Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You Cannot Escape Christmas

My previous posts drew some criticism for a decidedly un-Chistmaslike focus on death, so I decided instead to put up something a little more seasonally appropriate.


EDIT: In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably note that the above demonic Christmas tree is the second draft of something I drew on the office whiteboard during downtime at work. Co-worker Ben was kind enough to photograph the first draft and post it on Facebook.

Somehow, I think I like the more hurriedly drawn whiteboard version better, possibly because scribble helps mask an ill-planned drawing. Which is why I draw that way.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Locked / Unlocked

I stood just feet away from the door and watched the knob turn and knew that I would die, violently and very soon.


Whoever or whatever was standing outside and about to open the door (Could I have forgotten to lock it?) would burst in and kill me in the spot — stab me, crush me, shoot me, devour me, incinerate me, or tear off my arm and shove it down my throat, causing me to choke to death on something that I would never have guessed that I’d choke to death on. Who saw this coming! I would say as I choked on my own arm. Or maybe it wouldn’t be a bloodthirsty drug addict or a seven-foot lobster monster or a fledgling cult member with everything to prove. Maybe instead it would just be death — personified and skeletal and robed — and he’d simply SuperPoke me and make everything turn white.

This all flashed by in about a second. The knob turned, but only slightly. I had locked it. But would the lock hold? The parade of grisly endings whizzed by again, competing for that second of my attention only with my realization that I know nothing about locks. How do locks work? Is it a latch? Aren’t pins involved? Could it be a tiny man with Popeye arms manually preventing two gears from cogging together because I asked him to do so when I turned the switch clockwise? (I know its not the last of these, but I imagine I would have arrived at this conclusion as a young child had I ever bothered to wonder about locks before tonight.) Could it really be that only a latch or pins or a tiny man is preventing my inside — which I perceive to be safe — from joining with the outside — which, at this hour, I perceive to be unsafe and populated with drug-addicted lobster cultists?

I had only gone to front door because I heard what sounded like someone trying to get in. That my hunch turned out to be correct was little for me, who would be dying violently and very soon. The glare of the courtyard lights put the shadow of something on the front door’s blinds and I wondered if that something could see me through them.

I won’t know. The shadow and its owner left.

Can I presume it was all a mistake? Not that it didn’t happen. It did happen. But possibly it only happened because someone confused my front door with their front door. A drunk, it could have been. Or the girl one door over, who dances at clubs professionally and might have been tired from her full shift of go-going. But then again I suppose I would have heard her eventually open her correct door.

I’ve never been so interested in locks as I am now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm So Hungry I Could Eat at Arby's

I’m often not one to explain my post titles, but this one comes from The Simpsons — specifically either Sherri or Terri, though I’m not sure which — and stands out for me as one of the best lines ever written for the show.

As the result of a conversation tonight with George, I realized that the much-maligned fast food chain Arby’s would seem to have derived its name from its most famous product: roast beef sandwiches. Roast beef. “R” and “B.” Thus, “Arby’s.” Makes sense, right?


Says the Wikipedia page on the subject: The name does, in fact, come from the initials “R” and “B,” but these letters technically stands for “Raffel Brothers” — that is, Forrest and Leroy Raffel, who started the chain in 1964. That the restaurant would come to be associated with road beef is entirely a coincidence. Arby’s did, however, attempt to profit off the harmonious accident with the 1980s advertising slogan “Roast beef, yes sir,” though that doesn’t strike me as a particularly good campaign.

Nonetheless, I’m a bit surprised that I never before realized that the name sounded like two letters, much less two letters that happen to stand for the name of its signature product. This is my “pasta puttanesca” realization all over again.

Soylent Coleslaw

In an apparent effort to best the Metropolis-themed postcard packed in with the last Futurama movie, the newest, Bender’s Game, included four. They’re pretty cool, as far as free little tchotchkes go. But I’ll never mail them and would probably eventually just lose them, so I figured I’d scan and post them here.

Bonus points for the Morbo-a-the-Mars Attacks aliens one.

Also: Am I the only person who had never heard of Futurama’s Number 9 Man?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Remarkble, Notable, Distiguished, and Other Unflattering Descriptors

Along the lines of two other curiously named Santa Barbara businesses — I mean, of course, Artistic Nails and Unique Tan — here is a new example of an establishment forming its name by sticking an adjective onto the noun that is the product it delivers without enough consideration that the pairing might not be especially positive.

Artistic Nails and Unique Tan are worse, I’ll admit, in the sense that artistic would be a word one might describe a botched creative effort and, similarly, unique doesn’t necessarily imply “good.” Personally, I’m too busy pondering the implications of an invisible taxi to bother calling it. After all, how I would I know when it arrived? And wouldn’t said taxi be in constant danger of being hit by all the visible traffic?

And that’s to say nothing of Taxi Invisible’s choice to put the word off in bold. Apparently they’ve had some confusion about how the discount works?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

That's No Nosegay — That's a Nose Pride Parade

For the purposes of protecting a certain little lady’s privacy, her name has been changed in the following conversation to Noodles Van Der Klammen. I’d rather not explain why I chose this name, but I suspect she may know. So you know, you’re being dropped midway into our discussion on the strangeness of learning about the dissolution our various friends’ long-term relationships via Facebook status updates.
Noodles: i noticed this too. but i don't know the story. p.s., i think that facebook telling the world you broke up is the most hateful thing
me: i guess. but you'll have to do it at some point if you've declared your relationship status. unless your significant other dies, in which case changing your status to single would be even more awful.
Noodles: well, chins up, hector and i are quite happy in our first almost 2 weeks of living together. knock on everything. and leah from UCSB and her long, long term bf just got engaged
me: who is leah?
Noodles: she lived on my hall freshman year.
me: noodles, i don't even KNOW this girl. i'm sorry. i just can't be happy for her.
Noodles: you can be happy for me then. and yourself. i'm sure you'd recognize leah though. you are probably even in pictures together
me: noodles, stop insisting that this clearly forgettable woman would have ever registered on my radar. she was probably wearing a mouse-brown coat to match her mouse-brown hair and cowering in the corner every time i met her. also, her glasses were big and also brown.
Noodles: no way man. one time she dressed up in lauren's weirdo clothes with hilly, which was hilarious. one time we also used elmer's glue to give ourselves hair horns. photos available on request.
me: noodles, I think i remember college and that never happened.
Noodles: she's totally asian. now do you remember? but like tan asian
me: you're thinking of sheila. noodles, i remember every party that happened while we were at college and she never went to any of them. therefore, she did not exist. also, i was the most popular person at every party. also, people thrust presents at me constantly when i walked down the street. also, i had a crown that i wore
Noodles: sounds like you were too busy partying with yourself to notice the really fun girls with glue in their hair
me: also, you did not got to parties because your religion forbade it and you were busy with your lanyard design classes course anyway
Noodles: well, you know once you get up to 12 strands you have to give up everything else in your life. for your craft.
me: as you told me literally every time i saw you. it was pretty awkward. sometimes i felt bad and would give you some of the many presents strangers would give me, and that made me feel better, at least
Noodles: you weren't complaining when you got your lanyard jump rope though, were you? 18 months it took me. but it was worth it. i'm sure you agree
me: i was just happy to take it off your hands so you didn't hang yourself with it. which is what everybody thought you would do
Noodles: “we call it the noodles macrame”
me: and we come full circle
Noodles: just remembered that

Elegant Nightwear for Large Felines

Much in the way Dina concluded that the Wikipedia page for cooties would fascinate me — it did and this fascination resulted in the preceding post — Spencer also recently pointed me toward the Wikipedia page for pajamas. Only he did so through a direct link to the below image.

In the end, I was a little disappointed. I was immediately drawn to the cheetahs and their little cheetah blankets, which I assume constituted some form of feline pajamas. (Or, as the term is often written in the article, pyjamas, which I have to admit is a far more charming way to spell it.) Cheetahs do not wear pajamas, it turns out, either in nature or while in captivity. The image’s caption explains that the pajamas are actually being worn by the men attending to the cheetahs — and, also, that the technical term for these loose trousers tied around the waist is paijama. At least according to Wikipedia, the word came into English by way of Hindustani but ultimately from the Persian word payjama, meaning “leg garment.”

But wouldn’t it just be so much better if cheetahs wore pajamas or however you spell it?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Girl Lice, Boy Lice

Dina knows me well enough to point me in the direction of the Wikipedia page for cooties.

What you may not know: By most accounts, the word seems to come from kuto, which in various Austronesian languages refers to head lice, the non-head-residing kind of lice, and fleas. (What a great catch-all word to know if you’d rather not emerge from your travels infested.) From that word, soldiers passing through Malaysia or the Philippenes or wherever formed an Anglicized plural that we use today to refer to the germs we supposedly get from the opposite sex. (Oddly, we don’t use quite as often as adults, even though the opposite sex is just as likely to give us germs. A very specific kind of germs, depending on what you’re into.) The Wikipedia article notes that the term for this imaginary ailment has some fairly entertaining names in Scandinavia.
  • in Denmark: pigelus and drengelus, literally “girl lice” and “boy lice”
  • in Norway: jentelus and guttelus, also literally “girl lice” and “boy lice”
  • in Finland: tytt√∂bakteeri, literally “girl bacteria”
  • and the most entertaining of all, the Swedish tjejbaciller, literally “girl bacillus”
Good job, Dina girl, you tjejbaciller-carrier you.

Up on the Rooftop Pine Trees Pause

Given the strength of the typical Joe’s cocktail, it would seem safe to assume if the below photo represents how I remember my time there instead of how it really was.

upside-down christmas

It would also be wrong, however, as the pictured Christmas tree does, in fact, reside upside-down on the roof as the result of a space-saving decoration scheme and not as the result of topsy-turvy levels of inebriation.

Here’s to holiday cocktails.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lost in the Lamp Flower Forest

I often feel like the amount of cartoons that I watch and video games that I play somehow should disqualify me from full-fledged grown-up status. On the whole, I don’t feel all that more mature now than I did ten or fifteen years ago. But every now and then, I rifle through my old things at home and come across some artifact from the back-in-the-past that speaks to the difference between the then-me and the now-me. And it hits me: I can’t believe I really thought this then, I no longer feel the way I did then, I clearly have changed between then and now.

In 1993, I was in the sixth grade. I sought out a video game called Secret of Mana, which, for whatever reason, I decided I had to have. It set my mind on fire, to put it vividly, and, for a period, I let this game dominate my mental processes. I lived for the world this game offered: a blend between the Legend of Zelda-esque, sword-in-hand adventuring over green plains of and the faux-epic scope and detailed dialogue of Final Fantasy. I’m that kind of person, I learned — the kind who loses himself in a fictional work when he really likes it. (I also learned a few other odd bits of information that have since become relevant in one way or another: mana with one “n,” as opposed to the Biblical manna, for example, and Paracelsus’s wacky theories about the things he thought lived in the four basic elements.

This all happened during the time when gaming magazines populated racks in grocery stores. I bought them all — to what advantage, I’m not sure, though I managed to keep abreast of the industry rather well for an eleven-year-old. Three years down the line, these publications started plugging the upcoming sequel to Secret of Mana, a game that would be known in its native Japan as Seiken Densetsu 3. (A clarification: Secret of Mana itself was a sequel, it turned out, but it was named for its U.S. release so that it appeared to be the first. Hence the number three appearing where one might have expected the number two.) Naturally, I was thrilled. This enthusiasm persisted for some time, but the game never hit American shores. Consequently, I learned a second valuable fact about myself: I don’t deal with disappointment well.

In my head, no good reason could justify the fact that I was being denied something I felt I deserved. After all, Secret of Mana had sold well in the states, or so I had read in the publications that had made me such a minor expert in these matters. What else besides malice — on the parts of some anonymous industry honchos and directed specifically at me — could explain this injustice?

The then-me did not give up, however. Those same magazines that had taunted me with screenshots and previews of this holy grail of video games gave me a resource: importers. With a few physical modifications to an American console and little bit of money, any Japanese-only release could in fact be played by a person who did not live in Japan. And so I took advantage of this option and sent away for the Japanese cartridge for Seiken Densetsu 3 and played it through, beginning to end.

There was a small catch, however.

Recall that I described the previous game as containing an unusually large amount of dialogue. The sequel was no different. But the fact that it was not intended for English-speaking players meant that I would have to wade through Seiken Densetsu 3’s plot twists and character development in the original Japanese. One way then-me and now-me are similar is that neither of us can read Japanese. Nonetheless, I fared well, I’d like to think. Following some trial and error, I navigated the game’s menus and such with relative ease. And you might be surprised how much of an untranslated, non-subtitled plot you can comprehend just by context and characters’ actions. It’s not enough to ever be clear on what’s happening all the time, and I suffered from the confusion of “Where the hell am I supposed to go?” and “Why is that man stabbing me?” and “Why am I dead now?”

It meant something at the time, I guess.

Just recently, however, I uncovered the game’s box in a drawer at my parent’s house. I probably decided back then to save it as a memento of my triumph over adversity. Now it seems only significant as to me an example of how Japanese video game packaging had a lot more artistic freedom than its American counterparts. Looking at it more toward today — with as close to adult eyes as I’ve had yet in my life — I was struck by how very little I remembered about this thing that meant so much at the time.

Seiken Densetsu 3 box art

Those six on the front — three of whom you’d pick to be your correspondents in the game — look unfamiliar now, and I can scarcely remember what they did or why they did it. The levitating rock they’re dashing away from? No clue. Seems important enough, though.

Seiken Densetsu 3 box art

The back of the box sheds little light on my confusion. I can make out locations on the map at the top, but I can’t imagine how they would have looked when rendered on a Super Nintendo. Apparently the game had a volcano. And an icy area. And lots of green. I have the vaguest recollections of the roaring, horned, white thing on the left, and some association it has with the moon that appears behind him. But the apparently sentient and therefore evil jack-o’-lantern? Nothing. And as for that inexplicable instance of English text, “Triangle Story,” I am equally baffled.

It feels very strange that this thing — this prize, this game that I had obtain and play and beat and relish — would seem so comparatively meaningless today. Looking at it now, I feel like I’m sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, noting how much more cramped my legs feel.

I’ve since read various theories explaining why those awful video game company executives never released Seiken Densetsu 3 in the U.S. My favorite of them and the one I deem the most likely, ironically enough, cites the very dialogue that I couldn’t understand when I played the game through. It came out as the Super Nintendo’s moment in the spotlight was about up and when game developers were looking to make the best of the next generation of systems. As such, Squaresoft, the company that made this game, was familiar enough with the technical aspects of the Super Nintendo that its designers could push the console to its maximum, which meant there was little room to spare on the 32-megabit cartridge it was released on, which in turn meant that the English translation was impossible. A pitfall of reworking Japanese games for American audience, you see, is that the Japanese language is more compact; what can be said in just a few Japanese characters will often necessitate several English letters or words. As such, the English version of all the game’s text simply could not fit

Squaresoft has been tight-lipped about whether this explanation is accurate, but the company’s reps at least admit that the decision not to translate the game arose from a technical problem. The kicker here is that a fan-made translation patch can be downloaded and applied to anyone who has downloaded the Japanese ROM for play on a computer. And thought it’s been available since at least the year 2000, I’ve never bothered to play it through. Couldn’t tell you why, though I suspect now that my decision resulted from that whole growing up thing that happened.

Seiken Densetsu 3 box art

I suppose I’m glad for the memories, which at least burned brightly enough in my mind to motivate me to write this. (Well, that and do a simply Google search for the game. I soon enough landed on a page for the game’s soundtrack, the track listings for which are in English and include some of more humorously strange words combinations I’ve ever heard. Among them: “Axe Bring Storm,” “Hope Isolation Pray,” “Left-Handed Wolf,” “Female Turbulence,” “Faith Total Machine,” “Religion Thunder,” “Oh, I’m a Flamelet,” and “Can You Fly, Sister?” — each utterly delightful in their lack of meaning. Expect them to appear as post titles here soon enough.) But more so, I should be happy for the opportunity to gauge the distance between then-me and now-me, even if that expanse is populated by wide-eyed crusading youths, mysterious sentient jack-o’-lanterns, and, apparently, flamelets.

Whatever those are.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I, for One, Welcome Our New Verbal Overlords

We did it folks. Beginning with my entry for fissilingual all the way back in May, we’ve now made a complete loop around the alphabet, as of the posting of this entry. Sure, we had a few doubles in the mix, but we made it all the way around nonetheless.
epeolatry (ep-i-OL-uh-TREE) — noun: the worship of words.
No fireworks here, just something that seemed appropriate enough to end this cycle and that began with the right letter. Anu Garg chose this one for A.Word.A.Day earlier this year and explained that it comes from a combination of the Greek root epos — meaning “word” and related to our word epic — and -latry — which comes from the Greek latreia, meaning “worship” and related to our word idolatry. The word is not especially well-known or even that old. Garg and the guy who runs World Wide Words both claim that the first recorded use of this one is Oliver Wendell Homes’s 1860 novel Professor at the Breakfast Table: “Time, time only, can gradually wean us from our Epeolatry, or word-worship, by spiritualizing our ideas of the thing signified.”

Despite its rarity, the word has two distinct uses: literal and metaphorical. The latter could be used to describe me, they guy who enjoys words enough that he spent the last six months looking for noteworthy specimens. However, the Wikipedia entry on epeolatry expands on the former interpretation of it as it applies to religions that rely heavily on the written word. “One could call Christianity an epeolatric religion because the majority of its teachings hinge on the words of the Hebrew Bible,” the article notes. But this all may be a moot point. “However, you are unlikely to encounter the word in any form because it remains obscure,” the last sentence reads.

Previous words of the week:
I may attempt another run-through of the alphabet next year. Perhaps I’ll start on something more sensible than the letter “F.” “A,” maybe?

Here’s to words.

Horsehair Plants (Are Not Actually Plants)

The instruction manual for the original Super Mario Bros. sets up the story that so famously pitted an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn against a anthropomorphic turtle-dragon. (No mean feat, when you consider the implications of that sentence.) It reads as follows:
One day, the kingdom of the peaceful Mushroom Kingdom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks, and even field horsehair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.
I have had neither the opportunity nor the ability to read the Japanese version of this document, but I have to assume whatever Nintendo of America employee wrote took some creative liberties. After all, the text goes on to identify Princess Toadstool as the daughter of someone named the Mushroom King. Because this mushroom monarch never appeared in any Mario game, I have to assume he was written into the story as the result of some misogynist impulse to prevent a lady from being in charge of a whole kingdom. (If I were to be technical, she should rule a princessdom. And if I were to be especially technical, I would point out that the very same writer of this instruction manual might have been the one to switch Princess Peach’s name to the fungally appropriate but altogether unseemly “Princess Toadstool” — a name she would shed about ten years later.) In any case, I bring this up because the line about the fate of the Mushroom People struck me as especially strange. The game features plenty of bricks and stones, but I never saw anything that resembled “field horsehair plants,” whatever those are.

I first had this thought — this question about field horsehair plants — back when I first played the game in 1986. Twenty-two years later, I finally decided to look into the matter and simply look up “horsehair plants” on Google. The number one hit: This blog, specifically a post I put up just last month. Regular Google was really no help, so I had a look at Google image search. Here’s what I found:

In short, not a plant, but a mushroom — the Horsehair Mummy-cap, which reminded me of something that did actually appear in the Mario games:

“pseuderanthemum incendia,” from flickr user manischewitzbacon

It’s the Fire Flower, that item in so many games that, when touched, grants Mario the power to toss fireballs from his hand in complete defiance of the laws of thermodynamics.

It’s nothing, I know. The mushrooms clearly got the name “horsehair” as a result of their thin stems. But there’s a slight resemblance, what with the stem and the round, white shape at the top and the color in the middle, particularly in this photo. The fact that it looks like something I remembered — and that thing was a mushroom, of all things — seemed worth the five minutes it would take to write about.

I guess the horsehair plants are nothing, as fictional as that misogynistic Mushroom King — who, in this case, is only slightly more fictional than everything else I’m talking about. I suppose it’s for the best: If the horsehair plants really were the Fire Flowers, then Mario would be consuming the innocent mushroom folk for the purposes of his own benefit. It’s an idea that’s been put forth previously: Those bricks mentioned in the prologue are the very ones that Mario bashes throughout Super Mario Bros.. Does this mean he’s killing the very people he’s trying to save?

One way or the other, those Horsehair Mummy-caps look just a little bit like Fire Flowers, you have to admit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Bags Are Packed / I'm Ready to Go

Something I can’t stop listening to: Kathy McCarty — also known as K. McCarty if you’re looking on iTunes — and her amazing cover of “Rocket Ship,” which is an original by the phenomenal Daniel Johnston. Yes, that Daniel Johnston. I initially heard it in the new Futurama movie, Bender’s Game, and haven’t bene able to get it out of my head since.

Lo-fi wonderment, this is, and I would never have been able find it if it wasn’t for the threat at this message board.

After an obsession earlier this year with “Walking the Cow,” I feel now more than ever that I need to watch The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Sow Joan Industrial Average

A quick preface for the uninitiated: Nintendo’s Animal Crossing is a game in which you, a human, move into and proceed to customize a small town populated by animals. I have the Wii version of this game and enjoy it as an occasional respite from what I do during my non video gaming hours, real-life simulator though Animal Crossing might be.

In the game, the player’s little human counterpart may have occasion to run into Sow Joan, an elderly female boar who sells turnips. The turnips are notable in that they can be sold at varying prices from day to day. If the player buys the turnips at one price, he or she could potentially make a profit on them by selling them when they’re priced above what they were initially bought for. However, if the player chooses to hang onto the turnips in hopes that the buying price goes up, they could eventually be screwed, either because the price could then plummet or because the turnips spoil. In the game, characters refer to this system as the “Stalk Market.”

sow joan, circa her 2002 debut

sow joan as she is known in japan: “kaburiba,” which
probably means something punny to someone

All that being said and with full knowledge that most character names in Animal Crossing are puns, it wasn’t until today that I realized that “Sow Joan” is a pun on “Dow Jones.”

I’m not yet sure if my embarrassment at not realizing this sooner outweighs my delight at finally decoding this particular pun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

That's What You Do With No Sunlight

Yesterday, I received the following comment on the first YouTube video I ever posted
Do you know how lucky you were to catch this on film? This is a natural action a mother will teach her child. It is used for defence from jaguars, cougars and other large south american preditors that may try to kill and make a meal out of the anteaters. This is exelent footage! 5 stars and a favorite for this video.
Misspellings aside, it taught me something about the video that I didn’t know before and has prompted me to post in on my blog again. In short, no, I did not realize how lucky I was to witness this, but I suppose someone with the user name CoasterZooFreak might know.

Two notes: No, that’s not me laughing. I originally put this video up on this on this blog on July 3, 2006, according to this post.

Great Big Globs of Greasy, Grimy Christmas Guts

The wood nymphs, it would seem, have turned on the Christmas elves, with disastrous results.

What Anthropologie tried to do: Deck the walls of its State Street location in a festive, holiday manner. Picture it: The walls themselves spilling forth with a cornucopia of handmade winter vegetables. Lovely, right?

What Anthropologie accomplished: The fact that the cloth produce occupied the squarish, recessed areas on the store’s back wall gave the display the appearance of surgically removed patches of skin with all manner of festering unpleasantness beneath. The reds, oranges, pinks and browns of the decorations themselves recall exposed guts and assorted butcher shop discards. It’s as if the wall itself were the surface of some giant, department store-sized creature that has been lacerated and whose insides are leaking. The white woodland creatres standing before the gooey grossness are presumably there to feast upon it.

The proof:

"gutsy" anthropologie store display

What you should take away from this: Anthropologie wants you to remember this Christmas — by any means possible.

Monday, December 8, 2008

They Actually Stopped Bringing Me Luck in 1992

Did I see that seventeen-year-old commercial for Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds on TV because the fragrance’s marketers are attempting to trick the public into thinking that Taylor looks like that — with dark hair and unclouded eyes and in eternal soft focus? Or was it only because I happened to be watching Golden Girls reruns at one in the morning on Lifetime and seventeen-year-old commercials for out-of-fashion beauty products are the best sponsorship this particular network can afford at this particular hour?

Yes, I was watching Lifetime at one in the morning. I am not ashamed.

I'll Get Every Last One of Them!

These take me back.

Back in the days before my hometown had a proper movie theater, my parents would take me to a multiplex at Tennant Station in Morgan Hill. For ever so brief a time, that theater had a cabinet for Badlands in its lobby and I’d drop a quarter or two into before a screening of something like Cop and 1/2 or Blank Check. I suppose I should note that Badlands has lingered with me longer than those two films. Hell, I even wrote the Wikipedia page for it. It’s a laserdisc game, by which I mean it’s a game that looks cool but isn’t all that much fun to play. Games in the vein of the more famous Dragon’s Lair presented at least TV cartoon-quality graphics but essentially were lessons in timing: an animated sequence plays one way or the other, with a good ending or a bad ending, depending on whether players know when to push what button when. Not a whole lot of skill involved. Furthermore, Badlands wasn’t so much in the vein of the Dragon’s Lair as it was the medieval-themed Dragon’s Lair dressed in Spaghetti Western drag — or at least how some makers of anime envisioned the Old West. (See similar cases Ninja Hayate and Time Gal — pretty much what you would expect.) Regardless, I initially thought Badlands was the coolest thing ever, thanks in no small part to the fact that even the death scenes were entertaining. Fortunately, some wonderful soul has seen fit to compile them.

True to life in that there’s a lot of ways to die, but less so in the sense that many of them in Badlands involve space monsters and dinosaurs, for some reason. I’m not sure I exacted vengeance on any of the outlaws that gunned down my lady and the youngins much less felled the game’s big bad, Landolph. (I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be “Randolph.”) Also, it’s pretty clear that neither of my parents ever watched me play the game, as it’s violent enough that Mappy or Our Run or even Street Fighter would have made for a more appropriate in-lobby timekiller.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How’s Your Mom’s Pill Addiction?

I knew I recognized her from somewhere.

In the end credits to the most recent 30 Rock — which concerned Liz Lemon’s high school reunion and which was amazing — I saw the name Robyn Lively. In the episode, she played Kelsey Winthrop, a popular girl who tormented Liz during their high school years.

A check at IMDb revelas that Lively is, in fact, the actress who also played Lana Budding Milford, the Twin Peaks character who appeared regularly in the show’s second season as the woman who would seduce men who would then die. The death touch didn’t prevent her from marrying both the mayor’s brother and, after he died, the mayor himself within the span of a few episodes.

Extra random: She’s also the older sister of Gossip Girl star Blake Lively, which would make sense of the fact that I read online that the younger Lively would star in a 30 Rock episode this season in a flashback to Liz’s high school years. It would have been great if Lively Junior had been the one to play the younger Kelsey Winthrop.

Spin the Middle Side Topwise

I realize that the words of the week so far have excluded adverbs, and that’s racist. Hence, what’s below.
deasil (DEE-zel) — adverb: clockwise, righthandwards, following the direction of the sun’s movement.
It’s good to know that there’s a rarer, less comprehensible term to shout when you’re advising someone how to solve a Rubik’s cube. Right? Deasil — which seems to be pronounced almost exactly like the name of the fuel, which was named after German mechanical engineer Rudolph Diesel — comes from an Old Irish word that ultimately shares a connection with the Latin dexter, which World Wide Words notes meant “right” but even long ago was already exhibiting the associations with “skillful” and “good” that we have today with dexterous. Deasil compares with the even weirder widdershins, which means “counterclockwise,” “lefthandwards” or simply “in the wrong way.” Both deasil and widdershins have some association with old witchcraft practices, I’m told. And this makes sense, because I imagine certain kinds of spiritualists had right ways and wrongs ways to dance around campfires.

Now go forth and be confusing with your directions.

Previous words of the week:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Must Have More Thoughts Than This

Below are images from a book — Spencer had access to it and I don’t know its name — of a troupe of young humorists illustrating various funnyfaces and the charades-style meanings behind them. The pictures are quite old — around the time America was still developing a sense of humor, really — so the young hopefuls in them are likely dead, cancerous, divorced and sad now. I thought some of the explanations behind the faces were a little to on-the-spot and have consequently supplied my own interpretations.

Left: “My father didn’t love me enough and now look what I can do for money!” Right: “I hide my deviant sexuality with ugly faces, but you can still tell from my pinkie ring.”

Left: “My father didn’t love me enough and now look what I can do for money!” Right: “This is more or less where the drugs go in. Oh! I should have been a doctor!”

Left: “This is what Pete looked like when I pulled him out from the car.” Right: “I am horrifically racist.”

Your own interpretations are most welcome.

Pancakes and Pussycats

Four thoughts had while eating pancakes and watching Josie and the Pussycats on Boomerang:

One: Given that the show is made for children, the quality of the music is surprisingly high. Not that I’d want a Jose and the Pussycats album or anything, but I’ll gladly admit that the obligatory chase music is not usually terrible, especially in light of what pop music was in the early 70s. To see for yourself, watch this clip in which the gang flees militant Muslims:

Two: Perhaps because the show offered sugar-addled children the first-ever black regular on a Saturday morning cartoon in the form of the plucky yet level-headed Valerie Brown, the producers apparently decided to make the other Pussycat, Melody Jones, the dumbest piece of shit ever. Literally, she is too dumbness to be alive. Even for a kid’s show, her stupidity is insulting. Melody is well into her late teen years on the show, and, I swear, by this point in her life she should realistically have either eaten battery acid because she thought it was milkshakes or been murdered by anyone who’s ever heard her talk.

Three: On grounds that she is unfailingly unpleasant and actually cattier than the three girls who are dressed like cats, I am tempted claim that there is no reason for bitchy Alexandra Cabot to hang out with the rest of the gang. She is not part of the band. She does nothing but make life worse for everyone around her. And she is unlikable: When provoked, Alexandra is downright awful, but she’s also often spiteful for no reason. But then I realize that the rest of the characters probably truly don’t like her — how could they? — and that the reason they keep her around in hopes that Melody will demonstrate her dim-wittedness in such a way that infuriates Alexandra to the point that Alexandra will murder Melody.

Four: The two male characters blow, if only because they’re so clearly derivative of the male from Scooby-Doo. Alan is a hunkier, more assuredly heterosexual version of Freddie, while Alexander is a snobbier, high-strung version of Shaggy that could probably benefit from smoking a scoobie-doobie. And it doesn’t help that Casey Kasem voiced both Alexander and Shaggy and does so almost identically.

For the sake of pop culture continuity, I’ll mention that 2001 live action movie version of Josie and the Pussycats cast Rosario Dawson as Valerie, Tara Reid as Melody and Missi Pyle as Alexandra. So even if the movie was an abysmal failure, it at least had spot-on casting.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bubbling, Doubling, Taco Sauce

The following is something I’d realistically be better off not sharing with the world but I am compelled to publish online anyway.

Shakespare’s Macbeth finds an archrival in the form of Macduff, and it’s likely no coincidence that the two have very similar names. They’re actually similar people, in some ways, but with significant differences. In modern texts — and perhaps in older ones as well, depending on how the transcriber decided he wanted to spell — this relationship is underscored by the fact the lowercase “b” in Macbeth’s name looks exactly like a flipped-around lowercase “d,” as you see in Macduff’s name.

That all being said, can the same opposite-rival-“b”-and-“d” relationship be applied Taco Bell and Del Taco?

Leftover Morpheme Sauce

This one seemed appropriate this week, given what’s likely hiding in your tupperwear as I write this.

Also, we’re on the letter “C.” So there.
cranberry morphere (pronounced exactly like you think it would be) — noun: a morpheme within a complex word whose meaning is opaque to the present speakers of the language.
Fascinating, right? And perfectly clear?

This bit of grammatical formalese might not mean much to anyone, but this is nonetheless a cool concept. Allow me to illustrate by example.

In the word cranberry, the word part cran is a cranberry morpheme, also known as a fossilized term. This particular chunk doesn’t mean anything on its own, but its presence in the word cranberry has meaning nonetheless: it helps differentiate a cranberry from some other kind of berry. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the cran part comes from the low German Kraan, meaning “crane,” but that historical meaning has become completely lost despite the persistence of the word part in the name of the fruit.

It’s this disparity that lent the concept its name.

A small aside: Cranberry might be a bad example to use in explaining this concept. The association that the cran part has with the fruit itself has lent it a new meaning even when it appears separately from the berry. Look at any Ocean Spray bottle and observe that cran by itself signifies the presence of cranberries — or at least cranberry concentrate or cranberry-flavored sugar water. Cran-Grape is cranberry-grape, Cran-Orange is cranberry-orange, and Cran-Mango is cranberry-mango despite the fact that marketers missed out on the phenomenal opportunity to trandemark the name “Crango.” (As the blog Semantic Compositions notes, it helps to be fluent in the offshoot of English known as Marketing.)

Unfortunately, most explanations of the concept of cranberry morphemes begin with the history of the word cranberry and then springboard into other examples that also happen to be berries. Like gooseberry. It has no real connection with geese, and its current form is hypothesized to be a corruption of the French groseille, which refers to various types of currants. (Randomly, it also can be used “an additional person” in the sense that we sometimes say “a third wheel.”) And the rasp in raspberry used to be rapsis, possibly from raspise, “a sweet rose-colored wine.” (Also of interest: Etymologists say the raspberry in the sense of the the disapproving noise you make with your mouth comes from Cockney-style rhyming slang — “raspberry tart” with “fart.” News to me.)

These examples have doubtlessly fooled at least one person into thinking that cranberry morphemes only exist in the names of fruit, but that’s not the case. Other examples include the cob in cobweb (it means spider), the twi in twilight (it means both “two” and “half,” oddly, but I think it means the latter here), and the luke in lukewarm (it means “tepid”).

So take away from this, if nothing else: Cranberries may be just slightly more complicated than you would have thought otherwise.

But only a little more.

I mean, they’re still just cranberries.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Since I’m for the moment situated on the grounds upon which I and at least several others are said to have spent our youth stomping — on what, exactly, I have no idea — I figured I’d celebrate the occasion with some Hollister-specific nostalgia.

Ta da. The above scanned postcard depicts a restaurant that has never in my life looked this way. I actually have no idea when or how this postcard would have come into my possession since it would seem to precede my existence as a human being. Of course, there’s a good chance that Progresso’s simply had old postcards sitting around long after the restaurant itself no longer matched what the postcards themselves promised.

That would happen at Progresso’s, a restaurant that most in Hollister probably don’t consider a nice place to eat, per se, but more of a place that they just eat at — maybe more out of habit than anything else. I’ve been told that the place became popular as a result of its cheese enchiladas being one of the few Vatican-approved Friday night dinner plates in town.

In my opinions, the back of the postcard is even better: both of the fonts, the blue ink, the way the full name of the establishment appears in a frowny arc, the fact that the postcards were apparently printed in Dallas, everything. The whole of it speaks to a different time and a different aesthetic that just works for me.

Circle for Cry?

I am watching Pushing Daisies and trying to wrap my head around the supposed Latin phrase orbis pro vox. Should this sound familiar? Should it be anything? Google is little help and Idiot Robot Translations puts the phrase into English as “circle for cry.” My high school-and-a-little-bit-of-college Latin is way rusty, however. Orbis can be other rounds things, If I remember correctly: a ring, an orb, a globe, maybe? Maybe the globe? The not-so-small world? Vox is usually “voice,” but can also the metaphorical use of “voice,” like a voice in government or an electoral voice.

Also: I’m apparently not the only one who’s curious about this.

Also also: That was Crystal from Dead Like Me eating at The Pie Hole, right?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Action County USA

So remember earlier in the month, when I blogged, if ever so tersely, about the fact that my city was on fire? Well, they put the fire out. Now we’re flooding. In fact, some of the same people who had to flee the Tea Fire and would have only recently returned to their homes are now evacuating again to escape mud and flood. In another post, I concluded with this thought: “It truly does seem that if it is not one thing then it must be another.” This would seem to be the case.

On a lighter note, area officials sent out a map of Santa Barbara this evening, with the mandatory evacuation area colored purple and, colored yellow, the areas that may yet be evacuated tonight. Unfortunately, the shape of the flood-endangered Sycamore Canyon lends the purple shape a certain penile protrusion into the Eastside. That little pointer, combined with the yellow fluid spilling out from the tip and all the way down to the 101, looks more than a little like male member pissing all over Santa Barbara.

Which would be appropriate.

see the flood penis in greater detail by clicking here.

A correction, I guess: If it’s not one thing then it must be another — and then again it might also be a penis.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen Memorial Rollerblade Rink

A few selections from a thoroughly entertaining slide show of past stars of the Berlin zoo. In order: one of the Rolands, Balthasar and Methusalem and their mysteriously unnamed mother, and finally Evi.

See the whole things at Der Spiegel.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Agent Fields Forever

Easily the highlight of the overall enjoyable but ultimately uneven Quantum of Solace: Agent Fields, the character played by Gemma Arterton. Essentially, she’s Girl No. Two, which is a bad position for a Bond Girl to be in. Sure enough, Agent Fields eventually joins Plenty O’Toole, Jill Masterton, Aki, Fiona Volpe, Andrea Anders, Corinne Dufour, Elektra King, Paris Carver, Xenia Onatopp, Miranda Frost, Solange Dimitrios, and at least a few others on the list of lesser Bond associates who end up dead, whether as a result of them being forces or good or forces evil.

The best part about Agent Fields, however, is that she was written subtly, even if her role in the story as a whole doesn’t hold up well to logic. Throughout the film, she never gives her first name. (Why would MI-6 send some cute, nubile office girl to temp Bond back to London? Shouldn’t M have predicted that Bond would just bang her silly and get her killed? Was there truly no one else that could have been sent? No birthing hipped, lady mustached monster of a woman that Bond wouldn’t dare take a poke at?) The credits, however, list her as “Strawberry Fields,” and that makes her an ideal inhabitant of the new world of James Bond. Though her full name makes her a silly pop culture reference, she seems to know this and has a conscious desire to not be some dumb Bond Girl. It’s almost as if she’s seen the films with Mary Goodnight and Pussy Galore. In a film that was unfortunately lacking in characterization and development, this minor character truly succeeded, at least for me.

Where They Chain Up the Sun

What follows is a speculative origin for the personified cure-all that is Jenny Lewis’s Fernando.

I first heard this song more than two years ago, at a benefit for 826 Valencia that featured Lewis alongside such folks as Aimee Mann, The Mountain Goats, Sarah Vowell and John Krasinski. I liked the song and downloaded it straightaway, even if it was a lousy live recording of it taken from a performance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Lewis finally released a polished studio version of “See Fernando” just this year, with her new Watson Twins-free solo album, Acid Tongue. Now, after having listened to the good version a few dozen times in my iPod, I have to wonder who this Fernando guy is — or at least who he is to Jenny Lewis.

If you have no idea what I’m speaking of, here is the best clip of “See Fernando” I could find. (The official, fancypants video is likely forthcoming.)

The lyrics, according to this website, are these:
I wear a ponytail like a waterfall
Loudspeaker or land slide
I have a room key and a Johnny
A good buzz, feeling all right
Pitch a tent, pop a top
Forget about what you ain’t got
See the sites, sleep until night
Stamp your feet, turn out the lights

If you want to go where they chain up the sun
See Fernando, see Fernando
He’ll buy a bottle of suds for you and everyone
See Fernando, see Fernando

If you’re high strung or stressed out
Down in the dumps, been turned out
Stabilized, motorized, insecure or fable-ized
Curious or furious, picked apart like Prometheus
Legalized, penalized, simplify, dry out your eyes

If you want to go where they chain up the sun
See Fernando, see Fernando
He’ll buy a bottle of suds for you and everyone
See Fernando, see Fernando

You’ve been Jezebeled, back from hell
Cooling off, feeling well
Tired of talking, talked out
Ticked off or toughed up
Too talled or backed up
Haven’t made your mind up
DVDed or TVed
Tired of falling to your knees

If you want to go where they chain up the sun
See Fernando, see Fernando
He’ll buy a bottle of suds for you and everyone
See Fernando, see Fernando

And if you want to go where they chain up the sun
See Fernando, see Fernando
He’ll buy a bottle of suds for you and everyone
See Fernando, see Fernando
There’s a lot going on in this song, but not a lot of it necessarily meaning much. The verses pretty much describe various states of being the speaker or the addressee have arrived at — some enviable, some not, some completely inexplicable — and then offers a single solution to all of them: seeing this dude Fernando, who lives where the sun is chained up and who will apparently buy everybody champagne.

Aside from the random allusions to biblical and mythological characters such as Prometheus — who himself was chained up, not for sun-related misdeeds but for giving primitive man the gift of fire — and Jezebel — who appears as a verb here and whose bodymeat was eaten by dogs, the verse lyrics do not seem to be saying much of anything — lyrics for the sake of lyrics. None of it gives us any clue who Fernando might be or why Lewis might have attached this name to the guy who can do everything. My initial thought was that it had something to do with the San Fernando Valley, which she could have had some experience with during her previous career as a child star but which I’d also imagine she would not today equate with anything good.

As a result of no further leads, the mystery lingered until last week, actually, when a series of links dumped me on the blog Heartless Doll, specifically on its list of reasons why The Golden Girls was and is good. The show’s sixth listed virtue is the fact that watching it offers glimpses of people who are now big names but were relative nothings at the time they guest starred. Sure enough, Jenny Lewis is included on this list.

The proof, both of her appearance and her weird, Baby Doll-like accent:

Is it significant to anyone else that her appearance on fairly well-known show would have revolved around a prized teddy bear named Fernando? Could this one walk-on — admittedly only one among a great many during Lewis’s early years — have made such a impression on her that she’d recall it as an adult? And if not, who the hell is Fernando?

Dammit, Jenny, could you please just Google yourself and tell me?

Previous songs of the week:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spit Into Your Mouth, Only Verbally

Late but nonetheless not too late for today’s one-week-delayed word-of-the-week
ambeer (AM-beer) — noun: the juice that forms in the mouth as a result of chewing tobacco.
In short, something that sounds like the name of a cocktail waitress that is also actually something that could come out of that waitress’s mouth.

This wonderful word — really, how did you make it through your chaw spit-spattered life without it? — comes to us from exactly where you think it might come: from some bastard combination of the words amber, for the color of this flavor countered bodily byproduct, and from beer, again for the color but with the bonus factor of the foamy texture. At least that’s what the American Heritage Dictionary says. Merriam-Webster only mentions the amber influence, so perhaps the beer element is conjecture on the part of the good people at AHD. Perhaps surprising no one, it comes to the American English lexicon by way of the South, which is certainly something the residents of this region of the United States can be proud of.

One exception to this otherwise agreed-upon definition: Urban Dictionary — which, as I’ve said before, is the one user-generated website that manages to make Wikipedia look like the goddamn Oxford English Dictionary. Urban Dictionary simply offers us that ambeer refers to “a girl named Amber who loves to drink beer.” As if that wasn’t help enough, Urban Dictionary also offers us an ungrammatical example sentence, double explanation points and all: “Hide the beer here comes Ambeer!!”

In any case, the next time you’re riding shotgun with a chewing tobacco enthusiast and mistake your soda can with his makeshift spittoon, you’re not just drinking tobacco spit; you’re drinking ambeer.