Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Better Ways to Interpret Road Signs

Because let’s face it — driving is boring and could benefit from additional excitement. Make driving “fun” by putting your own spin on the rules of the road!

Swerve to the side to avoid the giant car-sized bullet racing toward you.

Road is pointless, repeating loop. You may be in a Lost Highway. Or a Mario Kart track.

Open passenger window to receive free box lunch from roadside man.

“Shit! Get me a pen and paper, quick! (Apologies for the joke in the style of your father.)

Your loved ones would appreciate a will.

“Look! I drew an arrow with two pointy parts! Isn’t that crazy?”

Slow down to leer at roadside crew, evaluating them for sexiness.

Actually, there’s no way to make this funnier than it already is.

Ditto the previous comment.

Ditto ditto.

Similarly, there is nothing funny about lane safety. Stay in your goddamn lane, crazy. However, with a small adjustment...

Much better. Why? You know why. Because Lana’s a ho.

I actually can’t make fun of this sign because I don’t know what it means. Seriously? The tracks aren’t in service? Shouldn’t I not care because trains won’t run on out-of-service tracks, because they’re curled up into roller coaster-like formations? And yet there is a sign for this condition. So I have to assume that the trains do, in fact, run on out-of-service tracks. In which case, I should be very worried, less so for myself than for the train passengers. Where the fuck am I?

Most self-negating, Magrittesque traffic sign ever.

Except, well... you know.

(All images from here.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Piss Poor

Things you can learn from listening to DVD commentaries of Simpsons episodes: There once existed a movie theater in Los Angeles, the Pikfair. It was surrounded by Indian restaurants and was known for playing Bollywood films, at least until it burned down in the riots. Anyway, the theater got its name because it existed near the intersection of Pico and Fairfax. Because of its location, it was originally known as the Picfair, but they had to change it because some Indian people tended to pronounce the “C” softly — the “Pissfair.” Which is hilarious.

Anyway, I just thought it was cool.

In case you’re wondering, the episode was the 138th Episode Spectacular. It shows a deleted scene (from the one where Apu moves in with the Simpsons) in which Apu makes the family watch a Bollywood musical that “made every Indian critic’s top 400 list.” Homer: “It’s funny! Their clothes are different from my clothes!”

The Price Is Wrong, Bitch!

Like many other intelligent Americans, I have accepted Modern Family as the new great sitcom — a show that manages to combine the some of the best qualities of Arrested Development with bits that make the central family appealing enough not only to avoid cancellation but to actually draw good ratings. (Good on you, Modern Family!) And because I often root for underdogs, I find myself especially enjoying Julie Bowen’s performance as Claire — the show’s Marge Simpson, the put-upon housewife who gets opportunities to be truly funny when she’s not being a nag or a drudge.

But though I love the show, I didn’t realize until late in this first season that Bowen played a prominent role on another major ABC show, Lost, as Jack Shepherd’s patient then wife then ex-wife. Vaguely similar in that both Lost’s Sara Shepherd and Modern Family’s Claire Dunphy are both underappreciated stay-at-home wives, the characters go drastically different directions, with Claire quietly venting her rage with sarcasm and passive aggression and with Sara leaving Jack, even after he successfully operated on her spine and allowed her to walk again. (And also Sara may have had an affair with Jack’s dad? Or not? … Oh, fuck it.) Anyway, I was impressed that Bowen could pull off high drama and subtle comedy so well — and surprised that a Lost obsessive such as myself didn’t immediately identify Claire as a Lost alum.

Then I realized that my time with Julie Bowen goes all the way back to eighth grade, with Happy Gilmore, in which Bowen played Adam Sandler’s love interest.

Yup, she got a better haircut and became a little less round in the face, but that’s her in that unflattering golf sweater.

When I checked the IMDb page for Happy Gilmore, I was reminded that Bowen’s character’s name in this movie was Virginia Venit. Which is interesting because the love interest in the previous Adam Sandler movie, Billy Madison, is named Veronica Vaughn — as in the immortal line “Veronica Vaughn. So hot. Want to touch the heiney.”

For some weird reason, I like characters with double initials. And because both Happy and Billy were written by Sandler and Tim Herlihy, I have to wonder why they’d give similar names to the movies’ love interests. They did to later ones too — Fairuza Balk played Vicki Vallencourt in The Waterboy and Particia Arquette plays Valerie Veran in Little Nicky.

But why double “V”? Am I underestimating Adam Sandler’s level of maturity by guessing that the “V” could stand for that certain thing that female love interests have that also happens to start with that letter?

Names, previously:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Super Mario Abstract

It began with LACMA, it began with Kandinsky, but — oh, yes, that’s right, I realize now — it really began with Emil Nolde. I saw these amazing postcards at LACMA. Nolde had painted anthropomorphic versions of famous European mountains, but the postcards are rare enough that digitized versions simply don’t exist online, at least where I was looking. Then, somehow, I ended up on this page and found a certain painting — allegedly something called “At Rest,” allegedly by Mr. Wassily Kandinsky.

Instantly, briefly, this painting of mysterious origin became my whole world: Was it just me, or did it look eerily like a stage from a Super Mario Bros. game? Am I the only one who would see this similarity? Could the Super Mario aesthetic, in fact, be an intentional homage to Kandinsky? Consider the geometric qualities of the “hills” and “trees.” Consider the odd assemblage of polygons on either side, some overlapping others to suggest that they extend into the background. Consider the “structures” floating against the background, perhaps suggesting motion but perhaps also meant to be solid objects inexplicably suspended in the air. There’s definitely something in this painting that the old Mario games echoed, intentionally or not.

Points in favor of “not”: First off, I tend to see Mario where no Mario exists. More to the point, Kandinsky (or whoever did the above painting) was doing an abstract landscape, letting basic shapes stand in for the features that would normally decorate a given stretch of land. Similarly, the Nintendo people had to create similar terrain in making Mario games — especially Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World — mostly as a result of the technical limitations of the systems for which they were designing games. It could very well be that a staggered collection of quadrangles is just that, whether in a early twentieth-century painting or in a late twentieth-century Nintendo game.

Still, the resemblance jumps out to someone like me, who likes art but has spent too much time with a video game controller in his hands and will therefore be likely to fuse the two interests into one. I was curious about what other abstract Kandinsky landscapes might look like and looked around online. What I turned up supports at least the simplest conclusion: that there is, in fact, a visual similarity between these paintings and Mario games.

“the great gate of kiev” (1928)

“softened construction” (1927)

“brownish (1931)

“structure joyeuse” (1928)

“composition eight” (1923)

As the paintings get weirder and more surreal, they look particularly like the Wii game Super Paper Mario, a work of art in its own right that forces two-dimensional figures into a three-dimensional world (both in terms of graphics and the game’s plot) and which folds surreal art into a platform game universe. I know most people who read this blog haven’t played Super Paper Mario, but it’s a sight to behold, particularly Flipside, a geometric city that serves as the game’s “portal,” through which the various stages are accessed. (I tried to find appropriate art from the game to post here but found no usable screenshots online.) Looking at these paintings, I can see echoes of them in the game — Flipside especially.

In poking around at art websites, I also stumbled upon an Emil Nolde — not the one that I was originally looking for, but one that looked weirdly like one of the bad guys from Super Paper Mario. It’s a coincidence, I’m sure, but a noteworthy one, given my thought process leading up to it.

I conclude nothing from all this, but I will at least point out that one of the few goals I’d like to accomplish with this blog is to elevate video games as a medium. A lot of people look down of them, even today. They may not see the place of video games in the greater cultural context. A connection like this, however, at least hints that such a connection might be possible — that there could possibly be a connection between the art hung in museums and the games played in our living rooms.

Mario, previously:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

“W” Gets Its Day

I have an open mind, I’d like to think, and I’m not one to judge people just because they’re so clearly wrong. This generous spirit allows me to accept people who learned to remember their vowels incorrectly with the phrase A, E, I, O U and sometimes Y. It should have been A, E, I, O U and sometimes Y and W, but a lot of English-speakers seemed to have learned from teachers who either didn’t consider “W” to be vowel-like or simply hated their students and wanted them to never understand language. (Surprise! It’s usually the latter. You should be angry about it.) It’s too bad. Not only is mine more accurate, it kind of rhymes, if you think “you” and “double-yoo” count as a rhyming pair. (Lazy poets would say so!)

But yeah, “W” acts like a vowel sometimes. “Like when?” the doubters usually respond. “Well, like in my name, for one. The ‘E’ makes the noise it does only because it’s paired with the ‘W.’ They make a diphthong. If they weren’t making the vowel sound, my name would be pronounced dreh-wa instead of droo.” And that usually straightens them out pretty well, even if they suspect that “W” can’t truly be a vowel in English since it cannot form a syllable by itself. And that’s true — it can’t. But it is still a semivowel.

I’ve actually wondered if the English “W” is a vowel more often than we realize. If you asked people what noise that letter represents, they’ll say “wuh,” kind of like the first syllable in water. But when you really think about how the sound comes out of your mouth, the “W” makes people make an abbreviated “oo” noise that slides into whatever vowel comes next. The “wuh” noise comes naturally as your mouth moves from the “oo” position to however it needs to be to make a vowel. That “oo” sounds a lot more like a vowel than a consonant. Of course, this line of thinking will only lead you to melt your brain as you start reconsidering the relationship between letters on a page and sounds that come out of your mouth. Besides, the process of chopping up a word and assigning its sounds to letters seems like it often leaves out certain transitional noises. For example, don’t people often pronounce the word girl like it’s two syllables? Or at least something more than two syllables? Is there a phantom “U” lurking between the “R” and the “L”?

The raging “vowel or consonant” debate surrounding the letter “W” — and tearing our nation apart, clearly — is probably a lot easier for the Welsh, of course, because their crazy language actually allows “W” to exist on its own, as the only vowel. And it happens to get that honor in the word of the week:
crwth (KROOTH) — noun: an archaic stringed instrument associated particularly with Wales, although once played widely in Europe.
At this point, I really should re-title this series “Words You’ll never Have Reason to Use,” but I’m honestly amused that crwth exists in English — as a loanword from Welsh, sure, but nonetheless as the best word to describe the thing that it’s attached to, even with its peculiar “W” sitting there in the middle, making noises that it usually can’t make on its own.

see how happy crwth-ownership made this man?

A small epilogue: “W” got its revenge, by the way. After years of neglect, it managed to work its way into every URL ever. Sure, it’s the part you don’t have to type, but it usually shows up anyway — and in triplicate, no less. Alas, it usually doesn’t show up on this blog, unless you’re this one regular reader in the greater Los Angeles area who always types it in that way. Despite all the great things I’ve said about the letter “W” in this post, I encourage you, mysterious Southern California reader, to stop doing this. You’ll free up gain valuable seconds in your life.

Sidenote: I didn’t realize this until today, but clicking on the pronunciation of a word on Wiktionary takes you to a list of rhymes for that word. You lazy poets will doubtlessly benefit from knowing that crwth can be paired with booth, truth, youth and the always overlooked strewth. This particular rhyming page also includes a strange “See also”: “Humorous (though possibly offensive) rhymes can be formed by spelling words ending in -us as if they were being pronounced by someone with a lisp.)” Seriously, the weirdest rhyming advice I’ve ever heard. (Disclaimer: I have never been given rhyming advice.) Though it will doubtlessly prove helpful with my summer project, composing filthy limericks about a lisping detective.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Future Is the Reward

I downloaded this song months ago and haven’t tired of it yet. It’s “Black Magic” by Magic Wands, from 2008. And I think it may be a winner.

I put it somewhere between the late Breeders and the early Pixies. Is it me, or do the lyrics recall video games on some level? Yeah, I know: everything takes me back to video games, but read the words and consider for yourself:
There is a crescent key
That locks a hole in the door
Into the pit of your heart
The future is the reward
White light, my time has come
All night, out on the run from black magic
Black magic

Give me the final piece
That holds the puzzle’s end
Of all the billions of stars
That are the dreams of your friends
How could anybody feel the same?
How could anybody feel the same?
Black magic

It is the person’s eyes
That have the answers in
Around the galaxy Mars
A new place to begin
White light, my time has come
All night, out on the run
From black magic
Admittedly, boo on “the galaxy Mars.” But still?

Friday, June 25, 2010

“How Did I Get So Many Farts?!”

On Sunday, I blogged about a possible pop cultural connection between a pint-sized Japanese comic book character and a similarly small Batman character. Today I’m talking about that original pint-sizer once again. And farts.

So while the whole Batman thing grabbed me, it’s not that particular Black Jack comic that I will remember forever. There’s another one in which little Pinoko accidentally swallows a poison capsule and Black Jack must extract it from her before her digestive juices eat through the casing. He realizes that the only way he can flush the capsule from Pinoko’s body is to fill her digestive cavity with gas to blast the capsule into an area he can reach. Black Jack succeeds, of course, but as the recovering Pinoko is consequently very flatulent. This panel appears on the comic’s last page:

Being tired but unable to sleep and reading this comic at around two in the morning, I found this hilarious — not just the situation but the phrasing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ask the question “How did I get so many farts?” but I’m sure many people have been in a situation in which it would have been appropriate.

It kept thinking about this at odd times, and it kept making me laugh. Eventually, it occurred to me that the line would make an amazing improv exercise in style of Mel Gibson’s “GIVE ME BACK MY SON!” line from Ransom.

(I hadn’t seen this video in a few years and upon rewatching it I’m surprised to see Office add-ons Ellie Kemper and Zach Woods in it. Way to graduate from YouTube, funny people!)

Imagine a group of people speaking this line in different ways to another person in the group. Both must keep a straight face. There’s so many directions you could take it. Confused. Forlorn. Inexplicably elated. Angry at God. Hysterical. Resigned. Awed by the miracles of nature. You can emphasize the I. You can emphasize the farts. You can emphasize the many You can say it like a fat southern sheriff. Or a valley girl. Or a grizzled prospector. Or a 50s housewife. Or a someone performing Shakespeare Or Jan Brady. Or Jerry Seinfeld. Or Shirley Temple. Or Mr. T.

The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Ineffective Fallen Angel

Long ago, most people could apparently conceive of monsters only as mix-and-matched composites of existing animals. I don’t find this aesthetic particularly scary. Actually, it seems kind of fun. Can I place an order for a sea otter with eagle wings and a panda face? Because that would totally rock. But whatever — back-in-the-day folk lacked imagination, and this failing is especially obvious when you consider the form they gave to the Adramelech, a Biblical boogeyman supposedly worshipped by the residents of Sepharvaim, which doesn’t sound like a place that has nice restaurants.

Of all the terrifying animal parts to mash together to create Adramelech’s body, did they have to pick the body of a human, the head of a donkey and the tail of a peacock?

Not scary, right?

Granted, this is only a depiction of the demon per Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, so we have to assume that de Plancy jazzed it up a little. But still — disregarding the fact that Adramelech is not wearing any pants, doesn’t he look more like some goofy thing Alice would meet in Wonderland than he does a demon of hell? (According to this page, he’s actually both president of the high council of the devils and keeper of the wardrobe of the demon king, which sound like a pretty important jobs.) Yet children were allegedly sacrificed to Adramelech, even though he looks like a thing that might have entertained them on their birthdays.

Of course, it does not help that a description of his appearance could literally be given as “ass-face, cock-butt.”

Hell, you’ll have to do a lot better than this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fun Facts About the Fantail Dutch Pheasant!

What with chicken egg-collecting, goat-herding, dog-stacking and koi-training, we humans spend our days associating with only a small population of this world’s many animal species. I’m hoping a new series here at Back of the Cereal Box will acquaint readers with some of our rarer cohabitants on the crazy planet we call Earth. Today, I’d like to introduce the Dutch Fantail Pheasant with a list of easy- and fun-to-read fun facts that are fun.

The Dutch Fantail Pheasant is…
  • portly, due to its strict diet of high-carb tubers and discarded movie theater popcorn.
  • flightless, as what would appear to be wings are actually just useless fat flaps.
  • vain, as it spends much of its day gazing as its reflection in puddles or other reflective surfaces, oblivious to all else around it.
  • sleepy, as much of its daily allotment of energy goes to digesting the vast amount of carbs that it eats.
  • noisy, as it constantly whistles a jolly tune even when it is sleeping, all in an effort to draw prospective mates to its location.
  • docile, as it will gladly approach any other organism once it has broken free from the hypnotic trance that results from staring at its own reflection.
  • unintelligent, as many scientists believe it cannot actually differentiate from other animals and its reflection, leading some to believe that it approaches other species only because it mistakenly believes it has spotted another reflection of itself.
  • near-sighted, as it has to get especially close to see anything — for example, reflections, other animals, campfires, hunters’ traps, the yawning mouths of lazy predators.
  • ham-tasting, for reasons science has not yet identified.
  • ham-smelling, again unknown but probably for the same reasons that it tastes like ham, right?
  • picky, as it builds nests of only the choicest savory herbs.
  • gravy-sweating, as it sweats profusely when startled and its sweat also tastes and smells like ham but also maple glaze.
  • frequently naked, because its sole means of self-defense is instantly shooting off each of its feathers in an effort to confuse attacks while it escapes in a cloud of colored plumage.
  • very slow, as it just doesn’t like running.
  • always on the ground, because it also doesn’t like climbing trees or hiding in holes.
  • sometimes found in roasting pans, as it is instinctually predisposed to find them in people’s homes and wait there for predators to leave — sometimes even hiding beneath an assortment of savory vegetables that it chops itself.
  • very clean, as it is always careful to bathe itself in white wine and vegetable broth.
  • beloved my humans, as its death rattle produces a tasty buttercream custard complete with serving-size pastry shell.
  • highly endangered.
So now you know. Remember, we all need to do what we can to recognize the few remaining members of this special, delicious species to ensure its survival for generations to come.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Anti-Marne

Remember Marne? Meet her opposite. I’m calling her Elma.

She comes from a different era, sure, but those glasses and that boy’s haircut tell us that Elma is not about to win any popularity contests. Elma is an Awkward Girl. However, unlike Marne but there’s something in Elma’s pose that should tell us that she needs no consolation. She is standing on her own — I can’t imagine why what this photo could be documenting but please let it be a school dance she attended solo — but her facial expression reads like a scowl that’s a split second away from curling in a smirk.

While Marne is now probably an overmedicated comp lit grad student trying but failing to pull off kicky vintage fashions, I’m guessing Elma turned out okay once she figured out those legs were an asset instead of liability.

Monday, June 21, 2010

She Hathaway

A random thought: Anne Hathaway is one of very few actors aside from Albert Brooks to provide a guest voice more than once on The Simpsons and to voice different characters each time. In 2009, she voiced Jenny, a goody two shoes that Bart has a crush on. In 2010, she voiced Princess Penelope, a fairy princess-styled personality added to the cast of Krusty’s show.

What’s really weird is that Princess Penelope is a very similar character to Mother Maggie, whom Hathaway voiced in an episode of Family Guy also in 2010. They’re both sing-song-speaking hosts of kids’ shows.

I wonder if Hathaway would have landed either the Princess Penelope or Mother Maggie roles if she hadn’t already showed off her ability to do such characters when she played Mary Poppins in that SNL sketch back in 2008.

Coincidental weirdness on the Fox Sunday night line-up, previously:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Baby Doll Revisited

Way back when, I put up a post on this blog all about the Batman villain Baby Doll. She originated on the mid-90s Batman animated series, only appeared twice and has yet to make the jump to the comics, as the cartoon-originated Harley Quinn has. However, Baby Doll’s debut episode remains one of the better half-hours of TV I’ve ever seen. It also marked the point at which I realized how the old Batman cartoon had broken through the dramatic limitations that keep most cartoon kiddie fare. It’s dark, strange, unexpectedly emotional and ultimately tragic.

My original Baby Doll blog post has recently been on my mind because it has been linked to by the page for “High Octane Nightmare Fuel (Western Animation division)” and has since been directing quite a bit of traffic my way. So I already had reason to remember this minor Batman character when I happened across what seemed like a possible inspiration for her.

A little bit of background:

Around my birthday, Spencer took me to the Giant Robot store on Sawtelle in L.A., since he knew I liked the magazine. It was cool — so cool, in fact, that I didn’t know what to buy and ended up getting a comic book I’d never heard of. A decent investment, it turns out, as it’s a collection of Black Jack episodes from the mid-70s. Black Jack was written and drawn by Osamu Tezuka — the kinda-sorta Walt Disney of Japan, only benevolent. He’s also responsible for more famous titles such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, the latter of which is today best known to Americans as the thing Disney seems to have ripped off when they made The Lion King.

Black Jack is named for its protagonist, a no-nonsense mercenary doctor who performs operations for the very rich and the very poor. It’s like Rex Morgan M.D. if Rex Morgan M.D. wasn’t the most boring comic strip ever. Its depictions of surgeries are rather graphic and realistic — guts, gnarly injuries, close-ups of incisions, and sometimes even explanations about human anatomy, but all contrasted against the fact that everyone in the series looks fairly cartoonish. Each twenty-page story centers around a new patient with a specific medical emergency. I like it. It has very few of the elements most people would associate with manga. For example, there are no mooney-eyed teenaged girls with animal ears casting rainbow magic against a backdrop of swirling cherry blossom petals.

An especially strange element of Black Jack, however, is Pinoko, the doctor’s assistant. She looks like a toddler — also disturbingly like those creepy Love Is… kids — and speaks with a cutesy speech impediment.

True to the characteristic contrast of the series, Pinoko has a horrifying back story: She’s a former parasitic twin that Black Jack extracted from the body of an eighteen-year-old patient. He cobbled together the necessary organs from the patient’s tumorous growth and squished them into a plastic exoskeleton that allowed the twin to live. Tada! Pinoko! Importantly, Pinoko’s artificial casing means that she can’t grow. Though she insists that she’s eighteen, she’s still relatively new to the world and will forever look like a child.

If you know Baby Doll, you can see where I’m going with this.

In one of the stories in the collection I bought, Pinoko — who lives with the doc as a sort of ward — asks for his help in writing a love letter. She seems to be experiencing some rather womanly feelings but doesn’t have the means to express or even cope with them. At the end of the story, Black Jack receives the love letter in the mail. Heartache of heartaches — Pinoko loves him, not someone else, but she’s so emotionally stunted that she had to ask the help of her crush in drafting the letter to him. Just a little poignant, I guess. The episode’s last panel is him slipping the letter into his desk drawer.

Midway through the story, however, there’s a page that seems to be echoed with the most poignant scene from the Batman episode “Baby Doll.” In the cartoon, Baby Doll is Mary Louise Dahl, a former sitcom star who is mentally and emotionally an adult but is trapped in a physically child-like body. She can speak normally, but she often reverts to the child-like accent she used on the show, on which she played the moppet little sister even though she was an adult at the time. Nostalgia for her days a TV star prompt her to kidnap the actors who once played her family. Batman intervenes, and a chase leads to an amusement park where Baby Doll ducks into a fun house, successfully avoiding capture until she stumbles into a hall of mirrors that even further distort her form. As Batman approaches, she uses a gun she concealed in an actual baby doll to blast away the mirrors until only one remains — and in it, the viewer sees what Baby Doll sees in her mind: what she might look like as a normal person. She pauses for a moment then breaks the remaining mirror. End scene.

(Here’s the episode’s final two minutes on YouTube, in case you’re curious.)

The episode aired about twenty years after the Black Jack comic ran with a similar scene:

For me, the similarities seem striking enough that I’d wager Black Jack helped inspire Paul Dini to create this Batman character and even stage this climactic scene. Dini knows comics through-and-through, it given that Black Jack is a Tezuka creation, it’s likely that he would have read it. And if this comic does have a connection with Baby Doll, I like the Batman episode all the more, because it gives the character a place in comics even if she hasn’t ever appeared in an actual Batman comic.

Sunflowers Forever

This image makes me happy, especially for its pixeliness. A real-life version of this scene, with a real boy and real sunflowers, would not have the same effect. From Mother 3, via ABOBOBO. The intersection of video games and die wunderkammer, recently:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pick Up the Peace

In sixth grade, my classmates and I were forced to learn all the prepositions — or at least what my teacher told us were all the prepositions. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was, since simply recognizing how prepositions worked should have allowed us to identify them readily out in the wilds of literature. (“Six letters? Looks like a verb but introduces a phrase describing when a thing happened? Let me adjust my binoculars… It’s during! It’s a during! We’ve spotted our first during!”)

Pointless or not, our class ultimately got our revenge. After we demonstrated that we had, in fact, committed the list to memory, one girl raised her hand and explained that she showed the list to her mom, who had pointed out that it was missing amid. More hands went up. “Yeah, what about betwixt?” “Via”? “Per”? I myself brought up circa, which we’d learned about that same year from our history textbook. Upon considering these, our teacher admitted that they all were prepositions, and they and about twenty-something others were tacked onto the list of words next year’s sixth-graders would have to learn. Ha! Suck on these obscure prepositions, kids who didn’t make the elementary school birthday cut-off and were therefore inferior to us.

Since that day, I’ve always kept an eye out for new and strange prepositions. (Yes, even the amended list was still incomplete, even though prepositions are considered a closed class of words.) They’re not the most exciting elements of the English language, but they do a job and they do it well. And I specifically look for the one-word prepositions, as the multiple word combos that function as such — according to, regardless of, with respect to — aren’t as exciting.

Some time ago, A Word A Day devoted a week just to odd one-word prepositions, and the most exotic of the specimens is this week’s word.
pace (PAY-see, PAH-chay, or PAH-kay) — preposition: with due respect to, especially when expressing polite disagreement.
Its etymology traces back neither to racing speed or supposedly authentic hot sauce, but to the same origin as those anti-war flags you see around Europe — the ones that look like gay pride flags until you see the PACE written across them. In Italian, pace is “peace.” The prepositional pace also comes from the Latin pax, “peace” — specifically the Latin word’s ablative case, which is the one that would appear in many Latin prepositional phrases.

Neat though this word may be, I’ve never spotted in the wild. A Word A Day’s example is the only time I can recall seeing it in print. (From the Prague Post: “The movie Scoop (pace my friend and occasional critical contributor to this page who reviewed it favorably) is merely another mark of Woody Allen's descent into insubstantiality.”) And when so far it’s come up in discussions with other word nerds, they’ve never heard of it either. But it’s a thing. I swear. Now go out and use it and confuse anyone you’re talking to.

By the way, the other offerings in A Word A Day’s week of preposition mania were maugre (“in spite of”), circa, ere and chez, the last one meaning “at the place of” and being known best from restaurant names. Why go to Durleen’s Diner when you could instead go to Chez Durleen?

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Friday, June 18, 2010

The Kevin Williamson School of Character Naming

Though I tried to avoid news about the new Scream sequel, I ended up reading an item about Lauren Graham being cast in it. I like Lauren Graham. I think she’s a talented actress — more of a comedic one, sure, but a good one nonetheless who may well get to use her full range in this new Scream movie. Her joining Scream 4 was enough to make me investigate this rather unexpected sequel in order to see what it was really about. The film has Emma Roberts playing what I assume to be the central role: Jill Kessler, the cousin of Neve Campbell’s character. Graham plays the character’s mother, Kate Kessler. Sidney Prescott (Cambell), Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) are all returning, even though the movie will focus largely on a new batch of potential corpses. The film takes place ten years after the events of Scream 3.

So there’s that. Personally, I feel the series should have died with the third movie and poor Jennifer Jolie — the kind of amazing character Parker Posey played, whose name seems to associate Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie long before they ever had a reason to be associated. However, I will nonetheless see Scream 4 in the theater and be entertained, so perhaps this extension beyond the original planned trilogy will prove to be a worthwhile venture after all.

The fact that Roberts and Graham’s characters have the last name Kessler reminded me of a certain habit that series creator Kevin Williamson has when naming his characters. Williamson — the writer of Scream and most recently The Vampire Diaries — tends to favor certain types of names. Consider, if you will, the following:

In Scream, there’s Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) and Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard). In Scream 2, there’s Cici Cooper (Sarah Michelle Gellar). In Dawson’s Creek, there’s Joey Potter (Katie Homes) and Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson). In The Faculty, there’s Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek). In Teaching Miss Tingle, there’s Luke Churner (Barry Watson) and Principal Potter (Michael McKean). In the short-lived ABC series Wastleland, there’s Jesse Presser (Sasha Alexander) and Dawnie Parker (Marisa Coughlan). In the WB series Glory Days, there’s Zane Walker (Ben Crowley). In the CW series Hidden Palms, there’s Johnny Miller (Taylor Handley) and Liza Witter (Ellary Porterfield).

Weird, huh? I’d almost argue that he’s using “agent” names as a shorthand way of defining his characters, but I don’t think that’s the case. Having the last name Becker seems to have little bearing on Drew Barrymore’s character in Scream, unless the etymology of Becker goes back to something meaning “person who dies unexpectedly soon.” And it’s also not that Williamson is choosing common last names. Cooper and Parker might show up a lot in any given American phonebook, sure, but how often do you meet people with the last name Churner? Presser? Witter?

Though the “agent” names show up the most frequently in Williamson’s work, they’re not the only ones that show up more than once.

He also likes surnames that end in s:
In Scream, there’s Randy Meeks. In Scream 2, there’s Maureen Evans (Jada Pinkett) and Phil Stevens (Omar Epps). In Teaching Miss Tingle, there’s Miss Banks (Molly Ringwald). In Glory Days, there’s Ellie Sparks (Poppy Montgomery). In Hidden Palms, there’s Gretta Matthews (Amber Heard) and Nikki Barnes (Tessa Thompson).
He also likes surnames that end in y:
In Scream, there’s Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) and Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler). In Dawson’s Creek, there’s Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) and Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams). In Hidden Palms, there’s Bob and Karen Hardy (D.W. Moffett and Gail O’Grady).
And he also likes to give masculine names to female characters:
In Scream, there’s Sidney Prescott. In Scream 2, there’s Murphy (Portia de Rossi). In Dawson’s Creek, there’s Andie McPhee (Meredith Monroe). In The Faculty, there’s Stokely “Stokes” Mitchell (Clea DuVall). In Wasteland, there’s Sam Price (Rebecca Gayheart).
(Note: These lists exclude Scream 3, which Williamson had a hand in creating but the script for which was written by Ehren Krueger. It also leaves out I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Vampire Diaries, since they’re both based on books I have not read and I’m therefore not sure whether the characters in these were named by Williamson. And, finally, it skips the majority of Dawson’s Creek, since Williamson left the show in its second season.)

And then there are a whole lot of names that show up twice in Williamson’s work — newscasters named Gail appear in both the Screams and Dawson’s Creek, Casey is also the name of Elijah Woods’s character in The Faculty, there’s a Dawnie in both Scream 2 and Wasteland, and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character mentions a Dawson’s Beach in I Know What You Did Last Summer, just to name a few. And even though Williamson is apparently not credited with any work on Halloween: 20 Years Later, at least according to IMDb, I’m pretty sure he at least wrote a treatment for the film, which could account for why it features Jamie Lee Curtis’s character starting a new life as a high school English teacher named Ms. Tate, which happens to be the name of Sidney’s English teacher in Scream.

So what have we learned?

For one, I have a weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of the work of Kevin Williamson — not because I love all of it, but mostly because I loved Scream enough that I’ve interestedly tracked this writer’s career for the last decade-and-a-half. I also, for some reason, still remember the name of Sidney Prescott’s English teacher, even though she only appears in Scream for about ten seconds and even though her name may only be mentioned in the script and not the film itself. That all aside, what I was hoping to point out is that Williamson clearly has developed a few naming conventions within his work. I honestly wonder if it’s intentional or if it’s the result of something subconscious. For what it’s worth, the IMDb page for Scream 4 also lists Hayden Panettiere as playing Kirby Reed (girl with guy’s name), Rory Culkin as playing Charlie Walker (surname ends in er) and Lake Bell as playing Judy Hicks (surname ends in s). So if Williamson is aware of these habits, he certainly has no intention of changing them.

NOTE: Anyone who saw Scream 4 knows that Jill and Kate Kessler became Jill and Kate Roberts. I do not know if this happened before or after Ehren Kruger revised parts of the script, but Roberts is still a name that ends in s. Also, Kate ended up being played by Mary McDonnell, but that’s neither here nor there.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Get Ready for It, Pittsburgh!

What I sent in for the biographical “fun blurb” requested by my ten-year high school reunion committee.
NAME: Drew Mackie
KIDS NAMES & AGES: Arbuckle (3) and Petunia Louise (6 months!)

FUN BLURB (or FLURB, if you will): After graduating with an English major from UC Santa Barbara, I have worked as a reporter, columnist and editor at various news outlets. I’m currently selling used shoes out of my van, and in May hope to travel to and live on a peanut-growing commune in Madagascar. As of 2007, I am no longer the titleholder for fastest whittler in North America, but I hope to reclaim it at the 2010 Whittle Off. (Get ready for it, Pittsburgh!) Oh, and I once saw Lacey Chabert at a Jiffy Lube and she told me I had pretty hands.
And no, I’m not going to the reunion. And yes, I am perfectly comfortably leaving this as my former classmates’ final impression of me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Rotten Oasis

Somewhere between Point A and Los Angeles, Jill and I ended up at a roadside rest stop where the soda was warm, the gas was unreasonably expensive and a sign next to the cash register politely asked that customers not complain about the aforementioned fuel price.

At one point in its history, this spot — right off Interstate 40? Interstate 15? I can’t remember where exactly… — had been groomed to be some kind of artificial oasis for thirsty motorists and their thirsty automobiles. It is no longer, but I liked it all even more for its fountains being dry, its cement being cracked and its plants either dead or overgrown, depending on how well they thrive in hot, dry, windblown conditions. It is no oasis. It is no place anyone would ever want to be, much less one that travelers would be happy to arrive at if they needed to refuel.

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Here’s to the smell of baking asphalt and the sound of cars blowing by at ninety miles an hour.

And no, we didn’t end up getting gas here.