Friday, December 12, 2014

The Dancinest Hemisphere of All!

Twenty-five years later, The Simpsons still teaches me about the worst of pop culture from before I was born.

Remember, if you will, Hooray for Everything, the group of “clean-cut young go-getters” that perform during the halftime show in the episode “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.” You only hear a few seconds of their song, but Homer seems to enjoy it enough.

I have had those few seconds of that stupid song in my head ever since. It’s my go-to mental example of the kind of insipid, crowd-pleaser pop you might have heard at a halftime show back in the day. I figured that’s what the Simpsons staff had in mind when they wrote it. But then last night, I caught the end of an FXX rerun of “Goin’ to Praiseland,” the 2001 episode in which Ned Flanders opens a Christian-themed amusement park. Even though the episode’s guest star is Shawn Colvin, that same terrible song plays over the end credits, and you hear more of it than you do in “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.”

“Surely, they just had more of the song left over from when they first wrote it back in 1990,” I told myself. “Surely, no actual song could be so terribly catchy but also so terrible. Surely.”

Then I Shazamed it. It’s real, though I doubt I’m the only my age who had only experienced it via The Simpsons. The song is “Get Dancin’” by a band I’d never heard of, because I would have remembered a name as bad as Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes. In its entirely,  “Get Dancin’” is even dumber and brighter and bouncier and more annoying than I could have even imagined. It’s worse than “The Hustle.” Hell, it’s seven minutes long.

And now you have it in your head.

That’s not the only appearance of Hooray for Everything on The Simpsons, by the way. They perform a worse cover of a more recognizable song in “Selma’s Choice.”

I’d like to think that the same expert in terrible, impossibly upbeat pop music was responsible for introducing me to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine, Rainbows and Lollipops” in “Marge on the Lam.” And maybe Homer singing “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”? And maybe Homer singing “Spanish Flea”?

I was equally surprised to learn that the lyrics Homer was singing weren’t made up for the show, that “Spanish Flea” even had lyrics, and that a recording group ever thought their name should be The Doodletown Pipers.

Someone clearly knew their shit. And their shit was shit music.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Open Letter to a Skunk

Dear Mr. Skunk,

First, I would like to apologize for the circumstances of our meeting a few nights back. You see, I didn’t expect to run into anyone when I was taking out my garbage, to say nothing of finding someone hiding behind my trash receptacle. I feel I surprised you as well. The noise you made sounded like a surprised one, at least.

Now that we have been properly acquainted, however, I must ask you to stop digging.

You seem keen on dotting my backyard with small holes — sometimes dozens in a single night. They are small and shallow, none of them big enough to fit a golf ball. I do not understand why you do this, but please understand that your hobby is making a mess of my yard. There is dirt where I do not want dirt. You have uprooted plants. For what, I ask?

What are you looking for?

What do you think you’ve buried just an inch below the soil surface?

Why do you think these lost articles are hidden beneath my groundcover?

Why do you hate my groundcover?

Why are you bad at hiding things?

Are you attempting to bury something and then rethinking the proposition moments later, only to start another abortive burial several inches to the side?

Why do you return to the same spot to dig up a hole that you have dug — and I have un-dug — just days later? Do you think the contents of the earth will change that much in such a short time?

At the very least, do something practical with the hole, please. When the neighborhood cats dig holes in my yard, they do so for the purposes of shitting. I do not condone this — and, in fact, they have suffered reprisals for their instance on doing this — but at least I understand why they’re doing it. There’s nothing in your holes. No shit to speak of. I’m not saying “Shit in a hole or stop digging,” but at least I could relate to that logic, you know?

Whatever your motivation, this must end. I’ve researched online measures I could take to deter you, but I don’t think either of us want it to come to this.

You have a floofy tail that reminds me of my border collie. I want to like you, but you’re not making it easy.

Happy holidays. Please stop.

Drew Mackie

Previous coverage of the “Shit that happens in my backyard” beat:

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What Do You Do With a Dying Monarch?

At first I thought it was a leaf caught in the wind, but when it landed in my hand, I could see that it was moving too regularly. No, it was a monarch butterfly that had either run out of time or seen some serious action. Its wings were smashed. A few of its legs had been lopped off. It was broken. It seemed to move with great difficulty.

But it was moving, at least.

My first reaction was to just squish its little head, to save it from the pain, but I couldn’t do that. I’m honestly unsure that butterflies can feel pain. Besides, looking into its big eyes, I felt like it wasn’t my place. However, I also couldn’t leave it alone. So I just stood there, watching him beat his wings as he rested in my hand.

I put the butterfly on a cement paver — yes, that cement paver, actually — and just sat next to it. It didn’t care or probably even know, I realize. I’m totally projecting that it wanted me there. I would have wanted someone there.

I took some videos of what happened. That seemed important. Sometimes it was looking directly at me.

I’d never gotten so close to a butterfly for so long. I’d never gotten such a close look at one. You’d think it would look alien, but butterflies are more people-y than other insects; their proportions make them easier to anthropomorphize in your head.

Sometimes it seemed like it was struggling to do something. I couldn't tell what.

And then it eventually stopped struggling.

I put it on an orange kalanchoe when it stopped moving. Last I checked, it was still there.

So what spiritually devastating thing happened to you today?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

She Everywhere 2: Return to the Raccoon House

Earlier this year, I thrilled dozens with the story of how I learned that a woman in my neighborhood was apparently devoured by raccoons. Yes, the devouring happened posthumously, but that adverbs saps a bit of the power from the phrase “devoured by raccoons,” doesn’t it?

Today I present to you a new chapter in the “She Everywhere” saga that involves avocados and more hyper-local urban legends.

For most of the end of summer, I was tearing out my front lawn to replace it with plants that require less water. One day, when I was barefoot and covered in dirt, a nice gay couple pulled up. Both the guys were about my age, and they came bearing a grocery bag of avocados, because that’s how you make a grand, neighborly gesture in California. They explained that they’d seen me working in the yard and wanted to welcome me to the neighborhood. I asked where they lived and they said they lived just nearby — “in a house around the corner.”

“Is it the white one with all the plants in front?”

They said that it was. And at that moment, I knew I was talking to the very “two guys, no wifes” that had moved into the Raccoon House. I didn’t say anything about it. There’s no graceful way to ask that one: “So is it true that the previous owner was ripped to shreds in your backyard?”

They left, and those avocados sat on the counter for about a week before I got hungry enough to try produce that was maybe-possibly-probably fertilized by spinster corpse. They were damn good avocados, I’m happy to report. That’s a lesson to all you backyard farmers out there: If you want tasty avocados, kill an unmarried woman.

Our houses being so close to each other, we’ve had reason to say hi a few more times, and eventually they had me over for drinks. Remember when I said there was no graceful way to inquire about the on-site death? Well, when I drink, I get less graceful, and it didn’t take long for a question about the previous owner to segue into this crazy story I’d heard about the property.

And this is where it gets awkward.

The one guy said he’d never heard anything like that. The other guy nodded and said, “Yeah, actually, the lady who lived here before also died here.” I asked if the story about the yard was true, and he said to his understanding, no. What actually happened was even worse. According to him, the previous owner was a hoarder who’d let the house fall into a state of disrepair. She did die on the property, but not in the backyard: she died inside. But the house was in such a state that it wasn’t secure from the various outside elements, and though the animals did eventually get to her, they got to her inside the house — not in the backyard.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

The first guy wanted to know why he hadn’t been informed of the circumstances of the vacancy, and the other guy explained that he assumed he’d rather not know. Which he did now. Because I brought it up.

I suppose the moral of this chapter might be that I am a terrible guest, but the story isn’t over yet. Even the “she everywhere inside the house” version of the story didn’t come from the realtor. That’s just what a neighbor said. Apparently, unless the on-site death resulted from murder or suicide, the seller isn’t required to divulge details to the buyer. At least Two Guys, No Wifes didn’t get them, anyway, just that someone had died, with no mention of the role of raccoons.

Now I wonder how difficult it would be to get those details — literal gory details, for the first time since I quit my job at the newspaper.

Now I also wonder why anyone invites me anywhere, really.

Previous funny stories about awful things:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Baffling Concept of Kiss Cams

Because you may never spend quite so much time reflecting on why the Kiss Cam is a strange institution until you have to explain it to someone who is not from the United States and has never watched an American sports game. What follows is an edited, cleaned-up version of this conversation.

The Man From Another Place: What is a Kiss Cam?

Me: It's this thing where they point a camera at a couple at a sports event, and the couple is displayed on the big TV screen that everyone in the stadium can see.

MFAP: Is that an American creation?

Me: Probably? I actually have no idea if other countries have it.

MFAP: How do people know how it works?

Me: You just do. Like, it's been going on for a while, and when you see yourself up there it will actually put the words "Kiss Cam" on the screen so you know to kiss.

MFAP: It's weird if it's American because Americans don't like sex.

Me: That's kind of true. We have a hang-up about displays of sex, yeah.

MFAP: So why do people do it?

Me: Well, it's not sexy, exactly. It's usually to show that you love the person next to you.

MFAP: Oh, so it's like the kind of kiss you'd give your grandmother.

Me: Actually, not always. Some people really go at it.

MFAP: And what do the other people watching the game do?

Me: They cheer.

MFAP: What happens if the people onscreen don't kiss?

Me: The crowd might boo at them.

MFAP: Because they're not putting on a show for everyone?

Me: I guess? I've never really thought about it.

MFAP: They boo because the people aren't in a relationship?

Me: Basically. There's no way to communicate, "No, we're brother and sister."

MFAP: I feel like Americans shouldn't like Kiss Cams, then.

Me: Yeah, it might make more sense if it was a punch cam, and you have to physically assault the person next to you in the stands.

MFAP: How does the camera man know that he's showing a couple and not just friends?

Me: I have no idea.

MFAP: What happens if they put a man and woman who aren't in a relationship on the Kiss Cam? What if they were brother and sister?

Me: They'd probably get booed, I guess.

MFAP: Do they ever put same-sex couples on the Kiss Cam?

Me: No? I don't know. I haven't been to a sports game in a while. Maybe they do now.

MFAP: It would seem like gay people would be mad if they never got featured on the Kiss Cam.

Me: This is probably a thing somewhere.

MFAP: Now I feel like I understand the Kiss Cam better. Thanks!

Me: See, now I don't.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Last Decade on Murder, She Wrote

In lieu of a real post updating my life’s accomplishments, challenges and complications, I present to you a list of the random, before-they-were-famous guest stars on Murder, She Wrote. Revel in clothes and hairstyles that haven’t traveled well to 2014.

Kate Mulgrew as a glamorous actress with a dead body guard.

George Clooney as a good-looking guy who maybe doesn’t get enough sleep.

Charlotte Rae as a soured socialite.

Robert Reed as creepy Alex Trebek (apparently).

Billy Zane as a guy living it up while he still has a good head of hair.

Megan Mullaly as a high-minded lawyer who dresses like Diane Chambers. Really, her outfits steal the episode. I can’t imagine what the tactic was in dressing her in this manner, but for god’s sakes, lookit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Destroy Your Toe

I have ten toes, like normal. I used to think I had nice-looking feet, as far as guy feet go, but that’s not really the case anymore. Now I have one big toe with one little toenail.

This is the story of how I did this thing to myself.

This summer, I moved into a house, and the house had several trees that badly needed pruning. I found a guy to do this, and he eventually brought in his team of dudes to shape the trees as well as do some other work that I couldn’t do myself. This situation caused some feelings of insecurity for me. I’ve generally tried to do all the house chores myself, but I lacked the tools to trim trees, to say nothing of the know-how.

When the workers got to my house, the head tree-trimming dude pointed out that the cement paver path that runs through my yard would make it difficult to push wheelbarrows in and out of the yard.

“Can they be moved?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve moved them myself before.”

He seemed surprise by this. “You moved these yourself?”

“Yeah, I can move them. It’s actually pretty easy.” (This was a lie. It actually isn’t easy.)

“Oh, okay, then. I was going to sic the guys on it, but yeah, it would be helpful if you could get these out of the way before we get started.”

And so I felt better, because here was something I could do, to be helpful and to demonstrate that I had agency and man-strength enough to move these cement squares that the foreman presumed were too heavy. As the workers start hauling in the sharp, lobster claw-looking tools they use to chop branches, I started prying up the pavers, then rolling them end-over-end and out of the way.

Did I mention I wasn’t wearing shoes at the time?

Yeah, you see where this is going.

I rolled the final paver out of the way — not easily, I should admit, because they’re heavy as hell — and when I finally got it where I wanted it, I let it drop. And it fell corner-first onto my right toe.

I didn’t make any noise. I didn’t give any reaction at all, I don’t think. I just picked up that one side of paver and slid my foot out from beneath it and then hobbled inside, leaving a trail of blood behind me. It didn’t gush blood. It wasn’t like getting punched in the nose. But it bled for about an hour — after I washed it and poured rubbing alcohol on it and swaddled it in paper towels. And so there I sat — on my couch, with an ice pack resting on my discolored, leaking toe as I watched Hallmark Channel reruns of Golden Girls and tried very hard to concentrate on anything other than how badly my toe hurt.

There’s irony here. I injured myself because I’d wanted to prove that I was strong enough, and I only ended up sitting on my couch, watching Bea Arthur waltzing around in a weird cape dress as I tried not to cry. (I also am not strong enough to wear a cape dress.)

Subsequently, the toe manifested all manner of colors — from red to yellow to purple to black to clear, when it just stopped existing. It’s coming back, slowly, but now my big toe is more skin than toenail, so it just kind of looks like Melissa Gorga. The good news is that I will eventually have a proper toenail again. I just need to wait, and meanwhile every time I glance down at my bare feet I have this horribly asymmetry to remind me that pride truly does goeth before the fall — of the cement paver, directly onto my toe.

The bad side, of course, is that this probably won’t prevent me from hurting myself, physically or otherwise, in an effort to prove my worth as an able-bodied human.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Country Roses: A Lesser-Known SNL Sketch You Should Probably Watch

Here is the latest in an ongoing series of bygone Saturday Night Live sketches that haven’t gotten their due. “Country Roses” comes from a 2004 episode hosted by Jennifer Aniston, and it’s a faux commercial for a compilation of old country songs performed by female artists. It’s amazing, and one of the better all-female sketches in the show’s history. Tragically, it’s hard to find online. There are still chunks of SNL’s recent past that just do not exist online in glossy, hi-def format, so I had to yank this couple from a Russian YouTube wannabe that seemed darkened back alley-level sketchy.

But because I love you — yes, you — I’ve made it just a little more accessible. Enjoy.

Despite being relatively forgotten, this episode has introduced a lot of key phrases to my vocabulary, including “Ain’t nothing cuter than a fat country baby eatin’ peaches off a hardwood floor,” “When I told my husband to take out the trash, I sure as hell didn’t mean you,” and “Mama, why are there snowflakes?”

I hope Dana Jean Harley makes as lasting an impression on you.

Fun fact, BTW: Since I originally saw this sketch, I found out that the first performer featured in it, Lynn Anderson, used to be friends with my parents. I actually own the record single of her singing “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” though that’s not the most spectacular piece of Lynn Anderson history that I own. That, of course, would be this.

And you have to admit, it’s a glorious thing.

Weird SNL sketches, previously: