Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Simpsons Yellow vs. Lego Yellow

Sometimes you’re doing the dishes and it occurs to you that you have two childhood loves that have continued into adulthood — The Simpsons and Legos — and both use bright yellow as its default skin color.  Just maybe if you looked up the official Pantone color selections, you could find out if these yellows were actually the same.

 They are, I’m pretty sure.

The default Lego minifigure color is referred to by the company as Bright Yellow and that corresponds with a happy, cheddary egg yolk color known as Pantone 116 C. (It’s also the hexadecimal code FECB00, which I am choosing to pronounce as “feckboo.”) I can’t find anything especially official for The Simpsons color guides, but at least these two sites identify Springfield Caucasian as Pantone 116 C as well. This site, however, only refers to it as Pantone 116, which could be a slightly larger range of yellows. That might explain why Lego Homer and Classic Homer don’t appear exactly the same in last season’s Lego episode.

But until I find otherwise from something official and Simpsons-y, I think Simpsons skin yellow and Lego skin yellow are one in the same. By the way, the idea popped into my head after I saw the official Nintendo character guide from 1993, which also identifies the proper, official colors for Mario and friends. Mario and Pauline have different skin tones. Weird, right?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions About Smash Bros.

Someone recently pointed out to me that the new Smash Bros. at its most frantic looks to lifelong gamers the way early home console video games must have looked to our parents: a boggling flurry of colors and shapes that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s true. In spite of a life playing video games, I still feel my eyes glazing over when I play Smash Bros. Suddenly, I’m watching someone else’s character as I calmly trot my guy off a ledge.

See for yourself.

Here, then, are the frequeenly asked questions about Smash Bros., based off a grow play session comprised of people who grew up playing video games but still could not keep up.

Wait, who am I?

Wait, who’s killing me?

Did I just die?

Why did I just die?

Wait, why did they make it so Wario could be basically identical colors to Mario? How is that fair?

What did I just do? Am I winning?

Wait, is that Pac-Man?

Really, Pac-Man?

Is Pac-Man still a thing?


Can you play as Rampage?

Can you play as Dixie Kong?

Can you play as Ms. Pac-Man?

Why isn’t Bowser bigger?

Why are there two Kirbys?

Why did my Kirby just fall asleep?

Why didn’t I know that Nintendo owns Pok√©mon?

Why can’t I ride Yoshi?

Who is shooting me?

Wait, are all my lives gone?

Closing thought: Video games have given us an opportunity to speak the sentence “I died” heretofore unseen in human history.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I Didn’t Like SNL’s Serial Sketch

I think I’m missing a certain humor gene.

My friend Ryan, who lives in Michigan for some reason, texted me around 9 p.m. to tell me that Saturday Night Live was doing a Serial parody. Ryan and I had talked earlier about Serial, in particular that boneheaded tweet that Best Buy had posted about payphones. Ryan thought that the Serial-related tweet that Sesame Street posted was okay.

That Slate article agreed, but I wasn’t into it. Even if Sesame Street historically pushes puns and makes fun of current trends regardless of whether they’re kid friendly, this was a dumb little throwaway joke. To me, it only existed to make people say, “Hey! It’s that thing I know! In that other thing I know! I’m in on this!” But the 5,000-something Twitter users to retweeted it clearly liked it.

I feel similarly about SNL’s Serial sketch, which has Sarah Koenig investigating Santa Claus. On a technical level, it’s spot-on, if you can overlook the awkwardness of transforming a podcast into something that suddenly has a a video element. But the sketch didn’t make me laugh. Again, all the people who introed it on Facebook with “LOL!” felt differently. Here’s the sketch, in case you didn’t see it already because you’re that rare bird who has only a casual relationship with Serial.

Cecily Strong’s Koenig is pretty good, and Aidy Bryant takes Christina Gutierrez’s inexplicable sing-song speech patterns to weird, new heights, but I didn’t get much out of the sketch even though I’ve spent the last twelve weeks turning the Serial story over and over in my head. Now, I realize there are worse problems than having an SNL sketch not work for you, but as I keep seeing the sketch on social media — including a post from an L.A. NPR station that dubbed the parody “brilliant” — I keep wondering why I didn’t like it. Maybe it just wasn’t that funny. Maybe it just wasn’t funny to me.

Or maybe it’s that that girl is still dead.

I know, that’s so self-righteous of me, if not full-blown hypocritical, considering how much mileage I’ve gotten out of a certain person who was devoured by raccoons. But I honestly think it’s awkward and a little tacky to take all the trappings of Serial and lay them over a silly Christmas story. When I was watching the sketch, I thought about Adnan, the convicted murderer who is maybe innocent and we still don’t really know what happened there, watching the Santa Claus-as-Adnan character and thinking, “Oh, that’s me. Huh.” I thought about Hae Min Lee’s little brother explaining on Reddit the difference between a soapy crime drama and a shitty thing that actually happened and actually ruined a few people’s lives.

I’m not saying that Serial, as a pop cultural property, should be off-limits. Law & Order ripped straight from the headlines, as we were told, for years without too much blowback. Besides, this same SNL had a Weekend Update joke about the podcast that I liked. (Seriously, there is a white person out there who thinks he knows a lot about Baltimore just from The Wire and Serial.) The Funny or Die Serial parody even offered commentary on one of the fundamental problems of treating the subject matter like a fictional narrative: real-life situations often don’t have tidy, satisfying endings. But I had similar weird feelings about the Black Dahlia character in the first season of American Horror Story, and I’m thinking there’s a line that exists somewhere in my head that I don’t want pop culture to cross, because then the actual tragedy creeps in and that’s all I can think about.

And that’s probably the most selfish part of all: I want to enjoy my entertainment without the threat of real-life tragedy diminishing my pleasure and making me feel the slightest bit opportunistic.

For what it’s worth, the SNL sketch that worked best for me this week starred raccoons but didn’t make me think of the horrible thing that happened in my neighborhood. It was also the strangest and the least rooted in any kind of relevance or reality.

Cecily said “I get to yum-yum garbage”! Now that’s funny.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Don’t Want to Live in Your Marshmallow World

Hi. Do you know this song “Marshmallow World”? Because I didn’t up until a few weeks ago. Here, it sounds like this.

I am one of those annoying people who actively enjoys Christmas and its various trappings — the food, the pagan gobbledygook we hang all over our houses and even the dumb songs. Now, there are not often new Christmas carols. People try, but it’s hard to write a song that people will actually be singing a year from now, to say nothing of a full decade. We tell the song-writers, “No, who needs your dumb garbage song when we have, like, a hundred other Christmas carols that we already know the words to?”

This year, however, I have heard “Marshmallow World” repeatedly — in a commercial, in a viral video, at the grocery store and twice at the same mall. I had never noticed it before. I initially thought it was maybe one of those new garbage songs, but it’s apparently been around since Bing Crosby recorded the first version in 1950. It’s possible that everyone else knows about this song and I’m just oblivious, but even if there’s not a concentrated push for “Marshmallow World,” I want to go on the record saying it sucks.

I realize the importance of secular holiday songs, but songs about winter are dumb because everyone knows it’s the season in which you’re most likely to die wearing a scarf. Snow makes most things worse. Also, when it snows, it doesn’t look like marshmallows. If you’re comparing snow to food, then shaved coconut or frosting make more sense. Marshmallows are uniform in size, whereas snow does not come in standardized units. As it stands now, “Marshmallow World” sounds like the worst set of levels from Super Mario Bros. 3. Finally, the line “It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts” is offensively dumb. People who talk about how bad songwriting has gotten today need to remember that as long as words have been put to music, people have been half-assing it and saying “Well, this fits. Let’s just keep these crap lyrics until we think of something better” and then never thinking of anything better.

Please, stop with your non-Parson Brown-starring odes to the glimmering magic of a winter landscape.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Dancinest Hemisphere of All!

Twenty-five years later, The Simpsons still teaches me about the worst of pop culture from before I was born.

Remember, if you will, Hooray for Everything, the group of “clean-cut young go-getters” that perform during the halftime show in the episode “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.” You only hear a few seconds of their song, but Homer seems to enjoy it enough.

I have had those few seconds of that stupid song in my head ever since. It’s my go-to mental example of the kind of insipid, crowd-pleaser pop you might have heard at a halftime show back in the day. I figured that’s what the Simpsons staff had in mind when they wrote it. But then last night, I caught the end of an FXX rerun of “Goin’ to Praiseland,” the 2001 episode in which Ned Flanders opens a Christian-themed amusement park. Even though the episode’s guest star is Shawn Colvin, that same terrible song plays over the end credits, and you hear more of it than you do in “Bart vs. Thanksgiving.”

“Surely, they just had more of the song left over from when they first wrote it back in 1990,” I told myself. “Surely, no actual song could be so terribly catchy but also so terrible. Surely.”

Then I Shazamed it. It’s real, though I doubt I’m the only my age who had only experienced it via The Simpsons. The song is “Get Dancin’” by a band I’d never heard of, because I would have remembered a name as bad as Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes. In its entirely,  “Get Dancin’” is even dumber and brighter and bouncier and more annoying than I could have even imagined. It’s worse than “The Hustle.” Hell, it’s seven minutes long.

And now you have it in your head.

That’s not the only appearance of Hooray for Everything on The Simpsons, by the way. They perform a worse cover of a more recognizable song in “Selma’s Choice.”

I’d like to think that the same expert in terrible, impossibly upbeat pop music was responsible for introducing me to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine, Rainbows and Lollipops” in “Marge on the Lam.” And maybe Homer singing “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”? And maybe Homer singing “Spanish Flea”?

I was equally surprised to learn that the lyrics Homer was singing weren’t made up for the show, that “Spanish Flea” even had lyrics, and that a recording group ever thought their name should be The Doodletown Pipers.

Someone clearly knew their shit. And their shit was shit music.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Open Letter to a Skunk

Dear Mr. Skunk,

First, I would like to apologize for the circumstances of our meeting a few nights back. You see, I didn’t expect to run into anyone when I was taking out my garbage, to say nothing of finding someone hiding behind my trash receptacle. I feel I surprised you as well. The noise you made sounded like a surprised one, at least.

Now that we have been properly acquainted, however, I must ask you to stop digging.

You seem keen on dotting my backyard with small holes — sometimes dozens in a single night. They are small and shallow, none of them big enough to fit a golf ball. I do not understand why you do this, but please understand that your hobby is making a mess of my yard. There is dirt where I do not want dirt. You have uprooted plants. For what, I ask?

What are you looking for?

What do you think you’ve buried just an inch below the soil surface?

Why do you think these lost articles are hidden beneath my groundcover?

Why do you hate my groundcover?

Why are you bad at hiding things?

Are you attempting to bury something and then rethinking the proposition moments later, only to start another abortive burial several inches to the side?

Why do you return to the same spot to dig up a hole that you have dug — and I have un-dug — just days later? Do you think the contents of the earth will change that much in such a short time?

At the very least, do something practical with the hole, please. When the neighborhood cats dig holes in my yard, they do so for the purposes of shitting. I do not condone this — and, in fact, they have suffered reprisals for their instance on doing this — but at least I understand why they’re doing it. There’s nothing in your holes. No shit to speak of. I’m not saying “Shit in a hole or stop digging,” but at least I could relate to that logic, you know?

Whatever your motivation, this must end. I’ve researched online measures I could take to deter you, but I don’t think either of us want it to come to this.

You have a floofy tail that reminds me of my border collie. I want to like you, but you’re not making it easy.

Happy holidays. Please stop.

Drew Mackie

Previous coverage of the “Shit that happens in my backyard” beat:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Do You Do With a Dying Monarch?

At first I thought it was a leaf caught in the wind, but when it landed in my hand, I could see that it was moving too regularly. No, it was a monarch butterfly that had either run out of time or seen some serious action. Its wings were smashed. A few of its legs had been lopped off. It was broken. It seemed to move with great difficulty.

But it was moving, at least.

My first reaction was to just squish its little head, to save it from the pain, but I couldn’t do that. I’m honestly unsure that butterflies can feel pain. Besides, looking into its big eyes, I felt like it wasn’t my place. However, I also couldn’t leave it alone. So I just stood there, watching him beat his wings as he rested in my hand.

I put the butterfly on a cement paver — yes, that cement paver, actually — and just sat next to it. It didn’t care or probably even know, I realize. I’m totally projecting that it wanted me there. I would have wanted someone there.

I took some videos of what happened. That seemed important. Sometimes it was looking directly at me.

I’d never gotten so close to a butterfly for so long. I’d never gotten such a close look at one. You’d think it would look alien, but butterflies are more people-y than other insects; their proportions make them easier to anthropomorphize in your head.

Sometimes it seemed like it was struggling to do something. I couldn't tell what.

And then it eventually stopped struggling.

I put it on an orange kalanchoe when it stopped moving. Last I checked, it was still there.

So what spiritually devastating thing happened to you today?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

She Everywhere 2: Return to the Raccoon House

Earlier this year, I thrilled dozens with the story of how I learned that a woman in my neighborhood was apparently devoured by raccoons. Yes, the devouring happened posthumously, but that adverbs saps a bit of the power from the phrase “devoured by raccoons,” doesn’t it?

Today I present to you a new chapter in the “She Everywhere” saga that involves avocados and more hyper-local urban legends.

For most of the end of summer, I was tearing out my front lawn to replace it with plants that require less water. One day, when I was barefoot and covered in dirt, a nice gay couple pulled up. Both the guys were about my age, and they came bearing a grocery bag of avocados, because that’s how you make a grand, neighborly gesture in California. They explained that they’d seen me working in the yard and wanted to welcome me to the neighborhood. I asked where they lived and they said they lived just nearby — “in a house around the corner.”

“Is it the white one with all the plants in front?”

They said that it was. And at that moment, I knew I was talking to the very “two guys, no wifes” that had moved into the Raccoon House. I didn’t say anything about it. There’s no graceful way to ask that one: “So is it true that the previous owner was ripped to shreds in your backyard?”

They left, and those avocados sat on the counter for about a week before I got hungry enough to try produce that was maybe-possibly-probably fertilized by spinster corpse. They were damn good avocados, I’m happy to report. That’s a lesson to all you backyard farmers out there: If you want tasty avocados, kill an unmarried woman.

Our houses being so close to each other, we’ve had reason to say hi a few more times, and eventually they had me over for drinks. Remember when I said there was no graceful way to inquire about the on-site death? Well, when I drink, I get less graceful, and it didn’t take long for a question about the previous owner to segue into this crazy story I’d heard about the property.

And this is where it gets awkward.

The one guy said he’d never heard anything like that. The other guy nodded and said, “Yeah, actually, the lady who lived here before also died here.” I asked if the story about the yard was true, and he said to his understanding, no. What actually happened was even worse. According to him, the previous owner was a hoarder who’d let the house fall into a state of disrepair. She did die on the property, but not in the backyard: she died inside. But the house was in such a state that it wasn’t secure from the various outside elements, and though the animals did eventually get to her, they got to her inside the house — not in the backyard.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

The first guy wanted to know why he hadn’t been informed of the circumstances of the vacancy, and the other guy explained that he assumed he’d rather not know. Which he did now. Because I brought it up.

I suppose the moral of this chapter might be that I am a terrible guest, but the story isn’t over yet. Even the “she everywhere inside the house” version of the story didn’t come from the realtor. That’s just what a neighbor said. Apparently, unless the on-site death resulted from murder or suicide, the seller isn’t required to divulge details to the buyer. At least Two Guys, No Wifes didn’t get them, anyway, just that someone had died, with no mention of the role of raccoons.

Now I wonder how difficult it would be to get those details — literal gory details, for the first time since I quit my job at the newspaper.

Now I also wonder why anyone invites me anywhere, really.

Previous funny stories about awful things: