Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tomorrow’s Blood Pressure

Hello readers.

I realize I haven’t been writing, and please let me thank you for your patience during this period of public and personal shame and total mortification. If I can survive this, I’ll know I can also beat the various diseases that I also recently found out I have. Also, is it weird if your cuts just don’t stop bleeding? Like, for days? And if Jesus is making fun of me? To my face?


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Duckface Saga (Continued)


Some of you may remember that last month I embarrassed myself via email before a customer service representative of a clothing company. I blogged about it, and you can read the initial post if you like, but the long and short of it is that I meant to sign an email “Best, Drew Mackie,” but due to workplace conversation happening around me, I accidentally wrote “Duckface, Drew Mackie.” I’d hoped that I wouldn’t have to contact this woman again, but this has not been the case.

When I eventually did receive the ordered item of clothing — a bathing suit — I found that the company had sent me someone else’s order: his name and address inside the package, as well as his bathing suit. I wrote back, explaining the situation, and the woman — let’s call her Camilla — told me that she would send out a return shipping label so I could send the item back free of charge. Now here is where I fucked up again: I had intended to simply email her back thanking her for her help, but I was attempting to do so on my iPhone and instead shot her back an email that contained only the cute email signature I use on iPhone emails to explain away typos: “Excuse brevity. I have fat fingers and typing on an Iphone is difficult.”

Just that. Which is weird.

I eventually clarified when I had meant to say, and she replied with the most gracious email that explained that due to my trouble she’d enclose a free pair of board shorts. And that’s great, in theory. Realistically, she might has well have told me she was enclosing a free falconer’s glove, because I’ve reached an age at which non-surfers can’t really pull off board shorts. But whatever, she understood that this had been a hardship, at least by “first world problem” standards.

Finally, this week, the package arrived. I felt relieved, mostly because I wouldn’t have to risk embarrassing myself in front of Camilla anymore. Then I tried the bathing suit on. It was too small. Since we’ve already established that I make myself seem and feel like an idiot underserving of human affecttion, I have no problem expressing to you readers the shame one feels in trying on a too-small bathing suit. Have you ever done this? It’s the worst thing ever. Not only are you slipping it onto your pasty, doughy body — see, because you haven’t been swimming, because you lack a bathing suit, and are therefore pale and out-of-shape — but the garment being too small pinches your waist and causes an exaggerated flap of you to spill over the band. In short, you look like a fat dump. Then — then! — I tried on the board shorts, which were a size bigger. They fit okay, but did I mention that these were were flesh-toned? Even when they don’t squeeze your sides in a displeasing fashion, flesh-toned board shorts manage to make your skin look even more pasty but also give you the appearance of having shorts-shaped skin tags hanging down uniformly around your hips. They might as well have a malformed teeny peen and distended anus printed on the front and back, respectively. They looked that bad.

This all being said, I realized I needed to place an order for the larger-sized bathing suit. So I did, and notably I did so without saying anything mortifying to Camilla. She gave the the address I’d need to send it — at this point in a more-than-month-long process, I didn’t want to wait for a return label — and today I mailed it off, hoping to end this exchange once and for all.

But then I wrote what I hope will be the final email, explaining what size I want in exchange for the too-small trunks, And for some reason, perhaps because I felt I had nothing to lose socially or perhaps because I at this point wondered how Camilla might respond to my weirdness, closed off the letter with the following sentence: “Apologies again for the lengthy exchange of emails, but I appreciate that I've had someone to share this long journey with.”

We shall see how she responds. And we shall also see if Camilla eventually sends me my fucking bathing suit.

Drew Mackie

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Paw Emerges

In talking to a friend about the strange, dangerous and occasionally poisonous wildlife of Australia, I realized I never posted on this blog one of my favorite Australia wildlife pictures:

It’s Kangadrew, my wildlife park hugging buddy, whom I erroneously presumed to be male until a baby paw emerged from “his” pouch. Twist ending! Feel weird about it, because the toes flexed a little bit before retreating to its pseudo-womb with a schlorp! noise. Behold, the freakiness of weirdly evolved nature!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I’ve Been Wearing This Same Red Dress Forever!

A while back, I learned about the term floating timeline, which is a handy way for people with too much time on their hands to make sense of the screwy histories of long-running fictional universes. Maybe the best use of a floating timeline is the The Simpsons, where characters don’t age but still progress through time. (If you want to get technical about it — and there’s a certain type of personality who does and who also comments on message boards — when the show first started in 1989, fourth-grader Bart would have been born in 1979. Today, Bart would have been born in 2001.) But the show has still imposed permanent or longstanding changes on a some characters. I thought about it for a while and I think I’ve come up with near all of them. It’s a weird list, because it’s has hardly a few characters, especially the number of the show’s cast of recurring ones. I mean, Lisa gets two big “changes” but Homer, Marge and Bart get none?

Anyway, here permanent character changes on The Simpsons, as far as I could recall:
  • Lisa Simpson — Became Buddhist and a vegetarian.
  • Mona Simpson (Homer’s mom) — Died and stayed dead.
  • Patty — Came out as a lesbian.
  • Selma — Her marriages don’t seem to be forgotten when a given “Selma” episode ends.
  • Mr. Burns — Hasn’t forgotten that Maggie shot him.
  • Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure — Both vanished after the death of Phil Hartman and haven’t returned.
  • Maude Flanders — Died and stayed dead.
  • Ned Flanders — Became less of a Mr. Nice Guy after the hurricane episode, and after Maude’s death he’s dealt with grief and the effort to date again. He’s even got a new love interest who’s showed up more than once.
  • Bernice Hibbert — Was revealed as an alcoholic in the Prohibition episode (more as a joke than anything else) and then subsequently goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
  • Bleeding Gums Murphy — Died and stayed dead.
  • Apu — Married Manjula and lived in wedded bliss for a period, until Manjula gave birth to octuplets, at which point he became miserable. He then had an affair, making Manjula resent him more. So now he’s just constantly distraught.
  • Manjula — Changed from being happy and naive to fairly bitter about life after Apu had an affair.
  • Apu’s octuplets — Were born and grew to toddlerhood — more or less around Maggie’s age, then stopped growing.
  • Sideshow Bob — Slowly gained an extended family (his brother Cecil, his father, his mother, his Italian wife, and his son Gino), all of whom now help in his evil plots.
  • Smithers — his being gay became less and less of a joke and more of an actual character trait.
  • Snake — Gained a sort of backstory with Gloria, a recurring love interest voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
And then there are a few characters who underwent longterm changes that were eventually undone, in one way or another:
  • Barney Gumbel — got sober and stayed that way for a few seasons before falling off the wagon again.
  • Edna Krabappel — Dated Principal Skinner for a few seasons, only to break up and then alternate between having casual sex and making snitty remarks about each other.
  • Lunchlady Doris — Went silent after the death of the woman who voiced her, Doris Grau, but remained as a background character. Then, about ten years later, she started speaking again, with Tress MacNeille providing the voice. Compared to how the show treated Phil Hartman’s characters, I feel like this might be in bad taste.
  • Dr. Marvin Monroe — Died (there’s a Marvin Monroe Memorial Hospital and even a tombstone) but then later shows up again, explaining that he was just “very sick.” And then the show doesn’t really do anything with him again.
  • Dr. Nick Riviera — Kind of similarly to Dr. Marvin Monroe, Dr. Nick died at the end of The Simpsons Movie, but weirdly came back to life without any explanation.
  • Principal Skinner — He was revealed to actually be Armin Tamzarian, an impostor, but it hasn’t been mentioned since, save for a one-off joke a few seasons later.
  • Kirk and Luann Van Houten — Divorced for a few reasons but reunited.
  • Fat Tony — Died, only to be replaced by his almost dental cousin, Fit Tony, who promptly became fat and started getting called Fat Tony. So essentially it’s like he never actually died.
In any case, it’s interesting to see what “sticks” on a show that has both a sense of continuity and a tendency to hit the reset button at the end of a given episode or sometimes even at an act break.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tryouts for the Human Race

Wikipedia articles of note:

“Cheese curds”Way more interesting than it sounds. Did you know that these dairy products squeak when bitten into? The New York Times describes the sound as “like balloons trying to neck.”

“Hannibal the swan” — perhaps the only waterfowl to be included in Wikipedia’s “serial killers” category. A quote: “After each attack, Hannibal would bring his son to view the aftermath while holding his wings up in celebration.”

“Sigrid the Haughty” — nothing ground-shaking here, but notable nonetheless for proving that a real-life, historical personage could be stuck with a name that makes her sound like a Hagar the Horrible character.

“The Obsorne Bull” — a sherry mascot that became the unofficial symbol of Spain.

“Foreign branding” — a listing of companies that either name products to sound foreign (and therefore better) or non-foreign companies that use English-style names.

“Handbra” — which apparently happens often enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry.

“Yvonne Hudson” — technically the first African-American woman to perform on Saturday Night Live, though she was never given anything notable to do and never acted again after being fired from the show in 1984.

“Whistle register” — what’s happening when Minnie Ripperton hits that high, high note in “Loving You.”

A Short Dialogue Expressed Through a Game of Scrabble


The other guy: SCATS


The other guy: MARCHES


The other guy: QUICKER


The other guy: ASPHYXY


The other guy: JERKIER


The other guy: ZOUAVE

Me: [Quits game.]

(Based on real events. And yes, zouave.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Aloysius I Am Not

It’s been forever since I’ve had anything to add to the “names and games” file, much less any sort of update to the “It’s a Secret to Everyone” post. But seeing as how that one posts still draws more traffic than anything else on this blog combined, I suppose this is worth posting. Earthbound-ignorant, keep on moving.

So beloved childhood game Earthbound boasts all kids of wackiness. It’s just a quirky, offbeat title whose strange asides often go unexplained. However, I found that one brave soul is tackling the game bit-by-bit, looking at how the finalized, English Earthbound developed from the original Japanese version, Mother 2. It’s a pretty massive undertaking, considering the among of text in the game, and I have to hand it to anyone who so loves a video game that they’re willing to examine it in such detail — and in two languages, no less.

In particular, translations notes about some of the characters’ names offers a little insight into what was running through the mind of the guy who originally created them. Take Mr. Monotoli, the tycoon ruler of Fourside, the game’s New York City-like area.

He’s probably the most famous of the Earthbound bit players, since one of the Earthbound-inspired Smash Bros. stages takes place on to of the Monotoli Buildling, one of the skyscrapers he owns. Given that Mr. Monotoli is an old guy with a lot of cash to spare — and given that the game constantly namechecks American-born pop-culture — I’d always assumed the guy’s name was a play on the word monopoly or maybe Mr. Monopoly himself. Also, the writer of the Earthbound games, Shigesato Itoi, is a weirdly big Monopoly enthusiast as well as president of the Japan Monopoly Association (whose conventions, I’m sure, are nuts). According to the translation tracker, it’s probably just a coincidence. In Japanese, the guy’s name is Monomotchi Monotori, with the first name meaning something like “guy who owns lots of stuff” and the second one meaning “guy who takes stuff.” Basically, a robber baron. The guy doing the translation couldn’t make any more out of the character’s weird first name, Geldegarde, than I could.

Then there are the Minches, a family of mostly unpleasant people and the source of the game’s big bad, Porky.

In the Japanese, Porky’s last name is minchi, which means “mincemeat” and even looks like a borrowing of the English “mince,” rendered in Japanese. There’s also a bit more for Aloysius Minch — Porky’s idiot father and a character whose name I guessed was a play on Atticus Finch, literary superdad. In Japanese, his first name is Anburami, which means “greasy” or “oily.” And the wife is Lardna, so there seems like a definite theme for the family’s first names. Only I can’t figure out how Porky’s little brother — Picky, the only skinny Minch — fits in.

I will never get tired of digging up old stuff from my childhood and finding out that this or that meant more than I realized at the time.

A Violent Case of Crabs

Even rugged, 60s-era hunkiness can’t protect you from the world’s most terrifying crustacean: the coconut crab.

But you’ll look all the better as the wave of horrifying, pinchy death envelops you.

Images of note, previously:

Actually Not Scottish for “Dickhead”

For this week, a word that I picked because it sounds like something mean and because it’s one of those words whose definition doesn’t actually help you understand what it means.
cockernonnie (KAHK-ər-nah-nee) — noun: the gathering of a young woman’s hair under the snood or filet.
So cockernonnie (also cockernony) apparently refers to a hairstyle, and Google tells me gives me some idea what it might look like. But as for the snood and the filet? Me being a man living in the twentieth century, I didn’t have a clue what snood or filet meant. I could only guess.

Or, you know, I can just look these words up too. So what’s a filet? In this instance, a headband. And what’s a snood? Well, if you’re Scottish it can be a filet, according to Merriam-Webster. If you’re not, it’s “a net or fabric bag pinned or tied on the back of a woman’s head for holding the hair.” So there — I was able to understand the definition by only having to look up two additional words. It’s seems like this word cockenonnie insists on not being readily understandable. Even Wikipedia’s example of the word being used in a sentence is less than clear. “But I doubt the daughter’s a silly thing: an unco cockernony she had busked up on her head at the kirk last Sunday.” Thanks heaps, Sir Walter Scott!

But here’s the good part of this particular word: it has a synonym, and that word is cock-up — as in, “What a lovely cock-up you’re sporting on your head, Mrs. Pooterman!” According to Wikipedia, it’s not a reference to an erection, but I’m otherwise unclear why it would refer to the hairstyle, since both cockernonnie and cock-up can mean foul-up or snafu. (Wikipedia cites a BBC report that refers to a failed British military program as a gold-standard cock-up.) Wouldn’t a style that gathers all the loose hairs into one place be anything but a mess?

And no, I can’t imagine why the game Snood would be named after a woman’s hair accessory. What a cock-up.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Final Girl (Who Likes Girls)

Question about Scream 4 that I haven’t had answered and that I’m posting online in hopes that the answer will just find me: What did Charlie and Robbie mean when they were explaining that the only way to survive a horror movie now is to be gay? Like, is that a thing — that gay characters in horror movies are somehow even safer than virgins? I’m struggling to think of a single gay character in a horror movie how fared better than the straights.

The Best (and Most Indicative) Photo of Coachella Ever

Honestly, I’m not even sure that this is from Coachella, but it was at least purported to be. If it was, I feel like it would have to be in the VIP area. But still.

But still.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scream 4: New Decade, Same Rules

So Scream 4 hits theaters today, and therefore I can review it without needlessly spoiling. I held off on posting this beforehand, mostly because a thorough evaluation of the film would have to look at the plot as a whole, including who dies and who kills them. And I’ll get to that, but first let me offer a few non-spoilery thoughts. First, bad or good, Scream 4 will make enough money to warrant the release of Scream 5. Mark my words. Secondly, while Scream 4 doesn’t succeed on every level, it delivers enough scares and laughs to warrant its place in the franchise. Indeed, if most movie sequels were created with Scream 4’s love and respect for the movies that preceded it, then sequels wouldn’t have the bad reputation they have today.

The meat of it, in gory, insides-on-the-outside detail, after the jump.

A great example of Scream 4’s love for the previous Scream movies, I think, appears only a few minutes in, in the opening kill-off. Yes, like the other three movies, the main plot follows a vignette about some poor soul meeting a grisly end at the hands of Mr. Ghostface. In Scream 4, it’s Friday Nights Live actress Aimee Teegarden. And her final moments manage to call back to the two female victims of the first Scream: Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker, as she’s ultimately reduced to feebly crawling away and the killer descends upon her, and Rose McGowan’s Tatum, as the killer lowers the garage door on her in a sort of taunting gesture. It’s a welcomed tip of the bloodstained mask to previous unlucky alumni of Woodsboro High.

At the same time, however, the opening scene departs from the original formula radically. For one, Aimee Teegarden isn’t a big-name star. I’ve never watched Friday Night Lights, and seeing her bumped off so early doesn’t generate the sense of horror I felt watching the little girl from E.T. get gutted in the original film. And then there’s the fact that before Teegarden’s character meets her doom, Scream 4 has already subjected the audience to two false starts. The movie opens with Shenae Grimes and Lucy Hale as the nubile young things preparing to watch a scary movie at home. You’d think they were the big-name victims — they’re at least familiar to the high school set, as Grimes stars on 90210 and Hale on Pretty Little Liars — But then Ghostface shows up and dispatches them rather rapidly, only to show that the whole scene is actually the beginning to a Stab movie. Then the action shifts to a different living room, with Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell watching the just-screen murder scene and commenting on the lameness of self-aware slashers… And you’d totally think that these two must be the celebri-corpses-to-be, given that they’re more like household names as a result of Bell’s cult following from Veronica Mars and Paquin’s from True Blood (not to mention that whole thing where she has an Oscar). But then Bell’s character tires of Paquin’s yammering and knifes her in the stomach, only for the scene to change again and reveal that both previous murder sequences were the movie-in-a-movie openings to yet a different Stab movie being watched by Teegarden and yet another familiar-to-teens, unknown-to-the-adult-world actress, Brittany Robertson. Finally, the killer shows up in this suburban, upper-middle class living room and the plot begins in earnest.

On one hand, it’s funny how the movie fucks with its viewers and their preconceived notions of how a Scream movie should unfold. And the scenes’ layering of fiction-on-reality-on-fiction works perfectly with the groundwork laid by the previous movies. On the other, it’s exhausting and a little too on-the-nose. And you’re still left with an opening scene victim who’s just not that famous. (Though considering that Scream 2’s opening scene victim was Jada Pinkett and Scream 3’s was Liev Schreiber, the opening victim’s A-list status may be more the exception than the rule. Yeah, Scream 3 did in Gossip Girl mom Kelly Rutherford too, but that was well before most people would have known her name.)

That, in a sense, sums up my feelings toward the whole film: at times great, and totally keeping up with the corn syrup-soaked legacy of the previous Screams and the first one in particular, but never fully re-creating the clenched-fists, edge-of-the-seat atmosphere of the first movie. Of course, this opinion probably has everything to do with the person reviewing: When I saw the first Scream, I had never seen a slasher movie in the theater before. Eleven years later, I’ve seen countless and am more or less numb to anything that could be thrown at me by a movie about a masked killer stalking sexy teens. So it goes.

As a big Scream fan, I enjoyed the nods to the past that occurred throughout the rest of the movie. For example, Gale Weathers being nearly filleted as a crowd of young people cheer through the opening to Stab, Heather Graham and all? It’s a great callback to Jada Pinkett’s murder scene in Scream 2 But the key word in that sentence is nearly. In the end, Gale survives. So do Dewey and Sidney. Everyone else dies, and this proved majorly problematic for me. I like the inference that “old Hollywood” and “old horror” ultimately outlasted the new generation of nobodies wanting their shot at fame. But if the people behind Scream 4 do indeed plan to make a fifth installment — and I honestly believe they will when they see the box office this one will make — I can’t imagine where they will go. This movie was the franchise’s chase with discarding the dead wood and moving in a new direction with characters who still have interesting territory to explore. Sidney, Gale and Dewey, however, don’t seem like they have far to go, and when the only other survivor is the minor comedy relief supplier, Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), I have to wonder what could possibly await this little universe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, talking about Scream 5. Scream 4 is what’s hitting theaters, and there’s still the single biggest plot point to consider: the killer. I have to admit I was surprised when the mask came off to reveal Emma Robert’s character, Jill, Sidney’s cousin and seemingly the next dark-haired final girl-in-training. It was the right move to make, especially in a series that hasn’t yet had a “girl” killer. (Mrs. Loomis in Scream 2 is a full-grown woman, and as a result of Laurie Metcalf’s portrayal, just barely qualifies as gendered.) And while I can’t fault Jill’s reasoning for killing off a good chunk of her graduating class — she just wanted to be famous, so she had organized the massacre so as to frame her boyfriend and make herself the new survivor, the new media darling, the successor to now-acclaimed authoress Sidney Prescott — but the dialogue explaining her motives was heavyhanded. She explained (and I’m paraphrasing here) that “you don’t need to be special to be famous today. You only need to have a lot of fucked-up shit happen to you” and she came just this short of making a joke about Kim Kardashian. I got the script’s implication about how fame works in 2011 versus in 1996, but I got it before Psycho Jill spelled it out so literally. Then again, maybe I’m forgetting that this movie’s target audience is teenagers weened on YouTube and Sparknotes and the exposition is therefore necessary. (Is Sparknotes even a thing anymore?) Personally, I more enjoyed the way Jill’s attempt to take over Sidney’s spot as the victimized survivor because it plays into the Hollywood ingenue cycle, in which of-the-moment actresses get replaced by more youthful newcomers, but the script seemed more concern with stepping onto a soapbox and addressing today’s prereqs for celebrity.

The rest of the movie, in scattered notes:

  • This film had a much higher body count than I had expected. At that, even, some of the kills were surprisingly gory. I didn’t expect to see Mariel Jaffe’s organs spill out, especially after the highly sanitized Scream 3. Way to earn that R rating, I guess.
  • So I think I like Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere now. Roberts I had only seen in the recent Nancy Drew reboot, which I only watched because I was on a plane. But I thought she succeeded in both extremes of her role: as the virginal victim and, once unmasked, as the unhinged killer. And the scene in which she beats the shit out of herself in order to make herself look like a victim had her pulling off some good physical comedy. Panettiere I had never been a fan of before, but she delivered her one-liners with good timing. In the end, I was sad when she got stabbed to death in a similar way to how I was sad when Parker Posey’s character bit it in Scream 3. I hoped that, in the end, her character might have somehow miraculously survived. She didn’t.
  • Speaking of Jennifer Jolie, I loved the scene in which Allison Brie’s character temporarily re-created the admirer-infuriator relationship that Jolie had with Gale Weathers in Scream 3. I didn’t love that Brie’s character acted more stupidly than a character in a Scream movie should. If you’re inside a car and the killer wants to kill you, why would you exit the vehicle and walk around stupidly rather than call the police on your phone? You deserved to get tossed off a parking garage, Annie Adderall.
  • Mary McDonnel (one of two Oscar-winners to bite it in this movie) was criminally underused, but at least she made the most of the few lines she had. I totally see why Lauren Graham walked away from the role, and I wonder how the character of Jill’s mom worked before the rewrites.
  • My guess as to who the killer was? Deputy Judy, especially when she revealed that she had gone to high school with Sidney. After Kevin Williamson had attempted to write Hallie as one of the killers in Scream 2 and Angelina as one of the killers in Scream 3, I was sure that this movie would feature a woman behind the mask. And I assumed that Williamson would have tried to re-incorporate the big reveal he wrote into the original Scream 3 draft, with actress and would-be Stab 3 star Angelina Tyler revealing herself to be Sidney’s jealous former classmate Angie Crick. (“I sat next to you in English class.”) Nope.
  • Another tip-off that the killer might be female? The soundtrack. Woman-fronted bands like The Sounds and Ida Maria suggested an emphasis on females doing what males might traditionally be expected to do. Noticeably lacking from this film’s soundtrack, however: “Red Right Hand.” New rules, I guess. But in its place “Axel F”? What the fuck?
  • In the early stages of production, Emma Roberts’s character was named Jill Kessler. In the final produce, it’s Jill Roberts. As in Emma Roberts? Was the character re-written to align with the actress playing her? It’s majorly weird, and a bit distracting, but it helps to flesh out Jill’s character a bit. In the film, Jill is jealous of Sidney’s fame and is angry for having lived nearly her whole life in her more famous relative’s shadow. Similarly, Emma Roberts has been compared to her much more famous aunt, Julia Roberts, for her whole career so far. Funny little parallel, right?
  • Given the message sent by the more established actors — Prescott, Cox and Arquette — outlasting the new crew, how interesting is it that the two killers are played by Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin, both of whom have immediately recognizable last names? (Culkin plays Charlie, Jill’s assistant and pawn, who ultimately gets done in by Jill in a similar fashion to Skeet Ulrich’s character overenthusiastically stabbing Matthew Lillard’s in the first Scream.) The implicit message? Established folk outlast younger folk, but the younger folk descended from Hollywood legacies outlast the ones with no major familial connection. This seems especially intentional given how important family bonds seem to be throughout the series.
And with all that, this screamer is about out of breath.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Cow Crashed Into the Moon

Late this week, but you’ll just have to forgive me. And you will, because it’s a good one.
mooncalf (MOON-kaf) — noun: 1. a fool. 2. a freak.
Now I can’t remember what reminded me of this great Shakespearean insult, which Stephano calls Caliban in The Tempest. Regardless, here it is. The term mooncalf derives from an apparently widespread belief that the moon’s dark powers could inhibit the proper development of a fetus — bovine or otherwise — and render it an “abortive, shapeless, fleshy mass,” as Etymonline puts it. From there, the extension to “monster” and then just “stupid thing” seems fairly logical, as far as insults go.

So great, there’s a fun word to call the English majors you despise, but I wonder what, exactly, the Europeans of centuries past thought the moon would do and, more importantly, how they thought embryonic ruination could have been prevented. Wouldn’t any pregnant animal be as helpless to the presence of the moon as it would be to, for example, night? Perhaps they pulled their pregnant women in side for the duration of their gestation, but would they do the same to the farm animals? Did they have some sort of village preggo room? Any practices along these lines, I’d imagine, would be equally as harmful to fetal development. “Wife, you’re with child, so now you must live underground, with the cow and the pig. You’ll have lots to talk about.”

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Super Mario Planets

For lifelong Nintendo-ites like myself, it’s often rewarding to look back at the games I played when we played as kids to see how major series concepts might have sprouted from seeds planted years back. Take, for example, the tiny planets of the Super Mario Galaxy games.

And compare them to the Japanese box art for Super Mario World.

The game didn’t have little round planets, and the illustration is just showing that the title isn’t a misnomer: Super Mario World is a lot bigger in scope than the previous Mario games. It’s not Super Mario County or even Super Mario Continent, it’s a whole freaking world. And see? Here’s a little world to illustrate that point. Literal? Yes. But effective.

And then, from a few years further along, there’s the tiny, two-dimensional planet from the Raphael the Raven fight in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. It’s basically an in-game realization of that original illustration. You can move around the edge of the planet, avoiding the boss. Yoshi always stays at the top of the screen, and the horizon rotates behind him to give the illusion of running around the surface of the planet.

From there, it’s not too far to a three-dimensional sphere that Mario moves around in every direction. I like to think about whether these ideas were brewing for years, with the Nintendo creative crew planning from the get-go to have Mario hopping across entire planets. And even more, I’d like to imagine that the planet idea didn’t come from the game designers but from the post-production illustrators, who decided on a rather straightforward way to showcase the “world” concept, with the guys in charge of gameplay concepts looking at the Super Mario World box art and thinking, “Yeah, there’s something to this. What can we do?”

I’m about to out-geek myself and quote a bit of little-remembered video game dialogue. Trust me, though, it’s appropriate. In Yoshi’s Island, before getting whisked up into space for the Raphael the Raven fight, Kamek, the cackling big bad responsible for all the game’s boss fights, says this: “I banish you to forever twinkle in the heavens.” Scarier threats have been made, sure, but given that the direction the Mario games eventually went — up, out and into deep space — the words now seem prophetic.

Super Mario studies, previously:

The Bell Pepper With Something Extra

I’ll admit that cutting into a bell pepper reveals a whole alien world inside, that cluster of seeds clinging to the center like some kind of alien egg sack. But in preparing to open up this dinner ingredient, I certainly didn’t expect to find a small bell pepper penis.

I choose to call this a penis and not, for example, a tiny bell pepper parasitic twin because in examining the freakiness further, I found two smaller, rounder entities nestled in the corner. Obviously, these were bell pepper testicles.

In the end, I chopped up the whole thing and deposited it, pseudogenitals and all, into pan. Meal cooked. Meal consumed. Does this mean I’m pregnant with bell peppers now? Am I the host to a future race of super bell peppers?

Plants that want to be people, previously:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Eight Songs Narrated By Murderers

By no means a complete list of all songs written in the first person and from the perspective of the killer, this resulted from me wondering how many I could come up with on my own.

One: “Country Death Song,” by The Violent Femmes

Sample lyrics: “I gave her a push, I gave her a shove / I pushed with all my might, I pushed with all my love / I threw my child into a bottomless pit / She was screaming as she fell, but I never heard her hit.”

Does he get away with it? As far as the song states, yes.

Two: “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia,” by Vicki Lawrence (which I write about at length here)

Sample lyrics: “They hung my brother before I could say / The tracks he saw while on his way / To Andy’s house and back that night were mine / And his cheating wife had never left town / And that’s one body that’ll never be found / You see, little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun.”

Does she get away with it? Probably. She at least seems proud of how well she hid what she did.

Three: “The Rake’s Song,” by The Decemberists (which I wrote about at length here)

Sample lyrics: “Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove / Dawn was easy, she was drowned in the bath / Isaiah fought but was easily bested / Burned his body for incurring my wrath”

Does he get away with it? I don’t think so. “The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” seems to indicate that the ghost of Isaiah comes back and drowns the rake. Right?

Four: “I Did What I Did for Maria,” by Tony Christie

Sample lyrics: “And he fell to the ground / Raising dust all around / But I knew he was dead / Long before he went down”

Does he get away with it? Nope. The song is narrated moments before he is hanged.

Five: “The Wedding List,” by Kate Bush

Sample lyrics: “I got him on the wedding list! / I got him and I did not miss. / I pinned him on the wedding list!”

Does she get away with it? Not really. Moments after she shoots the man who murdered her husband, she commits suicide.

Six: “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue

Sample lyrics: “On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow / And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief / And I kissed her goodbye, said, “All beauty must die”

Does he get away with it? Unsure. The Nick Cave-narrated parts explain the murder, and the Kylie Minogue parts hint about the fallout, with people remembering her as “The Wild Rose,” which seems to indicate that people at least found her body near the roses.

Seven: “Doubt,” by The Cure

Sample lyrics: “Tear at flesh / And rip at skin / And smash at doubt / I have to break you”

Does he get away with it? Maybe. I’m actually thinking the “murder” may not be literal, at least based on the song’s concluding lyrics “I stop and kneel beside you / Knowing I'll murder you again tonight.”

Eight: “Folsom Prison Blues,” by Johnny Cash

Sample lyrics: “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die / When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry”

Does he get away with it? Decidedly not. That’s kind of the point of the song.

Honorable mentions: “Possum Kingdom” by The Toadies almost made the cut, but he never actually kills the woman he’s addressing during the span of the song. He just threatens to do it, and even then it’s not made explicitly clear that he truly means to harm her. It’s the video that makes the woman’s death more explicit. The narrator in The Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer” is more socially awkward that outright homicidal. And I knew that “Maniac” — yeah, the once from Flashdance — was originally written about an actual maniac who kills people, but it turns out that the original lyrics were not written in the first person. Still, there’s something to be said for a dance hit originally being written as “He’s a manic, manic, that’s for sure / He will kill your cat and nail him to the door.” I shit you not.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Of Love and Ham

Every actor must begin somewhere. For Penelope Cruz, that somewhere happened to a movie called Jamón, jamón.

That's not a knock against the film. For all I know, it could be a masterpiece. But please just consider this poster --- the gleeful cartoon pig, the prominent text that translates as "Ham, ham," the sexual embrace with her eventual husband, Javier Bardem --- and ponder the meaning of it all.

I truly hope a framed version of this hangs somewhere in the Bardem-Cruz home.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Potpourri of Blood

Doesn’t Jerry Seinfeld have a bit about the strangeness of the word manslaughter — that the word meaning “the slaughter of a man” would be associated with a crime less severe than murder? Well, be glad, because you will soon know a much more pleasant-sounding, more whimsical term to refer to the accidental ending of life.

It’s chance medley. Doesn’t that have a happy ring to it, as if it’s perhaps some singalong that spontaneously arises to the delight and joy of all present? Well, the term refers to a phenomenon that’s a lot like a spontaneously singalong, except instead of people singing, it’s people dying. Old English law once defined chance medley — from the French chance-medlee, “mixed chance” — as a homicide that resulted from a sudden quarrel or fight. As Wikipedia puts it, it’s essentially a synonym for manslaughter — worse that an outright accident but not as bad as planned murder, or least in the legal sense, anyway, because the person reduced to a corpse probably doesn’t care one way or the other.

So remember: The next time your barroom brawl ends up shedding just a little too much blood, you’re not a manslaughterer. You’re just a hapless witness to a chance medley.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Night Work

Best thing I’ve learne about in a long time: the Harii, the Germanic tribe alleged to paint their bodies and armor black for “ghostly” stealth attacks. From Tacitus’s Germania:
As for the Harii, quite apart from their strength, which exceeds that of the other tribes I have just listed, they pander to their innate savagery by skill and timing: with black shields and painted bodies, they choose dark nights to fight, and by means of terror and shadow of a ghostly army they cause panic, since no enemy can bear a sight so unexpected and hellish; in every battle the eyes are the first to be conquered.
On one hand, I wonder why the sight is necessarily hellish, since, if it was dark out, it would just look like nothing, at least until limbs started to get lopped off. On the other hand, why didn’t other hostile tribes existing in light-skinned back country or yore think to do this?

In conclusion, an artist’s interpretation of a Harii attack:

Okay, fine, I’m the artist.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Adolescent Wet Dream Gone Wrong: The Video Game

What follows is the box art of the 1990 Data East-produced PC video game Drop Rock Hora Hora. Based on the art, what would you conclude about the game?

Why, certainly you’d think that the game starred an effeminate boy in an oversized sweatshirt who fights to rescue a damsel — possibly his sister? — from a monstrous demon and his army of floating eyeballs and nocturnal, sentient, jack-o’-lantern-esque produce. Or perhaps you might guess that the game has you controlling the horned demon in an effort to find the most precious catatonic virgin in all the land — and, perhaps, as a sort of bonus round, also the young man, who, based on his attire and hand gestures, is probably not a virgin. Hell, maybe you control the eyes — player one is Blue Eye, player two is Topaz Eye — and your job is to bound around the room, viewing it from different angles until you have gained enough perspective to properly discern the relationships between the monster, the coma girl and the boy. (Very post-modern.)

All seem like reasonable interpretations of strange art that, honestly, could be either quite a literal or quite an abstract representation of the game. After seeing the art on this blog, I was interested enough to see how all the elements could possibly tie together. I found a gameplay video on YouTube. I watched. Initially, I thought I might have possibly decoded the box art, when I saw this screen:

You know, because by not meaning anything, it could mean a lot of things. Then, after a lot of Engrish, I got to the actual game play:

Surprise! (I guess?) It actually is a kind of shooter — basically Breakout (that game where you control a paddle that bounces a ball up to a structure that you chip away, block by block) crossed with Space Invaders. With fruit. I’d feel stupid, but I suspect that the fault lies in the artist not having played the game, perhaps instead only having heard about it while on a lot of cold medicine.

What I’ve written here, I feel, is the spiritual successor to this post.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing (Shakespearean Sense)

Let’s suppose this morning's post about the runcible spoon wasn't my first interaction with Edward Lear. And let’s suppose that the spoon dug out a nearly forgotten memory of childhood mortification resulting from a certain owl's whimsical adventure with a certain pussycat in a certain pea-green boat.

Okay, you've got an elementary school. Two things to know about it: First, it holds an annual poetry recitation contest. Second, one class in particular has a scapegoat. If you don’t know what I mean, then you may well have been this kid — the one who took the blame for everything and who was denied any social mercy by his classmates, mostly on grounds that allying themselves with him would put them in the running to become the new scapegoat. For the sake of this story, let’s call this kid Aldo. Now, I’m not condoning how the class in question treated Aldo; being a grown-up, I realize see how pointlessly cruel it seems. On the other hand, I can remember the of-that-age fear of stepping away from the crowd and then having them suddenly see you as the new other. It was a legitimate concern. I mean, look what happened to Aldo.

Excuse the tangent. I meant to be discussing the recitation contest. Students, let’s say, were allotted a certain amount of time during which they could select their poems. If a kid failed to pick something — or if he insisted on “Always Sprinkle Pepper” in a classroom ruled by a woman who had heard too much Shel Silverstein — the poem would be selected for him. And this is what happened to Aldo, who had failed to turn in anything presentable and, likely, truth be known, didn’t turn in anything at all. Perhaps as punishment, the teach assigned him “The Owl and the Pussycat,” forcing him to recite it before the class several times a week leading up to the day on which he and everyone else would be graded on their projection, poise, memorization and overall grasp of the text.

If you’ve never read the poem, you won’t understand how awful it would be to recite anywhere, anytime, much less to a group of peers who already decided that they had it out for you.

The first verse:
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Yep. Aldo wasn’t catching any breaks on this one. In the case of classmates who didn’t already know what pussy can mean, the ones who had learned early explained, with as much depth as kids this age are capable of, why it was funny that Aldo had to stand at the front of the room and announce his love for a beautiful pussy. When Aldo stumbled, he had to start over, thus necessitating the pussy pledge again, Aldo’s classmates laughed more. Outside of class, the kids recited it to Aldo. (It was, for everyone else, a fairly easy poem to learn.) It never stopped being funny because the class decided it shouldn’t stop being funny. God, fourth-graders can be cruel, but Edward Lear certainly didn’t help.

And this is the terrible little story I have about “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

Well, I guess there’s an epilogue. Let’s say these kids continued growing up, and let’s say that Aldo left the school a year or two after the teacher made him repeatedly tell everyone how much he loved beautiful pussy. Much later, at a bar, at a time when he could legally be at a bar, Aldo walked up to place an order and realized that he was standing exactly beside one of his former classmates. They clearly recognized each other. And while the classmate, more than a little drunk, struggled to think of something to say and the words of the Edward Lear poem prepared to spring out of his mouth like some party favor that had been kept under a lid, under pressure for, oh, let’s say fourteen years, Aldo rolled his eyes and walked back into the crowd — over it, annoyed, better than all of that.

Considering the circumstances, I like this ending better than an interspecies couple-that-should-not-be dancing by the light of the moon.

The Spoon That Defies Explanation

For this week, a bit of a classic among lovers of strange and wonderful words.
runcible (rən(t)-sə-bəl) — adjective: a word that, on its own, doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Okay, right off the bat, that’s a lie. Merriam-Webster defines a runcible spoon as “a sharp-edged fork with three broad curved prongs,” which basically means it’s a vaguely spork-like thing. But that’s not to say that runcible means anything on its own. Edward Lear coined the word in “The Owl and the Pussycat,” in the lines “They dined on mince and slices of quince, / which they ate with a runcible spoon.” He used it again in later works, including “Twenty-Six Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures,” in which he wrote, “The Dolomphious Duck, / who caught Spotted Frogs for her dinner / with a Runcible Spoon” and illustrated it with this:

Clearly, Mrs. Dolomphious is maneuvering some sort of ladle that doesn’t match the Merriam-Webster definition, and that’s because Lear didn’t ever decide that a runcible spoon was anything in particular. In fact, he also used the word to describe a cat, a goose and a wall. Other people have tried to assign meaning the word, however, at least in the eating utensil sense. Among other suggestions offered more or less facetiously:

  • a pickle fork
  • a spork
  • a grapefruit spoon
  • “a horn spoon with a bowl at each end, one the size of a tablespoon and the other the size of a teaspoon”
  • a spoon designed by Lear’s friend, George Runcy, intended for use by infants
  • some vague object that references Robert Runcie, who was apparently a butler noted for polishing silver spoons
  • a spoon resembling a sword used in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, Roncevaux being the etymological source of runcible

And if the seeming overlap with spork didn’t confuse the matter enough, there also exist knorks (knife-forks), splayds (spoon-blades) and foons (fork-spoons, as opposed to spoon-forks). Where, I wonder, are the spives and knifoons?

A simple Google image search for this thing gets you all sorts of bowl-shaped forks and pointy spoons, most with more than three prongs and many of which could probably also be sporks, knorks and foons. In the end, if someone asks you to fetch the runcible spoon, they probably are referring to what Merriam-Webster says the word means. Except when they’re not.

Sources: World Wide Words, Wikipedia

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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