Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Slasher Movies of Greek Mythology

Another story from the Getty Villa: A wall dedicated to the labors of Theseus reminded me that this particular Greek hero on two different occasions got a little Jamie Lee Curtis and bumped off twisted serial killers to make safer the highways and back alleys of the ancient world. Both stories match silly and macabre in just the right proportion that either one could have been adapted into a bad ‘80s slasher film and I don’t think anyone would have bat an eye.

The first, Skiron, gets point for combining foot fetishism with murder. Apparently quite the ladies’ man, men’s man and equal-opportunity perv, Skiron would approach people on the path between Attica and Megaris and convince them to wash his feet. While performing this task — and keep in mind that wearing sandals on an ancient Greek highway would not make for pleasant feet — he’d kick them off a cliff, at which point a tortoise would eat them. I think the Getty Villa’s visual aid illustrates this process nicely.

And then, of course, Theseus killed him.

The second, Prokrustes, would trick travelers into staying in his Guest Bed of Body Dysmorphic Horrors. If the guests were too tall, he’d lop off their appendages until their fit snugly in the bed. If they were too short, he’d stretch them. And in case you think that Prokrustes might spare the rare travel who fit the bed perfectly, he wouldn’t. There were two beds.

Again, the Getty Villa supplies a visual aid.

And then, of course, Theseus killed him.

Despite the apparent demise of both killers, fans asked for years that the two should meet in a crossover myth. And then Skiron vs. Prokrustes hit the amphitheaters and everyone was like, “Damn, that sucked.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hidden Boners on Batman: The Animated Series

Come to think of it, I’m surprised I don’t have a tag here that reads something like “Surprise! Beloved Childhood Memory Turned Out to Be Sexual!” It’s a pet interest of mine, uncovering strange, subversive elements to the things I enjoyed innocently as a kid. How very dumb I was.

Recently, the Onion A.V. Club has begun reviewing the old Batman show from my youth. Even more so than the Tim Burton movies, this cartoon series — which, by the way, still looks pretty damn sharp today — taught me to love superheroes. And foremost among my favorite characters on the show was Poison Ivy. She kicks ass, this diminutive redhead who runs around poisoning people and firing arrows and concocting elaborate eco-terrorism plots. Given the profoundly sexual nature of the character — she’s adept at using lust to manipulate both men and women, even though the cartoon tiptoes around this ability — I should have guessed that her episodes might have had some sexy elements writhing and thrusting just beneath the surface.

They did.

Recently, the A.V. Club recapped the second Poison Ivy outing, “Eternal Youth,” which I’ll summarize in three sentences here:
Bruce Wayne gets an invite to a health spa, but Alfred and his girlfriend (a one-off character) go in his place and enjoy the resort’s rejuvenating offerings. However, it turns out that the spa’s director, Dr. Daphne Demeter, is actually Poison Ivy, luring big shots to the remote spot so she can punish them for their alleged ecological misdeeds. Batman, whose alterego got involved in Poison Ivy’s plan when his corporation was briefly involved with a slash-and-burn outfit, stops her.
And here’s the original preview that got my attention back in 1992, when the episode first aired:

That should be enough to at least remind you if you too saw this episode as a kid, but allow me to elaborate on the sexier aspects.

For starters, “Dr. Daphne Demeter” is essentially pushing Viagra, even though the drug didn’t exist back then and I wouldn’t have known about it if it had. When Alfred and his girlfriend go the spa and try the doctor’s drug, Demetrite, they do actually get a youthful spring back in their step. (And since Alfred takes his ladyfriend away for the weekend, it’s presumable that they managed to take full advantage of the fact that their aged bodies are temporarily not in the constant pain that old age causes, for all I know.) But here’s the thing: Demetrite also primes the patients’ bodies for transformation into trees. Once they’ve consumed enough, Poison Ivy attacks them with a gushing stream of concentrated Demetrite that makes their bodies harden, grow bark and sprout leaves. In her mind, she’s writing their wrongs against nature by transforming them into trees. In my mind, she’s giving them wood in the worst possible way. As the A.V. Club reviewer Oliver Sava notes, “When Poison Ivy reveals her grove to Batman, most of the human trees are frozen in terror, but some of those huge, gaping mouths could very well be O-faces.” Yikes.

Here’s the clearest image I can find of these contorted treeple:

In the end, this episode one-ups Poision Ivy’s debut in the series, “Pretty Poison,” in which the villainess first appears as demure botanist Pamela Isley, girlfriend to Harvey Dent. (At this point in the series, Harvey is still the Gotham City D.A. and hasn’t yet transformed into Two Face.) Harvey and Pamela get engaged, but then Harvey collapses as a result of a severe botanical poison. An investigation reveals Pamela reveals herself to be the culprit as well as Gotham’s newest batshit costume enthusiast. Batman ends up fighting her, now out as Poison Ivy, in a greenhouse, where she calls back-up in the form of a giant, sentient Venus Fly Trap. I can’t think of a better metaphor for the hidden dangers of beautiful women than a larger-than-life, gushing, snapping vagina dentata.

And yay for getting to associate the vagina dentata with a childhood obsession for the second time on this blog.

Bonus sexy points for “Eternal Youth” come in the form of Ivy’s one-off henchditzes, spokesmodel mercenaries Lily and Violet. They talk like they’re the lost Tilly sisters, but they’re voiced by Julie Brown (no, the other one) and Lynne Marie Stewart (known today either as Miss Yvonne from Pee Wee’s Playhouse or Charlie’s mom from It’s Always Sunny, depending on what kind of TV watcher you are). It’s also worth mentioning that Alfred’s girlfriend, Maggie, is voiced by the late Paddy Edwards, who sounds only slightly less creepy on Batman than she did voicing Ursula’s eels in The Little Mermaid, which, of course, had a hidden boner of its own. That’s negative sexy points, so let’s total this whole paragraph at zero.

Still, everything else smacks of sex in a way that would surprise me from a cartoon today, to say nothing of one that first aired nearly twenty years ago.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Look at Those Cavemen Go

A confession: I don’t care for Barbra Streisand, and not just because she slapped me to the ground when I tried to approach her that one time. I’d like to say that my disdain stems from the fact that I’m irritated by the spelling of her name — I also have it out for the Britnees and Jennyphurs of the world, you see — but it’s actually that I’ve just never understood her appeal as an artist. Her songs are meandering and sappy, her acting unimpressive and her manner (per interviews I’ve read or watched) seems undeservedly haughty. Did South Park help to inform my perception of this celebrity? Yes. But don’t worry — I’ve done my research.

However, I’ll see this much for Barbra: She turned out one kick-ass cover of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” That this version of the song exists at all is pretty shocking, but add to that these two facts: It doesn’t suck, and Streisand released it about a year after Bowie did the original, so it’s not a case of an established artist snatching up other people’s hits to, for example, fill out a career retrospective album. Sure, she’s piggybacking on Bowie’s edgy coolness, but she’s at least doing so admirably.

Here, then, for the first and last time on this blog, I am presenting you with a Barbra Streisand song:

This particular cover is fitting, I think, because Bowie himself described the song as “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media… I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… She’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.” Knowing what I know about Streisand, I’d imagine she probably related to that, what with the constant dissatisfaction she must feel for everything she encounters in life but also the fact that she climbed up from inauspicious beginnings to establish herself as a singer.

My joke: Barbra Streisand had it so rough as a kid that she had to sell the second “a” in her name just to afford singing lessons.

The Dainty Pig and the Musical Goose

A long overdue update to My Big List of Strange and Wonderful Words. See? I’m still learning stuff.
pettitoes (PETT-ee-tohz) — noun: pig’s trotters, especially when used as food.
Cute word, right? Can’t you just picture Babe flitting across Hogget’s farm on pettitoes to the sound of a trilling xylophone? You can? Great. Now imagine those porcine tootsies lopped off and sent to a butcher’s case. That’s where pigs’ feet go to await some hungry hausfrau hoping to use them to make stock or gravy.

Just looking at the word pettitoes, you might think the etymology is obvious, what with petty coming from the French petit, “small,” and being used in English to mean essentially a derogatory version of the same thing. But it’s that second part, toes, that’s surprising. The word comes to English from the French term petit oie, meaning “little goose” and referring to that bird’s giblets. Apparently the term jumped from giblets to all manner of offal and then finally to pigs’ feet. I haven’t seen it stated specifically, but I assume the change in spelling and definition resulted from English speakers hearing the word and assuming it meant what it sounded like. At least one etymology book, however, simply sites that the word always referred to feet, but I’m willing to guess that the majority of sites offering the goose-to-pig switch have it correct.

One more bit on the French word ire, meaning “goose.” It’s related to Italian word for for the bird, oca, whose diminutive form is ocarina. The instrument — which nowadays is unknown to all but Legend of Zelda fans — is so named because its shape was thought to resemble that of a goose. Now you can tell your ocarina band all about this and sound extra cool.

See previous strange and wonderful words after the jump.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

With “It” Referring to a Caricature of Female Sexuality

Nicole “Coco” Austin or the Venus of Willendorf: Who wore it better?

Though I suppose if there was to be a real life equivalent of the Venus of Willendorf, it follows that she’d be married to Ice-T.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

And If You Turn to Page Four of the Packet… Um…

By all means, I'm happy to print out your documents if you can't configure your computer's printer access. However, if I feel like the situation wouldn't result in someone getting fired, I will insert this into the packet as a joke.

I feel like that's fair warning.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pensioner’s Stew, Cricketeer’s Venison and the Lamb in the Style of the Trombonist

Back when I had more time, I found a recipe on a friend’s food website. In the process of getting the ingredients, however, I realized that this so-called Hunter’s-Style Chicken was actually just chicken cacciatore. And then I realized that cacciatore is Italian for “hunter.” So there you go — a happy linguistic circle as complete as the one where we feed the chickens (on the farm) and then the chickens feed us (on the dinner table) and then we feed the chickens (when they revolt and become carnivorous), and so forth.

Delicious, right? (Mine did not look this pretty.)

Other dishes take names from professions, at least in the loose sense of the term. Pasta puttanesca, as I found out some time ago, means “whore’s pasta.” A dish alla carbonara is conjectured by some to mean “in the style of coal miners.” And sole meuniere means “sole in the style of the miller’s wife.” (I know, I know — it may not seem like being married to a miller would be a job, but let me ask you this: How many millers have you spend a weekend with?)

So what other “job” foods were there? I asked the Food52ers, and they gave me answers. Among the better ones:

  • the financier (a pastry named either because the mold looks like a brick of gold or because these sweets became popular in Paris’s financial district)
  • marinara sauce (named for mariners who supposedly either ate it on voyages or had it prepared for them by their wives upon their return)
  • heuvos rancheros (“rancher-style eggs”)
  • shepherd’s pie
  • cowboy stew
  • soupe de poisson (“fisherman’s soup”)
  • strozzapreti pasta (or “priest choker” pasta, so named allegedly for a number of reasons, none of which make Italian priests sound like pleasant people)
  • a la jardiniere (a descriptor indicating that a dish is prepared with many vegetables but which literally means “in the style of the gardener”)
  • a la forester (“in the style of the forester,” referring to a method of meat or poultry preparation involving sauteed mushrooms)
  • Bauernwurst (“farmer’s sausage,” which is also the name of a filthy German joke)
  • salla alla maitre d’hôtel (“maitre d’ sauce”)
  • a dessert called frozen diplomat, which sounds like something Betty Draper would make for a dinner party, then screw up and blame on Sally.
  • goulash, in general, comes from the Hungarian word gulyas, meaning “herdsman”
  • queen pudding (which was suggested even though I’ve always heard it called the much cooler sounding name Queen of Puddings, but which I don’t really count anyway, since it’s more a dish named in honor of an elevated position than it is one named for the people who actually ate it or made it)
  • the “nun’s puff” pastry (which is also known as pets de nonne, or “nun’s farts,” and no, I am not joking)
  • Imam bayildi, a Turkish dish whose name translates as “the imam was thrilled” or “the imam fainted”
  • caipirinha (a stretch, as the Food52 poster notes, but it’s nonetheless interesting to know that the cocktail’s name in Brazil can also mean “diminutive female hillbilly,” or something thereabouts)
  • anything a la menagere is “in the style of the housekeeper”
  • caesar salad (which I’m willing to accept, I guess, since caesar was a title and a job and not a name, even though the salad itself was named for the restaurateur Caesar Cardini)
  • and finally coda alla vaccinate is “oxtail in the style of cow workers,” which is dangerously close to the less famous dish, “oxtail in the style of co-workers.”

I don’t doubt that a great many other professions have been tied to dishes and then rendered invisible when the cook doesn’t speak the language of the country the recipe came from. Oh, see? I just thought of one more: Girl Scout cookies. Very mysterious, that one.

One final thought: What kind of lazy ass hunter is bringing home chicken?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Great Wino Cowboys of Ancient Rome

A highlight of the Getty Villa: this fountain fixture.

At first glance, it looks like Beardy is riding a roast turkey. He’s not. It’s actually a supersized wineskin, eternally gushing into the fountain. Can someone work on getting me one for my birthday next year? And can it fly?

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Fraking Language Problem

So I did something, and I’m not ashamed to admit it: I finally watched Battlestar Galactica. Or most of it, actually. I’m three episodes away from the finale, and the series has just this weekend grabbed me in the way I hoped it would — I just found out who the final Cylon is and Caprica is pregnant and Hera is missing and I’m geekily, eagerly awaiting the resolution of it all.

All of my respected, TV-savvy friends told me Battlestar has the goods, but I was hesitant because I have a bias against sci-fi. To me, it’s usually not good. As a kid, I was always confused by shows like the Star Treks and Babylon 5, and — this is the real confession, I guess — I never really loved Star Wars the way other guys did. But now that I have sat down at watched the show, I realize it’s as well-written as it was purported to be: Amidst all the space opera is some striking characterization, and it’s telling that I now care about characters who exist in a genre that I genre I tend to avoid. I’d compare it to Buffy in the way it manages to get to the core of what it means to be human even when a summary of any one episode’s plot would lead the uninitiated to assume that it’s too far-flung to have a soul. But it does.

However, a different facet of my geekiness has prevented me from fully enjoying the show. It’s my inner word nerd.

So far as I can see, I’m guessing that the show will end with the characters becoming the ancestors to the Earth that you and I live on. But the setting of the show is decidedly extraterrestrial. The characters live on different planets than the ones in our solar system, they have a different history and they have a different culture. But it’s not that different. For one, the characters speak English. It’s not English, in the context of the show; It’s Caprican. But when the characters speak, what they say is readily understood by any English-speaker who might be watching. This I can accept: It’s like when you’re watching a movie and there’s a scene with Russian people speaking to each other privately, and they do so with Russian-inflected English. In reality, it would be unlikely that they’d not speak their native language around each other, but it’s for the convenience of the subtitle-averse viewer that they chat in the easily understood language. Same case here: Technically, the characters should be speaking in a language that people watching the show had never heard. But the logistics of creating a fictional language make such a feat difficult to pull off, not to mention pointless. (Remember Passion of the Christ and its Aramaic?)

Then there’s frak, the show’s stand-in for the all-purpose English word fuck. Why don’t they just say fuck? Because the show aired on basic cable, and presumably the creators didn’t want bleeps marring the dialogue of the crude, stressed-out military folks who, yes, would likely be saying fuck a lot. But frak isn’t the standard English that we’ve come to accept as Caprican. In the context of the show, we viewers are supposed to accept that the characters are speaking a language that almost exactly mirrors contemporary American English with the exception of this single word freak. To me, this requires a more extensive suspension of disbelief, but I can deal with it.

What bothers me most, however, are the accents and names.

First, the accents: Among other characters who speak English with an accent other than American are Gaius Baltar and D’Anna Biers, who talk like a Brit and a New Zealander, respectively. For whatever reason, whenever I hear these characters’ speak, it takes me out of the fictional Battlestar universe for a moment while I wonder, “Why do Englishmen and Kiwis exist in deep space?”

And the names: If these characters are existing in a universe that began separately from our own, why would most of their names sound like typical Western names like Laura and Lee and Kara and Ellen and Saul? Shouldn’t their names sound like they came from a culture that has no relation to our own culture? Would making up names seem so strange? If the show does end, as I suspect, with the Battlestar crew becoming our progenitors, wouldn’t it seem strange that the names they had when they landed would fade out of culture only to return eons later?

As usual, I’m overthinking everything, but know that these quibbles didn’t prevent me from getting something out of the show. And that’s not to say that the show doesn’t make the occasional verbal modification to English to suit the Battlestar setting. The humans, for example, are polytheistic, and so they often will say “Gods damn it” instead of the standard version.

If anything, I’m happy that a fictional universe could be so richly designed that I’d bother to ask these questions. “So say we all,” say the language geeks.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Feeling Expectant Gazes... With My Hands

I’ve just never been in the position where I want to write and can’t even gather thoughts to form a good idea for what to write about, much less Tetris those thoughts into a sensible arrangement. However, not writing leaves me unclear what to think. Yes, that’s how I work: words, in written or typed form usually come first, with the awareness of how I feel about something following once I hit “send.” Thus, I’m pledging — not to you, but to myself — that I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to write, I’m going to try my best to keep it clever and snappy. I’m going to do the one thing that I’m good at.

Well, that and posting photos of owls that elicit some combination of “aww” and “ash!”

What to expect:
  • Words! And words about words!
  • Perhaps a funny anecdote about me interacting with one of my elderly, wealthy neighbors at Whole Foods
  • Remembrances of video games that, upon writing about them today, seem homoerotic
  • The mysteries of the animal kingdom
  • Tightly written fight scenes
Watch me make good on this promise! Or not maybe!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Stink That Stunk Less

When I was young and short, I thought skunkstink smelled worse than anything else in the world. That statement carries weight, you see, because I grew up in the country, where four-legged things produce bad smells constantly until they die, at which point they stink worse than they did when they were alive, and that gets worse until bugs eat their remains and they finally, permanently cease to offend. Above all the smells an animal can make — yes, even those of stinkbug or dog-who-ate-Cool Whip — skunkstink smelled worse.

You city folks may be interested to know that skunks like to live in the country. They trot merrily about the bucolic splendor, at one with grass and, I suppose, the rocks. But it’s in that rural-born joy that they meet their doom: Cars also live in the country and they frequently run over them. (Cue scavenger bugs.) So through live skunks — attempting to sneak away with our dog’s food and spraying their way to safety when the dog noticed — and though dead skunks — rotting on hot asphalt, their stink glands laid bare for the world — I had many opportunities to experience their olfactory effects. And it was the absolute worst in the summer. We didn’t have an air conditioner, so on hot nights our only relief came from open windows. At the first sign of a skunk doing its skunk thing, someone would yell in a manner typically appropriate for housefires and home invasions, and the windows would one by one slam shut. But it didn’t matter. That smell would get in — and I can remember direct hits that burned in my throat and made my eyes water. I can remember holding my breath in car rides. I can remember touching the dog a few days after a thorough spraying and then having to scrub and scrub to get the skunkstink off my hands.

Tonight, I skunk got in a fight with an alley cat outside my window. I heard the fight before I smelled it, and I actually saw the skunk take the cat down — stomping, tail raise, full blast to Mr. Whiskers. (No one shall be adopting this cat i the near future, I’m wagering.) And the smell got everywhere, but here’s the thing: It didn’t smell that bad. Like, it stinks, but it wasn’t as intolerable as it was when I was a kid. And now that I think about it, it doesn’t really bother me when I drive past some roadmeat skunk and catch a whiff.

So this leads me to a question: What the fuck have I been smelling in the years between my childhood and now that has made the worst odor in the world somehow more tolerable? Like, seriously, what have I been doing? Where have I been living? Who have I been associating with that had body odor that numbed by sense of smell to a stink that is essentially a biological weapon? I’m aware there’s the tendency for kids’ since of taste to dull as they get older and that smell and taste are two closely related senses, but I feel I have done serious damage to my sniffer if skunks no longer offend.

I admit it’s possible that I have made some terrible, sense-deadening decisions in my life so far. However, for now I’m going to assume it’s actually the skunks’ faults, and that they’ve either changed their diet for better or worse, depending on your perspective. If anyone wants to do the research on that, I’d be happy to read a summary of it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

SpongeBob Tobago

Yes, texting is much more convenient than talking.

Personally, I think SpongeBob Tobago would be a great name for an overweight cat.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Lost History and My Holy Text

Christ, that was a lot.

Thinking back, my last clear memory involves me hoping I’d remember my birthday, because it was a good one, in that grown-up way where you don’t get drunk and fall down, but also because I couldn’t for the life of me remember my last birthday. I know I had one and I know I must have done something, but thinking back on that day, I literally can’t remember a single detail about it. I even checked this very blog to see if I might have posted a something, an anything that could jog my brain, but I only found this post, which basically consists of a defamatory aside about Canada and the following video:

And I don’t think that this show reflected on my actual birthday in anyway, but I could be wrong, see, because I don’t remember anything.

I may already be romanticizing last weekend, I suppose, because it logically would seem more pleasant based on what followed. The past work week hit repeatedly and relentlessly. to the point that all the individual weekdays blurred into a single, fiftysomething-hour span of me, bleary-eyed, typing away and wishing my brain had more time to think before it told my body what to do. But it’s done and I’m actually happy — again, in that funny, grown-up way — to be on the verge of another Monday. This week, at least, will be less busy and less cluttered with extravocational commitments.

But this all got me thinking, this inability to distinguish or even remember days: the work days last week, my recent birthdays, and did I just buy milk yesterday or has it already gone bad? It all goes together. And that’s for the best, I’d guess, otherwise we’d be mired in the details of every single second of every day. But at the same time, it’s funny what sticks out.

This year on my birthday, rain fell all over California — not hear in L.A., though it tried, but in most other places, including my hometown. When I spoke with my mom on the phone, she asked, “Can you remember it raining this late in the year before?” I did, specifically because it happened on my birthday: June 4, 1992. I can picture that afternoon in my head perfectly: getting picked up at school and finding a present waiting for me in the back seat. It was the Super Nintendo Legend of Zelda, which had hit shelves about a month before. I tore it open and began absorbing the contents of the instruction manual — the buttons, the art, the vaguest hints about the world waiting inside that plastic box.

And I was so wrapped up in all things Hyrule that I didn’t realize that it had begun pouring outside the car. Like, hard drops, and falling on baked-dry asphalt, so there was that smell, you know? In rained again on the drive to dinner. And while I don’t remember anything else about that birthday, my tenth, these parts wet and bright stand out even today.

If I’m going to forget whole strings of days, I’m at least happy I have still have some of the important ones. I’m writing it out so I don’t lose it.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Some people make parody motivational posters. This is as close as I get.

Note to self: Compose dadaist motivational poster, something with lobsters. Post in office.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Terrible Fate of Mrs. Crunch

I have no problem with the croque-monsieur.

In fact, I think this miracle of comfort cuisine improves upon the already splendid grilled cheese sandwich with the addition of ham and, possibly, delicious sauce. Let me make this as clear as possible right now: I’m pro-croque-monsieur and anti-anyone who might happen to be anti-croque-monsieur.

My objection is with this particular monsieur’s “wife,” the croque-madame. (Literally, her name means “Mrs. Crunch.”) My problem has nothing to do with her taste, really. Like her husband, she’s all hot ham, melted cheese and toasted bread, only the she benefits from the the notable (and sensible!) addition of a fried egg on top. Its in this that I find the problem: When you think about it, the fact that the difference between a monsieur and a madame would be an egg is, at the very least, suggestive. The fact that the egg would be fried and laid upon her is, at any extent, cruel. And I can’t help but to feel that she’s suffered a great indignity. You know, on top of being eaten. People have been brought up on war crime charges for less.

I mean, I’m still going to eat Mrs. Crunch. I just wish that the difference between the monsieur and the madame was, like, a tomato slice or basil or something. And yes, I’d eat those sandwiches as well.