Saturday, July 31, 2010

Surviving a Midday Moth Attack

Temporarily back at my L.B. Jeffries window, I get to once again observe the animal kingdom through protective glass. Today: a fearsome moth roughly the size of a quarter (the deadliest size that moths can come in, BTW).


Because this moth was flying around during daylight hours, I assume that it was mad with rabies — but thank god not rageful enough to break through the window.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Strange Case of Lunchlady Doris

Anyone who has watched The Simpsons with any interest has likely noticed that Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz no longer appear, not as speaking characters or even silent background extras. The show’s higher-ups retired both characters after their voice actor, Phil Hartman, was murdered by his wife in 1998. McClure and Hutz aren’t the only Simpsons characters to have their associated actor pass away, however. In 1995, longtime script supervisor and occasional voice actress Doris Grau died of respiratory failure, effectively ending the run of two cartoon characters to which she lent her trademark emphysemic voice, Doris the Hairdresser on The Critic and Lunchlady Doris on The Simpsons. Granted, it’s not as tragic an ending for Grau, whose death came as a result of the cigarettes that gave her the voice that made her famous, but it is nonetheless strange to me that The Simpsons initially retired and then ultimately brought back Lunchlady Doris despite the death of the person most strongly associated with the character.

Grau’s voice is heard for the last time in the 1997 Simpsons episode “Lisa’s Sax.” Then her on-screen counterpart appears as an unvoiced background character until 2006, when Lunchlady Doris speaks again in the episode “The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer” but voiced by Tress MacNeille, the cartoon superstar who also voices Agnes Skinner, Cookie Kwan, Lindsay Naegle, Brandine Spuckler, the Crazy Cat Lady, Mom on Futurama, Gadget from Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Dot Warner on Animaniacs, Babs on Tiny Toons and ten-thousand other lady cartoon roles from your childhood. Amazing though MacNeille may be, it seems strange and comparatively insulting to Grau’s memory to have revived Lunchlady Doris — a character who is arguably more closely associated with the original voice actor’s real-life persona than McClure or Hutz are with Phil Hartman — and allow her to be voiced by someone else. But The Simpsons did it nonetheless. And when I watch the reruns, every appearance by Lunchlady Doris (whose full name appears to be Doris Freedman) or a Lunchlady Doris-sounding character only reminds me that the real, original Doris died long ago. Which is awkward. And not so funny.

So maybe retire the Lunchlady Doris character, Simpsons showrunners? Or at least stop making Tress MacNeille voice Lunchlady Doris and Lunchlady Doris-like characters?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great Balls of Something Impolite to Mention

Via PopSucker, a Noxema commercial featuring Farrah Fawcett. It’s hawking men’s shaving cream — “in Wild Forest, Lime, Medicated Menthol and Regular!” — but that is not what you should find notable from the commercial.

It’s the jingle. Specifically the first line. Specifically the first four syllables. Please listen. It will take less than thirty seconds of your time to understand what I’m talking about.

Seriously, though: Never heard of it measured in balls before.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Verbal Adjectives (Not in the Traditional Sense)

Hey, world people: a question for you. Is there a term for words in English that function as both verbs and adjectives? I’m not talking about participial adjectives — “the pleasing puppy,” “the bloodied graduation cap” — but words like suspect, manifest and express, which all look like straightforward verbs but which can also function as adjectives without the addition of -ing or -ed. I’m fairly certain these adjectival forms aren’t participles since actual participial forms like suspected or manifesting already exist, but I’m curious how they ever would have come into use in English.

There are other examples, I’m sure, and please tell me if you think of any. Searching for those previous three hasn’t turned up anything but a longer list might.

Mega Man in Glam Rock Land

Warning: This post examines Night Work, the new Scissor Sisters album. Related YouTube clips feature the album artwork, so there will be Robert Mapplethorpe butts throughout. Enjoy!

In the month since Scissor Sister’s newest album dropped, I’ve been listening and enjoying it, certainly more so than the sophomore effort, Ta-Dah, and almost as much as their debut. And that says a lot, since the first album got a lot of play in my car, on my iPod and anywhere I felt could benefit from a beat. But something about the whole Night Work album reminds me of video games — old-school Mega Man in particular — and I can’t determine what.

Maybe it’s the thumping synth beats. They give a specific energy to the songs that’s not unlike what would propel players through early-generation video games. The soundtracks to the Mega Man games themselves often mimicked rock and pop music of the day — the Elec Man stage music sounds suspiciously like Journey’s “Faithfully,” for example — so I suppose it could follow that Scissor Sisters would produce a similar sound as they fuse together genres like glam rock, disco and new wave and then zap the result with digital magic. The notion of Night Work having an overall Mega Man-like sound, however, doesn’t satisfy me. As I listen to its tracks, specific parts of certain songs trigger memories of Mega Man hopping and shooting through levels. I just can’t remember which levels in particular. And in posting this I’m hoping others who have noted the similarities can help me out.

So far, I have pinpointed one similarity: “Sex & Violence” and the music from the Splash Woman stage in Mega Man 9. Listen for the synth melody that begins at the seven-second mark in the Scissor Sisters song and compare it to the whistle-like melody that starts in the Mega Man song at the thirteen-second mark.

Not a perfect match, but if the melodies were played by the same digital instruments, I think the similarity would be striking.

I also hear something in the especially tinny-sounding digital effect that starts around 1:42 in “Any Which Way,” but I can’t place it.

Anyone? Anyone?

Two more connections, neither of them video game-related: the blatantly sexual “Harder You Get” plays very similarly to a strange and very raunchy disco track, “Walk the Night” by — ahem — the Skatt Brothers. (Funny story: I either downloaded “Walk the Night” on accident or while drunk, because I had no memory of it until it started on the iPod one day and filled my unsuspecting ears with some explicit and violent sex talk — the aural equivalent of an ambush biker gangbang.) Check the sung part in the Scissor Sisters song at 2:16 and the almost identical part in the Skatt Brothers song at 3:35, but maybe don’t do so at work unless your office permits the discussion of rough sex.

The track “Invisible Light” also caught my attention. It’s good, and most reviews of Night Work have noted the novelty of its “Thriller”-style spoken word segment, courtesy of Ian McKellan. (It starts around the four-minute mark.) Just prior to buying Night Work, I bought some tracks by La Roux, including “Tiger Lily,” which was announced as a single only a few days before Night Work was released. “Tiger Lily” also features a spoken word section. (It starts at about 2:20.)

Two tributes to Michael Jackson’s greatest song, maybe? The timing would work out to about right.

Finally, I must confess that the only track from Night Work I despise, “Fight Fire With Fire,” happens to be the first single. I yanked it from my playlist after about two listens, and I’m baffled by the decision to lead with this. If you’ve only heard this one, give the rest of the album a spin as well — it’s infinitely better. I mean, hell — I enjoyed Night Work enough to spend this much time thinking and writing about what could have inspired it, right?

If only the Scissor Sisters had some emblematic tie-in with the Mega Man universe to bring all this together… Oh, wait.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Good Word Is a Mixed Message

Look past the chain link fence in the below photo and gaze in wonder at a curious landmark that I walk by once or twice a week: what I’ve come to call the Jesus Dumpster.

One day, I’ll stop and ask the owner of the Jesus Dumpster what his or her intention was in plastering the waste receptacle with pro-Christianity bumper stickers (“Got Joy?” “Got Life?” “Got Hope?” ... but not the obvious question, “Got Garbage?”). Is it public art critiquing the Christian message? Or the result of a Bible-beater who didn’t fully consider the implications of linking Easter propaganda with things unwanted, spoiled, broken or otherwise unfit to keep around the house? Or was the Jesus Dumpster born simply because its owner felt that the garbage man could benefit from a little more color during his weekly rounds?

For the record, I think similar things when I see American flag designs on ratty T-shirts, baby diapers or bathing suits stretched across flabby torsos.

Religion, previously:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Did a Mister Come Between These Sisters?

My hometown once had a sister city: Takino, a town in Japan’s Hyōgo prefecture. However, I don’t think my town can make that claim any longer because Takino no longer exists. It’s not that Takino was swept into the ocean by a giant wave or stomped by radiation monsters or simply sucked into a void. It’s just that in 2006 it was merged with surrounding towns into a new city. But still: the one city my hometown could claim as its twin is no longer.

So exciting news, Hollister, California! Despite all appearances, you are apparently unique!

The Second-Most Important Cat

I promise I’ll not make it a habit of blogging about Garfield. If I do begin devoting undue space on this blog to Garfield or ancillary characters in the Garfield universe, please come to my house and beat my hands with my laptop until both my hands and the laptop are reduced to useless splinters. That being said, this post is superficially about a certain overweight cartoon cat. It’s also the word of the week.

In poking around online to write Wednesday’s post about why Bill Murray voiced Garfield in the live-action movie, I found that he’d also done so in a sequel, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. I don’t actually remember this movie hitting theaters, but it apparently did — and consequently gave everyone involved something to answer for in the afterlife. (Pam from the British Office, did you lose a bet?) The cast list includes short descriptions of what character each actor played, and the one for the one Tim Curry voiced used a word I’d never seen before.
deuteragonist (doo-tə-RAH-gə-nist) — noun: 1. the character second in importance to the protagonist in classical Greek drama. 2. a person who serves as a foil to another.
Yup. Some Wikipedia editor saw fit to link Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties with Greek drama.

Now, in college I took all but one course needed to get a classics minor — a feat that I consider all the more impressive because I did it accidentally. By the time I realized, the admins had already told me that I needed to graduate and move the hell on. I’d like to think that if I had taken that one last course, I’d have learned what deuteragonist means from a source other than Garfield. Oh well. I had at least taken enough to know what the word meant without having to look it up. The Greek deuter means “second,” while agonistes means “actor” or “combatant.”

(That first part would be easy to remember if Deuteronomy were the second book of the Bible, but it’s not. Wikipedia explains that the name Deuteronomy, “second law,” comes from a bad translation of the Hebrew phrase mishneh ha-torah ha-zot, “a copy of this law,” which appears in Deuteronomy 17:18. Misnomer or not, Deuteronomy still seems like a better title than the Hebrew name, Devarim, which just translates to “words,” which is the worst and vaguest title for a book ever.)

The Wikipedia page for deuteragonist mixes high and low culture in a way that rivals me learning about deuteragonists from Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. (The film itself is a bastardization of The Prince and the Pauper. Ghost of Mark Twain, you have some haunting to do.) After explaining the importance of deuteragonists in Greek drama, the article goes on to cite various famous characters who have played this role. In order: Jocasta in Oedipus Rex, Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Dib in Invader Zim, Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender, some dick I’ve never heard of in an anime that plays on Adult Swim at like 4 a.m., Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars and finally Aldous Snow in Get Him to the Greek.

Once more, and certainly not for the final time: Way to go, internet.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Bat Who Learned to Hate Humans

I know we shouldn’t project emotions onto animals. However, the temptation overwhelms me when I see animals in situations that seem to demand a specific response.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what this bat is thinking, but I’d still bet that its mood when this photo was taken could be expressed with something beginning with the words “You son of a bitch.”

(Image of stripe-faced fruit bat via Smithsonian Magazine’s article “Meet the new species.”)

Emoting animals, previously:

What’s With All the Masks in Super Mario Bros. 2?

Not too long ago, someone found my blog while Googling to find out about the weird preponderance of masks in Super Mario Bros. 2. My blog, I guess, has become a stopping point for most people looking for random bits of Mario 2 info, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Anyway, I didn’t know why so many masks appear in the game, but they do. Check out these masked nogoodniks, for example.

Add to them the end-of-the-stage hawk’s mouth you have to jump through to proceed to the next stage. It looks enough like a mask as it is, but in the original Japanese version of the game, Doki Doki Panic, exiting a stage involved stepping through a more humanoid mask:

And the blocks that are shaped like mushrooms in Mario 2 are also cosmetic changes. They replaced yet more masks.

Mask-tastic — appropriately so in that Doki Doki Panic itself was given a figurative mask in the form of a graphical makeover to dress it up like a Mario game. But I never saw how the masks connected with Doki Doki Panic’s Arabian-themed setting. The original game starred a happy little Arabian family that was replaced my Mario and company when the game was translated for American audiences, yet elements of the original theme remain. The American incarnation still features magic carpets and snakes hiding in vases and distinctively Middle Eastern-sounding music in the underground scenes.

But I recently found a video that might explain the masks. Doki Doki Panic — full title: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, “Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic” — was designed by Nintendo to promote Fuji Television’s 1987 “Dream Factory” showcase, with the cartoon Arabian family being both the stars of the game and the mascots for the event. They show up in the video below — which is advertising the convention, not the game — but so do a whole lot of freaky masks.

I can only guess that the masks were also part of the convention’s overall motif. And since the game was developed specifically for the convention, those design elements were incorporated. And it also makes sense that the setting of Mario 2 and Doki Doki Panic is some kind of dream world, given that the name of the convention was Dream Factory. (Weirdly, only Mario 2 has the main character waking up at the end and realizing that the game’s events were just a dream and didn’t really happen.) But it seems like a weird aesthetic combo for a technology convention — Arabian stuff, masks and dreams — and I wonder if it refers to a specific story or other cultural element that I just don’t know about.

And even an explanation for that wouldn’t fully account for one of the strangest bits: The turtle shells you can throw at enemies in Mario 2 were bizarre blackface heads in Doki Doki Panic. I know Japanese culture doesn’t approach issues of race the way we do in the U.S., but, as this gamer-artist points out, what you see below looks a lot like either a depiction of blackface or the head of a pickaninny

It’s all very strange, but that’s why I like it — and continue to think about these things years after I stopped playing this game.

Super Mario Bros. 2, previously:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

“Pretty Mess” Is a Filthy Song for Prostitutes

Someone once told me that the video for terrible, terrible pop song “Pretty Mess” is symbolically raunchy, but I’d never seen the video all the way through until today. It is, as promised, filthy — surprisingly so for something released back in 1984.

The video features no less that four visual metaphors for gushing semen, with varying levels of effectiveness: a shower of white feathers, an exploding bottle of champagne, an oversized wine glass that spills what looks like styrofoam packing peanuts beads and finally white, round pillows (think globules). And before you say that my mind is just in the gutter, please note that the song is called “Pretty Mess” and the lyrics leave no room for any other interpretation. Since Vanity — a former Prince protégé whose singing voice sounds like Kathy Griffin imitating Miss Piggy — doesn’t enunciate the lyrics, I’ll point out that the chorus has Vanity repeatedly referencing people making “such a pretty mess on my dress.” That really can’t mean anything else, given how sexual (though not sexy) the lead-up to the chorus is. It’s not a fever that has her “boiling like a kettle” and “boil[ing] to the maximum.” The worst part comes in the second verse, however, when Vanity seems to be singing about snailtrailing across the room (an act that I think is mirrored by the video’s dripping honey scene):
I’m dripping like a hot tea
I’m aware if you drip it too hot
It just might spill all over this lovely
Like, JESUS, WOMAN. Show some restraint. Though, I guess her name is Vanity and not Modesty. And no, the song doesn’t appear to supply a noun to the end of the third line, though the video has her gesturing to her tailbone when this line is sung.

I just feel like there’s a lot packed into “Pretty Mess” despite the considerable handicap of it sucking so hard — and I haven’t even begun with the weird dual setting (a scene from Lost in Space vs. a skanky pool hall whose bathroom surely has not just one glory hole but actually nothing but glory holes, so go wash your hands and pee next door) and the fact that Vanity is shown romancing a blonde guy who, yes, would have technically been considered mainstream hot from about ten minutes on September 23, 1983, before becoming instantly and hopelessly dated.

To correct Vanity, the overall experience of it all is not a “pretty mess” but in fact a “spectacular mess.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rodent of Mystery

While I was home, my dog briefly made friends with one of the largest wild rodents I’ve ever seen on our property. We guessed that it was some kind of kangaroo rat, but I didn’t think those lived in Hollister. Kangaroo rat or not, this thing was huge. Chief is a medium-sized dog, and the thing was more than half the size of his head.

chief and the mystery rodent

The story ends there, because I’m choosing to end it there.

The Bill Murray-Lorenzo Music Cycle

Bill Murray has explained to GQ why the hell he lent his voice to the live-action Garfield movie. A quote from the interview, via Pajiba:
GQ: Well, how about Garfield? Can you explain that to me? Did you just do it for the dough?

Murray: No! I didn’t make that for the dough! Well, not completely. I thought it would be kind of fun, because doing a voice is challenging, and I’d never done that. Plus, I looked at the script, and it said, “So-and-so and Joel Coen.” And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They’re funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I’d like to do that.
The joke being that Garfield: The Movie wasn’t written by Joel Coen but instead Joel Cohen, whose list of credits includes not The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading but instead the Cheaper by the Dozen remake and the upcoming film adaptation of Walter the Farting Dog. (And also an outlier in the form of this little movie called Toy Story.) I truly think Murray is joking when he says he confused one Joel for another, since he seemingly would have realized the mistake either when he read the Garfield script and realized it sucked or before he signed on to the sequel. But at least we have been given some explanation for why Murray allowed himself to be associated with something that was only slightly more necessary than a live-action Healthcliff movie.

So that’s all funny, but Bill Murray’s involvement with Garfield: The Movie is notable for one other reason. An actor known previously for voicing the doorman on Rhoda, Lorenzo Music, was cast to voice Garfield in the first animated special. Music kept the role until his death in 2001. The guy’s voice is unmistakable. Even as a kid, I can remember hearing Music’s voice — and therefore Garfield’s voice — in Gummi Bears or in those 80s-era public safety commercials that starred talking crash test dummies.

As I think it was first pointed out to me over at Ironic Sans, Music also voiced Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters, which, counterintuitively, is the animated and therefore faker version of the movie Ghostbusters, in which Murray played Venkman. So you have two instances in which a character’s live-action, big screen version was played by Murray and the animated, TV version was played by Music. And though it wasn’t intentional — neither as a tribute to Music nor because Murray and Music necessarily sound all that similar — it’s still a neat little coincidence.

Had Saturday morning cartoons been made of Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers, surely it would have been Lorenzo Music who voiced the main characters.

A final note: In looking for a video of Lorenzo Music’s voiceover work, I found a “tribute” to him posted after he died that inadvertently pisses on his legacy. It’s just clips from the Ghostbusters cartoon but with the audio track replaced by an Evanescence song, thereby eliminating the one thing he contributed to show. Also, it’s a fucking Evanescence song.

Really, it’s like posting a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire tribute video consisting of a static shot of a rotting cow carcass set to the soundtrack of the couple’s feet squeaking on the floor as they dance. And that would be equally funny. Way to go, internet!

And, of course, way to go Bill Murray. As always.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

That Song About the Telephone Number

“What’s that song about about the number on the wall?”

Ask most people and unless they’ve living under a rock (an especially large rock at that) they’ll remember Tommy Tutone’s 1982 hit “867-5309/Jenny,” if not from the days when it was new and exciting then from 80s nights and covers versions and ads for Time Life Music “Awesome 80s” compilations. Even if people didn’t know the exact title, they would at least know the phone number itself, since it’s the catchiest part of the song. But although “867-5309” was Tommy Tutone’s only hit and only real lasting cultural impression, the band didn’t invent the idea to write a song about a phone number.

Two earlier examples from different genres are the Glen Miller Orchestra’s 1940 song “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” — about the phone number for the Hotel Pennsylvania, 736-5000, alleged to be the oldest working number in New York City — and Wilson Pickett’s 1966 song “634-5789 (Soulsville, USA).”

But I recently discovered another phone number that’s way closer in genre and theme and time of release to “867-5309.” In fact, it predates it by only three years. It’s The B-52s’ “6060-842,” from their debut album, which also features “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster.” (I periodically feel the urge to seek out new B-52s music, and I ended up downloading and about a dozen others it just before a drive. Nothing helps stave off motorist monotony like a good rock block of B-52s. Just try and fall asleep behind the wheel with that playing.) I was surprised at how similar this song was to the Tommy Tutone song. It’s not that they sound all that much alike, but they’re both songs about phone numbers — specifically ones about people seeing a number written on a wall, calling it, and not connecting with the Mr. or Mrs. Sexy Goodtimes they think should be picking up. Check out the opening lyrics to “6060-842”:
Tina went to the ladies’ room
Saw it written on the wall
“If you’d like a very nice time
Just give this number a call”

It was 6060-842!
606 — and I’m waitin’ for you
606 — and I’m waitin’ for you

Tina reached in her pocketbook
Pulled out a thin dime
Dropped it in the phone slot
Prayin’ she'd get the line
Sound familiar? I think it should, aside from the switch from first-person narration about a dude in “867-5309” to third-person narration about some chick named Tina in “6060-842.” (And while we’re at it, what’s with stating the number in the B-52s song with four digits before the hyphen? Does anyone in the U.S. ever give their number that way?) I’m not saying that Tommy Tutone’s song was a rip of the B-52 song, but these are pretty similar and specific events that the songs are narrating. And though the bands offer very different takes on 80s pop music, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that whoever wrote “867-5309” would have known about The B-52s and that they’d already done a song about a phone number. So yeah, to me it diminishes the importance of Tommy Tutone, which already must struggle with the shame of being remembered as a one-hit wonder.

Personally, I prefer the B-52s’ take on calling bathroom graffiti phone numbers and then not getting laid. But then again I’m partial to The B-52s. There is a video of The B-5s performing “6060-842” — and back in 1979, no less:

The audio is less than great, but the song can be purchased or otherwise obtained online for those that would like to hear it in all its glory.

May The B-52s one day be remembered for something more than just “Love Shack,” and may all your docks have lobsters beneath them.

Music, previously:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Half-Man, Half-Spam, and Horny as Hell

So something odd has happened. Just last Thursday I wrote about the Viagra-shilling commenter who instead of just posting nonsense verbage on this blog actually wrote a coherent and fairly flattering statement. The spambot apparently got smarter — or proved himself to be more man than machine. (Though perhaps not as much man as he’d like to be.) This person posted comments on two separate but related posts with the user name linking to an online pharmacy but the actual text relating to what I’d wrote. One of the comments was on my post about how a newish Street Fighter IV character sort of got his start in a 1992 April Fool’s prank: And the other comment was on a post about a character from a Street Fighter sister series who is arguably the most famous transsexual in video games: Does this happen on other blogs? I’ve been blogging since 2003 and have gotten more than my share of spam comments, but I think these would be the first instances that seem to be both “real” and spam at the same time. And no, it’s not just some clever reader who’s logging in as the joke name viagra online, because the handle links to a website where one might actually buy boner pills (or, you know, get one’s credit card numbers stolen). I suppose I should be grateful that my writing has drawn the attention of that special sort who both loves video game trivia and medically-aided erections. Three concluding questions: Am I only worsening the problem by blogging about it? Could it actually be that the spam programs have become so intelligent that they are now reading and understanding blogs? And, perhaps more importantly, do you also enjoy video games and medically-aided erections? Bonus fourth question: Should we start a club?!?!

It Wasn’t Called The Cherie Johnson Show

EDIT: The post appears how it looked when it went up. However, someone claiming to be Cherie Johnson has told me that she is not the granddaughter of Susie Garrett nor a relation to Marla Gibbs. That info also seems to have vanished from Wikipedia. So there you go. See comments below for further info.

So Punky Brewster was a TV show. This is not up for debate. Also wholly factual — and don’t try to tell me otherwise — is that the show starred Cherie Johnson as the title character’s best friend, whose name also happened to be Cherie Johnson. According to Wikipedia, the character Cherie was written for and modeled on the real-life Cherie. A little weird, right? That a TV show would feature a second banana based on a real-life person when the protagonist was wholly fictional?

(image courtesy of cherie johnson’s childhood diary)

Even more so because Johnson would have only been eleven years old at the time. I mean, it makes sense to have a show made by and for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to have characters based on themselves, but when I Love Lucy hit the air they were grown-ups and slightly more seasoned performers than Johnson was when Punky premiered. It may have helped Johnson that her on-screen grandmother was also her real-life grandmother, singer and actress Susie Garrett, who happened to be the sister of then-big deal sitcom star Marla Gibbs. So I guess little Cherie Johnson may have had some clout, but I still think it’s a fairly unique case to have a role written for and modeled after a complete unknown eleven-year-old who also isn’t the show’s lead. No, instead of writing a show all about Cherie, Punky’s creators made her play the second banana. (I guess it might have been good training for Johnson, who went on to play a not-even-in-the-opening credits banana on Family Matters, where she played Laura’s bestie Maxine.) And if the show’s creators were so keen on using child actors’ real names on the show, then why on earth did they not stick with the name of the actress who played Punky? I mean, maybe little kids would have trouble spelling Soleil Moon Frye, but it’s the kind of name you remember. And I think calling both the child leads by their actual names would have been especially tempting because the name Punky Brewster happened to belong to a real person who had to give her consent not to sue NBC for transforming her into a plucky, pig-tailed orphan with penchant for dayglo.

Maybe someone owed Marla Gibbs a favor and thought it would be easier if Cherie Johnson didn’t have to learn a stage name?

A side note: I guess the woman who was actually named Punky Brewster gets to be the real-life Punky. However, it’s worth noting that the George Gaynes, the actor who played Punky’s adoptive dad, has a daughter who was a member of the Santa Barbara City Council. Daughter of Punky’s dad = Punky, sorta, if you don’t think about it too hard. Working for the paper, I had met this woman a few times. Although she’s about as un-Punkyish as a person could be, I feel comfortable saying I met a real-life Punky Brewster if not the real-life Punky Brewster.

Pop culture minutiae, previously:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Much Ado About Nonsense

My word of the week will seem familiar if you subscribe to A.Word.A.Day, either because you love words or because someone, perhaps a kindly spinster aunt, signed you up for this service. Because new words are like her children AND DON’T YOU WANT TO MEET THEM?!?!

It was Friday’s word. But trust me on this one. I’m taking it somewhere good. The word, for those of you who don’t subscribe, is an underrated member of a group of words that sound like they shouldn’t be real words but in fact are, even though they name things that either don’t exist or aren’t important.
folderol (FOL-duh-rol) — noun: 1. nonsense or foolishness. 2. a trifle or a gewgaw.
Also spelled falderal or falderol, the word is one of those that sounds like it couldn’t possibly name a real thing. And in a way, it doesn’t, at least if you don’t consider nonsense to be really real. (Brainmelt.) I have this wonderful scenario in my head in which someone asks “What does folderol mean?” and is simply given the answer “Gewgaw.” And when the asker asks what gewgaw means, they get told that “A gewgaw is a folderol,” the whole process ultimately illustrating the “nonsense” definition of folderol.

The fact that folderol can be defined as “gewgaw” reminded me a few other words that sound kind of like a word a kid might make up and are therefore fun to say: knickknack, argle-bargle, foofaraw, hullabaloo, rigmarole. I’m sure there are others that I can’t think of at the moment, but one thing these words all have in common in that they make the things they describe seem unimportant — innocently with words like hullabaloo and less so with words like rigmarole. (One man’s worthwhile series of safeguards is another man’s rigmarole.) I was actually surprised when I looked these words up and found out that none of them actually arise from childish speak, though folderol does come from “a nonsense refrain in some old songs.” Like zig-a-zig-ah?

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Now That’s How You Do a Galley of Rogues

I recently re-found a long-buried bookmark: Mike Lynch’s blog post on memorable Dick Tracy characters. My god. How could I not have done anything with these people before?

What you see below is an edited sample of the weirdos with whom Chester Gould populated Dick Tracy’s world. I have selected the below “winners” for a variety of reasons, including name pun-tasticality, overall unpleasantness, the “I can’t believe this was in a mainstream comic strip” factor, and the whole thing where for the sake of my professional career I shouldn’t put the reason in print. Enjoy!

My favorite? I’d have to see the sister or some-other-relative pair Fresh and Burpie Upp. The fact that one female relative could be named Fresh and the other Burpie is just too awful. A close second: Vitamin Flintheart, for the sheer strangeness.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Handsome Fighters Never Lose Battles

Like rewatching a movie from your childhood or rereading a book the younger you once enjoyed, looking back on old video games poses considerable danger to fond memories. In about two seconds, your adult eyes can recognize that this once-radical thing actually sucks and is totally for lame losers. However, sometimes the loved thing actually holds up, and when the older, (presumably) smarter and (likely) more jaded you re-encounters it you realize that you were not, in fact, a lame loser for liking it.

Today, I was happy to find an in-game, on-screen pixelated masterpiece from Street Fighter II — a thing that I once loved in a way that can only be measured in quarters and sore thumbs. The image depicts the game’s four bosses, who, based on the fire burning beneath them, are maybe also arsonists in addition to being martial artists. (Martial arsonists? Who torched the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang?) Looking at the image now, I feel exactly what I’m supposed to and what I felt when encountering these big bads back in the day: “Those guys look so cool… and they’re going to beat the living snot out of me.”


Superficially, it’s nothing spectacular, but it works for me, aesthetically and emotionally. If these guys were in a band and this image was the album cover, I think I might want to buy that album, even though the music that this image would be associated with would probably be terrible and screechy. In any case, I felt reassured that so many sunny afternoons had been spent inside, getting challenger after new challenger knocked to the ground, unconscious. These four guys were a challenge.

And then, unforch, I found another image that maybe didn’t hold up so well and made me reconsider the fears I have that video games were and are lame and that I truly did waste my childhood.


Yeah, the Russian fighter’s ending — achieved once he defeats the vaguely Nazi-looking military man shown above — has him Russian dancing with Mikhail Gorbachev, even after Gorby had no U.S.S.R to be president of. Hokey-ski. Embarrassing-grad. On one hand, I feel like this says more about what Japanese people think Russians are like. On the other, it makes me realize that perhaps not every aspect of Street Fighter II stands the test of time.

(Both images via Game & Graphics.)

Street Fighter, previously:
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

It Had to Be Birdwatching

I’m starting to identify with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, only instead of being wheelchair-bound and watching neighbors in my apartment complex I’m desk-bound and watching whatever animal happens to cross into my field of vision. Yesterday: a peculiarly long-toed lizard. Today: a hawk.




The important thing is that the photos prove that I’m not suffering from shut-in-ism-related crazy.

Cranberry Raisin Typhoon

Spam comments trying to sell me Viagra are at least more complimentary than the emails implying I’m a limp, effeminate weirdo whose unsatisfied wife is taking it from all ends when I’m not at home.

The comment has been deleted nonetheless. Flattery really won’t get you anywhere.

Self-Defeating Words

Back when I first learned about the Greek gods, I remember being confused about how Artemis could be the one in charge of both virginity and childbirth and how her brother Apollo could reign over both health and disease. All things coming from one entity is confusing enough in monotheism, but why lump together opposites if you can make up a new deity for everything? It wasn’t until I got smarter until I realized that you can view a thing and its opposite as an evolution, part of a continuum, or just interdependent aspects of a single concept. I’m reminded of this line of thinking — less so “A or B” as much as “A and B together” or “A then B” — when it comes to contranyms (a.k.a. auto-antonyms), or words that have come to mean one thing or the opposite of that thing.

Usually you can tell by context which definition is meant. Like with resign, for example. It can refer to quitting (“I’m resigning from this job”) or submitting to the notion that you can’t quit (“I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t ever quit this job”). Both senses involve someone making a choice to quit, just in one case it’s the job and in the other it’s the struggle to quit the job. But I doubt anyone reading or hearing these sentences would confuse the meanings. In other cases, it’s not so easy. If someone threatened you with “Bring me shelled peanuts or I’ll beat you to death with my wooden leg,” you actually wouldn’t know for sure what this horrible person meant, because shelled can mean either “still in its shell” or removed from its shell.” So have fun being beaten to death on account of a useless word.

Wiktionary has a whole list of English auto-antonyms, some of which are quite subtle (trim in the sense of pruning a tree or throwing more stuff onto it, as you might do at Christmas), some of which are more problematic than you might have thought (suspicious can refer to the shady person or the innocent person observing the shady person) and some of which would be next to impossible for a literate person to confuse (“He secreted away the letter” versus “His wound secreted blood”). But there are two that don’t appear on the list or any others I’ve seen that I think should be considered for candidacy.

The first is naturalize, which is pretty straightforward. It usually refers to the act of taking something from its home to another place and then adjusting it to suit this secondary location — for example, making immigrants more like their new neighbors. But, taken literally, it could also refer to the act of making a place more natural — for example, making like a naturalist and restoring a given area to what it was like before humans showed up. I remember reading a sociology textbook in college that used the word naturalize in a way that half the class interpreted as “to change it to something new” and the other half as “to revert it back to what it was.” The professor attempted to clarify the point by likening this sense of naturalizing to taking a houseplant and putting it in the ground outside in hopes that it eventually matures beyond the point that it needs human help, but even that example divided the class about whether it was acclimation to a new environment or reversion to an original state. We never reached a consensus on what thought the textbook was trying to express. Now, years later, it’s one of the only parts of that class I remember.

The other word is stranger, I think: transparent. It has the literal sense of being like glass — letting light shine directly through and therefore being invisible or near-invisible. However, it also has the metaphorical meaning of “easy to see” or “obvious” in statements like “Your motives are completely transparent.” I actually find this use odd. If something truly is easy to see, why should it be transparent? Anyone who’s ever walked into a glass door will tell you that transparent things can be quite hard to notice. So what exactly is transparent in this figure of speech? I’d guess whatever disguise someone is attempting to disguise their true motives with. You’d see through the superficially friendly smile and observe the person’s nastier intentions. Right? The metaphorical sense of transparent works a lot like its synonym clear. You can see through clear water, while clear logic is unobscured and easy-to-follow. But the shades of meaning between clear and transparent are, to me, different enough that the metaphorical extension for transparent seems to just fall short of making sense.

(This all could be Latin talking. In high school Latin class, I remember being thrown by the fact that the adjective clarus, from which we get clear, could be translated as both “clear” or “famous.” But then my teacher pointed out that both “clear” and “famous” were both figurativelly adjacent to “obvious,” and that solved the confusion. Transparent, on the other hand, comes from the verb transpareo, “I show through.” So maybe that background is pushing me to think that transparency necessitates there to be something seen on the other side of whatever’s letting the light through.)

Aside from the obviousness of people’s motives, the metaphorical transparent gets used a lot lately in the sense of that idealized form of government whose inner workings aren’t hidden from public view. In these of transparency would be good, I say, but I would just prefer that people referred to this goal as “open government.” Every time I hear about governmental transparency, my mind goes to some omnipresent but invisible form of governance watching its subjects at all times, Big Brother-style. And I’d like to think that people don’t actually want that.

All things verbal, previously:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lizard on a Hot Screen Window

I made a friend while applying for jobs today. Yeah, he’s a lizard. And yeah, he was eating bugs on my bedroom window screen. What of it? What did your friends do with their day that makes them so great?


Gotta say: Lizard toes are longer and more elegant than I would have expected.

A Spoonful of Mystery

My folks get the San Jose Mercury, whose Sunday edition at one point came packed in with Parade Magazine, which is to journalism what productive, violent belching is to opera. However, the Merc isn’t what it used to be and now its Sunday issue features USA Weekend, a Parade knockoff that manages to suck harder and with teeth. No Howard Huge. No Marilyn vos Savant. And an even worse version of those letters in which idiots ask questions about celebrities that could be solved in mere moments by Google and IMDb.

Still, I felt compelled to flip through this past Sunday’s Parade Magazine-like publication, and while doing so I was confronted with this:

And then I puked in my mouth a little, because the foamy brown substance in the spoon was not readily identifiable. I mean, I knew what it probably was and it only took a moment for me to see the Jell-O logo at the bottom of the page, but does this image read immediately as chocolate mousse to you all?

Don’t go straight to all things scatological — fecal matters, if you will — because I first saw this as some kind of rock, then some sort of crispy thing… and then, yeah, shit. None of these seem like associations the wiggly, jiggly people at Jell-O Corp would want me to make with this product. And even if this photo is meant to depict chocolate mousse, doesn’t it look too perfectly egg-shaped there in the spoon? To the point of making it unappetizing? Poo associations aside?

Of course, the people who actively read USA Weekend would be used to consuming harmful, nutrient-free substances, so perhaps this advertisement isn’t an inappropriate one for this publication.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Roller Derby Names That Miss the Mark

Because sometimes tough girls don’t understand nuance.

Lotta Patience

Lois Lame


Jane Italia

Lacey Doily

Peaches R. Nice

Eve Plump

Mushy Galore

Bland Heche

Eleanor Rose-n-Felt

Flimsy Lohan

Sally Jesse Gosh-I-Smell

Sharon Marecipes

Margaret Choad

Dr. Parvati Sharma