Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Big Purple Thing That Isn't Barney the Dinosaur

So this has been plaguing me since, oh, I was seven or so. In the world of the McDonald’s mascots, each of Ronald McDonald’s acquaintances has some clear association with the food products his restaurant sells. The Hamburglar steals hamburgers. Mayor McCheese is a cheeseburger. The Fry Kids are made of French fries. And Birdie the Early Bird, horrifically, would appear to be unprocessed Chicken McNuggets. But exactly what is Grimace? McDonald’s sells no products that are purple or pear-shaped, but there he is nonetheless, all stupid and clumsy and purple and antithetical to the very fiber of the McDonaldland existence. (Please keep in mind that I was the same kid who was frustrated by the liberal interpretation of Santa Cruz geography in “The Lost Boys.”) Recently, I did some research and learned the story behind Grimace, seen below clutching a yellow feather for reasons I’ll never know.

Apparently, Grimace was created originally as a McDonaldland villain. Called “The Evil Grimace,” this purple meanie — whose name makes a hell of a lot more sense in the context of being evil — initially had four arms, all the better for stealing McDonald’s milkshakes, his addiction to which ostensibly drove him to a life of crime. I suppose this then would explain what Grimace’s food association is, though if he looks like anything that goes into McDonald’s shakes — and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did — I think I’m going to be sick. Note the next illustration, which depicts the Evil Grimace.

Like Smurfette or Donkey Kong, Grimace switched over to the good guy side shortly after his debut. No longer evil, he instead became clumsy and slow-witted — and also Ronald’s best friend. (You know how to pick ’em, Ron.) He’s been confusing inquisitive McDonald’s patrons ever since.

The mystery of Grimace has been explored by several websites in the past few years. Ask Yahoo ran an item on it, but also concluded that Grimace is, in fact, nothing. (The writer also likens Grimace’s lack of a clear species to Disney’s Goofy and Gonzo of the Muppets, noting “Maybe all this ambiguousness has something to do with the letter ‘G.’”) A website called The Straight Dope also tackled the question, with more amusing results. Cecil Adams, the site’s letter-answerer contacts a McDonald’s spokeswoman, who reads from the official McDonald’s description.
Grimace personifies the child in everyone… He is Ronald [McDonald]'s special pal. Everyone loves Grimace because of his innocent loving nature. He occasionally causes trouble in McDonaldland because he is clumsy, but his friends overlook this because he is so happy.
Adams continues:
You are gagging, I expect. So am I. [Spokeswoman] Jane Hulbert is… well, Jane is doing her best to be professional about this, but it's a struggle. Here's more: Hamburglar is a “fun-loving prankster.” The Happy Meal Guys are the “fun-loving personification of the hamburger, soft drink, and fries that compose the Happy Meal.” CosMc is a “wacky fun-loving alien who came to McDonaldland from outer space” and is “part vehicle and part creature.” (“I can't believe they pay me to read this,” Jane muttered at this point, but we promised we wouldn't tell the Kroc family.)
Perhaps the best results of such an investigation were yielded Ben Kosima at The Rubber Chicken. Instead of contacting McDonald’s directly, Kosima emailed a multitude of celebrities, including George W. Bush, the Olsen Twins, the Ninja Turtles, Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch” and the guy who inspired Kramer from “Seinfeld.” Kosima’s conclusion: Grimace is a giant, cloned beetroot.

Well, I thought it was funny. And for the record, no, I don't know who the sailor-capped dog in the first Grimace image is, and I vow to never dedicate a blog post to finding out.

Tomb of the Unknown Hitchhiker

What my holiday looked like — minus humans.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Medusa Meets Monty Python

Perhaps you've noticed my tendency to discuss odd tidbits of popular culture, sometimes in groups that wouldn't necessarily seem to go together and sometimes in groups that don't go together. I like these little pieces of random and I think it shows.

Last week, I came across and article that namechecks, among other things, Medusa, the basilisk, "The Ring," a Monty Python sketch, Stendhal Syndrome, Lady Godiva, a song called "Gloomy Sunday" and that creepy "Red Room" Flash site that allegedly infatuated my new little friend, Nevada-tan. These subjects wouldn't readily seem to share any quality warranting their presence in the same article. And before I read the Wikipedia entry on "Motif of harmful sensation," I wouldn't have expected anything other than something I wrote to include them all, either.

To explain, the motif of harmful sensation is a rather clunkily named phenomenon in which a person is killed or otherwise harmed simply by perceiving something, usually visually or aurally. For example, the video tape in "The Ring" causes people to die, whereas most video tapes do not. Looking at Medusa's face also kills people — though, by turning them to stone, though I suppose that total body petrification should kill someone as well. Looking at most other people, however, does not result in this effect.

I have been aware of this notion for some time, and even been attracted to it, though I never thought to put a name to it or anything. (If I had, I think I would have picked something better than "motif of harmful sensation." Maybe something like "thing-that-isn't-usually-bad-is" or "bad perception thing" or "gooberstumpis" or something.) The motif of harmful sensation, as the Wikipedia calls it, is quite an old concept that has arisen repeatedly in various world cultures.

Notable examples:
  • Like Medusa, the mythical medieval animal called the basilisk, a bird-looking serpent that could turn people to stone just by looking at them.
  • There's a plant called the mandrake that supposedly emits a human-like shriek when it is plucked. The shriek causes instant death.
  • The Stendhal syndrome is a supposedly documented effect in which people become dizzy or ill after viewing a painting or other work of art that they find particularly dazzling.
  • The Chuck Palahniuk novels Lullaby and Diary. In the former, hearing the lyrics to a certain song causes instant death. In the latter, a woman's drawings cause a severe form of Stendhal syndrome.
  • "Gloomy Sunday," also known as the "Hungarian Suicide Song," a little ditty that purportedly drove scads of Hungarians to kill themselves. (I've actually heard the Billie Holiday version of the English translation and like it quite a bit.)
  • The whole thing with the number of God in that movie "Pi."
  • A Monty Python sketch in which the British invent a joke so funny that anyone who hears it will die laughing. The joke is then used as a weapon against the Germans in World War II.
Best part of all, the article also mentions that creepy haunted eBay painting. In fact, the only glaring omission I see is that episode of "The Tick" in which the Queen of the Ottoman Empire tried to steal the Most Comfortable Chair in the World, a seat so accommodating that anybody who sits it in is unable to leave it of their own volition. But that might be different. Maybe.

I'm not sure why I find this so fascinating, but I think it might have something to do with that fact that these things, if they existed, would be forbidden to be perceived — unless you had a death wish, of course. So on top of never being able to see them because they're not real, I would be dead if I had seen them. Shoot.
[ link: the full article ]

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Painter of Blight

Currently, I'm reading Joan Didion's Where I Was From. It drags in places, but this memoir of her childhood in California-cum-Golden State trivia tidbit history lesson makes some interesting points. About Leland Stanford. About The Gold Rush. About the transcontinental railroad. And, surprisingly enough, even about my hometown, Hollister.

But easily my favorite part is Didion's description of Thomas Kinkade, the man who calls himself "the painter of light," and who became my hometown's neighbor in the past few years. Didion draw a parallel between Kinkade’s work and the apparently commonplace practice of glossing over California’s history of hardship with a sweeter, more idealized version of the actual events — kitsch in the Milan Kundera sense. But her description of the paintings themselves nails their utter shittiness better than I ever could.

Sayeth the Didion:
A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.
Perfect. She got it just fucking perfect. I’m quickly becoming enamored of this woman.

Merry Date Rape: The Truth About Bing Crosby's "It's Cold Outside"

I've been prepping for the holidays by breaking my tradition of avoiding Christmas music. (Bless you, Vince Guaraldi.) However, various factors have led me to the conclusion that the Christmas favorite "Baby It's Cold Outside" is, in fact, about date rape.

The most popular rendition of the song features Bing Crosby as the rapist and Doris Day as the victim who asked for it. As proof of my findings, I present the full lyrics to "Baby It's Cold Outside." Since the song is a duet, I've decided to put the man's lyrics in parentheses. And to hammer home the point, I will also interject my comments, which are indented.

I really I can’t stay
(But baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away
(But baby its cold outside)
The woman has established that she wants to leave. The man is trying to convince her otherwise. RAPE!
This evening has been so very nice
(I’ll hold your hands — they’re just like ice)
Hold you hands — in my pants.
My mother will start to worry!
(Beautiful, what’s you hurry?)
And father will be pacing with fury
(Listen to the fireplace roar)
She wrongfully believes that her status as a rape victim will shame her family.
So really I better scurry!
(Beautiful, please hurry)
Well maybe just a half a drink more
Roofie colada.
(Put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think
(Baby, its bad out there)
Say, what’s in this drink?
Roofies. Lots of roofies.
(No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how to break the spell
(Your eyes are like starlight now)
Glazed from the roofies.
I’ll take your hat
(Your hair looks swell)
I ought to say no! no! no!
And she is.
(Mind if I move in close?)
At least I'll say that I tried.
"Rape schmape. I give up easily, apparently."
(What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can't stay
(Baby, don’t hold out)

But it’s cold outside!

I simply must go
(But baby it’s cold outside)
The answer in no
He knows. He ain't listening.
(But baby it’s cold outside)
This welcome has been so nice and warm
(Look out the window at that storm!)
My sister will be suspicious!
(Your lips look delicious!)
How is she still standing after all those roofies?
My brother will be there at the door!
"Waiting to hit me for being a whore."
(Waves upon a tropical shore!)
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
"Maiden aunt"? What the hell?
(Gosh, your lips are delicious!)
Well maybe just a cigarette more
(Never such a blizzard before)
I’ve got to get home!
(But baby, you’ll freeze out there!)
Say lend me a coat?
He's not gonna give you any more clothes, honey.
(It’s up to your knees out there)
Her knees would be much warmer on the carpet.
You’ve really been grand!
(I thrill when you touch my hand)
"And even more if you'd touch my penis."
But don’t you see?
(How can you do this thing to me?)
"Don't be like that, baby."
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
(Think of my lifelong sorrow!)
At least there will be plenty of implied
We're way beyond implication here.
(If you caught pneumonia and died!)
I really can’t stay!
(Get over that old out)
But baby it’s cold outside!

The message: though it may be cold outside, nothing beats the warm embrace of non-consensual sex.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lagoon Phone

How else should you deal with stress? Call 805 562-9054. It's the number for the payphone near the lagoon. Call it at ten to the hour on weekdays to fuck with people on their way to class. Or call on Friday or Saturday night and fuck with freshman walking to I.V. to party.

The best so far: pretending I'm an enraged parent looking for my daughter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dim Lights, Small City

So Drew finally learned how to change how long the shutter on his camera stays open. This may not mean much to you. It wouldn't have to me, not long ago. But now I know, and I'll tell you. When the shutter opens for an especially long time — say, fifteen seconds instead of the usual one-hundredth of a second — more light gets into the camera. In normal lighting, this results in a nice, white rectangle. At night, however, this allows me to take photos in almost complete darkness. Whether the human eye sees it or not, there's still light there. Given enough time, even the smallest amount of light makes a picture.

Twyla's balcony. The crappiness of the adjoining condo complex looks almost good — colorful and resort-like.

The homestead, all bright and shiny. Me and the border collie are making a transparent cameo. And I like that.

More me and dog ghosts, complete with pretty blue cell phone trail. I believe this was taken during a phone call I took from Spencer.

The backyard. I like this because Hollister looks like it's on fire. It wasn't. But hey — there's me! All creepy and see-through! Ditto for the next two.

If I had planned this right, I could have made it look like I was kicking my own ass.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Oh, Taryn

While rifling through my stuff at home, I found a card my old roommate Taryn gave me three years ago. When I say she gave me a card, I don't mean she sent it. She just saw it, thought I'd like it and bought it for me, telling me that she hoped I'd never send it to her.

I never sent it to anyone, honestly, because I liked it so much. And because no one had ever nailed my sense of humor as squarely as Taryn did when she gave me the card.

That's it. Simple. To the point. Mean-spirited. Hilarious. Sure, it's a "Far Side" rip-off, but Gary Larson never got this mean. And what do you get when you open the card up?

Nothing. No pick-me-up like "Just kidding, sport!" or "You're not that ugly" or anything. Just a blank card. I think if I ever sent the card — as I would to, say, someone I had just broken up with and hated or someone who really needed a kick in the teeth —I would just sign the inside. And then maybe draw a skull and crossbones or something.

In closing, best gift ever. Thank you, Taryn.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cream of Blue Raspberry

For reasons I cannot understand, I painted a picture. This is what I painted.

As you may have guessed, it's an elk vomiting squares of varying sizes. For some reason, this image lodged itself in my head back in May, on the way back from the Nexus trip to Las Vegas. I quickly drew it on a canvas then let it sit in the corner — mentally, literally — until two weeks ago. Upon finishing it, I decided to call it "Prance Closer," which might hint at where the image came from. I'm not really sure.

And no, Sanam, this isn't the canvas that Aemon gave me, though I have some idea what I'd like to paint on that.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Orange and Black and Drunk

Proof the Halloween happened. It may have happened in a five-day blur of drunkeness, but it did happen. Here a few photos, better late than never.

Me, as Cowboy Drew. You can't tell from the photo, but I'm even wearing cowboy boots at great risk to my verticality in my drunken state. Photo courtesy of Kristen-Mike.

Spencer and I made a jack-o'-latern in the image of the scariest thing we could think of: Quincy Jones, the chow with a heart as poisonous as candy corn.

And here's the Quincy-o'-lantern, looking just a little scarier. And as a bonus, here's Quincy looking uncharacteristically pleasant.

Just trust me that he's plotting something awful. He's tasted blood. And he likes it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

This Is Kids' Stuff

I'm always surprised at what this blog can be. To me, it's generally a forum for the voices in my head — something funny or trivial or the latest cinematic production from Lier X. Aggregate. Since I decided to approve comments, it's become a way for my friends to share this, to some extent, or to call me on my bullshit. And for the creepos with nothing in their lives besides a keyboard, a monitor and a cable modem, this blog serves as a way for them to peer into the life of a total stranger.

Just this week, however, the Cereal Box helped someone I admire contact me. That's never happened before. I checked my email on the morning of Halloween and found a notice of a comment being posted. The comment was purportedly from Mike Lebovitz, the man behind a neat little band called Father Bingo. I’ve mentioned Father Bingo before — in the tracklists of CDs I’ve burned for friends and also in the lengthy post entitled “Ginger Prince Is Not Shirley Temple.” This is also the post that Mike Lebovitz’s comment is attached to. Go ahead. Read it.

I initially thought the comment was a prank. It was Halloween, after all, though I suppose the late October pranks are more in the style of car-egging. Besides, who besides Spencer and me would even know who Mike Lebovitz was?

Despite the fact that his comment ends in “You’re wasting your time. You’re wasting your time” — the last lyrics of the song — I feel that this little, wonderful thing is validating. It’s exactly the reason why I would continue to write this blog. Mike Lebovitz made a song and I appreciate it enough to look into what it could have been about. I wrote that, and now he’s read it. It’s remarkable that it happened, and not just because I accidentally referred to him as “Mark” in the initial posting. (This has been fixed.)

I still like the song. It’s entirely worth the ninety-nine cents it costs to download on iTunes. I like that the first stranger who stumbled upon what I wrote about them was flattered. (Julia Roberts, I’m guessing, would not be.) And I still like this blog. Nearly four years old and still surprising me.

Mike Lebovitz of Father Bingo, please don’t egg my car.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Death of Charlotte Braun

Wikipedia is an endless source of amusement for me. It has information, sure, but as a result of being constructed by anyone with computer access, it often has useless or sucky information. For example, all Wikipedia articles can be classified under some type of category. European Union member nations or racquet sports, for example. This week I stumbled upon the category for fictional cyborgs. You know, because you might be writing a paper on Seven of Nine and need another cyborg for comparison. Also, please note that no comparative category for real-life cyborgs exists.

Other articles are quite gratifying.Take Charlotte Braun, for example. I have read Peanuts all my life but had never heard of this character, whom Charles Shulz apparently created to be some distorted, female version of Charlie Brown. Unlike Charlie, Charlotte was mean and pushy and even louder than Lucy. But Shulz tired of her quickly and blinked her to the cornfield, never to be seen again. (Later, he created Charlie's sister Sally as a new and improved female twist on Charlie.)

Shortly after Charlotte went away, Shulz received a letter from an avid Peanuts reader who disliked the character and requested that she be eliminated. Shulz responded by asking the reader if she felt comfortable being responsible for the death of a child, and enclosed in the post script a sketch of Charlotte with an axe in her head. It almost seems to urban legendy to be true, but the letter was apparently donated to the Library of Congress, which posted a scan of it online. Amazing.

Charlotte Braun, rest in peace.

And Maxine — Where Are Your Red Shoes?

As of late, I've been keen on Toothpaste for Dinner, website that collects what I would describe as the crude stick drawings of some humorist who may or may not have taken his stability pills. Case in point:

Great, huh? I intend to return.

Eleanor, Put Your Boots On

A story Spencer told me, as close to verbatim as I can reconstruct it.

"The first time my mother had an awareness of material poverty was a doll called Pitiful Pearl. She was a doll that had purposefully thinning hair and an ugly smock of a dress with white polka dots. She looked a little fat, but my grandmother told my mother that that was because her family could only feed her with really bad food. That's how my mother learned about poor people."

And it turns out Spencer accurately remembered the incident that his mother recalled to him from her childhood. A quick search reveals none other than Pearl herself, whose full name turned out to be Poor, Pitiful Pearl — you know, for emphasis. Anyway, meet Pearl.

I think she looks like Angelica from "Rugrats" after having fallen on hard times. Spencer and I agree that it's cute to market poverty as something children should enjoy. What's even funnier is that they eventually decided to ditch the "poor, pitiful" angle and put Pearl in a fancy party dress. A see-thru fancy party dress.

Sure, it's a nice outfit, but you still know she's poor because any well-bred girl would no better than to wear that dress out.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

When the Three Words Didn't Work

A story:
Some time ago, a man in an unimportant town in Eagleland learned the power of the three words. The man had been well acquainted with words and their workings before hand and had even heard them spoken to him. But he had never said them earnestly. But times changed and the man realized that the three words meant something more than the individual definitions he had found in the dictionary. The words were powerful, symbolic of something greater than he was or anything he knew before. Indeed, the words seemed to tap into something fundamentally good about people in general.

The man thought the words could solve anything.

One day the man found himself faced with a terrible problem — worse than storms and earthquakes and anything else bad. So, naturally, he spoke the three words. They didn’t work.

At this point, the man realized that although the three words were quite powerful, they were not all-powerful. Alone, the man sat down and thought about what this meant.
What? You don’t think it’s a good story? I think it’s plenty good. What do you want from me?

Okay, fine — here’s one more line: Oh yes, and there was a unicorn in the story as well.

The end.

Kung-Fu With Grilled Onions

Well look who stepped into a pile of blog! Our old friend, Davey Dave! Let's monitor his every syllable and pen stroke!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The State Nickname That Can Get You Into a Lot of Trouble

Dear Missouri,

Why are you the "Show-Me" state? Until you can come up with a good answer, please refrain from putting this nickname on license plate frames.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Soft Plastic Snap

Last night, while discussing the development of "Arrested Development" in Kristen's kitchen, I was fiddling with my keychain in my pocket. I often do this, so it shouldn't be surprising that it finally resulted in the death of said keychain.

Though not so much a result of nostalgia as laziness, I've had this doodad since I moved into the dorms freshman year. The Residence Hall Association may well of abandoned this practice, but every incoming freshman once recieeved these rather generic key chains. I'd seen it every day for the last five years of my life, but it is now gone.

Goodbye, memory of college.

[ don't worry sanam; this is not the promised "doozy" post ]

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Sheep Hypnotist

According to a book on border collies I was leafing though the other way, one of the more interesting characteristics of the breed is its "strong eye." Apparently, the border collie has an especially strong gaze that it can use to stop a sheep dead in its tracks. The way the book was written, this stare works like some kind of canine-ovine hypnosis, and by holding the sheep's attention, the border collie can make the sheep go wherever it wants to.

This is my dog.

To me, he looks too damn happy to be some stern sheep hypnotist. His canine brain is riddled with the same faults that plague some people with ADHD. He'll hold your gaze, providing he doesn't see a bug. Or hear a bug. Chief is a good dog, for sure, but I just don't think he's the kind of border collie with a stern mind-controlling gaze. He's too frantic and scattered. Citing this photo as evidence, I'd say his expression is more like that of some slightly senile old relative confronted with a surprise party — he's excited and seemingly caught off guard, but you can't help thinking that the startled glee is more a natural condition than a result of the immediate situation.

And with that, I'll shut up about my fucking dog.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Opera and Truck Pulls

Note: The events describes in this entry occurred a full week ago. The bias that developed in the distance between today and seven days ago may shade this article. Such a bias is purely the result of deep-seated resentment.

Hearing, as I understand it, is mainly done by thousands of tiny hairs inside our ear. These hairs are different lengths. Each length of hair is responsible for a certain frequency of sound wave. For the entire spectrum of audible sound frequencies, a certain hair exists that is in charge of vibrating when the frequency rolls through. (Whether these hairs’ individual frequency responsibility exists as a result of design or evolution, I won’t even begin to discuss here.) Now, unless I’m mistaken, the phenomenon we generally call “ringing in the ear” or “ringing in my ears” or something like that has a very definite connection to these multi-lengthed ear hairs. You see, contrary to the popular superstition that such a sensation means someone is talking about you, I was once told by one of the better informed teachers at my high school that that noise is actually the death knell for that particular hair.

You heard me right, if you ear hairs haven’t yet fallen out.

Tragically, whenever a person feels ringing in his or her ears, they should know that that’s the last time he or she will ever her that particular frequency in that ear. That hair has just broken off, due to overuse and abuse — like the events I will shortly describe in this post. Say goodbye to that particular ring, dear friends, because you’ll never hear it again.

So now imagine what it must feel like if, instead of having just a certain grove of ear hairs vibrating at their predetermined frequency, you had all of your tiny, delicate, supersensitive ear ears shaking like telephone polls in a full-on Richter Ten. Imagine all your ear hairs screaming their frequency, as if they knew the sheer force of sound would soon snap them from their fleshy, cochlear base and render them as useless as the rest of the hair on your body.

Think about that and you’re about where you’d need to be to re-create my experience at the San Benito County Fair last weekend.

I went home last weekend for two simple reasons: paperwork and family. The paperwork needs my signature and I need my family’s adoring attention. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that last weekend also happened to be that of the fair. This annual event — which I’m told has occurred on the same weekend since I was born — is a big draw for the people of Hollister. That, the opening of a new gas station or the wedding of a recent high school graduate who’s one month shy of her third trimester — these are the things that the people of Hollister flock to. If you, dear reader, have ever seen an episode of “The Simpsons” in which the entire town flocks to some meeting point to witness a doings a-transpirin’, then you understand the devastating lows to which the Hollister social scene reduces.

Still, not wanting to miss out on the olfactory combination of beer, cotton candy and deep-fried god-knows-what, I went. Call me a snob all night long, I still love the fair. There’s too many good memories there for the entire population of Hollister to spoil it for me. Besides, I had the bright idea to go and snap some pictures of carnies. (And yes — I did do this, and yes — I have an idea, and yes — you faithfuls will see it soon.) So I went. And all in all, it was okay. I didn’t have to speak with anybody I didn’t want to. In fact, the only people who even recognized me were the various members of the Ryan family — having caught Meg at the brewery that morning, I managed to see four out of five, meaning I’ll have to be vigilant over the Thanksgiving weekend if I want to collect a full set.

A little before seven, I bump into my parents, who have apparently arrived at the fair to “see [my] brother’s thing.” Okay — I like my brother and I’m already there. No reason why I shouldn’t get to go and see his thing, whatever that might mean.

So we enter the grandstands — I’m giving serious thought to suggesting they pencil in some quotation marks around the “grand,” by the way — and sit down and I’m looking at the very arena I’ve seen countless horse shows in. It’s full of trucks.

“What are we watching, anyway?” I ask.

“It’s a truck pull,” my parents’ hive-mind answers.

And I realize that though I’m familiar with the term, I’ve never actually seen a truck pull and I have no idea what one entails. So I ask and they tell me to watch the first contestant go and then I’d understand.

So I wait. And then I watch. But I didn’t understand.

Here’s how I would explain a truck pull, if pressed to do so. So there’s this truck, but the owner has gone to some effort to soup it up and make it more powerful than it would be otherwise. And he goes out onto the track and some people attach a trailer to it. But not a normal trailer — more of an industrial trailer, like one that you’d use for hauling something heavy. Only there’s nothing on it. Instead, there’s a guy on the back and he’s operating these levers that control how much resistance the trailer will give the vehicle that’s towing it. Then the driver of the truck — the towing truck, though not the tow truck specifically, since that might make you picture the wrong thing — revs up the engine and pulls the trailer as far as he can.

At this point, the tremendous strain placed on the engine sends this fantastically horrible mechanical screech-wail in all directions. If you’re at Bolado Park, home of the San Benito County Fair since God sneezed and created the county back at the dawn of time, you’re sitting on bleachers covered by a roof that looks to be some sort of metal, possibly tin. The echo that bounces between the concrete base and the metal roof actually increases the volume of this deathly noise — I would estimate eightfold, if not ninefold — until your ears produce the supremely unpleasant feeling I described earlier in this post.

Then everybody cheers.

Don’t ask me why everybody cheers. I don’t understand why. The truck does exactly what it’s supposed to do. You hitch it to a trailer and it tows the trailer. And this elicits applause? Would these same enthusiastic spectators applaud the successful towing of a U-Haul trailer to their sedan? Do they applaud a Pink Pearl eraser’s successful rubbing away of an errant pencil mark?

These are answers I cannot provide.

In short, the spectacle of the tractor pull was completely lost on me. I sat there, utterly perplexed and bored — and oh yes, my ears were bleeding — and watched truck after truck do exactly what they were supposed to be doing. And then sat there as everybody cheered. (To be technical, I wouldn’t be able to say they were cheering. At this point, my ears went all Helen Keller, so for all I know everybody was standing up and shaking their hands and mouthing silent obscenity.) I suppose truck pulls are something like opera, in a sense. I don’t understand opera, thought I can appreciate that other people get something out of it. Someone told me that opera is something you just have to watch, and then one day you’re watching it and you just suddenly get it — the spectacle and the sound and the total involvement of the audience in what is happening before them.

So yeah — opera and truck pulls.

After about forty-five minutes of this nonsense, I decided that it would be in my best interest to escape. Careful to leave my camera with my parents — so as to create the illusion that I would return — I excused myself, ran to though the darkened ag sheds to the noise of startled, squealing pigs and finally arrived at my car. There, I turned on the heater, rolled up the windows, put down the sun visors even though it was dark out, plugged in my cell phone, spun the iPod wheel until I arrived at the new New Pornographers and drove home, imagining that the hand of God would lift my car up into the night sky and, with the care of the most benevolent of the benevolent deities, toss me onto a fluffy night cloud that would take me gently to Santa Barbara as I napped, Little Nemo-like, and dreamed of the cotton candy that I never actually got to buy.

In order to better explain the methods of the truck pull, I have enclosed the following pictures.

This, apparently is my brother's truck. My mom manages to capture the large trailer being attached to the back. In front of the truck, you can see roughly one-fourth of the total track.

Whoosh! The truck is technically moving at about twenty miles an hour. What would initially appear to be a speed blur is actually my camera's inability to capture moving objects at a distance in low light. But just think: whoosh!

Conversely, some people chose less traditional vehicles. Here, you can see what would appear to be a tractor, painted in Cal Poly colors and given an extra chromosome.

Tresure your ear hairs, friends.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Goblin Market

Check out this week's Independent if you get a chance. It's not much, but it's something and I don't completely hate it. Normally, I wouldn't be able to access this kind of article online, but Jen — one of the kids who runs the Empty Garage — was excited enough about it that she clipped and scanned it. Here's for eager young go-getters.

And there you have it.

[ two more, and soon getting lonely ]

Monday, October 3, 2005

Color With Remarkble Leg Power

Just in: The word "puce" — meaning a grayish-purple color — literally means "flea-colored." As in, "Your purse is the loveliest shade of flea-color I've ever seen! I adore flea-color!" I couldn't imagine why fleas got their own color name as opposed to, say, any other worthwhile animal.

Learn your colors today, for they may change by tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Do You Wish That Your Legs Grew Long?

A few days ago I asked Spencer a question about spiders. “If you’re in the shower and you see a spider in there, do you deliberately wash it down or do you do you own thing and let the little guy fend for himself?”

And after that, we drifted to the subject of the daddy longlegs. Not any specific one, but just the idea of them. Now that I think about it, they’re probably the first spider I consciously remember seeing. They’re so omnipresent, despite being so slight. Just thinking about what they look like, I feel like they’re the product of some sci-fi writer’s imagination: a tiny, dot of a creature, suspended in the air by nearly invisible legs. Some stray period or the dot from a lower-case “i” that grew legs and walked off the page.

When I thought about it more, I realized that I didn’t even know how the term “daddy longlegs” should look in print, as I can’t remember ever seeing it. “Daddy Long Legs”? “Daddy-long-legs”? The name itself sounds weirdly old-fashioned and Mother Goose-like, when you actually think about what you’re saying. And then I haven’t got a clue how to pluralize it. Surely I’ve seen more than one of these weird arachnids in some corner of an room before, but I can’t think of a logical way to say that there’s more than one. “Look, I see two daddies longlegs?” Or “Shoo away those daddy longlegses.” Not a clue.

I looked it up in the dictionary and then on the Wikipedia. It turns out that the term itself doesn’t really mean anything, as it refers to a different bug or spider or whatever depending on where you are. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it’s “Any of various arachnids of the order Phalangida, with a small rounded body and long slender legs.” It’s also apparently called the harvestman, which lends the critter even more of a human character than I feel comfortable with. A daddy longlegs can even apparently be a fly — the crane fly.

For the first time in a while, researching something has led to it becoming even more ambiguous than before. A week ago I figured I would have been able to explain what a daddy longlegs was to someone who didn’t know. Now I’m not so sure.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Please Turn on Your Magic Beam

So if the world weren't horrifying enough for you, consider this: British scientists have discovered a symbiotic bug that eats tongues then attaches itself to the root of the former tongue and acts like a new tongue. The bug, Cymothoa exigua, feeds exclusively on fish tongues — thank God — and drains the tongue of its blood. Most surprisingly, the host fish doesn't necessarily suffer. The bug is so adept at mimicking tongue actions that the fish can continue to live with its squiggly new licker. So it's not a parasite. Just a new little friend.

It's like a helper monkey for fish, if the helper monkey rendered the person handicapped beforehand.

And I can't remember every having typed the word tongue so many times.

[ Source: BBC News, via Boing Boing ]

If I Were You, I'd Take a Permanent Vacation

At Spencer's advise, I ate a rabbit sandwich today. I just thought I'd share that.

When the "Oo" Was Important

Before I head in, a note of clarification about Yaz, a great band. Yaz is a two-man outfit: singer Alison Moyet, who came up with the name "Yazoo" after reading it on the cover of some old blues record, and keyboardist Vince Clarke, who had previously been a member of Depeche Mode. The latter actually wrote "Just Can't Get Enough," but quit the group shortly thereafter. Apparently, the band is known as "Yazoo" in Britain. This causes some confusion, especially for me, since my account renames my file with the British moniker and then tells me that no one else ever listens to that song. I don't know why.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Theater of Unexpected Inactivity

I’m just pissed about Francis Fregoli.

You’d think I’d be upset because I didn’t realize that The Theater of the New Ear consisted of what essentially were radio plays: “Anomalisa” and “Hope Leaves the Theater.” I purposely didn’t research the plays before hand, but I immediately felt suspicious when I walked into the theater and saw that the stage had no backdrop. When the cast of “Anomalisa” walked out on stage and seated themselves at miked desks, I knew something was up. A talkie, in the literal sense.

Not that it wasn’t entertaining. I actually liked it a lot. I’ve always had a thing for radio plays and voiceover work and stuff like that. I just wish I knew ahead of time. What I can’t get over is Francis fucking Fregoli.

The program states that “Francis Fregoli is the pen name of an established writer who wishes to remain anonymous.” He wrote “Anomalisa,” and though it’s my less favorite of the two plays I saw, I’m really annoyed that a simple internet search won’t turn up who Francis Fregoli is. No, instead I get plot summaries. “‘Anomalisa’ concerns a motivational speaker and his one-night stand with a pitiful deformed woman.” And that about sums it up. I think I like the end best, because at that point Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the singing voice of an antique Japanese sex doll that oozes semen. And she does a good job. Oh, actually I think my favorite part is that Jennifer Jason Leigh is a midget — seriously. Oh, and actually I feel bad saying that because the second play had Peter Dinklage, who actually is a midget. But I knew that about him already. Not her.

I attended the play primarily for the second half, “Hope Leaves the Theater,” which was written by Charlie Kaufman, who is kind of a hero of mine. I like how ambitious his stuff is. But I’m not yet entirely convinced I really liked “Hope.” It’s po-mo to an extreme. It breaks the frame of narrative seemingly just for the joy of breaking the frame of narrative,

The setup: in the program for the play, Kaufman has listed the three actors — Hope Davis, Dinklage and Meryl Streep — and all the roles they play. Streep, for example purportedly plays Sally, Kelly, Jane, the Empress of Japan, Mrs. Finnigan, Boy #2, Joan of Arc, Daisy, Teresa D’Useau, Radio Man, Sailor #1, The Killer and Broken Katie. Furthermore, Kaufman also lists a breakdown of the play’s scenes:

I quote:
Scene one: Elevator
Scene two: Elevator. Ten minutes later.
Scene three: Joe’s living room. Dawn.
Scene four: The “kitchen.” Later that day.
Scene five: Offices of Rolling Stone magazine, 1969.
Scene six: Engine room of an Argentinean freighter, 1943.
Scene seven: The void. Thursday, 6:53 a.m. EST.
Scene eight: Elevator. Exactly thirty years later.
Scene nine: Joe’s living room. Midnight of the same day.
Scene ten: The void. Early morning.
Scene eleven: The eye of a hurricane. Easter Island. Now.
Scene twelve: Elevator. One thousand years later.
Scene thirteen: A field of marigolds.
Which is great and enticing and all that. But the play never actually shows any of this, really. It technically starts before the lights go down, with Hope Davis sitting on stage but voicing the thoughts of Louise, an angry, miserable woman sitting in the audience. She hats Charlie Kaufman, likes Meryl Streep, thinks she could have been the third Coen brother and is annoyed by the British couple sitting next to her. The play starts, but Davis stays in her head — until her cell phone rings. Streep breaks character and angrily rebukes Davis’s character, who leaves the theater.

Only Hope Davis herself never goes anywhere. We just follow her narrative as she walks away from UCLA, on the bus, into her house, with Streep and Dinklage supplying the voices of the people she passes by on the way. And it’s convincing, too. I didn’t even care that I didn’t get to see the scene in the offices of Rolling Stone. I was impressed enough to see how the actors would break character and address each other and all that.

The downside was that the play concludes with Dinklage playing a smarmy critic giving “Hope Leaves the Theater” a bad review. And he addresses the play’s problems — like it being “too precious” — and basically eliminates the need for you or me or anybody else to bring them up. And I feel like that’s cheating — writing a post-modern play but then using its post-modernism to evade actually criticism. “He’s so good he knows what he did wrong — and he told us!”

I still like Charlie Kaufman and “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine.” I just haven’t made up my mind on this one yet. I only know that I'm pissed I can't find out who Francis Fregoli is.

Did I mention that Jennifer Jason Leigh is a fucking Hummel?

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Goodbye and Good Night

After Seven Falls, neither Kristen nor I felt much like going out. Honestly, the five-hour hike drained us enough that if we had gone out, we'd be trampled corpses on the beer-soaked floor of some bar right now. So instead we had a drink with Betsy at Tee Off — a golf-themed cocktail lounge we hadn't been to before — then headed in early.

I saw the last few sketches of an "SNL" that I've caught the end of twice before. Luke Wilson and U2. I don't care for U2, but the closing credits are the best thing I've ever seen on the show. Wilson does the usual "I had a great time! Thanks to the cast and everybody else!" — but then the camera sweeps over to the music stage and U2 performs an unprecedented third song from their new album. And I don't like Bono, but he's such a great performer. He walks off-stage and into the audience and sings to this woman in the front row. And she starts crying.

But then — this is the best part, really — he walks over to the stage where all the castmembers are and puts his arm around Amy Poehler. And Amy Poehler starts crying too.

It's this awesome moment for "SNL" and TV in general. It's always interesting when the actors break character, but here you see them all completely out of character. They're not performing or acting or entertaining. They're not even the cast of a show. They're just a bunch of people watching a concert, just like we are. They're completely out of character — so much so that they're letting us see them be genuinely moved by a band they've probably loved for years.

And that's something that I feel lucky to have seen.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Ginger Prince Is Not Shirley Temple

There's no way around it. She's just not.

Spencer and I have this wonderful exchange of mix CDs. It's the best thing two people could do, I think. You give someone a CD and they get new music and a better look into who you are. Or something like that. Anyway, one of the songs on the "Enjoy or Destroy" mix was a by the unfortunately named band Father Bingo. I know little about Father Bingo other than that it's apparently the solo project of a Philadelphia-based artist named Mark Lebovitz. And that one of Father Bingo's better known songs is called "Ginger Prince Is Not Shirley Temple."

So from that title alone, we get what Ginger Prince isn't. Surprisingly, the internet has very little to offer on who or what Ginger Prince actually was. And I'd really like to know.

These are the opening lines of "Ginger Prince Is Not Shirley Temple."
Somehow they got it in their heads that she would be a star
I don't think they realized that cuteness only goes so far
Try as they might, Ginger Prince is not Shirley Temple
There's actually no site on the internet that lists the song's complete lyrics, which may be because the words are frequently hard to pick out from the song's instrumentation. Regardless of what is being specifically said, the song is about Ginger Prince's failed stardom.

Some of you might actually recognize this girl from her IMDb page, which I accidentally linked to a few days ago. (I research these things days in advance, don't you know.) A Google search yields little on Prince's career. I found these three promotional posters, in which you can clearly see her non-Shirley Templesque face. From what I can tell, she made some movies and appeared on stage a bit.

That first poster seems to be for a picture called "The Prince of Peace." According to the IMDb trivia for this movie, which is apparently also called "The Lawton Story," all of the actors in it were native Oklahomans. Those with the thicker accents even had to have the dialogue redubbed. All I can tell is that it's a Christian-themed musical. That, and that there's a cast member named Maude Eburne playing "Henrietta," who I bet is the unattractive maid looking character in the poster. (Doesn't she just look like a Maude or a Henrietta?) So based off what I know about "The Prince of Peace," I have to wonder of perhaps Ginger Prince was some kind of Southern twist on the Shirley Temple model? (Like, maybe instead of dancing with Mr. Bojangles, she beat him.)

There's a database of exploitation films that surprisingly has an entry for "The Prince of Peace." It also provides a little more plot description, noting that the movie concerns one small town's production of a passion play and that the film served as a debut for Prince, whose moppet qualities were employed to net a wider audience — or, if you will, trick more people into seeing it. There's also a fairly large gallery of screen grabs from the film, in which you can see Ginger Prince mugging in all her spunky, puggish cuteness.

Someone calling herself Ginger Prince also has an entry at the IBDb, the Internet Broadway Database. This actress appeared in "Ain't Broadway Grand" and Gypsy," but she couldn't possibly be the same moppet from the forties, as the dates for these plays are in the late eighties and early nineties. (On a side note, I'd like to point at that the title for "Ain't Broadway Grand" omits the question mark. This is a wise choice, I think, in that it would discourage Broadway critics from reviewing such a shitty-sounding play simply by answering "no.")

Searching for information on Ginger Prince is further hampered by the fact that red-headed Paul Scholes, a midfielder for Manchester United, is known to his fans by the nickname "The Ginger Prince." (Macho, no?)

So while I have some idea who Ginger Prince is, I'm still left wondering whatever really became of her. Maybe nothing did. And maybe the lack of many mentions of her name online says all there needs to be said about what happened to her career. Or maybe there's a part of the story I'm missing. I wonder how Mike Lebovitz ever stumbled across her and why he decided she warranted a song about her. These are the things that bother me.

This is kids' stuff

EDIT: I may have answered one of my own questions. Apparently "The Prince of Peace" was produced by Kroger Babb, an early director of exploitation films who also cast Ginger Prince as the daughter of an alcoholic in "One Too Many." Babb's films were notoriously tawdry and was hounded by Christian groups. In response, Babb alleged he was making a film called "Father Bingo" that would serve as an expose on the secret underground of church basement gambling. The film never was realsed and Babb had no interest in making it, so it would seem it resulted only in becoming the name of a band sixty years later. And it would make sense that Lebovitz, while researching Kroger Babb would come across Ginger Prince.

Friday, August 26, 2005


God, I can't believe I didn't realize this sooner.

Okay, so on "Arrested Development," Michael (Jason Bateman) is the third born child of the Bluth family. (They mention in one episode that his twin sister Lindsay came out first.) Michael hates the family business and constantly wants out, but family politics keep pulling him back into the mess he was born into. Despite not being the oldest, his father ends up passing the business onto Michael anyway. A big reason for this is that GOB is a playboy and Buster is a little slow. In turn, his brothers and sister scramble for favors.

Coincidentally, "The Godfather" centers around Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who is also the third born. He also hates the family business, but ends up assuming the position of patriarch anyway. His siblings also scramble for favors from him. Michael also has a brother, Fredo, who's a little slow, as well as one sister. (It should be noted, however, that a big reason for Santino not being the heir to the family business is that he is assassinated, not an idiot. Like GOB. GOB is an idiot.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The End of Everything

Jeez. This week has been landmark. A year ago, it might not have seemed so big. But this summer has been, plateaued at a level I’d like to call “contented monotony.” I’ll try to detail the things that happened in this post, but the real reason I’m writing this — or most things, really — is that I don’t even know how I feel about them yet. A television show I like ended. I think I saw someone dying yesterday. Somehow, this all ties together.
Discussed herein: the dark humor of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, frozen dinosaurs, Jessica Walter, simultaneous kidney failures, Alan Ball, “Everybody’s Waiting,” Claire Fisher, the sudden end of a nice car, Sanam and the three times that I said “goodbye forever,” Heath Huxtable, Aemon’s blank canvas, the end of everything
Now, I can distinctly remember reading the Entertainment Weekly fall preview during the summer before I started high school. There's an article on "Seinfeld," which was in full swing at the time. In it, Julia Louis-Dreyfus dreamed about the show's last episode — which, at the time, was two years away.
Here's how Julia Louis-Dreyfus would like to see NBC's No. 1 sitcom end: Jerry and Elaine fall deeply, madly in love. George wins the lottery. Kramer finds his calling as a minister. In other words, after years of being TV's most pathetic losers, the four New Yorkers find that things are finally working out. So they pile into a car for a celebratory ride into the sunset--and smash headfirst into a propane truck. Kaboom! Roll credits.
Julia thought up this dark ending for her TV persona, I believe, in response to the criticism the show got for the last episode of the previous season, "The Invitations." In this episode, Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer react rather blithely to the death of George's fiancĂ©e, Susan, who expires after licking tainted envelopes in preparation for her wedding. The show’s writers chose a different route to conclude “Seinfeld,” instead sending the four to jail for criminal negligence, but I think there’s something valid to what Julia proposed. The best way for a TV show to say goodbye — to really end with a bang — would be to kill off its entire cast. Now, this isn’t completely unheard of. Anyone who cares enough to listen has likely heard my praise for the series finale of “Dinosaurs.” Yes, that show. “Not the mama!” and all that. “Dinosaurs” was never a great show, I’ll admit, but its last episode hit with unexpected poignancy. A summary:
The main family, the Sinclairs, go out for picnic to watch the annual migration of a certain colorful species of beetle. The bugs don’t appear. After a little exploring, the son finds the last remaining member of this beetle species, who explains that the no-show has resulted from the construction of a wax fruit factory in the beetles’ breeding grounds. Without these leaf-eating beetles, the planet’s plant population explodes, making life impossible for the Sinclairs and their brethren. So the government decides to douse the planet in herbicide. Unfortunately, all the plants die. Strapped for ideas, the dinosaurs reason that plants grow after it rains and that it rains when the volcanoes erupt. So they naturally conclude that setting each of the world’s volcanoes off at once will restore the plants. But it doesn’t. Instead, the volcanoes throw so much soot into the air that a nuclear winter results. The Ice Age. In effect, the death of the dinosaurs comes about at their own hands — or in this case, their rubbery Jim Henson paws. I can remember the concluding scene. The Sinclairs are huddled around their television set watching the last-ever news broadcast by their trusted anchorman, Howard Handupme. He explains that this is the end — the end of everything — and they’ve done it to themselves. “Goodnight,” he says. “And goodbye.” And then the TV goes to static. “Are we extinct yet?” asks the baby. “No, not yet. I’ll tell you when we’re extinct,” replied the mother, in a voice that some might recognize as that of Jessica Walter, who’s now decidedly less maternal as the family matriarch on “Arrested Development.” Then we see a shot of the Sinclairs suburban cave-home as the snow falls. Eventually, the snow covers the mailbox and finally the roof of the house.
And that’s how it ends. That’s how they decided to end a show that starred a catchphrase-spouting dinosaur puppet — a show that deliberately appealed to little kids, even if the underlying messages were meant for adults. Of course, by this point, ABC had shuffled the show off its TGIF line-up to god-knows-where. But I saw it. And I remember. It’s genius in that it answers the longest-lived question concerning the thunder lizards: What killed them, anyway? Faced with ending the series, the writers really had no other option. But what really strikes me about it is how decisively final it is. That’s it. This is the end. They’re all dead. Say goodbye. Since that episode, I’ve always thought death would be the proper send-off for any show. “The Golden Girls,” for example. Rather than spinning off into the lame CBS show “Golden Palace,” the last episode should have piled Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia into a car and sent them to a gator farm, where a tragically unlocked gate would render the four into amphibian chow. Or hell, launched the four on an ill-fated zeppelin race around the world. Or a gas leak. Or four simultaneous kidney failures. Something, some kaboom, whatever. I just never thought any show would have the balls to do it. But God bless you, Alan Ball. I always liked “Six Feet Under.” It’s a great show. Sad, funny, generally well-acted and courageous enough to tackle subjects that most TV shows don’t touch — especially the aspects of death we usually try not to think about, like amger and resentment and frustration and confusion and, hell, the humor of it all. Since the show revolved around a family operating a funeral parlor, it couldn’t help edging on morbid, but “Six Feet Under” always dealt with this with an understated sense of humor — and more importantly, a underlying sense of hope. I watched this show from its first few episodes, when the characters were first forming. And I saw these people get dragged through hell. Break-ups and failed relationships. Mental illness of all kinds. The painful awkwardness that can only come from trying to be a real person in spite of one’s family. And, of course, Nate’s disastrous marriage to Lisa. And it was consistently entertaining. But when HBO announced that this last season of the show — its fifth — they billed it with the odd tagline of “Everything ends.” Of course everything ends. Everyone dies. Even people who didn’t watch the show know this, and those who did couldn’t help be reminded of it every time they tuned in. Another summary:
Faced with concluding his show, Alan Ball took the only route he could. He killed everybody off. Notably, the last episode, “Everybody’s Waiting,” is unique in the series in that it does not begin with a death. Instead of quickly introducing the viewer to the Fisher family’s latest client, the story begins in the hospital with Brenda giving birth to her baby — the child of the recently departed Nate, who collapsed of the aneurysm the show had been hinting at for years now. Sure, the episode ties up all the lose ends it needed to, with David and Keith resolving to make a home for their adopted sons and with Claire turning her photographic pursuits into a job that could take to New York, out of the tight grip her family has on her. But in the last ten minutes, the show does something brave and remarkable. Intercut with shots of Claire driving east on the California highway, the show flashes forward to future points in time. Weddings. A family reunion. Birthdays. And, most importantly, the death of every single character. From Keith being shot in the chest to Federico keeling over on a cruise ship to finally Claire dying at 102 years old, surrounded by the photographs of her loved ones — the characters this show made me care about for the past five years.
It’s sad, of course, but not needlessly tear-jerking like it could have been. It’s honest. It’s true to the tone of a show called “Six Feet Under.” And it’s the kind of thing that will linger with me. To be honest, I can’t yet pin my approval of the series finale solely on its own merit. Though most TV critics have unabashed praise for the episode, there’s a chance that this sequence just happened to nail my current emotional state so squarely that I’ve fallen victim to a raging case of sympathy. It’s an ending of a story arc I had in which I had invested quite some time and interest. It’s a story about someone moving away, leaving everything behind to embark on a new life as an adult. It’s a reminder of temporality — of friendships and situations and circumstances and life itself. And this is a theme that has never seemed more appropriate. For example, Sanam called me yesterday to come over for one last goodbye. By my count, this would mark the third occasion I’ve given this girl the “goodbye forever” and thought I meant it. So I hop in my car and go but stop about a block from my place. For some reason, a car is parked perpendicular to my lane. As I get closer, I see that this car has somehow t-boned some older car, knocking it onto the sidewalk. And when I say “t-boned,” I mean “t-boned the shit out of.” This older car, which looks like something its owner spent a lot of time fixing up and painting, looks like smashed tin can. There’s glass everywhere. And there’s two people lying on the ground: one face-down beneath the front part of the car, as if he had slid on his belly to nuzzle against the two front wheels, and the other two the side in the fetal position. No blood that I could see, but I only looked for a few seconds. Despite its bloodlessness, this scene looked bad. I can’t figure out how this could have happened. This accident didn’t seem to happen near enough an intersection that it would make any sense. I don’t know how the people on the ground go to the positions I saw them. And I can’t imagine how one car ever got going crosswise into the oncoming lane. Or how it could have knocked the antique-mobile so far onto the sidewalk. But it did. And on some level, the car being this fancy little oddity makes it more tragic in my mind. I can’t explain why. People were already pulling over to the side of the road and talking to the victims — or, at the very least, leaning down and looking at them — and I saw a few cell phones out, so I pulled around the perpendicular car and kept driving. After all, what could I do? “Stand back, everyone. I have an English major.” As I drove by the man in the fetal position, though, he made eye contact with me. I realize in retrospect that this means I was driving forward with my head turned a full ninety degrees to the right. I felt bad. I still do. I turned the radio off. That seemed like the thing to do in that situation. Not to listen to music. Had this been “Six Feet Under,” this terrible sequence would have ended with a flash to white, followed by the full name of the man on the ground and the years of his birth and death. I got to Sanam’s and hung out much longer than I had intended. I wanted to make sure the accident would be cleared before I got home. I didn’t want to spend the emotion on seeing it again, as selfish as that sounds. As an English major, I feel I may be prone to trying to make things fit together more thematically than they actually might. I read life like I read a book. As a pop culture junkie, I look for resonance of real life in imitations of it. I watch life like a watch TV. And I know that the movie-of-my-life or reality-as-television show concepts are just so fucking cliche, but I feel like when I watched that final episode of “Six Feet Under,” I was seeing a representation of my own experience. Claire driving away: That’s my friends. That’s Sanam or Aemon or Greg or the handful of others who are leaving Santa Barbara to do something else. That’s also me, resolving to push myself onward onto the next stage of my life, which I’ll be doing without the comfort of a lot of the people I care about. I have a job now, in a sense. My first article for the Independent is due tomorrow morning, and loyal readers can look for all 250 words of it in next week’s issue. Life moving on without Claire: It happens. My parents are already thinking of where they’re going to move when they’re too old to live in the house in which they raised me. My brother already works at the family business. My friends will meet new people in new locales. And regardless of what I do, the life I leave behind isn’t simply going to stop. And, of course, there’s the motherfucking end of everything. I know everybody dies and all things are impermanent. But I haven’t actually thought about that in a long time. I’m not sure I even understand it. For example, I know that one trillion is a number, but can’t comprehend just how many that is. One trillion pennies. One trillion microscopic organisms. One trillion people. I might as well say “infinite” or “kajillion” because I can’t actually comprehend that silly word “trillion.” Nonetheless, I see it happening, this evil impermanence. People die, thought thankfully not that often do people I know do so. People move away, I’m reminded recently. Santa Barbara is temporary. (Take that in any sense you’d like. The Santa Barbara of my college heyday is already gone. I will eventually leave Santa Barbara. And eons in the future, the city will crumble like sand and fall into the ocean.) Even that awful accident I saw yesterday only lasted a single moment. The aftermath was cleared in a matter of hours. All that remains now, hauntingly, is a few shards of broken glass remaining on the roadside. If I didn’t know how they got there, they’d almost look beautiful, sparkling in the sun. So maybe that’s why I want all my favorite television characters to ultimately die. Maybe that’s why “Six Feet Under” worked so well for me. Maybe if Brendon Small and Agent Cooper and Jerri Blank and Jan Brady and Cliff Huxtable and Mary Hartman had all died in the last episodes of their respective series, I’d have that closure that I crave. Instead, I watch these people cycle through syndication or I resurrect them with the spinning of a DVD. So I never really have to let go. I hate goodbyes and I hate letting go. Yet unlike TV characters that live forever, everyone one I know will die. And everyone reading this now — if anyone’s gotten his far — will die. And one day, even I won’t be here to type anymore. And this blog will creepily remain online, a monument to what I did with my life and to my subsequent non-existence. The television set is off right now and I don’t intend to turn it on today. Aemon left a blank canvas in Sanam’s backyard for me. (And if you read this, Aemo, thank you very much.) I think maybe I’ll put something on it. It very well might be however this jumble of thoughts and words translates into an image. Who knows? Maybe I’ll paint a monument to my own non-existence. Maybe I’ll paint a tribute to my favorite dead TV characters. In any case, I feel oddly hopeful. I have something to work for and I know I don’t have forever to work for it. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the happiest sentence I’ve written all day.

Are You Naming Strippers or Trying to Express Entirety?

Something ungodly is happening in the lemon trees outside my apartment. I don't know if they even qualify as lemons anymore, really.

As you can see, these two specimen have taken on a human-like appearance. I can only imagine that they are attempting to replicate and then replace us with a thicker-skinned, citrus-based superspecies.

It's tough to say what's happening here, but I'd guess that I caught one lemon in the process of eating another, possibly a lemon traitor.

And perhaps most horrifyingly, this lemon has developed what would appear to be an anus. Do you see what happens when we teach evolution in schools?

The Gospel According to Miggy

Miggy sent me a rather simple letter a few days ago. It consisted of a link to the Wikipedia entry for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and this sentence: “This isn’t stupid.” She’s right. It’s not stupid. And it seems to be a trend that’s gaining more momentum than you’d initially expect. So please, do as Miggy suggests and read all about this pastarific wonder.

Coincidentally, my beloved Boing Boing also recently posted an item about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Like any religious icon, he’s now available in Jesus Fish-style bumper sticker form. And then, today I found this, which I think solidly cements this monstrosity as the most interesting pop culture phenomenon I’ve come across as a while.

It also profoundly disturbs me.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mr. Whackier Damage

More of the same, I'm afraid. So in one column, we've got the following:
  • I am wrecked.
  • wreck media
  • Me wear dick
  • We cream, kid.
  • wrecked Ami
  • Ewe dick ram
  • Mr. Weak, iced
  • We rim a deck.
  • Wee dick ram.
And in other group altogether:
  • Magic wreaked harm.
  • A grim, charmed wake.
  • Mr. Whackier Damage
  • I'm a charmed gawker.
  • "Ah! Merge a warm dick!"
  • Had warm meek cigar.
  • I'm a marked crew hag.
  • Ham, warm dick agree.
Have you got it yet?

[ source: Prance Closer ]

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Flavor Grenade

Today I stumbled upon a list of varieties of the pluot — the plum-apricot hybrid crossbred by scientists in the last few decades. Varieties of any common produce often have these beautiful, evocative or otherwise quirky names that try to get at the heart of their fruity goodness, and this relatively new Frankenfruit is no exception. So in the tradition of Vitamin Q, an immensely enjoyable blog that compiles lists of such things, I thought I'd list today's findings. The better names of pluot varieties include the following:

  • Blue Gusto
  • Candy Stripe
  • Dapple Dandy
  • Flavorella
  • Flavorglo
  • Flavor Grenade
  • Flavor Heart
  • Flavor King
  • Flavoros
  • Flavor Prince
  • Flav-o-Rich
  • Flavor Queen
  • Frugi
  • Last Chance
  • Red Ray
Honestly, I'd have named the fruit the "plumicot" instead of the "pluot," but even I can't turn up my nose at the likes of "Flavor Grenade."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I Didn't Mean To

Systemic hypoplasia. Don't get it.

I'd wager most of the people reading this post right now already now whether they have it, though. Those with the disease do not physically age like normal people and therefore look younger than they really are. The disease varies from victim to victim — one person could be forever trapped as a prepubescent sixteen-year-old, while another could look like he or she was a twelve. In rare cases, victims of systemic hypoplasia look like children all their lives.

I'm reminded of this strange affliction because I brought it up with Drew last night. (Technically, I had forgotten this conversation took place until I was reading an article on Andy Milonakis in the new Rolling Stone.) I'm not sure why, but at some point I got on the subject of Baby Doll, a character on the Batman animated cartoon show that I used to watch as a kid. She has the disease. She's also a former child actress, Mary Dahl, who played an adorable toddler moppet on a popular sitcom. Baby even had her own catchphrase: "I didn't mean to," spoken in a creepy cutesy child voice that makes you want to barf and shiver at the same time. The episode details that Mary Dahl quit her show to make it as a real actress — after all, she is twentysomething during her "child" stardom. But she fails. And she can't deal. Reverting back to the sitcom character and toting a doll that houses a semiautomatic, Baby Doll kidnaps her old TV family and forces them to relive the show or die.

The episode is one of the darkest I'd ever seen. In fact, I'm fairly certain they never aired it during the original "Batman" timeslots — weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Instead, I first saw Baby Doll's premiere on Sunday night, before the "Simpsons," when FOX ran some of the edgier "Batman" offerings. (Notably, "Batman" is the only television show to ever be created as a weekly afternoon children's show that eventually edged onto the regular prime time schedule.) In the episode's final moments, Batman frees Baby Doll's hostages only to have the pint-sized villain escape to an amusement park. They eventually — and predictably — stalk each other into a fun house hall of mirrors, where Baby Doll shatters one mirror after another in an effort to off Batman.

When there's only one mirror left, she turns to it. It's one of the kind that distort your body. In this last mirror, she's stretched out to adult proportions. Just like any actress would, she monologues. "Look! That's me in there. The real me." She touches the mirror. "There I am." Then she drops her Baby Doll voice and speaks like a middle-aged woman. "But it's not really real, is it? Just made up an pretend like my family and my life and everything else." Then she turns to Batman, smoldering rag doll in cocked. "Why couldn't you just let me make believe?"

But instead she shoots the mirror. Then repeatedly clicks her doll-gun, now out of bullets, at the spot where the adult-sized her used to be.

"I didn't mean to."

I can actually remember my mom being in the room for this and asking "This is a kid's show?" I guess it still was, even if the people who made it weren't necessarily considering a ten-year-old audience at the time. I believe they created Baby Doll specifically for the show, and this theory is bolstered by the character's appearance.

As you can see, she looks like a cross between Rhoda from "The Bad Seed" and Elmyra from "Tiny Toons," the latter of which the "Batman" team had worked on previously.

The part that really gets me is that the writers actually referenced a fairly obscure disease on a popular TV show. Even today, in the tenth year of the internet, I can't actually find that much information on systemic hypoplasia. It's real — I think — but you'd think it would be the fodder of made-for-TV movies and tabloid sob stories. Apparently no. (Maybe it's actually not real.)

The episode is creepy, for sure, but something about the disease is especially unnerving. Being stuck as a child all your life. Not a midget, a child. But a child that thinks and talks and feels like an adult. And no one would ever regard you as an adult. And eventually your skin would age and sag and you'd be this child body wearing a suit of aged skin. Yikes. If I had this idea, I think I'd be pissed too. And then I think about some hospital ward in some city somewhere where there's a special ward for systemic hypoplasia victims. And the room is littered with a combination of toddler shoes and cigarette boxes and stuff — see, because they live here, the kids-not kids — and one day they just get sick of everything and revolt. And they come marching down the hallway, this army of children with deep voices and thirty years of adult-sized angst.

And they're carrying bats.


Baby Doll should have gone on to direct instead.

NOTE (6.19.2010): For those interested, I've put up a new post on Baby Doll and where her creator may have drawn inspiration from.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Ink of Sympathy

I don't know why, but I've suddenly remembered a tidbit Prof. Waid taught us in class last quarter. The French term for invisible ink — specifically the kind you write with lemon juice and hold up to light to read — is "ink of sympathy." See, because you need to coax out the message with a little effort, rather than just having it be there like normal writing, which I'd imagine needs little consolation.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bells on a Platter

Thanks to Agatha, I'll never look at bells quite the same way again.

God knows why, but I remember Dina mentioning on the ride back from Las Vegas that this certain Catholic saint is often depicting carrying what would appear to be two bells on a plate. Dina said that a lot of people didn't realize that the two objects she held were actually her severed breasts, her martyrdom having results from horrific body mutilation.

This thought rings in my head today out of nowhere and I finally decided to Google "bells on platter breasts saint" to see if anything remotely resembling what Dina said exists in the vast compendium of knowledge that floats online. And Dina's right.

Saint Agatha died sometime in the third century, during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius. Agatha ended up in a brothel but so valued her virginity that she refused her customers, even under pain of beatings and torture. Eventually, Agatha's breasts were crushed and cut off from her body. Today, she is apparently one of the more highly revered virgin martyrs — better than that slovely Saint Agnes.

But Agatha also came to be the patroness of bellmakers, an odd association that only makes sense when you learn that artistic renderings of Agatha in paintings and stained glass showed her holding the symbols of her Christian dedication — her severed femininity — on a plate. Show and tell for martyrs, if you will. Let's be glad they didn't cut something else off. Often, however, these depictions were not realistic enough that people could spot the objects as breasts. They became bells or even bakes goods, and eventually the misinterpretation became so entrenched that some artists eventually drew her with bells and baked goods that looked nothing like breasts.

I did a quick search for images of Saint Agatha and found a few good ones. Here you can see here with the plate, but I don't see how anyone save the very prudish or naive could mistake the objects she's presenting as anything besides breasts. They're slightly more abstracted here, in this smaller painting.

Agatha's devotees celebrate her feast day on February 5. In her native Catania, some bake marzipan treats, which are eaten in her honor. The treats are called minne de vergine. I'm not sure what that translates to exactly, but I could take a guess. "Oh mom, I love your sugared virgin breasts! Another? I couldn't!"

Oh, Catholicism.

It's just too appropriate that news of the bell-breast-saint-virgin-martyr would come from Dina, of all people.