before she also quietly dropped out. That left me and Henry. Henry was a senior who also had stuff to do. So many weekends... that left me. A freshman with no social life to speak of, so... "would you mind?"

Films came to us three ways. The first and most common was was 4-6 separate reels, depending on movie length. The second, and most annoying, was one big reel. I am talking one huge reel larger than most dump truck tires, and they literally took most of my arm span to carry. The third way was by videocassette, which was blissfully maintenance free, but very, very rare.

When we had 4-6 reels, we would have two projectors side by side with a makeshift shutter system. You would start projector one, and load projector two. When projector one was running out of film, you would warm up the bulb of projector two, and look for your cue. All 35mm movie films have a visual clue that you may have never seen, although it's still used today from what I see. A small oval will appear in the upper right corner of the screen. That is your 7 second mark. You start running the film on projector two at this point, and count down. 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... *changeover*! At changeover a second oval appears, and you immediately hit the button on the shutter, and a black square goes in front of projector one's lens and another lowers off of projector two's lens. If you time it right (and all these cuts happen between crossover scenes in the movie itself where there is no dialog), it will be a seamless change. If you time it wrong... well, sometimes the last scene will abruptly end a second too early and the next one will take over. I see this in theaters from time to time, and it can mean that the 7 second leader on one of the reels has been damaged or too short for some reason. This causes that strange rough ending to one scene, and a bad film transition to the next scene. I usually got it right if the reel was in good shape, which thankfully was most of the time. Now you would rewind the reel on projector one, put on the next reel, and then do it all over again, but this time, switching the other way. To this day, I can still see that oval, and by habit, I still count down under my breath in movie theaters, which amazes some of my friends, and annoys others.

The big reel was a MASSIVE pain comparatively. First, the projector could not handle the size. We actually had a "backup reel" machine that could. It was attached to a huge piece of plywood and was held onto a table via a pair of vice grips. To thread this projector, you put the reel in the front of the backup, threaded it up to the ceiling where we tied a small minute-sized reel to the joist, went back down to another minute reel when then went into the projector, back out, back up through two more minute-reels, to a take-up reel back on the backup reel machine. Film was strung all over the booth. What made it even worse was that the backup reel machine was never, ever the same speed at the projector, so if you didn't continually adjust the speed (which was adjustable via a lever on the backup reel machine), you would either snap the film or it would pool all over the floor in a tangled mess.

The video cassette you just made sure was rewound, popped it into the TV projector, and ran it. It never failed, and even turned itself off and rewound when done.

Now, picture me, manning two booths that were a few hallways apart from each other in the school. Normally, they were one hallway away, but on the weekend, the main hallway was gated shut. So I would start movie one, run down to movie two, start that, and then sit by any movie that was just one big reel. I would keep an eye on my watch, and when the time was up, I would run back, switch reels, rewind, and then run back to the big reel, and spin the backup takeup to collect the film that invariably pooled on the floor. I would do this for all 5 showings on the weekend. It was insane.

After about a dozen or so weekends, the whole project was dropped because not enough people were showing up to justify the expense, and the school was nervous about being partially open on weekends anyway.

So what did I gain from my AV Nerd days? Well, a respect for jury-rigged systems, a fear of filming women, and a dislike to bitchy fifth-grade teachers. But I would never give up these memories, because I think I am the only one who would truly believe them.

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